Open world video games can be difficult to review. The reason being that one of the key characteristics of the genre is giving the player the “keys to the car” so to speak to explore and engage in countless activities within vast game worlds. That means there isn’t a streamlined experience from player to player. Gamers who play open world games all seem to be expecting something different based on their personal preferences. So how do you really rate an open world game?
The quick answer is simple enough: Open world games are basically whatever the player makes of it. This is assuming the game doesn’t have game-breaking bugs and glitches that render it unplayable. In the open world, it is very probable the main story and missions will take a backseat to the non-linear activities that the player chooses to undertake. The Elder Scrolls games are a huge example of this. Gamers who spent hundreds and thousands of hours within these games are typically not talking about the game’s main arc but spend more time reminiscing about their self-created adventures. They simply used the tools and assets that are provided within the game in order to craft their own story. For them, the fact that the game doesn’t force them into a certain direction and allows them to control their own destiny is the reason why they enjoy it so much.
I’ve seen mixed reviews on Watch Dogs Legion and Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, the two latest open world games published by Ubisoft within the past month. For the people who enjoy the game, they tend to stray from just focusing on the game missions and find a great deal of glee in working with the game’s mechanics and tools to create havoc on their virtual playground. This is one of the main reasons why gaming series such as Grand Theft Auto, Saints Row, Crackdown, Just Cause, and Far Cry became hits among gamers. They aren’t looking for nor do they want the game to direct them. Instead, they just want the art tools to create their own masterpiece.
In many cases, the ones who complain about open world games being boring and empty may be looking for more directed and guided experience. There’s nothing wrong with this because every user is different. Some gamers aren’t looking for experimental freedom. It can cause the game to feel very empty to them. Indeed they may still desire a wealth of content, but it is important for the content to have purpose and direction the whole way through. Their favorite types of titles may be ones that have a clear beginning, a clear conclusion, and guides the player along between the two points. This is known as a linear experience and it is present in many highly regarded games.
The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt is still to this day the best game I have played when it comes to offering something for both linear and non-linear players in its open world. A player can just focus on the main missions and still have a wealth of content to play through to the end. The two DLC expansions offer even more hours of gameplay. Yet the game also rewards the explorer of its vast world with a full supply of side quests that don’t involve the usual fetch requests but consist of their own self-contained plots that add to the overall story. The game’s popularity is not by accident. The Witcher series forced the gaming industry to recognize CD Projekt Red as a top developer and publisher.
Remember, there isn’t a game that will appeal to every person. We all have differences in what we prefer as gamers and also how we play our games. For instance, I tend to play my sports games in a way that simulates real life while the next person may try to score 100 points with LeBron James in every game of NBA 2K21. One person may yawn at the open world of Far Cry 4 while I’m laughing myself silly when I’ve successfully set up having an elephant attack a bunch of enemies at an outpost. When all is set and done, your enjoyment of a game will many times be based on what you decide to do with what is provided. Open world games are no different.
I’m thankful for all the different genres we have in gaming and the open world genre is one of my favorites. The freedom to explore along with the ability to carve out my own gameplay experience is what keeps me coming back for more. As a result, these types of games can have unlimited replay value that I’ll play for years to come.