Original Open World: Know your roots.
How much of a flashback are these images for some of you? You may not know it but the Legend of Zelda franchise was one of the first games to have true open world gameplay. You could go anywhere, go in houses and break crap, talk to people, buy things, and roam about the world without advancing the story at all. Same goes for the Pokèmon franchise. Basically you can wander about and do all kinds of nonsense and just catch pokemon all day without actually getting the badges or beating the gym leaders.
Unfortunately, there’s got to be an incentive to do this, otherwise this becomes one of the most boring things possible. Unless you like catching pokèmon and killing monsters, then go ahead. With these games, the wandering has to be as fun as the advancement of the story. I think Egoraptor on YouTube said it best in his Sequelitis series when talking about Mega-Man X. There has to be some good conveyance in your game to carry the player through the exploration. Without that, then you really don’t have much but just rambling around.
But the heart of the matter is that this is the original definition of open world gameplay. The game itself can be the adventure, even if the adventure isn’t advancing the plotline.
Point and Click: The world is flat.
Awwww yeah, those are pictures of the Monkey Island and King’s Quest. If you don’t know what these games are, you are so missing out. So these games follow in the vein of Myst and if you don’t know what that is then I don’t know what to do for you. So these games would follow a specific story line, not a lot of action or fighting, but it was adventurous and problem solving. Think Half-Life minus the guns or Legend of Zelda without the sword and bow and boomerang stuff. You would explore and pick up items that would help you complete your quest.
You could traverse the map as long as you wanted, provided you didn’t solve the puzzles and you didn’t do anything remotely close to the story. If you did, there would probably be a cutscene and then the story would take your from that locale and transport you to a new one.
These games had no z-axis so you were movin’ from left to right looking around, talking to people, takin’ care of business and being a boss. This game was great to play with family or friends because you could go at a slow pace and enjoy the story because really that’s all these games were about: the story. The world was full of life and totally open to exploration. You just had to make sure you explored everything before you did any of the objectives.
Play in the Yard: Do what you want, but don’t leave this space.
Now I’m totally going to get some hate for this but I want to say this off the bat, there is nothing wrong with this type of “open world gameplay,” but you have to realize that it really isn’t as “open” as it says. Thus the reason I like to refer to it as “Play in the Yard” gameplay.
Examples? Think of any Bioware title. Dragon Age or Mass Effect. A non-Bioware example would be RAGE. These games look big and in some respects they are. There is a lot to them, but you are confined to only the locations that your missions are in, places you can buy items, and places you can find missions. Other than that the world is off limits.
Think about it, how much did you want to explore the seedy space station of Omega in Mass Effect 2 but could only go to the bar, the clinic and the mission zones? How disappointing was that? Granted those places were AWESOME, but you still wanted to explore. The world wasn’t totally open. Don’t be fooled by this technique, but also don’t be so disappointed. I mean, that would be a lot of game if you could explore the entire dwarven city in Dragon Age or the wasteland of RAGE.
It’s a Small World: It’s all open, but dang if it isn’t little.
Alright, I love these two games and I love their franchises, but this is a very clever type of “open world gameplay.” You really do have the freedom to go anywhere you want in the world that is set before you. You can explore the canals of Venice and visit all those important historic monuments. You can go to the ACE Chemicals Factory in Arkham City or Crime Alley. You can do it all. But just remember that iiiiiiiit’s a small world aaaaaaaafter all.
When they give you the map in the game and you look at the game in reference to the size of your character, it isn’t a whole heck of a lot of room to run around in, which is silly to say when you play around in it for hours. The game is supplemented with indoor maps and objectives and a lot of sidequests to fill the small world with substance and meat. This works out pretty well and there’s a lot of potential to games like this. Think about how much they sell and how successful they are.
The difference between this type and Play in the Yard is the filler. Mass Effect fills their areas with detailed canvases and beautiful maps and fun conversations and lore. Batman: Arkham City is filled with Riddler Challenges, constant baddie fights, mysteries, and cameos from famous enemies.
Open World with Nothing to Do: That’s a whole lot of nothin’.
I can’t tell you how much I love L.A. Noire or Mafia II, but I can tell you how disappointed I am there’s not more to do in them. So very, very disappointed. Here’s the thing with these types of games: they like to dazzle you with how large and how beautiful they are, but they forgot to fill it like those It’s a Small World games.
It’s incredible to have the entire 1940s version of the city of Los Angeles to wander about in and sight see, especially if you’re a native Californian. Once you complete those “officer respond” missions and all of the crimes? There really isn’t a reason to drive around L.A. I mean it’s like doing it in real life. Sitting in traffic and watching time go by. It’s kind of boring, which is so sad to say. Mafia II? A beautifully crafted story with amazing visuals, but the only buildings you can go in are the tailors, the gun shops, diners, mechanics, and missions. Otherwise, there really aren’t too many reasons to explore Empire Bay unless you’re a completionist.
Again, these are amazing games and full of hours of funtacular gameplay, but don’t forget that the world might leave you a little wanting.
Free Roam: That’s a whole lot of game.
These are the meta games folks. The big guns. You got your Grand Theft Autos, your Elder Scrolls, your Red Dead Redemptions. These games are the epitome of open world gameplay. You don’t have to advance the story, you can do all the side missions, you can futz around all you want and go on crazy rampages, or you can just explore the world to its fullest.
But every rose has a thorn folks. These games are monsters and they easily frighten. That’s a lot of game and a lot of options for people to chance over $50 bucks on. There’s nothing wrong with being free to do what you want, but honestly the lack of guidelines in a game makes you wonder really what the point of the game is and a lot of people tend to shy away from them because they don’t know what they’ll be doing in the game to begin with.
Of course everyone has their own preference and these types of games are big on immersion factor, just remember what you’re paying for and what you’re going to be making. So look at all these definitions and look what you like to play. Remember to do a little research before you drop any cash, and prep yourself before you tell your team that’s what they’re going to be making.