The next-generation of gaming has arrived, and with it comes a whole new crop of open world games — in fact, it seems like open world gaming is going to be more of a focus than ever going forward. Metal Gear Solid V, Mirror’s Edge 2, The Witcher 3, Mad Max, The Division, Destiny, Watch Dogs, InFamous: Second Son, The Crew, Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, Thief, Dragon Age: Inquisition, Dying Light — frankly, it’s hard to find a major upcoming game that isn’t doing the open world thing.
Of course this raises the question — how will these next-gen open worlds differ from the crop we got last generation? Obviously they’ll look nicer, but hopefully the changes don’t stop there. Developers need to use the new processing power at their fingertips to make changes that fundementally improve the way open world games play. Changes such as…
No Loading Times Ever
Open world games have gradually been getting better about the constant loading times, but given the huge slabs of RAM developers now have to work with, I shouldn’t be seeing loading times ever. Not as I run around a city, not as I enter a mission area, not after I die, not before or after cutscenes…never…f–king…EVER. Oh, and no elevators either — that s–t may have fooled people back in the days of Halo and Metroid Prime, but it’s 2014 now. We’ve figured out your game.
If I see a building I want to be able to break in and steal all it’s stuff.
Make Your World An Onion
No, I don’t mean smelly and eye watering — I want layers. If I see, say, an apartment block, I want to be able to go into it. Once into it I want to be able to break into somebody’s apartment. One in that apartment I want to be able to rifle through their drawers, check what’s on their computers and wear their underwear on my head. Uh, perhaps I’ve said too much.
No more Hollywood backlot sets posing as real worlds. I don’t care how huge your game’s map is if all the buildings are just cardboard backdrops I can’t interact with. I’ll gladly take a smaller, denser map if the trade-off is greater depth and verisimilitude. Blu-rays go up to 128 GB now guys — use that space.
Let Me Leave My Mark
For the most part, it still feels like you’re just a tourist passing through most open worlds. Oh sure, if you complete a certain mission a pre-determined change might happen in the world, but I want to be able to dictate how things change. I want to be able to blow up a building with a bazooka and have it say blown up. I want to be able to kill a hobo, stuff him in a dumpster and be able to go back and check on him throughout the game. Have I said too much again?
Games like Minecraft really allow you to leave you mark in very low-res sort of way. It’s time to give that kind of creativity to players in more fully realized worlds.
Watch Dogs may be one of the first games to take a more realistic approach to living in a major city.
Right now there are tons of games that try to replicate real-world cityscapes, but none of them really replicate how you actually navigate these cities. Somebody tells you where to go, a big X shows up on your map and you trundle there in as straight a line as you can. What’s the point of these giant maps if there’s no sense of exploration or discovery? If it’s just one blind charge for an X after another?
When somebody tells me, “Go kill Joe”, I don’t want a pointer to appear on my map. I want to be able to look up Joe on my computer, check Google maps on my phone to find his address, then look up the bus and subway schedules to find the best route there. If I get lost, I want to be able to go into the latest gas station and ask for directions. I want to really get to know your fake city, because I’m actually experiencing instead of just staring a dots on a radar screen.
Make The NPCs Real Characters
Okay, it’s time to stop cheating with NPCs. Nothing ruins the open world illusion for me as thoroughly a the non-playable characters that just mill around with nothing to do, nothing to say and no purpose. These empty shells don’t make your open world fell “more alive” — they actually do the opposite.
Not every NPC needs to have some richly detailed backstory, just a basic role and a thing they’re trying to achieve. I should be able to ask a guy what he’s doing, have him respond “I’m going to the grocery store” then be able to watch him walk into the grocery store. It’s a very simple thing, but it’s so much more satisfying than “I’m a randomly generated humanoid who walks up and down this one block in a set pattern forever.”
Taking it to the streets in The Division.
Missions That Actually Take Advantage Of The Map
Most open worlds are still just very expensive versions of the world map from Super Mario Bros. 3. Missions consist of following the marker on your map, then engaging in a bit of structured action in the cave/building/warehouse you found there. Sometimes the game makers try to create the illusion that they’re really using the open world by spreading multiple markers over the map, but nothing ever really happens in between those Xs.
I want a wild car chase to break out and eventually spread to every road in the map. I want that open field or forest to later become the scene of an epic Lord of the Rings style battle. I want a mission that starts on one side of the map and ends on the other with no Xs needed, because the action never stops. Basically, f–k Xs, I want the damn things out of my video games.
Thankfully my wishes actually seem to be partially coming true — games like The Division and Destiny look to be spreading the action over more of the map. Watch Dogs might have a slightly more realistic approach to navigation. Hopefully the genre continues to move in the right direction.
What are some of the things you expect out of next-gen open world games?