It's been a busy season for open-world gaming. Numerous releases, headlined by Assassin's Creed: Syndicate and Fallout 4, have once again put this concept at the forefront of gaming discussions, and both titles are spectacular in their own ways. We’ve written previously about the success of Syndicate as the best Assassin's Creed title in years, and pretty much anywhere you go on the Internet right now, you'll find positive discussion regarding Fallout 4.
But the open-world genre has a natural tendency to make us greedy as well. When there's so much detail and content in a video game setting, we enjoy it for a while, and then we start to notice what isn't there. The games are so big and beautiful that perfection seems within reach, so we start debating which features could be added. This is where endless forum conversation regarding DLC tends to come up, as well as where we see wish lists for upcoming titles.
So in the spirit of greed, and really in celebration of how great some recent open-world releases have been, I wanted to talk about a few features that should be added regularly to the genre to take the next round of titles one step closer to perfection.
More Secret Passages
I'm sure there will be arguments against this one, because there are a ton of open-world games out there and certainly some of them have satisfactory secret passages or unorthodox travel routes. But I came across the suggestion in this gaming forum, and once I started thinking about it, it was kind of difficult to disagree. Secret passages, whether used as quick ways to get from point A to point B on a huge world map, or even simply as ways to find hidden areas, can make the world that much more accessible.
In terms of relatively recent releases, I'll point to Far Cry 4 as perhaps coming closest to maximizing the potential of hidden areas and secret passages. The game doesn't really include a lot of sneaky tunnels or portals or anything of that nature, but a huge portion of the map exploration is about finding hidden places, and the game does a wonderful job of employing very natural transportation methods to cut across huge distances. In other words, instead of opening a map and auto-dropping to a destination, you might hang glide across entire valleys or take a jet ski down a river to avoid winding roads. Tricky ways of managing distance and undiscovered places to seek out have a lot to do with what makes an open-world environment so much fun, and it's kind of puzzling that these elements can be ignored to an extent.
This is something that's begun creeping into these games a bit more frequently of late, and the best example in the last couple of years has to be Grand Theft Auto V, in which there's just so much you can get into. The list of activities in GTA V includes everything from flying a blimp to playing a round of golf. And granted, it's certainly easier to include some of these activities in a game set in an imitation of the modern world than in, say, an Assassin's Creed environment (where crude old board games take the place of rounds of golf).
Nevertheless, there are elements of recreation that could be applied to most any open-world concept. Gambling tops the list, not only because it fits in any world or culture, but because it's already a pretty sophisticated gaming genre of its own. Case in point: Betfair's site already goes as far as employing live (actually human) dealers for its online players to add realism and depth to its platform. And that's not to mention the communities of competing players who are taking advantage of those features already. Gambling simulations are rampant on the Internet and in gaming in general, and one would think that would make for an easy move into open-world environments. This has actually been suggested with regard to Fallout 4 given that New Vegas did employ some casino culture. But really, it's one of the easier ideas for recreation in this genre in general. Gambling, racing, brawling, climbing... activities like these can fit anywhere, and they should always be included.
If there's one thing that's annoying in almost every significant open-world game to date, it's that the communities around you may as well be made up of automated robots fulfilling daily functions like they're part of a Disney World ride. You might pass by the same guy in five different villages, and each and every time he might wave and offer the exact same greeting. Back in the earlier days of these titles, this stuff seemed pretty cool. It builds a sense of social reality and makes it feel as if there really is stuff going on around you. But as soon as you start seeing repetitive bits, it all begins to feel cheap.
This is why reports about the amount of dialogue in Fallout 4 generated so much attention leading up to the game's release. Evidently, over 100,000 individual lines of speech were put into the game, which seems to more or less solve the common issue of repetitive A.I. Here's hoping this is a new trend. If these games are broad and detailed enough to build worlds that take close to a day of real time to walk across, one would think they could do a little more to build up the communities. The best open-world games are those in which it feels like the world around you is going about its business, and you're just part of it. And a lot of that comes down to the A.I.
Again, this all feels greedy. These games, particularly in the last year or two, are largely spectacular, and don't need a ton of change. But we may as well strive for perfection (or at least wish for it), right?
This guest editorial was written by Raymond Fritts