A year ago, I watched my friends foam at the mouth as they murdered thousands of innocent, hard-working, married pedestrians on the streets of "Grand Theft Auto Anything Goes Who Cares It's Just A Video Game City 5: About 3 Games Too Many". Conversation eventually led to the declaration by one of my friends that no person ever has been disappointed to hear that a game was to be made "open-world". I secretly disagreed with him but couldn't figure out why. Turns out the only thing that would render me sedimentary enough to sit down and develop my thoughts on the topic would be eating two colossal pieces of cheesecake from The Cheesecake Factory back-to-back, then sitting down to finally catch up on the internet's newest series "Selena Gomez Has More Nude Pictures: About 3 Galleries Too Many".
I don't like open world games because I think they are hardly ever done right. Open world games only ever do 1 thing in a variety of different ways: provide the illusion of choice- essentially a lie that the game is giving you "choices" when really, it is not. Let's examine each variation of the deception separately:
The first variation of the illusion of choice gives players the following two options:
A) Complete missions necessary to beat the story
B) Complete missions NOT necessary to beat the story
So let's begin. You are given a game with an open world. Right off the bat this means one of two things: You will be given permission to do things you are not required to OR it is a bad game.
You are free to abandon what the game demands you to do, granting you permission to do almost whatever you want. Let's assume though that what you want is to complete the story. Open-worldedness is a liberating freedom, but how much this freedom contributes to the game has yet to be determined (as far as this article goes). Think about this: Let's say that the developers of a game take their time to write out a story with great characters, twists, growth, and plot BUT they give you side missions that are completely optional. Why? Why give players the option to NOT play content that you spent valuable time creating? This is the same as having them tell you that you only need to play 60% (or whatever percent of the game is required) of the missions to experience 100% of the game. VALIDATION YOU ASK FOR: If you complete Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time but you don't get the Biggoron's Sword (an optional mission), can anyone tell you fairly that you HAVEN'T played OoT? No. Giving players optional missions is the same thing as me telling you that I have written an incredible book and it's fine if you skip 40% of the pages, as long as you get to the end. Having optional missions, even creating parts of the world that don't NEED to be seen, is the developer's way of admitting that they know not every player will want to play everything on the disc, instead of insisting that every player should. I wouldn't be very convinced by Nintendo that some Super Mario game is worth playing if they gave me the option to not play half of it. The way I look at it, open worlds are the developers admitting that at least some of the game is not worth playing. And also, if you have an open world game WITHOUT optional missions, then why have an open world at all?
The second variation of the illusion of choice is giving the player the next duo of options:
A) Explore the World
B) Don't Explore the World
Now this is a good one that basically boils down to a simple question - Do you HAVE to explore the world in order to beat the game? We have to discuss incentive for a second - Question 2: WHY would I want to explore a world? Well there are a lot of reasons! Let's start with a good one - In order to find optional weapons. Optional weapons or items are usually things that make the game either easier or funny. They, however, seldom make the game more fun. Think about this: If a weapon existed in the game that made the game generally more fun, why would the developers make that weapon optional? Wouldn't developers want something that makes the game more fun to be experienced by everyone playing it? But I digress (not really). Optional weapons are things that make the game either easier or funny but do you need them? Can you complete the game without them? If you CAN complete the game without them, then it would seem that developers wasted time designing items that some people will never see, and (**this is important**) if you CAN'T, or it would be extremely difficult to, complete the game without them, then they aren't optional! The whole idea behind the illusion of "choice" is that you really never have one, and if you never have any real choice, then what the fuck is the point of an open-world?
The second incentive to explore a world is to find Side-quests. These are popular in RPGs and I can already hear my friends yelling at me, justifying the inclusion of side-quests in RPGs. Often, in RPGs, you need to complete optional side-quests in order to gain experience to level-up your character so that you can more easily defeat certain bosses. But that's the thing- if you NEED to complete optional side-quests in order to make progress, then they aren't optional! You are once again being tricked into thinking that you have a choice, when really, you don't. The residents of open-worlds are always the providers of optional side-quests, but if you MUST complete the side-quests in order to increase the strength of your character in order to progress, then all the open-world does is trick you into thinking that you've accepted a task you didn't have to, when really, you did, and the only real option you have is to accept the mission, or use an avatar that cannot ever win ever. All I ask is that the game doesn't lie to me! Don't tell me I have a choice not to do a certain side-quest if I am going to undoubtedly regret it later! Game devs could alternatively distribute appropriate amounts of EXP during the main story so that side-quests become redundant and obsolesced, or just include the side-quests as part of the main story, eliminating the "option" entirely. Now I can certainly think of linear games with optional side-quests, Sonic Unleashed and Lost Kingdoms II come to mind, but the optional missions in those games are once again hardly optional, and now that I think about it, I don't remember the game ever telling me that they were. There is something to be noted about the difference between additional levels that help you progress and side-quests that compensate for what the main story could not provide.
Finally, we have to discuss The Legend of Zelda. Do I mean to suggest the Legend of Zelda should be linear, and relieved of its open world? Well...let's think about this. The game Dark Siders II was essentially an angry, M-rated LoZ game. Exactly the same way Legend of Zelda is, it has a nonlinear (open) world, but a linear story, so all you ever did in the impressively enormous open world was move from point A to B to C to D, etc. until you beat the game. There was about as much incentive to explore as there was in a Legend of Zelda game (not much), so I ask the following: If you're spending an entire game moving in a straight line through an open world, then WHAT THE FUCK IS THE POINT OF THE OPEN WORLD?? Having an open world is certainly more impressive to look at and experience, but it's all for nothing if it doesn't add anything to the game. As a side-note, this issue is actually addressed 100% perfectly by a game called The Last Story on the Wii. I'll talk about it some other time.
It would seem that I've spent this entire article writing objectively, assuming that everyone plays games for the same reason I do, but remember, this article is about why I, James, don't like open-world games. Now there are some that I like, even love. Pokemon works because the game functions around the idea of exploring a world, and the game just literally wouldn't work without it. Zelda: Twilight Princess is another that just works well, mostly because despite it being an open world, it is small and doesn't overwhelm the player. I am brutally aware that giving the player an option, even if it is a sham, creates a more personal connection between the player and his/her avatar, resulting in a greater sense of immersion, which is the very state that powers the video game industry itself. Open world games can be fun just because they create a greater sense of control, but it should be noted that the only aspect of a game controlled by the player in an open-world game is the pacing of progress, NOT what is required of them. A Sonic the Hedgehog game (not open world) can only be played by either making progress or losing. Open world games are unique in that they can be played without making progress or losing. They allow the player to complete the missions (over which they, once again, have no control) whenever they want. But honestly, I think you get it. Open-world games don't do it for me, except for Spider-Man 2, which is essentially the only reason why I bothered to use the words "mostly, often, and seldom" in this article, as opposed to "always, never, and never", which would have forced me to title this article "An Abundance of Words That Make Me Sound Ignorant: About 3 Adjectives Too Many".