What Do Open World Games Do Best?

Since the success of GTA III it seems more and more games are adopting an open world approach to their design. Have we reached a point where there is now a formula for open world gaming? Let's take a look.

In a post titled "Open World Games: What Works and Why" on his personal blog, Tom Francis of PC Gamer UK looks at several of the better open world games of recent times - Assassin's Creed II, Fallout 3 and Far Cry 2 amongst others - and examines the ways in which they fill their "sprawling open spaces with stuff to entertain you."

He concludes by identifying seven methods that he feels work best:

* Informal missions – opportunities you spot rather than jobs you’re ordered to do * Collectibles that improve you, in places it’s fun to visit * Categorised missions, so you can choose what kind of job you want to take on next * Scraps of story scattered about to make your adventure feel meaningful * Unique things you can find, take and use * The ability to change or add to some part of the world * Variety – at every stage you should have more than two meaningfully different options for fun things to do next

It's a good list and covers almost everything I'd consider essential to a good open world game. One thing I'd add - although it's less of a feature and more of a structural approach - is the idea of enabling the player to control the pace of the game. For me, it's what makes open world games inherently interesting as an interactive experience.

In a linear game the pace tends to be dictated to the player. The hand of the designer is clearly visible in the rhythm of its scripted sequences. You run when they want you to run; you sneak when you're told to; you man that turret when they bark the orders.

In a non-linear game the pace tends to be dictated by the player. As more of a collaboration between the player and the designer, the rhythm changes at the player's behest. You tackle that assassination contract when you want to; you depart from the main quest to explore the wasteland when you desire; you shoot some pool with your cousin Roman whenever you feel like.

Have a read of Tom's full post over at his blog and join in the discussion there. Then come back here and tell me what you think open world games do best.

Open World Games: What Works and Why [Pentadact]


    Missions which are doled out with large numbers of optional sidequests are hardly unique to open world games. Same with minigames.

    Most of those game design features you mentioned have been widely used in JRPGs since the early 90s.

    The main difference is usually the transition into combat/driving from the normal world traversal gameplay (or menus).

    Games like Final Fantasy transition you into a sectioned off battle arena, while GTA style games allow combat at any time in normal environments.

    What game is the picture from?

      Fallout 3

      Fallout 3 dude

      lol lol lool lol BEST GAME EVER!!!!!!!!!!!!

      Fallout 8


    The big thing for me is that I need to feel like my presence in the world is actually having an impact in some way. This is the reason Far Cry 2 was just ok for me, the faction missions in the game have no bearing on the world or story in anyway. I get asked by one faction to kill a bunch from the other faction, and then I just do it again with no consequence. The African nation isn’t safer or better because I was there, infact nothing has changed at all.

      "The African nation isn’t safer or better because I was there, infact nothing has changed at all."

      Psst! Andrew, that was the whole point.

        I’m talking about the small things, I would have liked to see some of the spawn points for the factions disappear as I did missions for them, and not just the big ones like the water plant and that huge ship, but the smaller ones you find along the way. I guess it’s just a little weird when I kill about 50 APR guys on my way to a mission only to get a “great job” next time I see their head honcho.

          Thats also the point.

            Yes, but shouldn’t it be my choice as the character to choose who I make a difference for? And how much of a difference I can make?. Isn’t that the whole point of open world games?, that I can choose my own adventure?, maybe I don’t want to help you, maybe I want to shoot you in the face with a rocket launcher. Maybe I’m not content being a faceless, voiceless mercenary fighting for blood diamonds. I get that the game is going for realism, and yes the game is very realistic in the fact that one man isn’t going to do shit in this place. But to me the two factions were a bit too much of a copy paste job, I found myself not caring why I’m doing these missions, they just became another go there, kill him, come back type thing. I would have loved to help one faction take out the other, rather than do the dirty work of both.

              That's also the point.

    "In a non-linear game the pace tends to be dictated by the player." this was a major stumbling block for Oblivion. The story line suggested great urgency with the hordes of Oblivion threatening to burst through at any momenet but since the player could so easily forestall events by not pursuing the main story quests the world fiction was essentially broken or Mehrunes Dagon was the world's most congenial villain - "No, it is obvious the hero hasn't had enough time to themselves yet. Hold off on the invasion until they are ready."

    You need to be very careful about what kind of story you use in an open world game. It needs to be compatible with the concept in the first place.

    My favourite open world game is still Ultima VII though. :)

      also kinda off topic. how lame was the final battle, i was thinking like 30 peeps per side hopefully more, turned out to be 10 then waves of like 6 bad guys.....i dont know if this was just the 360 version but what an ANTICLIMAX! :(

        Let's not get me started on all the things I hated about Oblivion. ;)

        haha yeah, the most fun i had with OB! was glitching it and jumping hundreds of meters high and running like usain bolt :D

    Let me run around doing something I couldnt normally do and having fun whilst doing so

    From my experience the prevalence of open world games is all about immersion. Giving you a story to follow in a linear path can be clunky and rushed, leading you to finish the game in a mere 2 hours.

    Allowing you to explore the vast expanses and creating your own adventure (just like the books!) gives you options to choose your own destiny. Yes there is a story line, but hey, finish it when you want... here are a few side quests to really immerse you in the experience of the whole world.

    That to me is what they do best. The options left to the player allow them to dictate the storyline to a certain degree.

    Open world games like GTA and Crackdown I dont mind because the long trek from point A to point B can be fun. Blowing shit up, goofing around. . . thats half the fun of the game. You can waste hours doing this.

    But games like Fallout 3 I find to be a chore traveling around. So much game time is wasted on walking around.

    Im playing Darksiders right now which is semi-open world (I guess) and after 12 hours of playing my stats show just over two hours of combat.
    So, for the remaining ten hours (some of which is exploration and puzzle solving) theres a considerable amount of time spent traveling.

      dude. fallout has a fast travel system, and its incredibly efficient. you can accesses it anywhere aslong as your not inside and go anywhere you have been before, also exploring was like 90% of the fun!

    Aslong as there is a way to quickly get somewhere after you've been there once.

    Fallout 3 worked well in this aspect, once you'd unlocked an area you could quick travel there, not wasting time, but in Far Cry 3, the reason i stopped playing it was because i was sick of driving everywhere and destroying check points!

    even GTA gave you the taxi as an option to move about fast (at a cost)

      But Rockstar are sneaky pricks -- they most likely work with the US Government.

      They use mind control to know what vehicle you want and the game won't give you that vehicle for a very long time. All GTA games suffer from that and its all because of mind-control.

        WOW i noticed that to. TIN FOIL HAT TIME!!

        Oh, how many times have i stood in the industrial area with not a vehicle in site.

    Agree with the earlier comments regarding Fallout 3 that sometimes the exploring just got boring after a while. The Lvl 20 Explorer Perk was a saviour. But the rich world of Fallout and Bethesda interpretation of it game made up for that.

    Far Cry 2 - it got really annoying after a few hours bad guys popping out of no where and cars creeping up behind you literally every 30 seconds. Why go to all this effort to collect good equipment if you're just going to waste all your ammo before you get to the missiosn? Also missed a real opportunity to have some fun African Jungle skirmishes between the factions...

    Can Semi-Open World truly exist? Is it a good medium that allows the freedom for the player to go about their business while also keeping them on a 'linear' path for narrative/story purposes. ie. no holding up the invasion from Oblivion because the hero isn't ready yet. I only ask because I recently played through Deus Ex again and there is a reason it's still my personal all time favourite even after all these years.

    For me, the most important aspect of an open world is how the disparate parts work together without your intervention and without scripts. I'm always looking for a dynamic world I can have fun simply observing, while I also like to interact in a way that it would affect the world.

    On a slightly related note, is there a game that is an RPG like Oblivion and Fable, have an open world similar to Dwarf Fortress, have town\base management like in Black and White or Majesty (but with your followers able to kinda take care of themselves) and leading groups of minions or henchmen like in Overlord or Mount%Blade?

    Assassins Creed is classed as open world now? Even though most of the world is blocked off from the start?

    Fallout 3 was the perfect open world game IMO. Lost count of the hours i've put into that game, and I still keep going back for more. The random encounters are just brilliant, having a guy run up to you in the middle of the wasteland screaming to save him, only to have him run off and explode, is just priceless.

      Yeah I've spent hours wandering around discovering stuff in Fallout3 and Oblivion, those games really nailed it. Especially Fallout3 where you could see something cool off in the distance and make for it, then stumble across a few cool things on the way.

    It's critical for an open world to have characters going about their day to day stuff without your intervention, so that you can follow them and discover they are actually a vampire, then become a vampire yourself, followed by doing a quest to locate the cure for vampirism. (Oblivion FTW!)

    open world, sandbox games dont do any one thing well, they are very average at lots of things,

    fallout 3. the ugliest game in recent gaming history. looks great from a distance, in some screenshots, like the one above. but when you actually start playing the game, ugh. low rez textures and ugly environment design.

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