With the recent release of Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, Ubisoft continues its longstanding open-world series, Assassin’s Creed. The series is well known for bringing you to various points of history ranging from ancient Greece and Egypt (Odyssey and Origins), to the more modern settings of the French and Industrial Revolution (Unity and Syndicate). Open world games have always had their place in video game history due to their freedom and expansiveness that allows players to be completely immersed into whatever world they are present in. Their beauty and attention to detail leads some to consider them works of art. The “Open World” concept has grown exponentially over the past few years and is now one of the most popular genres in the video game industry, with many reasons as to why. They’ve had quite a long history, and contrary to the rocky road that one would expect, open-world games have experienced relatively smooth sailing. That is not to say, that they haven’t had an interesting ride along the way.
The idea of an open-world game did not have a clear beginning. They just seemed to start popping up in the early ages of the gaming industry. A common debate seen on the internet is what was in fact the first open world game. Some people trace the original concept to a text adventure game, Colossal Cave Adventure. A simple concept with incredible execution, the player was essentially given control of an adventurer who explored a cave filled with untold wealth. In a way, this was an open-world game, albeit limited to the confines of a very large cave. Others cite flight simulators as the original concept of an open world environment. As it offers a flight mode where players can simple explore the world, it can be argued that this was the first step into an open world without limitations. The famous Ultima games deserve some recognition as well, bringing players into a fantasy world with towns and locales throughout their world.
From the 1980s towards the early 2000s, there were many attempts to create open-world games. Famous games like The Legend of Zelda, and Super Mario 64 pushed the boundaries of what was considered open world. Zelda pioneered non-linear explorative gameplay, and Mario 64 expanded upon this exploration by allowing full 3D roaming. In the 21st century however, there was one series that dominated the charts and has been the gold standard of not only open-world, but all video games since it has released. The Grand Theft Auto series.
The GTA series has held a space in many gamers hearts for a very long time. Since the original GTA in 1997, developer Rockstar Games have continued to innovate, and they reached a high point with their release of Grand Theft Auto III. This title was developed by DMA Design, and published by Rockstar. Their first 3D entry in the GTA series, developers endeavoured to create a “living, breathing world” that had substance, and immersed their players in the world that they had created. By using a parody of New York city, the developers realised that they could dig into a wealth of information and their own knowledge to create a real world. Released to rave reviews from critics, many people consider GTA III as the herald of modern open-world games, and is one of the most significant video games of all time.
Rockstar Games has not stopped since, continuing to blow away audience and reviewer alike with incredible games like GTA: San Andreas, and the universally acclaimed GTA IV, culminating into the monstrous release of GTA V, a game so successful that it has been cited as one of, if not the most successful entertainment title of all time. The world of Los Santos, modelled after the real city of Los Angeles was lauded by critics for its technical brilliance. Developers watched documentaries and reviewed census data to ensure a faithful recreation of Los Angeles and it’s quirks. This recreation along with various other achievements and the now-famous Rockstar polish led to GTA V achieving multiple accolades, earning Rockstar Games a place in the Guinness World Records as it broke seven world records upon release. After 5 years, the game is still selling incredibly well.
To Infinity and Beyond
GTA V has not been the only game to push the envelope when it comes to open world games, though some of them have stumbled along the way. After Rockstar Games recreated a modern world perfectly, many developers have looked towards different scenarios and even towards the stars to push the open-world genre further. Fantasy open-world games were in place since the original Colossal Cave Adventure, and the critically acclaimed Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a perfect example of an open world game done right.
Set in a more gritty fantasy universe, The Witcher 3 placed players into the eyes of Geralt of Rivia, a monster hunter for hire. Exploring the Northern Lands where the game is set unveils side-quests, contracts, and people, and it is the exploration of the open-world that makes the Witcher 3 shine amongst its peers.
Hello Games attempted their own spin on an open world game with No Man’s Sky, attempting to use procedural generation to create a constantly changing and unique open world experience. However, the game itself received criticism since there wasn’t anything to do. While games like GTA V and Assassin’s Creed have limitations to their open-world, the developers placed consistent events and activities to ensure that their players would not find the world barren, or “empty”. Hello Games unfortunately did not realize that their procedurally-generated worlds would not be as appealing as they thought to their audience.
They have admirably continued to work on the game, and have turned people’s opinions around. Public opinion of the game now is quite positive, and the developers continue to improve and optimize their game, hoping to regain the trust of their audience. It does however, serve as an excellent example that open-world games do have their limitations, as while games can be large and expansive, they need the world to be interactive, and responsive, otherwise it will just seem boring.
There were plenty of franchises not mentioned, from Fallout, The Elder Scrolls, Destiny, Just Cause, Mass Effect and more. To cover all of these games would take days, if not weeks to really talk about just how brilliant these games are at encompassing an “open-world” experience. So what’s next for open-world games? Some have said that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was signifying of the future due to its fully interactive world. Procedural generation, made famous by No Man’s Sky are seen as massive steps in true open-world design, some citing it as the “Holy Grail” for open-world games. Only time will tell.
Will studios keep betting their futures on open-world games or will they be replaced by something new? Let us know what you think in the comments below.