September 23, 2021

Run Game

Control The Game

It’s time for open world games to ditch the question marks

One of the more common complaints about modern open world games is how they have become exercises in ‘icon-chasing’, where you spend most of your time pinging between dozens of different question-marks on a map, rushing to sweep them up like a weaponised cleaner. It turns what should be a free-spirited adventure into an exhaustive to-do-list, and can make what should be your relaxation time feel more like work.

The question, of course, is how do games resolve this? One potential solution would be to make open-worlds smaller and easier to complete. But size alone isn’t the problem, it’s what open-worlds do with these spaces. Pointing players at the ‘interesting’ bits of your open world implies that everything between those icons, which likely totals most of your game world, isn’t interesting. But open world games are supposed to be about these spaces. They exist specifically to be journeyed through.

So perhaps the solution is to make the act of journeying more interesting. Many open world games acknowledge that journeys should not be entirely passive. Skyrim occasionally accosts you with a bandit on a road, while Red Dead Redemption might spawn a horse thief that nicks your steed and forces you to chase them down. These are steps in the right direction, but the problem with such randomly spawning events is that they are specific events. They repeat themselves, which quickly turns from being a novelty into an irritation, pushing your finger toward the fast-travel button.

(Image credit: Capcom)

To really create that sense of adventure, to make a player’s journey feel meaningful, open world games need to place much greater emphasis on what happens on the road, rather than where the road ends. In Dragon’s Dogma, many of its most spectacular fights happen while en-route to other places. You might try to take a shortcut through a mine and end up battling a huge cyclops, or approach the city of Gran Soren only to be attacked by a giant bird monster, forcing you to grapple onto its body and bring it down in-flight. The game is essentially a fantasy road-trip, and the way it approaches encounter design makes it feel more personal and unpredictable than a more formatted open world.

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