Opinion: How two average games nearly cost me an entire genre

Head back to just over a year ago and I told you that I was over open-world games. I had played Assassin’s Creed Syndicate and Batman Arkham Knight back-to-back and it left me completely drained. The thought of returning to another open-world game was not a viable one.

Calling something like Assassin’s Creed Syndicate and Batman Arkham Knight ‘average’ will probably raise the hairs on the back of your neck. Right now you probably hate me, and that’s okay. This is not a popularity contest. Syndicate had a great Victorian setting where I got to observe the chemistry between the twins, Jacob and Evie Frye. Batman Arkham Knight on the other hand brought closure to the best Batman series that graced gaming to date. So why the issue? Both games felt like an excuse to fill it with unnecessary clutter and so much fluff to extend the life of each title that it became a chore for me. No, I don’t want to solve another Riddler puzzle. No, I don’t want Jacob to chase down that guy and tackle him for interrogation purposes for the millionth time. Both games felt like they had a lack of something in specific – structure. There was much to do, but it felt so shallow outside of the main story. I pushed myself through both games, but at the end I had had enough. I had several friends (and members on our team) trying to get me to build up the love for open-world games again. I just couldn’t. I was really fed up with the genre as a whole. Open-world games had overstayed their welcome in my life.

Thankfully the gaming gods had other ideas.

Close to a year had passed without me tackling an open-world game (other than Forza Horizon 3, which was a racer) when the Nintendo Switch launched, and I was the one stuck with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for review. Now, I am a Nintendo and Zelda fan, but I was sceptical about this particular game. Garth had raved about it at E3 the year before, but I was not going to eat it up (say no to hype!). I entered my venture into this open-world of Hyrule with dread. The beginning of the game played very similar to any other open-world game where you feel a little lost and overwhelmed, but at about three hours in it suddenly clicked. There was structure. It felt as if I was playing a structured linear game in an open-world setting. However, it also provided me with an opportunity to adventure and discover freely without those shackles holding me back if I wanted it to be that game. Devoid of hundreds of icons cluttering the map it was up to me to become the explorer the game wanted me to be. I could set my own markers (more than one at a time) for areas of interest if I wanted to check something out at a later stage. I never felt rushed and overwhelmed, and suddenly all seemed well. Every mountain peak and cave had a purpose. There is not a part of the terrain you cover that’s just randomly placed there to make up space. There was no stone left unturned, and if there was you’d find a Korok seed underneath it. I was back, and I wanted more. As luck would have it Horizon Zero Dawn launched in the very same month. This was my time to see if I could continue down this road.

Yes, Horizon Zero Dawn definitely comes with some clutter, but again it’s structured. The map isn’t that enormous and everything tasked of Alloy to achieve feels manageable. The upgrading system isn’t overly complicated either – something that I feel often happens further into the development of a series. When developers attempt to “improve” a game by being too fancy it often backfires thanks to it being too complicated. Sometimes it works, but mostly I feel like they should just stick with what worked in the first place (Don’t even get me going on why Batman Arkham Asylum was perfect and the sequels weren’t – we’ll leave that for another day. I’m sure I have enough Arkham Knight hate as it stands). To me it wasn’t quite as grand as Breath of the Wild, but it was a damn sight better than two particular games that brought the open-world crash my way.

So there I was playing two very open-world games back-to-back, and instead of feeling exhausted I wanted more. There is one rather large white elephant in this room. It’s an elephant I once tried tackling, but it sat on me with all its might and popped my head wide open. The game stars a man with long white (and beautifully animated) hair, yellow eyes and is probably the manliest of men you’ll find in gaming – Geralt of Rivia. I once tried The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and as soon as I killed that first pesky Griffin I ran for the hills. Why? All I saw were question marks EVERYWHERE! So much so that even the Riddler dare not enter this domain. If ever there was clutter on a map it was in this game. However, etched deep within the game is a kind of clutter that makes more sense the more you sink your teeth into it. What you find if you dig in is much more satisfying than what it looks like on the surface. Make no mistake, I’m still playing The Witcher 3 now for the first time, but I’ve not once thought about putting down that controller. Nothing feels like a chore. The side missions aren’t just fetch quests. Lots of thought has gone into it (and often ties back to the main story, which could change things up – I’m giddy with excitement to see how that pans out). I also made the decision that The Witcher 3 won’t be rushed. I’m taking my time with what is nothing less than a piece of art. So far the clutter has not got the best of me in this game, quite frankly because some of the “clutter” plays better than some main missions in other open-world games.

So here I am just over a year later and I’m in love with open-world games again. I’m one of the very lucky few people on earth who had the honour of playing Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Horizon Zero Dawn and Witcher 3 back-to-back as open-world games. Each game brings something unique, but I can’t think of any other open-world games I played that tops what these three have done for me in the last few months. Breath of the Wild recently launched DLC (which I have), I bought The Witcher 3 expansion packs via a sale last week and Horizon Zero Dawn has new content incoming too. If there’s an excuse to revisit the worlds of these three games I’ll take it.

The lesson for me was this – don’t just play any old game just because you want to tick it off as ‘something you’ve played’, so that you can take part in a conversation. There are many games to choose from, but, whatever you do, make sure you play the games that matter to you. Play those classics. There’s a reason some people go on and on and on about a title. When comparing Assassin’s Creed Syndicate and Batman Arkham Knight to these three games it’s average by comparison. You might and will very likely disagree, but that’s fine – as long as you’re having a blast all is good.

I’m just glad I gave open-world games another chance. A look at the future and there are so many open-world games in the making that it would be a sin if I were to miss most of it because clutter ruined it for me.

Married to a gamer and she kicks my ass at most shooters. If the game is enjoyable I'll play it, no matter the format.
  • Valshen

    I was hoping the lesson you learnt was TRUST GARTH. Told you Witcher 3 and Breath of the Wild were AMAZING ;P ;P

    • Small Charlie

      All I’m seeing when I see Dawid sing the praises of The Witcher III is: ONE of US! ONE of US!

      • Marko Thabo Swanepoel

        ONE OF US! ONE OF US!

  • DemonGamer

    Can’t talked about syndicate , but arkam knight never felt like too much . Yeah the riddle trophies was a bit much , but it was there from the start of the series so it never felt out of place or added on. And I collected them all just to get the knightfall protocol , so there was some motivation . Plus where some people see clutter I see another easy trophy !

    But I do agree that you have to play what you want to and not just because everyone else is playing or to not play because everyone else is not . I’ve been told most of my life that video games is either a waste of money or time and I did not continue to play to be told by gamers what to and what not to play.

    • Valshen

      Hiding Knightfall behind a boring fetch a thon really didn’t sit well with me. The effort and time required did not equal the reward of that end cinematic.

      • DemonGamer

        Eh, I found some of the puzzles fun and actually like the “I have become fear” end , but to each their own.

  • Wesley

    Its not a problem with open world games. These games need side quests and stuff for the sake of not being boring in the open world.

    But i know the feels, and for me, it was purely Assassins creed’s fault. Its also partly the reason i hate annually released games. I loved all the assassins creeds up until brotherhood. once Revelations came out and i started playing it, it started to feel like it was just “rehashed with some extra’s”.
    I’ve only played the first 30 odd minutes of AC 3 and Unity, but cannot get back into it.

    Batman on the other hand was not annual, and i loved all 3 of them. (never played Origins)

    • Marko Thabo Swanepoel

      You are correct, an open-world needs to be populated. However, in these instances all of the side-missions and activities serve no better purpose than simply being there. Dawid mentioned in the article how The Witcher 3 does it so well where these activities are actually engaging and have a meaningful impact on your time with the game. There is open-world activities and then there’s clutter and filler.

      • Wesley

        Haha, when it come to Witcher 3, i prefer to think of that as a different genre.
        There is Open-World and Witcher 3 Open-World.

    • True story – I enjoyed Origins more than Arkham Knight.

  • Raidz19

    I also stooped playing Wild Hunt after the first griffin. I fell asleep so many times in that first hour or 2

  • Dian Fourie

    Man… I started playing Witcher 3 and the whole frikkin game felt like one big Siri fetch quest. I think the whole world with all its quests, lingo, names, clans and what not just got the better of me. It was just too much.

    Arkham Knight on the other side I loved. Thought it had a fantastic story and although I didn’t care much for the side missions, some of them were quite fun

  • Dave

    I find I also get burned out on a genre if I spend too much time playing it or play a few back to back, especially if they aren’t exceptional. Open world games suffer the worst because they are generally worlds you’ll be spending a few days of game time engaged in. So the world has to be interesting.
    I enjoyed batman arkham knight personally, every part of the map felt used, unlike some of them which have massive spaces for the sake of it. AC Unity was the last AC game I played, and it was beautiful, but it was also just big for the sake of being big I think, they needed to give the city more purpose apart from just being a backdrop.
    I’m now back to Metal Gear solid V and I think the problem with that open world is that there’s just a lot of travelling the same roads back and forth to get anywhere. The gameplay loop is very satisfying when you’re doing a mission, but it’s like the long trek everytime you want to get anywhere with little of interest between each guard station and town. Anyway I always have plenty of indies to keep me occupied whenever the grind is starting to get a bit much.

    • MGS V really is a great game, it’s just the story that… well, best you just play that.

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