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.