Published on January 31, 2013 at 3:25 PM | by Tom Visco2
Why Open World Games Don’t Work
The first game I remember playing is “Star Fox 64.” When my brothers and I unboxed our Nintendo 64 and played Star Fox, they couldn’t help but marvel at the 3D graphics and the shadows on the water below your aircraft. I couldn’t help but marvel at the choice. At the end of some missions, the game presented you with a fork in the road, and let you choose your path to the game’s finale. The result was an immensely rewarding, replayable experience.
The first game I remember loving is “The Elder Scrolls 3: Morrowind.” Gone were the days of linear storytelling. “Morrowind” placed the player in a fully contextualized 3D world, complete with a unique history, mythology, legends and divinities. After a brief tutorial period (about 5 minutes), the player is free to do as he chooses, be it pursue the main storyline, side quests or guilds.
This is a incredible compelling way to treat the player. The game designers constructed a fully realized world and entrusts the player with it. The player can decide how to enjoy him or herself. Since “Morrowind,” the fully open world genre — wherein the player does not have to pursue the main storyline in order to progress in the game — is a standard in the gaming industry with titles such as “Far Cry 3″ being the most recent critically successful entry into the genre.
Choice is at the heart of “Morrowind’s” storytelling, the same with “Skyrim” and other open-world games. But this game mechanic, which is the central component “Morrowind” pioneered, undercuts any attempt at storytelling.
Traditional storytelling is linear. Narratives move from point to point, chapter to chapter, and while games like “Skyrim” certainly have narratives, the game offers too much choice. That’s right, too much choice.
The quest lines in “Skyrim” are enthralling. However, the player’s immense freedom to roam the world risks estranging him or her from the storyline he or she started. A simple walk from Riften to Solitude (that’s right, walk, because fast travel is for those who never played Morrowind) can sidetrack the player for hours as he or she explores dungeons, bandits and other side quests. This undercuts any attempt at storytelling, especially for the more epic quest lines. I cannot be told that my actions will influence/save the world, and then given the opportunity to table the quest line for as long as I see fit. Or, rather, I can be told that, it’s just not good for immersion.
Of course you can just put on blinders during plots, and ceaselessly pursue quest lines to their end. But then what’s the point of the open world?