In the post-The Witcher 3 era we have forgotten what exploration is. The open world formula, to the untrained eye, may seem stiff and stale. In reality, however, the playful stratification of this genre has been felt over the years. In the community's tireless general debate, the question that many - rightly - ask themselves is:”What makes this type of game so greedy and fascinating?”. The answer has been lost in time, watered down by an avalanche of titles that have taken many of the key points of the formula to extremes.
Addicted to the new offerings, players have felt the first terrifying contradiction down their spine: the loss of the sacred freedom that was supposed to be the beating heart of open worlds. A complicated paradox to digest and which bends to the rules of an industry that runs towards the absolute simplification of the proposed works. There is therefore great confusion on the subject, also on the semantic side.
The invisible hand and the creative pincer
Already when we talk about open world and open map we notice some suffering faces. Just as it is clear that the word "open" of that virtual world that we love so much appears increasingly dull, lifeless, arid and already deformed. Let's trace a path together to understand what doesn't work with the proposed formulas and clarify the matter. Has the open world betrayed itself and changed shape? Let's get into the debate. The open world is a genre that I have always found titanic in all its forms and purposes. I have been a lover of the genre for many years because it gives me the idea of an unfinished story and a mysterious journey. Each of us can trace his own path, tell his personal experience of how he lived that world and narrate as a good bard which mysteries he debunked first.
The open world is, for me, an intense and delicate alchemy between world-building and the noble art of surprise. I have to address it with so much emphasis because it is now a rarity to find works that know how to exploit it with courage and ambition. As you may have already guessed, it is precisely here that our dream castle of cards and ideals collapses. The surprise effect, which made us jump at every corner for the weirdness that this could hide, was outclassed by a more conveyed and guided experience. Ah! So it was the bad corporate giants who changed the rules? In reality, that's not even the case. The simplification of the gaming world on a large scale is clear, only the dreamers and distracted do not feel this strange veil that engulfs everything.
Many famous games and brands are now much simpler than we remember them. Some have rightly tried to counter by emphasizing that "they are products of other times". However, I must point out that the only piece that has really changed is the invisible hand of the developer.
A compass that vibrates, flashes and screams
The game today also guides you through the most trivial and intuitive actions, avoiding in every way that the user puffs. There are compasses and signs for everything, buttons to activate every time for hints, help from virtual characters and substantial simplifications in terms of mobility. There are users who still want to play with their minds free from thoughts or people who don't like blind exploration alone, but the result appears - to date - creaky. Is this how the freedom of video games dies? Under the inexorable swarm of already marked points of interest? The situation, which may appear tragicomic at times, has however changed the aspect of the industry, it is undeniable. The first big lie of the open worlds is that, with exceptions, only the virtual fence remained of "open". of the game world and that of "airy" there are only the sparse and empty wild areas. As if, absurdly, the erected virtual world were the frame of the traced path.
A feeling you may have experienced time and time again. The exponential increase of players around the world has undoubtedly been a contributing factor to the stifling of the freedom of the open worlds. It is understandable that works that are easier to digest and conclude can elicit feelings such as contentment and gratification. However, it is equally sensible to remember that the open world genre was born to surprise, not confine. We recall, in fact, that there is still some confusion on the distinction between open world and open map. While the first definition wants to underline the presence of an experience without spatial limits in the created world, where everyone can go wherever they want, tracing their own path, the second one has limits. In the open map there are very large maps or levels that are separated from each other and maintain a very specific structure.
Explorers of pre-drawn maps
There are certainly connection and release points, but spatially they are limited areas. L'open world, on the other hand, must give the user the opportunity to write his own story, avoiding barriers or tricks to obstruct certain activities. Some works forget this definition and, although they offer a fully explorable map, they still leave oppressive virtual barriers, invisible at first glance. This backlash stifles the decisions of the player, who is forced to follow an inter anyway, which makes the experience tampered with by the invisible hand of the developer. Elden Ring, for example, won the GOTY for exactly this reason. In a playful context in which many titles have disfigured the essence of open worlds, the creation of FromSoftware has shown that building a world without guides, counters, aids and constraints is still possible.
The player can approach the experience as he wishes and is able to trace his own story. Each of them will certainly have faced the journey in a different way. The feeling of being lost and at the mercy of chaos is pleasant, almost difficult to remember for those who chew open world regularly. Precisely for this reason the surprise effect of discovery and the art of knowing how to amaze behind every shady passage have made the soul of every adventurer vibrate. The simplicity of the conquest is a superfine graft to make attractive. The second lie of the open world is that, in order to be usable by all, it is necessary to trade the playful freedom with the guiding elements. The element of surprise and open areas must always be available for those who want to trace their own path.
A full belly and a dull mind
The third lie starts from a mass hallucination perpetuated over time, but also desired by the consumers themselves. There's this skewed view that there's a bizarre link between playtime and content delivery. There are players who consider the purchase of an open world as if it were dinner at an all you can eat and then, counting in hand, they laugh complacently at what they would have spent if it had been à la carte. I'm not a hypocrite, even I'm happy if an open world offers me a roundup of delicious and intriguing twisted activities and I'm the first to enjoy them if the work keeps me busy, but there are ways and ways. First of all we have to shake off the idea that open worlds are a container in which to stuff more and more delicacies without criteria.
There is a limit to that dosage and there are contraindications. Activities must be diluted in the map with rationality and they must have a meaning, at least hinted at. There are often games that almost compete to flood the map with points of interest, only then you get closer and it was nothing topped with nothing. You have to give meaning to the discoveries made in the game, it is not enough to add to make the work last longer, quality is needed. I would proudly trade a few less hours of exploration for more reasoned content well blended with the environment. For this it is necessary to play with the eye in a bit more critical, so as to understand when it is a question of only filler elements and when instead there is work to be commended.
You often read in reviews that there are many repetitive tasks or challenges replayed ad nauseum, this is the case. Always the same camps to destroy all the same, the same chests, the same mini-game or puzzle repeated. Colors, shapes or environmental details change, but it's always the same soup. It's a lie that shouldn't be fed by consumers, because it's not true that longevity always ensures quality. Evaluate your exploratory pace wisely