Open Worlds Worth Exploring
Since the current generation rolled out I’ve played too many open world games. From the early days of Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag and Infamous: Second Son, to Grand Theft Auto V re-released for another go around Los Santos, to the more recent offerings including Far Cry 4, Dragon Age: Inquisition and The Witcher III, there have been plenty of opportunities to play around in sandbox locales. And while the places may have varied in size and theme, they’ve each provided new opportunities to wander about aimlessly; though not all of these worlds are worth exploring.
There have been open world games that aren’t meant to be explored, such as how Mafia 2 offers no side content past collecting nostalgic Playboy centerfolds. GTA V provides tons of side content, but it presents it in such a fashion that it doesn’t require you to play it all. Want to play tennis? Sure, it’s there, but if you don’t want to you don’t have to. The problem shows up with big games that provide you with tangible, but minuscule rewards for exploring their sizable worlds.
I played two open world games back to back, something that I would not advise anybody to do, but only did due to release timing. I got around to Far Cry 4 late, a good half year or so after it released. It’s a great game, even if it’s more or less Far Cry 3 with elevation disparity.
The game can easily be divided, progress wise, into two acts. During the first act I wandered and collected as many treasures that I could find. I looted chests, drove races, hunted beasts. By the time the second act came around and the other half of the world opened up, I didn’t care. I ran past collectibles. I ignored treasures that were directly in my path.
There were just so many! There is so much loot sitting around the mountains of Far Cry 4, and there’s no reason to bother collecting them all. Even if I needed the money, the acquisition of these treasures stopped being fun and started becoming work.
That same feeling crept into Dragon Age: Inquisition. It was a slow creep, as it didn’t really hit until a good thirty hours into the game, but by that point I didn’t just consider its exploration to be work. I was just bored with the experience and actively avoided playing the game.
With Far Cry 4 I could just stop collecting treasures. I could avoid all the side missions and just continue the game. Inquisition locks away its primary missions. Complete side missions and earn power that can be spent on unlocking these main quests. By that point I was short on power and simply didn’t want to run around performing whatever trivial tasks I had left behind.
Take The Witcher III in contrast. I’ve only barely begun to play but it’s easy to notice a few things that CD Projekt’s game does different and better. While exploring Geralt’s world I notice question marks on the map, landmark locations that are currently undiscovered. I don’t have to go to them. The main quest, by itself, promises to take up more of my time than I think I can even offer.
I don’t have to go to these undiscovered locations, but then why not? It’s on the way to the next main quest location. In doing so I’ve found places of power, granting me ability points before I have even earned the slot to use those abilities. I’ve discovered hidden treasures on lake bottoms, which then provided clues to different locations with different treasures.
The question then is not just how I’ll feel ten hours from, but rather forty to sixty hours from now. Will I still be enamored by the expected plethora of side quests, or will I be tired of them by then? If I am, I suppose I can certainly say that at least I can stop worrying about them and just play the main quest, and see it through to the end.