Open world games are getting better at engaging players

By Dan on Oct 24th, 2018
video games

The open world genre was established by 1986’s The Legend of Zelda, and popularized by Grand Theft Auto 3 in October of 2001. Much like other open world games, both of these titles feature main and optional objectives. Some players may choose to only finish the main story, while others will venture further to get more out of their time.

Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild - Hateno Village

As the genre has evolved, game creators have conjured worlds of impressive scale. Players of Just Cause 3 have around 400 square miles of land and undersea areas to cover. That’s a lot of travel time for tasks that may not be worth the trip. If side quests aren’t as interesting or rewarding as the main game, players are likely to ignore them altogether. No one wants to miss out on that good content.

It takes the correct amount of gentle nudging to guide a player toward these secondary tasks. Here are some examples that demonstrate how an open world can be best utilized for extra-curricular activities.

Shrine hunting: an open world pastime

In 2017’s The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, it’s necessary to seek out Shrines and complete their puzzles in order to enhance Link’s health and stamina. Although it’s not necessary to find all 120 of these Shrines, hunting for them is a fun diversion. In between towns and dungeons, waterfalls and caves are worth exploring in search of these concealed micro-temples.

Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild - Explosion

More often than not, there’s a Shrine that lies in waiting.

Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild - Shrine

Encouraging the player to use their free time exploring Hyrule is arguably Breath of the Wild’s greatest strength. From the start, the game teaches players that exploration yields rewards. Although some rewards are less than stellar, Breath of the Wild always makes good on this promise.

Hidden throughout Hyrule are 900 Korok Seeds. Using bunches of these seeds allows the player to increase Link’s inventory slots. Finding all of them is not necessary for a large inventory, and the reward for doing so – a useless, foul smelling “token of friendship” – is hardly worth the effort. In spite of this, finding a Korok under an obnoxiously random rock is always fun to do. Their presence is a tiny, constant reminder that exploration is at Breath of the Wild’s core.

Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild - Korok

Breath of the Wild focuses on the player’s journey, not their destination. As such, it’s easy to obfuscate which objectives are primary and which are secondary. As a result, the player’s unique path is dense with activity.

Swinging by with another example of an engaging open world game is none other than your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man!

With great power, comes great Trophies

Marvel’s Spider-Man on PlayStation 4 captures what it would feel like to be Ol’ Webhead himself. Whether players want to swoop freely through New York City or stop bad guys in their tracks, this game is the quintessential web-slinging experience.

As of this writing, Marvel’s Spider-Man has the highest Platinum Trophy rate of PlayStation 4 exclusives: 10%. This means that many players are deciding to do every possible challenge in the game, leaving no task unfinished.

Pacing has everything to do with why this statistic came to be.

While gleefully swinging through the skyline of Manhattan, players will often find themselves distracted by micro-tasks along the way. Recovering nearby backpacks, quick rooftop tussles, and other easily digestible morsels exist to keep Spidey busy.

Although this is typical of open world games, Marvel’s Spider-Man is different in how it keeps things moving. Rather than halting forward progress for the sake of an optional adventure, this game seamlessly segues the player into and out of these objectives. It doesn’t matter if they’re thwarting a group of thugs or capturing The Shocker; the player is simply living a day in the life of Spider-Man.

By negating monotony, Marvel’s Spider-Man invites you to do as many activities as you can at your own pace.

Old topic, new angles

Almost exactly three years ago, we published this piece about storytelling in an open world environment. It’s interesting to look back and see how far games have come since then. What’s your favorite activity in an open world game?

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