Is Open-World Fatigue Even Real?


After coming off all these massive open-world games from 2015 like Fallout 4Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, part of me thought I’d spend the beginning of 2016 taking a breather with smaller, more focused games. I was wrong. Open-world fatigue seems to be spreading among people who play all the big games, but I don’t really feel tired of them yet as I start the first Witcher 3 expansion, continue on through Elite: Dangerous, and prepare to start Grand Theft Auto V. With Elite specifically I don’t think I’ve gone over what separates the latest entry from other open-world games (a lot).

I’d like to think I’ve made a few good blog posts explaining why some open-world games may have exhausted people and where this style of game has gone wrong. I’d also like to think what has happened to me is that I’ve simply decided to only play the ones that have gotten things right.

What I am tired of doesn’t seem to be open-world games, but games that immediately present you with a map full of things to do and a progress bar that says “0% completion.” Things like that take the sense of discovery out of finding and doing extra stuff and turns it into a list of busywork. What I do want to play more of are actual sandbox games that simply let you loose on a world to watch ever-newer things happen.

For starters I think being less focused on massive lists of specific busywork tasks makes those games less daunting and more open to the player’s own pace. Elite takes the focus off of quests and moves it towards traveling from place to place in search of ways to earn money. My own choice to explore new solar systems and sell the information on them has brought me to a simultaneously leisurely and addictive pace of gameplay where I can boot up the game, explore a couple new star systems, and log off basically whenever I want. The game doesn’t take over my time due to 80 hours of quests I have to do, but rather because there’s always potentially a new place I want to see.

I guess Phantom Pain can be like this for some people. Sure it has a huge list of missions to do and a progress bar, but it isn’t as bad about those things for a couple reasons in my opinion. First, it only doles out the side missions a few at a time. The game puts just enough on my plate to avoid overwhelming me, but I still feel interested in the next set of missions that could come afterwards. Being able to repeat missions with the freedom to do them a different way each time is probably an even more enriching aspect of Phantom Pain.

With Elite though, I think the real reason I’m drawn to that game is because it’s simply different from other sandbox games. It’s not another game where you’re a guy walking on the ground with a gun, but rather you’re flying through the galaxy. That’s without even mentioning how space flight games have become so rare in the mainstream market, only just starting to make a comeback.

Witcher 3? I guess CDProjekt has just done an excellent job at designing what feels enough like a living world with good stories written into it. That’s what Bethesda was supposed to be doing. I recently finished the main quest of Fallout 4, and just like in Bethesda games before it, it ultimately felt like the least interesting part of the game. Hopefully when I start exploring for the sake of it I’ll find more interesting stuff out there, but so far it has mostly been a game about shooting things and finding loot.

What might also be a good example of a proper sandbox game that I had to pass up last month is Just Cause 3. People are posting pictures and stories about how fun it is to mess around in that game — how it feels like a giant, well, sandbox. I actually still want to one day get finished with Just Cause 2 which even seven years after its release feels like an impressive open-world game.

Later on if I finish the Witcher 3 expansion and still want more of a focused open-world game with good stories in it I guess Yakuza 5 is the logical next step.


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