Out of every genre in gaming, none is better value for money or demands more from the player than the open world game. The open world game which, for the sake of this article, encompasses all games in the sandbox genre, RPG genre and basically any non-linear title which affords you a certain level of freedom in which to explore and complete tasks and missions. Typically offering the gamer an unrivalled number of added quests and collectables, as well as a lengthy campaign and, often-times, a deep and engaging story.
One of the reasons why games like Final Fantasy, Grand Theft Auto and Mass Effect allow people to connect more with their protagonists and their allies and enemies is simply down to the number of real-time man hours you spend with them, meaning that when one character suddenly dies and another betrays you it effects you even more than it would had it occurred halfway through a nine-hour campaign, as opposed to a forty hour one. This increased length can, often-times, lead to better storytelling, with deeper plot strands, more in depth back-stories and stronger character development, as keeping the player invested in the story is of critical importance if you want them to see it through to the end.
Mass Effect is a great example of this type of elongated, complex storytelling to the nth degree. A trilogy of games which allows you to port your character from the first game into the final two chapters, it allows you to continue their story throughout all three instalments, tripling the length of their story. Mass Effect also allows the player to morph their protagonist into a paragon of virtue or a reckless, lawless renegade through actions they take and choices they make throughout the games, forming alliances with certain characters and holding the lives and faiths of others in their hands; all of which shapes the game and its multi-stranded narrative in unique ways for different players depending on how they chose to play it. This level of choice, also seen in titles like inFamous and The Witcher, is coveted by fans of the open world game, and sets it apart from more linear titles.
With greater length, choice, and a wider world to explore, the player, naturally, has more things to do. On top of an long campaign with a multitude of main quests comes (an often bigger) selection of side missions. Ranging from mundane collection missions (the feathers in Assassin’s Creed II) to more elaborate multi-part quests which delve further into the protagonist’s character (“I Know You” from Red Dead Redemption), side missions enhance the two most distinctive and enduring qualities of the open world game: immersion and longevity. Side missions scattered throughout an open world game’s locations give it a sense of being a living, breathing world while adding to its lifespan, and strengthening the bond between player and character. It also provides an all you can eat buffet for completionists, who can increase the time they sink onto an open world game three or four-fold when they choose not to forego side missions and just play the main campaign, as they pursue platinum trophies, achievements and a 100% completion statistic.
The open world game is designed with the dedicated gamer in mind; not, strictly speaking, for the stereotypical nerd gamer with little else to do but play a video game day and night, but those of us for whom the video game is one of, if not the medium of choice. Those who play video games passively as an occasional distraction with no interest in the craftsmanship or artistic merit inherit in them will never play an open world game, at least not to completion – cultural phenomenon Grand Theft Auto aside; for them, unless a game is functionally broken, the entertainment comes in shooting something, jumping over something, or kicking a virtual ball into a virtual net – quick, easy, instant gratification with no commitment or convoluted narrative to syphon through. And hey, there’s nothing wrong with that, I like kicking pixelated balls and blowing shit up in 10 minute bursts as much as the next person. But I also appreciate the planning and scripting that goes into crafting an intricate story, I also respect the dedication and man hours that go into creating an beautiful and immersive gaming world, and moreover I admire the talent and foresight it takes to blend these elements together into a work of gaming art – just like a beautifully directed film or an album of great compositions.