Weekend Hot Topic, part 2: Best open worlds in games

Red Dead Redemption 2 – the prettiest open world but is it the best? (pic:

GameCentral readers discuss their favourite open world environments, from No Man’s Sky to Death Stranding.

The subject for this week’s Hot Topic was suggested by reader Talon and follows debate over whether open world games are becoming too predictable and too bloated with filler content. Is that something you agree with and what do you think are the best and worst examples?

A lot of people tried to avoid mentioning Red Dead Redemption 2 and Breath Of The Wild but although they were the most popular choices there were also more obscure picks, including Trails Of Cold Steel and Just Cause.

Not New York
Apart from Zelda: Breath Of The Wild I think we’ve surprisingly not seen much improvement in open worlds this generation, at least not in terms of new ideas. We’ve also had some really terrible ones, such as the bloated mess that is Assassin’s Creed Odyssey or things like Rage 2 that never should have been open world at all.

Red Dead Redemption 2 was great, of course, but I do feel it kind of missed the point about interactivity in this sort of game. It looked amazing and there was lots of attention to detail, the best really, but the landscape and buildings still felt like empty shells. Like giant sound stages where it was still obvious that nothing was real and they were just backdrops for the action.

That’s where Breath Of The Wild excelled and for my money is easily the best open world game. But I’d also like to give a shout out to Subnautica for not following the Ubisoft template and being a really original open world game, with lots of unusual exploration and very different kind of world. It sure beats just avoiding cops in another open world New York.

Next year’s sequels
I mean the obvious answer here is Zelda: Breath Of The Wild. In fact it’s so far ahead of all the others it barely seems like they’re trying. I imagine it’s what everyone will say though, along with Red Dead Redemption 2, so instead I’d like to highlight Horizon Zero Dawn which I think was a lot of fun but I hope the sequel learns its lessons from Zelda.

The whole robot dinosaur (actually, most of them were modern animals) thing was great and I loved the way you had to hunt them and even pit them against each other. The landscapes were amazing looking too – far better than Zelda – but the world itself was so uninteractive. It felt like a movie set, where everything was made of plastic, whereas Zelda felt more like a real world where everything worked the way it should in real life.

Combing great graphics and great interactivity is what I hope we’ll see from the next gen but I’m not sure how confident I am that Horizon Forbidden West will be the one to do it. Zero Dawn came out at the exact same time as Zelda, back in 2017, so it’s going to be interesting to see how much the sequels have changed next year.

Real empty
I have no idea why Hideo Kojima made America look like Iceland but Death Stranding is definitely my favourite open world game of recent years. A lot of games pretend to be these empty wildernesses but they constantly stuff them full of bad guys and vehicles and just general ‘stuff’ but in Death Stranding it really did just feel like you and the world and no-one else.

I’m pretty sure that’s what Kojima was going for, and why there were no other people around, apart from the odd bandit, even though there should’ve been given the story.

It also helped that it was incredibly pretty and the whole walking sim was very carefully thought out. I still don’t really know why being a delivery man was the whole thing behind the game but somehow it all worked, at least for me.

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Extreme sandbox
It almost sounds like marketing spiel to say that No Man’s Sky is an open world but an open universe, but that’s literally how it is. Even to this day the game kind of splits people’s opinions because there’s ‘nothing to do’ but I find it an incredibly enjoyable and relaxing game to play.

It’s basically an infinity of open worlds to explore with spaceship dogfighting in between and that, to me, is definitely something I want out of video games.

The other thing about the game is almost nothing is hand-made, it’s all algorithms and that’s the drawback really as you know you’ll never find a real secret or special creature or item because the game’s not designed like that. It’s kind of the exact opposite of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild. But that’s cool, it’s good to have both extremes and I enjoy them both.

New Orleans-esque
I’ll say inFamous 2’s New Marais. It’s a fictional version of New Orleans and Sucker Punch really captured the vibe of the Big Easy.

It’s the best open world for me, as not only is it very pretty and fun to climb around but a section of it – Flood Town – actually affects how you play.

Your character has electric powers, so going in water is a problem for him. So you have to be careful with traversal (luckily you can glide and grind on cables) but it also changes combat. Shock the water and you can take out a group of enemies at once or if you’re feeling reckless you can go in the water quickly, damaging yourself but also your enemies at the same time (there’s even a trophy for doing this!).

I enjoy open worlds and I’ll try and complete all the side stuff to complete the trophy lists, but I don’t find myself replaying them as much as I do linear games.

Open world games have become very cookie cutter this gen, with Sony’s in particular being very Ubisoft-like and it would be good to have more variety next gen. Red Dead Redemption had a lot of emergent gameplay, e.g. people robbing stagecoaches, and it was up to you if you joined in or stopped the crime.

With more powerful consoles maybe open worlds could become more alive, intelligent and varied instead of offering stacks of side activities and collectables.

Your own world
The definitive answer to this, whether you’re interested in the game or not, is Minecraft. It’s the only game that’s sold more than GTA 5 and the whole appeal is that it’s completely open and you can do exactly what you want, even building your own worlds – not even Rockstar can boast that!

My kids still play it obsessively and I’m always happy to encourage it as it encourages their imagination and creativity.

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Game expanders
I can’t say I have ever completed an open world’s extras entirely before, too much unnecessary collecting from Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry, and even Red Dead Redemption 2. I just fell you don’t need to flesh out the world with too many kleptomania items or other random things to search for, of which I don’t really have any time or use for.

The main quest and side quests, like in The Witcher 3 and Fallout games, are good enough for me. The Elder Scrolls is surely for someone without a day job in which to get everything possible. I don’t have an actual problem with this and don’t want to spoil the collectathon for those who do enjoy it! But when a pointless way to extend the story involves getting many needed items or artefacts from all corners of the map and everything in between, that’s where I draw the line.

If the market is there, which there is for open world games, then it is something I wish to continue. Not all are big and bloated. The Assassin’s Creed games were a good size once, and some newer games like Horizon Zero Dawn and most of the Dragon Age games are not ridiculously big and can be enjoyed without doing too much random things away from the main story or main side quests.

As examples of smaller worlds, Metro Exodus and God Of War used the gaming world well. Everywhere was pretty much used and needed for the story immersions and were not cheap game expanders.

Basically, developers, keep doing what you’re doing and also be even more inventive and creative and to let the sky be the limit! Do this and all open world games will be relevant in our gaming world.

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The small print
New Inbox updates appear every weekday morning, with special Hot Topic Inboxes at the weekend. Readers’ letters are used on merit and may be edited for length.

You can also submit your own 500 to 600-word Reader’s Feature at any time, which if used will be shown in the next available weekend slot.

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