After doing a little research, it’s fascinating to see how many older games were credited with having an Open World: The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Dragon Quest, and Dragon Slayer are the most recognizable, and Wikipedia states that the space sim Elite has been called the first open world game.
Fair enough. Most of these games do have Open World aspects to them, but Zelda, Metroid, and Dragon Quest are all linear in that you must discover certain items or abilities to advance further in the game. Of course, you can travel more or less wherever you would like… until you run into impassable road block along the way.
I would credit Grand Theft Auto III and The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind as the first mainstream games to feature Open World gameplay. Somewhat sheepishly, this is where I have to admit that I essentially did not play Grand Theft Auto III, or really any of the GTA games, because, well, I think they’re stupid. However, I do respect their place in the gaming pantheon. I just don’t really enjoy playing them.
But let’s stick with Open World gameplay. To me, this means the ability to wander through most, though not all, of the game world from the start, and to progress through the game in a non-linear fashion.
In my experience, actual Open World games tend to focus on a near infinite amount of side quests, massive world maps with countless, albeit generally unspectacular, dungeons, and rather straight forward main quests. Which means I often find it difficult to muster impressive amounts of enthusiasm for the Open World genre.
But as a concept, Open World is incredibly powerful and deviously seductive. I can’t help but believe that there are more than a few Open World game concepts gestating, maybe even in production, that will absolutely change the face of gaming. Games where no two playthroughs are the same, where the world evolves both before your eyes and when you’re not even playing, and evolves differently for every player. Games where you can put in more play time than you did in your played-since-vanilla-release-date level 85 human warrior. Oh, and games where the main story doesn’t feel as though it got no more attention that one of the major side quests.
Open World game ideas absolutely pump me up – it’s (almost) embarrassing. I don’t quite think the genre is there yet, although plenty of Open World games have been classics. Which is why I think Open World is such an amazing innovation; designers have barely scratched the surface and have still created some amazing products. I can’t wait to see what the future brings us.