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Open world games. To me, those two words indicate that I'm going to have hours of enjoyment beyond the typical storyline or main quest of the game. A good open world game packs in much more then just a standard story, with hours of extra content included in side quests and missions, or perhaps collectibles to find in the world.
The open world concept isn't something new. Early games, such as original entries into the Final Fantasy series and other RPG's from the Nintendo/Super Nintendo days. The first game I can remember being drawn to for an open world experience was Final Fantasy VII. While that game introduced me to a concept of going around a world map and fighting different enemies, nothing could have prepared me for the revelation of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time in 1998. This was the first game that really created a living, breathing world. In 2001, Grand Theft Auto III introduced the first open world sandbox game, and was then since built upon throughout the last decade. Personally, my first true awakening to this whole concept was in March of 2006, with the release of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Until that game, I had never set my eyes on such a concept. Sure the games I mentioned before it had the concepts, but just the sheer size and scope of Oblivion overwhelmed me. It was jaw-dropping, the first time I set out of that prison and entered the world of Cyrodiil. While in years since, we've had many great open world games, nothing has drawn me as closely in as Oblivion. Skyrim was an excellent game, and it came close, but it never toppled my experience with the previous game.
What draws us into these vast worlds and experiences? There are a lot of things that factor into the open world experience. For me, it's the sense of adventure and wonder. I don't know what's going to be around the corner. I love to drop into a game world and see something off in the distance. Perhaps its a house on a mountain or a cave, or a vast island area. My first reaction is to run to that object and see where else it leads. Sometimes great characters can help us along the way in our journey through these gigantic games. Take some of the bigger characters from Fallout 3 for example. The entire battle towards the end of the game with Liberty Prime on your side is one of the most thrilling and memorable experiences of if this console generation. Dropping you into a gigantic battle along side others is a fantastic change of pace for an open world game, but also adds to the story.
Flash forward to 2012 and we had some great examples of open world games. While Skyrim continues to get expanded with post-launch DLC, there is one game in particular that stands out among the rest for open world, and that is Far Cry 3. Abandoning some of the more nuanced game mechanics from the previous game, Far Cry 3 drops you into the tropical world of Rook Island. But it's the random encounters that make Far Cry 3 such a memorable open world experience. For example, I'm out in the middle of the jungle, stalking a base to take over. As I'm closing in on my prey, out of no where I'm attacked by a tiger. It's things like this that can happen at random times. I also saw instances of wild animals attacking enemy npc's, but I have one great story. I'm in the process of quietly raiding a base. While in the process, I shoot off the lock on the nearby Tiger cage, releasing it from captivity. As soon as this Tiger is out of the cage, surrounding enemy npc's are wildly shooting. One NPC in particular is shooting so wildly that he hits and kills two of his buddies, making my job a whole lot easier. Far Cry 3 also solves my biggest pet peeve in current gaming: unnecessary collectibles by having the collectibles mean something here. Relics give different historical insight into Rook Island, while unlocking all of the cell towers opens up the map and fast travel locations.
While it's a fantastic example of open world gaming in 2012, you are probably asking at this point what games are there to look forward in this genre in 2013? While a lot of games are up in the air (most noticeably the fall release schedule as we are inching closer to new consoles), one game in particular should tide open world gamers over for some time, Grand Theft Auto V. While there is some information floating out there, most of it revealed in last month's Game Informer cover story, GTA V looks to continue the tradition of open world greatness. I just hope the game can overcome some of its previous sidesteps.
While Grand Theft Auto IV is a critically acclaimed game, and it was a game-changer, it also changed up a lot of the elements of the franchise that I was drawn to. Gone was the crazy, over-the-top wackiness, replaced by a psuedo-realistic take on New York City with Liberty City. No more rampages, “ammunation” stores, or jet-packs. Instead these fun elements were replaced with relationship building, while enjoyable, it doesn't pack in the hours of fun that the PS2 era games brought to the table. But perhaps the biggest thing that I was hoping would be addressed in GTA V that has already been confirmed will be addressed, was the horrendous driving controls. Every car in that game felt like it was driving on ice, and that lead to me using the taxi service as much as possible to get around the city If Grand Theft Auto V can bring back the fun factor, sign me up immediately.
Rumored to be released in 2013 is also Saints Row 4, but due to the current state of THQ, that seems up in the air at this point. However, considering that a lot of the concepts from that planned and now canceled add-on will be rolled into this sequel, I can only hope that the over-the-top nature of Saints Row continues with this sequel.
One other major title has been rumored to have somewhat of an open world aspect to it, and that is Crystal Dynamics reboot of Tomb Raider. While I haven't seen any actual gameplay footage of the game, all of the trailers and footage and released have been fantastic. With a full island to explore, I don't think the game will be as open ended as Far Cry 3, but there will be plenty to do. Tomb Raider is out March 5th.
While not everything has been announced for 2013 yet, we can be certain of one thing: another year filled with fantastic gaming.