opinion

The Untapped Potential Of Our Favorite Open Worlds

by Andrew Reiner on Nov 06, 2018 at 01:46 PM

I loved Red Dead Redemption II. Arthur Morgan’s story was beautifully told, and I felt a great sense of accomplishment for finishing his journey. As the credits rolled, I wondered what the game would hold for me next. Would there be additional missions, more side activities to dive into, or perhaps a New Game Plus mode? When I reappeared in the world, I brought up the map to see if anything was added. As I scanned it, my eye was taken by a different revelation: Even after being in this world for 80 hours, I still hadn’t seen all of it. Large sections of it were still undiscovered.

If I had to guess, Rockstar probably used the interesting places for the campaign missions – like cities and farms and whatnot – but for there to still be that much of the world to be untouched blew my mind. I knew the game was big, but a lot of it wasn’t used for Arthur’s story. From a game-making standpoint, I would assume most creators would want people to see everything they worked on. For a game like Red Dead Redemption II, however, part of what makes it so compelling is player freedom and giving them areas off the beaten path to explore.

That option is powerful, and is a large reason why Rockstar North’s open worlds are so successful. From hunting and fishing to searching for dinosaur bones and dreamcatchers, Red Dead Redemption II incentivizes you to take a break from the story. I dove into a fair bit of the side content early on, but later found myself hooked on the story and wanted to see it though to the end before venturing deeper into the mountains.

I know Red Dead Redemption II’s world will be reused for the online component coming later this year, but I hope Rockstar revisits it for more single-player content as well. The world is beautifully realized, and filled with untapped potential. Why not return to it for new stories?

This is an idea Rockstar has already proven works. In Grand Theft Auto IV, Liberty City wasn’t just used to tell Niko Bellic’s story, it was also a home for Johnny Klebitz and Luis Lopez, the stars of The Lost and Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony expansion packs, respectively. Returning to that thriving metropolis and seeing it through the eyes of new protagonists was incredible. I never once felt like their stories should be set anywhere else, and moreover, wasn’t annoyed that I was traversing many of the same neighborhoods and streets that I did as Niko. Similar praise can be showered onto Rockstar for Red Dead Redemption’s Undead Nightmare, which gave us a wildly different experience for John Marston. New stories and characters were enough to keep me thoroughly engaged in both of these games. The backdrop didn’t need to change.

Rockstar had similar plans for Grand Theft Auto V, but the expansion stories were quietly shelved, and the focus shifted completely to supporting the game’s online play. Even though millions of players continue to descend upon San Andreas for multiplayer action to this day, not making more single-player stories was a missed opportunity for Rockstar. I enjoyed the online experience, but didn’t stick with it for long. I gladly would have come back for more single-player content. I hope Red Dead Redemption II doesn’t suffer the same fate as GTA V.

I feel the same way about Insomniac Games’ Spider-Man and most open-world games I enjoy. Getting a secondary Spider-Man campaign as episodic DLC is a nice way to keep the game alive for a few months, but after that, Thanos might as well snap his fingers to make that version of New York City disappear. It’s going to collect dust once all of the DLC is released. I wish Insomniac would find a different way to keep it alive.

Here’s an idea: Why not hand the world off to another development team to use for a game starring another Marvel character. A good number of heroes call New York City home, and their unique powers would be enough to make the experience feel new again, even if the world was largely the same. I could see this working for Daredevil, Luke Cage, The New Warriors, Moon Knight, Doctor Strange, and more. I have no idea what the development cost or effort would be, but I’m guessing city building is a big part of that, and having that work largely complete would help immensely for a new game.

Too many open worlds are one and done. We expect our games to deliver new content, and I know gamers wouldn’t take kindly to news of new game being built upon a world that has already been used. It’s a possibility we really haven’t run into, but if reusing a world lowered the development cost and allowed for a game like Daredevil to be made, I’d be all for it.

I want more superhero games. I want more Rockstar games. I want more open-world games, period. If a game is successful, most developers and publishers want to keep game worlds alive through ongoing services, or shift focus to a sequel. Those are defensible decisions, but if a game is a juggernaut along the lines of Spider-Man and Red Dead Redemption II, why not see what else can come from their worlds?