New Game+: In open worlds, too much can be just right

May 16, 2014


Despite how many games I find myself burning through, I rarely complete absolutely everything in them, especially those featuring open worlds. This is why I was in shock when I stared at my completion percentage for inFamous: Second Son. “100 percent,” it said. I actually did everything the game had to offer. It was something I was momentarily proud of, but that pride quickly dissolved when I realized just how little the world of Second Son had to offer. Even if you do everything available, it shouldn’t take you more than 15 hours. I certainly enjoyed my time with Delsin Rowe and virtual Seattle, but it offered me little of what I expect from sandbox-style adventures.

The reason I never complete large, open-world games like Grand Theft Auto V is because I often find them absolutely overwhelming. There might just be too much for me to do. Yet I find this idea of a large in-game map covered with icons for different activities and other random nonsense pleasing. Some might be taken aback by a large world. For example, I have friends who attempt to play a game like Skyrim and simply can’t proceed because they have too much freedom. They don’t necessarily need a linear path; they just want more structure. I get that, they aren’t for everyone, but that’s not why I come to these games.


These days, I feel like some look at an open world title with a lot of side activities and see it as a negative. Sure, sometimes developers add lazy side content just to make the world seem bigger or to artificially lengthen the experience, but that is rare these days. Most worlds, whether they are fantastical in nature, like in Skyrim, or recreations of real cities, like in GTA V, feel more alive when they offer something outside of the main story missions. There’s something about knowing a game offers more content than I am willing to actually examine and complete that makes it feel like a more complex, lived-in world and not just a sandbox thrown together by people.

Knowing I can wander into a city in Skyrim and find a variety of characters to talk to and quests to complete is awe-inspiring, even years after the original Elder Scrolls games captured my imagination. I know full well I won’t be able to talk to every NPC and complete every quest, but I’m okay with that. I’m only one person – a person who can single-handedly take down dragons, mind you, but still a person – so I accept that I will never be able to solve everybody’s problems. I could, yes, but I never want to; just knowing there will always be more Skyrim for me to come back to in the future is enough.


Grand Theft Auto V doesn’t offer the same kind of exploration-based rewards you would get from a game like Skyrim, but its real life-inspired cityscape is full of wonders regardless. Once I was finally able to traverse the world as I saw fit, I took the time to get accustomed with everything it had to offer, knowing full well much of it would remain unexplored. There were countless side missions and other activities to participate in, most of it offering at least a base level of entertainment, and it all seemed wonderful. I loved being overwhelmed by the world and knowing I would leave it behind with plenty of uncharted riches.

This is why Second Son feels so empty despite being full of random civilians in need of assistance or cheering me and my heroic deeds on whenever possible. There is a limited number of activities and it doesn’t take long at all to clear it all out. Don’t let my disappointment confuse you, I still had great fun with the game’s powers and missions, but it was a short experience. Once I finished the story and cleared out each area I was only left with a seemingly lifeless world full of cardboard cutouts churning out the same five lines of dialogue about being a hero to the people.


Open worlds beg to be explored and almost dare you to do as much of it as you can. I almost never do because, sometimes, I wish the unknown would remain unknown. Once I put a game down and step away, I like thinking about that world and how it continues to go on without me. There are people still in need and activities waiting to be explored, but I know it’ll be there for me when I get back. This is what makes open world games great and why creative side content is always welcomed. It’s not just busy work; it’s meaningful to the experience.

It’s a living, breathing world that doesn’t stop simply because of a percentage counter; it continues on, even when my time there is done. That element may overwhelm some to the point of frustration, but sometimes knowing a game’s potential seems limitless is what makes those experiences the most memorable of all.