Open-world games are by far my favorite way to spend time when I boot my computer to sit back, relax, and enjoy a few hours of entertainment. Undefined by a specific genre, these now cover a myriad of gaming concepts and have come to include a broad range of franchises and new IPs. Yet in recent time, I’ve been feeling an increasing sense of fatigue when it comes to playing open-world titles, and I’ve spent some time thinking as to why it may be. Perhaps I’ve played way too many by now, and simply interjected little variety through experiencing different genres. That wouldn’t be the case, though, as I’ve never had such a problem in the past. So, what exactly led me to start getting exhausted from games I play and enjoy most often?
I think the gaming industry is partially at fault here, and I’ll explain to you why. Playing a mix of 2018’s open-world releases, some brand new and some being retreads of a few older games, I can perfectly see why I’ve started hitting fatigue with the genre. I’ve played Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey for maybe a good 35-40 hours, and overall enjoyed it significantly, yet after taking a short break from it, I’ve simply lost interest to ever come back to the game in a very long time. Similarly, now when I’m playing Just Cause 4, Avalanche’s vast sandbox of destruction, I’m dreading the point where I’d have to complete a massive list of to-do tasks in its enormous open-world to unlock the next story mission. I still enjoy it very much, in part because of stellar execution of its moment-to-moment gameplay that hasn’t got repetitive just yet, but I can see myself get bored in the near distant future. Both AC: Odyssey and Just Cause 4 feature enormous gaming worlds that take well over 100 hours each to cover, and this is part of the problem in the industry in general. Bigger doesn’t always mean better, and these two clearly demonstrate why.
This may sound like I’ve just played way too many open world releases in general and that’s true to an extent, but here comes the point where I disprove that notion. The other two games I’ve played in recent weeks were Burnout Paradise Remastered – an updated version of the once venerable racing franchise; and Sunset Overdrive – one of Insomniac Games’ many vibrant and over the top open-world mayhems that popped up on Steam in fall of 2018. In neither of the two, did I ever feel tempted to quit from boredom or fatigue with the size of their maps. Burnout Paradise and Sunset Overdrive hail from the time where the gaming industry wasn’t as bothered with increasing the size of every open world it makes as it is right now. The latter isn’t even that old, having come four years to PC after its initial release on Xbox One, yet its compact design left me having way more fun than any sandboxes to come out in 2018 (apart from Subnautica which I discount on the basis its central gameplay loop ties into exploring the open map).
Neither Burnout nor Sunset Overdrive will impress the industry that almost demands ginormous open as a norm, but these two I’ve had significantly more fun with in recent time. One doesn’t have to offer a vast expanse of a map to fill players’ time with quality content, and either example understands how to throw in many diverse elements without coming off as an exhaustive to-do list. Burnout Paradise fills every part of its world with hundreds of yellow gates you’re tempted to smash, and with most located off the beaten path, it encourages players to go out of their way to explore its open world. Given Paradise City’s rather small size by modern standards, I never got exhausted from exploring its streets, and driving from one end of the city to another never takes longer than a few minutes. Sunset Overdrive similarly engages players by filling its world with a variety of randomized events and gives them numerous traversal options to move around. Sunset City never felt too big either, and looking at the map, one can see its size is considerably smaller compared to much of 2018’s sandbox gaming.
I realize my exhaustion with open-world titles simply comes from the industry’s emphasis on creating the biggest possible maps one can spend time in, yet doesn’t focus on adding much meaning to the sandbox experience. The likes of Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey and Ghost Recon: Wildlands may offer giant worlds you simply get lost in, yet fill them up with so much repetitive content that one can completely burn out on trying to complete it. I’ve hit the point where I still enjoy any sandbox experience I come across, though the size of the open-world begins to matter. Larger games begin to feel like an absolute chore once you’ve played for 20 or 30 hours, and with no end in sight, one simply gives up on trying to hit the highest completion rate possible. The gaming industry needs to refocus on creating meaningful experiences in sandbox game design, and while bigger maps are great and all, filling them up with repetitive content doesn’t pay off. Instead, it needs to go back to creating meaningful content in open-world gaming that will keep players engaged regardless of the map size. Sure not all gamers have the same problem, but I’ve began to seriously burn out on vast sandboxes, especially those from Ubisoft, EA and Square Enix.
Do you get the similar sense of exhaustion from open-world titles and think they’re getting too big for their own good? And how should the industry approach this problem? Let me know what you think in the comments below.