The Problem with: Open-World Games

Ever wondered why games like AC Unity and Watch Dogs had weak stories? It's because they're Open world games sprinkled with near pointless side missions that distract you from the main story.

Ever wondered why games like AC Unity and Watch Dogs had weak stories? It's because they're Open world games sprinkled with near pointless side missions that distract you from the main story.
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When anyone is thinking about open-world games where you can explore places to really get “immersed” into the game, one company really stands out to all gamers. 

ubisoft logo

Ubisoft is wildly famous and well-known for their core formulaic type of gameplay that’s spread across all, if not most of their games. It’s the open world where there are view points / radio towers and whatever else Ubi wants to call them. You also got your side missions and little collectibles that are dotted around the entire map for you to discover. Whatever game you play of theirs, be it Watch Dogs, Far Cry or Assassin’s Creed, one of these, if not all, core mechanics are present in their games. 

It’s essentially the same type of game covered in an entirely new skin. 

This isn’t an article that’s going to rip on Ubisoft though. Some of their games are pretty good like the  series which I enjoyed playing.

This article is about how the open-world formula negatively affects one’s gaming experience. 

All about preferences

Perhaps it all comes down to the taste of the particular gamer. Some gamers enjoy an open world that they can get lost in and freely explore. Other gamers are looking for some engaging gameplay or an emotionally driven narrative. It’s these core tastes of gamers that help them justify whether a game is really worth playing or not. I’m the type of guy that really enjoys and less open world experience that’s focused more on the narrative i.e Last of Us, Uncharted or Devil May Cry series. I do like myself a piece of exploration where I’m rewarded for venturing off the beaten path. But what I, and many other gamers play games for, is the story. 

In short, what I’m trying to say is this: the open world manner that games from companies like Ubisoft and Bioware are structured really hamper the stories that their games are trying to tell. Rather than caring about the characters, you’re stuck doing missions which have no depth or opportunities for character development in them. 

Exhibit A

Assassin’s Creed Unity is the latest botched effort by Ubisoft, a company that’s been making AC games for many years now. The story and characters could’ve easily been the best of the year if they didn’t invest so much time trying to insert a ton of useless and pointless side activities just to increase play time. The blue colored assassin missions are literally just a type of fetch quest where you have to get from A to B and kill this guy. That’s it.

Who am I killing? Why am I killing this guy? Did he do something wrong? None of these questions are answered in these small side missions the game offers. Instead of making these useless missions that get you more money, wouldn’t it be better if the developers spent more time in QA fixing all the major and minor bugs of the game while also improving the narrative and characters? 

Exhibit B

I quiet enjoyed the Mass Effect games from Bioware. I never really finished any of those games but the story was quiet immersive and it made me care about my characters and that greatly affected any major decision making in the game. This was partly due to the fact that the side missions felt like they were a proper extension to the story. These side quests felt important. 

I came to Dragon Age: Inquisition with the same mindset since they’re both Bioware games. Sadly, all I felt I was was Thedas’s errand boy instead of the almighty inquisitor that’s suppose to save the world. The amount of quests that just have you going around killing X number of enemies and reporting back is ridiculous. The constant grinding and A to B type of side quests all take you out of the game.

This is suppose to be a game where I’m suppose to constantly make tough decisions and save the world, instead I get stuck trying to close X number of rifts in the area or discovering Y number of camps while collecting Z number of shards scattered across the map. Eventually, you do so many of these repetitive tasks that you forget what the whole point of the story was. 

Don’t get me wrong here. Dragon Age is great when you’re doing stuff that actually matters to the campaign, or when you do plain epic things like battle off dragons and giants. However those moments don’t come as often as they should. 

An example of a story done right

Call me a Last of Us fanboy, go ahead. But you can’t argue that Naughty Dog did an amazing job with the game. Much better than Bioware and Ubisoft did with their games. Unlike AC Unity, that wanted to be a game for EVERYONE, Last of Us was set in it’s ways and what it wanted to bring to gamers. It was a linear action-adventure game that followed it’s plot without any distractions from start to finish. 

If I had to put it in simple terms. AC Unity is a game that everyone can slightly enjoy. Last of Us is a game that a certain market segment will fully enjoy. 

At the end game, Last of Us was almost successful in making me tear up. The connection you develop with the characters, the way Joel and Ellie change in more ways than one throughout your playthrough. All this is only possible if the game had you fully invested and focused on the narrative from start to finish, instead of having you focus on story at one point and distracting you with a side mission the next. I didn’t particularly like the ending and the developers probably had other conclusions in mind but I’m glad to see a developer basically tell gamers “This is the ending. Period. Don’t like it? well, too bad, there’s not going to be some BS DLC to ‘fix’ the ending”.

To conclude this rant, I’m not saying all games should be not open world or have very few side missions. It’s fine to make open world games. Hell, the Far Cry series have been fun so far. It’s just sad to see a game try so hard to please everyone by including mechanics that different types of gamers enjoy. It’s far better to be excellent in 1 aspect of your game rather than be the jack of all trades and be a mediocore game. 

I’d like to know your thoughts about this in the comments section. It’s not a debate or a keyboard war I’m trying to start here. Just a healthy respectful discussion among gamers. 

About the author

Farrel Nobel

I've been playing games since I was small but only started to really observe and critique a few years back. Been writing reviews for games (albeit, old games because not everyone can have a crazy fast rig). When I'm not writing about games, I generally do some photography as well, so check that out if you've got some time.