Since its inception, video games have served as portals to other worlds. Unlike books and movies, they allow us to not only immerse ourselves in another land, but also truly explore another. It was that core fantasy that saw the concept of the open world flourish; What better way to create the feeling of discovering a new world than to build a world with as much depth and as few borders as possible? That goal has seen the open world evolve from a form of environmental design to a completely diverse genre in its own right.
Where linear game design offers slices of another reality, the open world aims to simulate on a larger scale. It combines geography, architecture, population, and events to create a livable city, region or kingdom. However, what really separates the open world from the linear games is the freedom. For some developers, this means offering a wide variety of activities, in a buffet style, to ensure you’re always free to play. What you want. For others, it provides tools for you to freely explore the world How you want.
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom and its predecessor, Breath of the Wild, is a symbol of the philosophy of playing the way you want. Their core mechanics are built around the authentic sense of adventure that organic, free-form exploration can bring. This is why, apart from the main quest, you are given very little direction. Its map has no active icon. Instead, the architecture of the world of Tears of the Kingdom is designed to capture your attention and encourage you to uncover its untold secrets.
Since there are few goals mapped out in advance, the unknown journey toward your chosen goal is just as important as the destination itself. That’s why Hyrule’s terrain, from steep mountains to floating islands, is designed to offer navigational challenges that require real effort and planning to conquer. You may need to plan an grueling climb, risk a dangerous fall, paragliding over an awkward route, or combine more unusual techniques to reach a place of interest. It is through all of this that one attains a real sense of accomplishment, thereby making the discoveries on the other side of those challenges all the more spectacular, whether it is precious treasures or priceless scenery.
Nintendo created Breath of the Wild’s signature exploration style by designing a detailed simulation of the physical world. Gravity, wind, fire, and repulsion can all be harnessed to launch the Link to places that initially seemed inaccessible, and each new discovery makes Hyrule larger and unknowable. Tears of the Kingdom goes one step further with new crafting abilities, Fuse and Ultrahand, which allows you to craft a variety of improvised weapons and items. It’s an impressive system that continually expands the game’s horizons with each new discovery. Experimenting with Ultrahand, for example, might see you build a hot air balloon. That’s a great achievement in its own right, but that airship can now be used to explore distant mountain peaks, or used as part of a new tactic to parachute into camps. by Bokoblin. It’s a domino effect; Each new discovery opens up new ways to play, thereby enhancing Tears of the Kingdom’s sense of freedom.
The development of Breath of the Wild, and Tears of the Kingdom, were partly inspired by the advancements of open world games in the West. We can see that most clearly in Hyrule’s map-revealing towers and Link’s ability to climb almost any surface, two mechanics that build directly on the franchise’s Assassin’s Creed series. Ubisoft. But inspiration is more important, quoted by Nintendo itself, is Skyrim. Bethesda’s spirit of adventure can be found in the way Zelda uses enemy barracks, uncharted secrets, and distant landmarks to be discovered. Nintendo’s interpretation of these ideas has since triggered industry trends; IN Elen’s ring we explore a world with a similar approach to reward curiosity and risk taking, while dead aground is an entire game dedicated to making overcoming challenges the main event.
But while Breath of the Wild is clearly a watershed moment for the industry, its open-world approach isn’t perfect for everyone. Its lack of direction and seemingly endless options can be more limiting than inspiring, and overwhelmed players tend to stick to the main goals and just a few simple, believable techniques. trust. For these players, tutorials and guides can be beneficial, which is where the more traditional gameplay comes in What you want the open world design to come in.
This open world series arose in the early 2000s when the success of Grand Theft Auto 3 ushered in the tidal wave of so-called ‘GTA clones’ and with the release of Assassin’s Creed 2 in 2009, the form Modernity of the genre has completely appeared. It is characterized by a map containing dozens (or sometimes even hundreds) of icons, each representing one of many different types of activities, from main quests to momentary distractions. They are usually spread over several areas. Completing an area can involve playing through several dungeons, solving some puzzles, gathering some resources, and defeating the local world boss, in addition to main and side quests. This arrangement effectively makes the map the question: what mood are you in right now? A detailed main quest, or something more compact?
This design, often referred to (sometimes immodestly) as the ‘Ubisoft formula’, has been the basis of dozens of games, including hits like Batman: Arkham City, Ghost of Tsushima and the series Horizon movie. And it’s clear why this design is so popular: it directs you to some of the world’s most engaging and exciting activities, something invaluable for those in need of instruction, those who play with little time and those who are not. who want to achieve 100% completion.
The arrangement provides a more authored experience; where many of the best moments in Zelda stem from your journey through Hyrule and the things you discover (often by chance) along the way, the greatest successes in the open world are styled More traditional comes from great task or activity design. Ghosts of Tsushima’s duels, Horizon’s mech battles, and Arkham City’s stealthy incursions are all among the genre’s high points, but these are the moments made for because you, rather than via Friend.
However, the more oriented an open world is, the more important it is to maintain a sense of adventure. With so many icons, the world really becomes an awkward menu where you need to walk between game modes. The sense of its place is lost, and its purpose of being an open world in the first place has vanished. Assassin’s Creed Unity is the result of this mistake, Its map display is incomprehensible thanks to a jumble of icons that highlight everything from the main quests to the most trivial treasure chests. As demonstrated by The Witcher 3 and Skyrim, a good open world map knows when to put up signs, when to hint, and when not to say anything.
Perhaps the reason why Rockstar Games is considered one of the most important custodians of the open world, is because their games figure out how to combine exploration and orientation together. The world of Red Dead Redemption 2, the studio’s newest and most successful open world, is filled with author moments. Serial killers, demonic voices, and vampires are just a few famous examples of the bizarre characters and quests you’ll find on your travels across America’s borders. But it’s important that these activities aren’t marked on your map until you stumble across them. In fact, Rockstar is completely reluctant to add icons to its map, using them sparingly to mark important quest givers and previously explored locations. And so, stumbling across one of Red Dead’s many unusual strangers feels like a real discovery, and the quests that result from those encounters are more of a real adventure than an activity. pre-planned action.
By blurring the line between freestyle and precise script, Rockstar achieves its signature atmosphere; The world feels both cinematic and authentic. But that authenticity doesn’t just come from freedom; It is built on simulation. There is a constant two-way conversation between the world and the player. When it snows, you need to dress appropriately to combat the cold. Wade through the water and you’ll need to clean your weapons to restore their effectiveness. Be kind or cruel and the people will respond accordingly. Even the impression of your boots in the mud gives a reliably realistic feel. This is a real world, and even your footprints leave marks on it.
While Rockstar’s apparently limitless budget means its graphics technology can create a world that looks just like photos and is therefore increasingly believable, studios around the world have long realized that images alone could not make the open world feel alive. The earth must react to your presence. This understanding can be traced back through Rockstar’s game; The core of Grand Theft Auto is based on police response. Crime, being chased. Since then, the police wanted system has been replicated in dozens of games, from The Getaway to Cyberpunk 2077, but it’s also the first link in the evolutionary chain that leads to Shadow of MordorNemesis’s incredible system.
In Monolith’s rather traditional open world, seemingly unimportant enemy orcs left to die in the ditch can come back to hunt you down throughout the campaign. They returned to grudge matches over and over again, each time looking more haggard and shabby than the last. In the sequel, Shadow of War, Orcs can learn from their combat mistakes and fight you in increasingly sophisticated ways. They rose through the ranks of Sauron’s army, becoming a threat that grew stronger with each encounter. Behind the scenes, the system is simply an NPC tracking database, but in the land of Middle-earth, these lines of code are a living, breathless gallery of villains. unforgettable enemy. It creates life in a way unlike any other game, and that life stems from the simulation layer in its open-world design.
You can’t escape the Nemesis System in Shadow of Mordor, the same way you can’t escape the police of GTA city or avoid the forces of nature that govern the world of Tears of the Kingdom. And so, while the philosophy that drives the open world is freedom, these games are also about what is beyond the player’s control as well as the opportunities presented to them. The fact that players in Breath of the Wild do not escape the limits of their exhaustion when climbing not only determines their journey but also how freely they explore. Tears of the Kingdom refines that concept further; Your limited stamina and gravity may tie you to the ground, but the Ultrahand – and the amazing sky-flying vehicles it can create – will be what gets you off the earth and getting there. that distant mountain top.
Like Tears of the Kingdom, the next revolutionary open world will once again redefine freedom. I can’t wait to see the possibilities it opens up.
Matt Purslow is IGN’s UK Feature and News Editor.