Less is More: 2015 and the Year of Open World Fatigue

The slew of recent open world games made me re-examine not only what types of games I enjoy, but the gaming review process in general.

Image via CD Projekt Red

What Do You Mean You Didn’t Like ‘The Witcher 3’?

Back in December I started thinking about 2015 and what the year meant for video games. 2015 boasted some of the most innovative and graphically advanced games we as gamers have ever seen, as both Xbox One and PS4 continued to rise in popularity and expand their user bases. When looking over all of the game releases for 2015 however, I started to notice a trend: games are bigger and filled with more stuff than ever before. Games like The Witcher 3, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Just Cause 3, Fallout 4, Batman: Arkham Knight and Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, to name a few, boast an incredible amount of quests, characters, activities and possibilities for emergent gameplay. Unfortunately they also boast a lot of, well, stuff.

Now maybe you’ve played some of these games and thought, “Hey, I don’t know what this guy is talking about. Those games have so much to collect and upgrade that I never get bored!” This is a valid point and ultimately gets at the heart of this piece. Put simply, I feel that the video game market is suffering from too much saturation of the open world genre, and as a result, games that many reviewers and people played and enjoyed, I wound up being bored and unsatisfied with.

Too Much of a Good Thing

Image via Bethesda

Image via Bethesda

Let me be clear. I am not saying that Fallout 4 or Just Cause 3 sucks or that any of the aforementioned titles are bad. What I am saying is I can’t differentiate between these games anymore, nor do I really care to. Most of these titles to me feel like time soakers and checklists. Playing these games was about as enjoyable as scratching items off of my grocery list. Probably the best example I have of my open world fatigue comes from Fallout 4. The much-anticipated title was everywhere in the media for the first few weeks after its release. It was almost impossible to look at a gaming news source or any Twitch/YouTube content without seeing something referencing Fallout 4. Bethesda has made, and continues to make, great games over the years, so the fact that people were so enamored with Fallout 4 was no surprise. I had several friends who bought the game Day 1 and proceeded to dump some 50 – 100 hours into it, loving every second of it. I too bought the game on the day of its release and was extremely hyped. Since then, I played it for about five hours before selling it back. That’s it. The game never hooked me into its quest lines, its dialogue trees or even its post apocalyptic setting, all because it was more of what I’d already seen, and not just from previous Bethesda titles, but from other titles in 2015.

It seems to me that as the technology progresses, developers and gamers are becoming obsessed with the idea of putting as much fluff into a map that’s as big as it possibly can be. On the one hand, bang for your buck is a pretty good ideal. Paying 60 dollars for an open world game that you can get 200 hours out of is a great bargain. On the other hand, the question has to be asked if all this extra content is making the game a better experience for the player. Just because a game has more stuff to do, does that make it an inherently better game? I think the answer is no.

Let’s Talk Ethics

One of the hard parts about reviewing games is understanding that everyone who plays video games brings with them their own predispositions. We as gamers come into the experience of playing a game with its former entries in mind. Thus, playing Grand Theft Auto V isn’t an isolated experience, it is the culmination of playing past entries, remembering parents banning the games and the marketing for GTA V all coming together. Essentially this means that people are going to like the games that they like, plain and simple. As a consumer we should try to recognize that we have a bias and find people that agree with or challenge our existing opinions. So while some of you might agree that there is an oversaturation of open world games in today’s market, just as many of you won’t, and that’s great.

Image via Rockstar

Image via Rockstar Games

For me, this is where the trouble with reviewing games has always come in. Traditionally, I as the reviewer am going to sit down and play a game all the way through, and I am then going to attempt to give this game a numerical score that fits for the average viewer or reader who has no previous experience with the game. There’s a few problems with this model though. Gaming journalism evolved quickly and has reached a point where today those interested can find a plethora of outlets for the game reviews and news they want to see (IGN, Gamespot, Kotaku, Polygon, Rooster Teeth, YouNerded, etc.). Each of these outlets has multiple reviewers with their own biases. Rather than trying to give a game a score of 1 to whatever, I propose we look to different reviewers for their ideas and perspectives.

For example, it’s no secret that I love Halo and the Sci-Fi shooter genre. So, when Halo 5 came out and I wrote my review for it, it should have been clear that the score I gave the game was a result of not only me playing the game, but me factoring in my already existing biases on what a Sci-Fi shooter should be. Additionally, as I noted earlier in this piece, I’m pretty sick of open world games, so if I wrote a review of Fallout 4, you could expect the score I give it would be less than someone who doesn’t share this same notion of open world fatigue. It should be organic for readers to start to align themselves with the views and reviews of a particular writer they’re in agreeance with.

Competing Viewpoints

Reviewers and gamers alike shouldn’t have to agree on whether or not a game is good. In fact, it’s probably better that people disagree. This allows for more game genres to be recognized and enjoyed by different fan bases. Realistically, 2015 wasn’t a disappointing year in gaming for everyone, but it was for me. As someone who grew incredibly sick of open world games, The Witcher 3, Fallout 4 and the like just didn’t cut it for me. So ultimately when I was trying to decide what my favorite game of the year was, it ended up being Life is Strange, a dialogue-centric story about a girl in an art academy with the ability to rewind time. Even though Life is Strange clocked in at only about 15 hours over its five episodes and featured relatively simplistic controls and mechanics, it featured some of the most beautiful and innovative gaming experiences in my recent memory. I hope that 2016 features more games like this, games that push the envelope on what the experience of gaming can be. I’d like us to become greater storytellers rather than seeing how many bases and collectibles we can cram into a 50 square mile map.

Image via Avalanche Studios

Image via Avalanche Studios

I encourage you all to take a look at the types of games you enjoy and ask, “Why?” Why does a particular franchise or genre speak to you? Do you play games for their stories, their gameplay or both? In doing this, you will inevitably get at the heart of what games mean to you and what you expect to get out of the experience of playing them.

What were your favorite games of 2015? Do you feel that there were too many open world games last year? Tweet me @Flagcap. And be sure to follow us @YouNerded.

About Colin Kolhoven (18 Articles)
Pikmin chasing gaming personality at You can find my videos on my YouTube channel, Flagcap Games. Happy Gaming!

Press any button to START

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: