Open World & Sandbox Games

I’ve recently been playing games like Shadow Of Mordor, Fallout New Vegas, Far Cry 3, Saints Row 4, and now GTA V / Online. It got me thinking about open world and sandbox games and how they have impacted gaming.

Brave New [Open] World

Grand Theft Auto Liberty City
GTA 3’s Liberty City is one of the most iconic open world maps in gaming.

It goes without saying, that video games have come a long way, and the late 90’s going into the early 2000’s was a really special time for a lot of us. It’s when we were introduced to the Dual Shock controller, which became essential for first and third person shooters on consoles. The Sega Dreamcast made it’s debut in 1999 to be followed up by the PlayStation 2, Direct XBox, and Gamecube over the next few years.

We can’t discuss open world / sandbox games without mentioning the Grand Theft Auto (GTA) series, because it’s arguably one of the most innovative open world games. My first real open world gaming experience was Grand Theft Auto 3 like many of my fellow gamers during the era. Previous GTA titles had a top down view, and while the maps were open, allowing you to essentially go wherever you wanted, GTA 3 literally took things to the next level.

GTA 3’s Liberty City was nothing short of jaw dropping for me. It was a living breathing city that reacted to my actions. Not only that, it was also a world where I could essentially do whatever I wanted. Most of the time “whatever I wanted” included beating up strangers, stealing cars, provoking the local authorities, only to end up having a last stand on a roof top going toe to toe with SWAT teams, helicopters, and tanks….most of the time to the 8 Mile soundtrack.

The Choice Is Yours…So Is The Consequence

fallout new vegas fan fiction
Fallout: New Vegas has several factions, that will shun you for siding with an opposing one

Story based open world and sandbox games hinge greatly on choice (at least the good ones do). This is something that I personally felt like I didn’t have a ton of in prior games. Sure you had the “good ending / bad ending” choices for most adventure games, but that usually required waiting until the end of the game to really see how you impacted the game world, almost as if consequence took a back seat. In GTA and many games that followed, consequence began to ride shotgun with choice:

  • Stole a car in front of a Cop? He’ll chase you!
  • Decide to stealth kill before an enemy is out of line of sight? You’ll get discovered and most likely killed!
  • Side with a faction? Get shunned by an opposing one!
  • Killed an important NPC? Lose out on possible quests/missions and their rewards later!

Fallout: New Vegas has several factions, that will shun you for siding with an opposing one, making the decision of who to side with paramount, especially since different faction quests offer different rewards and story elements.

Having choices in your favorite game is great, but having consequences to those choices is even better. It not only adds replay value, but it also serves to connect the player with the world around them, especially if their choices and actions have a lasting impact on the game world and story.

Rise To Power

Middle-Earth-Shadow-of-Mordor-2
Shadow Of Mordor’s Nemesis system will keep you on your toes

A good progression system is crucial to any game. If you don’t feel like moving forward is rewarding, you most likely won’t. Shadow Of Mordor gives you the opportunity to roam, freely picking fights with mobs of enemies, stealth killing, or sniping. It also has RPG elements offering additional abilities, combos, and bonuses as you level up. There is also a branching skill tree to offer a varied game play experience.

Adding to the players choices and impact on the game world, Shadow of Mordor’s Nemesis system dynamically changes the units you face and how they react to your presence depending on whom you defeat and are defeated by. This system can either be used to your advantage, or the bane of your existence depending on how you choose to take down the enemy ranks.

Open World Open Possibilities

The blending of game genres is becoming increasingly more popular as new games are released. With so many game mechanics being thrown into the mix, it seems that the only game type literally big enough to fit so much variety is the open world / sandbox and more often than not starts there.

Do you have a favorite open world game? What makes it your favorite? What are some things you’d like to see in future open world games? Let’s keep the conversation going in the comments!

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