A rather common theme in gaming these days is to feature the bullet point “This game is X times bigger than that game.” The Witcher 3 is “20% bigger” than Skyrim and Arkham Knight is “five times bigger than Arkham City”. But does bigger always mean better? Does a larger mass of land always equate to a better game? Have we reached a stage where the game world is getting almost too big for its boots? Let’s discuss.
I jumped back into Grand Theft Auto V recently and made a goal to see how long it would take to drive around the map and after a solid 15 minutes, I completed my lap of the gargantuan island and was simply stunned. This map was one that was set to be bigger than Red Dead Redemption, San Andreas and Grand Theft Auto IV put together and while I drove around it, I realised that practically 70% was just scenery.
Most of the game’s plot and features take place in the main city and eventually move out to Blaine County where we meet Trevor. Breaking away from Grand Theft Auto tradition, V’s missions do not bring you to every inch of the map as you progress but rather focus on the city and the odd location here and there in the desert area. As a result, the game has a lot of elements that many players would never notice.
There’s so much detail in this game that feels rather unnecessary from the highly detailed layouts of factories and farmlands to different AI for hitchhikers or cyclists. Unless you seek it out, you will never find it. Most players might stick to the story and do side missions, but even then you will not discover the world’s details unless you unearth it. So why was the map created to be so big when there’s been little to no focus on major sections of it? Who is this exceptionally large map created for if there’s nothing to interact with as you venture north? Is it just there for bragging rights that V’s map is the biggest one yet?
Maybe I’m missing the point. I’m a player who would always prefer a smaller map with a lot of things to do nearby than a huge one with a lot of space between, but isn’t that the aim of open world games? To have as much land for the player to traverse? That’s why I’m anxious about the new Arkham game. With a map that’s meant to be 20 times bigger than Arkham Asylum, Arkham Knight is going to be Rocksteady’s biggest map to date. But just what is it going to feature? Will it be numerous derelict building after derelict building or can Rocksteady deliver a map that is packed to the brim with interesting features and stuff to do in the map?
On the other side of the argument, sometimes a game world can be big and interesting. Games like Red Dead Redemption or Assassin’s Creed IV feature incredibly massive gameworlds but still offer enough content to keep you interested. Whether it’s random events or pirate ship battles, these games keep you interested as you traverse its massive map.
I think a problem many games run into is that the map they create does not possess enough gameplay to make it feel like it’s fully packed. You run into a lot of “barren” areas in games because sometimes the developer’s focus lies on one part and unfortunately neglect another part. Yet games like ACIV and Red Dead prove that a massive game world does not always have to mean a wasteland full of empty space.
What do you think? Have game worlds reached a point where they’re just excessively big, or is there a valid point to these increasing expansions? Let me know what you think in the comments below.