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.

Grand-Theft-Auto-V-Screenshot-Wallpaper-A-Fitting-FinaleThere’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?

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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.

Nathan Hughes
Follow me on Twitter (www.twitter.com/OnlySP_Nathan) for more nonsense.

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17 Comments

  1. I think some are too big in a sense.. Like Assassins Creed games worlds are big, but they are spaced closely and together most of the time and it doesn’t seem like it takes an hour to get to the next checkpoint. Other games could take an hour to get across the maps.

    1. Yep, a lot of games can take forever to travel across. I don’t mind it when you’re being entertained or get to witness to awesome views but you don’t always get that luxury.

  2. To be honest I’d be fine with GTA6 having a map the size of GTA3’s but with every building fully explorable and actual interesting things to do outside of the missions. Even if the story doesn’t take me through every single neighborhood.

    1. Yea, nothing broke the illusion of freedom as much as only being able to enter 12(?) buildings in GTA V. I’d love for a bigger open world in the sense that the world is more explorable, with every building accessible. It’s a big ask but I’d love to see it pulled off.

      1. Yeah, they focus on making a bigger open world, but it’s a much emptier world when you realize the only things you can go into are the gun store, the car store, the car repair/repaint place, and certain key mission buildings. I’d love to be able to just randomly break into people’s houses in GTA. Toss in the potential for security alarms and even jump on the minigame bandwagon for some disarming minigames to shut off alarms before breaking in. Just seems like it’d make the game more immersive to me. If we only get a 3 mile large map so be it we have 10x the content even if it’s a smaller space to play in.

      2. I think saints row 2 is the perfect example of a modern open world. With the level of diversity of NPC dialogue and the amount of enterable buildings and activities it just never gets old. On the other hand sr3 is the worst. The map is small and is also lacking in content.

  3. Great article! I agree with a lot, if not all, of what was said. I’m a huge fan of vast open worlds in-game, but they aren’t always necessary. GTAV is the perfect example of how not to do it. Everyone was hyped over how big they were claiming the map to be until we started playing. Then you realize vast portions of it might as well not even exist. RDR, as you mentioned, never had that problem. If anything you wanted to explore every nook & cranny in that game. And it’s not even because RDR was so jam-packed full of content, but because it was FUN to explore. Although that’s not to say it didn’t have its fair share of content. Between random encounters, hunting, horse taming, treasure maps, challenge system, and even flower picking, you could always have fun doing something. GTAV felt like a huge step back in that regard.

    1. I always though GTA V just felt odd with its map size, like it was wearing a shoe size two, three times too big ! The game is absolutely fantastic and delivers a true, living breathing world but the content versus the map size is slightly off.

  4. I think you’re missing the beauty of GTA5s massive world. Yes, missions alone wont show you every corner of it, but the fact that these intricately detailed environments exist not only lends to the sense of immersion and realism but it shows the developers’ attention to detail. Plus if you play the game long enough, some random police pursuit could eventually lead you just about anywhere. Its why GTA3 raised the bar for sandbox environments and GTA5 raised it even higher

    1. Fair point. GTA 5 is an impressively built world and sets the standard for open world games for sure. I honestly don’t think any other developer could pull off a game world on that scale and still deliver an consistently enjoyable product.

  5. Game worlds are more commonly large nowadays, but they’ve been larger in the past. I don’t think any game has yet to have a world larger than the one from Daggerfall (161,600 square kilometers, or 62,394 square miles).

  6. i hope whoever dislikes or doesnt want big game worlds die in a fire.. your scum and its your cave men like thinking that prevents innovation and amazing things.. kill yourselves..do the gamers a favor.. or stick to facebook games and stfu

  7. I can see both points. Arkham City didn’t feel alive for me, but GTA5 had enough random stuff going on to keep me interested. Although admittedly it would be good to actually enter all the buildings you come across! As an aside, I’m new to the site (mostly use IGN) and it’s very refreshing to come across a comments board containing real debate rather than one sentence flame wars unrelated to the topic of the article…

    1. Welcome! We usually try to keep things on topic for editorials and it really helps that we’ve some pretty awesome commenters who simply just like to talk about games. Sure, you get the odd griefer comment or resolution debate here and there but we always try to keep the discussion focused and smart.

  8. I dont think all the game worlds are super large or to complain about, but when they make them that large they should do more Q&A and beta testing before releasing to the public to fix as many bugs as possible. And from every game ive played that was open world were great games just some times buggy due to the largeness of the city and framerate drops due to the amount of items on screen at the same time.

  9. I think it’s fine. Just Cause had one of the biggest maps in a game at the time but it just felt empty to me despite being so big. GTA V’s city and countryside felt a lot more alive and there was always activity going on.

  10. I’m playing GTA 5 right now, and find myself constantly experiencing 2 conflicting emotions:

    1. I’m impressed with the scope of the gameworld.
    2. I wish it were smaller.

    Why? Because, like stated above in the article:

    “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…”

    It’s a tradeoff, of course, but I frankly don’t understand why you would choose “big and empty” over “smaller and packed”?

    I understand it’s a tradeoff, a technical matter of having a finite amount of memory upon which to design your game, but I’d much rather see Rockstar lose even 50% of the map and use those extra megabytes to design MORE gameplay – and detail – into the other 50% of the map.

    I’d like to be able to walk into nearly EVERY building and interact with a variety of UNIQUE objects and characters, than be surrounded by endless facade (which at times starts to get downright creepy, as when you walk up to a window and realize its just a flat, 2D drawing to save on memory space).

    I had this problem (to a somewhat lesser extent) with SKYRIM as well.

    But GTA 5 seems to have taken it to a new level.

    And not necessarily a good one…

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