Open world games are my preferred means of gaming escapism. There’s nothing as riveting as a fully explorable environment, that can be interacted with at your leisure, without your personal liberation’s being negated by the restrictions of being ordained as the world’s obligatory saviour. Running errands that supplement my deficient finances and my proficiency in stealing anything that isn’t nailed down. Commodities that can be sold off for a modest price, to merchants with a curious business strategy of trading my worthless goods for coin, with an exchange rate that would cripple most businesses that seek to make profit. Refining my wanting aptitude for combat, as I engage with a low level enemy, thrusting my blunted sword into its knees repeatedly, forgetting all of the advice listed in the tutorial, that would have allowed me to dispatched this enemy in half the time.
Ever since I discovered the premise of an open world game as a kid, I’ve been fascinated by the conceit. Though the pervasive intrusion of senility obscures much of my formative recollections of playing my first open world title – though it was probably Pokemon Yellow – I do know that it was GTA: Vice City that I played most. Navigating those drug trafficked, money laundering, pedestrian splattered streets, as I profligate capitalism is as fresh to me now as it was 20 years ago. Replete in all the nostalgic whimsy that allows what is a rather conservative sized city, to evoke an inflated recollection of its diversity in my mind. Despite it’s age and subsequent progression of the series since, it’s devilishly stylised setting and enduring soundtrack makes Vice City as anarchic as any of its follow ups. Though its concerning how much better I am at traversing a fictional city, than I am my own!
Every open world offers something different. GTA depicts an ambience with a more sardonic tone, volatile environment and fluent personal autonomy than say the limited, carefully sanitised lands in the Pokemon series. Some games have a vast and diverse ecology, with an expansive mythology and disputed lore that can be theorised independent from the game. Much like Skyrim. A game that revels in the deviations of player prerogative. And that also still amuses me with the cavalier patrols, that regard the sudden death of one of their own with such indifference. With the exalted virulence of the wind being an amusing stooge for my veiled assassinations. And yet despite the comparative themes, comprehensive mythology and similar setting, Skyrim is a completely different experience to another Fantasy dominant game in the Witcher 3.
But that’s the beauty of them really – the uniqueness. Some have better combat. A more engaging story. But if the environment is rich and compelling, many of these other elements that are necessary for the majority of linear standard experiences, are kind of perfunctory.