Open Worlds

For years I have been playing games, and I’ve seen them develop a hell of a lot, from the simplistic up and down motion of a Pong paddle to the full on open worlds that we enjoy today.

The freedom to explore the game world can mean that you spend hours doing anything and everything apart from the story, simply because you want to see what that building in the distance is, what’s over that hill, or what’s around the next corner.  This vast openness of being able to just pick a direction and explore is a great option to have but sometimes is also a little daunting.

The Capitol Building, standing statuesque among the rubble of the Capital Wasteland... but bear in mind that this area isn't even 10% of the full map

When you first leave Vault 101 in Fallout 3, you see a vast wasteland in front of you and, with no actual idea where to go, you can simply pick a direction and set off to see what the world has to offer.  Unfortunately, in Fallout, it’s usually death at the hands of some local raiders.  It is a harsh world to be thrown into, but you can quickly stumble upon the remains of some local homes with signs leading to the first town of Megaton.  From here you get to talk to some of the locals who offer you some quests and suddenly you have new locations to explore on your map.

The accepted figure is that Cyrodiil has 357 individual locations, click on the image to view a detailed map showing each of the individual locations

Once you have completed the game, you can look at your map and still see so many discovered locations that you have not yet explored.  I know I spent weeks going through all the unexplored locations in the world and it’s not just the look of the land with destroyed buildings you can see on your travels, you also have the freedom to go inside the buildings and explore the different floors and rooms.

Fallout 3 was made by Bethesda who also brought us Oblivion; another RPG with an expansive open world to explore however, unlike the post apocalyptic world of Fallout’s wastelands, the colourful world of Cyrodiil is a beautiful, lush world to explore.  Again, you can ignore the main story line and complete quests for the other people you meet on your travels, or just go exploring and pick a direction to see what you can discover, and there is a lot to discover.

So that’s two large worlds in two games, both of which are RPGs, but that’s not to say you only get these huge open worlds in RPGs – Grand Theft Auto has been doing the same thing for years too.  You only need to look at GTA IV to find a huge world to explore in Liberty City but, unlike Fallout and Oblivion, you don’t have the freedom to explore the entire map from the start as GTA opens it up to you as you go, restricting access to the other areas of Liberty City until it’s time for the story to progress.  There is, however, a lot to do before and after you access the entire map.

Liberty City... where else can you stop playing through the story and take in a comedy act?

Liberty City is based on New York and its different boroughs.  There is such a busy, living, breathing city to explore and, if you want to take a break from the story, there are plenty of other things to occupy your time.  You can go play pool, darts, ten pin bowling, take in a comedy show at the local comedy club or sit in your apartment and watch the comedy club or one of the other shows on TV.  You can drive around listening to the radio stations, whether it’s music channels or talk radio or adverts for America‘s Next Top Hooker and even go into the local internet cafes to explore the net and e-mails that exists in the GTA world.

Recently I have been playing Just Cause 2 which has another huge map and is probably the most beautiful world to explore.  The Panau islands are so rich in colour, from the white topped snowy mountains to the dusty arid lands, or the deep blues of the sea to the tree lined towns and villages. I feel the best way to see what the world looks like is to explore it from the air and there is no shortage of aerial vehicles to choose from either, from many variations of helicopters and planes to pilot.  Once you get some height you can jump out of your flying machine and freefall or open a parachute and glide around the world.

Now, all these games have worlds inhabited by people living their day to day lives and giving someone to interact with and you wouldn’t be wrong in thinking that is how an open world should be, yet there is another game I want to mention that has almost no people in it and yet still offers an open world to explore and enjoy – Burnout Paradise.  A world filled with miles and miles of road to drive, cruise, crash and discover although the cars themselves don’t have drivers, and the only time you see people is if you decide to ride a motorbike instead of a car.

Although the Burnout Paradise world is devoid of people, it doesn’t make this any less of an enjoyable world.  Again, you are presented with a large map to travel around and discover locations and not only did Criterion give us Paradise City to explore, but they also provided additional DLC in the form of  Big Surf Island.  In Paradise City, you have the freedom to drive all across the map and anytime you come to the end of one road and turn onto another, you will discover a racing event.  These events are dotted around the map and make up your objectives to complete whenever you want to experience the racing game itself.

If you want that elusive Elite License, be prepared to know these roads like a London cabbie!

There are certainly a lot of places to discover, some that are so familiar to many of us: the airfield, quarry, baseball stadium and the beach with its barrel rolling ramps.  There are plenty of cars to choose from, and you can also invite friends into your game to race around the world with you, setting records, racing, completing challenges together or simply crashing into each other. (Or being pushed off the ledge overlooking the quarry… several times – Ed)

These are just a few of the worlds I have explored while gaming, but the openness and the ability and freedom to step away from the story of the game and just experience the world in which the game developers have created is always a joy.  They can seem overwhelming at first because of the size of the maps but, as you play them, places become familiar as you learn your way around.  There have been many games when I have just accepted the world as a playing area and enjoyed the game for what it is, yet there are some game worlds that have so much included in them, that you just can’t help but want to look around.

They say it’s a big world out there and, admittedly, I haven’t seen a lot of it but I am happy to explore these virtual worlds and I usually end up a lot richer in these game worlds than in the real world, if only I could transfer some of that money into my real world bank account.

Last five articles by The Rook



  1. Kat says:

    Quarry shoving ftw!

    Panau is just incredible. Such a stunning game world. It’s partially what keeps me playing what is essentially a rather repetitive game. That and blowing shit up of course ;)

  2. Ben Ben says:

    Not played Just Cause 2 yet but have to give a mention to FUEL in terms of the sheer size of its open world, to say it’s big is an understatement; 5,560 square miles (according to Wiki) just a shame the world itself is a bit void of life, very pretty in places though.

  3. Lorna Lorna says:

    The Motorstorm games are supposed to be very picturesque too. I very much enjoy Cyrodiil but have yet to ever get stuck into GTA. Still, that won’t be happening with the vast world of RDR around the corner, though I don’t imagine it looking too pretty, more gritty and real, but vast in all probability.

  4. Lee says:

    I had to take just cause 2 back i got annoyed trying to get to the other side of the island all the time. I have noticed something odd with Fallout 3/ Oblivion though and thats people seem to like one and not the other, i loved fallout and hated oblivion and Adam was of the other camp same with a few other friends. anybody else feel like that?
    @Lorna as for GTA it’ll give you something to do in the summer drought i loved that game and the Lost and the Dammed was brilliant

  5. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    I loved both Oblivion and Fallout 3. The people who dislike Fallout 3 that are Oblivion fans probably read the nonsense that was being touted around by the gaming press before release, that it was “Oblivion with guns” which it really isn’t. Sure, it uses the same engine but that’s about as far as it goes. It took me a while to get over the fact that it WASN’T just Oblivion with guns but, when I eventually saw it for what it is, I started to love it.

    Paradise City surprised me, as I really didn’t expect the playfield to be THAT big so it was surprising to just jump in KITT, put the foot down (so to speak) and keep driving for what seemed like an age… only to discover that I’d barely covered half the length of the map. For me, that sort of longevity is what makes a great game. If I can’t get at least 100 hours out of a game then I’m bitterly disappointed.

    Open worlds rock. That is all.

  6. Samuel The Preacher says:

    I liked both Fallout 3 and Oblivion. But I am an RPG whore.

    Paradise City is big, but it’s nothing like as vast and extensive as the Hawaiian island in Test Drive Unlimited. And unfortunately Paradise City is a total bitch to navigate unless you spend weeks just exploring and memorising challenge locations and how to get to them. Open world sandboxes are fine when you have a decent map, with waypoints and a compass.

  7. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    Or unless you’re Gandalf

  8. Samuel The Preacher says:

    Well, yeah, but I thought that went without saying. Heh.

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