The Open World Game Conundrum

One of the biggest trends in video games at the moment is the open world design.

More and more often games are coming out that are absolutely not linear, level by level adventures but rather give the player these large, expansive worlds in which to wander while finding allies, friends and foes.

I for one love these kinds of games when they are done right.  An open world can give you hours upon hours of enjoyment.  Over the years I’ve spent hundreds upon hundreds of hours exploring the streets of Liberty City or San Andreas in the GTA games, the various regions of Tamriel in the Elder Scrolls and multiple post-apocalyptic wastelands in the Fallout series and the recent Mad Max game.

To varying degrees and for differing reasons I have loved all those games and more for their wide open worlds and the dozens of hours of entertainment I’ve been given from them.

But the open world style of game does come with an interesting piece of baggage, how to appropriately end the game.

Often times the games will spit you back out into the world to let you wrap up any sidequests or challenges you still have unfinished.  Other games, like Fallout 3 pre-DLC, wrap the game up with a neat little bow and call it a day.

Obviously the first question that comes to mind is which is preferable?  Or does it depend entirely on the nature of the game?

Frankly I think it largely depends on the game itself.

As mentioned Fallout 3 originally ended decisively.  Even though you were given a few options (more so with the DLC) the game’s story wraps up and is over.  In my opinion this was pretty unsatisfying as by that point I had spent dozens of hours with my character and having the game end the way it did left me wanting more.  Thankfully this was changed by later by the aforementioned DLC that extended the initial story of the game and allowed you to make slightly different (and way more common sense based) options for the ending of the original main quest.

When the game once again opened up to me I was thrilled to once again take my avatar out into the wasteland.  Typically I do prefer when a game lets me do so as I often am just itching to spend more time with my character.

This style of game can come its own special problem though.  What to do with certain characters in the context of how the story unfolds.

I recently finished a long play-through of an open world action game that dumped me back into the world of the game immediately after finishing the final fight.  Normally I’m overjoyed when that happens but the way this game handled it made me immediately turn off the game and walk away from it.

Before the final mission of the game two allies of the protagonist are found brutally murdered by the villain.  These deaths send the protagonist over the edge and their voices continually haunt him as he makes the final dash to hunt down and kill the villain.  Another companion of the protagonist, one who accompanies him through nearly the entire game and serves as an important component of the game’s mechanics, dies during the fight with villain.

All these deaths are used for pathos and are effective in their own way.  I wasn’t exactly moved to tears but it added a layer of emotion to the approaching fight and made you want to see the bad guy fall all that much more, especially when the protagonist’s motivations were pretty thin to begin with.

Yet, once the final fight is over and you return to the game’s world all of the deceased are returned to life.  The companion who was crushed and burned to death minutes before is back at your side.  The allies whose corpses you found brutalized prior to the fight are back and serving as the quest givers they were before.

I found it amusing that in this particular case I immediately felt the game should have ended with the credits.  The sudden return of the three dead allies did not fill me with happiness but rather ruined the emotional impact of their deaths.  Seeing them back immediately pulled me out of the game and removed any desire I had to finish the unaccomplished tasks.

To reiterate my earlier point, I think it largely depends on the game itself and the story it tells.

What about you dearly dedicated reader?  When it comes to open world games do you like to play on and on or do you want it all wrapped up by the time the main story ends?

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