The keys to the pixelated kingdom.
As a medium, video games are synonymous with the power of immersion. There’s no feeling quite like booting up your console of choice and dipping into a self-contained universe to explore as you please. It is escapism 101; something that many would automatically attribute as gaming’s primary source of entertainment value. But perhaps one of the most awe-inspiring categories of games is the open-world genre. They have an innate ability to compel; to bestow the player with an unparalleled sense of freedom as they tumble further down the rabbit hole.
Of course, losing yourself in the non-linear search for greener grass and uncharted territories is part and parcel of the free-roaming experience. And as far as trends go, 2013 has been a notable year for the genre. With titles such as Saints Row IV and Grand Theft Auto V each expanding their in-game horizons and, in turn, implementing a whole new level of emergent gameplay, the genre has grown exponentially in the last few years alone. So much so, that even franchises such as Metal Gear Solid, a series renowned for its linearity, is set to break away from tradition for its fifth iteration and establish a dynamic world around the world-weary character of Snake. As such, it seems the genre is on the brink of standardization.
With that in mind, the question must then be asked: is the open-world genre careering along a similar trajectory that was recently mapped out by first-person shooters; the familiar boom that precedes the inevitable fatigue? Of course, every genre experiences its fair share of mediocre titles; from racing to sports simulators, many are stifled instantly by the industry’s heavy hitters such as Gran Turismo or Madden NFL. With that said, the fact that Titanfall —Respawn Entertainment’s much-anticipated first person shooter—is being hailed as a genre definer conveys the general feeling of apathy towards franchises such as Call of Duty; a series that has struck a chord with the mass market since Modern Warfare in 2007 thanks to its accessibility and arcade-esque design.
Nevertheless, if the explosion and, in many ways, homogenization of the FPS genre is anything to go by, is the open world category headed in a similar direction? After all, with great success comes a multitude of sub-par knock-offs, and in terms of non-scripted universes, Skyrim very much instigated or, at the very least, popularized this industry trend. Heck, BioWare even spoke candidly of assimilating some of Bethesda’s open-world formula into Dragon Age 3; a series more associated with linear storytelling.
As a result, is the open-world genre poised to attract mainstream gamers with its formative blend of dense universes and player freedom? It could well be the case, but first it’s important to chart the genre’s recent rise to fame.
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