The world is our oyster: next gen’s brave new open worlds

The dust has now settled, the terrifying Christmas period is over, and everyone has had a decent chance to put numerous hours into playing their next generation console. Those who don’t have one yet will no doubt be getting their hands on one soon, or are waiting for a meatier selection of games to be available before they commit (wisdom, perhaps). And after seeing my beautiful new PS4, reading endless predictions of what gaming will look like in the coming year and seeing plenty of next gen game trailers, one thing has stood out to me about 2014. It looks like owners of the new consoles are going to be literally swamped in open worlds to explore, and that sure is exciting.

Playing CoD: Ghosts on the PS4 over the past two weeks has definitely been fun, and it genuinely does look fantastic (especially after whipping out Black Ops 2 for a quick round of zombies with friends a few days ago; there really is no comparison). But, otherwise, it doesn’t particularly feel very next generation. It just looks nicer (perhaps a shocking indictment of how society and culture are developing in general? You decide!) But looking at the list of games coming out in 2014 and beyond, I’m sure everyone has noticed the fairly epic shift towards huge sandbox worlds, even in genres that seem traditionally adverse to role playing, open world elements.

The past several years have indeed seen elements of this start to seep into mainstream gaming, with the likes of FalloutElder ScrollsAssassin’s Creed and Rockstar’s steady foray into games that aren’t GTA. The past two or three years in particular have seen triple A titles competing to offer the most potential for exploration and custom-made escapades. However, looking at the list of next-gen titles, we see developers doing some truly interesting things with the idea of an open game world. Tom Clancy’s The Division and Destiny, for example, are shooters; a genre which is generally fairly linear in its approach to gameplay, giving rise to the question what the future of the first person shooter is going to be.

Even more interestingly is how all this works online. Open worlds have been a staple of MMORPGs such as World of Warcraft and EVE Online; but whilst WoW has been hugely popular, its demographic is still outside of the mainstream. The Elder Scrolls series, which has enjoyed comparatively more success with core gamers, is back this year with the Elder Scrolls Online, demonstrating the increasing normalisation of MMORPGs in gaming and the expanding popularity of the fantasy genre.

However, Destiny and the Division are doing something similar too; their open worlds will be in part populated by other players, bringing elements of MMORPGs to a completely different genre. It seems that Call of Duty‘s linear story and tightly controlled, team multiplayer are being eschewed for the next-gen in the long run, as players expect to be able to completely immersed in a vibrant and interactive world.

Of course, CoD and Battlefield have still sold huge volumes of units on both PS4 and the XBone, whereas the aforementioned games are yet to even be released, so the future of the shooter is still very much up for debate. But the trend does appear to be pretty widespread; The Crew is an open world racing game, also with some RPG elements thrown in, and all with multiplayer seamlessly blended into the main game (which, by the way, apparently has no loading screens to speak of). Mirror’s Edge, a game whose linear style of gameplay created the tension and excitement that made the game a success, is also moving into an open world for its next instalment. Overall, gamers of every genre are being given a chance to explore a wide virtual world.

Being a fan of open world games, this is a very exciting development in next-gen gaming for me, particularly because many of these worlds I will be exploring with my friends. Open worlds really offer developers a chance to showcase their artistic vision, whilst still giving players a ton of freedom to customise, explore and play in whichever way they want, and, to me, the normalisation of MMORPGs in mainstream games can only be a good thing.