Open World games that capture the sense of emptiness



  • Whenever someone criticizes an open world for being empty, I find myself actually interested in HOW it's empty. Don't get me wrong, the vast majority of games never use their large spaces properly but those that do are something special in my eyes. Shadow of the Colossus is an obvious example where the dead landscapes allow the player to meditate on their actions. Recently, Breath of the Wild used its vastness to constantly play with the players desire to explore, inviting them to navigate towards interesting landmarks. Red Dead Redemption uses the long stretches of wildnerness to juxtapose it with the games vision of an untamed land in a state of revolution. Some would argue that Mafia 2 uses its intentially barren city to illustrate the emptiness of the American dream. I disagree but whatever. But the game that does this the absolute best is good old 7.8 himself: The
    Wind Waker. That's right, I love the sailing in this game because of how it reinforces that Link is only a child and his growth towards heroism. Also, it manages to do something no other game has ever done before: capture the banality of exploration. In every other exploration heavy game, you are never too far from finding new stuff around every corner, whereas in Wind Waker, it reminds me of when my friends did scavenger hunts and there would be a period of nothing really happening after every discovery. It creates a beautiful wave of highs and lows where your anticipation for the next discovery would slowly rise every time. In short: All hail The Wind Waker, the greatest action adventure game of all time. So do you guys have any other examples of games that use space in interesting ways.

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  • I don't like most open world games because of the emptiness, i.e. lack of level design and/or intelligent thought. It's less 'sense of adventure' and more 'this game has a X-year development cycle and we didn't allocate enough people to fill this area with points of interest so we'll just leave it that way and release it because AAA games are so ridiculously expensive anyway.'

    Emptiness is the ultimate in the much talked about breaks of immersion because you're just bored by it and waiting for your character's walk speed to catch up to the game's content. Witcher 3 and Xenoblade Chronicles are two good examples of games that have absolutely nothing interesting in their world design. There is just so much flat negative space with the same enemies or assets pasted over it.

    Xenoblade's Bionis Leg is really just a flat field with parts of that flat field elevated into strips of land floating in the air, equally featurelessly. In the Witcher 3 the whole south of Velen is pretty empty, consisting of a few ruined towns and then just tons and tons of dull swamp. The forest to the east of the mainland map is pretty barren too, I remember crossing some fields and entering the forest, very bored as I held forward. It would be nice if those developers realized that they can't fill such large maps with meaningful content (and even the parts of Xenoblade which were populated were populated with MMO quests), but I'm not going to buy their sequels so I guess I don't care that much.

    And then the open world Zelda games, Wind Waker and Breath, have a particularly blatant brand of negative space. Crossing the Great Sea in TWW and walking across empty grass, mountaintops, or climbing big flat cliff faces is literally just holding forward (or holding nothing in TWW's case). Even Uncharted climbing is more engaging than Grow Home/Breath of the Wild climbing because you actually have to navigate instead of just hold up and wait.



  • @Haru17 I would say that it's a different approach to level design. RE4, Majoras Mask, Ico and Metroid Prime are some of my favorites because of their tight level design but that doesn't invalidate games that use negative space in their design as a means of immersion and theme. I like Goodfellas because how brisk it is but I also love My Neighbor Totoro for how meandering it is. Different approach = different result.



  • I prefer my open world games to be very tightly packed (for example the Yakuza games, where you aren't in some gigantic world but rather just a pretty big town where you're never more than a few steps away from something to do) but despite that I can appreciate some good down time. My favorite moments in Yakuza 5 for example were just spending half an hour in the snowy mountains hunting some bears or deer. It's not like you'd be spending that time just gunning them down back to back to back, there was a lot of time spent trying to track down a group of them or just slowly walking around trying to conserve warmth/energy inbetween finding a stray one.



  • @DeweyDTruman sure but at that point why make an open world if there isn't a sense of space. Might as well make it a cursor like persona.



  • Ocarina of Time had a sense of space and didn't force players to trudge across an unreasonable amount of empty fields or ocean. In fact the 3D Zelda game with the least distinct sense of where different locations are in 3D space is The Wind Waker because all of the geography between locations was featureless, flat ocean and all of the islands were so incredibly far off and distant for the sake of loading them in.

    Of course it's still a 10/10 game like the other 3D Zeldas IMO because it had enough metroidvanian Zelda stuff buried away on those islands. But that doesn't change the fact that denser games waste your time less and TWW literally, inarguably had nothing to do while crossing the ocean and none of the few random events were procing. You couldn't even look at your map while the boat was still moving.



  • I think of the term empty to refer to how I feel when I play most open world games lol. Sure, lots have encounter A, B and C littered on the map that allows you to do the same wonderful task over smd over again alongside secret treasure that do nothing but clog up my inventory.

    I enjoyed BotW open world and the sense of advebture but the game itself had no driving force to keep me playing.

    A game I can think of from the past was vampire the masquerade which took plave in a city. There are others I've played like this but I really feel there's a miss conception that a game needs to have a gigantic world with big empty spaces fill with superficial mechanics to be a true open world game. I would love to see the next generation bring more complexity to open world. Something like a city that allows you to freely roam and interact with NPC's and the environment in more complex ways that truly have consequences and a dynamic storyline and world.

    Anyways I still think Elder scrolls is one of the best open world games even though it's not perfect. I guess the ability to role play makes an open world more interesting to me.



  • @Haru17 said:

    and Xenoblade Chronicles are two good examples of games that have absolutely nothing interesting in their world design.

    I guess you forgot about places like Valak Mountain that have climbing, weird ice sliding mechanics, camouflaged little ice jut paths that lead to secret areas, a fucking geyser that takes you between places, etc. You're grossly oversimplifying the world to say it's all just flat areas with absolutely nothing interesting you walk through.

    Xenoblade's Bionis Leg is really just a flat field with parts of that flat field elevated into strips of land floating in the air, equally featurelessly.

    Really? Sure you're not exaggerating? Cause here's a map of that exact area that shows otherwise:
    Bionis Leg

    literally just holding forward (or holding nothing in TWW's case)

    In the case of Windwaker you change the wind direction with the namesake of the game to navigate the seas toward the direction you'd like to explore, running into things like weird shark enemies, fish that you can give bait to for filling out your sea charts, tornadoes you can later harness the power of to quickwarp around the world, boats that shoot at you, and more. There's sail time between each thing yes, but that's because oceans are like that. Kick back and enjoy the atmosphere, watch the sunrise, admire the seagulls, instead of being so impatient to get to the next thing you're pulling your hair out. And if you're really that annoyed, the HD remake of the game has this nifty item called the Swift Sail you can obtain to greatly speed up the sailing sections of the game. Or just learn to swift swim glitch like the speedrunners.

    Even Uncharted climbing is more engaging than Grow Home/Breath of the Wild climbing because you actually have to navigate instead of just hold up and wait.

    No, just no. Going along linear, set paths that are COLOR MARKED, that crumble the moment you pass them is not more interesting. I can't even tell you early game in Breath of the Wild how many times I had to cleverly ration my stamina to get up areas. Sometimes, I'd have to find ways to break one big cliff-face into multiple ascents by finding places where they was a break you could rest, often a slant just horizontal enough to catch your breath on. Other times I'd have to find other tall structures nearby my stamina could carry me up to use as a jumping and often gliding point to reach the next cliffside for me to climb up with all my stamina from the midpoint. There were points where climbing something was actually impossible without cooking some food to extend your stamina bar or refill it midclimb.

    As you progress in the game you get powerful new tools to make climbs easier, such as greatly extended amounts of stamina wheel, a certain Champion power that let's you ride the wind to quickly shoot straight up, a certain armor set that lets you quickly swim up the waterfalls that often flow across the steepest cliffs, and even an armor set that straight up lets you climb for longer. These things make you feel like you've grown as a hero and make landscape that was daunting previously exponentially easier to tread across at high speeds as you scour for secrets.

    Windwaker I get, but have you even seen a map of Breath of the Wild with all the interest points plugged in? It's insane how little you have to walk from one to the next. It might feel like you're going long stretches without something, but that just means you're barreling forward and not taking the time to analyze your environment and search for the secrets all around you. I was constantly getting sidetracked from my objective when things caught me eye. Sometimes they were nothing, but more often than not they led to cool finds, and the way you could set your own waypoints on the map ensured I never got completely lost from what I was doing before I noticed such and such to check out. Oh and if you really do just wanna barrel forward ignoring everything the world has to offer, just grab a horse man.


  • Banned

    I hear Super Mario Odyssey is pretty open and empty.

    The game leaked, right? People can't be lying about it.



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  • @Art I am a bit worried about that.



  • @Mbun having recently started and quitted Xenoblade Chronicles I would say that at the very beggining the world seemed interesting, but after just a couple of hours on it quickly became uninteresting and it simply seemed to be filled with terrible side quests and nothing of interest



  • I'm going to throw out a very odd choice, the Myst games. Hear me out. You can tackle the ages in any order, freely explore (more so in the later titles that allow free roaming) and encapsulate this barren nothingness of civilizations long past.

    Ian Hinck talks up Myst Online URU Live and that is an amazing example. The world has depth and lore that is Tolkien in scale and is an absolutely blast to play, explore and just relax. Nothing can compare for me in the world of barren mystery!



  • @bard91 The sidequests are a bit of a grab bag. Some are great and others are trash. As for the world, there's great stuff there, you just gotta stick with it. I imagine you got tired of interior areas probably.



  • @Mbun nope exterior as well, as I mentioned it was cool for the first few hours, and then it was just a whole lot of nothing



  • @bard91 There's lots of little secret out of the way paths to find that usually lead to cool vistas, but you really gotta poke around for them.



  • @BogusMeatFactory said in Open World games that capture the sense of emptiness:

    I'm going to throw out a very odd choice, the Myst games. Hear me out. You can tackle the ages in any order, freely explore (more so in the later titles that allow free roaming) and encapsulate this barren nothingness of civilizations long past.

    Ian Hinck talks up Myst Online URU Live and that is an amazing example. The world has depth and lore that is Tolkien in scale and is an absolutely blast to play, explore and just relax. Nothing can compare for me in the world of barren mystery!

    Good choice.



  • Breath of the Wild, that's my favorite for sure. I like how it's open vertically too, climb the highest mountain and paraglide down to some new unexplored territory. And while it definitely have lots of open world emptiness it still have stuff you can find in the weirdest places of nowhere because of the korok seeds.

    No Man's Sky is another one. I know it's not the most popular game but I've played it for almost 300 hours so far. Love it! The freedom, the farming, the impossibly huge size. I've been playing it since the launch and the hunt for that optimal home planet to build the perfect base on may not ever end for me, whenever I start to lose the interest they patch in some new stuff or my kids point on the galaxy map and say "Lets go to that place dad!" or wants to name some animals etc. I might never put it down.



  • @Haru17 said in Open World games that capture the sense of emptiness:

    Ocarina of Time had a sense of space and didn't force players to trudge across an unreasonable amount of empty fields or ocean. In fact the 3D Zelda game with the least distinct sense of where different locations are in 3D space is The Wind Waker because all of the geography between locations was featureless, flat ocean and all of the islands were so incredibly far off and distant for the sake of loading them in.

    Of course it's still a 10/10 game like the other 3D Zeldas IMO because it had enough metroidvanian Zelda stuff buried away on those islands. But that doesn't change the fact that denser games waste your time less and TWW literally, inarguably had nothing to do while crossing the ocean and none of the few random events were procing. You couldn't even look at your map while the boat was still moving.

    That's why I love OOT above any other Zelda title. It didn't really feel like a chore to get from A. to B. The game's only problem is that it was too short! :) I wanted more of OOT, than the evolutions that Zelda seem to get. I liked Wind Waker, but it felt like a chore to get from A. to B. I loved the sense of exploration in Waker, but at the same time, it was a chore. The boat section was nice, but it was also a chore. I liked that you battled a few monsters in the boat, that sense of adventure. But it required soo many tasks to get to B. I got stuck in the game because of that chore, I just gave up. I love zelda, but my patience wears thin when it's tested.



  • No mention of NieR: Automata? I thought that game did a good job of presenting a dead, lifeless world. Just very empty and lonely, but strangely beautiful as well. I loved sprinting through the sand and kicking up all the particles.