I recently decided I would begin The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt to have another playthrough of the legendary game. Like many, I rank the game highly as one of the greatest open world games ever made. Yet, despite my initial excitement to reexplore its world, I suddenly experienced an unexpected sensation of dread. Barely an hour into the tutorial in White Orchard, I felt a sense of hesitation about continuing the experience. It was as though I could see a pathway leading up a mountain. It’s a path I’ve walked many times before, but this time my heart just wasn’t in it. It was then that I had to acknowledge I was experiencing a well-known issue for gamers. The dreaded open world fatigue in gaming.
As someone who has loved the genre for well over a decade, I was surprised it happened to me. I’ve been a defender of open world games in the past, never understanding some gamers’ disliking of them. Alas, the problem has finally caught up with me, and I want to attempt to understand its cause. This article will attempt to understand open world fatigue in gaming, and perhaps why it’s more prevalent now than ever.
I should immediately point out that regarding this particular issue, I am actually rather ideally situated. I have the luxury at present of plenty of free time available for gaming. Additionally, I have a genuine desire and wish to spend that time gaming. As such, I am someone who simply shouldn’t encounter this obstacle. However, I find myself increasingly frustrated with my free time seemingly blurring together. The feeling that one gaming session is near identical to the last. The feeling of being on a treadmill.
Of course, the more obvious complication with time constraints applies to players with a limited amount of time for gaming. Games demanding 60 hours or more just for the story are going to struggle to keep players committed. Just look at the recent controversy of Dying Light 2 and it’s supposed 500 hours to max out. However, in the argument regarding open world fatigue in gaming, that’s not the same as being bored. It has more to do with the accessibility of the genre rather than its appeal.
Perhaps one of the biggest causes of this increase in open world fatigue is a result of the abundance of RPGs. The common design philosophy for big open worlds now involves the incorporation of RPG mechanics. This includes things like player builds using stats and levelling up. There is also often a focus on constantly upgrading gear. All of this can amount to a grindy checklist of sorts that is required just to continue the story.
Another increasing trend is the use of dialogue options. While choosing what your character says is hardly unique to the genre, it’s becoming increasingly common. This, in combination with the size of the map, bloats the game significantly. Every exchange is stretched out into various branches of exposition. Additionally, it often breaks the rules of show don’t tell. Games that are stuffed with dialogue options rarely have the luxury of animating every cutscene. Developers thus cut corners with reused animations and simplistic framing. This is thus contributing to the fatigue as a result of games becoming tediously less cinematic.
When I think about open world fatigue in gaming, I think about how much of my time is being valued. Just because I have plenty of it to spare, doesn’t mean I want it to feel wasted. For me, the biggest issue with open world games is the design philosophy of them being mostly filler. It’s one thing when the filler is avoidable, but recent games seem to lean into the grind. It’s easier to pad out a game to inflate player engagement statistics after all. This is why some ask whether games like Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla are too long?
This is a multifaceted point. I believe it relates to both the gameplay of individual games, as well as the genre as a whole. I’ve had more trouble getting invested in recent open world games due to the uncanny sensation of déjà vu. It’s to be expected with sequels, but when brand new titles seem eerily familiar, then the genre is becoming stale.
The term Ubisoft-like is often used to describe certain games. The use of mechanics such as towers to reveal the map, or collectables littering the world. These have been common within titles like Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry for a while. In fact, Ubisoft as a whole is suffering from the issue of all its titles slowly blending together. Watch Dogs feels like the previously mentioned games, and even Immortals Fenyx Rising is just Assassin’s Creed Odyssey assets reused. It’s becoming increasingly tedious to endure the same experience with a different coat of paint. It’s also bleeding into the rest of the genre, with many titles taking cues from Ubisoft’s design philosophy.
As for individual games themselves, they are also suffering from repetition. When a game pretty much gives you the entire experience upfront in the tutorial, something is missing. The lack of meaningful evolution in the gameplay as you get more experiences is perhaps the biggest cause of disappointment. Open world fatigue in gaming is a symptom of lazy game design. The idea that players will simply want to do the same things over and over for 100 hours. It’s the idea that the base experience alone is so engaging that no individual moments need to stand out.
Quantity Over Quality
When I speak of quality, I am referring to various different aspects. Not only do I refer to the stability and buggy states of the games, but also their meaningful content. Continuing on from the previous point, the quantity approach is becoming increasingly common in games. The idea that the map should just be filled with copy-paste resources. The same buildings, the same activities, the same resources. It all adds up to create a rather murky and indistinguishable experience.
However, it similarly applies to the states of the games. When I hear open world game nowadays, my first thought is to anticipate bugs. Of course, this is not uncommon in any game. I would hardly lose my mind over a few bugs here and there. But open world fatigue in gaming is on the rise because of the genre’s infamous reputation for glitchy titles. Look no further than Cyberpunk 2077’s buggy launch for a modern example. The general consensus seems to be that the scope of these games is simply too taxing for thorough quality assurance.
I also think about the quality of individual moments in the games. One of the highlights of any game for me is when it takes a turn towards the unexpected. When the gameplay is suddenly shaken up or a cutscene goes all out with its cinematography. When a mission becomes a highly intense set-piece with shifting environments and extreme action. The unwillingness of open world games to be flexible with their mission design is exhausting.
What’s The Solution?
This is a difficult question to answer because it’s a battle on two different fronts. On one hand, it’s a matter of what game developers need to do. They need to take chances with bolder ideas. To acknowledge what has worked before will be less glamourous a second time. That perhaps some staples of the genre are now stale. Every title wants to copy the formula for Breath of the Wild or Assassin’s Creed. We need new innovative ideas to begin a cycle of refreshing trends.
However, there is also the issue of our own playing habits as gamers. There is no denying that open world fatigue in gaming is a consequence of our own choices. Continuously picking up similar titles and replaying old favourites is bound to lead to tedium eventually. Some open world games have a junk food-like quality. They satiate that quick and urgent need to play. It’s not that fulfilling, but it’s available in abundance. It’s easy and quick to access, and often doesn’t require dedicated attention.
I recently played Mass Effect Legendary Edition for the first time and found myself thrilled with the experience. I have no nostalgia to blind me but it was so refreshing to have a quality story and experience. To feel the games constantly throwing new memorable moments at me. Given that the trilogy as a whole is pretty long, the fact that my time didn’t feel wasted is remarkable. It’s a testament to what standing alone as an individual does for a game. To be iconic, not derivative. It’s made all the more apparent by seeing Mass Effect Andromeda fail in comparison as a modern open world.