Today is the first ever Shack Chat, a new feature each Friday where we’ll ask the editors of Shacknews to give their opinion on a particular topic, then open the debate up to our Chatty community to get a more diverse collection of thoughts on the subject. It’s an opportunity for us to get to know one another better and have healthy debates with other passionate gamers.
We wanted to start with something easy. Well, easy in the sense that everyone will have an opinion on the subject, which centers around one of the most popular types of games in the industry today; open-world games.
Question: What is your favorite open-world game of all time and why?
Bill Lavoy, Managing Editor
People who know my gaming habits are going to expect me to drop The Witcher 3 in here and run away, and I almost did. However, open-world games come in many shapes and sizes, and I’m going to pick something that I consider to be a bit more hardcore than what I expect to see in other responses.
The Long Dark is my favorite open-world game because the point of it is as authentic as it gets; survive. The most popular mode is its sandbox, and there are no waypoints or objectives given. The world is there and you are truly free to interact with it on your own terms. What motivates you to hunt, fish, and gather is a fear of death, and there is no way to escape the inevitable. There is no way to win and no objective to complete. Play long enough and, like all human beings, your character will die. There are no alternatives.
A lot can happen in the quiet apocalypse, though. Death might be inevitable, but the journey has always been more important to me than the outcome. As I became a better player, capable of surviving hundreds of days, the fear of imminent death slipped to the back of my mind and curiosity took over. That is what I enjoy the most. In a game with no obvious objectives, I’m driven to explore and experiment because the world is beautiful and interesting, not because some on-screen text told me where to go next.
Asif Khan, Breath of the Wild Advocate
My staff sucks and doesn’t play good games, but I just want to say that Breath of the Wild is the only answer.
Blake Morse, Reviews Editor
It was a toss-up between Saints Row 2 and Crackdown for me, but I think Crackdown just barely scooched ahead because of how much time I spent just exploring the world. While there were a lot of cool activities in SR2, there was never a need to go back through areas I had already cleared out and explore. That’s where Crackdown beat it by literal leaps and bounds.
Crackdown incentivises exploration by making it a necessity. In order to level up your characters core attributes, you need to collect orbs that are strewn about the city. I was particularly fond of hunting down agility orbs so I could jump over tall buildings in a single bound Superman style. The world of Crackdown also made a great sandbox to play around with all the other skills my character had and by the time I was done playing I had one hell of an OP avatar who could basically walk up to a mission and blow everything up with the push of a button.
Tying exploration into the leveling system definitely worked on me and got me to spend even more time than I would normally playing a game like this. Even if it did make the vehicles in the game a bit obsolete, there’s probably not an open world game I’ve explored more than Crackdown. Now if 3 could just launch for the Xbox One already, that’d be great.
Kevin S. Tucker, Afternoon Correspondent
When I think of open-world games, my focus veers less toward the “open” and more toward the “world.” Truth be told, I never feel particularly constrained within digital environments unless they’re designed to give that feeling — Resident Evil 7 springs to mind in this case — so choosing my favorite open world game is really a matter of choosing the in-game world that impressed me the most. And, by a considerable margin, that distinction goes to the world of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.
The Witcher 3 had a simply breathtaking visual style, topped off with some of the most lush visuals I have ever seen in a console game. However, rather than gush over the game’s incredible visuals, I will instead offer up four of my favorite screenshots, captured by yours truly.
Greg Burke, The Video Jerk
There are a ton of really good open world games. Some are revolutionary, like The Legend Of Zelda for the NES; others refined the formula and took it one step further, such as Grand Theft Auto 3. However, I think the best open world games are the ones that allow you to play exactly how you want. Whether it be rushing in, being stealthy, or even in some rare cases, a pacifist. The Elder Scrolls games are probably the best example of this. Although my first experience with the Elder Scrolls title was Oblivion, I feel that The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim really does wonders in the terms of open world games. I was able to create almost any D&D class with-in the game itself, which is incredible. I played through Skyrim several times, I’ve been a Paladin, Rogue, Warrior, Druid, Mage, Fighter and even a Cleric. Having so many options to build and play the way I wanted to just makes it one of my favorite open world games.
Ozzie Mejia, Senior Editor
As much as I've loved the Saints Row series, I don't think open-world games seem to get much better than The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. It's a brilliantly-crafted take on Hyrule, with each corner of the world intricately constructed with its own features and secrets. Even with little to no direction provided, I was still able to enjoy running around, experimenting with the crafting system, pillaging Moblin camps, and figuring out what to do next all on my own.
There's still so much of Breath of the Wild that I have yet to experience, because much like our own David Craddock, I can't bring myself to finish this beautiful masterpiece of a game. The ambience, the systems, and the openness of Hyrule itself are something I want to continue to cherish for years to come.
Charles Singletary, Most Scared Staff Member
Capcom isn’t known for their open-world experiences, but 2012’s Dragon’s Dogma surprised and impressed me over and over.
Dragon’s Dogma is a hybrid of hack and slash and RPG mechanics and strikes the checkmarks that many other likely picks from the staff are highlighted for: Witcher 3’s exceptional side-quests, Breath of the Wild’s fluidity boosted by intuitive mechanics, the tough-yet-rewarding combat of the Souls franchise, and so forth. One thing it has that I wish I could have in all my open-world action-RPG experiences, though, is the Pawn system.
This is a single-player game, but the Pawn system in Dragon’s Dogma allows you to create your party members and share them with other people playing the game. These Pawns also learn your playing style, act on that knowledge in combat situations, and have moves and abilities that work in conjunction with your own. The way combat flows with assistance from your AI party is something I don’t think has been replicated, especially not in an open-world game, but positively impacted my experience in the way the Nemesis system does in Shadow of Mordor.
It takes other elements from the Souls franchise as you get deeper into the experience, as well. It can be outright terrifying in moments, something the staff knows can turn a must-play game into a big no-no for me, but the surprisingly engaging story with its many twists made it so my intrigue outweighed my fear from beginning to end. It also didn’t hurt that I had my trust Pawns with me every step of the way.
Chris Jarrard, has the best hair on staff
While it only barely counts as an open-world game by 2018 standards, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl was a knockout upon its 2007 release when judged on the merits of its technical achievements and world design. Rather than a seamless open world, it was a series of expansive zones that the player could travel between during the course of the game.
Unlike anything that came before or after, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl is still the absolute pinnacle of in-game atmosphere. You can choke on the thickness of the dread that permeates all parts of its irradiated, overgrown landscape. Even encounters with its friendlier NPCs elicit feelings of intrepidation. While players can move freely around the world, there is an ever-present push towards the sarcophagus surrounding the failed nuclear reactor, culminating in one of the most powerful sequences in video game history.
While the game is notorious for its bugs and issues, the journey is greater than than the parts it is made from. I will always have a soft spot for games laced with an unsettling Eastern European vibe, and I have this gem of a game to thank for it.
Brittany Vincent, Senior Editor
I don't really get much enjoyment out of most open world games – mainly because they're all usually the same template, overlaid onto a different theme. I still play them all, though, because they're always good for plenty of laughs, and some quality storytelling. But I have attention span issues, and I like to jump around from game to game. So it's hard enough for me to concentrate on one thing at a time as it is since I work most of the day from 10 or 11 AM to who-knows-when at night.
When it comes to open worlds, since I have limited "free" gaming time outside of reviewing or analysis, I always gravitate toward the "semi-open" worlds like those showcased in Yakuza. There's plenty to do, and tons of sub-stories to take part in, but never so much that I feel compelled to play classic arcade games or find cats all over town instead of advancing the story, a common thread with other titles in the genre. At the same time, there’s also an end to it all in sight that I can safely gravitate to when I’m good and ready.
With that said, Yakuza 0 is one of my favorite open world games in which I'll while away time. Honestly, all the Yakuza games are perfect for this. There's always something to see and discover in Kamurocho, and it's a world I don't mind wandering through aimlessly from time to time, just to watch everyone interacting.
I also like to spend quite a bit of time walking between couples holding hands so I can break them apart and watch them wander back together without so much as a peep at me for being so rude. Then I can go grab a soda, eat at a restaurant, and run a hostess club if I so choose. Or maybe I'll go tell a high school girl she shouldn't take part in enjo kosai (compensated dating) or sell her underwear on the street. Let’s not forget the random thug battles, either. That’s the only time I get to whack some criminals in the head with bicycles. And let’s face it, I don't know many other games that let me run the gamut like that.
Sam Chandler, Guides Editor
It should come as no surprise that my favorite open world game is Dark Souls, unless of course you don’t think Dark Souls is open world, in which case prepare to have your mind changed.
Most games that label themselves as “open world” are nothing more than a large map full of waypoints, with no real connection between the various areas or no sense of life. Sure, the size of these maps is impressive, but the sense of wonder and exploration is neutered the moment fast travel is unlocked.
Dark Souls offers this open world experience but takes away the map, gives no waypoints, and withholds fast travel until players have taken the time to learn the paths. Players must prove themselves worthy before being bestowed with such power.
Other open world titles either lock the map away behind radio towers or littered areas with enemies so strong that the player can quite often not even damage them. Dark Souls shirks this open world cliché, allowing players to venture as far as they can along any given path with the only limitation being Souls Level, preparedness, or skill.
Even when Dark Souls does put up a wall preventing continuation, it does so in a way that makes sense to the story. While the player can dive into the depths of New Londo Ruins, they can’t very well fight the Four Kings, as they’re locked beneath great volumes of water that act as a bulwark.
As for the mechanics that Dark Souls shares with other open world games, there are several. There are no loading screens between areas, there are side quests hidden throughout, secrets to uncover, merchants to visit, and a rich story that takes the player to (almost) all areas.
Dark Souls is the first time I felt as if an open world game understood what I wanted from it. Dark Souls rewarded my exploration and patience, it gave realistic explanations for why I couldn’t progress a certain way, and it corralled me toward my goal without a waypoint sitting on a map.
Dark Souls is an open world game. Thank you for listening to my TED talk.
Disagree with our picks? Think we're a bunch of clowns? Let us know in the Chatty below.
Shack Staff posted a new article, Shack Chat: What is your favorite open-world game of all time and why?
Falcon Watch in Hellfire Peninsula has the best music.
These are all great picks. If I had to choose an open-world game in the more traditional sense--virtually limitless exploration with few progression gates--it would be Breath of the Wild, hands down. But Dark Souls is another obvious contender.
Breath of the Wild and Dark Souls are almost bookends on the open-world spectrum. At the far end, you've got Breath of the Wild, which asks, "What do you want to do?" and then lets you do it. At the other end, Dark Souls says, "You don't want to do stuff like hunt for crickets. You want to explore, find cool swag, and fight," and clears your path to doing those very specific, very finely crafted things. The game doesn't limit your choices. it distills and refines them.
Just some stream of consciousness since I spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about Zelda and Dark Souls. Great picks all around, Shack staff!
Does Zelda: A Link to the Past count? Because that. The sense of adventure and progress, of seeing something and coming back to it later with the right tools to claim it, the sense of discovery (for those first dozen playthroughs) of items to power up further, and the sense of discovery (in later playthroughs) of how to break the game. It is not a perfect example of an open world--it's debatable if it was intended as an open world in the modern or traditional sense--but for me it strikes a wonderful balance of stuff to find and do, and a guiding hand through some wonderful gameplay.
World of Warcraft - For some reason I didn't trust Blizzard to make an MMO but was so, so taken in by the world when I started playing. Seeing Darnassus for the first time was like seeing a tourist attraction in real life. The seamless nature of it also blew my mind after FFXI having to tell people in chat when you were zoning in/out so you didn't miss anything. Most importantly, memories with friends in that game will stay with me forever.
Dark Age of Camelot or City of Heroes.
Even though WoW is several times larger and a decade of lore, there is little social activity. Even large guilds barely do anything at all.
If you are killing mobs for a quest, other players get rather upset that your poaching on their mobs for their quest.
I havent actually talked to anyone in the game in years, except to whisper that the tank sucks.
With DAoC and CoH, there was a lot more people being decent people. People just talking, being cool, asking if you needed a hand with that quest.
Lines at dungeon and instance entrances, so easy to find a group and by the end of the run you have a new online friend.
I just got baby pictures from one of those online friends last week.
I finally remembered the word I was trying to use:
I played this game for years as a kid. So much to explore on just 2 5.25" floppy disks. The whole fractal generated galaxy was mind blowing back in the 80s. Played until I had a fully upgraded ship that was nearly unstoppable. I never did finish the story and find out what was causing the starts to go nova (I know now, thanks internet!). This was certainly one of the first open-wo...eh sandbox games.
Some of the original devs tried to do a Starflight 3 campaign recently. But, it didn't reach it's goal. They didn't do a great job marketing it. For such an old game that wasn't wildly popular either they needed to have done a lot more to get the word out.