This is the inaugural year for the Shacknews Best Open World Game award. This award looks to recognize excellence in the field of the open world genre, acknowledging a game that has endeavored to take the medium forward in new and exciting directions. There was plenty of competition this year, but the choice was clear. Elden Ring was a groundbreaking success, bringing in more players to a Soulsborne game than ever before. But more than that, FromSoftware took its iconic style of game and expanded it into an open world that demanded it be explored.
The Soulsborne games have always been a quasi-open world experience. If you knew how, you could go just about anywhere from the start of the game. However, at a certain point, you are forced along a specific path, unable to access other areas until progress is made. In Elden Ring, the walls are down and the only thing stopping you from exploring the entire map is your willingness to fight through insurmountable odds (at least in the early game).
When it comes to Elden Ring winning this award, it’s not just because it is the first true open world Soulsborne game, it’s due to what FromSoftware has offered. It’s also because of what FromSoftware has managed to avoid, expertly sidestepping the traps and tropes of the open world genre like passing by the swinging axes of Sen’s Fortress.
For starters, the map is beautiful in its construction. It isn’t a 1:1 recreation of the world using the same art style; it appears as a painting of an actual map that you would see in a medieval setting. Keen-eyed players will also be able to use the map to spot secrets, hidden dungeons, and other routes through the environment that may not be clear when riding around.
Speaking of riding around, Elden Ring doesn’t hold off giving players a means of traveling around the map faster. Torrent is your faithful horse, a spectral steed capable of double jumping and sits alongside Epona in our hearts. And when a location is a bit too far to reach on horseback, players can fast travel there, a mechanic that is available from the start of the game.
In terms of the open world, it offers rich and varied locations. Walking over a hill or climbing over a stone fence can result in players being greeted with fantastical locations. The first time into Caelid is a horrific experience while the fields in Altus Plateau are majestic when you’re not in the middle of a battlefield. There are also wondrous sights to see below ground in an area that is both awe-inspiring and spine-tingling in its creepiness.
Speaking to its construction, the open world design of Elden Ring is almost like that of a funnel. At the start of the game, it is broad and wide, full of things to explore and discoveries to find but as you approach the end it begins to narrow. By the time you’re on the slide toward the finish, the areas become more straightforward in their construction with less need for exploration. This was a masterstroke, as it is unlikely players will have the same fervor for exploration at the end of the game that they had at the start.
It’s not often that a game revolutionizes the open world genre. Elden Ring takes what has come before it, removes the glut, and pushes the genre to new heights. It has set a new expectation in players’ minds about what an open world game should be. Congratulations to the team at FromSoftware for winning the inaugural Shacknews Best Open World Game of 2022 award.
Check out our Year of the Games: 2022 article to see all of the other Shacknews Awards that have been announced so far.