On the other hand, “Dragon Age II”, a game many despise, is a much more deliberately designed experience. Yes, it has copy/paste dungeon design, but what you DO in the game was actually thought out. More of what you’re doing is actually advancing the plot or furthering characterization. The city of Kirkwall was small, but that means that you got to enjoy the game, instead of getting distracted by the “world” so many people desperately want to get lost in.

And yeah, I’m going to say it here right now: “Dragon Age II” is BETTER than “Inquisition”. There you go. It is, because it’s a far more focused experience with actual game design. It might not be the best game on the planet, but real effort went into it. I don’t get the same feeling with “Inquisition”, or a lot of these other games, for that matter.

But ‘Dragon Age II’ didn’t let me change my character’s armor.

Yeah, but it looked a helluva lot cooler than all of the five varieties of burlap sacks “Inquisition” gives you to equip on your characters.

But ‘Dragon Age II’ didn’t let me explore very much.

Why is a tightly designed, more linear experience such a bad thing? Not every game has to be a vast expanse of digital landscape to discover. Especially not if all that world is going to offer up is rubbish they found lying on the side of the road.

“Pull over man, it’s a side quest! I can’t believe someone just threw this on the street! It’s perfectly good. Nothing wrong with it. I’m putting it in our game.”

No, don’t! That got tossed for a reason!  

What we don’t need is giant, malignant lumps of padding and filler to make it so games “feel” like they’re offering up good value. If the content isn’t varied, meaningful, and of good quality, then it’s not worth having in the game. Bottom line. It doesn’t belong.

If you want to make a good open world game, the world simply needs to be a place the game happens to reside in. If you want to encourage exploration, then hide away genuine, tangible rewards and place them sparingly. Make it so finding something is exciting and rare!

If you want to put in side quests, make them matter and make them uncommon. You don’t want the player going off the path of the main story for too long. It kills the pacing of the game and creates burnout. Too much of anything creates burnout.

Tighten up the experience and make the world a manageable size. It’s useless to create the biggest digital world that’s ever been seen, when there’s nothing fun to do in that world.

Don’t fill the world with garbage and then task the player with picking up all of the litter. That’s what these games do and it’s fucking ridiculous that they’ve gotten away with it for so long.

And what about “Grand Theft Auto”? Well, I suppose it’s still doing alright, as far as open world games go. Some collectibles, but it’s mostly a giant toy box and you can tell it’s very comfortable being a place where people simply go to play. Most pop stars fade and are never heard from again, but “GTA” is kinda like the Michael Jackson of open world games: a true originator and innovator. It has never forgotten what we originally wanted from open world games, when we were wide eyed optimists, dreaming about the future.

And let’s hope, in our future, other games use the technology to give us more. Because, right now, we’re getting less. A lot less.