E3 and The Flood of Open-World RPG’s


I was told to write something about E3, which proved to be more of a challenge than I first expected. I went through the reveals again and I feel like 70% of the news I don’t have much to say about and the rest I’m just so excited about that I cannot put words together to form a coherent sentence. I tried writing about some of the stuff Nintendo revealed but everything I wrote was basically just me screaming incoherently in excitement over everything. After a lot of thinking however, I did find something I found merely interesting.  

Open world games have always been pretty big sellers. Ever since they could be rendered in 3D, the biggest western developers have made amazing amounts of pure, sweet cash through open-world games. Now, interesting stuff has been happening lately in the open world RPG subgenre which I find quite reassuring, actually. While open world RPG’s have always been big, they’ve also been seen as a huge risk by developers. The ridiculous amount of work required to make a title like that opens the situation up for many kinds of possibilities and nobody wants to accidentally make Risen or Kingdoms of Amalur. This is why –for the longest time- some companies had the monopoly on the genre.

The Elder Scrolls, Ultima and Might & Magic were pretty much the only ones that had any relevance in the 3D open world RPG field for a long time. After that the latter two slowly disappeared, while Bethesda went on to STEAL AND PLUNDER acquire Fallout from Interplay and continued to basically dominate the entire subgenre from 2006-ish to this day. But this E3, something happened in the fantasy-RPG-genre.

Both Dragon Age and The Witcher, arguably Elder Scrolls’ and Fallout’s only real competitors are really hyping up their open worlds. Both series’ were previously these safe, strange hybrids of linear and open-world. The kind where the developers don’t need to spend all that much money making a huge ready-to-explore worlds, but where you can make the player feel like he’s not being dictated about where to go and when. Now the developers of both games cannot shut up about how their games finally have a real open world, almost like it automatically assures the quality of their games. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problems with these games going open-world; I know I’ve pre-ordered The Witcher 3 already. I just find the phenomena intriguing, and I think why it ended up happening.

Now here’s the dialog I imagine happening at Bioware and CD Projekt Red late 2011:

“Hey, Jim! Come check this out. People really seem to like this Skyrim-thing.”

“Well, obviously they do. People really liked Morrowind and Oblivion too. No point risking our livelihoods trying to do something like that. It costs like hell and if you fail, you fail hard.”

“Jim, I’m pretty sure there were other games in the series before Morro-“

“Shut up, Bob.”

“Uh, alright. Anyway… It’s different now! They’re making the games more and more accessible and its working! Not only are people liking the game, they are also buying it! It’s selling like crazy!”

“What are you talking about? Let me see those numb- WHAT THE FUCK BOB, ARE YOU SERIOUS?”

“I know! Jim, listen to me. We have accumulated a loyal fanbase already, so it doesn’t matter if we end up failing, because they’ll buy it anyway and…”

“And if we succeed, we have the chance to quadruple our profits due to people getting Skyrimed over it!”

“Skyrimed? Jim, you’re-“

“Bob. Shut. The. Fuck. Up.”

Seeing competition arrive against the franchises by Bethesda is one of the things that has been exciting me the most lately, considering how I haven’t been the biggest fan of the direction they’ve been taking their games lately. Not only is it great to have choice between your fantasy-open-world-adventures, but this will definitely pave the way to many other developers to try and tackle what might be the most difficult genre in the industry to make games for. Let’s hope they aren’t just more Risens.

Even Nintendo was very excited to tell everyone that the next game in their Zelda-series will have a much more open world than in the previous titles in the franchise. As long as these companies take this idea seriously and don’t just think of it as “Skyrim made a buttload, let’s make a buttload too”, I don’t see any negatives to this. Though many games can suffer from an open-world and its ways to screw up things like pacing, theming and avoiding ludonarrative dissonance, Zelda, The Witcher and Dragon Age are franchises I can totally see tackle the idea of open world.

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