Bigger Overworlds Aren't Always Better - News

by VGChartz Staff , posted on 28 September 2011 / 5,301 Views

Up until the last decade, developers have had quite a few restrictions in creating a huge living worlds. Whether it was the restrictions of the arcade environment, hardware limitations or lack of a proven design for it. As the years moved on, it was a challenge to constantly step up the scope of these environments. The 1998 classic, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, wowed gamers with Hyrule Field. Now, Hyrule Field is miniscule compared to the content we've had in the last couple of generations. Developers are now able to create these huge massive environments for gamers to explore. But sometimes the introduction of larger environments isn't always a good thing.

The idea behind creating these huge landscapes is to give players the freedom to decide where to go and what to do. The bigger the environment, the seemingly more freedom players can have. On paper, it makes perfect sense. The more freedom and space you give the player, the more content for them to explore. But without proper content to fill the world, you can create a repetitive and boring environment, even with quick travel. Large sections of the map just become useless stretches of land with maybe some enemies, an odd chests or generic drops.

L.A. Noire 

This summer's L.A. Noire featured a map for players to traverse GTA-style. As impressive as it may be, it's a title where there's little content outside of just pure exploration. Once you learn how to quick travel to locations, there's little to no reason to get behind the wheel again. The title actually discourages it due to street damage fines. L.A. Noire could easily have had a similar experience by removing the overworld all together. 

Just because you have content doesn't mean justify a massive overworld either. As much of a Monolith Soft fanboy I am, the more recent Xenoblade Chronicles falls under a similar curse. There's a seemingly huge number of side quests for the players to partake in. Given the huge environments, it was a smart move. Unfortunately, nearly all of these quests amount to “kill these,” ”find this,” or “kill these to find this.” It's clear that minimal efforts were put into these quests. As impressive as the environments are for a Wii title, they simply amount to empty space between you and your next cutscene or boss battle. Even some of the dungeons just feel flat out excessively big. 

Just as easily as you can enlarge the world beyond its effective size, you can also compact environments too much as well. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is a perfect example of a title that lacks a suitable overworld. After Ocarina of Time's original impression with Hyrule Field and the Great Sea from The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker (although considered too big by many), the small compact room-like outside environments were just flat out disappointing. Every time you turned a corner there was a Heart Piece, usually obstructed simply by an item specific puzzle. There was a single massive field that was even bigger than Hyrule Field, but aside from a single boss fight and a couple of collectibles, it is completely barren.


Finding that perfect balance between content and size is something that many have struggled with. When it works, you get an experience that not only has freedom, but also makes it feel as if every piece of land you traverse is important. The Neversoft's 2005 Wild West shooter, GUN, is a great example of that balance. While the title was short on content, its matched with its overall scale, making every piece of land used in some way shape or form. It's not until you get to the very end that you really notice that the overall world is fairly compact. The compact environment keeps the player engaged in the experience, while still offering a sense of freedom not found in much more linear titles.

Sometimes it is fun to randomly run off into the wilderness and smack things. However, from an overall game design perspective, it seems pointless, if not detrimental to the experience, to create these large pieces of land that are never used and lack usefulness to the player. Sure, it lets publishers put big numbers on the back of the box. But I doubt it's worth deteriorating what could be the next AAA game.

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MRKs (on 28 September 2011)

I can't say I agree with you, especially with Twilight princess, at least for me the place was Huge and fun to explore (especially finding secret caves and hearts was very rewarding). Not to mention Xenoblade, it's one of the few games that made me want to explore all the maps, and the sidequests while being repetitive they are rewarding. Also you get a lot of collectibles exploring and experience, and the fact that you can fast travel to several places on the map makes it not annoying nor boring at all. Just my opinion here

IxisNaugus (on 28 September 2011)

Completely disagree with the line concerning Xenoblade Chronicles. Yes, the side-quests are mostly monster hunts and talking to specific NPC's and collecting treasure, but you're ignoring a bigger purpose for it all. You fail to mention that the simplistic nature of the side-quests, and that you're rewarded on the spot for completing them, makes them easier to fit into your schedule as there are minimal back-and-forth's, making them much less of a grind, and that completing them in general increases your affinity with the area as a whole, or individual NPC's, and alters their relationship with one another, which really makes the world feel more alive. The affinity chart is a big part of the game, by doing these side-quests you're building toward an overall cause. Are you going to tell me that the side-quests involving the rebuilding of Colony 6 are useless? That minimal effort was put into that entire section, including the affinity chart? For the amount of side-quests that are available in the game it would be ridiculous to expect them all to be elaborate missions akin to Mass Effect 2 DLC or something of the like. Also, I'm not sure what you mean by "...they simply amount to empty space between you and your next cutscene or boss battle", are you talking about the overworlds in general? Because I assure you that is far from the case, and if you believe this is so, then I must question whether you have even played this game. There is a lot going on, and a lot to do in these overworlds. There are numerous landmarks to discover, which you are rewarded for doing so, and many unique monsters out there for you to slay, should you feel up to the task, not to mention the collectibles scattered throughout the various overworlds, with the rarer ones being tucked away in the more hidden areas. You cannot claim there is no incentive to explore these worlds, and that it's nothing but emptiness and barren wastelands separating you from the next cut-scene.

Wagram (on 29 September 2011)

Yes they are. I'm over 80 hours into Xenoblade with about 300 of those useless side quests finished. They add absolutely nothing to the game except perhaps a small handful. The maps are artistically beautiful but they are excessively big for no reason. Other then exploring to unlock landmarks and completing the tedious repetitive side quests. What purpose do they serve other then filler?

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IxisNaugus (on 29 September 2011)

No they are not. It sounds like you haven't been paying attention to the game at all, because they add more to the games world then you'd think. Don't tell me they don't add anything because they seriously do. Have you not been paying attention to the affinity chart? Did you even bother trying to rebuild and repopulate Colony 6? Do you talk to the named NPC's after completing quests? The world honestly grows a lot and the individual communities have quite a bit of depth when you examine them, the individual NPC's themselves react differently to the main characters, to each other and to the world around them the more you do. How on earth did you NOT pay attention to any of this? If that's just a "small handful" to you then I don't know what to say. The quests themselves are simple and repetitive, yes, but they are just a piece of a bigger whole, there is absolutely no need for them to be any more elaborate or grand, just for the sake of it.
Besides, I can name other console JRPG's with far more repetitive, tedious side-quests that add LITERALLY NOTHING to the game. Like Final Fantasy XIII. Xenoblade's side-quests are simply not horrible like you're making them sound.

And for the second part of your comment. The overworlds are not "excessively big for no reason" at all, they are there to explore and discover. That's one of the drawing points of having large overworlds in general! Did you miss the memo? If you don't enjoy exploring then games such as these are simply not for you, don't try and blame the game for that. Like I said, there are numerous landmarks, treasures and monsters just waiting to be encountered within these worlds. Just because every inch of the overworld doesn't play a more direct role with the main storyline it doesn't make them useless or unnecessary. If you're willing to get to know the world more you'll find that there is a lot to the lore of even some of the most random of landmarks. Once again, interacting with the communities tells you as much.

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Slimebeast (on 28 September 2011)

The bigger the better. I would love worlds that are ten times bigger than Oblivion's or Red Dead Redemption's.

Araknie (on 29 September 2011)

The Meaning of the Xenoblade maps are to find new species of monsters, so the quests are the same. Article FAIL.

usrevenge (on 28 September 2011)

its called a sandbox, the problem is when games don't have enough stuff in the sand box to play with... things to do, people to see, just exploring is only fun for so long, but thinking there might be treasure around the next bend, or a rare boss that drops epic loot or a random quest that u want to complete it can make a short game last dozens of hours longer.

curl-6 (on 28 September 2011)

With most games I'd agree, (travelling for long stretches through huge worlds in games generally bores me) but not in the case of Xenoblade. The beauty of each environment, the rewards for exploring, and the way it made it really seem like a vast, organic world make its scale worth the time.

scottie (on 29 September 2011)

You paying attention, No More Heroes?

UnknownFact (on 28 September 2011)

Yes, there needs to be a balance between content and world size. Time wasted traveling is one of the most annoying things in gaming though.

GamesBond (on 28 September 2011)

I'd agree that "bigger" without purpose is not "better".

Slimebeast (on 01 October 2011)

I am surprised that so many here disagree with the article. I am happy that we have members here who love open world.

Jumpin (on 29 September 2011)

I actually found Twilight Princess`s world to be too large for the game - it was very well sized for the most part, but there was a lot of extra stuff that didn`t need to be in the game and was only there for the painfully boring Moon Tear fetch quests. Recent games like Xenoblade, Final Fantasy 12, Final Fantasy 13, Red Dead Redemption, etc... seem to be so large that the game feels more like a process with very dilute substance 95% of the time, and altogether not nearly as fun as past games even though the 5% of good game might be improved. The good game portions of older RPGs and Adventures usually made up most of the game, not a small portion of the playtime. Although some games have done a great job with larger worlds - Skies of Arcadia immediately comes to mind; then there is also Assassin`s Creed 2. I would also include GTA Vice City. Most games with large worlds actually end up being much more boring than they otherwise could be.

Freyt (on 28 September 2011)

Agreed. Specifically about Twilight Princess (sorry MRKs, not trying to make you mad by disagreeing on the same point). I felt like the only real fields I had were the field east of Hyrule which was deceptively lacking in content, Zora's River which kind of didn't really have anything fun to do, and Lake Hylia which actually had some neat things. Besides that, everything about the game felt condensed. I felt like I was playing OoT all over again, when I really should have been seeing an improvement. Wind Waker's problem was that it wasn't condensed enough (or at all) and it had small islands, but Nintendo didn't need to go overboard with the opposite.

MRKs (on 29 September 2011)

I'm so mad at you! jk
Maybe it's just me who feels this way towards TP, but take in mind that the prior Zelda game I played was OoT so passing from Hyrule in OoT to TP was a big change, at least for me. Sadly I couldn't play Wind Waker,so I don't know about the Great Sea they talk :S

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arcelonious (on 29 September 2011)

I think a great example of balance between an open world and content is the Yakuza series. The major areas (e.g., Kamurocho, Okinawa, etc.) are smaller than the worlds of other open-world games, but are filled with variety of content (e.g., golf, playing pool, batting cages, karaoke bars, restaurants, etc.).

EdStation3 (on 29 September 2011)

Red Dead Redemption was big and travelling between towns are boring and made me not want to finish this game.

Roar_Of_War (on 29 September 2011)

Twilight Princess had a linear quest and a linear overworld. Ocarina of Time had so, so so much more freedom than Twilight Princess. Inspite of Ocarina of Time being so much smaller than Twilight Princess, it was far more of a "world" to me because the world was at your whim, for the most part. You could immediately search for tons of heart pieces, do tons of sidequests, explore places with almost no restrictions, do dungeons out of order, and even glitch the game into a virtual sandbox.

WiiBox3 (on 28 September 2011)

I'd agree that Twilight Princess' Hyrule Field was pretty barren, maybe the most so of the 3D Zelda games. I would however argue that OoT Hyrule Field was pretty barren for a Zelda fanboy who grew up with the 8 and 16bit games.

VGKing (on 28 September 2011)

This is why I hate games like Fallout and Elder Scrolls. SO BORING TO ME. Games should be more like Demons/Dark Souls.

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