Open world games are hard to make, but it’s even harder to make them about something. When a game’s scope spreads across tens, maybe hundreds of virtual square miles, it’s not surprising that developers can struggle to fill that space. Who can forget collecting feathers in the first Assassin’s Creed, or Unity’s unique approach of pouring every kind of content imaginable into Revolutionary Paris, as if Ubisoft was making virtual foie gras?
When you’ve got such a broad canvas, the temptation is to go wild with all the paints on your palette. The problem with this is when you mix every colour, you inevitably end up with brown. This is why so many open-world games end up stuffed with racing mini-games or mediocre crafting systems. You’ve got to chuck a lot of stuff in there before they feel full, and it takes enormous talent and teamwork to make the resulting experience feel like anything other than a random assortment of activities and filler.
This is why I have such a fondness for Red Faction: Guerrilla. It’s an open-world game driven by a singular purpose. Granted, that purpose can be summarised as “smashing stuff to bits”, but I never said the goal of an open world had to be noble or high-minded. It just has to somehow unify its components, and Guerrilla does this extremely well. It’s a prime example of a developer figuring out what their open world is about first, then building the rest of the game around that idea.