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Games without walls

Some of the most exciting games being released this year have open worlds that you can take years exploring

A scene from Tom Clancy’s The Division<br />
A scene from Tom Clancy’s The Division

As a mutated monster hunter, you set out to track a Griffin. It’s a long road, but you have your trusty horse, and the scenery is relaxing. Along the way you decide to stop at a village for some food and a game of cards, but the villagers ask you to protect them from some bandits, who turn out to be led by a werewolf. With your coin purse full, you reach a crossroads, where each of the four roads leads to thousands more, each with hundreds of mini stories along the way. This is not counting the main story of the game and the large quests.

This is Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, one of the finest games from last year. It is what the gaming community calls an open-world game, one in which the player is not forced to sit on an elaborate train ride through the story, but instead has the freedom to chart his own course through dangerous waters.

Open-world games are not a new phenomenon. Grand Theft Auto and The Elder Scrolls series have been crafting large sandboxes for you to play in for years. Not to mention World Of Warcraft and other massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG), which have open worlds. However, with the improvement in graphics card technologies and processors, developers and game designers are now able to sculpt worlds using the full force of their vision. As a result, the last few years have seen the glorious rise of open-world games in various forms.

With the coming of No Man’s Sky, it is clear open worlds are getting bigger and bigger. They are branching out into open universes.

Video games are all about immersion: You step into the shoes of a character and play through their story or experience. An open-world game opens an entire world for you to experience.

These games follow a formula. They are mostly single-player, and the world is a city or a state of some controllable size. There is an overarching storyline that takes you across the game world, but there are also many side quests. In Skyrim, part of The Elder Scrolls series, it is defeating the dragons and earning “Shouts". Mad Max: The Game is about finding parts to upgrade your car, the Magnum Opus. There are also several mini stories and sometimes even mini-games within the larger game, which require you to race cars or collect gold, testing a different set of skills than the main game does.

Some of the best games in the last few years have had open worlds. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (2013) lets you captain your own pirate ship, plundering the Caribbean in search of gold. The Elder Scrolls series has been helped by a vibrant modding (modifying) community that has kept the world fresh. Last year saw another instalment in the Fallout series, which let you explore one state in a post-apocalyptic version of 1950s retro-futuristic US. The sheer size and detail in Grand Theft Auto V (2013), where you plan and execute heists with a unique three protagonist set-up, was astounding.

The success of these games has led many traditional game developers to move towards open worlds. For example, Square Enix, the developers of the famous Final Fantasy series, are now going open world with their new Final Fantasy XV, which will be released later this year. The latest Rise Of The Tomb Raider too has levels that are open for exploration.

The downside of game studios switching to open worlds is that there are fewer releases every year as developers have to spend a lot of time creating the scale and detail these kinds of games require. The upside is that each of these games is meaty, some of them requiring hundreds of hours to complete. With more focused development, there are a lot of exciting things happening.

Which brings us to No Man’s Sky, a unique game from a small British indie studio, Hello Games, with a big idea. The game features a procedurally generated universe that, according to Hello Games, will take you at least four billion years to explore fully. Yes, four billion of our puny human years. Using an algorithm, the game’s engine will create planets for you to zip to in your spacecraft. The best part is, you can land anywhere on the planet and explore it to your heart’s content. Each planet has its own flora and fauna. So you could be on a deserted planet, or flying to one with giant creatures towering around you.

While No Man’s Sky has the galaxy covered, the open-world games that are launching this year are focusing on telling great stories. Last year saw some amazing games, such as The Witcher 3, Mad Max, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain and more, pushing the envelope. This year, you can be a caveman in the stone age with Far Cry Primal, or try to bring order to a city infected with a virus in Tom Clancy’s The Division. Explore a fantasy world along with your entourage in Final Fantasy XV, find out the fate of humanity in a post-apocalyptic world with giant robot dinosaurs in Horizon Zero Dawn, and experience a mysterious island in The Witness, which is already out, from the makers of the award-winning Braid. In addition, The Legend Of Zelda series finally embraces an open-world structure. All this, and 2016 has just started. Watch out for more as the E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) nears (14-16 June, at the Los Angeles Convention Center).

With the advent of new virtual reality technologies, it’s clear which direction gaming is moving towards: complete immersion in large open-world, single-player experiences. New worlds to explore, new places to go and new experiences to be had. From post-apocalyptic worlds to lush green fantasy worlds, to the vast reaches of space. When worlds collide, all you hear is the screams of joy of countless gamers across the world

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