Over the past few years, there have been increasing numbers of open world games, and this year was especially good for them. So bearing that in mind - which one was a particular favorite of yours? It could be a brand new game, or one from years past that you continued to play in 2015. Either way, we'd like to know which virtual world you most enjoyed spending your time in.
While you ponder your answer, here's the USgamer team with theirs.
As I mentioned in my Lightning Returns look-back, I've gone from being deeply in love with the idea of open worlds a decade ago to deeply wary of them. I like them in principle, but so often they turn out to be all more or less the same: Big, indistinct sandboxes full of time-wasting copy-and-paste mission design amidst copy-and-paste environmental details. I need to spend more time with Xenoblade Chronicles and The Witcher III to see how I feel about them, but for the moment my favorite open world of 2015 arrived in the form of Rise of the Tomb Raider.
Which, maybe, is cheating a bit. Rise's structure feels more like a metroidvania than a true sandbox—but that's precisely why I loved it. The game features about five large-scale free-roaming areas, but they're large-scale only compared to the previous game. In practice, they're pretty compact, but perfectly so. Each of them is just large enough to give you the sensation of exploration and discovery, but small enough that you're not wandering forever doing dumb, pointless nonsense.
The sandbox spaces in Rise contain plenty of things to find: Caves, documents, and the meaty secret tombs that hearken back to the design of the best PS1 Tomb Raiders. I love the way the game parcels out clues, too; rather than icons appearing on the map as you draw near or populating completely once you achieve and objective, discovery is instead layered. You find a map or treasure clue and a handful of items fill out the map, just enough to lead you to another objective. It's almost like a scavenger hunt… and of course you can (and will) stumble into plenty of discoveries without needing map icons. The question comes down to how attentive you feel like being. Meanwhile, the most enticing spaces in the game (the bonus tombs) exist outside the maps you're given, forcing you to stop relying on in-game navigation tools and use your powers of observation.
And eventually, as with all great metroidvania-type games, the world map loops back around and you progress back to the beginning, closing a circuit of exploration to create the sensation of true discovery. Big enough to be interesting, compact and varied enough to avoid feeling like a waste of time, Rise of the Tomb Raider's open world sections offer a brilliant example of how to give players a high degree of freedom within a rigidly structured adventure, and I hope plenty of developers look to it for inspiration. I know vast worlds are the "in" thing now, but I'd rather enjoy a careful prepared meal than shovel an endless buffet of garbage down my throat. Metaphorically speaking, I mean.
I'm like Bob in that I don't easily engage with open worlds. They make for some nice window dressing, but they often feel too articial. Sure, I can wander across beautifully hand-crafted landscapes to my heart's content and do dumb things worthy of Youtube, but I rarely feel totally invested in such a world.
As usual, though, Fallout 4 managed to grab my attention and hold it. You know you're playing an interesting open-world game when you start making a laundry list of things to do - travel to Diamond City to meet the merchants, investigate the strange bunker to the north, find where you left Dogmeat, and so on. After a while it starts to become a kind of home away from home.
What elevated Fallout 4 for me, though, was the settlement building. Sure, it deserves criticism for being overly opaque and not really having an overarching goal, but I still managed to find it compelling because it gave me an opportunity to carve out my own little piece of the wasteland. I built a giant house, surrounded it with turrets, and visited it regularly to craft new weapons. While there's no real "point" to it all, there's an element of meta-storytelling to it - you are rebuilding the wasteland one settlement at the time. It's meant to get you invested, and it succeeds.
As usual, Bethesda has a knack for grabbing my attention and holding it with their open worlds. It's not something I've been able to find in any other RPG that I've played. Well, except maybe Persona 4...
I feel a little guilty choosing Fallout 4 as my answer, since its open world isn't all that different from what we saw in part 3 and New Vegas. But the fact that I haven't gotten sick of wandering through these post-apocalyptic wastelands after hundreds of hours speaks to how well this setting works, I guess. With the majority of open-world games I play, I typically abandon all the side stuff around 20 hours in, when the appeal of doing every single quest quickly fades away. But there's something about Fallout that drives me to poke my head into every abandoned building, hack every computer I see, and scrounge up every last bit of lore I can find. The main narrative of Fallout 4 has its charms, I guess, but I'm much more interested in exploring the short stories on the periphery than I am in tracking down my stolen baby. I guess that's why I decided to be a writer instead of a father. (And if you don't think these roles are mutually exclusive, you haven't seen my student loan bills.)
For me, this one is a no-brainer for 2015. No other game has even come close to duplicating the feeling that I had while riding Roach through areas like Velen, Kaer Morhen, and especially the Skellige Isles in The Witcher 3. I had hopes that Fallout 4 would do the trick, but it fell short of what The Witcher 3 brought to the table in terms of an open world experience. Not to say that Fallout 4 wasn’t fantastic.
There was just something incredibly satisfying about riding your horse through the lands instead of using the fast travel option, and it didn’t hurt that the soundtrack was one of the best that I’ve ever heard, creating an atmosphere that will stick with me for years to come. Again, this was especially the case in the Skellige Isles.
What seals the deal for me, though, is that you really felt like the world was alive in The Witcher 3, and the way that the bulk of the quests were delivered to you never pulled you out of the experience. The notice boards were a brilliant way to encourage players to explore the entire map, and have the ultimate say in what they spent their time doing. You could fire up The Witcher 3 with the intention of progressing the main story, and spend four hours getting distracted by the vibrant world created by CD Projekt RED. The best part was, you didn’t mind one bit. The Witcher 3 is a game to be savoured, not rushed through.
Even though I unsubscribed a few months ago, I have to nominate Azeroth as my favorite open world of 2015 - which is the World of Warcraft for those who mightn't be familiar with the name. I haven't been there for the past five-or-so months, but that doesn't mean I don't miss it enormously. It's funny how a virtual place can get under your skin, but then again, I played the game continually for over 10 years - and for most of that time, pretty much every night - so the place is literally a second home to me.
Having spent thousands of hours in the game means it holds many memories for me, from leveling up my character for the first time in Elwynn Forest just outside Stormwind to running across the entire length of Northrend on the first night that the Lich King expansion opened, raiding with people, or just even standing around talking to my WoW friends and having a good laugh. Azeroth is basically a huge playground, and one that - at least when it was at its peak - was a place where I played, made new friends and had a tremendous amount of fun - indeed the best times I've ever had with any game. And a large part of that was because I was sharing it with a team of people who, for a good few years, stuck together and bested everything the game could throw at us.
Sadly, those days are gone - but I'm hoping that when the new expansion is released, my numerous characters might get a second lease of life. I'm following the development of Legions very closely, and it sounds like Blizzard is working very hard to change up the game in interesting ways and it may perhaps bring back some of the people it has lost over the past twelve months. Of course, it's never going to get back to its heyday - but I'm hoping that I still have some new adventures awaiting me in Azeroth. The Legions expansion can't come soon enough, as far as I'm concerned.
I think I'm having a meltdown here. On one hand I have Just Cause 3, an amazing stretch of land where you can blow up things to your heart's content. It's a ton of fun. On the other hand, I have the Witcher III: Wild Hunt, a game so big that I've been reticent to even restart the game on retail. I haven't even had a chance to play Rise of the Tomb Raider, which I believe could be a major contender, according to Jeremy's review.
Fallout 4, Assassin's Creed: Syndicate, Batman: Arkham Knight, Mad Max round out the list. I'm the open-world guy and there's so much to choose from. How do I decide between a fun, but shallow experience or the insanely long, well-written finale for Geralt of Rivia? That's the decision of a moment. When you sit down to relax after a long day and decide if you want to want the serious Oscar contender or the mindless action comedy romp. How does one decide that as a final statement?
You flip a coin. Heads, The Witcher III. Tails, Just Cause 3.
I'm here to report my deep look into the statistics has resulted in The Witcher III winning as my favorite open-world experience this year. Good job, CD Projekt Red!