The curse of the open world
Aniket Majumdar

I have seen this line of reasoning several places lately. Blaming Andromeda’s shortages on the idea of “Open World” game design.

But it doesn’t really make that much sense. Bioware have always tried to create so called pseudo open world aspects to their games. All the way back to Baldur’s Gate. And to be honest it would be more rational to argue that Baldur’s gate is their most open world game to date.

Like the idea that Knights of the Old Republic is a shining example of linear narrative in a third person rpg. You even go as far as saying it is one of the first to hit the american market. Knights of the Old Republic is, from a design perspective, a carbon copy of Newerwinter Nights. Both of those games are also great examples of Biowares efforts at creating a more open ended narrative vs. a linear one. F. ex. Both Neverwinter and Kotor gives the players choices as to which part of the city or planet they want to visit first. These are aspects that are intended to give players a sense of an open world without it actually affecting narrative to any great degree.

The exact same formula can also be found in the Mass Effect Trilogy and Dragon Age: Origins.

Further more arguments like Skyrim being the major proponent of map size comparisons is quite strange. Map size comparisons have existed for a long time and it has been a big marketing factor for open world games for many years. If anything GTA 3 is probably the biggest factor when it comes to making that a stand out marketing point. That is not to mention that Skyrim actually has a slightly smaller map than Oblivion. Both Skyrim and Oblivion is also compareable in size to Morrowind. To this date none of their games have ever gotten close to the size of Daggerfall, which is the second game in the Elder Scrolls series.

But regardless of all those things you mention. None of them actually make any arguments towards where open world design failed Mass Effect: Andromeda. They are all too generalizing. One would have to take a much more critical look at the design of all aspects of the game to measure their worth in the overall product. The only objective observation you make is that of fetch quests. Which would be, and is, a fair criticism of any game. It has also become a staple of the open world genre, but that isn’t necessarily fair either. What I am alluding to is that fetch quests is something you find in almost all role playing games throughout history. And while we can agree that it is quite simple from a design perspective, and that open world games have a higher tendency to use them than other games, it doesn’t change the fact that it isn’t as inherently part of open world design as it is of rpg design.

For fairness sake. Let me state that I haven’t played Andromeda. In fact I wasn’t a big fan of the original Mass Effect games. In fact I have found Bioware’s design philosophy stagnant for many years and I have therefore grown tired of their games.

My issues stem more from the design of underlying systems however and has less to do with narrative vs. open world. Regardless of all that though. I am sure Andromeda deserves most of the criticism that is currently being thrown their way. I just don’t think the blaming of open world design makes much sense when you look at Bioware’s design philosophy and history. And I definitely don’t think it helps to bring the conversation of rpg design forward.

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