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“Narrow Open-World” Design is Perfect for God of War

So, just like most people in the PlayStation gaming-sphere, I’ve been playing a hell of a lot of God of War. Pretty much every free opportunity I have had I have poured into this game. A lot of people, many more sophisticated and powerful than myself are singing the praises of this remarkable game, so I want to talk about something different, in regards to it. Just for reference this does not contain spoilers for the story, but I will be talking about the game a bit. So if you’re trying to avoid any and all spoilers (though why’d you’d be seeking out an article on the game, if that was the case, is a mystery to me) please bookmark this and come back later.

Like many of it’s its predecessors God of War takes place in a vast World of locales and changing environments. Filled with collectables, optional areas, puzzles, hidden treasures, and nooks and crannies packed to the gills; there is never a shortage of places to explore. But it is absolutely not an Open-World game, at least in our modern sensibility of the phrase. Typically when we talk about Open-World games, we refer to an often open field with visible landmarks and far off distances, polluted with NPC’s, branching quest-lines. It’s a difficult distinction to parse on paper, but for anyone who’s played God of War yet, knows that though the Map is enticing, you can’t exactly see Death Mountain off in the distance from the first moment, like you might in Zelda.

Instead God of War restricts you, purposefully to small zones ranging in all sorts of different sizes and capacities. This might bring up memories of Rise of the Tomb Raider or of Batman: Arkham Asylum, and perhaps even some of the earliest predecessors, like Jak & Daxter and Spyro. It certainly has done so for me, to my joy and delight. Sometimes I think that this type of design is thought down on. In the era of Open-World and “RPG Systems” that are present in modern game design, to create a narrow but interconnected world seems a hard sell for people’s hard-earned dollar. The thought, “But what if it was all open” can certainly be a tempting one, and a good example would be of Rock Steady, as the Batman: Arkham games got steadily larger and larger in scope as the series went on. But for me, there’s something incredibly special about these smaller, more intimate zones.

Don’t get me wrong, I love all of Rock Steady’s Batman games, and I have no complaint, with the design of the maps in any of them. But Asylum is my favorite, and I think it comes down to the intimacy I feel with the territory. Lately the rebooted Tomb Raider series has been blowing my mind, and I can’t imagine those games being structured in something larger in scope, like the Witcher or Zelda. They are benefited thoroughly by their systems and design and how those play with the narrow environments. Exploring the Lore and the runes and histories of the territory is so perfectly balanced in both Tomb Raider and God of War, and the small zones allow for an incredible amount of depth to be provided for the character interactions and the exploration.

I just finished Rise of the Tomb Raider a couple of weeks ago and the entire time, I was thinking about this connection to the way older open-world games had to be designed because of limitations. Jak & Daxter for example, how you would traverse and portal your way through the areas, but the zones were small to large areas that were able to be filled abundantly due to the connecting hallways being narrow. I think there is a place for this kind of design, and the way God of War utilizes the its spaces to aid in its story-telling and action is a prime example of why. Not everything needs to be Zelda or the Witcher. I’m so content, and honestly much more into the collectables, when every single area can be as diverse and interesting as the last.

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