Open world RPGs are the epitome of freedom in games, and being completely immersed in a living, breathing virtual world separate from your own speaks volumes about what one can do. When handled correctly, they allow us to practically shape our own story, craft a character as individual as ourselves, and leave us with an experience and set of stories as personal as real life.
That being said, the theme of a fantasy setting in a world of magic and wonder is getting a bit…tired. And other than a handful of separate titles such as Fallout, Grand Theft Auto and Red Faction, it seems that the fantasy setting is the one that gets the most love from developers of open-world games.
Now, I don’t mean to sound negative here; I love dragons, wizards, elves, and fortresses with names spelled without vowels just as much as the next gamer, but I find myself wondering…where else could we apply the conventions of an open-world game?
Without any further ado, here’s a list of possible settings that might make for some interesting gameplay (and if there’s any developers reading this, message me for an address to send the royalty checks to).
Think about it…start off in a small seaside town, build your way up to being the Captain of your own ship. Join crews, hunt down legends, explore the oceans, run into creatures, pirates, ghosts, and the Navy as you search tirelessly for treasure. There’s an endless supply of quests to be had, plus the option of a morality-based system. Will you become the terror of the high seas, or more of a gentle anit-hero like Jack Sparrow? While there are some fantasy games that have touched on the idea of pirates, there’s nothing in the way of an open-world RPG that would show the swashbuckling action icons the love they are long overdue for.
While Mass Effect offered this somewhat in the way of planet scanning and side quests, imagine the possibilities in an open-world game based across the galaxy. Explore planets, take up various jobs, settle planetary and species/race disputes, get involved in political uprisings, settle down in one system all across a uniquely designed universe…the options are as vast as space itself. And while the size and scope of a game like this would be astronomical (word intended), it has the potential to be the most open of open worlds.
We’ve already had games where we go around beating up and running from the cops. But what about one where we actually get to take a part in what they do? Listen in on radios, accept calls from dispatchers, settle everything from domestic disputes to hostage situations, solve crimes, and do whatever it takes to take out the bad guys and clean up the streets of your city. While it has the potential to be open-world, it could also include elements of squad-based strategy and puzzle solving in the way of gathering clues and information, much like L.A. Noire. And maybe I speak for myself, but I’d love to see a parking ticket minigame in there as well.
Consider an open-world God of War, just without Kratos screaming in rage and heads being ripped off (actually, no…keep the head-ripping). Start out small and take on missions and quests as you work towards becoming a hero and serving the Gods. This could, of course, be based not only in Greek mythology, but in Norse as well. Run errands for the Gods, visit them in their domains, and take on all manner of mythical creatures as you explore a world immortalized in the words of the Iliad or the Odyssey. There’s a moral option here, as well; will you serve Hades or Athena? Will you take on the Minotaur, or look to kill the heroes threatening the plans of Ares? Epic boss battles against monstrosities like the Titans would be amazingly cool to take on here, and the range of weapons could be a widely inventive one. Just don’t make me wear a toga.
Stealth-based assassination gameplay meets open world RPG in this setting. Join clans, carry out missions, and use a variety of ways to take out your mark other than the traditional sword or dart. The idea here could be something similar to the quests of the Dark Brotherhood in Oblivion and Skyrim, only coupled with Metal Gear Solid-style stealth mechanics and a gritty, dark edge like old Japanese black and white action films. There’s a lot of potential here, since the conflict between ninja and samurai carried on for some time back in the days of feudal Japan, and multiple compelling storylines have the potential to branch out as you forge alliances and always put yourself at risk of being betrayed. Couple that with some smoke bomb getaways and fluid combat, and I’ll be first in line for the pre-orders.