Everyone wants their game to be open world, and it makes sense why. More freedom for the player to go where they want. More realistic environments that mirror what you see today. An open world just fits so many genres and stories and the technology we have today makes it easy to do. So it gets done, a lot.
However, while open worlds are great to experience and the freedom to go anywhere at any time is becoming more and more expected, one aspect of the open world is becoming forgotten. Dungeons.
The last game I played, and I admit that I haven’t played every game or anywhere close to it, that was open world and had fully fleshed out dungeons was Horizon: Zero Dawn in 2017. Before that, Fallout 4 in 2015. If there are more games please let me know and I’ll post them on them on here, but I don’t think there’s many.
I know some games have areas outside of the over world map, little pockets of places to visit for a quest. But these aren’t “dungeons” to me. Dungeons are expansive with points of interest inside them. They have their own story associated with them; lore, NPCs, special loot, and quests. They have their biomes and themes where the things you see inside are not what you see outside. They have puzzles or some form of solvable component that forces the player to full explore each area and find the secrets. They’re the sort of thing you prepare yourself to go into and spend a few hours exploring before coming out and feeling you physically just went through all that yourself.
When I played Skyrim and Fallout, standing at the threshold of a dungeon gave me a feeling. I didn’t know what was on the other side of the load screen. It could have been a quick boobytrap filled adventure for a fetch quest or an entire eco system home to whole ass dragon. You didn’t know.
Horizon’s dungeons were a bit linear, but loaded with so much lore that each one felt like a short story in itself. And sometimes, the action that took place just outside the door of each one was intense as the experience inside.
With as many games trying to build narrative deep adventures and wanting to give players the feeling like their characters exist in a living, breathing world, dungeons offer the ability to create isolated but distinct experiences.
A game like Assassins Creed could really make use of dungeons, more than it does. For the most part you just see short cave systems with a couple rooms of guys you have kill. It’s a shallow experience and repetitive. All their dungeons look the same, feel the same, and play out the same. Same goes for The Witcher where dungeons mostly just played host to a monster or boss. The decent into the lairs were short and you knew what you were getting into before you went in.
Having an open world where everything exists on the surface kinda defeats the purpose of an open world. Instead of the game feeling robust on diverse, you end up trapped in single space that’s just big. But instead, using the open world as an over world and filling it with dungeons gives you an option create diverse, memorable experiences that can vary dramatically from one to the next. And it’s that experience that really makes a game feel like it’s a living, breathing world.
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