Open-worlds don’t always mean better games, as Rise of the Tomb Raider proves

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Open worlds don't always mean better games

Rise of the Tomb Raider is one of the best games of the year. I said as much in my glowing review yesterday. It’s a perfect symphony of different parts coming together in harmony, creating a varied action experience that likes to take control some of the time, but isn’t afraid to give you some slack during others. Rise of the Tomb Raider flirts with the idea of open-world play, but holds your hand enough to make sure that its eventual experience is steered in one direction. And games can really learn a lot from it.

It’s common for action adventure titles like Rise of the Tomb Raider and Uncharted to be linear ones, but Crystal Dynamics changes this up a bit in their sequel. Instead of a singular path, you’re given three main hub worlds to explore. These little sandbox playgrounds give the game a fresh bit of freedom, acting as nice sections of downtime after exhilarating and unrelenting set-pieces that shift you between these massive areas of real estate. They’re cleverly designed, but more importantly more smartly implemented.

Tombs act as a nice side-activity that alters Tomb Raider's pace

If Crystal Dynamics really wanted to, they could’ve made Rise of the Tomb Raider open-world. In the same way that hunting for tombs works, Lara could’ve easily shifted from missions to mission, progressing the story at a pace dictated by the player. The mechanics are all there for it too – with Tomb Raider leaning heavily on some light RPG mechanics to drive progression. It would’ve been a radical shift from their reboot, and one I’m glad they didn’t end up taking.

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These hub worlds work so well because they’re using sparingly, giving me a small amount of stuff to do before having to press on with the main story. Having tombs and crypts for distractions alongside some light side-missions is a great way to stagger the game’s pace a little, as an endless 10 hours of Lara fighting for her life against Trinity would’ve easily gotten old really fast. These open-worlds give you enough freedom to mess around for a little before being poked to move on, giving the game a lot more structure and control over the experience it’s trying to create.

Metal Gear Solid V suffers from a lack of strict pacing as it continues, and suffers terrible fatigue

It’s at odds with games that have suddenly decided that open-worlds immediately mean more exciting game time, with Metal Gear Solid V being a recent example. Don’t get me wrong, I think Kojima’s shift to open-world was a bold one, and one that immediately paid off given the new stealth mechanics, Fulton system and mission freedom. But its open-world is still one that feels a little dead, with outposts simply refreshing to try and keep your wandering from open checkpoint to the next a little exciting.

In this regard, Metal Gear Solid V could’ve learnt at lot from Rise of the Tomb Raider – a thought I had many times while reviewing the latter. Tomb Raider is intent on forcing me to continue after I’ve spent an hour or two messing around in its open-world, while Metal Gear Solid V doesn’t really care what I do with my time. When I first started playing The Phantom Pain, I loved the unhindered freedom – to the point where I lost myself for 20 hours without even achieving much.

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The Witcher 3 benefitted from it's open-world, with the game's structure and density encouraging exploration

It did lead to an incredibly sharp sense of fatigue eventually though, as slogging through the main missions eventually became a repetition of what I had already done. It didn’t feel like progress – unlike Tomb Raider which forces you to fight the good fight if you want to actually tackle that one tomb that’s locked for now. Through taking away some control from me, Crystal Dynamics ensured that my experience with their game was more tightly, finely paced, and it’s a better game for it.

It’s just a small idea that developers should probably take into account as we experience this boom of open-world games. Some desperately need it – like The Witcher 3 – while the likes Metal Gear Solid V would probably have benefitted from a more cautious approach. having a massive world to explore doesn’t immediately make a game better, and it’s a careful weighing of different elements and how they let the player experience the game that ultimately judges whether a game is good or not.

Rise of the Tomb Raider not only understands this, but it acts as the perfect example of how open-world can be controlled to a degree. And it’s something many games of similar genres can learn so much from.

Last Updated: November 10, 2015

Alessandro Barbosa

You can all call me Sandy until I figure out how to edit this thing, which is probably never. Sandy not good enough? Call me xXx_J0k3R_360degreeN0Sc0pe_xXx. Also, Geoff’s a bastard.

  • Grand Admiral Chief SpaceNinja

    One thing that was both cool as well as cruel and gruelling of TW3 is if you run across a monster 10-20 levels above you instead of the dreaded and dull “this area not available yet” type of mechanic.

    While much better, mostly you forgot where that particular monster was (unless linked to a quest) and the level required to open a can of whooooopass on it.

    Open world is a very, very sharp double edged sword

    • Alien Emperor Trevor

      I like that sense of uncertainty you get from scenarios like that. I was clearing out my last few question marks in Skellige before starting the final mission & ran smack into an Arch-Griffon with a red skull level – and I was lvl 34. Open world is boring when it’s predictable or silly busy work.

      • Grand Admiral Chief SpaceNinja

        Aye, I really enjoyed that I could go anywhere but that at any moment THE RED SKULL OF DEATH CRITTER can appear and make Geralt run away like a little bitch

        • Hammersteyn

          I hated that. Where’s the freedom? I even ran into red skull bandits. BANDITS. This is Geralt we’re speaking off

          • Grand Admiral Chief SpaceNinja

            Yeah that kinda sucked, monsters I can understand, but bandits?

          • Captain JJ the Goo

            Geralt is a Witcher who can do amazing things but dies from falling 8 feet.
            Clearly he’s not THAT bad ass.

          • Grand Admiral Chief SpaceNinja

            I think the later patches fixed that (less dmg and the land/roll mechanic)

          • Captain JJ the Goo

            Not by much though

          • Grand Admiral Chief SpaceNinja

            Well don’t jump off cliffs then you noob

          • Captain JJ the Goo

            “noob”?
            I thought Witcher 3 was rated over 18. Only kids still use that term ;P

          • Grand Admiral Chief SpaceNinja

            Don’t hide behind silly insults, stop jumping off cliffs and expect to survive!

          • XD

          • Take that back!

          • Captain JJ the Goo

            Bring it!

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            Yay! Dance off!

          • Captain JJ the Goo

            XD

          • Take the angry sprinkler you cur!

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            Hail Hydra!

          • Hai l!

          • miaau

            heil?

      • miaau

        That griffon killed my 27 level dude a few times, could not slay it.

        I did kill a level 31 and 32 monster before, so I thought I could do this one… No.

        • Grand Admiral Chief SpaceNinja

          So for you it was an YRDEN?

          • miaau

            Something like that, yeah. with less tentacles.

            Still need to kill Boss General on mountain and then complete game……

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            You’ve got a good few hours to go after defeating him.

          • miaau

            wow. ok. Need to get back into it.

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            Well when you do, I hope you get the ending I did. It’s the best ending to a game I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing.

        • Alien Emperor Trevor

          My best moment was killing a group of lvl 10 humans when I was a measly lvl 2. I raced around them on horseback.

          • Captain JJ the Goo

            Sounds like a Mount & Blade moment. Circle and slash.

          • Grand Admiral Chief SpaceNinja

            I remember some of the high level fights well, 25minutes against a cyclops 15 levels above me, 17 minutes against a fork-tail 10 levels above me and various others, good fights, really memorable

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            Ja nee, I wasn’t suicidal 😛

          • Grand Admiral Chief SpaceNinja

            That feeling after killing it!!!!

            Also, that feeling of getting the one-two-deathpunch from a cyclops/bear/wyvern/etc and having to reload

            :/

    • Darren Peach

      The Witcher 3 is a fabulous example of open world done right. The story and some of the missions served to be very compelling. The Ladies of the Wood is a very good example of game narrative, art and music done exceptionally well. That will always stand out in my mind when I think back on games in general. When you meet those three witches for the first time. WOW.

      • WitWolfy

        I love that Geralt actually kept to his threat he made to the Ladies of The woods. Saying he’d come back after finding Ciri and Both him and her will kill them together.

        Totally love it when games do that.

  • miaau

    Yes, good point. Tight stories, more focus, all good. Like it.

    • Alien Emperor Trevor

      • miaau

        mediocre movie, the first one, but still fun.

        Why? dunno, had some charm

        • WitWolfy

          Take that back, the first Thor is one of my fav movies.. EVER!

        • Alien Emperor Trevor

          Yeah it wasn’t the greatest, but fun to watch. A movie doesn’t have to be good to be enjoyable. I love the Resident Evil movies despite them being rather silly.

  • Captain JJ the Goo

    For open world to be successful it needs to be done right and it has to be applied to the correct type of game.
    This “guided” open world where it gives you the idea of an open world but is still pretty much linear is an excellent way to approach some games and some stories.

    • WitWolfy

      Exactly! Even Until Dawn gets this right. Most of the times I couldn’t help myself by walking off the path to search for collectibles.

  • Darren Peach

    One thing that irks me is the so called grind that you get with many open world games. Here is where age becomes a factor. I doubt Tomb Raider is relevant, But the open world topic seems to be a theme this week. As you get older, You tend to lose interest in a game after you finish it. Trust me. Borderlands 2 is a prime example. When you finish the game, It tells you now the real game starts. Why do we have to run through a game twice to get maximum
    value or entertainment. I found myself running around aimlessly to find so called elite weapons. Some might argue that this is part of the fun or appeal. This may be true for the younger crowd, But when you get older things tend to lose their appeal after a single play-through. Just food for thought.

    • Mossel

      As soon as a game starts to feel like work, i.e. ticking off boxes, collecting things. Then I start despising it. It needs to be interactive entertainment!

      • Darren Peach

        Trade ins. Straight away. Problem is there will always be nostalgia.

        • Mossel

          Problem is I cant trade in PC games…haha

          • Darren Peach

            While that may seem to be a perk( Trade ins) now that I play exclusively on my ps4, Every now and again I sit back and look at my usual meager offering of games and wonder how I managed to spend so much and have so little to show for it. At least you have something tangible in your possession.

  • WitWolfy

    I came to a decision this morning. Trading in MGS V TTP for Tomb Raider on Friday. Never wanna play that game again.. I think I hate it more than ME 3’s ending now that I think about it… I spit on it claiming to be the “ultimate Metal Gear”.

    • Darren Peach

      Dig your passion. The game was okay. Just hated being horny……..

    • Darren Peach

      And I mean when you kill too much. Not perving over Quite. 🙂

      • WitWolfy

        Lol perving on Quiet? That bitch aint no Katy Perry!

        • Darren Peach

          Thought I spelt that wrong. My ingrish are lekker……

      • Greylingad[CNFRMD]

        Lies!!! The latter was the reason for everyone!

        • Darren Peach

          Everyone what ?

          • Greylingad[CNFRMD]

            Everyone’s’ perving….

          • Darren Peach

            Shhhhhhhhh ………… Society might judge you ! 🙂

  • Ghost In The Rift

    TW3 will be my benchmark for any open world game from now on, still in denial that the game is now done and over, have 2 play troughs 1 that i’m gonna use for new game+, but damn, its hard coping with the reality that i’m not gonna get to play such a game anytime soon, wait need to hold back the tears…YENNEFER….

  • Greylingad[CNFRMD]

    The Witcher 3 was quite simply excellent.EVERY.SINGLE.SKULL. I loved running up to a monster, seeing a red skull, turning around and running with the hope that it doesn’t catch me. Obviously having a story that ressonates so dearly and leaving such a great impression with all of us, makes it the stand out open world game of the year, but that’s exactly what it is, challenges set out in the world that you’ll only conquer once you’ve achieved a higher rank, or an endless amount of patience…. Having a driven narrative in something like Tomb Raider makes for a story driven game, where TW3 was a collection of different stories. But having a little break in between linear parts make for a well deserved break, MGSV was good until the four hundred eighty sixth time you’ve run past the same bloody guard post, bold, but tiring…

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