Franchise fatigue vs genre fatigue: a case against open-world sandbox games

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Zen sandbox

We are rapidly approaching that time of year when we look back at all the games released and try to decide which ones were best. There have been some incredible games released this year, and I already joked that we would probably end up fighting it out between The Witcher 3, MGSV and Fallout 4, with maybe Tomb Raider and Bloodborne thrown in for good measure. But with games like Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, Mad Max and even MGSV all getting lumped together in some ways, I can’t help but wonder if people are really irritated with the games and franchises themselves, or if it’s an issue of genre fatigue.

Before getting my hands on Assassin’s Creed, I was having fun playing Mad Max with my other half. He was doing most of the playing, but when he’d take a smoke break, I’d drive around the open world taking out snipers, grabbing loot or pulling down scarecrows. It was relaxed and fun and made me remember how much I enjoy the open world of a sandbox game.

FC4 map

Then, I got Assassin’s Creed Syndicate for review. Due to customs and embargoes and all the rest, I only got the title a bit late, and Geoff agreed that I could sort of take my time with the review – there was no way I could possibly play through the story in the time before the review embargo lifted, so I could take some extra days to play and enjoy myself. Which is exactly what I did – I liberated areas, I played through side missions, I chased down collectibles. Of course I also completed the story missions, but it was through exploring the side missions and all the city had to offer that I got the full experience of the game and enjoyed myself so much.

Then, it was over and I needed a break from more open world games. As much as I’m curious about Tomb Raider and Fallout 4, I know that I need a break from that expansive, “there is so much to do” gameplay. I need shorter gameplay experiences – either cool co-op shooting or some quick and linear story games. Perhaps even an old-school platformer would do well for me at the moment.

Witcher 3 map

Looking at some of the best games released this year, they are predominantly open world experiences. For those who played The Witcher 3, and then moved on to play Metal Gear Solid V, of course a game like Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, Tomb Raider or Fallout 4 is going to feel repetitive. Even the best open world sandbox experiences start to get exhausting after a while, and if you play too many of them back to back, you’re guaranteed to get fatigued.

This is why I’m beginning to wonder if all the talk about franchise fatigue isn’t overblown. It’s not that people are necessarily tired of Assassin’s Creed games (although many people are); it’s that they are tired of all the other open-world sandbox games that followed in the Assassin’s Creed footsteps. Much the same way that almost all games seem to have RPG-light elements, games are increasingly trending towards the open-world for success. While massive maps with tons to do can be great, they can also start to feel like padded experiences that would have been far better without the hundreds of collectibles or rinse and repeat side objectives.

Assassins creed syndicate not failing this city

Ubisoft obviously loves open-world sandbox games, but that seems to be contigious what with EA saying that they want to make those kinds of games, too. Warner Bros also seems to have drunk the open-world sandbox Kool Aid. There is nothing inherently wrong with the genre – it’s popular for a reason. People love having tons to do in a game; it makes it feel like there is more value for money when you can sink 100+ hours into a game. However, when certain genres become some popular, they can make all games feel the same. Just like any playground, even if the sandbox is the most popular, there should still be a swing, and a see-saw, and that weird climbing thing.

Have you had your fill of the open-world sandbox, or are you still enjoying the genre? Can you handle an all sandbox diet of games, or do you also need to break things up with linear, short-term games? Does anyone even have time to fully clear these open-world games? I think I managed it with one recently, and that was during the December holiday last year.

Last Updated: November 9, 2015

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