When Ultima I: The First Age of Darkness was released back in 1981, it’s doubtful many would have known what the future would hold for its groundbreaking new genre, the open-world RPG. Considered to be the first open-world computer game, its fictional world of Sosaria would be an exciting early stop in a long line of exotic video game locations.
Nowadays the open-world genre is almost taken for granted, with developers like Bethesda Game Studios (the current creators of the single-player Elder Scrolls and Fallout series of games) bringing the seemingly limitless adventures of Tamriel and post-apocalyptic earth to the gamer community every 2 to 4 years. What was once an 8-bit 2-dimentional top-down perspective has changed to a full 3-dimensional high / ultra high resolution experience, including free camera views if console commands are enabled. So how did we get here?
To put it another way, open-world video games were always awesome, but not this awesome. Now, when one ventures forth into the war-torn lands of the Witcher 3 or Dragon Age: Inquisition, it’s almost impossible not to become fully immersed in the plot, lore and beautiful set designs. While the limits of these games are still clearly visible — for instance, as much as I’d like to enter every building in Grand Theft Auto V’s dysfunctional city of Los Santos, it’s just not possible — the limits are becoming less so with each newer release. It’s now more surprising when an action or activity isn’t possible to a gamer.
So is there a true limit to where open-world video games can go and will we ever reach it? The answer is probably yes and no. Limits are always imposed by hardware and software — they have to be, as everything must have a boundary or else there would be nowhere to reach, and there would be nothing to build a game upon — but in the sense of future potential in comparison to what currently exists, the limits seem almost boundless.
While current open-world video games are framed by computer screens and gamepad or keyboard and mouse controls, virtual reality is no longer a topic left mainly to science fiction. Whether it’s Oculus VR or Project Morpheus, truly immersive virtual open-worlds are just around the corner. Imagine wandering around as the Dragonborn in Skyrim while the whole of its expansive mountains and dangerous wildlife surround you in all directions.
It’s an exciting time to be a fan of the open-world format. With the release of Fallout 4 just months away, two future expansions to the Witcher 3, and the upcoming release of Mass Effect: Andromeda about a year and a half from now, there is a lot to look forward to. Game on, my friends, game on…