There are many things that go toward making a truly great open world game. From having plenty of side missions and things to do, to having engaging gameplay, to having a fun map to explore etc. But one of the most important elements of open world games that people often overlook is traversal. Actually getting around and roaming the map and making that fun and interesting.
So many open world games are made great simply by having excellent mechanics when it comes to travelling and traversing the in-game landscapes and environments. Game series like Far Cry and Just Cause would be nowhere near as good if they didn’t include fun ways to get around the world through things like wing suits, grappling hooks, jets, animal riding and so on.
Even just having a variety of ways to travel in a game world is good enough. Grand Theft Auto V doesn’t exactly have the most creative ways of getting around but being able to choose from cars, bikes, planes and boats leaves me with enough to be satisfied with when I want to get from one end of the map to another.
It’s never a good sign when I play a game that makes me feel like wanting to use some form of fast-travel. Sure its fine when I don’t feel like wasting the extra five minutes but when I’m constantly using fast travel to escape having to traverse the world that’s when I realise something is wrong.
If you go into the stats for any open world game you’ll see that a lot of time you spend playing the game is spent merely getting from one place to another on the map. So it’s important that the traversal mechanics are good enough that players will want to spend all that time getting from place to place.
The recent Metal Gear Solid V is the perfect example of how bad traversal can bring down the enjoyment of an open world game. I already complained about it enough in my review, but the game simply fails when it comes to trying to get from one place to another. The only real ways to explore the world is through driving or riding a horse. Driving is clunky as hell and it’s hard to ride your horse or drive without getting spotted by enemies who all travel on the same road as you.
Developers need to make sure that their open world fits well with the way the players are going to get around. Like how in Batman: Arkham Knight they designed the city specifically for the Batmobile. Or how in the Infamous games each environment is designed around what powers you have.
Traversal is one of the most important elements in an open world game. Pretty much all open world games these days pride themselves on having bigger and bigger worlds to explore. But in the end it doesn’t matter how large the map is if actually traversing that world is boring and tedious.