The Trouble With Side Content In Open World Games

I’m someone who loves open world games. There’s just something thrilling about being able to go where you want, when you want. On top of that freedom, open world games typically have a wealth of content to keep you busy for as long as you want through side missions, activities, exploration, and collectibles. If you’re playing a game you love, these missions are great additions as they’ll keep you inside of this world for even longer.

Fantastic Chicago cityscape shot

Recently, I’ve started noticing that we seem to be getting more and more open world games these days. From Watch_Dogs, Shadow of Mordor, two Assassin’s Creed games, and a number of other games, 2014 has already seen a ton of these titles come to retail. This trend has started to make me wonder just how much content does it take to suddenly become too much?

Full post below the jump…

It’s a weird question, I know. Typically, as consumers, we want games to offer more things to do for various reasons including justifying the amount paid for the title or to help keep us engaged with the game for longer periods of time. It seems like a no brainer really, doesn’t it? With so many open world games releasing this year alone, I’ve begun to see a trend where more content isn’t always a good thing. There’s a few factors I’ve come across that really push this feeling home.

The biggest reason I’ve found is that sometimes side content isn’t well thought out, almost like it was added in to pad the game. Lets have a look at Shadow of Mordor for this example. Now, Mordor is a game that I absolutely love and it’s easily one of my top games for 2014. It has a ton of side content to do in it, one of which being “Outcast Missions” which tasks Talion with saving captured humans who are enslaved by the Uruks. Sounds cool, right? Well, in execution, it falls a bit flat. There’s a massive amount of Outcast Missions in the game but unfortunately, each one plays out exactly the same way: Talion must free three enslaved humans. How you do it doesn’t matter, and the only difference between them is the map layout. From a game play perspective, each mission is the same.

What I’ve found is that after a while, these missions feel more like a chore than anything else. Doing the same action over and over loses it’s appeal pretty quickly. You could make the argument that less is more in this case.


When you start leaning on tasks that are more about repetition instead of advancing a core idea or even the story, player engagement level begins to drop. Those outcast missions I mentioned would have been fine if there weren’t twenty four of them to complete. What’s interesting is that, games that populate their worlds with tasks like this actually can produce the opposite intended effect. I’ve seen and experienced content that has ultimately caused more harm than good to my enjoyment and memories of the game.

If the first thing that comes to mind about a game is how terrible a mission was instead of something more positive, something has gone wrong.

Sometimes it’s not about overwhelming the player with content. Sometimes, like with inFAMOUS Second Son, it’s the content itself. I’m a major inFAMOUS fan, I absolutely love the franchise. Sadly for me, Second Son just didn’t quite live up to expectations, but I still had fun. Surprisingly, the game featured some side content which felt more like an afterthought than anything else. This was surprising based on how side activities were handled in the previous two games.  Second Son did have a number side things to do outside of story missions, but they lacked a strong sense of purpose and usually could be completed in about 30 seconds to a minute of your time. A few of these activities included simple objectives like destroying a hidden camera nearby, finding a hidden conduit near your location, or spray paint a picture on a structure. They didn’t seem to matter in the grand scheme of things, only created to occupy your time. They had no real bearing on your karma standing or have any lasting affect on this world you were in.


Then there’s the other aspect: burnout. Maybe it’s just me, but if I spend too much time in a game for too long, I start to go into autopilot mode with it. Instead of having feelings of fun, it becomes more like work to me. I enjoyed my time with Skyrim and I know many people absolutely love this game, but by the end, I was ready to move on. The world was almost too big that trying to go from area to area became a chore. Like I said, I had fun with it but after a while, the little icons and things to do on the map became overwhelming. After finishing the story, I had no desire to return to Skyrim, I felt like I had spent enough time with it.

For as much as I love open world games, I rarely 100% them. Why tarnish a great time with a game just to mindlessly collect or finish every single thing in the game if it’s counter-effective to having fun? I have this weird compulsion to explore everything and do everything on the map but after a while, I find that for me, it grinds the experience down even if I have yet to experience the whole story. It’s something I’m learning to work around and so far with some of the recently released open world games, it’s working to my benefit. Stop being so worried with side content, it’ll always be there. Enjoy the game for what it is and if you want more, there’s more than likely always something waiting for you.

I guess in the end, I’m not much of a completionist as I once thought and you know what? I’m perfectly okay with that.

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8 Responses to The Trouble With Side Content In Open World Games

  1. Max Serru says:

    Great read. Open world games definitely have those common flaws and usually are to time consuming.

    • Thanks for reading!

      Seems to be something that has been coming up more and more especially now that we’re getting hit with open world games almost on a monthly basis. Easy trap to fall into with this side content I guess.

      • Max Serru says:

        I think developers know wagt condumers like. Mostly open world games attract the most buyers. I think the side content is meant to be a break from the original plot. Im more into games with a deep story mode.

  2. C. T. Murphy says:

    I think I prefer a more Skyrim-like approach, though there is definitely some argument for it being a little too big and a little too overwhelming at times. Mainly, I want my open world games to be less about a single, definitive narrative with lots of side missions and instead have many different stories to work through. I really love the factions of Elder Scrolls because it gives me a chance to play through several very different, very complete story lines within one world.

    In other words, I want less because with that, I think developers can make it so much more.

    • Yeah, that’s a good point. And the best part? As you mentioned, the side content in “Skyrim” is just as detailed as the main campaign ones. You get the sense that it wasn’t thrown in to pad the game or extend the life artificially.

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  4. Hatm0nster says:

    Open world is fun but not when a game is made open world just for the sake of being open world. Take Arkham City for example; sure it was *bigger* but everything about it was watered down. Gone were the complex and often puzzling encounters of Arkham Asylum, replaced with more simplistic versions design to allow you to continue on your way relatively quickly. Genuine challenges replaced with roadblocks.

    In the case of Skyrim, I disagree in that I think Skyrim was the right kind of big. A world that allowed you to strike out in any direction and discover adventure. Only problem was that once it was all discovered there was really nothing left, which is why I inevitably put down the game too.

    • You’re right about Skyrim and that’s somethig that I forgot about. Credit to Murf who brought it up but Skyrim’s side content was meaningful. Bethesda seemed to use those side missions to help further explain other aspects of the world, be it factions, lore, or something else.

      That’s what I want from side content, not some fluff missions that don’t add any value.

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