April 12, 2024
5 min read

What is an Open World Game?

What is an Open World Game?

What is an Open World game?

As it is with names, they’re often quite self-explanatory. And this one isn’t much different! You got a large world to explore, it’s filled with places to be, people to see and things to do. Pretty basic, right? But there’s more! So let's explore further!

Core features of open world games

Here are some of the most relevant core features that make it easy to identify an open world game.

Vast and open environments

Looks peaceful when the player isn't around...
Source: GTA V by Rockstar Games

It’s in the name after all! 

While there are some limitations, depending on the game, quite often you have the freedom to go wherever you want to from the start, and there’s a LOT of ground to cover. So long as you are able to overcome the challenges that stand in the way to your destination of course! That huge powerful enemy that guards the entrance will probably need certain… finesse to either avoid or remove. 

But it’s entirely up to you to decide where and how you want to proceed. After all, it’s your world to enjoy in whatever way you could want.

Non-linear gameplay

The world is filled with many challenges to face and overcome. But that doesn’t mean that they must be tackled in any certain order. 

Grinding your skills before taking on any enemy to turn them into dust? That’s the stuff! 

Want to go straight for the most powerful enemies from the start? Your funeral, but it’s absolutely allowed. 

If you’re “determined” enough you could probably succeed eventually (quicksave exists for a reason after all).

Choice of action is yours and so is the level of challenge you personally wish to face. 

Player agency and freedom

General rule is, unless the game literally tells you that you HAVE to do something right NOW, you’re free to do as you please. That includes any quests/objectives/missions that do not have a completion date or any time restraints attached to them.

The freedom to do what you want, when you want it. Just like in a sandbox game!

The world waits for you, not the other way around. Mostly…

Immersive worldbuilding and exploration

A brief rest in the city from monster hunting and violence. Or is it the opposite?
Source: Witcher 3 by CD Projekt Red

Make no mistake, it’s cool to have large tracts of land to visit, but they have to be worthwhile!

Walking in a beautiful world can be interesting for a while, but once the wow factor wears off, it’s just moving from point A to point B unfortunately. 

And that’s where worldbuilding has to pick up the slack!

Locations you visit should play a part or a bigger whole. A city dedicated to metallurgy due to the nearby mines and access to prime resources?

A military outpost on the very edge of the kingdom full of jaded and exhausted troops on the brink of breaking?

A thriving capital with a utopian feeling to it but somehow plagued with inner intrigues and mysterious events? 

Every new location should add a layer of immersion and give the player the excitement that comes from finding them and each should give a feel of being part of the greater whole. 

Gameplay mechanics in open world games

There are certain game mechanics that you’re bound to find in the majority of open world games, here’s a few of the major ones!

Exploration and discovery

Skyrim definitely has pretty cool locations to explore, for the hundredth time...
Game source: Elder scrolls 5 Skyrim, by Bethesda Game Studios
Image source: Screenrant.com

Probably the most interesting part of any open world game. You’ve got a huge world, two feet (or more) and hopefully some gear. Time to explore!

Whether it’s full of aliens, fantastical creatures, dangerous robots or simply a vast jungle with wild animals, it’s up to you to find out what this world can offer in terms of discovery!

Hope there's a comprehensible map in the game…

Questing and narrative design

There’s the problematic part where it comes to narrative design in open world games. After all, you aren’t bound by time. 

That mission to save someone from a monster you took months in-game time ago? Yeah, it’s still there waiting for you.

World ending main mission? But someone HAS to do all those side-quests that piled up!

And stories can definitely be gripping, characters interesting, plot points logical once you actually decide to pay attention to them. Which can be tough considering you gotta test out a build or complete the set, oh and did you unlock all the locations yet? 

Better get to it… or don’t, you decide the pacing.

Character progression and customisation

Running around the world gives opportunities to power up a little. 

Whether securing a source of a rare resource in survival open world games or finishing quests and getting some cool new gear and levelling up. 

Open world games often allow a decent amount of customization for your character. Either through character creation or in-game gear. Or both! And as you grow more capable, you can always try going to the “dangerous” areas. Maybe this time you won’t get wiped out instantly?

Dynamic interactions with NPCs and factions

It's a pretty important part of the open world games. You interact with the world, sure, but does the world interact with you?

You are meant to be part of this world, that’s why you’re here. Your actions should affect it and offer some sort of “feedback”. 

This can be a really tricky part to implement. After all, open world games are about freedom, discovery and exploration, making it pretty tough to hold the “responsibility for your actions” over your head.


For example, accidentally causing a mass extinction on an innocent village through no fault of your own would normally cause a stir and uproar, as it should.

But wouldn’t that limit your freedom to explore? Being hunted down by virtually everyone in the world would become… tedious.

As tedious as hearing about that guard and his adventuring career being cut short due to an archery accident…

Quite a troublesome conundrum indeed!


But what about two distinct factions with opposing worldviews and agendas? Surely siding with one would add not only extra immersion into the story but also replayability!

It sure can, if the story is good enough and factions are distinct groups and not simply different quest givers in disguise! Illusion of choice is not exactly a real choice.

But when done correctly, it can be really fun to take part in previously unseen plot points, meet new characters and maybe score some awesome loot too…  

Enjoy more story driven RPGs?

Our company Dreams Quest is currently producing a mobile ARPG called Origins: The Fall of Azoria. It’ll include a colourful, intricate world full of mysteries and secret knowledge, deep lore, fun puzzles and of course action packed combat. 

Check out our social media links to Twitter(X), Youtube , Discord and more on top and the bottom of the article for more relevant info!

FAQs about open world RPGs

What is the difference between RPG and open world games?

Open world games often include RPG mechanics to help players navigate the world and reward them for exploration.

RPG games usually focus on a story, NPC characters and of course your own avatar, while open world games tend to put more importance on discovery and exploration. They’re not mutually exclusive, of course, and there are plenty of open world RPGs.

Is the Elden Ring open world?

Dark souls with open world? Why are you reading this and not playing it instead!?
Source: Elden Ring by FromSoftware

Yes, you are free to explore anywhere, so long as you are able to bypass/defeat the enemies that “block” your further progress.

Is WoW an open world RPG?

World of Warcraft was originally designed as an open world MMORPG and players were allowed to do just that, explore fun places, discover new things to do etc. Whether it is now is debatable.

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