I'm playing through God of War 3. It's a good time. The game has its problems and annoying sections, like the giant crate that's held up by a chain made of bread, or the weird Guitar Hero puzzle, but I'm loving it because, like previous GoWs, it's a tightly made series of challenges that still manages to feel well paced, with some fun combat at its core. Said combat has always been the reason I've been drawn to this series over other major Playstation fuckbuster franchises like Uncharted and The Last of Us, neither of which I've ever seen as having gameplay interesting enough to justify their linearity. With that in mind, it might surprise you to know that I've been more and more interested in picking these games up lately, not so much to "see what the fuss is about", but to play games that I can actually manage to beat within a reasonable time frame, and that allow me to make significant progress every single sitting.
Open world games have become so much of a trend that they're kinda starting to put me off. I know that they're a dream come true for a lot of people (myself included), but they seem to have become the norm at this point, while about a decade ago it was mostly just GTA and GTA ripoffs. Video games have always had a variety problem due to being a slave of trends. It's not as bad as it used to be, back when everything had to be muddy and brown, but it's easy to see that expansive open world games are the new grimdark shooters. Even Nintendo has been all over this one, with the new Zelda and Mario titles apparently being more open than ever before. This tactic has evidently paid off, so it definitely works as a selling point.
To me, however, I think it's more of a turnoff than anything at this point. I'd love to give Super Mario Oddysee Odyssey a shot, and one day I probably will, but all the footage I've seen gives me a stronger urge to replay Super Mario Galaxy instead. I think Galaxy was actually the game that taught me that an open world wasn't necessarily the way to go, that some of the most fun you could have in a game was on a linear (sometimes semi-linear) obstacle course, as long as it had enough little secrets and things to play around with to still make it feel like an adventure. Every star was a distinct goal, and it made each one feel special and important.
So much to explore!
By contrast, having a wide open area only makes everything take longer, and it all devolves into checklists and fast travelling anyway. Any sense of purpose and achievement is weakened, and the freedom you get in exchange often leads to you accidentally doing things in a much less interesting way than what was intended. I look back at the way I described linearity as something that needs to be justified, and I regret it, because linearity is often an indicator of polish and quality. It's a gateway to well made experiences, gameplay that doesn't just offer the potential to be fun, but often guarantees it.
Then again, maybe the proper way to think about this is that every type of structure needs to be justified. Open worlds have their place, and I certainly don't want them to vanish completely. Horizon Zero Dawn would definitely have had to be either this or a very wide path, just because anything less would have made it impossible to fully realize the intense machine fights. On the other hand, I can't tell what an open world was supposed to add to Metal Gear Solid V. It rarely allows you to infiltrate from anywhere you want, since most of the bases are surrounded by unclimbable canyon walls anyway, so all it does is make sure that getting to each location is a total chore. I guess it has cars and stuff, but I would gladly have sacrificed those for some tighter levels. My favourite part of the game so far was when I had to cross a heavily guarded bridge in order to progress, because it felt like a natural evolution of Snake Eater. Like in that game, the real player freedom comes from the options you're given to deal with guards and other security measures. It's your inventory, your chosen partner, the soldiers and items you choose to steal for your own selfish gain. It's the choice you're given in whether or not to spare the crazy titsniper and add her to your team, or to avenge the doctor and nurses that she mercilessly strangled to death (never forget). Of all the elements intended to give you freedom, the open world is the one that adds the least and takes away the most.
I know that this trend will pass, like all of them have, but... can we please rush this one? Because having this many open world games means less games I will actually finish, and that's just unsatisfying no matter how you look at it. Maybe the next big trend can be something less drastic, like steampunk settings or reggae soundtracks. That or just split-screen arcade racers. We really should be getting more of those.