We can see several in that picture alone...
Sandbox games. Even though all the term implies is a playground environment where you can make your own fun (and there are countless examples of that sort of game), you know exactly what we mean. And no, we don't just mean GTA, although that's probably the first example that comes to mind. We actually mean the clichs that come with the territory. You might not realise it, but there are 10 clear-cut clichs that almost every example of the genre features. So lets take a look at them and why, despite their extreme familiarity, they always raise a smile.
Myths and urban legends
What is it? An in-game hunt for Bigfoot can be even more exciting than the real world. Yes, most videos are clearly mods, but what about the 1% where you genuinely dont know? What about the radio stations in Fallout 3 that predicted the future? Imagine if that turned out to be real!
Why we love it: Who doesnt love the idea of Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster or Leatherface just waiting to be found? The prospect of something rare that you might just see if you go down to the woods is too exciting not to pursue. And anyone who cracks a secret will definitely be remembered by the rest of the internet for all eternity. Just like um
Accelerated day/night cycles
What is it? The way that you can literally stand still and watch the shadows move across the floor, see the moon rise, fall and give way to glorious sunshine, all in the space of a few minutes.
Why we love it: For starters, its always a graphical showcase. Real-time lighting changes are mega-pretty as the pictures from Tamriel up there show. But more importantly, theres also the fact that youre never too long away from the pub opening.
Omnipresent extra-curricular distractions
What is it? You have a mission to complete. Maybe you havent even started it yet. Maybe youre on your way over to the digital simulation of a man or woman whose sole purpose in life is to give you missions. Youre going to get over there quickly, because a) theres a mission to be had, and b) the quest-giver has a boring and lonely life, full of existential woe at existing only as a function to further someone elses adventure. You dont want to make that any worse than it already is by making them wait around. Youre not a monster. But look! Look over there! Whats the shiny thing up on that window ledge? Whats going on with that rock at the bottom of that mountain a mile away that might possibly look sort of a bit like a cave? Six hours later you are on a new continent and the quest giver has committed suicide. Happy now?
Why we love it: Because real life demands focus, organisation and structure. Games reward meandering, exploratory experiences, and are thus therapeutic.
What is it? Amazing little morsels of extra content hidden away in the game world, often referencing other games or popular culture. This one is the brilliant Wolfenstein 3D homage in RAGE, allowing you to step back in time to 1992 and then step right back out again, giving you a 'back under the warm covers' feeling of relief in knowing that games actually have graphics these days. Easter Eggs can take many forms, though, meaning you should always be on the lookout for the next hidden tidbit of awesomeness.
Why we love it: The joy of finding something (especially before anyone else) is indescribable. We cant imagine how exciting it must have been for the first person to get inside the Statue of Happiness in GTA IV and find that massive heart beating away. Still sends shivers through us. Creeeepy.
What is it? The way you almost always get given an alternative mode of transport late in the game that involves leaving Terra Firma. Like the dragons in Skyrim (albeit via DLC), or the Dodo in GTA III. And the glider that didn't work in Red Dead Redemption is the exception that proves the rule.
Why we love it: As if an open world wasnt enjoyable enough to roam around on foot taking to the skies opens up a whole new level of freedom. You can go literally anywhere Unless its GTA III and youre flying the Dodo, in which case realistically your best hope is reaching the next island and crashing into the football stadium. COCKS indeed.
Arbitrary reasons for blocking off bits of the map
What is it? Lots of open-world games like to reveal themselves slowly rather than exposing every lovely last inch of their painstakingly designed cartography right from the get-go. Most commonly this carefully measured form of reveal trickery is performed with the help of such confining obstructions as impassable broken bridges, unfinished tunnels, and police roadblocks.
Why we love it: Sometimes the reason were not allowed to progress beyond a certain point is such a knowing nod by the developers in acknowledgement of its enforced road-blocking tactics we cant help but love them. Recent example: In Pokemon Black and White 2 one such roadblock consists of a straight line of dancing men. When you talk to them they actually say theyre dancing in an obstructive line for no apparent reason.
Funny glitches that add to the game
What is it? Those moments when your normally well-behaved game begins flipping out. Early symptoms preceding such an event are often innocuous but can rapidly degenerate into a spectacle of spasmodically trumpeting game-buffoonery that defies all laws of science, logic, and nature. While glitches certainly arent exclusive to open-world games, they are undoubtedly more prevalent. This is because open-world games are big, complex playgrounds and thorough, comprehensive testing ahead of release day is, like, really hard so thank the lord for updates and patches.
Why we love it: Glitches are funny. In fact, glitches are so funny they could almost be a back-of-the-box feature. Of course, what were talking about here is funny glitches that make us laugh. Like NPCs with spinning heads and horses that disappear into the sky. Were definitely NOT talking about bugs that completely break a game. Because thats not funny. We definitely DONT love game breaking bugs.
Non-playable characters that cant be killed
What is it? When a character is integral to plot progression, killing them usually means an instant Game Over or Objective Failed. But sometimes developers just choose to make them completely unkillable. No matter what dementedly violent ways you try to top them, they are impervious to all forms of attack.
Why we love it: Its an odd quirk of gamer nature, but when we know a character is hard-coded not to be killed, it encourages us to attack them with primitive, brutal ferocity. Many of the indigenous peoples of Bethesdas big open-worlds are too-important-to-kill and we have enjoyed many violent hours just setting them on fire or repeatedly hitting them with a sword or blowing them up with explosions. All for our own sick amusement.
One really tall thing
What is it? Open-world games are no stranger to large things. Largeness, essentially, is their entire purpose. But one large thing is always larger than everything else on the map. One giant stone monument, or one megalithic skyscraper that towers over the rest. One giant thing that seems to say, completely and without shame, Cmon big boy. Im here. Climb me if you dare. But we cant. Not yet. But we will...
Why we love it: Its a simple but clever design crutch that taps into the most basic of human instincts. The concept of domination and self-improvement by getting on stuff. Whether its the raised throne of a king, the penthouse apartment of a millionaire or the safety of high ground in a flood, humans associate getting on things with success. Thus, when your character has gained the full gamut of in-game abilities, the scaling of a large thing is a most effective way to physically express your empowerment through action. Theres probably something massively phallocentric about it too, but were not going to get into that.
A desperately urgent situation you can ignore indefinitely
What is it? So poop has categorically become real in the city/medieval fantasy kingdom/large open-plan tyre factory that the game youre playing is set within. The bad guys have got hold of a thermonuclear macguffin and are about to detonate its payload of third-act tragedy all over the damn place. You have only minutes to find it and stop them. This mission, of all the missions, is the important one. But you know what else is important? That thing over there. Go on, go and investigate it. It might be a cave or something. Those two minutes will still be here whenever you get back.
Why we love it: Because forced actions of any kind are at odds with the ethos of an open-world game. There is not a single point in providing a huge, multi-faceted play area to explore if were forced to be in certain places at certain times. This a genre of total free-form escapism, not a playable appointment diary. Well get back into the urgent mindset-when we can be bothered. The thing is probably scripted to blow anyway, whatever we do.
But what have we missed?
We know what you're thinking. There's that one mega-cliche that we've missed and you want to tell us why we're fools for not including it. There was actually (probably) a really good reason, but it's far too long to go into here. So let us know what you think in the comments and we'll totally agree.