Games are always getting bigger, in terms of graphics, gigabytes, etc. It's simply the nature of the beast. As our technology advances, so do our games. When I was in high school the open-world sandbox was still a relatively new concept. The biggest open world games that came out during my high school years were Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. At the time, it was something of a novelty, now it's practically industry standard. Almost everything UbiSoft develops is open-world, Rockstar has continued to push the envelope with Grand Theft Auto V and Red Dead Redemption 2, and RPGs like The Witcher 3 and Horizon Zero Dawn have refined what an open-world RPG can be. But when is it too much?
But games aren't just getting bigger, they're getting longer, almost ridiculously so. Prior to the current console generation, the only games that I'd put over 100 hours into were The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. But now with so much coming out, you have to pick and choose. I recently started playing Assassin's Creed: Odyssey and Red Dead Redemption 2, both are fantastic games with huge beautiful immersive worlds, but I think their size actually hurts them and I'm going to make a case for games to be smaller going forward. This is not a post to bash open-world games, many of the games I'm going to talk about are amazing games that I personally love. But, you can always improve on things, and as technology had allowed games to have better worlds than ever, I think the industry might have over steered a bit.
Take Red Dead Redemption 2 for example. It is a phenomenal game, but the map is so huge that it can be overwhelming at times. The world is actually bigger than it looks on the map because half of the map is blacked out and doesn't open until the epilogue, which throws the sense of scale off. Furthermore, the game doesn't have a good fast travel system, it barely has one at all. You can eventually upgrade your camp so that you can fast travel from the camp, but it's the only place you can do that from unless you pay money to use a carriage or a train. I get that the devs want us to explore this beautifully crafted world they've made for us, but exploring it once is enough. Let me explore it and then use fast travel, otherwise it can get tedious, and speaking of tedious…
Red Dead Redemption 2 prides itself on its realism, the problem is that at times the realism gets in the way of gameplay. As stated above, RDR2 is a HUGE game, you can easily put well over 100 hours into it, something the devs pride themselves on. The thing is, there's a handful of things in the game that they could cut which would make them game better. For example, in order to keep your horse healthy, you have to brush him to keep him clean, you also have to take time to clean your guns to keep them in proper working order. While this supposedly adds "realism" to the game, it also adds unnecessary time. Would it be less realistic for your guns to just always be in working order? Yes, but it would make the game easier. Other examples include keeping your weight at the correct level and the time it takes to search for objects. Arthur Morgan has an animation where he pats down dead bodies for loot. In most games there's just a button you press to take everything they have and that's it. "But Jason, that only takes a few seconds." Sure, I'll grant you that, but if you've just killed ten people and let's say it takes three seconds to search each one, that's half a minute without adding the time to walk over to them. Now multiply that by infinity essentially, since gunplay is one of the main features of this game. It adds up, and I don't need it any more than I needed the animation of my horse pooping.
Days Gone is an open-world adventure game that I haven't gotten to play yet, but supposedly the game is roughly 30 hours. I think that's a good size for an open world game. For something like RDR2, maybe 60-80 hours would work better, but it doesn't need to be over 100. And yet as I say this, I know for a fact that Cyberpunk 2077 will probably be well over 100 hours, and I'll play every minute of it.
Game devs have been complaining lately about the cost of game development and the time put into it. Well maybe instead of just making maps bigger and bigger what they should do is focus on smaller maps with more varied content as opposed to most open-world games which generally have several "go here, kill this person, find this thing, clear out this bandit camp." A game that did this well in recent memory was Horizon Zero Dawn. Its map felt big enough, but not overwhelming, and it took the time to put a unique spin on the "go here, kill this" type of missions we see in these games.
Now all of this is just a suggestion on my part, I'm still going to play Odyssey and RDR2 to completion, and I know I'll play all of Cyberpunk 2077. But making bigger and bigger games does mean that the consumer has to be pickier about which games to purchase and play, because there just isn't enough time to play them all. More and more these gigantic games compete for our time, and there's just no way to play every game that we want to play. With the next console generation on the horizon, I suspect open-world games will get even bigger. But bigger is not necessarily better. Before consoles, there were books. And good books are about the story, not the page count. In the same way, good games should be about content, not the map size. I'd rather open world games be shorter, have smaller maps, and a diversity of content, than the realism of watching my horse poop.