Opening worlds: looking ahead to the sandbox adventures coming in 2016 and beyond

Open world games have the unique ability to draw you in and keep you there for days, if not weeks or even months on end. But only if done right. There's a good reason that games like Skyrim and GTA have such dedicated fan-bases. Here's a list of upcoming open world games that look set to swallow up any spare time that you might have in the near future.


Open world games have the unique ability to draw you in and keep you there for days, if not weeks or even months on end. But only if done right. There's a good reason that games like Skyrim and GTA have such dedicated fan-bases. Here's a list of upcoming open world games that look set to swallow up any spare time that you might have in the near future.

No Man’s Sky

Developer: Hello Games | Release Date: August 10, 2016

First up is my most anticipated game of this year, and one which I either expect to walk away with several “Game of the Year” awards, or crash and burn in a glorious ball of fire. No Man’s Sky is a science fiction adventure game set in an “infinite” (it’s not quite infinite, but it does have 18 quintillion planets), procedurally generated galaxy with a strong focus on exploration and discovery. As you traverse through hyperspace, it’s your ultimate goal to reach the centre of the universe, naming planets and lifeforms in the process.

No Man’s Sky is arguably one of the most ambitious games ever, and while it sounds great in theory, its core gameplay needs to be extremely engaging to retain players. One would expect a strong multiplayer aspect to proceedings, but game director Sean Murray has insisted that No Man’s Sky is a single player experience at its core, with no lobbies and a remote chances of encountering other players in its near-infinite open world. I’m sure I speak for all of us here when I say, I’d like to go galaxy-hopping with friends, but let’s see if it’s just as much fun by our lonesome.

Mafia III

Developer: Hangar 13 | Release Date: October 7, 2016

Stepping away from Italian mobs on the East Coast, Mafia III takes us to the wonderfully corrupt world of New Bordeaux, a fictional recreation of New Orleans. Playing as Lincoln Clay, a Vietnam War vet/gangster who is out for revenge, players will have the opportunity to recruit underbosses and build a crime organization from the ground up.

To be honest, a Mafia sequel never interested me, but newcomers Hangar 13 have done just enough to warrant a second look. The game’s 1968 setting opens up a world of possibilities and isn’t something which has been explored with depth in a video game. The graphics are impressive, with the character animation and voice acting standing out. I wouldn’t expect a GTA, but Mafia III could be the best clone yet—even if it looks like it takes itself way too seriously.

Watch_Dogs 2

Developer: Ubisoft Montreal | Release Date: November 15, 2016

I really wanted to like the original Watch_Dogs. Its mix of hacking, interesting take on futuristic Chicago and surprisingly good combat were positives. However, the fact that I ended up spending so much time behind the lenses of various CCTV cameras around town was a frustrating experience to say the least. The hacking itself was all right, but it wasn’t nearly as clever as it was made out to be in the end.

Aiden Pearce, the first game’s protagonist, was arguably the game’s biggest problem. Let’s hope that Marcus Holloway, the player controlled character in Watch_Dogs 2, proves more interesting. He’s a hacker for DedSec who’s intent on taking down San Francisco’s (a refreshing change of scenery, I must say) surveillance system.

The gameplay we saw at E3 2016 sported a lot of variety within the showcased mission, and this is the sort of thing that will be required to keep Watch_Dogs 2 interesting. With new toys such as the RC drone, Taser, parkour and a promise of co-op, let’s hope Watch_Dogs 2 improves on its predecessor and makes things more interesting in the process.

Horizon: Zero Dawn

Developer: Guerilla Games | Release Date: March 7, 2017

Guerilla Games, who are best known as the creators of the Killzone franchise seemed to surprise everyone with their E3 demo of Horizon: Zero Dawn. While last year’s demo seemed to reek of linearity masquerading as emergent gameplay, this year’s was a definite improvement. There seems to be a fair bit of complexity in terms of crafting and combat; both of which were showcased to good effect. With limited tutorials, there’s also supposed to be an emphasis on trial and error a la Dark Souls, allowing players room to experiment and learn from their innumerable deaths.

Players take control of Aloy, who looks suspiciously like dreadlocked Merida from Pixar Animation’s Brave, in a future world ruled by mechanized abominations. And like Merida, Aloy commands mastery of the bow and can hack stuff like Watch_Dogs’ Aiden Pearce—only with more personality. However, it appears that the game is very graphically demanding and the PS4 is only going to output 30 frames per second on this one—potentially a game breaker for some players.

Mass Effect Andromeda

Developer: Bioware | Release Date: Q1 2017

It’s good to see Bioware taking their time with Andromeda. However, it’s hard to gauge whether the development has been affected by unforeseen delays such as staff leaving (the game’s lead writer left after only five months to join Bungie, presumably to work on Destiny). It’s hard to not get completely hyped for this one, though.

The game is set much after the original trilogy, with humanity in search of a new home. Playing as Ryder (designated “Pathfinder”), it’s up to the players to find a world for the human race to inhabit. Andromeda will have its own self-contained story, and Ryder isn’t a part of Shepard’s story, although we can expect references to her adventures.

An open world has been confirmed, so expect to explore each of the game’s planets created in DICE’s Frostbite engine. Enabling off-roading in these environments will be the Mako—let’s just hope it handles better this time around. No other details have been confirmed as yet, but I for one cannot wait for something on the game’s multiplayer, having particularly enjoyed the co-operative mode in Mass Effect 3. 

Kingdom Come: Deliverance

Developer: Warhorse Studios | Release Date: 2017

Czech Developer Warhorse Studios’ upcoming RPG is grounded in medieval reality—an uncommon occurrence in video games. Beginning in 1403 in the Kingdom of Bohemia of the Holy Roman Empire Kingdom Come: Deliverance will see its players embark on quests with branching paths, all while interacting with a historically accurate world. Everything from armor, castles, weapons and combat techniques employed in the game were implemented after tireless research. Warhorse even has historians and architects on its payroll!

Warhorse features some great creative minds at its helm, including designers and programmers who worked on games like Mafia, Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising and ARMA: Armed Assault. These guys understand the value of the sandbox, and they really love their history. It wasn’t a surprise when the game raised $2 million via crowdfunding, while overall production is estimated to cost $5 million. The game is powered by CryEngine 3, and while we might not see the same degree of polish as we did in The Witcher 3 or Skyrim, Kingdom Come: Deliverance’s uniqueness in terms of setting and approach to gameplay might set it apart.


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