As the years have gone by, games have grown increasingly bigger, with the open world genre in particular consistently ballooning in size and scope at a pace that has almost been a bit surprising to see. And while that is, in several cases, a good thing – seeing as larger, more expansive worlds are what games have been building towards for as long as games have been around – like any other good thing in life, it hasn’t come without caveats.
Bloat and excessive padding have become increasingly common in open world titles in recent years, with developers routinely putting out massive experiences that are set in overwhelmingly large worlds that demand multiple dozens of hours of engagement from players. With so many games constantly competing for our attention at all times, and with so many of them being intimidatingly massive experiences, this trend is one that has quickly started bringing about widespread fatigue amongst the masses.
And of course, the one developer that has always been associated with expansive open world games is Rockstar. Across its Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption releases, Rockstar has put out increasingly larger and more intricate open worlds with each successive games, and to their credit, unlike so many of the games that we usually associate with bloat, each of Rockstar’s standard setting open worlds has been spectacularly designed, brimming with obsessive details, and an absolute joy to simply exist in.
But now, with Grand Theft Auto 6 finally on the horizon, the question arises- is that the direction that Rockstar should keep heading in? From a pure quality standpoint, it’d be easy to answer that question with an unequivocal “yes”, seeing as the likes of Red Dead Redemption 2 and Grand Theft Auto 5 (not to mention their predecessors) have boasted some of the largest and most thoroughly impressive open worlds we’ve ever seen in games. Looking a little deeper though, there are several reasons for why not chasing the “bigger is better” mentality might be the wise choice.
Interestingly enough, if reports are to be believed, Rockstar might actually agree with that notion. In a report published on Kotaku back in 2020, journalist Jason Schreier claimed that the company was building Grand Theft Auto 6 as a “moderately sized release”. Of course, even a moderately sized Rockstar game is likely to be larger than most games you’ll ever play, while there’s also the question of what exactly “moderately sized” means in this context- is it going to be a smaller game than Red Dead Redemption 2? Is it going to be larger, but not to the degree that some may have expected? Is it going to be about the same size, thus defying expectations of being the largest world Rockstar has ever crafted?
In spite of the vagueness of the statement though, if that report was accurate, that would mean that Rockstar does intend to contain the scope of the project compared to what many would have expected, even if the manner in which it does so isn’t completely clear right now. And that may actually end up benefiting the game in some key ways.
One of those may very well be post-launch support. In his aforementioned report in 2020, Schreier also claimed that Rockstar was planning on expanding GTA 6 and its world with regular post-launch expansions, something that subsequent leaks in the years since then have alleged as well. The complete dearth of single player expansions and DLC in Rockstar’s output over the last decade has been a sticking point for many in its fanbase, so the prospect of a GTA game that keeps meaningfully expanding and improving with single player post-launch additions is an inherently exciting one. That’s assuming, of course, that whatever form Grand Theft Auto Online takes in the GTA 6 era won’t hog all of Rockstar’s attention, thus sidelining its single player pipeline once again (which, looking at the last decade, definitely can’t be discounted as a very real possibility).
Personally, I’ve always believed that open worlds that are smaller but denser tend to be much more engaging experiences than open worlds that go for size and volume first and foremost. Having a smaller scope in terms of pure size means developers end up pouring much more concentrated doses of work, effort, and attention into a smaller virtual play space, rather than having to stretch themselves thin over a gigantic map. Rather than diluting the experience with content that can often feel repetitive or even procedurally generated, that leads to a denser world where the activities that you do engage in feel more bespoke and significantly more compelling. Just look at the Yakuza games, or even something much more recent like Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, where in spite of having relatively smaller maps to explore, there’s no shortage of praises to be doled out for how the games are designed or the excellent content they boast.
Obviously, it needs to be said that Rockstar’s open world games haven’t ever had too much of an issue where the quality of content is concerned. For instance, in spite of how massive both Red Dead Redemption 2 and Grand Theft Auto 5 are, every inch of their worlds feels meticulously and lovingly handcrafted, and the quality and variety of content never feels diluted, in spite of how much of it is on offer in both games. But if Rockstar can achieve something like that on such a massive scale, what might it be able to achieve if it was able to concentrate its efforts on a relatively smaller and more contained map? It’s a salivating prospect, to say the very least.
Beyond that, a smaller open world could also have significant potential benefits on the development side of things. It’s no secret that, behind the scenes, Rockstar has had a long-standing reputation of engaging in excessive crunch to put out the games that it does, something that, as per reports over the last few years, the company has been taking steps to curtail and mitigate. And it goes without saying that not aiming to create an overwhelmingly massive open world – one that has all the hallmarks of technical and design excellent that Rockstar is known for – could be a massive boost in the company’s efforts to avoid crunch.
Once again, it’s worth mentioning that a “moderately sized” open world made by Rockstar is very likely not going to be something that’d come to mind when thinking of smaller and denser open worlds. Even if Grand Theft Auto 6 does end up adopting that alleged approach, it’s still almost guaranteed to be larger in size and scope than many other modern open world titles. But if Rockstar has indeed decided to stop chasing size, and if that benefits the game, its post-launch offerings, and its behind-the-scenes production pipeline? Well then clearly that’s the way to go.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.