Just thinking about traversing the map of Skyrim, Breath of the Wild, or Elden Ring gets you excited. All three share similar DNA, but which one is better? What does one contribute and what does the other? And how will all three influence future open world video game development?
in video games, maps are one of my great fetishes. I love looking at that piece of paper or digital papyrus, seeing how places I haven’t been yet are represented, how the game guides me through it, and how it works with the vertical and with the horizontal. I am passionate about imagining how a scenario designer has played with open and closed spaces to hide secrets, show the right path, hide his monsters and guide the player. And, above all, I fall in love with seeing how the visual design invites you to explore it, in what way, with what generosity or with how much help. In my humble opinion, there are three open world video games that have changed the paradigm and the way of making maps. They are Skyrim, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and Elden Ring. All three have a clear premise: encourage curiosity, be opaque enough so that feel like the adventure is never overhide their stories so that these are their greatest treasure, and what is on the other side of their mountains.
Again, from my perspective, there is two types of open world structure: the one of these three titles and the Ubisoft-type worlds; you know, I mean those full of markers, with all the necessary information for you to connect one mission with another without thinking too much, with an obviously narrated story, many experience points, constant prizes and facilities. The fundamental difference that exists between the former and the latter lies in the fear of emptiness. When playing a video game, the easiest time for you to give it up, turn off the console and never go back to it is when there is nothing to do. That is to say, it is that moment in which you do not have a monster in front of you, a chest to open or a mission to pursue. That is the moment when the void appears.
Far Cry 6, and many others, are open world video games in which there are hardly any gaps, a feeling of permanent “fullness” is sought. The screen is full of clues, beepers, and even the visual design of the game world itself constantly demands your attention with yellows, reds, flags and wires marking the spot. It’s like being inside a video clip, there is always noise. But these other open worlds leave the full ones aside to brag about the empty ones, because how many times have you been stunned by a storm, a sunset, the northern lights or a castle in the distance in Breath of the Wild, Elden Ring or Skyrim? I mean, how many times have you been amazed at how these games paint the void?
If an open world is built through gaps, finding the fills is absolutely excitingI insist, one or another open world structure is not better. There will be players who enjoy walking around and looking at the landscape of these universes, but others will prefer to do many missions, follow a story and get trophies. They are simply options. Personally, I am passionate about universes that they do not insist that I do things, that’s why I’m enjoying Elden Ring so much. If an open world is built through gaps, finding the fills is absolutely exciting. But video games from Bethesda, Nintendo and From Software are very different from each other; they are brothers, of course, but each one has their own personality. What does each offer and which one has the most interesting map?
The maps of the open worlds without fear of emptiness
Nothing would have been possible without Skyrim. The Bethesda title lives on, is still selling and still being toured ten years later because his world is amazing. Technical deficiencies do not matter with such a powerful artistic design and a construction of its space so suggestive. The big difference between Skyrim and the other two games we are talking about here is the use of the camera in first person. That conditions the design of your world. In Skyrim we don’t look so far into the distance. As the third person is not your main option, we do not have such a massive perspective of everything around us. For this reason, the design of each of its areas embraces you. Its trees, snow, mountains and the roads themselves surround the player and hide what lies beyond. That achieves that, when we get out of the way, we hallucinate with what we come to find, because we do not expect it. My goodness, is that you start playing Skyrim today and you feel like putting another 100 hours into it.
His map doesn’t have a main axis, it’s not as vertical as the one in The Midlands. It is wide enough to cover it concentrically, almost tracing a spiral from the inside out, discovering and surprising us. And although there are many mountains, it is a map primarily horizontal and flat. The horizon is the way, neither heaven nor hell. It is no coincidence that Skyrim has come up more than once in the interviews given by Aonuma, because Breath of the Wild also share these design ideas. If you put the maps of the two games next to each other, you will see that they are very similar and that they are traversed in a similar way. Breath of the Wild is also primarily horizontal, but being a third-person game allows for more mountains and an emphasis on vertical. Because by seeing more and better what is happening around you, you can make your walk more complicated with these obstacles and keep it fun. Climbing a mountain through Skyrim is not so exciting precisely because of that. Uploading it in Hyrule is wonderful.
By seeing more and better what is happening around you, the walk can be more complicatedBecause yes, changing the way we look around us drastically affects the design of the world. Breath of the Wild uses its mountains to achieve the same effect that Skyrim does with its trees and climates. Being able to see more, we need bigger elements to hide and hug the player. This new verticality had a couple of very outstanding children. Shin Megami Tensei V seems to have taken notice of her because of the way she defines her areas. Being much smaller game areas than Hyrule, it concentrates the space and makes the player go up and down ramps, stairs or ruins, and places small areas to explore, monster nests and challenges at different heights. And, precisely this lesson, is the one that Elden Ring has applied to make their fantastic Midlands.
The Middle Lands: a cross between Hyrule and Skyrim
The vertical directs the exploration. In the Elden Ring we rise and fall, descend into wet swamps and climb green peaks. That’s why we drive a goat instead of a horse. Each section of terrain is capable of offering up to four levels of height, and in each of them there is a small world to explore. Precisely for this reason, the map is more linear. It’s not one big blob like Skyrim or Hyrule, but instead it’s several wide, connected alleys. And although it reminds us a lot of Breath of the Wild for its sunsets, there is an important difference: the combat and the caverns. The violence of the Elden Ring is very similar to the violence of Skyrim. FromSoftware’s game he also doesn’t place temples in his world that separate you from the game world and take you to another parallel, it has caves, grottoes and caverns that continue with the discourse of the territory. That is why, in his feelings, he ends up staying between these two. Its gaps are similar to those we experience with Link, but its fills are much more reminiscent of the Bethesda game. Also because there are dragons, Cheers always for the dragons.
I think Elden Ring wins, but only because he’s such a savvy student.With all of that said, which is the coolest map of them all? I’m not asking which of the three is the better game, but rather the one with a more interesting map, more full of secrets, more exciting and that I think will mark the future of this genre more today. I think Elden Ring wins at this, but only because he is a very savvy student and has been able to play both of his teachers very well. And I explain. Midlands’ big difference to Hyrule and Skirim is being a C-shaped corridor instead of a big blob. What advantages does this offer? Connecting hallways makes it easier for the player to unfold the story. He has to go through specific customs to advance, but he is given room to explore further. Going through these borders he gets certain pieces of a magnificent puzzle that he connects as he plays. It also allows you to better design the changes between biomes and make them more spectacular. Elden Ring has magnificent views of what lies beyond, because this certain linearity of his path allows him to achieve it. There are places you are going to have to go through yes or yes, and there you have your impressive views.
By traveling paths with a marked axis, instead of wide expanses of land, you can play a lot with verticality in smaller spaces, always giving the player the feeling that there is something left to do. The result is that Elden Ring will feel like an endless video game. And the best of all is that, to the north of his world, he changes this way of making a map to transform himself and be something else. This is why I am so in love with Miyazaki’s work when it comes to making his map. He has deconstructed Skyrim and Hyrule into different level routes. We continue with areas of volcano, grass, water and ice, but by working with axes and heights, it enhances the views and its idea of fragmented narration. The Middle Lands guide the player with their designThey point out paths and destinations, but at the same time they make you feel terrified by what you are missing. And that elevates that passion for the void to reach the sublime. It is as if the map were another character that is torturing you with his secrets; without offering you lists of errands, locations of their characters or their caves, and for that reason it seems magnificent to me. In the future, I hope that The Elder Scrolls 6 or Breath of the Wild 2 will follow the example of this world and play like this with the axes of its territory. Without a doubt, it is a matter of taste, but if you are playing Elden Ring, do not you feel very positively the difference between one and the other maps? Arise, Lightless.
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