The genre of open world games is aimed at players with the motivation to explore—meaning, experience designers must give them a journey. This includes reasons to explore, landscapes that incite exploration, the means to explore, and rewards (be it new items or an experience that feels meaningful to the player). This is a shared responsibility between level designers and game designers.
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Yes, there are games where you could go from spawn, to the ‘end-boss’, and win the game virtually immediately; this would mean us level designers could design a journey all we want, only for players to miss out on them—intentionally or not. Luckily, there are ways for us to subtly steer players where we want them to make sure they receive a more wholesome journey. Here are some ways how:
Increased (combat) difficulty
This one is quite common and fairly easy to enforce. One can easily populate certain areas around the player with more dangerous enemies/terrain—if you know the level pacing of your players well. That said, this can discourage as well as equally encourage players to explore these areas anyway. I think it depends on your target audience, and what their sense of that difficulty is defined as. Don’t forget you are always designing for a certain type of player, and base the experience design around it.
Need for resources
Imagine a location in the world that holds certain resources or abilities your player wants. However, to efficiently unlock this, players must find something elsewhere in the world to obtain this. Genshin Impact and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild are the best examples I can think of.
In Genshin Impact, there are these elemental world bosses. The ones with affinity for ice (or cryo) have a weakness for fire (or pyro), and vice versa. To efficiently defeat them with greater ease (or at all) you need characters who can attack with elements effective against them. However, characters can be made stronger using materials obtained by defeating bosses such as these.
The dynamic that emerges is that players who have strong characters of element A can easily defeat the boss of element B. Doing so, they loot level-up materials for characters with element B. Then respectively, the can strengthen their characters of element B to kill and loot bosses of element A.
This loop will be upheld for as long as players want to strengthen their characters, giving them a reason to travel back and forth between the boss locations.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild does not rely on different characters and their upgrade materials. The core here relies a bit more on travelling itself and preparing yourself for that journey. Say for example you wish to travel to a cold area. Without proper preparation, your character will take continuous damage. You could circumvent this by wearing warmer clothes, or consuming dishes that will keep you warm. The first requires you to either buy or trade it for certain materials. Currency is easily obtained by selling most collectibles found in the world—meaning you have to travel to find them. The second option requires you to find specific materials that can be used to make dishes with warming effects. As level designers, you could place these specific materials around the map to shape a specific journey.
Some locations in the world are simply blocked off or locked away; for example due to a certain ability that needs to be unlocked, or a plot event must have taken place before one can traverse past the barrier. What separates this from ‘need for resources’ is that players don’t control when they have access to the means to get to their initially desired resource.