New Austin is not an open world, not in the purest sense of the word, not at first.
Red Dead Redemption and Fallout 3 will always be connected in my mind. I started playing the Western after discussing the Wasteland on the upcoming episode of the Moving Pixels Podcast, so I had Fallout on my mind during my initial exploration of New Austin, and the introduction to these two worlds couldn’t be more different.
At the beginning of Fallout 3, the entire expanse of the Capital Wasteland is open to us. We can literally go anywhere and there will be something to see and do. There are locations to discover, each with their own unique history. Abandoned buildings aren’t just cookie cutter copies of each other. There are quests to discover, hidden in the far corners of the world. I met multiple characters that friends of mine didn’t even know existed. There are items to discover, ranging from the practical (guns, audio journals, computer terminals, schematics) to the pointless (teddy bears, pots, boxes of irradiated food) and being able to pick up every object that we see gives us a powerful sense of interaction with the world. All of this is true from the moment that we leave Vault 101.
But in retrospect, I went into the game with the wrong mindset. I was expecting something as open as Fallout 3, but Rockstar traditionally keeps tighter control over their open worlds than Bethesda does. Many basic actions are taught to us during story missions over the course of hours: using the lasso, wrangling a wild horse, using Dead Eye, etc. Instead of having everything available to begin with, the player experiences the world slowly opening up as more abilities and side missions become available. In this way, I think that the world actually feels more alive because there’s a clear back and forth between the player and the game, I learn something new and can now use this knowledge around the world. There’s also a very satisfying sense of progression, but contrary to the nature of the world, it’s also a very linear progression. In Fallout 3 I can go to Rivet City and skip the quests involving Three Dog, but in Red Dead Redemption, it’s impossible for me to go to Mexico until I finish every relevant story mission in New Austin.
The Capital Wasteland is the star of Fallout 3. We play that game for the setting, not the story or characters. Marston is the star of Red Dead Redemption. We play that game for the story and characters, and the rest of the open world is just something to do in between.