Emergent gameplay has been quite the topic over the years. The classic definition involves gameplay “emerging” from player agency as they exploit mechanics in ways the developers didn’t intend. However, offering enough freedom to the player and unique systems for different possibilities to come about can also contribute to emergent gameplay. With that in mind, let’s take a look at 16 of the best games that provide this unique form of entertainment.
Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain
Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain’s open world was okay and not exactly a shining example of the genre. However, where it delivered was in the number of ways players could exploit the systems to crazy effect. Guards could be distracted with inflatable decoys, players could surf down slopes with boxes, collapse towers on top of enemies, the list goes. The sheer variety in tackling objectives, whether through pure stealth or crazy ingenuity, also made up for the conclusion.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has been criticized for not having the same stellar dungeon design as previous titles. Where it makes up for this in its systemic gameplay and the moments that emerge from this. Imagine invading a camp of enemies by riding on a boulder’s stored momentum or setting fire to grass around a Lynel to parachute up and shoot it with arrows in slow motion. That’s not taking into account the variety of ways to complete dungeons like shield surfing to double jump up ledges, connecting electrical circuits with your equipment and so on.
Far Cry 5
The Far Cry series has usually been about doing things your way. If you want to invade a base with guns blazing, then go for it. If you want to be super stealthy and assassinate everyone, thy blade (or baseball bat) beckons. Far Cry 5 adds on to the already ridiculous ways to interact with things in the world by a huge margin. With the Fangs or Guns for Hire clearing a path through swathes of enemies, using vehicles to smash through bases and a healthy dosage of explosives, Far Cry 5 offers tons of freedom in completing objectives.
Many Hitman fans took umbrage with the 2016 title’s episodic approach and always online nature. What they loved was the sheer depth of options available for assassinating targets. Each map has a multitude of solutions available. You’ll disguise yourself as chefs and models; drop chandeliers, poison or lure targets into secluded settings to kill them; and then attempt to destroy the evidence and escape. The sheer variety in alternate objectives, enemy layout and targets helps keep the experience fresh while further expanding your assassinating imagination.
Grand Theft Auto 5
Rockstar Games’ Grand Theft Auto 5 has fulfilled so much of its potential as a sandbox game that it’s not even funny. The resulting gameplay is ridiculous – players have discovered a specific area where normal bicycles can super jump into the sky, attempted to pass through a sign via skydiving, and engaged in numerous wars with cops. That’s not even discussing the variety that’s emerged from Heists, races, deathmatch, building one’s criminal enterprise and the base game.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim has set quite a few standards with regards to open world gameplay. While many of its aspects are fixed, like quest structure, dialogue and the plot, there are a number of elements left up to the player. You can craft armour and weapons that outright break the game from the beginning. Alternatively, you can pluck out the hearts of Briarhearts by pickpocketing from them. Maybe you just want to follow a character on foot and see what happens or read all the books in the game. The sheer potential of builds (even if you just go Stealth Archer), enemies that can interact with each other and outright depth is amazing even by today’s standards.
Considered a side-scrolling version of Minecraft, Terraria is definitely its own thing. Depending on which enemies spawn, random events, NPCs and procedurally generated worlds, different players will have different experiences. You could embark on a dungeon crawl and discover better weapons or simply build a house and improve it forever with decorations, fortifications and whatnot, to say nothing about the various items, contraptions and bosses that will spice things up.
There are difficult games that take on their own identities and there’s Dwarf Fortress. This insane game has the player constructing a fortress and influencing a friendly cavalcade of dwarves towards success. From there, things take a turn for the bizarre. Dwarves infected by viruses and attacking their friends; raids with elephants committing murder; a mysterious quiver that kills anyone who tries to pick it up; and The Hamlet of Tyranny, which is an insane epic that could rival other fantasy tales. Dwarf Fortress may have an insurmountable learning curve but its emergent gameplay is top-tier.
Much like Dwarf Fortress, RimWorld provides a basic outline and huge learning curve but ultimately opens up in terms of possibilities. Each of your colonists has a distinctive personality and scenarios like turning prisoners of war into brutal war machines, effectively watching your colony go mad and eat each other and so on can happen. Even better are the inclusion of AI story-tellers who can either increase the difficulty of negative events or gleefully cause random things, both good and bad to happen.
The S.T.A.L.K.E.R series may be infamous for its bugs but the variety and sheer life of the world is incredible. You could become a bounty hunter and explore the world or simply sell artefacts to outfit yourself. Heck, it’s possible to drop your weapons for NPCs to run off with. That group of bandits who tried to kill you may ask for your help on a different playthrough and subsequently face their demise down the road. It may not be the most intuitive experience but S.T.A.L.K.E.R’s gameplay is uniquely compelling.
Just Cause 3
If you ever wanted to surf on a fighter jet or tangle up numerous cars, causing them to explode, then Just Cause 3 is for you. Perhaps you’d envy just wing-suiting around, grappling from building to building and hoisting enemies (or civilians) with your grappling hooks. It doesn’t quite have the fun world of its predecessor, especially when sheer content is concerned, but it’s still a compelling sandbox with real-time destruction and an enormous number of ways to play.
Watch Dogs 2
Unlike the first game, choice is a pretty big factor of Watch Dogs 2. The open world sandbox encourages you to go in, fists flying or safely hack from a distance to manipulate drones and security systems. That’s not counting the various little things you can do like hacking and remote piloting a car, enabling bollards to stop pursuing vehicles and much more. The freedom in completing missions and garnering followers to progress is also an improvement over the good ol’ Ubisoft tower approach.
Assassin’s Creed Origins
Though Assassin’s Creed Origins doesn’t exactly lend itself to stealthy gameplay, whether it’s due to the movement of Bayek or level advantages of stronger enemies, it’s still brimming with things to do. The emergent part comes from different factions battling each other. If Bayek doesn’t interfere, these incidents will just see the AI doing its thing. Other things – like hallucinations when Bayek is dehydrated or being ambushed by bounty hunters called Phylakes – also mix up the gameplay.
Middle Earth: Shadow of War
The first game introduced the Nemesis system wherein the player would develop various Nemeses and either kill or brainwash them into sleeper agents. Middle Earth: Shadow of War takes the concept even further with forts to conquer with unique obstacles, Orc Followers who will stay loyal (or even betray you if they’re let down) and a whole myriad of different Nemeses that can be created. It’s incredibly complex but still very accessible – you’ll never really know what to expect in a single playthrough.
Though it may seem like a straightforward stealth game, Dishonored 2 presents a large array of sneaking, stabbing, slicing, exploding and deviousness for players. It expands on the first game’s options, allowing you to link enemies together and kill them simultaneously or Shadow Walk and crawl through crevices to avoid them. Each level is a playground brimming with objects to manipulate, and with two playable characters, you have even more ways to dismantle your foes.
Monster Hunter World
Though Monster Hunter World boasts a fewer number of monsters than its predecessors, it’s encounters are much more dynamic. Environmental destruction combined with Turf Wars, not to mention tracking, picking up Investigations, experimenting with different weapons and builds and so on leads to a vastly different experience each time. Even if you battle Nergigante or Kushala Daora dozens of times (because RNG hates you and your gem grind), it’s possible to have a different battle each time. With the depth of customization, weapon complexity, co-op, limited time events and bounties, Monster Hunter World offers numerous different avenues for emergent gameplay.