Are open world games better with limited storytelling?

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csl316

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Edited By csl316

I've been burned out on open world games for years. I pine for the old days when you can 100% an open game in under 20 hours, or just mainline it in half that time. Saints Row III and Shadow of Mordor era design. So stuff like Horizon, Assassin's Creed, Far Cry, and many more are games I just avoid. I always chalked it up to too many icons, too much to do.

But I think I'm wrong. My open world fatigue is related to the story-telling.

"It sure is fun to exist in this world on my own schedule, right?"

I can think of 3 modern examples where open world games have taken over my life and I loved every minute of it. These are Elden Ring, Breath of the Wild, and Hollow Knight. What do these have in common? They have a history to their world, there's a main narrative to pursue, but there's no rush. I'm not sitting there thinking "I should be rushing to find out the fate of this guy that got stabbed in a cutscene, but there's a side quest to chase down first." There isn't a sense of urgency to these games, but there's generally a bunch of lore stuff to find in a wiki or art book (in the case of Breath of the Wild). If I want to go for an upgrade or see the edge of the map, I can, because there's no one waiting for me to help them storm a base.

I've heard players say they're 20 hours into Elden Ring without even beating the first boss. BotW and Hollow Knight reward you for taking completely different paths than your friends. Everyone can play their own way and play the game however they want. There's minimal worry about getting spoiled on a story beat, and conversations tend to be about seeing something cool rather than a character getting stabbed. I feel that this is the place open world games have in the marketplace. And these are the games that seem to have some of the most diehard fans. Even something small like Infernax had a ton of stuff for me to do at my pace, on a smaller scale.

Infernax might be limited in scope, but it never drags and it's so fun to explore every bit of the map.
Infernax might be limited in scope, but it never drags and it's so fun to explore every bit of the map.

Now thinking back to open world fatigue. Metal Gear Solid will be my example here. I loved the first 4 MGS games due to their storytelling. There'd be 15 minutes of gameplay, then some story, and that's how things would go for 10-15 hours. MGS V came along, and I was there purely to see where the story goes. But now it'd be hours of gameplay between anything happening. I quickly learned to just ignore what was happening and focus purely on the gameplay, which really helped me enjoy the game. The same goes for something like Halo 3 compared to Halo: Infinite. Once I dropped any interest in the next cutscene, I was able to enjoy the game more. Both games had strong narratives in the past, but the transition to open world just felt like they couldn't do everything at the same level. This tendency to be the All Game was jarring for those two, partially because the new stories were stretched thin and partially because they didn't seem like a priority anymore.

What's my point? My point is that designers have been approaching open world games wrong, at least in my eyes. The strength of a giant sandbox to screw around in isn't a well-placed narrative, so let's just put that in the background. Trying to have a good story in a 40 hour action game just doesn't work for someone with limited time. JRPG's are pretty good at that due to ensemble characters and a huge focus on narrative, and the gameplay loop fits that style of storytelling. The Witcher 3 is a standout where you're alone, too, but the game has a ton of great writing in the side quests and main narrative. Even Elder Scrolls and Fallout, games that weren't for me, seem to be more about living in a world rather than getting to the credits. But if I need to spend dozens of hours in a game like Horizon to see a few hours of cutscenes, the pacing is completely broken. And now I have to keep up to have a discussion about this game, since no one wants to hear about me completing checkboxes for 10 hours.

The future of open world games is Elden Ring, it's Breath of the Wild, it's Hollow Knight. That's the solution to open world fatigue. Games you can freely explore and take your time with, where the discussion is the experience and not the cutscenes. The future of narrative games has to bring back some sort of pacing, or at least scale back on endless open world activities (especially when they're required to overcome difficulty blocks). Resident Evil VIII and the recent Tomb Raider games were able to nail a nice mix of story and having space to breathe and explore.

A 12 hour campaign and a 20 hour completionist playthrough? Sign me up, for multiple playthroughs!
A 12 hour campaign and a 20 hour completionist playthrough? Sign me up, for multiple playthroughs!

Or does none of this make sense? Is a shorter narrative game that's worth replaying something people don't want anymore? Do we want 50 hour games we play once, that has to do everything, but you need to see the ending so the last third is a slog to finish it? I feel like for many years, it was all about value proposition. But with stuff like Game Pass, we can have shorter games that tell strong stories, and all we need to pay is the monthly subscription. And then we can have gigantic games that let you explore the world however you'd like, without having to balance seeing a propelling story with chasing a shiny thing.

Now that I think about it, Mario's had this figured out for years.

When your only story goal is
When your only story goal is "beat Bowser," it makes all the other goals more fun to chase. Thank you so much for playing my game!
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Efesell

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I think From hit the precise balance of cryptic storytelling and ambience that works well for their games and whenever people try to replicate this it fucks up and I’m like hey just tell me a real story.

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LapsarianGiraff

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#2  Edited By LapsarianGiraff

Hard agree. The thing that makes me bounce off every Assassin's Creed isn't the repetitive tasks or the bloat, it's the ridiculous amount of No Gameplay. Even if you skip cutscenes, you have in-game walk and talk sections that are just fancier cutscenes with no player agency. This is what threw me off Miles Morales recently as well. The ratio of "gameplay" to "unskippable story/production value bloat" is ridiculous. It's why in both AC: Syndicate and Origins I had a blast clearing out their massive maps (about 40 hours each) but stopped the moment I had to play the story quests.

I think this is also part of why most AAA games are less replayable than ever. Do I want to try Spiderman 2018 again on a higher difficulty level because I really feel like I mastered the combat on Normal difficulty? Yes! Am I willing to sit through the stealth missions and science puzzles and walk and talk sections to get there again? NOPE. Big issue with Max Payne 3 as well. I love that combat so much but the unskippable cutscenes (well yes you can skip them but they hide some massive loads, so being able to skip the last 5 seconds doesn't really make it feel better for me,) just kill any replay potential for most players. It's telling that I liked that game enough to do 3 playthroughs even with that caveat, but without the cutscenes? I would have played even more.

So it's less about doing exactly FromSoft's style of cryptic storytelling, and more about making sure however you tell your story, it respects the player's time.

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AV_Gamer

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#3  Edited By AV_Gamer

It honestly depends on how the game is made. The Far Cry games and the Assassins Creed games have been using the same formula for years, though Valhalla did change some things up and made it a better open world game. But the same could be said about scripted campaigns if the same formula is used over and over again. The Call of Duty games are an example of this. This is one of the reasons why Vanguard is considered a failure. Whereas Ratchet & Clank: A Rift Apart comes close to doing this, but the addition of an alternate universe with it's own version of Ratchet & Clank, called Rivet and Kit, among other things helped make the game still feel fresh and not just another entry. I believe this is why indie games are so important, because many of its developers try to create new and innovative gameplay experiences, where AAA developers are worried about the bottomline and create what they think will give them the biggest profits in return.

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csl316

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@lapsariangiraff: Yeah, replayability is on my mind a lot when I think of huge games and crunch. The last bigger budget game I played a few times was Devil May Cry 5. It was just really fun, with minimal bloat, and the story was good enough the first time to get me through but skippable enough to not be a hindrance. Kind of a throwback to my old gaming habits where a game was so enjoyable that I wanted to experience it again.

I recall Kena: Bridge of Spirits being called a PS2 game, and my reaction was "hell yeah!" And Death's Door was another, where it had places to explore but it didn't overstay its welcome. None of these games are big open worlds, but I just liked the focus they both had. And I'll surely go back to them in the future.

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ll_Exile_ll

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#5  Edited By ll_Exile_ll  Online

There is no "best practice" as far I'm concerned. I love both Breath of the Wild and The Witcher 3. Even within the past few weeks we have great examples of both a story light open world game (Elden Ring) and a highly story driven game (Horizon Forbidden West). I have immensely enjoyed both of these games, each largely for very different reasons.

Homogeneity is not an ideal future for open world game. Every open world game going for the BotW and Elden Ring approach would be very boring. There is a place for open world games with a bunch of great story driven content. I probably prefer the story and quest driven approach a bit, but that doesn't mean I want every game to be that either.

Variety is good.

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#6  Edited By csl316

@ll_exile_ll: I suppose this is more of a personal preference, then. Variety is indeed good.

I've just heard several podcasts mention open world fatigue, but then being engrossed in Elden Ring. So this was the reasoning I could come up with.

Although it makes me wonder if Horizon would be a better game if it was a semi-linear dozen hours with some optional stuff.

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@csl316: I think obfuscation is working as a bit of a secret spice with Elden Ring though. Fundamentally the open world isn’t really any different than the ones everyone says they’re tired of but it FEELS different to go explore a shoddy drawing of a house on a map rather than set a waypoint to a ? mark in the same location.

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#8 FinalDasa  Moderator

I think letting the story fade into the background isn't a sign that storytelling gets in the way, I think it reveals that the typical storytelling (cutscenes, forced walking moments, etc) doesn't work within more open-world games.

I think about Shadow of Mordor or Horizon: Zero Dawn and how both stories drove me to keep playing and the gameplay design keep me entertained in-between story beats.

It's a balance. A strong world with more passive storytelling fills in the gaps without needing to stop and make you smell the roses. A more sparse game like MGSV has to stop you and remind you about the batshit overlay going on in the background because the world itself was just a map.

And each game will need to approach the problem in its own way. Some games just want you to play the gameplay loop, others want to tell you a story. I think all can be interesting and fun.

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LapsarianGiraff

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@finaldasa: I absolutely agree, and I didn't mean to imply that stories in games are never valuable. It's more, as you said, that cutscenes, and egregiously on-rails scripted sections, and walk-and-talks that permeate most open world games both Do Not Convey Their Story Well and get in the way of what you want to do, which is roam around this beautiful environment the studio crunched 500 people to make!

Someone else mentioned The Witcher 3, and I think that's a great example of a story-driven open world game that does it right. There's a lot of dialogue, but you can button past it as you read it. There's *some* cinematic sequences in-game but they're far outweighed by the dozens of uninterrupted hours exploring the world. You're allowed to have a presence in that game rather than having someone shout at you every 2 minutes, "HEY! HEY! HAVE YOU SEEN THIS THING? ARE YOU BORED? PLEASE DON'T BE BORED OH GOD HAVE ANOTHER PHONE CALL" (see, Spiderman, Cyberpunk)

It also helps that The Witcher 3 is just shockingly well-written, but I think that ties into the "don't waste my time" ethos just as much because good writing and dialogue get to the point, and I think a lot of games meander. That's not to say you can't have a lot of dialogue or story, just that more writers need to make sure that what is there has a point other than, "stuff for the sake of stuff, dialogue for the sake of dialogue."

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#10 FinalDasa  Moderator

@lapsariangiraff: I really need to go back and replay The Witcher 3 just to see how well it stacks up so much later.

I think it's just difficult to properly ensure the player will run into your more subtle story points when most stories are in your face. So we're conditioned to just skip over everything unless the game makes us.

Even games like BOTW or Elden Ring won't be combed over except by the more extreme fans.

The design has just evolved quicker than digital storytelling has. I hope if these games continue to be popular we get story elements that begin to catch up.

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@finaldasa: I could be seeing it with rose-colored glasses, for sure, but I played the main game in 2019, and then the DLC in 2020 so imo it holds up!

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#12  Edited By Junkerman

Interesting point and I would agree completely with the caveat that I think a ~good~ and well written story that you're engaged in makes the biggest difference. And while Hollow, Elden and Breath are all fantastic examples games with an emphasis on gameplay, if some well written Witcher 3 narrative was sprinkled in amongst them I'd prefer it.

I'd also just want Witcher 4. Not specifically the Witcher 4. But an open world game that hits all the high notes of that game's narrative.

And better combat.

Decided to try Valhalla again on my Series S. Finally get to the gameplay... remember that to get to the next... anything... I have 2 hours of collecting animal pelts and a bunch of garbage before I can make it to my village. Logged out right there.

I also feel like the progression in the aforementioned 'fatigue' open world games is absolute trash. Its like having a job on an assembly line. Do this task, do it again, and again 20 times and you level up.

Contrasted to Elden Ring I'm just going around exploring, doing things. Often times the gear I find isnt useful because it doesnt match my build, then all of a sudden I turn a corner, find a cave and BOOM Estus Flask just leveled up. Wow what an exciting, unexpected and meaningful reward. A few more interesting but not useful discoveries later I find a temple with a box full of smithing stones and my weapon goes from a +3 to +5 in an instant.

Contrast that to say... Fenix, Gods and Monsters or whatever that game was called. I actually quite liked that game - but what I didnt like was completing exhausting item hunts just to get my next upgrade. Really cheapens the achivement when I go through all of this trouble collecting a lightning bolt or an ambrosia just to have a menu flash by saying "You did it! ...now get 5 more..."

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csl316

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#13  Edited By csl316

@junkerman: You kind of put into words why I don't find those games appealing. Going around knocking off checklists just isn't fun (it may be at first before becoming tedious, I guess).

Whereas exploring in Elden Ring is inherently a good time. It's all technically optional, and I might find a weapon that isn't even useful for my build, but I don't care because doing the thing is why I'm playing the game. I went to some weird stronghold with hand monsters and ghost soldiers, and I leveled up a couple times and got a thing from the boss, but exploring the place was cool and atmospheric and memorable. That's the part I'll remember and be able to talk about, not the fact that I cleared this "base" to get my galactic readiness up.

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#14  Edited By ll_Exile_ll  Online
@lapsariangiraff said:

@finaldasa: I absolutely agree, and I didn't mean to imply that stories in games are never valuable. It's more, as you said, that cutscenes, and egregiously on-rails scripted sections, and walk-and-talks that permeate most open world games both Do Not Convey Their Story Well and get in the way of what you want to do, which is roam around this beautiful environment the studio crunched 500 people to make!

Someone else mentioned The Witcher 3, and I think that's a great example of a story-driven open world game that does it right. There's a lot of dialogue, but you can button past it as you read it. There's *some* cinematic sequences in-game but they're far outweighed by the dozens of uninterrupted hours exploring the world. You're allowed to have a presence in that game rather than having someone shout at you every 2 minutes, "HEY! HEY! HAVE YOU SEEN THIS THING? ARE YOU BORED? PLEASE DON'T BE BORED OH GOD HAVE ANOTHER PHONE CALL" (see, Spiderman, Cyberpunk)

It also helps that The Witcher 3 is just shockingly well-written, but I think that ties into the "don't waste my time" ethos just as much because good writing and dialogue get to the point, and I think a lot of games meander. That's not to say you can't have a lot of dialogue or story, just that more writers need to make sure that what is there has a point other than, "stuff for the sake of stuff, dialogue for the sake of dialogue."

I want to push back on the notion that dialogue and story "interrupts" the game. To me, the appeal of existing in an open world is just as much about talking to the people as it is finding the next pretty vista. The idea that dialogue should just "get to the point" is one I can't get behind. Like, being able to go to a random town and talk to random people about things that aren't necessarily important to the main plot is part of making a game world feel alive. You can have side stories and optional conversations that exist solely for their own benefit.

Part of having a presence in the game is interacting with people, not just exploring the wilderness. A game world feels much more alive when it doesn't just look nice, but also has people and groups whose place in the world you can understand. You mention The Witcher 3, and honestly your points about it being great at facilitating uninterrupted exploration just do not resonate with me at all. It's one of my favorite games of all time, but when I think about what I remember from exploring the world, it's not being uninterrupted while I discover bandit camps and sunken caches. The memorable parts of that game are coming across a town cursed be a Leshen and speaking with the townsfolk to find a solution. It's accompanying a group of Skelligers into a cave of hallucinations. It's hunting down a serial killer in Novigrad.

The Witcher 3 isn't great because the story and dialogue "get out of your way," it's great because story and dialogue are everywhere (and the writing is great).

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csl316

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Oh, and P.S.

It also needs to have a good world to disappear into, which means variety and it feels good to play and it's fun to exist in. i.e. BEST WORLD

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stealydan

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I feel exactly the opposite. If I'm going to spend 40 or more hours in a game world, it better have a story and characters that I care about, or I'm going to get bored real fast. No gameplay loop can possibly be so engrossing as to keep me interested for that length of time without some good dialogue and cool setpieces to break it up.

I'm also not the type of person who plays games to create their own fun and pursue their own goals. Getting to the next story beat is the goal, and of course the gameplay along the way needs to be engaging as well.

You can't have one without the other and come out with a compelling experience. Most open world games don't give you anything rewarding for poking around at the corners and doing sidequests beyond some items or gear, so the rare exceptions like the Witcher that reward you for exploration with character interactions are vastly superior to your standard checklist affairs.

I'm playing the first Horizon right now, and I've decided to skip every quest that involves collectibles or 'go to this area and kill all the corrupted machines' type filler, and only focus on the side stuff that characters in the world have asked me to do. I don't care about ticking a box or getting some resources, but I do care if this random guy I met gets reunited with his sister or not.

That's the difference between Horizon and the Witcher for me vs. the newer Ass Creed and Far Cry. The former makes me care about the world and the characters in it, while the latter utterly fails to do so.

I can't imagine doing the Rorie thing and playing a billion hours in an open world while skipping the cutscenes. That's no longer a cohesive experience, at that point you're just messing around with a toy - which is fine for a smaller experience, but I'd rather clean my apartment than spend 4 hours drop kicking dudes over and over.

I am intrigued by Elden Ring precisely because it seems to reward you in ways that other games of the type do not, i.e., there are tangible incentives beyond either story or compulsive box-ticking for exploring. The random stuff you stumble upon is anything but cookie-cutter, and the uncertainty of never knowing what you mind find around the corner sounds pretty cool. Just not sure I have the patience to lean forward in my seat and be really on my shit and focused for that long of a game.

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csl316

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@stealydan: You play most open world games like I do, then. Case in point, Ghost of Tsushima. Loved the game, but I skipped a ton of side stuff because I was into the story. The only ones I focused on in the journal were related to side character stories. Although that's the rare game where I cleared every base because it was fun as hell and they all felt a bit different.

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You specifically say open world games but then talk about Hollow Knight and the new Tomb Raider's, which i would just toss in the metroidvania/action-adventure genre, and Mario which is a platformer, not open world. So i would probably say you just don't like bad or bland games, open world or otherwise, which is obviously a very subjective thing. Ubisoft and EA games are some of the most shallow, by the numbers, designed by committee games out there. And i always approach them knowing there games are going to be the "Law and Order" of video games. Something to keep me entertained, but ultimately shallow and something to keep my mind busy for a few hours until the actual good games come out. And Ubisoft specifically with there open worlds are filled with busy work quest with no good story reason for what you are doing.

I still have not finished Breath of the Wild, stopped playing for some reason and intend to go back at some point. But the story was one of the major things about that game that i was hating, and driving me away from it. If im remembering the story i got from that game after beating three of the four weapons, it was like that section in Destiny 1 where the speaker says he could tell you a story... then just moves on not explaining anything. The lack of building up the characters felt very shallow. But i kept on doing the temples and snatching up those seeds because they where fun puzzles, and the overall gameplay was fun.

But the thing that drove me in Zero Dawn absolutely was the story. The gameplay is a little clunky here and there, but overall enjoyable. From the start you ask "why are there robot dinosaurs? what is with these old crumbling buildings?", and you can make some assumptions that would be correct, but its the details and characters that where interesting. Even the side quest i remember liking the story and characters in them, which is why i did them all. And all the different tribes and there religions. There has been something missing in the start of Forbidden West, because you get your answers in Zero Dawn and the only thing motivating you is plants are over fertilized or something, and one of the bad guys from the last game is still out there, and you need to wrap up a few loose ends from the last game. And its kinda just more Horizon without any major advancement with adding new mechanics. But as soon as i hit that moment where you meet those four people i was hooked back in. And that also when the game opens up and you see more of the new tribes, which i have also found interesting.

A good developer can make an open world and "lock you in" for a half hour or more, then "let you out" after the quest is done. If they give you a story beat of "hey so and so is dangling from a rope, you should probably go save him" while letting you spend ten hours doing side quests, then yeah there can be some massive disconnect from the story that feels clunky. And that is something they should not have brought up, or forced you to do that quest right then and there. But if the game is actually fun to play, im not going to care that the story was good or bad, just that i had fun, but i would prefer a well written story and characters.

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stealydan

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@csl316: Ah OK, seems like we mostly on the same page then. Story stuff in big, long games is great when done well (and I would argue essential to motivating one to move forward), but really brings down the experience when it's done poorly.

I never came close to finishing Skyrim, because I didn't care about why I was doing things or who I was doing them for, but I did just about everything in Fallout 3 because I enjoyed being in the world and talking to everyone.

Just Cause games are fun to mess around in for a few hours at a time, but they quickly outstay their welcome because the world is so devoid of life and personality.

The older Ass Creed games drew me in with all the modern-day intrigue stuff and how it related back to the characters in the past. Setting up shop with the Animus in Ezio's palace was so cool. Even the puzzles in Brotherhood for example had cool little nods to things like Henry Ford working for the Templars. Once all that stuff went away, the only thing left is a bunch of generic NPCs in giant worlds that feel like copy-paste jobs.

I enjoyed the heck out of Far Cry Primal despite its reputation as being the most repetitive iteration, partially because the setting was right up my alley, but also because I liked interacting with the people you meet and bring into your tribe. The custom designed language was a really cool detail that made those characters feel more real than the dinguses you talk to in most of the other ones.

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Justin258

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Not necessarily.

I think the Ubisoft open world formula needs to die for sure. Assassin's Creed, Horizon, Far Cry, any game where you open a map and see repetitive icon vomit needs to just fucking go. I think that story in open world games can be done well. Fallout New Vegas is a bad game (stop there, that world is a fucking slog and the gunplay sucks) but it did story beats well. So did The Witcher 3. I actually think that CRPGs are a good place to look towards, not for complex gameplay but for their focus on expanding their worlds through side quests that mean something. Every quest you do in Divinity: Original Sin 2 has characters, motivations, and multiple resolutions, some of which you might be surprised you can even do. I don't think we need side quests that expansive, necessarily, but side quests with bare-minimum stories that tell you to go do something trivial or, worse, open world activities that involve clearing out bandit camps and participating in weird mini games (like Far Cry 5's driving cars through rings of fire or whatever) aren't fun anymore. That feels like a checklist. Talking to an old, sad man in the middle of the street in Pillars of Eternity and finding yourself killing a lich to retrieve a locket belonging to that old man's late wife, that's a story, that's way more interesting. Adapt that to your open world game, include interesting and unique things I can stumble upon, and make the world itself fun and captivating and you have a good open world story-driven experience.

Oh, and linear games like Tomb Raider 2013, Dead Space, and Resident Evil VIII really should make a comeback. I think they have, to some extent, but I like playing and replaying those kinds of games. They're satisfying, fun, short enough that I can finish them in a reasonable amount of time but long enough to be meaty, open enough to invite exploration but linear enough to maintain pacing, and story-driven enough to have an interesting narrative without feeling like I never get to actually play the game for long periods of time.

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csl316

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@justin258: Yeah, reading over some of these replies, I'm starting to lean on narrative-heavy open world games just need to be done well. Since I really have enjoyed a bunch over the years. It's just that BotW and Elden Ring feel a bit refreshing, after so much of the last generation deciding that every big game series needed to try their hand at being bigger without a clear reason why (well, Skyrim blew up expectations on hour counts, probably).

@lego_my_eggo: I brought up Tomb Raider as a good way to merge open exploration and telling a compelling story. It is more of a metroidvania, I suppose, but it had enough stuff off the beaten path that it didn't feel strictly linear (especially the later ones with optional tombs). Though the later games started going more open and they started to lose me a little. Same with the Arkham Asylum to City jump. There's a reason I replayed the first in the series a bunch of times and only finished the sequels once.

As for Hollow Knight, in my view a metroidvania in 2D is basically an open world game. Hollow Knight is so vast with so many ways to go about completing it that it felt way more exploratory than a tight 5-10 hour game in that style. Luckily, it was done well and played like a dream. With a ton of fun bosses, just like its bigger cousin ER.

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Justin258

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@lapsariangiraff said:

@finaldasa: I absolutely agree, and I didn't mean to imply that stories in games are never valuable. It's more, as you said, that cutscenes, and egregiously on-rails scripted sections, and walk-and-talks that permeate most open world games both Do Not Convey Their Story Well and get in the way of what you want to do, which is roam around this beautiful environment the studio crunched 500 people to make!

Someone else mentioned The Witcher 3, and I think that's a great example of a story-driven open world game that does it right. There's a lot of dialogue, but you can button past it as you read it. There's *some* cinematic sequences in-game but they're far outweighed by the dozens of uninterrupted hours exploring the world. You're allowed to have a presence in that game rather than having someone shout at you every 2 minutes, "HEY! HEY! HAVE YOU SEEN THIS THING? ARE YOU BORED? PLEASE DON'T BE BORED OH GOD HAVE ANOTHER PHONE CALL" (see, Spiderman, Cyberpunk)

It also helps that The Witcher 3 is just shockingly well-written, but I think that ties into the "don't waste my time" ethos just as much because good writing and dialogue get to the point, and I think a lot of games meander. That's not to say you can't have a lot of dialogue or story, just that more writers need to make sure that what is there has a point other than, "stuff for the sake of stuff, dialogue for the sake of dialogue."

I want to push back on the notion that dialogue and story "interrupts" the game. To me, the appeal of existing in an open world is just as much about talking to the people as it is finding the next pretty vista. The idea that dialogue should just "get to the point" is one I can't get behind. Like, being able to go to a random town and talk to random people about things that aren't necessarily important to the main plot is part of making a game world feel alive. You can have side stories and optional conversations that exist solely for their own benefit.

Part of having a presence in the game is interacting with people, not just exploring the wilderness. A game world feels much more alive when it doesn't just look nice, but also has people and groups whose place in the world you can understand. You mention The Witcher 3, and honestly your points about it being great at facilitating uninterrupted exploration just do not resonate with me at all. It's one of my favorite games of all time, but when I think about what I remember from exploring the world, it's not being uninterrupted while I discover bandit camps and sunken caches. The memorable parts of that game are coming across a town cursed be a Leshen and speaking with the townsfolk to find a solution. It's accompanying a group of Skelligers into a cave of hallucinations. It's hunting down a serial killer in Novigrad.

The Witcher 3 isn't great because the story and dialogue "get out of your way," it's great because story and dialogue are everywhere (and the writing is great).

I do agree that dialogue and story are important to the game. However, I read @finaldasa's post as suggesting that dialog with NPCs should be initiated by the player and forced dialog, like a character calling you out of the blue and giving you a side mission, should never happen. I understand that if you're working in the Cyberpunk underground, having some guys call you and set up a job for you feels like it should work on paper... but that only served to make me want as much distance between myself and that game as possible. For me, it largely boils down to the same thing I hated about The Outer Wilds. I don't care what your reason is or how justified it is in-universe, don't interrupt me while I'm trying to do stuff! Whether that's to point me to other things or blow up the universe to start again doesn't matter. I'll talk to people when I want to and hang out in the middle of an empty forest enjoying the music when I want and forcing me to participate in one when I'm only interested in the other just makes me want to play something else.

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I'd say if you're playing an open world game you're not looking for a story. Developers probably think the same during the development process. The best kind of open world story is something like AC: Black Flag where you're a pirate. That's all the story you need. A pirate in the east indies.. you know his struggle, desire, and enemies.The best open world stories crib from well known series like Arkham Knight or are satirizing contemporary stuff like Sunset Overdrive. A game like GTAV doesnt work for me because you're just seeing a real world representation on almost a 1:1 scale... who cares. I used to think that was an accomplishment in computer design. When it was.

All the other stuff kind of doesn't work. The AC series is kind of the pinnacle of storytelling in open world when they don't take too much artistic license in historical facts. I think Unity, Black Flag, and Syndicate were kind of the best for that. I can mentally check out open world and then read some text about Jack the Ripper or french revolution. Once AC:Origins started going a bit fanciful (also treading into waters that i don't already have a grasp on in Egyptian history, Greek History, and Brittish history i became lost. I think this is part of the reason i and the ac community were clamoring for a AC: Japan because that history tends to be intersting for fans of videogames and animel I'd really like a 1950s post-ww2 japan just so i can connect the dots to between the end of the war and more modern times. Don't get me wrong, i didnt comprehend much of the assassins creed stories i like. I just liked running into historical figures so that compelled me forward.

Nintendo games do well with story in their Mario and Zelda series because isn't much of a story to begin with or it's tacked on to facts that you already know. This might be why they are struggling with their next metroid. How are they going to propel me in a 3D-space in the same way they can compel you in a 2D space.

TLDR: Limited storytelling is best for open worlds, so think the Nintendo you already know the story. Or something with a historical context that you already know.