Editor’s note: While I’m glad to see Christopher coming around on the open-world genre, I almost feel like developers need to change their approach and give us a reason to play through the main story. I’ve talked with so many people who had tons of fun with the side missions in Grand Theft Auto IV but couldn’t bring themselves to actually advance the story — the disconnect between the side missions and Niko’s tale was just too great. -Fitch
I wasn’t always a big fan of open-world gaming; I mistakenly felt the open-world experience was about little distractions that stretched a game out to make it feel “bigger” than it actually was.
I’ve always been partial to story-driven titles instead. In my eyes, the “open world” took the story and cut it into thousands of tiny pieces, scattering it randomly across the vast space of the game — simply prolonging the experience instead of actually adding to it.
I got frustrated with having to track great distances to advance the main story. Go To town A, complete mission — discover the next puzzle piece is in Town B, which happens to be on the other side of the map.
Worst-case scenario? Entering a world where you could just go…but go where? I kept getting frustrated by the lack of pacing and story progress, and I didn’t understand how all the missions fit into the plot. I interpreted the open-world genre as stretching a game to make it seem “bigger” and “better” than it really was. What I failed to see was how a good-open world mechanic added depth to the experience.
What I’ve come to realize with open-world gaming is that I needed to change my mindset from “Where do I go now?” to “I wonder where that will take me to…”
In light of this new mindset, I’ve recently purchased a few games with open-world mechanics — Far Cry 2, Oblivion, and Fallout 3, to name a few. And I’ve learned that by exploring open-world games — and getting sidetracked by the missions — is really the whole point. It adds context to the world and overall story, immersing me in the experience.
GTA IV’s side missions gave me a broader glimpse into the fictional world of Liberty City.
By helping out individuals in Oblivion, I made allies and gained special items I would never have found in the main plot. More importantly, it took me into a “world” within the world of Oblivion.
In the end, I realize I don’t have to do any of the missions. But what do I gain by saying no?
Sure, it took me a while to appreciate open-world gaming, but now that I’m starting to understand it, I’ve come to relish the opportunity of prolonging my gaming experience by moving off the beaten path.