Open world games are a big part of AAA development at this point. The Assassin’s Creed series makes a point of delivering one every year. Major franchises like Borderlands have built digital empires on delivering quirky worlds for you to explore and side-quest in. But open world games have also struggled with a big problem; namely, the main quest tends to be the least fun thing about it.
Assassin’s Creed IV is possibly the best argument for this: The number of players who actually finished the main quest compared to the ones who begrudgingly finished enough missions to unlock the full map are legion. Who wants to listen to a bunch of boring exposition when there are ships to sink and assassination targets to stab?
But it’s a common problem in a lot of open world games. A rigid storyline is bad enough in a game based on freedom, and it gets worse when the side missions are more fun. Probably the best open world game of the last generation was Far Cry 3, because everything was interconnected. Opening up the map unlocked more guns, that you could use to clear more enemy camps, which in turn you could use to unlock short side missions, which in turn led to more weapons and upgrades, and so on. Everything you did propelled you through the game, and whether or not it was tied to the main quest was utterly irrelevant. In fact, it was often a lot more compelling than the main quest; the game’s best writing was often in the disturbing short stories you stumbled across as sidequests.
So, let’s issue a challenge to developers. Make an open world game where players crack the story by doing what they want, and where the gameplay drives what you do, not the story. Let us put together what’s going on ourselves, assembling clues as we finish the game. It’d be a lot more fun… and it would mean a lot fewer cutscenes.