Open world gameplay and storytelling

#1
Hi folks,

So, I've just finished FFXV, and without going too much into spoilers, it starts out open world, but when the plot picks up, the options narrow a good deal. And it occurred to me that open world games tend to be weaker, storywise than the alternative. I mean, the best open world I've ever seen, bar none, was MGS 5, but this came at the cost of a much weaker storyline than typical for the series and a lot of repetitive missions. The most intense part of the game is the first level, and it never gets back to that again (Quiet and Snake v bunch of armoured cars is the only thing that comes close. Arkham Knight has a massive world, but because it needs a Batmobile the end result involves a lot of gratuitous tank battles that get pretty samey. Is this inevitable, is my taste behind the times, am I even making sense? Discuss.
 

Lulcielid

Media Thinker
AKA
Lucis Caelum
#2
The difference in storytelling quality between open-worlds and non open-worlds is just anecdotal and case by case specific (not many would say FF13, a non open-world game, had good storytelling. Alternatively, not many would say Witcher 3, an open-world game, had bad storytelling).

Imo, whenever this topic comes up it's always the same issue, people are viewing open-worlds storytelling through the lends of non open-world games (a strongly set path with little deviation), aka the wrong way. The storytelling focus of open-world games lies on the player having as much as agency as possible on at what pace/order/way they want to experience the story and world (hence the multiple of activities and side-quests).
 

The Twilight Mexican

Ex-SeeD-ingly good
AKA
TresDias
#3
@Clement Rage
I don't believe your tastes are necessarily outdated. I do think, though -- with open world being the prevailing design sensibility of the moment -- that a lot of modern developers feel they have to incorporate an "open world checklist" of generic activities without necessarily knowing why they want to include those things beyond "It's expected" and "It helps the player clock more hours in the game."

Going through the motions in design is going to feel like going through the motions when people play, unfortunately. Some developers will inevitably be better about this than others, but we'll probably get to a point where most either become decent at it or can at least incorporate it in a way that people who are sick of it can ignore it. And that probably serves classic tastes as well.

@Lulcielid
I think your first paragraph makes a solid point, but your second less so. I don't believe most players who found fault in XV's open world structure took issue with there being multiple activities and side-quests. In fact, I've never seen that complaint -- and I have seen a great many complaints about FFXV. =P

The complaint I see most often where the open world is concerned is that not enough of the side-quests impart a greater lense into the worldbuilding, and that the procedures involved in conducting those quests aren't varied enough.
 

Gary Caelum

Pro Adventurer
AKA
Gary Caelum
#4
For me The Witcher 3 is really the only open-world game where the story doesn't suffer at all. It only manages it by having so many really interesting story-branches happening at once, that you never feel you're disrupting the pacing by going off and exploring, because you always end up in some different part of the main story.


FFXV sucked at this. I enjoyed exploring its world. And I enjoyed its story. But the 2 things barely intersect at all. Almost none of the side-quests have any impact on the main story at all. Even when you get the sense they're supposed to, like with finding the royal tombs, the impact is pretty much non-existent. If they'd had more time with development, or Tabata had stuck around for longer, a really good solution would be to incorporate the character DLC into the main game as side-quests that are unlocked under certain conditions.

A great idea would be to have these major character side-quests for each of the main allies and if you didn't complete a character's side-quest, that character wouldn't end up surviving the world of ruin. So you'd get to hammerhead in Chapter 14 and just find out the particular character had died a few years back or something. That'd be a great way of making optional exploration impact the story.
 
#5
Haven't played Witcher, but I personally wouldn't call XIII an example of bad storytelling.

Mass Effect had a huge world, and then it got smaller in the sequels once the plot became tighter.

Lightning Returns had an open world, but as a result the plot threads had to be disconnected from each other. Even the games that market themselves on having choices like Telltale tend to have little fundamental impact on what happens.

Gary, I didn't like that approach in Mass Effect. It's too neat, makes things not feel like a real world.
 
AKA
The Engineer
#6
With Open-World games, I often find myself asking what the "Open-World" is used for in telling the story and how successful a job it does at that. And some Open-World games use their "Open-Worldness" very well while others don't. The games that don't use their "open-worldness" very well is when I find myself asking why the game was "open-world" to begin with.

However, there are some general things all "Open-World" games seem to use the open world for. Combat and NPC interactions and backtracking are the big ones. All open-world games are used for those... or at least, they should be used for those. Backtracking in the "Open-World" is probably the first criteria that determines how good of an "open-world" a game has. Generally speaking, the more a player can backtrack, the better of an open-world the game has. It's the things other then those that really make or break "open-world" games for me. If a game just has those three, then I'd say that's when it becomes more iffy if a game should have been open-world or not.

I think it's really hard to talk about what an "open-world" game is without talking about The Elder Scrolls series of game (and probably Fallout, but I didn't play that series). The Elder Scrolls games have been doing "open-world" games for longer then most and it's very interesting to see exactly what the open world is used for and how it is used in that games series. On the one hand.... yes, the open world is used for Combat and NPC interactions and backtracking. It's also used for world-building and character interaction with the world. Simple stuff like opening containers, rearranging objects in the world, dropping items from your inventory and seeing them appear in the world, and things of that nature ground your character in the world. And those aren't things you can easily do without the open-world. Your character has an impact on the world in small ways that makes you feel like a character in that world.

And that is expanded to other things like questlines. Find out that shopkeeper is stealing from graves to get their stock and they'll go out of buisness and you'll never be able to buy from them. Join that guild and how you'll have access to their shops. In Morrowind, you could completely screw over the MSQ by killing characters you would have to turn quests into (killing off Vivec early turns this concept on it's head). The Elder Scrolls has many ways outside of the MSQ that let your character effect how parts of the world turn out (some of them on rather major scales to boot).

Of course, one of the trade-offs is that you can really easily kill the momentum of storytelling by dropping the MSQ and go doing something else. Decide to not go track down that king's bastard after you leave the sewers and never even start the MSQ? Sure. Go for it. Think anyone who thinks you are the Nevrarine doesn't know what they are talking about and want to ignore the whole thing? No biggie. The Elder Scrolls are just fine with people ignoring the actual main plot of the game even if it makes for a messy story-telling experience because their game designers know (or at least, knew at one point) that's one of the trade-offs for making a good Open-World game.

The problem starts when game devs want a tighter story-telling experience while keeping the feel of an open-world game. Out of necessity, this limits how "open" the world can actually be. Especially when it comes to backtracking. A lot of the point of an open-world game is going where you want to, when you want to. When stories call for areas to be inaccessible or a character not to leave a certain area, they directly go against this idea. Doing this is small bursts (like for a dungeon) is one thing. Doing it for entire sections of the game's story (like entire chapters) is very different.

When combined with side content that doesn't effect a world (FFXIII's side quests (or lack thereof) for example) it kinda begs why a game is "open-world" to begin with. Being able to go everywhere at almost any time in a game is rather pointless when nothing a player does impacts things in some way. And if the MSQ that a game is trying to tell railroad's a player so often, you kinda wonder if it would be easier for the story if the player wasn't allowed to go everywhere. I can't help but think that if "open-world" games are here to stay, then the storytellers of games need to realize that the old way of telling linear stories does not work for those. Looser stores do work though, as do stories that involve changing things in the game world in some way (even more if there's different decisions a player can make).

The strength of "open-world" games in my mind is that they allow for the player to be more connected with the world then are playing in then usual. However, it feels like most "open-world" games don't take advantage of that extra contentedness and simply use "open-world" games as extra set-dressing that looks pretty. And then realize that their story runs into problems when players want to go somewhere else then where the story says they should go.

Okay... I really didn't mean to type up this much on the topic...
 
AKA
Mr. Ite
#7
I echo everything Obsidian Fire just said. Elder Scrolls games are open world done right. You can have a fulfilling 300 hour player-curated storytelling experience without touching the main plot. You simply cannot do that in a Final Fantasy game.

I haven't played XV yet, but it seems they flipped the successful FF script. Usually, the story starts on rails or in a small hub (Midgar, Corneria, Rabanastre) with a punchy plot to acquaint you with the world, characters, and basic problem. As you level, the world expands with you - with backtracking providing the occasional reward. Once you have your airship, THEN it's a proper open world, and you can drop the MSQ for as long as you like while you backtrack, seek out secrets, and run around in circles trying to catch Zell make your own fun. I gather that FFXV starts out open-world, then foists you onto the rails later? I'm interested in people's experience of that that but also mildly fear spoilers. Perhaps I'll just have to find out myself when I finally get the game.
 
AKA
The Engineer
#8
Heh... this remindes me of something else.... After my first play though of FFXII, I wrote this review/response: https://thelifestream.net/forums/threads/final-fantasy-xiii-spoiler-thread-spoilers.3604/post-619678

The last section of it was this which was under "Stuff I Didn't Like"
Trying to be like The Elder Scrolls
This was what it felt like FFXIII was trying to look like/be, emphasis on trying. The enemies wandering around, the multiple factions, the lore that's getting hinted at, the fast battles, etc. The Elder Scrolls was the game series this game reminded me of the most. The problem being that TES had had 4+ games worth of lore and story-telling style developed for it by the time FFXIII had come out, so TES can afford to not be obvious with it's lore as well as had figured out how to make a linear story non-linear (yes, it cause awkward fridge logic at times, it was also obvious this was a game-play mechanic, not a story-telling one). FFXIII feels like SE was going for the impact the TES games have on most players without understanding how Bethsda approaches TES games.
 

Gary Caelum

Pro Adventurer
AKA
Gary Caelum
#9
I haven't played XV yet, but it seems they flipped the successful FF script. Usually, the story starts on rails or in a small hub (Midgar, Corneria, Rabanastre) with a punchy plot to acquaint you with the world, characters, and basic problem. As you level, the world expands with you - with backtracking providing the occasional reward. Once you have your airship, THEN it's a proper open world, and you can drop the MSQ for as long as you like while you backtrack, seek out secrets, and run around in circles trying to catch Zell make your own fun. I gather that FFXV starts out open-world, then foists you onto the rails later? I'm interested in people's experience of that that but also mildly fear spoilers. Perhaps I'll just have to find out myself when I finally get the game.
That's the spirit of what they do, but it's not a proper open-world in the Skyrim sense. FFXV has a lot of invisible walls (if you see something in the distance, you often can't go to it). The world is also split into a few different segments that unlock as you proceed. So you can't actually go anywhere from the start. But you can go to most places within about 4 hours.

It's generally regarded as an open-world because it's all seamless. No loading screens at any point in the main world.
 
#10
Every open world game I've encountered has walls of some kind, even the ones like Red Dead Redemption wall you out of certain areas at the start (you can't go to Mexico until the border opens, etc.)

Soul Reaver and Blood Omen for the PS1 were pretty open, but you had to unlock new powers to go to certain areas. You could go where you wanted once you had all the powers, though.

Limitations have their place, I've had my immersion be hurt by a world being open when it didn't make sense for it to be so. (You can work with that too. Tales of Symphonia had a plot where
The pope tried to excommunicate Jesus, leading to lots of embarrassed conversations with guards who very reluctantly don't let you pass but suggest alternate routes into the place they're guarding, the only place you really can't go is into the palace.

FFXIII for once played 'you are the planet's most wanted fugitives, you walk into a town it burns down' realistically, and a lot of people hated that for its limitations.

No More Heroes 1 had a large but empty and pointless open world, and dumped it for the sequel.

FFXV should really be more closed than it is,
Demons kill stuff every night, every town should be way more fortified and difficult to get into.
 
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