Open-world games give fans some of the most immersive and memorable gaming experiences. There are dozens of areas to explore and side-quests to tackle, and players unlock new abilities, skills, and equipment to explore the world easier or make the gameplay more interesting. With everything that open-world games feature, it’s no wonder they have had an enormous impact on gaming as a whole. However, open-world narratives, while conventionally fantastic, may not be utilizing the medium to its fullest ability.
Many open-world games, such as The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, feature a main narrative for players to follow. However, the player is allowed to complete the story at their own pace. While this allows players to freely explore the world, it makes the story seem weightless and inconsequential, and it loses all sense of urgency. On the other hand, Minecraft is another immensely popular open-world game that has no main narrative, but players still find interesting stories to tell in the game. It begs the question, is the main narrative necessary in open-world games?
Open-World Games Need to Have an Open Story
Minecraft is the best-selling game of all time, and it has a story that is basically nonexistent. This unfortunately means that there is not a linear story for fans of video game narratives to follow. However, it gives the player the power to craft their own narrative with friends in the game, and creating is at the heart of Minecraft‘s design. Conversely, Skyrim is also one of the most beloved open-world games of all time, but it has one of the least impactful main stories in a video game, which is the problem. If the story is the main focus, it can cause players to miss out on all the amazing details and side stories featured in the open world. An open world should allow the player to forge their own story instead of binding them to the one pre-made by the developers.
The most popular player stories from Skyrim, for example, are never about the main questline. They are all stories about the random, fun, and hilarious situations that players put their characters into either purposefully or on accident while in between the story quests. As a matter of fact, Todd Howard once stated that for the development of Fallout 3, the team thought about removing the main story and instead letting players create their own. On the other hand, Elden Ring incorporates the vast majority of its story and lore through environmental storytelling, which makes the player explore the world to learn more about the story.
Players Need To Have More Agency & Control Over the Story
Obviously, there is a loose narrative throughout the Minecraft world, and Mojang has taken a similar approach as Elden Ring with the lore of its game. However, Minecraft is such a non-linear experience that it allows for all kinds of storytelling opportunities. This is most evident in the successful Minecraft YouTube videos and channels that have created SMPs (Survival Multiplayer) and woven their own stories into the game’s world. It shows how Minecraft‘s creation-forward approach opens the door for tons of player experiences.
Frankly, there are not enough games taking advantage of their open worlds. The vast majority of open-world games feel like two games jammed together. One game is the main story or campaign, and the other is an open-world sandbox full of side stories and quests. The story usually does little to take advantage of the open world besides making the player fetch something on the other side of the map, and the game doesn’t allow players to make many changes that let the main story feel unique.
Obviously, there are tons of open-world games that feature amazing stories, but few of those stories actually benefit from an open world. If the open world is the main attraction, then it should be the medium that tells the story. Players should be able to make their own story and have their own adventure in the world without having to cling to a narrative that pulls them away from the world. Conversely, if the open world isn’t interesting enough to make players venture off the beaten path, then the game may not be truly benefiting from an open world.