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What Games Best Balanced Open World With A Strong Story?

You know, we never had this problem in the golden JRPG days.

If there's one thing that has become clear this generation it is that video game developers face a difficult choice about the scope of their games. They can either create a linear experience with a very strong story, or an open world experience with plenty of freedom and a weaker story.

For the most part that has been the way of things. Games like The Last of Us take us through a compelling narrative while Skyrim has us off creating our own virtual life and completely forgetting what we were supposed to be doing in the first place.

Recently CD Projekt Red was the latest developer to say they will most certainly find a way to have both an open world and a great narrative for their upcoming effort The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Before that I'm sure there was a little paranoia over whether or not the follow up to Mirror's Edge would survive the transition to open world.

Before we head into the next generation I think it's worth discussing games that we think struck the right balance, or at least came close.

I noticed that some folks in the community felt that Red Dead Redemption was a proper mix of story and sandbox. Personally I felt like the inFAMOUS games balanced things well since most missions were closely related to the main plot and the morality system made everything you do matter.

There's a bit of a difference between open world and sandbox in my opinion and I think the open world titles suffer a bit more in the story department. On that front it seemed to me like Dishonored made some serious headway. Still though, I think the story could have been just a touch stronger. If you take out the missions unrelated to Corvo's predicament there weren't many plot points covered overall. It was still a great game of course, even nabbing PSXE's Game of the Year award for 2012.

It's a precarious position for developers and hopefully the new hardware will make the task easier in the future. What games of this generation do you think felt plenty open and still delivered a great story?

Related Game(s): Dishonored, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, The Last Of Us, Red Dead Redemption

Tags: open world, sandbox, linear

8/4/2013 10:03:27 PM David D. Nelson

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Comments (35 posts)

Snaaaake
Sunday, August 04, 2013 @ 11:56:44 PM
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Does Batman AA and Batman AC count?

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WorldEndsWithMe
Monday, August 05, 2013 @ 11:03:15 AM

AC probably counts more.

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bigrailer19
Monday, August 05, 2013 @ 12:06:40 AM
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The first that popped in my mind is RDR. Thats the huge difference between it and any GTA game. But to stay on track it was very balanced and made it wven more enjoyable.

I agree with inFamous as well but it was definitely focused more on gameplay.

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tes37
Monday, August 05, 2013 @ 12:09:17 AM
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inFamous definitely comes to mind along with Just Cause 2, Mass Effect, Prince of Persia, and Red Dead Redemption.

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PANICinc
Monday, August 05, 2013 @ 12:56:52 AM

Just Cause 2 had a LAME story! But the gameplay was awesome!

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tes37
Monday, August 05, 2013 @ 1:36:27 AM

Yeah it did. I made a quick glance at my games and didn't fire up my brain cells in time for a proper analysis.

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Beamboom
Monday, August 05, 2013 @ 4:18:17 AM

I would not call Mass Effect open world - neither was PoP if I remember correctly?

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tes37
Monday, August 05, 2013 @ 6:52:48 AM

Prince of Persia was open world. It seemed like an open world game to me and it even claims to be on the back of the game case.

You're probably right about Mass Effect.

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Beamboom
Monday, August 05, 2013 @ 10:47:27 AM

I guess it depends on whitch PoP we talk about. :)

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WorldEndsWithMe
Monday, August 05, 2013 @ 12:09:49 PM

The PoP reboot did feel sorta open world cuz you could go to any of the levels you wanted from that huge main space.

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tes37
Monday, August 05, 2013 @ 5:27:17 PM

The one I'm referring to is the reboot I guess. It's untitled and it's the only one I've played.

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Cabalavatar1
Monday, August 05, 2013 @ 12:33:18 AM
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I have to agree that the first game I thought of was RDR, and I think it is either the best or second best in this category. Its rival is Batman: AC. In fact, upon consideration, I think Batman: AC did an even better job.

Of course, inFamous was well done in this way, as well. If I can include an atmosphere component that sets up the mood for the story, then I'd add Fallout 3. Open world, compelling story. I'd also add Far Cry 3 (although its ending may bump it out of the running).

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PSTan
Monday, August 05, 2013 @ 12:47:35 AM
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Red Dead Redemption. Assassin's Creed (the entire series). Batman Arkham City.

Skyrim actually has a rich narrative and lore building if you seek it out.

Infamous 2 has a strikingly powerful and thematic narrative, though.

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LimitedVertigo
Monday, August 05, 2013 @ 12:56:47 AM
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RDR by a mile.

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PlatformGamerNZ
Monday, August 05, 2013 @ 1:41:19 AM
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yeah i think it will be interesting to see how devs work around these things, and see wat they come up with.

happy gaming =)

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Shams
Monday, August 05, 2013 @ 2:36:49 AM
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InFamous franchise, and also sleeper hit, Sleeping Dogs. Not the largest worlds, but some of the best narratives and action.

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Vivi_Gamer
Monday, August 05, 2013 @ 3:45:29 AM
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As everyone else had stated Red Dead Redemption. It has many towns surrounded by wonderful landscapes - a feature of the west which is presented by R* at it's peak. I never felt tired roaming the landscapes of RDR as it seemed so natural with travelers, bandits and wildlife roaming.

It never felt tedious, because the story progressed rapidly whenever you decided to take a mission. While my prime candidate - Final Fantasy XII - You would go to a new area expect a sense of progression but it never came. So then you would plod through 3-4 more landscapes in hope that the next town or distinctive place you visited, that there would be more of a story progression. That game took me 80 hours to get to the end and I was rushing the last 2/3rds. I don't want to experience that within a game ever again.

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KidPresentable
Monday, August 05, 2013 @ 3:50:05 AM
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The Getaway. It was little rough around the edges but i enjoyed the hell out of it and i thought it told a great story..

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Vivi_Gamer
Monday, August 05, 2013 @ 4:16:43 AM

Thing about the Getaway is that it didn't allow you to have the freedom of GTA initially. You were always in a mission, which required you to go somewhere. There was no free-roam mode until after you completed the game. So while you had the map of London to explore - which was an impressive feature at the time. It didn't offer the freedom as on most of the driving sections you were forced to go to one area, often timed. A very good game though still.

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Beamboom
Monday, August 05, 2013 @ 4:35:41 AM
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I too have to agree with RDR: It felt like everything I did was part of the same saga.

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duomaxwell007
Monday, August 05, 2013 @ 7:06:26 AM
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FFXI did it just fine that being said Im hoping FFXIV does the same

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Vivi_Gamer
Monday, August 05, 2013 @ 7:13:31 AM

I never played XI but I recently played the Beta for XIV and I have to say regarding the story it fails to be engaging in the slightest. You just ran about doing a bunch of missions which were essentially fetch-quests. They tried to introduce a NPC (None playable characters) or two but they were dull as dishwater.

The problem with MMO's is that you create your own character rather than having the developers make a lead character for the story. So the interaction with the main character is limited, the story is presented through set NPC's who will ask you questions then react on that. The problem is the character you play as is completely transparent. I have the exact same problem with Fallout and Oblivion too. If you want a story driven game to work, you have to have a main character who has presence.

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JackieBoy
Monday, August 05, 2013 @ 9:28:54 AM

While this is very true what you've wrote, for me WoW will have the best open world. And if you care about lore and story, it's nearly endless experience.
And no, I don't play WoW anymore:)

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duomaxwell007
Monday, August 05, 2013 @ 11:11:22 AM

so say that would be to say teh same about zelda and chrono triggers stories and everyone says chrono triggers story is great. As for FFXI story... see for yourself

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lldpYLly8Zc&list=PL31D7A890FF5BB00F&index=1

they dont have the whole story but at least 70% of it.. yet the first/opening cutscene with teh music and things that took place (not to mention things sen) was enough to keep me engaged and sure enough it was one hell of a ride... i could say the story of that particular expansion was just as good as an offline FF game, teh boss fights were epic too (and the music only helped)

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Vivi_Gamer
Monday, August 05, 2013 @ 12:26:39 PM

I have to admit, I still have not gotten into Zelda, I have at least 5 titles on the Wii now but it does suffer from what I call 'Silent Protagonist Syndrome' . I played a bit of OoT and While I love the world, I just feel absolutely nothing for Link, as for the story... it's pretty childlike... I don't know maybe my opinion will change on Zelda when I get to have more time on them but for now I am not impressed.

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WorldEndsWithMe
Monday, August 05, 2013 @ 11:51:02 AM
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Lots of Red Dead Redemption votes, Rockstar is really onto something with that franchise I see. Maybe GTAV can pull off the same thing.

I actually thought the Oblivion story was halfway decent if you stuck to it and didn't get too distracted, I never got anywhere in the Skyrim story because it was just too fun to explore and do crazy things.

Last edited by WorldEndsWithMe on 8/5/2013 11:52:23 AM

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PC_Max
Monday, August 05, 2013 @ 2:55:26 PM
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In as much as RDR was at least finally a great western game done with much thought I must agree inFamous series did a great job with an sort of open world with great narrative. RDR was looser.

Fallout 3 I think had a balance of both but occasionally I lost track of the story, even with my mission list, I ended up forgetting really what I was doing when exploring to see what was out there.

Batman Arkham City was I think definitely up there. I enjoyed exploring and followed the storyline, which in turn, forced to explore. Well, not so much force enticed you with excitement to explore.

I too am a bit worried where Mirrors Edge 2? is going. There are games where open world almost demands it and THEN there are games, like Mirrors Edge where it may not.

Based on the games some here have mentioned and some I have myself, I think the storyline, the plot greatly determine how the game should play out. RDR... I think asked for it, but I think it lacked drive for the story and focussed more on the exploration part. The story did not push you or entice you to follow the story at most times.

It could be a hit and miss. Hopefully more hits.

Keep playing!

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city96
Monday, August 05, 2013 @ 6:33:52 PM
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Sleeping Dogs blended the open world and story perfectly in my opinion.

The story is forefront and gripping. While there are endless things to do in Hong Kong.

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Bio
Monday, August 05, 2013 @ 6:45:51 PM
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There are plenty of games with open worlds and strong stories, including but not limited to Human Revolution, Borderlands 2, Mass Effect, Mass Effect 2, Mass Effect 3, Arkham Asylum, Arkham City, Skyrim, L.A. Noire, Tomb Raider, Red Dead, etc.

Really just depends on what the developer is focused on. There's no logical necessity requiring the sacrifice of story for non-linear narrative, it's just that 'sandbox' and 'open world' became the buzz words of the generation and a shortcut for many lazy developers, which is why some open world games suck and have no story and some are awesome and have amazing stories (L.A. Noire, Human Revolution in particular).

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WorldEndsWithMe
Monday, August 05, 2013 @ 7:03:58 PM

I completely disagree, the more open and free a game is the less you can have a strong focused story. That's just the nature of being able to make more decisions that unfocus attention plus taking on missions having nothing to do with the main plot line in the name of openness.

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DjEezzy
Monday, August 05, 2013 @ 8:24:16 PM
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Like everyone else is saying rdr is probably tops for me. I also liked darksiders. Had a pretty cool story especially the sequel.

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Twistedfloyd
Tuesday, August 06, 2013 @ 5:53:41 PM
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Red Dead has the best story for me in terms of an open world game. Things were constantly in motion, the story was always moving forward and the character of John Marston was always developed.

I'm playing GTA IV right now and simply just struggling to get through it. The story hardly ever seems to progress. When it does, it's nice and I like Niko, but lord you can go hours in that game within the story mission without that story going anywhere.

I feel like there's nothing for me to do in GTA IV except the missions where as in Red Dead there was always something to, whether it be hunting, the stranger missions, the random events, finding buried treasure, etc.

AC II did a nice job as well, as did Skyrim. Skyrim is a close second for me. Still need to play Dishonored. Infamous and I2 did a good job, particularly the first game. Arkham City's story was very good, but a bit inconsistent with how Batman would team up with the villains, and the balance wasn't as well done with something like Red Dead or Skyrim.

This gen for the games I've played that are open world and trying to balance that with story: Red Dead, Skyrim, inFamous, AC II

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letherclad
Thursday, August 08, 2013 @ 1:10:57 PM
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inFamous is what comes to mind for me, the story was really strong and was well balanced with the missions you were doing.

I am obviously in the minority but I wasn't thrilled with the RDR story, I thought it was really predictable.

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Lunar_Miyuki
Friday, August 09, 2013 @ 8:43:57 AM
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heres some games that did story + open world pretty good
Tales of Vesperia
Tales of Xillia ok ok ill stop with the Tales of series
Infinity undiscovery
Trinity souls zil ol zil

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dirtyspence
Saturday, August 17, 2013 @ 4:00:25 PM
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Red Dead Redemption immediately springs to mind. L.A.Noire wasn't too bad. The GTA series were okay , but, I've since given up on them due to the gratuitous foul language.

Yep Red dead R hands down.

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