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Can ‘open world’ games still tell good stories?

13 Mar 2012
FYI, this story is more than a year old

One of the brains behind the Witcher series has said in an interview that Skyrim and other open-world RPG’s are unlikely to become the future of gaming.

Level artist Mark Ziemak, responsible for the quite frankly spectacular Witcher games, said in an interview with the Official Xbox Magazine that games like Skyrim struggle to remind the player why they are playing.

"It offers the player total freedom with this huge world where you can explore and do whatever you want to. But on the other hand it’s very, very hard to create a story-driven game with such an open world, one that actually keeps you focussed on what’s happening in the main story line all the time.”

Although I have clocked up some serious hours on my High Elf, I must admit at times playing Skyrim does focus a bit more on random exploration than solidly story-based action.

Ziemak says that a game like Witcher 2 doesn’t rely on ‘fake choices’ like character classes, instead focussing on real consequences from choices throughout the plot.

"We aren’t giving the choice of who you play. You have to play as Geralt because he’s our main protagonist, and that’s how the story is created – it’s all focussed on the Witchers.”

So instead of changing a few things, Ziemak says that the choices in games like the Witcher 2 should ‘change the whole world’.

It’s hard to know what to think when reading opinions like this – although the Witcher series has been a great success, this guy is bagging on Skyrim, arguably the best game released in several years.

Of course, giving players too much control over the direction of the game can also cause problems, such as the uproar BioWare is experiencing over the ending to Mass Effect 3 (while we’re on the topic, if you didn’t see it you may like to read our list of the Top 5 Tough Gaming Decisions, posted on Friday in recognition of Mass Effect 3’s release).

What do you make of Ziemak’s comments? Do you prefer the open world feel, or a more closely controlled storyline? Are there any games out there that have both?

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