Open-world games have come a long way since the days of niche PC titles like Elder Scrolls: Arena and Wasteland. Advancements in technology have made for more gameplay variety and bigger, more immersive worlds for players to explore.
One aspect where certain open-world games suffer is the story. The open nature of the genre makes for pacing issues where players can often feel lost in the narrative while going through missions. The following games all suffer from this problem to some degree, even though the overarching lore and world building is fantastic. Some of the stories are even decent, but the presentation prevents them from shining.
10 Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
The Elder Scrolls series is one of the most influential open-world franchises around. The main campaign is only about twenty percent of why anyone plays them. The side quests, interactions with NPCs, environments, and the element of discovery are all way more intriguing than the main plot of Skyrim. Even those who have been with the series since the beginning are more intent on seeing how Tamriel has changed throughout the generations rather than the main conflict.
9 Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla
It is easy to forget that Assassin’s Creed has an overarching narrative between the games. This main conflict was more at the forefront during the series’ early years, but has fallen to the wayside in more recent entries. Each game is more separate now, with some lip service paid to the modern-day storyline during the closing chapters. It makes the investment in the whole series less valuable, even though the idea of the animus is great. To be fair, the last act of Valhalla gets so wild, it is worth the massive viking campaign.
8 Ghost Of Tsushima
What more interesting lore is there than actual history? Ghost of Tsushima takes place during a real historical period in Japan, detailing a samurai’s fight against an invading Mongolian army.
Jin Sakai’s journey is a novel idea, but its execution and relation to gameplay leaves a lot to be desired. The story is serviceable, but it is not nearly as rewarding as letting the wind guide the protagonist towards side quests and secrets.
7 Watch Dogs: Legion
Every Watch Dogs game is different in some major way. The first game is a typical open-world action game with some hacking mechanics, while the sequel adds a comedic bent and encourage non-lethal combat. Watch Dogs: Legion switches things up even further by removing any central protagonist, letting players control almost any NPC on the map. Unfortunately, this negatively affects the story, with many cutscenes feeling disjointed, ultimately failing to draw the player into the plot.
6 Mad Max
Much like the films, the main plot of Mad Max is not nearly as interesting as the world in which it is set. The world design, enemies, and vehicles all tell a more interesting story than the actions and dialogue during the cinematics. Avalanche is known for games like Just Cause. The opportunity to take on an existing property worked to the studio’s advantage. The vehicular combat especially shines, which is what one expects from Mad Max.
5 Dragon Age: Inquisition
The third Dragon Age actually has a great story, but it is almost entirely inaccessible to anybody who has not played the previous games. It is a big ask to expect players to go through two giant RPGs and all the DLCs in order to appreciate the third game. For newcomers, there is no central hook to latch onto, something key to even the most complicated video game plots. Time will tell if the next Dragon Age will be similarly hard to crack for casual RPG players.
4 Immortals: Fenyx Rising
Immortals: Fenyx Rising changes things up from the traditional Ubisoft open-world game. exploration is more heavily encouraged and maneuvering through the world is more enjoyable. The game takes a familiar mythology, the gods of Ancient Greece, and puts a comedic, cartoonish bent on the world. Unfortunately, the attempts at comedy grow tiring throughout the campaign, even if the overall vibe is jolly throughout the open world.
3 Fallout 76
With four mainline entries and numerous spin-offs, there is so much to read up on within the Fallout universe. The games usually have compelling main quests, particularly Fallout 3 and New Vegas, but Fallout 76 falls flat in this area.
Before any expansions came out adding NPCs, the plot was told solely through audio logs, a terribly inefficient method for a title designed around cooperative play. Most go from place to place, doing main quests without even realizing what is going on.
2 Breath Of The Wild
Often considered one of the greatest games of the last ten years, Breath of the Wild revolutionized the Legend of Zelda franchise and the open-world genre. However, many complaints were lobbed at the plot and lack of cutscenes. The look and feel of a ruined and shattered Hyrule are way more impressive than the actual story. There are some interesting points about Princess Zelda and the relationship between Link and the rest of the Guardians, but none of these are ever properly explored.
1 Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
The Phantom Pain is probably the last Metal Gear Solid game Hideo Kojima will ever be involved with. What is there of the plot is fantastic and answers a lot of questions about the overarching lore, but it is painfully unfinished, and this simply cannot be ignored. The ending is extremely rushed and an important mission was cut from the final product, leaving several plot holes. It is especially tragic, considering how great the gameplay is and how rich the Metal Gear lore has become over the past thirty years.