Grand Theft Auto 5’s overwhelming commercial and critical successes have already secured it a place in gaming’s hall of fame, but the real mark of greatness is being the muse of others. GTA 5 will undoubtedly go on to influence several other games in a multitude of ways – including the developers’ next title, Red Dead Redemption 2 – however it’s easy to forget that it’s already influenced several major titles.
After all, who wouldn’t want to replicate the game’s sales figures? At over three years old, GTA 5 has shipped over 75 million copies worldwide not counting digital sales. Barely any games in the history of the industry can touch that metric, and GTA 5 is the best-selling non-bundled game of all time.
Imitation, as they say, is the highest form of flattery, and GTA 5 has already been flattered plenty. We’re sure the game’s mark will be noticeable in the industry for years to come, even more so than the influence of the other games in the franchise. It’s even already begun with some titles picking up aspects of Rockstar’s style and mechanics.
Among the first of the games which were influenced by Rockstar’s blockbuster title was Fallout 4, the developers of which cited GTA 5 as inspiration for the measure of player freedom in their open-world post-apocalyptic RPG. Really, the two games don’t have much in common thematically, and in terms of mechanics, the sandbox is also one of the only similarities. However, the way they both subvert linearity is emblematic.
While Fallout 4 hasn’t fared as well among critics or players, being commonly accused of being shallow for an RPG, the world itself is a high point of the game. Provided you have the means to survive; you can explore it all at your own pace, discovering all kinds of hidden secrets and side quests scattered around the map. Much like how GTA 5 was filled with additional activities that you could do whenever, Fallout 4 invited you to stray from the beaten path and do things other than just the main questline.
Taking a step back and looking at the greater picture, the influence of the title reaches even further. GTA 5 is one of the best known and most iconic open world titles – a standard-bearer of the genre if you will. Incidentally, in recent years, there has been an unusual surge of open world titles appearing in the AAA sphere. Franchises that weren’t open world before became open world.
Dragon Age: Inquisition comes to mind. The franchise really had no reason to make the transition to being open world, and the game suffered for it. But the devs did it anyway, and while we’re not outright saying the reason was “because GTA 5 did it”, it’s hard to believe that it had zero effect on the decision – which likely came from the publisher, EA.
More recently, another franchise with an even longer history devoid of sandboxes took the open-world direction: Ghost Recon: Wildlands. Upon launch, many reviewers likened the game to GTA 5 for numerous reasons, including player freedom and the lack of a linear progression. Again, it was an odd choice. However, Ubisoft managed to pull it off. They do, after all, have quite a bit of experience with open world games.
Another mechanic that, in spite of not really getting rooted and common, turned up a few times was that of multiple protagonists. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt used this to a lesser extent, adding certain gameplay sequences where players took control of Ciri instead of Geralt. On the one hand, this made sense from a story perspective, as Ciri became a secondary protagonist in the book series, however, the similarities cannot be denied.
That said, a game which is more likely to have been inspired by GTA 5 is Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. Since Syndicate wasn’t adapted from a pre-existing story, it didn’t have to add multiple playable protagonists; however players could choose between siblings, Jacob and Evie Frye. This move had more in common with GTA 5’s mechanic than The Witcher 3 did, so it’s more likely that GTA 5 had a hand in the decision.
More recently, Mass Effect Andromeda mixed up two of the previously mentioned mechanics. Mass Effect was never an open-world title up until now. However, all of Andromeda’s locations are smaller, self-contained open worlds of their own. Additionally, at the beginning of the game players select which of the Ryder siblings they will play through with. While this can be changed on the fly, only with a new playthrough, the story is affected giving players incentive to go through the game at least twice.
GTA 5 is likely responsible, at least in part, for kicking off this rampant open-world trend in AAA gaming. On the one hand, these open world games offer a greater deal of player freedom without a whole lot of restrictions as to what to do when. Instead of sticking players on a rail and ferrying them from scripted set-piece to scripted set-piece, they’re let loose into a vast virtual world just begging to be explored.
On the other hand, when done wrong, open world titles come across as messy, unorganized and shallow. While having freedom to do whatever is good in theory, it’s only actually fun if there are activities of substance to engage in. Littering the open world with inconsequential collectibles and copy-paste fetch quests isn’t riveting game design by any stretch.
GTA 5 managed to pull off its open world fantastically, filling it to the brim with engaging content. The various side activities, strangers and freaks missions, hidden collectibles (with actual meaning and reason to hunt them) and the vast amounts of little details that make Los Santos and the state of San Andreas feel real and alive contribute to the experience in droves.
For all the influence Grand Theft Auto 5 has had on the industry, we wish more developers would be inspired by the care and attention to detail the team at Rockstar put into the world of their game. Descriptors which are mere buzzwords in any other case like “vibrant”, “alive”, “realistic” and “visceral” all ring true in the case of GTA 5, and it’s something we’d love to see more of in open world titles.
Somehow GTA 5 even made multiple protagonists work, though it would have been easy to mess things up and end up with a dysfunctional, unfocused narrative because of it. It’s likely a risk that few developers choose to take, which is probably why the trend hasn’t taken off and spread.
We’re sure these games aren’t the extent of influence GTA 5 has had in the years since its release, nor will they be the only games ever to be inspired by this masterpiece. It’s certain that Rockstar’s grandest achievement so far will leave a lasting mark on the industry and go on to inspire countless other titles in the future
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