Grand Theft Auto has presented some stunning fictional versions of American cities over the years, from the colorful Vice City to the sprawling Los Santos. Over the years the size of Rockstar’s worlds has only gotten bigger, but at this point, it seems like the series would seriously benefit from scaling things back. A smaller map would let Rockstar really focus on a dynamic environment, and tell smaller stories that evolve across GTA 6.
You can’t deny that GTA 5’s version of Los Angeles is gorgeous, but a lot of the map feels like empty space, simply serving to extend the time you need to travel. GTA 5 has a number of side activities, but it’s hard to recall anything outside of distinct landmarks. You absolutely need to use vehicles to get around Los Santos, and there’s a large amount of time simply spent traveling to a destination in each mission.
Having a more condensed map would allow Rockstar to make each location feel more vibrant, and create interesting characters that players can truly interact with. The Yakuza series is a prime example of this, as each game features a relatively small map that’s crammed with different activities and characters.
The world of each Yakuza game wasted practically no space, as each building is designed for a reason, whether it’s a restaurant to dine at, a minigame to play, or just as set dressing to add to the overall aesthetic. One of the best features of Yakuza games is substories that feature a wide variety of characters that help flesh out the city and its people. Judgment takes this even a step further with a “Friends” system that lets you meet people from around the city, all of whom can help you in a fight or various other ways, like giving you useful items.
Red Dead Redemption 2 also had fun character-focused segments with its Stranger Missions, which hold some of the most unique and charming moments in the entire game. The Strangers told self-contained stories that helped flesh out the world even more and even rounded out Arthur Morgan’s personality in some ways.
GTA 6 should absolutely take inspiration from Stranger Missions, but pack those into a more condensed world map. Rumors have suggested that GTA 6 will be returning to Vice City, and more character-focused side content could shine a light on the communities of the city, and how they’re affected by the player’s actions. Another way to go about this could be a central hub similar to the camp in Red Dead Redemption 2, allowing you to pick up missions that relate to your allies and expand the options at your base.
Rockstar even has a past example of a smaller open world with Bully, a fantastic game that really made full use of its location. The fictional town of Bullworth feels vibrant, and the way Jimmy interacts with other students can have real effects. The town also changed over time as the story progressed, and different seasons would affect gameplay in discreet ways, like handing on skateboards and bikes becoming more slippery in winter.
There are so many reasons for Rockstar to change things up and focus on a smaller open world. It could breathe new life into a series that helped define the open world, a genre that’s definitely starting to buckle under the fatigue of games getting bigger and emptier.