Ever since the franchise evolved into the giant AAA juggernaut today, post-GTA III, the series has stayed close to its roots. For better or worse.
Quite possibly, the GTA franchise represents the pinnacle of AAA games financially and critically. The majority of games in the franchise have a stellar reputation within the community. But has that reputation resulted in complacency from Rockstar Games?
No. On the contrary, Rockstar Games has been trying to innovate and increase attention-to-detail to the GTA franchise's open-world genre. The franchise took its first steps towards an online-oriented experience with GTA Online. Post-2015, the success of the game snowballed into one of the biggest multiplayer games today.
However, the core formula of the GTA franchise's single-player mode has remained much the same on the flip side. It is particularly true for player agency and the protagonists in the game.
Should GTA 6 have a customizable protagonist like GTA Online?
The GTA franchise has maintained its identity as an action-adventure open-world game despite borrowing RPG elements over the years in many games of the series. For example, maintaining CJ's physique with food and gymming and adding proper attributes and stats for protagonists in San Andreas and GTA 5.
Apart from those elements, the game has restricted player agency to the odd decisions protagonist(s) make in the game and other cosmetic options. Largely, players are made aware that they are playing and looking into the life of another fully-realized character rather than being present in the game world first-hand.
The latter is the sort of approach RPGs like Skyrim or the more recent Cyberpunk 2077 tend to take. In those games, the players begin with a blank slate and create a character that is essentially the player's proxy in the game world.
Doing so allows the player to immerse themselves in the game to the point where the line between the protagonist and the player begins to blur.
The character creator in GTA Online
The GTA franchise also accomplished a similar feat through Online with players building their character from scratch and projecting their personality onto them or creating a new personality.
This begs the question whether Rockstar will choose to lean on the RPG elements for inspiration and give players the ability to create their own character or hand them a compelling protagonist to control.
Over the years, the franchise has seen its share of likable and compelling protagonists that are endlessly fun to play. They come with proper backstories, personalities, quirks, and even unique ways to interact with the game world.
Yet, there is always a chance that the player might experience a disconnect with the actions or choices a protagonist makes in the game, which breaks immersion and brings to light how little agency the player has in the story.
The double-edged sword of customizable protagonists
While it helps enhance immersion and increase player agency, often this comes at the cost of less interesting characters. There is always the risk of making the protagonist feel bland if the writing isn't there to support it.
However, Rockstar has proved in the last two decades that they know how to write colorful characters. The GTA franchise is chock-full of clever writing. There is a good chance that the studio can pull a customizable protagonist and back it up with solid writing and fleshed-out backstories.
Games such as Cyberpunk 2077 or Mass Effect allow players to flesh out their characters with a backstory or even a Lifepath. These games leave it to the player to craft their character.
Ultimately, the GTA franchise must evolve and set the bar high for the rest of the industry regarding customizable protagonists as it is the purest form of experiencing a videogame.Published 13 Jan 2021, 18:14 IST