It occurs to me that there are two primary styles of modern role-playing video games, or RPGs: the open world and the linear narrative.
In the open world, the player is encouraged to build their own story. They encounter a variety of quests, challenges, and obstacles. There may be a main quest line, but it's not necessary to enjoy the game, and indeed many players spend hundreds or even thousands of hours in these worlds and never complete the main quest. Even if they do, the game isn't technically over, and they can continue to play within the world, follow other stories and achieve other goals. The Elder Scrolls, Fable, World of Warcraft, and Destiny fall within this open world category.
In contrast are the more cinematic games, which tell a primary narrative through frequent cut scenes. The world tends to be smaller and easier to fully explore, with very little real estate wasted on quests that don't support the main storyline. More effort is put into building a rich linear narrative, going deep into backstory and character development rather than encompassing a broad range of characters. The player might make choices that affect elements within the world, but the plot tends to have the same key events, and the same goal. The difference is how they achieve the goal. Sometimes these choices lead to a critical moral choice at the end that results in only two or three possible outcomes. Dragon Age, Mass Effect, Knights of the Old Republic, and Diablo tend to fall in this category.
Each of these types of RPG use the elements of story in a different way, and craft the experience based on what the player desires.
Personally, I prefer the cinematic style of play. While I certainly enjoy exploring beautiful worlds, endless options tend to bore and intimidate me. I'm more interested in being thrust into the center of a dramatic story that is affected by my actions, even if my choices are limited to three selections per conversation branch. I enjoy the feeling of being a part of a sci-fi or fantasy film, which is why Mass Effect is one of my favorite franchises.
Others prefer the open world style of play, where there are items to collect, endless places to explore, and something new around every bend in the road.
Which do you prefer? What do you think these games do well when it comes to storytelling?