I recently picked up Mass Effect 1 + 2 from Steam during their Summer Sale, and a few months prior I picked up Darksiders for the PS3. Intermixed with them has been some StarCraft 2 gaming, and even a little World of World via soem free game time. Playing these games – Mass Effect and Darksiders in particular – got me thinking about how story and your control over it really affect your overall satisfaction with a game.

Mass Effect has an involved story that can feel too drawn out at times, and rushed at others, but nevertheless there is a large chunk of story to the game. Action goes in spurts, often with long gaps in-between encounters, and there’s an almost dizzying number of side quests (assignments).

Darksiders is on the opposite side of that coin. The premise of the game, as well as the overarching story are engaging and well-written, and really pull you in, but once you’re there, it lacks any kind of depth. There’s not much in the way of side quests or bonus objectives, and, while it’s ripe with fighting, the encounters are largely filled with button mashing and mindless, repetitive slaughter of the same stock rotation of Hell’s minions.

So where do you strike that balance? There’s a large, gray area between complete, open-ended freedom that can become frustrating without any real direction, and a completely linear, albeit interesting, story that gives you a cut-and-dry set of actions to take at any given time. Somewhere in that gray area is a fine line, shrouded by the haze of the battling sides, but, should it be found, and walked with a perpetually calculating motion, a glorious game can emerge the victor, ripe with story and options, providing the user with variety and color, but giving them just enough direction so they can explore on their own without either being completely lost, or pigeon-holed down a straight tunnel lined with windows you can see out of, but never a door so you can experience what’s beyond for yourself.