I've been trying to learn "Far Horizons" from the game Skyrim and that's led me to muse on a contrast.
In both Skyrim and Tomb Raider 2013 there are lethal encounters with the locals. In Tomb Raider, when the fight ends there's a brief quotation of the character theme; muted and tinged with the melancholy of all you've lost, as with every other piece of music in this particular Tomb Raider, but nonetheless a horn flourish celebrating a moment of triumph.
The only time you hear the "Dragonborn" character theme in Skyrim (outside of bardic performances in taverns) is when you are being attacked by a dragon. What plays at the conclusion to most encounters is something more wistful, even elegiac. It is a piece of music that invites one to contemplate the fragility of life and the shared humanity of you and those you've just slain against this harsh, bleak, starkly lovely landscape of steep rocks and chilly snow.
(It is in fact one of the generic wilderness travel snippets -- the piece I opened this discussion with -- but it is scripted to always show here and I can't believe the emotional impact of that choice was not considered).
Im Tomb Raider the bad guys are somewhat humanized before the fight; if you sneak well enough you can hear snippets of conversation. Unfortunately there is no conversation allowed during the fight; once guns are drawn there is no negotiation allowed. Following the fight, all that is left is to search the bodies for more ammunition.
In Skyrim, you also search the bodies. Such is the stock mechanics of AAA games. But in doing this you are also led through their campsites and rooms and shelters. Where you find bedrolls tucked into a niche of the rock out of the rain, personal possessions tucked away in drawers, a couple books beside a table, a meal on the fire, a chair set up for no other purpose but to relax and take in a vista of distant mountains. These material goods are so particular and homely they give a mute description of their owners, a more sharply drawn and more universal one than any dialog snippet.
You can not help but place yourself shivering in that bedroll, warming yourself over a rude meal on that campfire (as often enough, you do in the course of the game) and greeting the day sitting in that chair looking over the vast snowy land of Skyrim. It invites you (sometimes literally) to put yourself in the hide shoes of those you were forced to kill. (Of course, in this game there is also no great distance between you and them. Your background is similar, your adventures similar. You aren't some well-equipped American stand-in mowing down foreign hordes, not in this game).
Even the nature of the encounter is different. In Skyrim you largely chose to engage; you can leave the bandit camp alone, or even run away. In Tomb Raider you are largely scripted in. It is an extremely linear narrative and often the next door will not even open until you've performed the sacrifice the game demands. Once combat is joined, of course, most AAA games are alike. There is no parley, no quarter.
Except not even this is absolute; Skyrim has a third-party mod that can be installed that allows your enemy to surrender instead of fighting to the death. And, sure, this is not a creation of the original designers. But the original designers did permit the end users to change the story and make this possible. Tomb Raider will not even allow the player to look in a different direction than that which the script requires.
(The only AAA game I've played in which quarter is possible in the base game is Batman: Arkham City. In that game, psychological warfare is all-important. The Batman is, after all, shaped to be a figure of fear to the cowardly and superstitious. So if you do well enough in striking from the shadows and otherwise appearing as an unstoppable phantom, some of the bad guys will drop to their knees to cower in place instead of continuing the fight. It ain't much, but it beats having to flatten everyone).
Am I reading too much into this contrast? Perhaps. Skyrim is intelligently designed by a company that knows how to search out a specific and nuanced emotional tone. Tomb Raider 2013 is a lumpen creation-by-committee where every decent emotional arc sputters out in ludonarrative disconnect against the brainless mechanics and an insulting restriction of any player choice.
(I have to go a little bit further here. This isn't just a contrast between open world and linear narrative. The Half-Life series is also a linear narrative, and restricts exploration just as much. But Half-Life is designed by people who knew what they were doing; it leads the eye and hides the choices rather than forces them on the player. It shows that a linear narrative and even tightly scripted events can take place without making the player feel like a passive observer of the game being played).