GTAV's new triple threat feature ended up hurting the story more than it added to the game. It's cool at first, but the story took off after F meets M, and before you know it you've pulled a house apart and start planning a jewel heist, and sharing this story between three made it feel even more rushed. The section of the story were we met T was my favorite, and not just because of T. The pace slowed, the missions were big fun, the side content seemed more relevant... Switching characters within missions was cool, it added more of a feature than having to do it in freemode to get a mission. But many missions were built around it, rather than giving you more freedom. After finishing the story, you can't help but feel like "I want more." For three guys... more missions. For all this money... For such a map... (enter GTAO)
What if each protagonist had their own story? Rather than going back to just one, (this is all very RPG inspired) what if as many as five characters each had their own story? Long stories of at least 50 missions, with plenty of extras. Maybe only one character is available at first, and completion of their story unlocks the next character. Upon starting a second character's story, the game world wouldn't be washed back to it's original state, then same story, different character. Instead, what if the first story provided a foundation for the second story?
The first and maybe second character could be sort of... like...
OK, for the sake of conversation, let's just say the next game takes us to SF and LV. Your first protagonist would start off as a small time criminal, likely young. Picture something like a SF stick-up kid (Japanese, Yakuza, or maybe Korean) who earns money for the gang through crimes like burglary, armed robbery and (you guessed it) grand theft auto. By the later end of this story, a proven bad-ass with serious driving skill and the respect of Yakuza bosses (or whoever), he or she could graduate to the point of being trusted to be the driver in a handful of small heists. Such a character's story could be thought of as an introduction to a life of virtual crime. Shootouts with police or criminal rivals would be small scale and fast paced. Fast bikes, fast cars, SMG's and machine pistols... Speedy get-a-ways would be the focus.
A second character could provide a good escalation in violence with a more violent criminal. Maybe a LC mafia connected wise guy living in LV spending his days solving casino related problems through sh*t like leg-breaking, intimidation, mob hits and even political assassinations. Waves of bodyguards, SWAT, FIB, interior firefights with AK and sawed-off...
Or a biker... MC based out in the desert, a young club, come up against the Lost or some other established gang, fight to gain control of cross-state and Mexican smuggling and trafficking of drugs, guns and stolen goods.
By the time you've unlocked a fifth (or final) character, the game would be at it's most difficult. Like, a bank robber with armored trucks, banks and casinos needing robed, or a smuggler, SF to LV cross state trafficking, stealing sh*t from the military... you know, whatever, just depends on the character. A cop!... I've read more than a few people's requests for a cop as GTA protagonist. Say maybe it's a vice cop who's earliest missions would be difficult stuff like high speed chases from the other side, or flop-house clearing with lots of hidden gang members and junkies trying to kill you. The expected cliche would be "goes undercover, has too choose".
The internet itself seems to be clamoring for a female protagonist, hell, why not give it two. At least one, and something like the first character I described could be a good place to work a female criminal into GTA without upsetting any sexist nay-sayers who think women incapable of hand-to-hand combat, or firing an assault rifle. Would it upset those who want a female lead if she were held back or restricted by a racing bike, stealth and uzi heavy, introduction style story?...
So, obviously nobody would want a character to just go away after their story had ended. Not after hours of play, bringing them up from some unknown punk to a criminal of notoriety. What would happen to them, and how would the stories be enter-connected, or even enter-woven together? I liked the heist crew selection detail in GTAV, the sort of details GTA needs a lot more of. But what if, rather than an NPC stranger with some short lines and a unique face, one of the available drivers for hire happened to be the car thief turned get-a-way driver from story one. Through connections made within their own story, previous characters could be available to hire on as gunmen, assassins, drivers, demo experts, snipers, pilots... And sections of large scale mission for which you've hired help may give the option to switch over to that character to take over driving, or take full advantage of overwatch in a gun fight, fly the plane, whatever they've been hired to do, you can do.
A more obvious way to weave characters together is to just have them met in the story, and start doing sh*t together, sort of like GTAV, just without being mashed together, like GTAV. Sort of like, a much longer period of just F leading up to him meting M, then three or four heists with F n M until T is brought into the story, with more heist prep than just a few little missions. Then, a longer period of just T until they all come together. Something better than all the back and forth to get missions... like long sections of 15 to 20 missions where only one character is played and starts missions, and any other characters are just there on most missions for you to switch-n-use.
None of these locations or characters are actual suggestions of mine, just examples. Something like this could feature just about any character you can think of, and could work in any location. Two cities on a map a little bigger than V would be best, IMO, no mater how many playable characters.