I'll admit right off bat, I popped my proverbial GTA cherry with the newest installment. I was expecting a revelation in game design and how open world games are handled. While I'm quite enjoying the game, the characters and the story, the mission structure is just eating at me.
I'll use Far Cry 3 as an example. You would be giving an assassination mission and a general area. It was up to you to scout the target, take out his team and move in for the kill. It was incredibly satisfying taking out camps without triggering an alarm, because it was just you, a target and your imagination. Perhaps you set a mine and a bomb near each other to group some enemies and take them out in a huge explosion. Perhaps you picked them off from the next mountain over, maybe you let Mr.Whiskers out to play. The point is, because you could plan your attack on your own and improvise when you screwed up, it was all the more satisfying.
Now don't get me wrong. The sandbox of Los Santos is vast and impressive, and sometimes just fun to screw around in. As soon as you go take care of a mission though, your a dog on a leash. You drive where they tell you to, wait for who they tell you to wait for, can't kill who isn't marked and god forbid you try to improvise and the game says "the route was abandoned". There isn't nearly the kind of freedom afforded to you by other games in the design, and the game clearly suffers for it.
Has GTA done better before? Right now, it's not even top three in my open world games.