Different approaches to story
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 9 October 2012, 3:23 am
Having played this year Star Wars: The Old Republic, Guild Wars 2, and Mists of Pandaria, I couldn't help but notice how different the approach to story is in these games. SWTOR is the most story-obsessed, you are basically always following your story or some NPC story, and everything is animated with cut scenes and voice-overs. Mists of Pandaria has every player play through the same story at the start, and then you basically get to choose what NPC stories to follow by choosing where to quest; compared to previous editions of WoW, MoP has more cut scenes or parts where you play the story through the eyes of an NPC. Guild Wars 2 is comparatively light on story: You can actually finish quests without even having clicked on the quest giver or having read the quest text. And the personal story line is more of a slide show.

That leads us to the question how much scripted story a MMORPG should have. Some people say they are only interested in the kind of story that comes from emergent gameplay, from the more-or-less roleplayed interaction between players. The disadvantage of such emergent gameplay is that it requires a lot of time and effort to happen. Kill Ten Rats recently called EVE Online the most expensive MMORPG, because the time required to actually get into the political gameplay of that game is enormous. And then the emergent stories in EVE tend to be not very nice, being more often about betrayal than about heroism. If you just play MMORPGs one or two hours in the evening, your emerging "story" is bound to be rather weak: Did some quests, crafted a bit, tried a dungeon but failed due to some idiot in the pickup group, maybe some guild drama, stuff like that. That isn't actually the fault of the game: If you play EVE Online just an hour here and there, mostly solo, your personal story isn't better than if you play World of Warcraft. Personally I think that interactive storytelling between players and real roleplaying are done better in a pen & paper game than in a MMORPG.

That leaves computer games to mostly tell scripted stories in which the player has more or less interaction. In MMORPGs it tends to be less. There are a little more choices in SWTOR than in other MMORPGs, but even then you only get to choose between scripted path A and scripted path B. Sometimes that doesn't matter, if the story is good and entertaining. I did like to follow Chen Stormstout in his story towards reuniting with his family and their brewery, and if I had done it in the correct order and played the dungeon *after* the quests it would probably have been even better. Unfortunately not all stories in MMORPGs are good. There are a lot of quests which are only a thin excuse to kill ten foozles, and a lot stories that feel like mass-produced low cost garbage.

What do you think about stories in MMORPGs? What kind of stories, and what kind of interactivity with the story are you looking for?
Tobold's Blog

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