As I mentioned in my earlier article, I’ve recently dipped my feet into the MMO waters again by purchasing Guild Wars 2. Although I feel the game is a fine successor to World of Warcraft, it ultimately failed to hold my attention for longer than a month. It was initially difficult for me to deduce the reason for my disinterest, but I’ve concluded that what I’ve found off-putting about ArenaNet’s opus is their game’s reliance on personal stories.
Owing to my experience as a pen-and-paper gamer, I have a tendency to imbue any character I create with a lot of personality and backstory. Although I may be more invested in my character than some, I think the ability to project yourself onto your avatar is a fundamental pillar of immersion in MMOs. Without investment, whether it be a sentimental attachment or an accumulation of loot, a player does not feel tethered to the game after logging off. Their character is simply a cardboard standup that can be substituted for any other cardboard standup.
For this reason, I find the personal stories in Guild Wars 2 jarring. Whenever one of my characters opens his or her mouth in a cutscene, I feel like they are speaking with someone else’s voice. This is especially problematic with my Norn. The big lug’s infallible dedication to violence and drinking is discrepant with the personality I concocted for him. I envisioned him as a noble and crafty master of the forge, in the vein of Hephaestus from Greek mythology. Instead, I ended up with a big rowdy Klingon. As a result, I often felt as if I were sitting shotgun to an NPC rather than playing my own character.
I find this approach regressive. Rather than providing players with tools to create their own narrative, such as an alignment system, player housing, or environmental interaction, ArenaNet has enforced a narrative. Actions and choices a player makes are effectively overwritten by the preordained personal storyline. While it’s no doubt nice to have this caliber of questing content in an MMO, I’d almost rather have my character be a silent protagonist and let my imagination fill in the gaps.
Given the floundering fortunes of Star Wars: The Old Republic – a game built entirely on a foundation of personal stories – it’s apparent that I’m not alone in this opinion. The attempts by companies like Bioware and ArenaNet to ape single player gameplay in their online games genuinely baffle me. A strong personal story might engross a player for a few dozen hours, but, like any other single-player roleplaying game, players will move on once the story has ended.