Since I talked about putting too much of an emphasis on art in MMOs, I might as well mention "story" and the "single player experience." It seems to be a trend in a lot of the more recent MMOs. Heck, some MMOs would have been better without questing and "story" and more emphasis put towards the rest of the game.
Disclaimer: I will throw out there that a lot of the time I mention "story" in this column, I am talking about it being paired with questing, phasing, and instancing, as well. Story has a place in an MMORPG... hence the "RPG." However, there are things called to question that I've mentioned below.
I suppose I will just go ahead and mention SWTOR since it is the most obvious offender of the past year. Now by no means am I a fan-girl, nor do I dislike the game. I am just going to give an unbiased opinion on BioWare's approach with "story" and portraying it to the masses. That opinion is: they put way too much emphasis on it.
In my opinion, not only did they waste a lot of resources on the voice acting for the main quests, let alone the side quests, but let's not forget that everything has a cinematic, you have companion quests as well, you have the different avenues each decision can take you, and you have the Legacy system which basically encourages leveling up and going through more story.
A lot of their marketing campaigns have been geared towards story; for the single player experience. While this may be understandable because it is a BioWare game, it is not understandable from the standpoint of an MMO game trying to reach out to the typical MMO market. BioWare didn't really advertise the MMO aspects of the game, despite being a pretty huge MMORPG with what I consider to be decent endgame PvP and PvE. Sure, I'll admit the story was fun the first time through, but the second and third times? I ended up PvPing and space-barring more than I ended up paying attention to the story (especially for the dreadful side-quests).
SWTOR isn't the only culprit of too much story. There are many MMOs that add questing and "story" as filler. It's obvious as to why. They need a time-sink; it gives players something to do for hours on end besides just endgame. Often times it is boring and the only reward is hitting max level on a character. While, arguably, most games need this... it still begs the question: could these resources be better spent elsewhere? Perhaps adding more intricate crafting, more rewards for exploration, adding more PvE/PvP elements, or perhaps just making the game fun enough with attrition low enough that filler quests aren't really needed.
I believe there are a few games that actually did story a lot more smoothly in some regards. Now I am mainly talking about a specific area in WoW where the story was interesting and easy to understand and I don't recall ever reading quest text: the Wrath of the Lich King expansion. I am not even going to talk about the questing in that game simply because it sucks (in my opinion).
Mainly what I am talking about is the Death Knight starting area. The fact that you got drawn into what was going on. It had voiceover, yes, but you still had control over your character and moving about the world. [SPOILERS] The Lich King is telling you to kill innocent villagers, the villagers are shouting for help and mercy, and you kill them anyway. He tells you to kill your best friend, your friend begs you not to, and you do it anyway. You're running through Orgrimmar to pledge allegiance to Thrall, people are booing and throwing vegetables at you, and you realize that you're a hated person [/SPOILERS].
Arguably, the Death Knight was more of a "side thing" to do because you had to have a leveled up character in order to make one. The starting area was short and relatively easy to get through. I didn't have to read any text to understand what was going on and I didn't get locked out of my character over and over and over via cutscenes and lengthy cinematics. The only downside was the phasing of the zone.
During this expansion it went beyond just this storyline. It also went into heroics, the raids, and even the Undercity changed guards (due to Professor Putricide). Instead of a new cinematic every 30 seconds, there was one giant cinematic that even I looked forward to: Wrathgate. I remember a friend showed it to me and I immediately went back to leveling through questing simply because I wanted to experience this one cinematic firsthand. But overall, I don't know much of the story through reading the text on quests, I know most of it through the things I mentioned above.
Long story, short ... story/questing has its place, but I think it's time to make it more of a thing to do on the side, rather than a primary and main element to an MMO.
Hillary “Pokket” Nicole