Cutscenes, Story, and Questing, Oh My!
Questing has been something many MMO gamers have been familiar with since they picked up their first MMO. Though there are quite a few games that didn't have questing, like Ultima Online, even those games have slowly started to implement their own version of it. It's not that I don't like questing, or that I don't feel it has a place in games, but I do think that developers have been going down the wrong path when it comes to questing and feeding players story.
Having a great story is a selling point to a lot of gamers at the moment. Adding a good story to a game, including and MMO, can be a huge bonus, especially if your company has built its reputation on story. So when writing this article, it isn't about whether story belongs in MMOs or not, because that should be obvious, story does belong there. It's more so about how the execution of the story to the players.
There are many MMOs out there that have good stories; it's just their execution of portraying their story may have been bad. For the longest time, the best way for a lot of these games to give the story to the players is through quests. The quests basically had "wall of text" to read through so a player would understand why they are doing what they are asked of the NPC and, more often than not, a player would just click accept, without reading, and be on his way. There was nothing terribly wrong with this way of feeding the story to players, but over time games started to experiment with this method. I suppose the most obvious experiment was adding cutscenes.
In a lot of games cut scenes were cute or cool for awhile, but not really necessary... and they were too often. I guess the more obvious advancements to this were Aion, then SW:TOR, and even Guild Wars 2. I'm going to name these because I remember them well and played all three.
Aion's cut scenes were short and often just showed off an area of the game. I suppose the most memorable cutscene for me, (go to the red if you don't want mild SPOILERS) was the Tutty barbeque scene. It was about 10 seconds long and was a rather graphic part of the quest. It's funny because I wasn't really paying attention to my quests, but I knew I was looking for some guy's pig that was lost. (END SPOILERS) This cutscene was memorable, but there were a lot of cutscenes in Aion that just weren't. They were of random mobs you had to go kill. I thought it was a bit excessive and unnecessary and usually ended up skipping them.
SW:TOR was made by Bioware, so naturally a lot of people played the game to check out the story. I will admit there were a few different classes that had some really fantastic storylines and there were a few that didn't. When leveling up, the cutscenes in the game felt long, drawn out, and got boring after awhile. It didn't help that everything had a cutscene in the game, including side quests. Perhaps there were just too many, but after awhile I got tired of watching them and felt like it was just a time sink to make my leveling up experience last longer (which I didn't want, but they probably did). Spacebar became my friend after awhile.
Guild Wars 2 also has cut scenes and I feel like they did them better than the last two games mentioned. Why? Because they didn't add unnecessary cutscenes to random side-quests that have no significance to the story (AKA: the heart quests in their game). Most of their cutscenes are for their story quests, or if a giant world boss appears near you. The cutscene for the world boss is actually good because it lets you know there is something nearby that you need to kill.
However I don't see the point in my toons talking to the other NPCs in the fashion they have set up for us (see image below). I can hear them just fine when running around through the story areas; I don't really need a profile shot of two characters talking to one another. I think it is a waste, really, and usually end up skipping to the end. I typically still get the story by doing that, so it doesn't really feel like a loss. I feel it would have been more effective to have the story fed to me while I am in action.
With this being said, I want to move onto WoW. WoW did just that in their game (very briefly) and I am disappointed they seem to have back-peddled from it. What I am talking about is the Death Knight starter area that was released in Wrath of the Lich King. They fed you a story while you were in the middle of playing your character. Sure, you got wall-of-text quests, but I didn't read any of them and I still understood what was going on. Why? (SPOILERS) Because I had the Lich King yelling at me, telling me that I am a merciless soldier of death, while townspeople are begging me for mercy, and I end up killing my own best friend. Then I am running through the city of the faction I chose and people are throwing fruit at me. (END SPOILERS) I think it is safe to say I got what was going on.
I was actually floored with how well done this was and it made me want to play more. Naturally that sort of ended after you left the starter zone for the DK and was never really implemented in the game again. I was disappointed that not only did Blizzard not do this again for anything else, but no games really did. That sort of "we're feeding you story, but you're not getting interrupted while playing" feel was amazing and memorable.
I guess Blizzard did it with quite a few of their dungeons, and then they had the Wrath Gate cinematic, which was also stunning. I actually saw a friend go through the cinematic and it made me want to do the quest-line so I too could see it. It felt rewarding and awesome, not overused and burdensome.
I suppose that is where the difference lies. When I play a game, I want the cinematics to be rewarding, not get old and burdensome after a few hours of playing the game. Think FF8. There were quite a few cinematics, but they were spread out and you wanted to see them, you wanted to get to those parts of the game. You didn't sigh because you just watched your 23rd cinematic cutscene in the past hour and you'd barely gained half a level.
Just my two cents.
Hillary "Pokket" Nicole