A while back I wrote a column about Guild Wars 2 and its approach towards fostering role-play through the options players are presented with when questing about the game world. This week, I’d like to revisit the most important facet of how this could be accomplished by talking a bit about ArenaNet’s approach to “personal story” in Guild Wars 2. More succinctly, I want to talk about how the developers are promising to bring story back to the forefront of MMO gaming and how each player’s experience will be different from the next. It’s a tall order, and ArenaNet isn’t the only company on the block trying to make story an important aspect of MMOs, but if they can actually pull off some of what they’re promising there will be quite a few happy gamers.
Firstly, ArenaNet seems to be taking a cue from RPGs of old in giving players a biography questionnaire that helps decide some very basic ways in which the world’s NPCs react to you. Gone are the days where no matter what kind of character you play, the game just refers to you with either your class selection or your chosen name. Instead, with using the questionnaire offered at the end of character create, you’ll pick what college you attended if you’re an asura, or what your social background is as a human. Even your relationships with the game’s other races will be influenced by the choices you make during the questionnaire. As will your character’s temperament (if you want people to look at you as a grumpy old sod, then so be it). I just hope that it’s abundantly clear what the results of your questionnaire answers are, as opposed to say Fallout: New Vegas where you don’t know what the results are until the end of the process and are left to tweak the attributes anyway in order to meet what kind of character you really want to play.
Housing Done Differently
One feature of MMORPGs that is often overlooked by even the biggest game makers is the idea of player housing. While some folks might never really care to flesh out their homes with all the best trinkets and wares, there’s little denying that if a player’s house is tied into their personal story experience it may mean a little more to them. ANet’s GW2 page states that the home instance is personalized to your character’s biography right from the start, and placed within your racial capital city. Then as your character goes through the game and actions are taken during the story portions of the title, it grows and changes to reflect your personal accomplishments. Housing in GW2 seems less about crafting and collecting baubles (as in EQ2) and more about being a place for memories of your hero’s life spent adventuring. It’s like a 3D scrapbook for your character, and something I can’t wait to see in person.
The Story Itself
Then of course, there’s the way the story’s actually delivered. Based on the choices you make at creation and throughout the game’s many zones and adventures, ANet is promising thousands of story possibilities. You want replayability? Well, I’m thinking even the most stalwart GW players will be playing for a long time before they see all of the different combinations. Lest we forget, there’s also the fact that you can join each other on one another’s story related quests. Of course, the developers are promising that one can solo the story portion of the game, as it’s intended to be a more personal experience, but that should stop you from bringing friends along if you so choose… and like just about everything else in GW2, it scales to the size of your party. Genius.
And as if an engrossing story that spans the game’s entire leveling process isn’t enough reward, ANet is also promising that there will be plenty of tangible rewards as well. The weapons and armor will be coming from the game’s other content, but things like lore titles, RP-styled clothing, NPCs and things for your home instance, are all part of the rewards you’ll receive from completing segments of the personal story. And taking a page once again from a lot of today’s and yesteryear’s best RPGs, Guild Wars 2 will record all of your accomplishments in a storybook form. In the way that the home instance is a visual scrapbook for your character the history pages for your character are like an old school history text book.
A lot of talk can be made about GW2’s free-to-play model, the dynamic events, the dungeon running, the shake-up of the healer role, and all that. But really, the more I think about it? The parts of Guild Wars 2 I’m most looking forward to are the story-driven parts. It’s been a long time since an MMO reminded me that the lore was something to get really involved in, and Tyria seems to have plenty going on to get wrapped up with. I think it’s time I dusted off my old copy of Guild Wars after all.