BioWare has long been considered the leader in creating personality for the player-character in its single-player games. Through dialog choices and actions, games like Mass Effect and Dragon Age let you interact with the world and shape how the NPC inhabitants will see you. None of this ever really has a huge effect on the game’s outcome, but it allows a certain level of player-driven character building that’s welcome and indeed an integral part of an RPG. It’s not surprising then that BioWare hopes to bring this to its forthcoming MMORPG. What is more surprising however is that ArenaNet seems to be taking a stab at it themselves in the forthcoming sequel to Guild Wars.
MMORPGs are often all too light on any actual role-playing. Unless the players themselves drive the tone by the means in which they interact with each other, there’s very little actual role-playing going on. For reasons we could debate for hours the primary focus of MMOs these days seems to be all about progression and achievement. The fact that we’re actively playing characters in a broader world is easily forgotten in the current crop of quest-hub-till-you-ding games. Guild Wars 2 seeks to bring us back (even if just part of the way) to the glorious days of Ultima Online by giving our characters a voice and actions that can actually affect how the world sees us.
Even in the original Guild Wars where there was a lot of story being told through the PvE campaign, the story was mostly happening around you as you went from battle to battle. You drove the story through your fighting, but you never really had a chance to give a voice to your character. It’s sort of like Link from the Zelda series: you’re a hero, you do good things, but you’re mute and don’t do really ever share your own emotions outside of battle cries and a death animation.
Right from character creation in Guild Wars 2, that won’t be the case. As you have done in games like Mass Effect or Dragon Age, you’ll pick a sort of history for your character and then your choices and actions during the game will further define and shape who you are and how you’re seen by Tyria's inhabitants. Just how diverse the actions you will be capable of performing are is yet to be seen, but some examples can be gleaned from the developers’ blog. Simple things such as conning local lumberjacks into giving you a free weapon will set you on a path towards rogue-hood, but you can go the more abrupt and direct route by just ending conversations prematurely with a fist to the NPC’s face.
The emphasis seems to be on letting the player decide how they’re going to act, and adjusting the world’s reaction to you based on your previous actions. But rather than just making it black and white, ArenaNet seems intent on running the gamut from Dudley Do-Right type heroics to weasel-inspired but not particularly evil lies and mistruths for your own gain. If you choose, you may find yourself able to linger in the gray. Sure you saved those children from that burning building, but you beat the children’s parents until they gave you a reward afterward.
And all of your actions, whether you’re a scoundrel or a pillar of light, will lead your toward different titles the people will come to know you by. What’s more important than that though, is the fact that players need not fear missing out on content because of how they’ve acted. At any time, like any good movie or book tells us, the character can reform or change their ways… at which point you can go back to previously visited areas and find out how you’re received now. In all it seems like ArenaNet is anxious to challenge the notion that the player-character needs to be a static polygon model without emotions or choice. If they can pull it off, it’ll be awfully hard not to end every annoying conversation with a punch to the face or a knife to the eye. But maybe that’s just me.