I’ve written about this before as a critique of storytelling in gaming in general, but as I get closer to the end of the Personal Story, I feel the need to get specific. BEWARE OF SPOILERS. You have been warned.
My first criticism is in how it’s structured. It’s incredibly neat, tidy, and therefore not immersive. Here’s how it is, and it’s really obvious:
- Levels 1-10: Initial background story, usually chosen at character creation, one of 3 for each race.
- Levels 10-20: Racial story, so it’s the same for any of a particular race
- Levels 20-30: Introduction to different Orders. Each race has a different path, and you get to choose 3 times between 2 Orders, and then the final choice chooses which Order you join.
- Levels 30-40: “Initiation” period for your order. Each Order has its own story but it’s the same regardless of previous background
- Levels 40-50: Choose a lesser race to investigate: Skritt, Quaggan or Hylek. These choices are the same regardless of Order and I think the story is the same too.
- Levels 50-60: Starts with attack on Claw Island. Your first partner sacrifices themselves. You get a follow up mission specific to your Order, always the same. Remaining quests are the same with minor choices.
- Levels 60-70: Someone will ask you “what you fear most” and give you 3 choices. Those choices decide your story for these ten levels. It’s made very obvious considering the dialogue text.
- Levels 70-80: I’m not quite finished with this yet, but it seems to be pretty much the same for everyone except for minor choices.
So… It doesn’t feel like it has that much replayability, to me. You kind of know how things will go. You don’t have a lot of choice, and most of the dialogue is scripted. When you do have conversation choices, they’re just text, which stands out considering the large amount of voice dialogue.
This structure really detracts from the depth of the story, because you’re introduced to characters and then lose them in fairly short order. You’re told they’re important without really getting the time to learn and appreciate it. And they die or fade out from your story right when each chapter ends, which is really inappropriately neat. Your choices from each chapter don’t really play much of a role later on, so it really doesn’t end up mattering.
In addition, it seems like the Sylvari get the best deal out of the overall story. A Sylvari player will meet a number of late-game characters early on, and a lot of early story elements from the Sylvari play a role later on, regarding Trahearne and his sword, that mirror into Orr thing, and also Tegwen and Carys. There are other characters from other early stories, but they are much more like cameos than anything else compared to the Sylvari.
It’s sort of understandable lore-wise, considering that the Sylvari are the most inclined to fight the dragons and aren’t as involved in domestic problems, but it’s still kind of imbalanced in respect to the consistency and weight of the story.
It’s still an overall decent story, considering that most of the MMO genre is pretty rubbish at storytelling and storywriting. But this game is still released the same year as SWTOR, which had such a good story with so many real choices and consequences that you end up inclined to play it as a singleplayer game. So in that respect it’s hard not to have higher expectations.
The idea of the Elder Dragons is really cool. Their awakening fundamentally changes the world, geographically as well as just in general. The idea of tidal waves, risen continents, the Brand, all as results of these awakenings makes it epic.
But the whole way you go about fighting them seems, well, lackluster. They have lieutenants, and you fight the lieutenants, working your way up. The geographic effects of their power are all around you, but what you’re doing is just running around and killing stuff. It makes it seem like the solution is not how to counter a force of nature, but just to go kill stuff. It loses its depth in this regard. There is no real deeper meaning to the story. Just “unite everyone, kill stuff.”
I’m not to 80 yet, so I’ll give my final thoughts when I get to the end of it all, but I still think it’s kind of disappointing.