A lot of people don’t take games seriously as an artistic or storytelling medium. This is largely because of the weakness of the genre historically. Game designers aren’t writers, for one.
This changed with the evolution of roleplaying games, but also more generally. In terms of art it can be a little difficult to classify what about any game makes it artistic, but then all of art is rather like that.
If anything though, the lesson of the last 10 years or so has been that realism maybe an unrealistic thing to aspire towards. The human eye can detect fakeness even more acutely when it is trying too hard to be real. So designers have moved onto the idea that realistic visuals are less important than a consistent art style.
I grew up in the old days of gaming when graphics were limited by technology, and so that as a result we had to fill in a lot of the gap with our imagination. To that effect, designers would write long ass backstories and descriptions of the setting in their manuals and supplementary stuff. Old RPGs used to have limited graphics but verbose and elaborate text descriptions of the setting and activity.
As technology caught up, that’s been more difficult to fulfill, because people have short attention spans, and like to see and feel, rather than read and imagine. But it is rarely ever as good as the imagination might have conjured up. This is almost exactly the phenomenon of what happens when a book is made into a movie.
What very often happens as a result of this, is that a game will create a marvelous setting, with depth, character, culture and realism. But in that setting it will tell a merely mediocre story. Or just as often it can happen that a good story will be told badly because of the limitations of the writers and the structure of a game.
This is the case with Guild Wars and its sequel. Both have amazing settings that I find rich, complex and interesting. Their stories themselves are okay, but their storytelling isn’t that great. The first Guild Wars suffered from typical problems, like some bad voice acting.
But the second suffers from being too tied into game mechanics to feel like a real story.
It’s really easy to get excited early on, because your character creation process gives you all these options to customize your own backstory. And that’s cool. Except that the options you choose not only make your story rather blatantly obvious, but they’re also over with relatively quickly.
For example, if you create a human character you get to choose your social background: noble, commoner or street rat. This story is over in your first 10 levels. You also get to choose some kind of background history: wanted to join the circus, never found your sister’s body, don’t know who your parents were. This is over by level 20. Neither of these stories affect your later path, neither are they are important once that story is over. It makes no difference.
This is a great example of what could have been a good story, and that these story aspects could have been spread through your entire story, but instead were tied down by game mechanics.
Later on the game gives you the illusion of choice. You join a special organization, and someone asks you an apparently personal question regarding your fears. You have three options, and each of them blatantly tell you what the plot for the next 10 levels is going to be. So it’s not really interesting.
There are also character deaths during your story, but you generally don’t get to know them well enough to really feel the pinch when they die, and whatever you choose this character or their equivalent in other story choices all die at the same time, so… it really loses its impact.
One other problem is that they have cutscenes. These are generally alright when it’s just a conversation. But if you have large, dramatic events happening around you, suddenly being cut to a background with two character just standing and talking, it loses that sense of atmosphere and immersion. You don’t get any dialogue choices during these cutscenes, so you end up feeling like it’s not your character anymore, that it’s a very scripted affair.
I still hasten to point out that despite all this, GW2 has an amazing setting. The world, the different races, the cities, their cultures, all of that are a wonderful kaleidoscope of creativity. They are believable, interesting, and get you involved. But if anything the main story itself is just lacking.