Brimwood.7963 Posted September 13, 2021 Share Posted September 13, 2021 (edited) Background Let me begin by stating that the post below is not going to be an objective one. It will include personal biases of what I consider to be good and bad story-writing. On the plus side, I have been playing MMOs for two decades and actually wrote a thesis comparing narrative structures in MMOs at some point so I do have some background knowledge to work with. I have also played GW1 from the moment it came out up until GW2 was released. GW2 I played for a little over a year, before taking a multi-year break from it. I've checked back in on the game from time to time but only seriously returned to it recently, mostly because I was excited to see Cantha come back at last. That excitement was dimmed somewhat, however, when I found out that the existing Living World story would be continuing in Cantha. I had been hoping that due to Cantha's isolation, there would be a clean break with the past and the whole idea of 'Living World' would finally be shelved in favor of much needed new design and story content. Seeing as how that is obviously not going to be the case, I am now going to strongly argue for such a break to be made after End of Dragons. Why the Living World cannot continue as is So why do I think Arenanet should abandon Living World? Some of these points will take some explaining so get ready: 1. What Arenanet calls the 'Living World' has never, at any point in the game's history, been 'alive' at all. When this term was initially coined, I rather naively believed that Arenanet had found a way to solve a conundrum that has been present in MMOs pretty much since the genre exists. I thought, based on how the living world and dynamic events were presented before release, that they had figured out a way for the world and the story of the MMO to permanently adapt to the way players played the game. Suffice to say, that soon proved a major disappointment. Dynamic events didn't change the world at all but rather kept it rotating in a never-ending time loop, never advancing any part of the story one way or the other. Similarly, nothing a player did in their 'personal story' had any impact at all on the world at large. Having done a great deal of research on how difficult it actually is to make an MMO world change based on player actions, I can forgive the developers for the false marketing. What I don't understand however, is why, instead of trying to keep experimenting and expanding the system to at least create an illusion of player agency, they have actually given players FEWER choices as the story continued, ultimately replacing the 'personal story' with a completely set (and very generic) narrative. To illustrate, up until level 60 your character actually has some choices to make within their own story based on their background, how they approach certain missions, whether they want to join the Vigil, Priory, or Order of Whispers, and how to proceed with these missions from there on. It doesn't solve the problem of player-world interaction but at least it gives players the illusion of having some agency over their characters development Now, they could have expanded this system quite easily, creating a branching story with many different paths, dialogue options etc. Instead they went the opposite route and simply removed ALL player choice. The thing that is officially still called 'the Living World' has for years now, been as dead as it can possibly be. Which leads to the next point. 2. Turning the player character into a 'hero' central to the story is a BAD choice for an MMO narrative. For starters, it makes no logical sense. I am apparently a hero responsible for saving the world and yet around me, I see hundreds of other player characters who are all heroes too. Are we living in a collective delusion of sorts? Has Lyssa turned Tyria into her own personal madhouse? Honestly, that would probably lead to a more interesting tale than the one we are presented with now. Turning the player character into a central component of the game story leads to all manner of weird contradictions. Worse, it SHARPLY limits the design space developers have to work with in expanding the game's narrative. Would you like some moral complexity in quests? Nope, can't do it. You may have customized your character to look like a world-devouring demon but inside he/she has a heart more soft and virtuous than Kormir herself. They saved the world after all...they lead all five races...what kind of an example would we be setting doing anything other than behaving like an angel surrounded by puppies? Would you like to have your raids, dungeons, guilds or any multi-man activity tie in with the Living World to an extent? Haha, you jest. There is only ONE hero, ONE commander. How could we ever justify a story where suddenly you have a whole group of them? Would you like to be able to just GET RID OF an NPC you don't like? I mean, we can't kill them obviously, we're the Commander. But as a Commander, we can command things, right? Like, dismiss a certain Norn from our service? Send a certain overly talkative Asura back to present her inventions in Rata Sum instead? Maybe, you know...NOT bring yet another Elder Dragon into the world? Oh we have to do all these things? We have no choice in it whatsoever? That's right! Because while at first glance it would seem like a hero character would have a multitude of options for interacting with and saving the world, this is actually the worst storytelling model for creating player agency in existance. In reality, there would be almost too many options to choose from when going about a scenario like the one presented by the threat of the Elder Dragons. But there is no way you can program all that or fit each person's individual choices into the game. Developers have to limit player choice to some extent. That process is much more obvious and frustrating to the player when there would, in a realistic scenario, be more options than when we expect there would be less. A hero or any character that is expected to lead, has more possibilities open to him than a simple adventurer. That makes a story much more frustrating when all those options are then taken away due to practical considerations. The most memorable scripted MMO narratives (take GW1, the initial WoW or The Secret World as an example) are not actually about the player character but about the world and a small selection of well-rounded NPCs. Cue next point. 3. There are way too many different NPCs in the Living World and hardly any of them can be considered 'well-rounded'. It is cruel irony that one of GW2's best designed NPCs, a little known Charr named Tybalt Leftpaw, only appears in a third of all player characters' stories and even then only for four episodes. For those who haven't played the original Zhaitan story in a while, Tybalt Leftpaw is your faction mentor if you choose to join the Order of Whispers. He's quite a jovial fellow, he likes apples as well as pretending to sell them and he appears very knowledgeable about the world around him. A little later however, you discover that your first mission with the Order is actually his first field mission! He's been working office duty up until then and is, in truth, a bit insecure at first about what you think of him and how the mission will pan out. He is also quite obviously elated to be working with you in the first place, even though you are at this point, still effectively a nobody. He also loves roleplaying, especially as a pirate, but is completely devoted to the Order of Whispers who he sees as family, as also seen by the almost fatherly way in which he protects Demi Beetletun when she runs away to join the Order. If I give it some thought, I could write more about Tybalt. He is easily my favourite NPC in GW2. The Norn mentor of the Vigil was also interesting as is Almorra's character. What's sad is that I probably couldn't write half as much about any of the later Living World characters if I tried. Taimi is a genius. She invents stuff. Great. Kasmeer and Marjory are lesbians. Wonderful, I'm all for diversity. At least provided the character also has actual defining character attributes that makes them worthwhile to spend time with. Sexuality alone is just not the most relevant information when it comes to saving the world from five rampaging elder dragons, you know? And yet they keep harping on about it. Brahme is...did I even spell his name right? Eir's son. I honestly have no idea what his function is. He's entirely forgettable which is ludicrous considering he's in almost every episode. Logan and Queen Jennah are ok. Jennah has some sass about her at least and even though it's thin, Logan at least has some moral conflict when it comes to choosing between Queen and country. I wish Rytlock was even more of a kitten than he is already but unfortunately the NPC Charr have also been reigned in by the need for them to be 'good boys' in the story. If would be MUCH more interesting if their pragmatism and ruthless nature was presented in a more extreme manner so that there was some actual conflict between the pact races, and subsequent moral dilemma's for the player character to mull over. Any character not mentioned above is probably not mentioned for a reason. I literally forgot about them. Except for villains like Palawa Joko but then, he was written during GW1 when storytelling quality was on a different level entirely. Oh yes, there's Aurene. The living proof of how hell-bent Arenanet's present writers are on ploughing on with this endless tale. Yet it also shows how desperately short they are on inspiration to do so. It is time for it to end. The future Parts of this last bit may be written in jest. I'll leave it up to you to decide how much. It contains suggestions for what I believe Arenanet should do after End of Dragons. The first step, which I sincerely hope End of Dragons does, will be to conclude the current story. I do not care how they do it. I doubt there are many players who do. The next thing I would propose is a full, Matrix-like reset of the storyworld. For any story presented hereafter, the idea of 'The Commander' can no longer exist, nor can the Living World as an intrusive, overarching storyline. The world itself has to tell the story as it was in GW1. This means two things: 1: The identity of the player character has to shift radically. It cannot be a hero anymore but must go back to more humble persona. This is a hard requirement to free up design space for moral choices and will actually allow the player character to develop MORE. 2: The maps should be explorable at any time and present only self-contained narrative elements. By this I mean that I want to be able to explore the maps at any time I choose and not run into random story-related events that either have not yet taken place in my personal story, or that already happened ages ago and are now just on an endless repeat cycle. Example: While exploring Mount Maelstrom, my character runs into a 'Pact operation trying to reach Orr while fighting off Zhaitan's minions'. This event makes no sense at all if I encounter it before or after the exact moment in the personal story where this takes place. So don't add more of such events into the game. Instead, make the dynamic events tell their own small narratives within the world and reward exploration of them at any time. Do not tie them in with the main story. Ideally the dynamic events would also not repeat or cycle as obviously as they do now but that might be too much to ask for. The above storytelling techniques are relatively simple to execute. Most MMOs with a scripted narrative use them in some shape or form already. A more complex question is how to deal with all the narrative crap that has already been presented to us up until now. Because what we cannot get around, no matter how much we might want to, is that any new narrative will in SOME WAY, have to tie in with the Living World as it is now. Again when I mentioned a Matrix reload earlier, I was only half joking. Something like that is probably what it will take. Fifteen years have passed since the death of the last Elder Dragon. Our player character wakes up from a long slumber in the Realm of Torment and discovers that the goddess Lyssa has disappeared, creating chaotic anomalies all across Tyria. Events are repeating endlessly, entire zones are out of time with the rest of the world and living memories of the followers of the Elder Dragons continue to roam the earth long after the demise of their masters. The player character meanwhile discovers that they have been trapped in some sort of elaborate delusion and have in fact, played no part in the demise of the Elder Dragons whatsoever. Why or how they found their way into the Realm of Torment is also anyone's guess. Fortunately they are not alone. Many others, humans, Sylvari, Norn, Charr and Asura, find themselves in a similar predicament and together work to understand and hopefully escape this new realm at some point. They soon discover portals, waypoints that can lead them back to the time-trapped regions of Tyria but little progress is to be made here. Experiencing possibility as a glorious Commander of the past is fun for a while, but ultimately, a delusion is a delusion. The only way forward is together. As hundreds, if not thousands of mortals collectively struggle to explore the Realm they soon encounter something most curious and worrisome. Demons populate the Realm of Torment, as diverse in disposition and purpose as are our unfortunate adventurers. Some follow a great Lord who believes himself to be the reincarnation of Abaddon. Others seek only to escape and reach the time-blasted lands below, perhaps in collaboration with the unexpected new influx of mortals into their realm. A third faction seeks to seduce and convert the mortals to become demons, thus bolstering their own numbers whereas the fourth group is mindless and intends only to devour everything, including the new arrivals. Will the mortals be tempted to side with any of the factions? Will they favor one over the others, shifting the balance of power within the realm? Or will they simply explore the realm, find clues as to what happened to the world, the old gods and attempt to escape? If they even want to escape... there is much possibility here to attain power, perhaps form a faction, a guild of their own? I will freely admit the above paragraph is hardly the most sophisticated piece of writing. What it can hopefully do, however, is make clear how it is possible to reset the story we have so far. It is even possible to do so in a manner that causes all the weird disconnects between the personal story and the world maps now, to make narrative sense. Without having to redo and reprogram all of them. So please Arenanet, for the love of Tyria, make the End of Dragons also be the end of the Living World as we know it. This game is far from dead. The art has stood the tests of time, the maps are well designed and the player base is rising. Narratively, however, it is dead. It has been for a long time. End the story. And begin anew. Edited September 13, 2021 by Brimwood.7963 2 1 1 14 Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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