the secret world

Breaking the chains of factions

Earlier this week, Ghostcrawler (the well-known CM of WoW, acronyms ftw!) teased us with a very interesting tweet about adding an unannounced feature during Mists of Pandaria’s run. The entire community has been thinking and writing about this, and some of the ideas that have been proposed actually sound interesting. One thing that I haven’t read or heard yet, however, is a feature that had been discussed a while back, and that I would love to be inserted into the game: races not restricted to one faction.

You see, I can understand the idea behind implementing different factions in a multiplayer game. It’s cool to be part of a team, and having these teams compete against each other is something many players enjoy. But what I don’t get, from a rather logical point-of-view, is why membership of a faction should be limited to a handful of races, and why I shouldn’t be able to join forces with my enemy to take down a greater threat. It defies logic, and it also takes away some great storytelling opportunities. However, since Blizzard has given the Pandaren the possibility to join both factions, I wonder if the same thing shouldn’t be offered to all races, in a way identical to that of the fluffy bears: you finish your starting zone, and then you pick which faction you want to swear allegiance to. Wouldn’t that be awesome?

Instead of just having you choose your faction freely, it would also be great to group with members of the oppossite faction for PvE content. RIFT has added this possibility shortly before launching its first expansion Storm Legion, and in The Secret World, the only thing you can’t do alongside other factions is PvP (which I guess is kinda logical). Cross-faction communication and gameplay would add an additional layer of gameplay, and I can already hear thousand roleplayers cry out in joy when they could finally talk with Orcs or Worgen.

Bottom line, thinking “in a box” is nice and well, and also important for any kind of PvP, but if Blizzard would join other titles in opening those boxes a bit, I would be more than pleased. I would even be so damn pleased that I would give them another expansion to implement player and / or guild housing. Seriously, Blizz, what’s keeping you from that?!

Story matters

As I ventured forth into the continent of Pandaria, curious to see what this new land had to hold for my warrior, I noticed that Blizzard decided to change the way quest achievements were tracked. Instead of rewarding you with some e-peen points after finishing a certain number of quests in a zone, you work off a list of quest “storylines”, and are notified as soon as you finish one. Once you have rounded up every storyline in the zone, you get a nice achievement, showing everyone that you helped all those in need in a part of Pandaria. It’s a nice change from the old way, but next to giving you an easier way to tracking your quest process, it also shows how even the behemoth company of Blizzard has laid their focus on storytelling in their flagship title.

Of course, this way of tracking quest achievements is just a minor part of their new focus on the story of Pandaria. The use of many cutscenes and spoken dialogue helps to immerse the player into the setting, making him a part of the story. I’m a big fan of this focus on the plot that many contemporary MMORPG’s show. Considering the roots of role-playing games, story is a big part of the role-playing experience, but for years, it was taking the backseat in most online titles.

A cynic might claim that this is nothing but a simple reaction to the demands of the market. While struggling with many other issues, the storylines of Star Wars: The Old Republic are considered the best in any MMORPG, and Guild Wars 2 also puts the personal story of your character into the center of the game. My favourite The Secret World almost drowns the player in symbolic and enigmatic storytelling, and looking at the positive reactions all these games get for their attempts at being more than just a grindfest, it seems like the people simply demand a good story.

I mean, who can blame them? Years of simply hacking away at monsters with but a notion of lore and motivation have dulled us, and we want to know why our digital alter egos venture forth to be heroes. We want to the stories we know from offline games online, to share them with our friends. We want to form our own band of daring knights and sorcerers, and fight against evil out of a strong, personal motivation. In the end, we want to know why we had to kill those ten rats, and how that helped achieving our character’s goals. This focus on story and the narrative aspects gives us the means to do just that, and I hope that it will be a part of MMORPG’s that will receive lots of love in the future.