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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A "Player" first storyline

I know I promised to do Part 2 of the Professionalism post, focusing on player-to-player interactions, but that post is requiring a lot more detail than expected but is coming! In the meantime, I was reading an article on Joystiq about the "5 Worst Raid Encounters in Cataclysm" and Chase brings up an issue that highlights many of the issues I have with Blizzard's story writing.

Instead, what we got was playing Han to Thrall's Luke... - Chase Hasbrouck
This is no small accusation, but when I stopped to think about it I realized how true it is of Blizzard's writing. The Player characters at best are "there" and at worst are unmentioned. The following is a spoiler-y list of how Blizzard games/expansions have treated the players. You have been warned!

Thar be Spoilers beyond this point! Arrr...

So lets go in reverse chronological order starting with...

Diablo 3 - The player does all the work, the player kills Diablo...the ending cutscene makes almost no mention of the player and focuses only on Tyrael.

Cataclysm - The Players do most of the work, but like Chase said they are just exposing the shot for Thrall and the Aspects....TWICE.

Starcraft 2 - I have not played it, but this story has no player "stand in" to ignore that I know of.

Wrath of the Lich King - Tyrion Fordring gets the last shot at Arthas, he basically gets the credit and has a statue made of him.

The Burning Crusade - Maiev gets the killing blow against Illidan, and the ending sequence in Sunwell is mainly about the NPC's. The heroes get a "Thanks btw!" from Valen.

WoW - Arguably the "last boss" was Kel'Thuzad which the players do actually kill! But the game makes hardly any recognition. However I should note that well after the fact it was decided that the canon result to the Missing Diplomat is that Varian kills Onyxia...he's his own self-rescuing princess (and I have no problem with these to some degree...but it basically invalidates the quest the players completed).

Hopefully this illuminates my issue but I'll put it into other words; you, the player, do not matter, you are watching a story about Blizzard's characters and just happen to be "around". I suppose this is not always the worst way to do something, but I think its outmoded and outdated. I think the reason it most offends is because the player is RIGHT THERE. I am not bothered by games like Uncharted or Gears of War or any of the thousands of other games where the player is stuck in the role of the hero and told a story. But in a Blizzard game, the player is not really the hero...we're at best a sidekick, and more often we're barely an honorable mention. In Diablo 3 Blizzard even when out of the way to give our character something of a backstory and motivation...but that doesn't matter, that's tossed aside at the end of the game.

Other games have tackled the "Faceless" player in other ways, but rarely by making them a bit part in the story. Even the Call of Duty series manages to give the player the important role and typically the credit. I certainly don't expect Blizzard to turn into Bioware and write Diablo for Shepard, but at the same time it feels like a hollow story when we're not only the facilitator but we're an audience member. I feel a bit like we're dealing with the fictional Baron Munchhausen; the NPC's are more or less helpless (have you seen how long it takes Tyrael to kill a Fallen?) and we're actually the only reason they survive....and yet they act like they did all the work all along.

I finished D3 as a Monk and my first "in character" thought was " mean I killed Diablo, Belial and Azmoda... and TYRAEL...the guy who almost gave up, gets to be the angel of Wisdom? Where's my wings? Crown? MEDAL?" Which is sad because in D2 I loved Tyrael, I thought he was interesting as a character...and I did through most of D3 until about Act 4.

From an RP perspective in a game like WoW I understand that the player can't always be the one that took the Dragon's head or killed Arthas...but it would be nice if for once we could actually deal the killing blow and the credit would go to "A brave group of heroes" instead of everyone acting like some NPC did the work.

To come to a conclusion, my issue with Blizzard's writing is that they present it as a story in which the story is a major player, but then pull the rug out from under you and suddenly you mean nothing. It would be like Mass Effect ending with Joker showing up and single-handedly killing all the Reapers with Shepard being a footnote. If you are going to give me a major role, have the story ACT like I had a major role.

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