Meaningful Story in MMOs: Impressions on Story in GW2 and FFXIV

I rarely post about Guild Wars 2 because, well, I have a Tumblr for that. However, my impressions of the last Living Story installment are probably going to be unpopular. I still feel the need to express them, and to discuss the importance of story in MMOs. However, I don’t want to light a fire on my GW2 Tumblr, where I’ve tried to express positivity and community encouragement for the most part, so I’ll just drop my thoughts here instead.

Maybe I’m getting old and persnickety about quality of writing in  games. And being a writer myself, I don’t want to be too hard on people that put their time and creativity into the process.

That being said, I plan on being fairly blunt. Spoilers and grouchiness ahead. You’ve been warned.

Impressions on the GW2 Living Story Final Installments

Scarlet Briar from GW2

I can see that the developers are putting heart and soul into the latest installments of the GW2 Living Story. I don’t doubt that at all. I feel like the overall mechanics of encounters and scenarios have improved greatly since the beginning of this year.

I enjoyed the invasion of Lion’s Arch quite a bit, even though I doubted it at first. But there was no real story to it. Giant drill. Evil laughter. Fire and explosions. Alright, it’s an invasion. I can deal with that.

What unfolded this update, however, touted to be the crowning achievement of the Living Story that would “rock Tyria”…  was fairly predictable and rather ho-hum for me.

Elder dragon awakening? Yep. Most of us saw that coming a mile away. No surprise there. Maybe a year ago that would have fired me up, but seeing that it was the expected outcome (and this was before folks were talking about the datamined content), it was nothing shocking.

Scarlet dies? Yeah, that’s fine. She needed to die, mostly because she was a poorly crafted villain. I do want to give props to her voice actor this time around because I thought her lines were well delivered. I really didn’t feel a sense of accomplishment for killing Scarlet (thank you to the meddling NPCs who at least allowed me the killing blow). Just felt rather more a “good riddance,” if anything.

She wanted to talk. She wanted to explain her plan, like most villains do when they’re stuck in a tight spot. This one time, however, it would have been welcome and possibly interesting. I wish there had been more time to see some sort of internal struggle with Scarlet, as we know she was under the corruption and control of the Elder Dragon. That might have made me actually feel something when I killed her. Missed opportunity. 

Instead? Nope. Your NPC friends intercept, tell her to shut up, and start attacking. Well, thanks guys for giving me an option.

Speaking of GW2 NPCs…

The NPCs are a big part of the turn-off to me during this scenario. I really can’t stand the Jory/Kas mushy fan service that the writers keep driveling all over every episode. I get it guys. Throw this so-called “relationship” in our face some more.

Do these writers think that people who are in love actually talk like this in public and in times of battle? Really?

The whole thing was a big fawning, mush-fest where Kas whines and cries and hiccups to the point of annoyance. I guess they were going for a story of riches to rags to hero with her, but it didn’t work for me. It doesn’t help that during the last update, if you were unlucky enough to hang out Lornar’s Pass refugee camp, all you heard was Jory/Kas fawning over each other non-stop. Don’t know if it was a bug, but they seriously never shut up.

Rox and Braham from GW2

People cry “character development!” “Romance!” Really, it’s neither. Just a shallow attempt at an unrealistic relationship for the sake of fan service. From the “squeeeeee!” I’ve been seeing, I guess it reached the target audience. No offense to those who like it, I suppose I’m just not one of them.

I know the writers can do better. Rox and Braham, for example. I felt they were done justice. We have two characters from drastically different backgrounds who become friends and companions in battle. They don’t have to have a romantic relationship and to suck face at the end of the scene to be meaningful. Instead, we see them both come to a mutual understanding about what matters the most — they were able to mature to a point where they could put themselves aside for the sake of their friend. That says a lot more to me, and I was pleased to see it — THAT is what I feel the underlying theme of GW2 is really about!

My Sympathies to the Writers

I’ve been putting a lot on the shoulders of the game writers in this post. On one hand, I’m sympathetic. I feel like the writers were stuck in a bad spot given that they crafted their way into a corner and a majority of the story-driven players didn’t respond to Scarlet or the pre-created scenarios the way they expected. That’s sadly how it goes sometimes… I wonder how much leeway they were given seeing that they probably had sprints to fill and content already set in stone for the Living Story ahead of time.

On the other hand, the moment fans seemed to start to ship things, as fans do, they totally blew it all out of proportion to the point that it was overused. Any more Jory/Kas action and I’d be gagging. Sorry guys.

FFXIV In Comparison…

Players like me come to a game for an engaging storyline. I read quests. I watch the cut scenes. I’m not there just to burn down bosses and zerg. With that, comes expectations.

I asked myself if my expectations were out of line. Is it just that I’ve been there, done that so much for long over 20-some years, that my threshold is impossible to meet? I thought about it a while and I decided that I really don’t think so.

For example, let me compare this to the other MMO I’ve indulged in lately — FFXIV. After the rather underwhelming ending in GW2, I put some time into the main scenario storyline in FFXIV and found myself much more satisfied. Not to spoil anything, it went like this:

I overcame a really big-boss battle, thanks to the help of guildies. I felt super accomplished — we did it! While riding high on that feeling, I returned to report back to my home base as I normally would, only to find something terrible happened there. I walked inside, took one look and my heart dropped into my stomach as I verbally said, “Oh, no…”

Finding new friends in FFXIV

The game suddenly established the bad guys as a real and personal threat to me and NPCs I care about. I found myself without the support of characters I was accustomed to having near me ever since the game began. They guided my path, helped me to grow, gave me a place to belong, and were central to my character’s place in the world.

Without them, I was left to find help in the kindness of strangers. And from there, at my lowest point, I discovered hope in new and unexpected companions. I experienced a variety of emotions during this playthrough and I felt that the whole thing (despite alot of running around I had to do), was well written and nicely paced.

This, I thought to myself, is how to present a meaningful  story in an MMO. 

Oh, I can hear it now. What did you say?

“If you like FFXIV soooo much better, go play it.”

Well, duh. That’s what I’ve been doing.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t hold out hope that GW2 learned a thing or two about the importance of writing during this Living Story experiment. I’ll return to see the final update in two weeks and check in on Living Story 2.0 once that gets underway.


  1. While I agree with GW2 being lackluster, and that being one of the main reasons I am not playing anymore I cannot agree that FFXIV is better. I enjoy quests in games and do read the quests, but FFXIV missed the mark when they didn’t involve any type of voice acting into the game. Even if it was japanese it would have been more engaging than what they have now. Half the time the characters I spoke to were speaking with accents and they spelled it the way they were supposed to be speaking, but it just didn’t translate well at all. Not to mention seeing SEVERAL typos or mistranslations through my time playing.

    I eventually just didn’t care enough to continue reading. GW2 fully engaged me up until endgame, so for me it will always be better story wise. Overall, I personally feel the one mmo with a fantastic story would be Star Wars: The Old Republic. Some of the stories are predictable, especially the side quests, but I’ve never felt so immersed in a world other than the Mass Effect series.

    1. Oh, I agree that FFXIV is far from perfect. It certainly has that quirky JRPG feel and the dialogue often uses highly verbose words when it doesn’t really need to. I’d not tout FFXIV as being the BEST MMO story I’ve ever played (I’d also have to throw Secret World in there to challenge it), but compared to the Living Story of GW2, it’s more engaging to me.

      The main personal story of GW2 was well done in the beginning. I’ll agree with that. No matter which race, I enjoyed the starting stories and liked how your choices could give you a different scenario. But things really started to fall apart for me after Claw Island.

      There got to be a point where just about each time I did a new story quest, some NPC would die — most of them inconsequential and in situations that I (supposedly a hero) should have been able to stop. I’d stop and ask my group, “Just who was that who just died?”

      It got to be morbidly comical at that point and I just couldn’t take it seriously anymore. Which was a real shame because GW2 started out so strong!

      My above article mostly focuses on the Living Story, which is a whole different animal. And this is from someone who has been a big supporter of the Guild Wars title since the release of GW1. I’ve always been on board for Anet’s work, and feel that for some reason, it really suffered through the Living Story. I don’t know if it’s just rushed due to release times or what.

  2. Let me also state that I do realize FFXIV has voice acting in some cutscenes, but it was few and far between. When they did have it I still couldn’t feel attached to the characters.

    1. That’s one thing that always confused me, too — why the voice acting was only every now and then for FFXIV.

  3. I gave up on the Living Story a while ago so can’t comment on the current happenings but the analysis meets my thoughts exactly. The game started so well with the racial and personal story options. But as soon as we got into the Trehaerne/dragon stuff it went downhill rapidly. The constant NPC deaths for dramatic effect bugged me too.

    I’d vote for SWTOR when it comes to the best MMO story experience, in particular because it works generally very well for multiplayer. I’ve been playing the game slowly in a leveling trio and it’s great fun. FFXIV seemed over the top in many ways but as you state it’s probably just a JRPG thing. I haven’t tried Secret World though.

    1. I actually haven’t tried SWTOR, but so many people have suggested that title in feedback to this article that I might have to. I’m not a huge fan of sci-fi, but when done right, I don’t mind it. Thanks for your suggestion!

  4. I understand what you mean about lackluster plot lines. I grew up on games like Baldur’s Gate or Baldur’s Gate 2, both of which had plot lines I liked and characters I felt for. I like playing the games for the story. I have recently been playing WoW, and found that it is a bit lacking over there lately as well. Part of it feels rushed, while other parts are repeated over and over (due to having to grind through things, especially if you have alts). It also feels as if they have too many story lines going on at once and don’t manage it well. Rather than sticking with one theme of the big evil bosses, they had several groups at different times that didn’t feel related, which only served to break up the storyline and make it hard to keep track of things. There is also a problem that the older story lines are broken up due to new expansions, and a lot of the better ones you can not fully play through due to either not enough people (for raids) or not being available anymore.
    I wouldn’t mind having a MMO that focused on having a good plot line rather than gear or other types of grinding. It would be neat if instead of creating new worlds for the players to travel to, the current world was just always changing and being updated. This would remove the feeling of some game areas being stuck in time (for example: Eversong Woods in WoW). It would also be interesting to see something like reputation matter more than just for weapons or other equipment and making it more of a part of the story line (such as agreeing/disagreeing with a group’s actions can change your reputation). It is hard to say what would be best though. I am just glad that there are others out there that appreciate a good playable story as well.

    1. I absolutely play for the story. I’m the type of gamer who needs to be hooked, and battle mechanics (while important) aren’t the things that make a game memorable to me. Especially since I’m an alt-o-holic, so I tend to play the story more than once.

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