MMO & Story: So, Story Does Matter!

Not too long ago, I ran across a post that I wrote six years ago – MMOs & Story: Accepting Mediocrity – and re-read it.

At the time of writing, I was frustrated with the poor story logic and plot-points of GW2 writing. The jist of my post was: If gamers don’t stand up and demand better writing from their games, all we’ll ever get is mediocrity in terms of MMO story.

It was a post I thought would get an agreeable response. I was surprised, and still am, at how much push-back it actually got, though!

A few people agreed that better story would be nice. However, some folks told me they didn’t play an MMO expecting a good story, so it didn’t matter if they didn’t get one. Other folks told me story was a moot point because they’d rather make up their own story rather than have the game force a narrative on their character (a very oldskool sandbox idealism that I understand and respect).

Story = something single player games should do well. Not required in an MMO.

I was taken aback in re-reading this. Especially since… well… I feel like the MMO world lately has started to prove that a good story really is important to the foundations of the gaming worlds we inhabit.

Case and point: FFXIV Shadowbringers. FFXIV has earned accolades for having a powerful and moving story, and the game is growing in popularity now that word is really getting out that hey… a story-driven MMO can be done right and is a fantastic experience!

Not only is Shadowbringers held up as an amazingly written MMO expansion, but as one of the best-written Final Fantasy games in the franchise.

During PAX West two years ago, the main scenario writer for Shadowbringers, Natsuko Ishikawa, was given a standing ovation by the crowd for her work on the expansion. She’ll be writing the main scenario for FFXIV upcoming expansion, Endwalker, just for the record. (Woot!)

See the Twitch Clip for this moment here.

In the meantime, Syn and I have long-since quit GW2 years ago. We did try come back for a while during Path of Fire. While I enjoyed the mounts (which was what drew me back), the frustrating, drawn-out and player-battering gameplay during big fight instances was a huge turn off.

Add to that the story spitting on the grave of GW1 lore elements, a story so illogical neither of us could get behind it, and the cash shop becoming the end-all-be-all… we parted ways with Anet. This was a developer who I adored all through GW1 development. It was a sad thing for me, but I accepted Anet is not the same developer as I once supported.

Poor story was a big part of the reason for our departure. I’ve heard bits and pieces of where the story went after PoF and I’m honestly glad I didn’t hang in there. None of it honored the original lore of Tyria and I’m almost cringing in worry to see what they’re going to do to my beloved Cantha. (Please leave Kunnavang alone!)

It seems like the GW2 community also agrees that though the story isn’t absolutely rock-bottom terrible, it’s not great either. It apparently has good moments, but it sounds overall like a game striving to put story up front that’s only delivering mediocrity in the end.

In the meantime, it sounds like World of Warcraft players are starting to stand up against poor storytelling in Azeroth. I know very little about WoW story other than players who care about story haven’t been pleased with it for a good long while. Now, when FFXIV is starting to look like a real contender, the players are asking for something better from WoW.

While I’m not happy that these games have poor story that is – in the words of this WoW player – “making the game less fun to play,” I’m happy to see people demanding a better story experience from MMO games.

I’m writing this as an individual who has made technical writing their profession. I’m a writer. Good story isn’t easy – I get it. However, I also know what expectations my own work requires for something I’ve written to be of releasable quality.

Six years ago, in that post I wrote, I gave the GW2 team a real hard side-eye wondering – where’s their writing QA? Where’s the editors? Where’s the people who are supposed to check the writing and story flow and give feedback on this kind of thing?

Who calls the shots on the dev team when it comes to story?

I know for certain that there’s a dedicated writer team for FFXIV. And even then, Yoshi-P himself walks through the story and the completed product to provide QA feedback and institute changes when things aren’t up to his standards. When the story is that important to the game producer – that has made all the difference.

Does that mean I think FFXIV story can do no wrong? Oh, heck no.

I’ve got a list of story-things I don’t agree with in post-Shadowbringers patches. But I also can overlook small irritations in FFXIV because the overall story experience is great, and I know the things I don’t care for are often due to my personal preferences. Heck, some people like the things I don’t like – would you look at that!

Anyhow, the takeaway is… I think we’re starting to see how good story provides a better overall gaming experience for MMO players. As the MMO genre continues to evolve, players are starting to demand that MMOs that claim to contain story actually focus on making good story

No more of this just tossing out a half-baked experience. Because when story is done right in an MMO, you can definitely see the difference.

If there’s one thing I’m proud of with FFXIV it’s that they didn’t settle on story mediocrity. FFXIV went above and beyond, embracing the concept of being a story-driven game – even in the face of folks who claim story is not important in an MMO. That has not only paid off for S/E, but it’s creating new expectations for MMO players as a whole while putting pressure for other games to step up their writing, as well.

I couldn’t be happier about this shift. I wish for a great story experience for all MMO worlds!