The core story is part of the modern theme park model. Most MMOs are including a central quest chain, such as LotRO’s epic, SW:TOR’s fourth pillar, and GW2′s personal story. I find myself liking the idea but not the execution.
You are familiar with my rants about watching the heroes play out their story in LotRO. I’ll take fighting at the side of the Fellowship and being second banana there, and I’ll take being the hero of the B-plot while the Fellowship saves the world. I’ll not take being second banana in the B-plot.
I have not played SW:TOR. I hear only good things about playing through the character’s central story, except that it lacks replayability. You must support alts like CoX, PvP like EVE, or an endgame like WoW, or else there is not much reason to stick around after you complete the story.
Making a single-player MMO seems like a bad idea. As much as I solo, I want to be part of a world. Otherwise, I can go play a single-player game that does not come with the baggage. In a single-player game, my actions can actually affect the world, which does not need to be static for the other players. (Feel free to comment on how phasing is working for WoW.)
Being part of a world was the original appeal of MMOs. “Virtual worlds” were the goal a decade or two ago, whereas now we have virtual theme parks. A well-executed theme park is a much better game than a virtual world, and it certainly demands less of the player, but Diablo 3 seems to be about where we are headed: a single-player game with half the headaches of an MMO just so that it can include trading and some multiplayer. (I am looking forward to Torchlight 2 and its plans to do the same thing with a single-player foundation, where modded games are a feature rather than a hack.)
Part of being in a virtual world is that it is your character. When you are playing a single-player game, you accept that you are playing out that story, whether Alex Mercer’s bloody rampage or Luigi’s ghost-hunt. Some of these stories give you room to wiggle, but a character usually comes with an expected path. (Something like Skyrim is weird for being a single-player virtual world; The Elder Scrolls Online sounds like it wants to be an online single-player theme park, closer to Diablo 3 than Skyrim.) I’m not saying that everything needs to be a sandbox, but if it is my character, rather than a character, I need to be able to define it.
This becomes a problem with the Guild Wars 2 personal story. It is the character’s story, not my story. I’m just going through the motions, a bit of running and combat between cut-scenes. “I have been developing a Ghostbore Musket.” I have? “I’d like to recruit you to my warband.” I would? I understand that this is based on the choices I made at the start, but there is a lot of distance between the vague descriptions at character creation and the highly specific choices my character is making at the time. You got your visual novel in my MMO!
I’m told that Fate/stay night is great, but I have yet to meet a visual novel that I like.
Look, you cannot tell me it is my personal story and that it is all about me and then take the character out of my control for all the critical story elements. No, that’s factually untrue because apparently you can, but it’s a bad idea. (Exception, but it’s a brilliant subversion.)
Look, games call for goal-directed behavior. If I say, “I wonder what I’m going to do next,” it should mean that I wonder what the game is going throw at me next for me to react to; it should not mean that I have little control over my character and I really don’t know what he is going to do next. In Candyland, you can honestly wonder what you’re going to do next because you make no decisions. In Fluxx, someone can put the game in a similar state where the entire gameplay is “draw one card and play it immediately” until that one card changes the rules again. There is some point at which you have failed to clear the minimum bar for “game.”
I would prefer the model where the quest givers are ordering you about and you silently obey. It is not pretending to be something it is not. If my character is making plans and decisions, I should be making plans and decisions. Otherwise, it is not my character, just the point of view character I happen to be following.