The year of story MMOs: 2012. The three big MMOs that year all had story as a big bulletpoint. Star Wars The Old Republic had a fully voiced monstrosity. Guild Wars 2 parsed theirs out with the Personal Story. And The Secret World, kind of mentioned it as part of missions and things. Surprisingly, I think The Secret World won as far as narrative delivery of story and lore.
I enjoy the way all three games deliver story content. There are flaws in all three. I don’t like how heavy The Old Republic can feel. I don’t like how disjointed all the arcs and “personal” narration fees in Guild Wars 2. And, I don’t like how the cut scene for a mission in The Secret World can have the barest relation to the forthcoming content at hand.
Yet, it is this artistic delivery style that has The Secret World coming out ahead in my opinion. For each mission there is a cut scene. In most missions the NPC starting it rambles on about troubles and issues. In some missions they talk to nearby NPCs. In the main story there is some action involved sometimes. Through it all, I am silent.
In The Old Republic and Guild Wars 2 my character speaks. Not for me, mind you. They speak to guide the narration. Sometimes I can choose how to respond. Other times I have to accept whatever dumb thing falls out of my character’s mouth. It would seem obvious for my character to talk. Yet, this might be one of the most immersion breaking aspects of these two MMOs. I am guiding some other character. It is not me.
In The Secret World I stand in receptive silence to the wisdom or lies told to me by the NPCs. My character is doing the same thing I am. Nodding or shaking my head along. Some of the NPCs throw a joke at the fourth-wall to discuss my silence. The NPCs accept it though. It is a thing. In that silence I feel much closer to my character than in the other two big MMOs of 2012.
This is not a new concept for those games of the RPG tribe. In many RPGs, the only form of communication is “X”. The NPCs are happy to talk to the player because the player is the hero. I am the hero.
This is what I like best about The Secret World’s cut scene writing. I am silent, but I am still acknowledged as the driving force. As much as some NPCs despise my foreign-ness to the local situation, they still accept that I will change things. I might be killing ten undead shadow rats of filth in The Secret World for the mechanical distillation of the quest, but I am still being directly acknowledged for doing so.
Each mission also follows up by an email from my faction’s superior officer. All I did was “send report”, which could have said anything in my mind. FunCom has to respond to this “report” in a conclusive manner as if I had wrote something on the subject. Again, they do a really good job, and I feel like my superior is actually talking to me on something I would have approximately written to him.
I hope future MMOs that want to include some sort of personal story really take note of The Secret World’s style. It is one of the best in my opinion.