Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Story or Combat?

I just finished playing the open beta of Tera Online. Last week I played say ten hours of Witcher 2, and I am stumped. While I enjoyed my time in Witcher 2, I was struck by how strongly I disliked the combat. The story was all well and good but the combat was irritating at best, and downright annoying at worst. I suppose certainly after Mass Effect 3 and its rather impressive combat I should be expecting a bit of a letdown. But here’s the thing I just finished playing Tera Online as well. See now Tera has combat to die for. It’s quick and agile and standing around clicking tab bars is the fastest way to see a sign asking you to pull your head out of your… well at least something asking you where you want to resurrect your character. And I was bored to tears, the combat was excellent and I couldn’t quit fast enough; the combat was the best I’ve ever seen in a MMO but its story was like being warped back to vanilla WoW. And there’s the rub, on one game combat made me lose interest and yet on another game the lack of story brought me to tears. So I ask, what matters most; story or combat?

I played Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning and I was struck by the fact that the combat no matter how sweet couldn’t hide the fact that the story bored me to tears. And people come on its not 1999, we can have fully voiced heroes; it’s not the end of the world. I like to read, I’ve said that before, but in a video game having the hero never speak is such a killjoy. There is something about having your hero, your avatar, speak that completely changes the game experience; it makes it great in a form that is unique to games.

Recently the oft-maligned MMO Star Wars the Old Republic showed that people were willing to sit down to see and hear a great story, even if the combat was old fashioned. And yet time and time again comments made around the waterhole known as the Internet indicate that people think we’re long overdue for a new combat system. I have heard more than a few developers wonder why the FPS genre can ship out the same controls they’ve been using for ten years and yet somehow the MMO market needs new and improved controls. As John Crichton once said “Yes, it's new, it's improved, it's the finger of friendship! $19.95! But wait kids, there's more.” I feel like I’m getting the snow job, but its gamers throwing the snow about. Unless we’re suddenly in the age of Virtual Reality, somehow I don’t think controls are ever going to be much different than they are now. We still like the keyboard and mouse on the computer, but we’ll settle for the touchscreen in a pinch. Consoles also like to innovate with motion controls but we need our old standbys in game pads. Innovation for innovation’s sake is overrated. When we need it they will build it, let’s for now just work on refining what works.

So where do we go from here. Do we move to Witcher 2, story oriented with average combat and RPG elements? Do we move to Mass Effect 3 with a balance of both story and combat? Do we move toward Dragon’s Dogma and its combat system that would look good on its more action based brethren? In the end it’s the wallets of gamers that will decide. I for one am very interested to see what they say.

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