Warhammer Online Editorial: Do We Need Lore in WAR?
There is Stuff to Read in This Game?
by: Tony "RadarX" Jones
Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning boasts one of the richest backdrops of any MMO game to date, providing an immeasurable wealth of races, locations, factions, and history from the Warhammer tabletop game. Decades worth of material has been published from Games Workshop creating an entire universe that can easily fit inside a virtual world and there is no question it's perfect for a game. With such rich lore an interesting question arises, how important is it to the average player? Does it make or break a gaming experience? There appear to be two sides to this coin, so let's start with the good.
For starters, lore provides motivations for your actions, whether it's why you are slaughtering 25 Orc's or delivering a basket of honey cakes to Farmer Brown who is too lazy to make the journey. Solid written lore answers that all important "why?" and creates an attractive illusion that hides the bare mechanics we'd see otherwise. Nothing bugs people more than action without reason, and without it we'd neglect a basic premise of playing a game.
Beyond motivation, a massive virtual world that we've come to know and love in MMORPG's needs a complex background. What differentiates "Field with Trees 1" from "Field with Trees 5?" Why is this lake so special and more importantly why is it here to begin with? Who built this city out in the middle of the desert and is dumb enough to live in it? Without answers to these questions some people will become distracted from gameplay, and can easily begin to mock the entire situation.
Next, if there is one thing the world of videogames has taught us, it's that a good story can make a great game. What do you remember from games like Knights of the Old Republic or Baldur's Gate? Is it the simple combat mechanics, the UI, or the well written characters and compelling plot? There is no price you can place on drawing in your audience to a fictional world they feel a part of and bringing life to pixelated creations.
Finally, an element that should come almost immediately to mind is roleplaying. While some might cringe at the thought of this diminishing play style, they still live among us and make up a respectable portion of the community. While this particular demographic is creative enough to adapt to almost any environment, established lore enhances their game play and allows them to feel more comfortable. Even looking at this from strictly a business perspective, this is providing an element some players demand in order to be satisfied with a product.
Along with the upsides always comes a few downsides the first of which is, many people don't read the lore. How many people do you know in games like EverQuest 2 or Lord of the Rings Online that just click right through quest dialog? How many of you became ecstatic the first time you figured out how to make the quest instantly display instead of scroll in World of Warcraft? If you are mainly motivated by achievements such as levels, skills, or gear then extensive lore actually becomes a hindrance to playing and causes dissatisfaction.
Even for those who do read lore, looking at the amount of time spent in gameplay, how much is actually spent exploring and reading? How often are areas sought out or stories pondered on in the course of an adventure? Are even the most devout of players really concerned with the meager tale of a farmer attacked by bandits? Do we really have an option of not stopping an invading army and does it matter why they are invading?
Lastly, really good story writing and creation requires not only talent but time. While I'm sure you might be thinking something like"Doy," keep in mind that the guy who sits down figuring out why Orc Group A is attacking Human Group B is not working on adding quests, squashing game bugs, or cleaning up game environments. Even if you hire dedicated writers that work as a cohesive group like BioWare happens to, that is still development money you are spending on an element not everyone will appreciate.
As you can see there is good and bad when it comes to lore in any MMO game. Do you agree or disagree? Stop by our forums and let us know what you think!