Does the setting matter in MMORPGs?

At the moment I’m feeling most drawn to MMORPGs with a familiar setting, that is to say an imagined world with which I have some history or familiarity. It didn’t take much to recently drag me back into SWTOR and the galaxy far, far away – I’ve always been a fan of the movies.

The neon glory of Nar Shaddaa

The neon glory of Nar Shaddaa

Shadowrun Chronicles has its hooks in me as well it seems; the game neatly fills an opening for a duo game that’s opened up in my gaming schedule. It’s also very different to the MMORPGs that I mainly play so for now I’m happily playing a Troll Shaman in the Boston Lockdown campaign. The friend and I played the Shadowrun RPG together years ago so the game’s setting and tone are familiar to us both.

The grim streets of Shadowrun's Boston

The grimy streets of Shadowrun’s Boston

Setting isn’t always the main reason I play a game though; I played Neverwinter extensively last year but it was more for the fast-paced combat and the strong group-play content than for the D&D/Forgotten Realms setting in this Perfect World MMO. Setting cannot always keep me playing a game either – Lord of the Rings Online hasn’t managed to drag me back in since early 2014 for any length of time and that is despite Turbine’s very rich, story-filled world-building efforts. Something about the game’s combat and mechanics never really sat that well with me and I’ve reached the point where the excellence of the setting isn’t enough to overcome that barrier.

So having a familiar setting isn’t absolutely necessary to me but I do think it helps to maintain my interest in a game. How much does the setting of your chosen MMORPG(s) matter to you – does it figure in your choice of game(s)?

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6 Responses to Does the setting matter in MMORPGs?

  1. I think a setting is very important to an MMO. Obviously it depends on somewhat on each individual player and their preferences, but as a rule, I think the MMO community tends to greatly undervalue the importance of setting (and story — the two are connected).

    I’ve never been particularly fond of WoW as a game, but I love the setting (having grown up playing Warcraft games), and so I’ve sunk hundreds of hours into it over about half a decade now.

    On the other hand, I love Guild Wars 2 mechanically, but the setting never grabbed me, and I’ve hardly played since a few months after launch.

  2. Aywren says:

    Setting is pretty important to me as a player. But just as important is what the game does with the setting. Does the game invite me to become a part of that world, or does it spin a good story that makes me care?

    I echo your LOTRO example. It’s obviously a great world with a lot of wonderful lore, but even as a long-time Tolkien fan, the game just didn’t hold me over the years.

  3. Shintar says:

    Over the last couple of years I’ve come to the conclusion that for me at least, the setting and the graphical appeal of a game are actually the main draws of an MMO. Which games have I stuck with for any length of time? WoW, SWTOR, Neverwinter. I need to feel like I want to be part of that world. I’m much more open towards new MMOs than I used to be, but if the setting and graphics don’t grab me, I’m unlikely to even be interested in a free trial.

  4. Atherne says:

    I enjoy stepping into a world I know and love. Lord of the Rings Online was fantastic for me for a very long time. I’ve never been engaged by World of Warcraft’s lore, though I found the Draenor storyline to be the first where I’ve cared about the world and it’s characters. Rift has a fascinating world though again I don’t pay much attention to the lore. Star Wars Galaxies always felt as if I had stepped right into the world from the films. Soooo, perhaps if a world has a rich setting that you can adventure in, familiarity with the backstory isn’t required.

  5. Sylow says:

    For me settings matter, but they are only a part of the whole package. Graphics matter little but gameplay and game mechanics make a huge difference for me, too.

    Just to illustrate, some of the more recent games:
    – TSW. I still play this one. The character system is a monster and drives away new player, but once you get into it, it’s awesome. Combat works functional, not exceptionally flashy but information is reliably available and runs smooth enough. Graphically the game is “allright” but nothing special while in terms of storyline and atmosphere it plays in a league of it’s own.

    – GW2. I still play this one. The character system was easy enough before the rework, is even a bit simpler and easier to get into now. Combat is flashy with the drawback of some essential information being “hidden away” behind stuff (animations, colorful stuff on the ground of which some matter and some don’t and you never have enough endurance to dodge out of them all. ) a player has to death-learn again and again for each new boss. Graphics are good, despite a plethora of glitches which are there since launch. The highly-hyped original storyline is bad, barely better than some stuff in SWtoR, but despite of that the game feels allright to me.

    – SWtoR. Some of the storylines are actually acceptable. While a part of the storywriting (especially some side-missions) insult the intelligence of the player, some of the main storylines are acceptable. Their quality (both in writing and voice acting) still falls miles short of TSWs writing, but they are allright. Graphics and animations were nothing special, but generally also not especially bad. (And the animations mostly amused me, when i realized that the mechs in mechwarrior online moved more human-like than the characters in this game. But it didn’t bother me, it was just a good laugh. ) Still i didn’t last three months there, as it felt so much “same old” that it just bored me.

    I could go on with my personal analysis over other games which i gave up after a week or two, but only in one of them the quality of the world was what drove me away: Wildstar. The SMS-style missions absolutely did not spark my interest and the forced humor, often installed with a crowbar, without any reason and not matching the atmosphere, suffocated me and drove me away.

    So all in all, a game can very well be fun without a top-grade setting. The complete mix of setting, presentation and mechanics results in the deciding factor: fun. If it is fun, i am likely to play it, in any other case, i move on. Only if the setting is just too bad (for my taste, mind you) it also breaks the fun aspect and results in me skipping the game.

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