I’m playing several story-focused MMORPGs at the moment and they have notably different approaches to how your character, the protagonist, engages with the characters and virtual world around them.
SWTOR – fully voiced and with a personality
In Star Wars your character is well defined. You choose a class, gender and outward appearence but your character’s place in the world is defined by the class story. As you level that character you have some choices to make that affect the ending of the story at level 50 (well until recently).With the two characters that I have played more extensively, the Jedi Sage and now the Commando, I’ve enjoyed the characterisation of the voice actor and the scripted dialogue and responses used when I make dialogue choices. I identify with those characters even though Bioware only gives three options at a time during dialogues.
TSW – the silent type
In The Secret World your character is always a mute-observer of what’s happening in the cut-scenes. This is consistent throughout, sometimes characters will rail at your character for not responding (beyond a minimalist facial expression or shrug), othertimes a joke is made about your silence. It can work well, although having now played through to Issue 10’s content (the penultimate release), I’m starting to feel like it was just a cop out.My character remains divorced from the world somehow because of the lack of meaningful interaction with all these wonderfully fleshed-out characters that we meet. I can understand why they chose this. There may even be a deeper story reason for it – I read once it could be because our character swallowed that bee at the start (it was on a Massively column, but I can’t find the reference now the old site is gone). But in any case I find the lack of character engagement in some cases very jarring – I miss the sense of my character having agency in the world other than “fighting the bad guys”.
FFXIV – silent yet implied voice
Final Fantasy 14 has a lot of cut-scenes as well and your character never talks out loud. However Square Enix gets around providing voiced dialogue in a number of simple ways – your character is seen to be mouthing something but you don’t hear, he or she emotes in various ways (far too often by nodding!) or occasionally there’ll be a “fade to black” scene change while you explain something.Despite the lack of voice I do feel like my character is engaged in the world and that he has some meaningful interactions with the enormous cast of NPCs you meet as you progress through the main scenario quests. You become fairly well known by people through your daring exploits and your character reacts to this in a believable manner.
From this perspective, that of your character’s engagement in the world and how that is presented, I feel that SWTOR is a winner. Final Fantasy does a fair job for the most part, although some more imagination of emotes to use could be good. The Secret World could try harder despite the occasional moment of brilliance it’s cops out completely far too often!