Character engagement with the virtual world

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).

Your choices, scripted responses

Your choices, scripted responses

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.

Oh for my SWTOR Bounty Hunter's sarcasm at a moment like this...

Oh for my SWTOR Bounty Hunter’s sarcasm at a moment like this…

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.

In Eorzea, Formation nodding is a sport

In Eorzea, Formation nodding is a sport

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!

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3 Responses to Character engagement with the virtual world

  1. j3w3l says:

    It’s funny, but after tryign all the others I think I prefer the TSW approach. Quite a few of the responses within tor felt completely out of place, and nothing like I wanted them to say which tended to break that immersion pretty quick. It also just didn’t feel like my character after a whiel, just me pushign a puppet between certain points.

    FF was better than that but the whole nodding, and random unvoiced gestures starts getting rather odd after a while.

  2. Sylow says:

    I also prefer the TSW way. The body language of my character, as well as some facial expressions and gestures, very much show that he has an agenda. At the same time, due to the subtle way it was done, i only once in the whole game disagreed with my characters expression, and that was before thinking the situation through. (His reaction actually made a lot of sense in the scope of the big story. )

    In contrast, i felt like punching and kicking my character in SWtoR into the face more than once. Quite often all available dialogue options seemed wrong (even before looking at that crappy “naive goodie vs. psychopathic evil” system with often nothing in between) and also several times the one-liner to describe what your answer was supposed to be was completely off from the character then actually said.

    FF i haven’t played, but even GW2 does better in terms of how the dialogues are presented than SWtoR in my eyes, and while officially the way of doing it in GW2 is an “art decission”, it indeed also clearly is a way to save effort. It’s barely on par with how dialogues were presented in StarCraft (the first part), but still it works better for me than SWtoR did.

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