It seems to me that developers sometimes put rather high barriers to story progression through the gameplay mechanics they choose to deploy. I’m talking here about following a sequential story and not character power or gear progression.
Take the last content patches of Guild Wars 2’s pre-expansion Living Story for instance, the fights were tuned pretty high and I found them personally frustrating as heck to play through, all in the cause of finishing season 2 of the story.
What about Square Enix’s insistence that you do dungeons & trials in FFXIV to progress that game’s story? Although the earlier dungeons were fun to play through, the later content was a stressful rush in a pug; we were only there to experience the story, but sadly the playerbase in general want you to do that via Youtube strategy videos before you even enter. Of course the game design encourages this by having veteran players rerun those dungeons repeatedly for later rewards.
I’m not trying to say that there shouldn’t be any challenge to story-focused content in MMORPGs, but I do think developers should put more of a line between the stuff we play to see a saga unfold and the end-game repetition of content to grind out new gear or for other character progression reasons.
More recent patches for SWTOR have taken a leaf out of LOTRO’s solo-mode for story dungeons by allowing players to see the content (the first time at least) at their own pace. I played through a few of the ‘tactical’ flashpoints and was very grateful of the chance to do so without pressure to “gogogo” past all the story and background.
I’m not just writing here about the option to solo content however. As mentioned above with the Guild Wars 2 Living Story it’s also the difficulty level chosen by the devs for content. This is not a new discussion, World of Warcraft has long locked the ends of story arcs inside raids. Before the advent of LFR (pug raiding) you had little chance of seeing it unless you were part of a solid raiding guild. Not that the LFR experience is that conducive to enjoying story but at least you’re in the instance with the content. I believe that’s generally better than just watching someone else’s character experiencing it in a Youtube video.
This post leads to our current state of non-progress in The Secret World. I’ve been stuck for weeks now on the last part of the Nightmare in the Dream Palace story mission. It’s actually like playing a platformer game from the 1980s. There’s a sequence of extremely difficult combats with no check points; so if you exit the mission to repair due to dying constantly then you have to redo all of them regardless of progress.
Our DPS player made it through without a problem – gear is everything in most MMORPGs I suppose. Meanwhile the healer and my tank character are stuck unable to progress because our damage output isn’t good enough and these missions are forced-solo content. Most frustrating of all, my character’s tank spec didn’t function as it should during one of the fights. I wasn’t able to aggro attacking apparitions off the NPC; had my tanking abilities worked I would have had a viable alternative strategy to finish that fight without relying on the “brute force” method of the DPS check.
So I’m faced with the prospect of creating a completely new build for my character and collecting a new set of purple gear just to be able to do three or four instanced combats. My lack of progression on the cybernetic branch of the aegis system isn’t helping either. I have already tried a new build or two with the skills I have unlocked and purchased green/blue DPS-gear but it’s not enough. I’ll need to invest a lot more time repeating content to buy some purple quality gear.
I’m an advocate for the character development choices presented in the game to all have equal validity and to remain so as you progress. If TSW allows me to build a tanky character from the start, why shouldn’t I be able to progress as that character throughout? Many games allow healer or tank characters to experience the story in that spec. A similar example of gating story by playstyle was in WoW’s Mists of Pandaria expansion; PVE-only players were forced to run two PVP battlegrounds to progress the legendary story chain.
Many games seem to lock story content behind gear-checks, build-checks or tests of player ability unrelated to your character. Do you think story progression should be blocked by these kinds of barriers?