Gameplay and story progression

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.

Time to found a College of Weedkiller.

Time to found a College of Weedkiller.

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.

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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.

Taking in a familiar scene, easy to miss details like this if you're in a rush!

Taking in a familiar scene, easy to miss details like this if you’re in a rush!

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.

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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?

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14 Responses to Gameplay and story progression

  1. Pasduil says:

    I’d love it if MMOs and RPG games had some kind of means for you to see the story and explore the world while skipping as much of the gameplay as you have a mind to. They could sell me some kind of a pass to allow that, as an alternative to buying access to the full game, and I’d probably grab the chance in multiple MMOs that I don’t have time to play through, and maybe wouldn’t enjoy the amount of grind anyway.

    I’d probably be happy to whiz through the stories of LOTRO, SWTOR, TSW, GW2, STO etc, and I’d pay them something to do it too. But as it is, I’m stretched to play just one of them.

  2. bhagpuss says:

    I completely agree and this is one of my real problems with MMOs in general and GW2 and TSW in particular. The Living Story instances are fine when there isn’t any fighting but when there is it is generally tedious and annoying. TSW is just too hard for me, plain and simple. I couldn’t finish the main storyline or the first additional chapter and that is a key reason why I stopped playing.

    I would like to see both games add a very simple option: a “Click to skip this stage” button at every nodal point, combat, puzzle, platform, conversation, whatever. Each Skipped stage would go straight to whatever cut-scene(s) would have followed (and of course those should be skippable too). All loot and rewards for skipped stages would be forfeit.

    That way the rest of us could pace the content to our needs and desires without stepping on the toes of the people who like to feel validated for their video-gaming skills.

  3. Shintar says:

    I’m kind of in two minds about this. On the one hand I don’t think that gameplay should stand in the way of players seeing the story, and the examples you cite all sound quite annoying.

    But on the other hand, when it’s well done this kind of thing can really add to the story – e.g. when a boss that is supposed to be a tough cookie actually challenges you or requires you to get help, it feels right – as opposed to said boss being a total pushover.

    I think having more than one option to tackle the same content is generally a good idea, whether it’s a challenging solo fight that can be overcome easily in a group, or an easily soloable story mode with a tougher group version.

  4. Sylow says:

    On GW2: i agree on your problem there. They lately changed the normal story so it finally can be done without requiring a group, and i very much appreciated that. I ran those missions once with my girl, once solo, and while they were rough going, it now is possible to do them.

    It’s a good improvement. On the Living Story i have to admit that i am not that far yet, so i can’t tell how rough things are really there. Since i play GW2 very casually, i hope that it can be done without the need of outside help, as i have no connections in that game. (Am even without guild yet. )

    On the matter of TSW, it might be just me and it might be mean, but i really can’t see the problem. I mean you write:

    “If TSW allows me to build a tanky character from the start, why shouldn’t I be able to progress as that character throughout?”

    The answer is: because TSW at each and every spec you build, no matter what you build, always also provides you the option to have damage. No matter which weapons you pick, they all give you damage and one or another way of survivability. (Although the options provided by pistols, shotgun and elementalism are somewhat weak. )

    All the game requests from you is to keep an open mind and adjust to the situation at hand. In turn, the game respects you and treats you as an adult.

    “Our DPS player made it through without a problem – gear is everything in most MMORPGs I suppose.”

    No. I went through Kaidan both with my main character (geared in all 10.4/10.5) and an alt which never entered a dungeon. The alt has some purples which you get from the final missions of earlier issues, the rest is a mix of blue and green. Indeed my alts killing speed is a bit lower and it can’t do some of the time-related achievements, but it still can do all normal content, storyline included.

    Also, i did this before the issue 12 patch last week, which very much changed the currency system, which should allow every normal player who’s not in full 10.5.5 gear yet to immediately improve his equipment. After all, you now get black bullions for about every activity in the game.

    The only limitation i agree to is: if you really only carry gear for your chosen path and completely refuse to ever have gear of other purpose in your inventory bags, then you indeed will run into problems in solo instances. But again, the game treats you as an adult, it helps you by throwing piles of green equipment of all varieties at you, if you choose to disregard this and rather intentionally gimp yourself, that’s your very own call. Just don’t blame the game for a decission you made by yourself.

    On Aegis and the problem with cybernetics, you don’t need to level your cybernetic controlers. Just get one controler, no matter which type, to as high as possible, and equip adequate AE capacitors. The game is throwing those at lower QLs at me in masses and the prices in the trade house are so low that i by now sell them at NPCs.

    So if you don’t have a full set of 4 adequate AE capacitors, hit the trade house, invest the money you make from one or two missions and your aegis damage should be significally higher. My main has all QL9 AE capacitors and all controlers are between 1.7 and 2.0, but my alt has one 1.5 controler (psychic), the rest is 1.0. But even the set of low QL AE capacitors allows me to handle things. Indeed as i already knew what i was heading into and felt lazy, i bought 4 QL0 AE capacitors from the tradehouse before going there and some of them by now are replaced by looted AE capacitors. (I think one QL1, one QL3 and one QL4, but i’d have to log in to confirm. )

    So yes, the Aegis system was very rough when it was introduced and it certainly is still an inconvenience for any player just entering Tokyo, but at least by now there are ways to smoothen the entry a bit. Again, if you choose to only use what you loot yourself, you can indeed make things much harder for yourself. This indeed is possible, when Tokyo was opened we did the same, as we had no other option, and we were able to do it. Additionally it’s your very own choice if you want to make things harder for yourself.

    As a sidenote, by writing all this i remember a cabal mate i had shortly after the game was launched. He insisted on using a shotgun, and a shotgun only. He refused to use passives of any other weapon, he refused to use a second weapon. Of course he failed a lot, blamed the game and left. My question here just is: is the game really to blame that you can choose not to use all features it provides? Does a game really have to guide every step, nanny you through everything and make sure that you will succeed in the end, like some big MMOs do? (Before sending you out to the raidgame, where you then become the laughing stock of the others. )

    After all this, if you really need help with a setup or with gear, just let me know. The same time either of us invested in writing here would probably be enough to build a setup suitable for that area out of the skills you currently have. I loot piles of green stuff every time i play and if green is really not cutting it, i have stacks of blue toolkits which can quickly provide a full setup of QL10 blue gear. (Although if you played normally, you probably at the moment are at or near the cap for black bullions and can just go to your faction HQ and buy some custom purple gear. )

    • Telwyn says:

      Thanks for the comments all.
      @Sylow all I can really say beyond the original post is that I have thoroughly enjoyed playing TSW with two friends as a trio, despite the forced-solo missions. I have tried three different DPS builds (and bought blue/green DPS gear) to overcome this latest challenge and clearly this new level of content goes beyond what I, personally, am looking for. In a sense it’s the same frustrations I have with Guild Wars 2, why are developers shackling such good story-telling behind frustrating game mechanics (e.g. no checkpoints!) – as an experienced veteran of the game you may not feel it is that difficult, but to me the most recent content is too big and too sudden a step up in difficulty.

      • Sylow says:

        I understand your point, but i just wonder what is going wrong. I mean, even my girl had no big issues completing this content, and she still is very much a “hey, there’s some fire to stand in” player. She’s a terrible clicker and never managed to survive a single NM dungeon without several deaths, so she doesn’t join them any more. I tried to teach her different, but alas, as long as she enjoys the game and gets along while clicking, things are well enough.

        And yes, in her case i admit that the gear she got by being carried through NMs probably made a difference in the latest story missions. Also, for tough content she got gear along my personal setup, health between 3.5k and 4k, two major healing talismans, the rest attack rating, glyphs for hit and penetration. When things go wrong, she just gets into the rotation of 5x anima shot, 1x shot of anima, repeat till the enemy is dead. It’s not a fast way of kililng stuff, but it keeps you alive.

        But from what you say, it’s damage which you think you are lacking. Can you please let me know which fight exactly (which enemy) you struggle with? I personally don’t remember any enemy there which couldn’t be defeated by outlasting them, as i think you refer to the “nightmares in the dream palace” mission.

        What i remember is:
        – The challenges when drunk. Highly annoying and i don’t manage to do one of the challenges of them, but you can’t really fail them.
        – the fight with the giant Lillith (plural) and the flying skulls. For the attacks of Lillith you just have to run around, for the flying skulls you should use a weapon of long range to be able to plink them down on time. The assault rifle or elementalism work best there.
        – Beaumont. The cybernetic shield is a bit of a nuisance, as it regenerates. A full set of four AE capacitors (see my previous posting) go a long way here. But with a reasonable setup and the capacitors, the above mentioned anima shot/shot of anima rotation is able to drain his shields and then wear him down.
        – The pharaoh. That’s where my girl struggled, but not because of her damage output. But due to the destroyed bridge mechanic, she several times didn’t reach the last bridge on time. At the same time, the mechanic might result in a damage check, all destroyed bridges and still not killing him would be death. But i doubt that’s your problem.
        – Mara. The hiding mechanic indeed again is some kind of damage check, if you run out of undestroyed places to hide at, you loose. But that means five “rounds” of combat before that happens, i consider this unlikely to be your problem.

        That’s all i remember there, and indeed it’s out of my memory. If you give me a pointer which of the fights is troubling you, i might help more.

        And on the general topic of “shackling” such content behind hard fights, i side with Shintar, those are/were important enemies, making them all pushovers for easier progression would also kill the story. I mean, i remember several games which also were “very good till the end”, with the last fight being a big letdown. I assume that this happened to many other players. Those games end up in our memory as “bad” games, often for the sole reason of the final fight being too easy. It’s a thin line the developers have to walk there, to make fight hard and challenging enough to make them memorable and interesting, so the game will be remembered as “good”, while at the same time not blocking players of moderate training in this game. And yes, i might be wrong and this mission is too hard for some players, but i just remeber it differently.

        And last not least, as already mentioned: just log in again. The last patch got rid of all the sequins and tokens. All missions throughout the game now give black bullions and all the “junk” currencies you had were converted into black bullions. Thus now just playing the game normally, without visiting any dungeons or the likes, allows you to progress to 10.4 gear. (And by doing the daily challenges, which might just be an investigation mission in Transylvania, you even get the currency necessary to upgrade your gear up to 10.7. ) So if gear is the problem, take a look again. Your old sequins were converted, unless you did some strange stuff you should have enough to buy some purple equipment and even do some upgrading. Effectively the game got easier again with the last patch, as top level gear can be obtained easier than ever before

    • Meznir says:

      We were originally stuck on Lillith, but solved that by a bit of respeccing and got past that – now we’re stuck at different points. Telwyn’s stuck on the dogs of Beaumont – he can’t get them down fast enough and is finding Beaumont’s regenning too fast so he can’t get him down without being overwhelmed. I’m stuck on Mara’s second stage – when you have to run around crazily and avoid all the instadeath puddles on the floor. I ended up dying on that enough times (added to the deaths in the previous bosses and not being able to repair) meaning all gear broke and I did 0 damage. What’s excruciating is that if you leave and repair, you’re back at Beaumont (at least we don’t have to do Lillith again!) Second time I had real trouble with Pharoh – that I didn’t have the first time – it felt like I was hitting some sort of bug or abilities that I didn’t understand that would slow me whenever I needed to run across the bridges so I couldn’t make it – I only got through when it finally didn’t do that to me one try. I then had barely any attempts left (in terms of gear damage) to try Mara.

      The lack of save point means that I feel sick in my stomache at the thought of spending all those hours to reach Mara again and then only have a few tries of fast reactions or instadeath – and then it all being a waste as I have no choice but to leave to repair and start it all over again. As Telwyn says in his blog, it does feel like playing an 80s platformer like Sonic where you had to start from the beginning when you ran out of lives.

      I think our issues are a combination of gear and ability. I’m surely doing something wrong on Mara to get instadeaths and maybe Telwyn is doing setting wrong on the dogs. We haven’t looked at what we can now buy with the upgraded currency, so hopefully that might help smooth things out a little.

      It’s really disappointing as we’ve loved playing TSW – mainly for its brilliant storytelling; but now we’re completely unable to progress. Yes, there should be some difficulty and hurdles to jump – it’s an encouragement to gear up and progress your character if encounters get harder each time; but this doesn’t feel appropriately tuned in comparison to the missions leading up to it and the mechanics or rather flaw in the design (lack of repair npc and lack of save point at each boss) seems either misjudged or overlooked.

      • Telwyn says:

        We’ll come back to this after an upcoming holiday as there won’t be time before, so I’ll post again when *hopefully* we’ve managed to beat it. I’ve never played kiting characters really so I’m useless at kiting especially if there are adds as well. As Mez said in his comment I die at the first dog stage, or once I had him really low both the dogs and the clone adds spawned and I wiped – so very frustrating as I really thought I was like 3 hits away from defeating him. That attempt I was using my full Assault Rifle build with a good dose of healing and even a single healing trinket. I think part of the problem is that I’ve played a melee tank/dps character the whole time in the game and I find ranged uncomfortable, I’m not even used to targeting mobs reliably – I had a lot of problems targeting the skulls quickly for whatever reason.

      • Sylow says:

        Hmm, interesting. The thing with Lillith, i understand the problem, and you have solved it. And yes, i wouldn’t know how to win that one without using ranged weapons either.

        On the dogs of Beaumont, interesting. And, i didn’t kite them much but only moved out of stuff. Next to that i went tank and spank. I usually run a setup with the assault rifle (my prefered healing tool) and a tank weapon, which usually is blade or chaos, depending on my mood. The hammer has a little more damage on its AoE attacks, but the shape of the AoE effect requires more work to get the damage on target, making it an inferor choice for me.

        Against the dogs a thing few players use but is very useful when having an assault rifle equiped is to use build ressources with an AoE builder, then use the AoE melee consumer, use an AoE AR consumer (my choice is High Explosive Grenade as i also have affliction in my setup), then tab to the next enemy and use Shot of Anima. Next to that, i could post my prefered setup, but there’s plenty of them going around, so i rather skip it.

        On the Pharaoh, i never experienced a slow there, but i noticed some “ground bug”. At some time there is an “invisible ground obstacle”, which required me to jump. It seems like the connection between the breakable part of the floor and the solid one is not completely smooth and your character can get stuck there for a moment, until you jump. Could that be what you experienced? (If not, i was lucky to never have been hit yet with what got you there. )

        On Mara i am out of clues for you. Next to her now having Aegis, the fight is the very same as the first time. That might really be a bit of a training thing. If you usually heal in an open world group, you rarely are pressed to dodge out of stuff. Anybody who did a good portion of the game solo is probably much better trained in dodging the telegraphs than you are, so i fear some “dancing practice” might be required for you.

        And on the problem with repairing, do you have veteran points? If yes, you might want to invest in the repair tool, which allows you to repair your gear wherever you are. (Yes, it has a cooldown, but still it could help a bit. )

      • Sylow says:

        Addendum (yes, i am driving up the comment counter):

        When using a setup with a melee weapon, always have an AoE stun on the toolbar. That one can take away a lot of pressure when used at the right time. 🙂

    • Meznir says:

      No, it was a definite slow. I was jumping frantically in case I was walking through something, hoping to speed up, but it didn’t help.

      Mara – it probably is a case of practice. I shouldn’t be that bad though as I’m used to running out of fire from WoW raiding, but I had the same issue with her the first time we met. If there was a save before her, I could keep practicing to get it – I just hate that I have to redo all the fights first.

      There’s a repair item? We did have a look in the shop but didn’t spot it. Will look again. I think I only have something low like 20 vet points, but it might be worth buying some to get the repair item and get through this.

      • Sylow says:

        Hmm. It’s called Reconstructor and it costs 30 veteran points. I never before considered the thing important, but your story here tells differently.

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  6. Pasduil says:

    LOTRO does have one nice feature that’s worth mentioning. In the Epic Quest line all the group boss fights, usually 6-person instances, also have a solo version available. If you solo or go in with a smaller group you get an “Inspiration” buff that multiplies up your stats and gives you a good shot at being able to complete the instance. It generally works well either solo or with whatever size of group you’re able to muster.

    That mechanic does mean you can see all the main storyline without being stopped in your tracks by a lack of people to group with, but it’s still well short of the kind of thing I’d really like, because it mostly just applies to the climactic fight in each “book” of the story.

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