Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, July 11, 2012
How much does setting matter for you?

When I was playing the open beta of The Secret World, I was killing zombies in Kingsmouth in exactly the same mindset as I was killing zombies around Brill in World of Warcraft years ago. And whether I'm killing monsters in some cave with my troll fighter in WoW or with a jedi knight in SWTOR isn't any different to me. But I know for others the setting of a game is of bigger importance.

I was thinking about that because I came on the reverse problem: Same setting with very different games. As I'm currently having a lot of fun with Dungeons & Dragons, I thought I'd try Dungeons & Dragons Online again. That turned out to be a disappointment, because what I like about 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons is *not* the setting, but the gameplay: I like turn-based tactical games with miniatures/tokens on a grid. D&DO doesn't offer that. In spite of having a lot in common with pen & paper D&D in terminology and settings, D&DO is a very different game regarding gameplay. There simply isn't enough intellectual challenge for me in clicking on monsters to kill them as opposed to having to think about positioning and what powers and tactics to use.

Being fixated on gameplay like me has serious drawbacks. For example of all the MMORPGs I played, the *setting* I liked best was that of Lord of the Rings Online. Adventuring in the Shire as a hobbit (and on a roleplaying server) was just great. Unfortunately I don't like the LotRO-specific implementation of the hotkey based standard MMORPG combat very much, with its long delays between pressing a button and that actually resulting in your avatar doing something. Thus I ended up playing games with a much blander setting, like WoW, where the gameplay was better optimized and suited my needs. Now that MMORPG gameplay has either stopped evolving, or only evolves at a glacier's pace, I pretty much can't stand *any* MMORPG which is based on quests and hotkey combat any more. But it is the gameplay I lost interest in, not the setting or the stories. I found the stories in SWTOR quite well done, and I liked the modern setting of The Secret World. But due to a lack of something more resembling a turn-based tactical game, I'm not playing any MMORPGs at the moment.

So what is the important part of a game for you? Setting or just gameplay? What settings would you like to see for MMORPGs? And would it be okay with you if the gameplay was very much like in World of Warcraft as long as the setting was very different?

I have to find both setting and gameplay tolerable. Personally I prefer fantasy, even whimsical fantasy like WoW, but I will not rule out SF or other games just on that account.
"How much does setting matter for you?"
A lot. For example - if EVE was Fantasy/Medieval i would play it gladly.
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Setting matters tremendously. I see plenty of bloggers who are disillusioned with the combat in TSW, but keep playing because they love the setting and want to see more.

For me, I prefer the good presentation of setting over the setting itself. For example, the most mundane desert could look very majestic if the environmental effects are done correctly.

For example, Journey (for the PS3) has many levels of rolling dunes. However, the lighting effects and the wind environment animations hold your interest while the scale of the dunes actually hide what's behind them.

In contrast, take a Silithus (a desert area in WoW), which is more like a bumpy blanket punctured by large rocks.

The difference is how you show it -- huge rolling dunes periodically hide and reveal what lies ahead, evoking a sense of exploration and wanderlust. A flat plane makes you want to log out.
Setting is very important to me. As you observe, game play mechanics vary little between games. I play SWTOR because it captures my imagination. The setting, the music, and the stories all bring into a world I love.
I think setting is being overestimated. Story too is being overestimated.

I played SWTOR mostly because I like Star Wars and "jedi stuff", but eventually that faded away. The story at SWTOR can be very good, but it was not enough for I play more than 2 or 3 alts before get bored.

You are right when you say the zomebies are the same, be zombies from Kingsmouth or from WoW.

I am playing STW right now, but I think I will not stay for more than 2-3 months. SWTOR taught me so....
Setting is too vague a term. What I like is first-rate art direction and set design, coupled with a milieu that holds to a consistent internal logic. Above all I require a very convincing Sense of Place.

All of the above come well ahead of gameplay, as does graphic design and art style. Gameplay is a lot less important except that certain types of gameplay will prevent me from playing - anything too twitchy or requiring reflexes I don't have, for example.

I don't like games per se. I rarely play board games, card games, offline computer games and so on. I'm not a gamer and I accept the gameplay in MMOs as an apparently necessary price I have to pay to see new virtual worlds.
Theoretically you should really enjoy ‘The Temple of Elemental Evil’ because it is set in the D&D universe and has an excellent turn based combat system.

Did it fall short in the story category?
It changes. I was more into the setting (WoW, LoTRO) and left games because the setting wasn't deep enough (Rift) until I played Kingdoms of Amalur, which led me to Tera and Diablo 3. Although each had a setting, none were very deep. Yet with each of them I would redo the same content over and over to experience the actiony gameplay.

Now I'm playing Civ 5, which is almost all gameplay (and turned based to boot).

Its a shame they don't make real D&D turn based computer strategy games anymore. I could use my AD&D player's handbook on those puppies.
I think both are important. I have stopped playing games based on both reasons. A good game has both good gameplay in an immersive settings.
setting matters though.. in video games or in boardgames.

btw tobold, whats your opinion on fast paced boardgames (read:casual) like DnD Legend of Drizzt / Wrath of Ashardalon and FFG's Gear of Wars / Descent ?

i'd like to hear your opinion on boardgames thats wildly popular but very casual compared to DnD.

and hows your take on the FFG's roleplaying game like Warhammer Fantasy and 40K ?
Gameplay trumps setting for me. That's why I stuck with Ultima Online for such a long time and why I'm now having a blast on Mabinogi. :)

Off MMORPG topic, did you like Skyrim Tobold? Just asking because there's only so much strategy there too. For me it came down to cover and archery or backstab. :P
World of Warcraft pretty much incarnates the *ideal* videogame (not just MMO) for me, and it continues to evolve in all the directions I like.
I'm not trying to be a fangirl; it's just how I feel. :)
It's the people. I know that when I log onto wow that I can participate in group activities with people in my guild whether I am a level 10 or level 85 in both PVP and PVE.
Gameplay, responsiveness, and a sense of playing in "real time".

WoW just feels like driving a sports car to me. Very responsive and when the action starts there's no pausing. A boss fight can be a wild ride like no other game. And the history of playing several years is very important to the experience.

Diablo is fun, and I'm almost to inferno, but it's just not deep enough. Skyrim is pretty, but the gameplay on a console is just too stop and start. Skyrim would be better with more puzzles and less combat. I just got bored. Way too many things to do started to feel like a job.
I’ve been kind of hooked on TSW lately. The setting is a really big part of it – not so much for its aesthetic, but for the type of wordplay and general meta-interaction with players that it facilitates. Characters in-game routinely drop pop-culture references and speak fluent ‘nerd’ and it’s not at all out of place, and doesn’t shatter the fourth wall. Smart-phones, the Internet, corporate focus, clashing with the occult… if anything, the fact that you can look up in-game websites through google, with a browser built right into the game-client that they EXPECT you to use to complete certain quests does far more to improve immersion. It’s like they realized, “Puzzles don’t work unless people want them to, because of y’know… the INTERNET. Let’s use that.”

It could just be because the graphics are more intensive, but on my powerful rig, they’ve somehow managed to make the somewhat gothic-noir ‘real world’ look more impressive and beautiful than any fantasy world yet. The combat is definitely punishing – occasionally teeth-grinding – but the puzzles, the storyline, the respect with which a player’s intelligence is treated are all joys to experience.

Solving the investigations and random quests without markers, or online spoilers, is some of the most satisfying gameplay I’ve experienced in an MMO for quite a while. Mythology-nerd in-jokes tossed about off-handedly everywhere, subtle references galore (and doubtless more I didn’t get), things which may or may not be relevant to the game-world… I don’t know how long it took them to craft that experience, and I don’t know how many months I’ll play, but it was absolutely worth the price of admission to me. I’ve already got my money’s worth, everything after now is a bonus.
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