I continued to work on my PS3 backlog this weekend with the first game in the Tomb Raider Trilogy, Tomb Raider: Legend. Of the three games included on the disc, Legend receives the worst reviews, and I can understand why. My experience has been that I have repeatedly gone to a walkthrough only to learn that I had correctly solved a puzzle or boss mechanic, only to be unable to execute the solution due to inconsistent controls. However, the story from Legend continues on into the subsequent Underworld (and is relatively amusing besides), so I wanted to play through the game anyway.
My solution to this problem, despite being a long-time gamer with experience in this series, was to set the game to "easy" difficulty. This effectively removes almost all challenge from the game's combat - mashing on the "fire two handguns at once" button eventually kills most enemies, who deal limited damage - and with it most of the potential frustration. What's left are the jumping puzzles - which are usually at least fun to watch and puzzle out - and the story scenes.
When I played through Batman: Arkham City, earlier this month, I was willing to tackle the game on normal difficulty because I expected the proven stealth gameplay would make it worth the effort. I'm considering replaying the more challenging "new game plus" because the gameplay delivered. With Tomb Raider - and WoW's raid finder - I'm not convinced that it has.
Balancing story and game engagement
I posted about the rise of this type of cinematic stoytelling in games - primarily single player games - nearly a year and a half ago. (Amusingly, I wrote that I wouldn't be first in line for SWTOR, not knowing that it was still over a year from release, and for once I got one prediction correct.) Since then we're seeing more of this type of storytelling in the MMO scene, whether in SWTOR's famous dialog trees or WoW's increasingly chatty plot-heavy dungeons.
We've always had some story in our MMO's - LOTRO has interspersed lore cut scenes with quests and dungeons since its launch, and many MMO's historically kept their main lore and storylines locked at the end of exclusive raid content - but it's becoming both more prevalent and more accessible. The question is whether the levels of engagement in both storyline and gameplay have kept pace.
I can see tolerating a lengthy dialog as a way to celebrate toppling an end-of-expansion boss after the proverbial (or literal) 400 wipes, but I can also see it getting frustrating to have every encounter - especially easier ones such as WoW's dungeon and raid finder - punctuated with NPC's who repeat the same chatter week after week. Likewise, I can see it being irritating for players who actually WANT to observe the story in an era of chain-pulling to the next encounter.
It may be possible for an MMO to launch with such sheer quantity of story that it can get by on selling players access to replay the game - if anyone pulls this off, it will be SWTOR. For everyone else, who is still trying to sell players on using repeatable content (whether through a subscription or microtransaction consumables), I wonder if the increased focus on a story - which is generally less repeatable - is a distraction from attempts to convert players to the core gameplay.