Jon McSwain (Twitter)
There is usually a fierce debate amongst gamers when posed the question of better/worse gameplay vs. better/worse story. You have many proponents of each side and result in some polar opposite critiques of the same game. For example, a quick mention of Destiny and you can open Pandora’s Box into this lack of story, but stellar gameplay debate. Although I really love solid gameplay, I must admit, if a game has a less than stellar story, I can quickly find myself losing interest.
Since I have already brought up Destiny, I’ll continue to use it as an example. Of course I won’t delve into the horrendously executed story because it has been drug through the mud many times before now, but I want to reference it because of how that has affected my interest in the game. Bungie is undoubtedly one of my most cherished developers and needless to say I was quite excited about playing their most recent release. The story, as we all know, was an enormous letdown and caused my interest in the game to diminish faster and faster.
I couldn’t wait to just finish the game, because I had NO attachment to any of the characters, the world, or any other aspect of the game. All I wanted to do was finish it so I could just move on to the multiplayer. In fact, I haven’t done any of the extra DLC content that Bungie released, with little intention to do so. It is such a shame that Bungie could create the wonderful world of Halo and yet allow themselves to release a massively subpar, uninteresting,
All I wanted to do was finish it so I could just move on to the multiplayer. In fact, I haven’t done any of the extra DLC content that Bungie released, with little intention to do so. It is such a shame that Bungie could create the wonderful world of Halo and yet allow themselves to release a massively subpar, uninteresting, non-immersive game that could have been their best yet.
Just like Halo, the gameplay in Destiny was fantastic. Which, thankfully resulted in many hours of multiplayer and at least facilitated me enjoying that aspect of the game. There is absolute value in having a solid gameplay, because it can, at times, almost overcompensate a lacking story. However, when expectations are as high as they were for Destiny then gameplay alone is just not enough. Hopefully, more games will harken back to the days where story was the focal point and by incorporating solid gameplay can foster many hours of interesting entertainment.
Daniel George (Twitter)
When it comes to video games, gameplay is king. Video game writing, at its very best, has not nearly reached the levels achieved by some of history’s greatest books, movies or even TV shows. When David Cage represents the Western gaming industry’s biggest AAA attempt to tell compelling stories with a rich narrative that drives gameplay (instead of the other way around), you have to realize the quality of game scripts is sub par compared to other mediums.
It’s rare when we can praise a video game for a supreme balance of storytelling and gameplay. The Last of Us best comes to mind when discussing video games that got it right. Giving the player large sums of time overcoming the game’s challenges through stealth and action, while further advancing the plot both dynamically in gameplay and within cutscenes, creates a perfect 2:1 balance between gameplay and story. Contrast that with Metal Gear Solid 4, a title that is arguably more cutscene than game. As intriguing as Kojima’s story plot is, there is an overwhelming length of inaction during long branches of cutscenes, where you can go up to roughly half an hour between inputs as Solid Snake. That’s way too long for a video game.
Without gameplay or interactivity of any kind, you cannot call something a video game.
The inverse can be said about story-driven titles with a stated lack of gameplay. As much as I love Telltale Games’ look at the graphic adventure genre, actual gameplay elements (puzzle-solving, interacting within a set environment) have gone more and more by the wayside over the past year in favor of pushing more of a focus on dialogue choices. As key as those moments are to the Telltale experience, cutting down other portions of the game puts more of a focus that “choices matter.” In turn, when you inevitably find out that they ultimately don’t matter in the long run (due to a lack of well-rounded gameplay), the storytelling illusion is broken. The Walking Dead Season 2 suffered because of that reason, specifically.
Gameplay, on its own, can sell a video game. Nidhogg is a simple fencing game with a beautiful art style woven into an NES-like 2D action scroller. Orange stick figure vs. yellow stick figure, or whatever colors you want. There’s no explanation for your purpose, nor why someone is stopping you. Just get to the opposite side of the map. The frantic rock-paper-scissors combat with a live/AI opponent sells the experience, not some back story to give the game depth.
Early Minecraft, Antichamber, most simulation games; video games can exist without any basis of story whatsoever. Without gameplay or interactivity of any kind, you cannot call something a video game. You can, however, call it Mountain and convince critics that a $1 screensaver is worthy of high art.
Next: Mytheos Closes Our Discussion With A Look At Story's Advancement In Gaming