The recent release of The Order: 1886 to a lukewarm critical reception got me thinking about the story in the media of videogames, and how it can sometimes become an afterthought.
The Order is a peculiar game, one that focusses on it’s story and characters over actual gameplay, this being even more of a rarity among triple A, big budget games from prestigious developers. However this reduced it’s critical reception to mediocre, something I highlighted in my review as being slightly harsh, but nonetheless it was the games Achilles heel, as the actual gameplay became lost in the character and world building.
Flip this on it’s head, and I honestly feel the story is the driving force behind the Halo games, and it is that, rather than gameplay, that kept me captivated throughout my playthrough of Halo: The Master Chief Collection. While the gameplay of the Halo series is nothing bad, to me it is nothing more than solid, essentially acting as a bridge between the various cutscenes. Halo is an example of a story driven game done correctly, applying an electrifying story to a solid foundation of gameplay, whereas the Order attempts to apply lacklustre gameplay to a rich story.
However The Last of Us is truly the defining game in terms of emotional story and breakneck gameplay, combining the two so perfectly that you feel like the development team must have spent nearly equal amounts of time on them both. But games like this are a rarity, with most developers recognising the fact that great gameplay is what sells copies, rather than fascinating stories and characters. A great example of this is the Assassin’s Creed series, which sells well enough to merit an annual game, but has a meandering and wayward story, one that continually loses focus.
The one exception to this rule might be Telltale Games’ various series, in particular the Walking Dead, which clearly prioritises story over gameplay, as the player rarely gets to partake in any combat, or even exploration. But many people (myself included) covet the Walking Dead and hold it in such high esteem for the emotions it is able to experience through its storytelling and character building, but is it perhaps the lower price tag for Telltale Games that makes us more lenient to the fact that there is a clear priority for story over any gameplay?
Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love what Telltale have accomplished in the last two years, but does the general public expect more bang for their buck when paying upwards of $50 for an experience? Perhaps I do, but I’m not necessarily expecting to be blown away by the gameplay, I’m instead looking for something more unique, and this usually comes in the form of memorable storylines or characters that I can connect with, something that is sadly a rarity among games.
So I guess my vote on the topic would fall somewhere in the ‘story first’ camp, but for a truly successful game, it is always best to seamlessly combine the two, creating an experience where both the story and the gameplay support each other, while making sure the story and characters are fully realised.