I decided to take a potentially more controversial approach to covering personal stories in Guild Wars 2 based on my experiences in the closed beta so far. This lets me neatly dance my way around including any spoilers (I’m sure there are plenty of other sites / videos that are more than happy to ruin major plot points for you) and it also gives me the opportunity to give you some points of reference to consider based on the most recent major MMO launch.
The developers at ArenaNet and BioWare have both stated from very early in the development of GW2 and SWTOR respectively, that story would play a major part in their games. While that is largely the case in both titles, the approach to story that either devco has taken, and the player experience of each are kind of like night and day. I’ll let you decide which one represents night and which is day (or apples and oranges if you’re one of those wacky fruit people).
To give you a top level comparison of the two games in terms of storytelling at the character level, consider the following:
Class Stories in SWTOR
- 1 unique story per class (advanced classes of the same core class share the story) for a total of 8 unique character-level stories you can potentially experience
- The direction your story takes is decided in advance – you’re mainly just an actor playing a scripted role in events
- Choices you make during class quests mainly focus on conversational options, and have the potential to alter the attitudes of NPC companions towards your character.
- Choices may also alter your light side / dark side progression which ultimately just leads to different sets of armor for your character to purchase later on.
While class quests in SWTOR can certainly be entertaining, you can largely liken them to being a single-player candy bar in an MMO wrapper. They also add little to no replay value outside of playing one of each core class in the game. Once you’ve made one sith warrior, it doesn’t matter what race or advanced class you choose, you get the same canned story that all sith warriors experience.
Now let’s compare that to Guild Wars 2.
Personal Story in GW2
- Players make biography options during character creation that will have a direct impact on the personal story they get to experience.
- There are at least 75 different paths your personal story can take even before factoring in choices you make that will impact the direction of your story as you progress.
- At various points, you will need to make decisions that will alter future events in the life of your character.
- These choices can range from something seemingly basic, like choosing option A or B, to far more dramatic, such as having to decide to save a close friend, or let them die so that others can live.
- Some of your conversational options will alter how the NPCs in the game perceive your character based on the choices you make.
- Factoring in home instances, choices you make can have a lasting impact on the world for your character.
Keep in mind that I’m only going through some of the basics of each system, but based on the above you could think of the difference between the representation of character-level storytelling in both games kind of like this:
- SWTOR = A standard novel that you read cover-to-cover in a more conventional manner
- GW2 = A “Choose Your Own Adventure” book that lets you determine the outcome based on the choices you’ve made, but also one where you get to choose which key plot points you want the story to contain before ever reading a single page.
GW2 Personal Story Examples
To help illustrate how personal story factors into the gameplay of GW2, I made a point during this most recent beta to create a number of characters of the same race, only making as many different biography options as I was able. In one case I made the same choices during character creation, only made different choices at key points during missions.
For this experiment I focused on human characters, though the same principals apply to the other four playable races.
When you first exit the tutorial, your first step in advancing your personal story is to speak to a nearby Scout. This will be the same for all races, and this NPC will highlight any major events (marked on the map with an empty heart) happening in the surrounding area.
From here you will need to complete any of these events – you can choose any of those highlighted by the scout – as the next stage in your story. Upon completion, you will receive an on-screen prompt to check your in-game mail, where you will have a new message that directs you to where your personal story truly begins.
For the human characters I created for the purposes of my experiment, I made sure to:
- Choose each of the three unique ‘background’ options at least once on unique characters
- Choose each of the three unique ‘regrets’ options at least once on unique characters
Just stopping there I could have had up to nine different personal story chains based on my decisions during character creation. You also have to factor in that, during the beta events, personal story was capped at level 20, presumably to help avoid having too much of the story leaked prior to the game’s launch.
Each of these choices you make during character creation will account for multiple individual missions, together forming a longer chapter in the overall story. One thing you’ll want to pay close attention to is the intended level for the next stage of your story. At earlier levels these might only be a difference of 2 or 3 levels, but even a mission with enemies 3 levels higher than you can be difficult to complete. So in most cases, it’s best to wait until you’re roughly the intended level for a given mission.
Your biography choices will not be wholly contained to your home instance, but will often send you out into the world to complete objectives, track down an NPC, defeat some bad guys, or participate in some incredibly fun and unique activities.
An example of the latter brought back fond memories of playing Mad King Thorn’s interactive mini-game where you have to mimic his actions using in-game emotes. I won’t tell you which specific biography option led me down that path, but will note that there will be plenty of other interesting nods like that for original Guild Wars players to discover.
In each of these major ‘chapters’ you’ll also have to make at least one major choice that will branch your story into different directions. Most - if not all of these moments - made me stop to carefully consider the potential consequences of my decision. In other words, these will rarely be basic or arbitrary decisions, but rather ones that will have a direct impact on the world for your character.
As you go along, you can read excerpts from each major part of your personal story in the hero [H] panel by clicking on the story tab. Chances are, but the time you reach level 20 you will have a completely different synopsis for your story than your friends do, even if they choose to play the same race, profession, and select the same biography options during character creation.
The only real constant you’ll encounter in your personal story is the presence of one of the 5 heroes who were once part of Destiny’s Edge. For my human stories, this meant I was interacting with Logan Thackary on a regular basis. Please note, however, his participation is the only real constant here. So say you choose the noble background, Logan will play one role, while a commoner background might have your interactions with Logan (and his reactions to you) play out quite differently.
Another thing to keep in mind for personal stories in GW2 is that you don’t necessarily have to play them the moment each new mission or stage becomes available. Thanks to the sidekicking system, you can easily level to 20 first, and then double back and begin your personal story if you’d like.
The only reason you might want to consider avoiding this approach, however, is that some of your personal story missions will reward you with some awesome armor or weapon upgrades. While many will be consistent with gear for that level found as drops or via crafting, you’ll occasionally get the choice of an uncommon weapon or armor piece that are worth snagging. For example, I really dug the longbow I obtained on my ranger at one point, and ended up using transmutation stones later on to be able to keep using the same weapon skin at higher levels.
GW2 Personal Stories – A Clear Winner on All Counts
Let’s face it – MMO gamers abhor reading quest text for reasons unknown. I mean, I get the idea that if you read a quest description or not, you still have to go out and collect 10 bear asses either way. So it really comes down to a combination of the quests themselves being generally lame, and the quest text not really mattering to the overarching story for the game.
Thankfully, developers have finally begun to realize that maybe MMO gamers do like story, but there are better ways to tell those stories. For SWTOR, that comes in the form of a rough translation of most of BioWare’s single player games. In other words, highly scripted events that point you in a pre-determined direction, with little to no opportunity for deviation from that set path.
But for GW2 you not only get a say in what your story is going to be, but will no doubt end up actually caring about what the heck is going on in Tyria by the time you reach the higher levels. The personal story system is also an elegant method of keeping the spirit of the story missions from GW1. Only instead of forcing all players to experience the same story, it’s factored in character-level decision making as well.
Another major difference in character-level storytelling between the two games is that in SWTOR most, if not all class stories reach a point where they feel half-baked, or that maybe the writing team was when they wrote the stories. Maybe both. Probably both.
In Guild Wars 2, I never reached a point where I felt that was the case, and found the storytelling to be cleaver, inventive, and a major highlight to the overall gameplay experience. Kudos to the writing team at ArenaNet for not only making story matter in an MMO, but for doing such a great job with it.
I’m sure there will be a LOT of people who dive into GW2’s structured PvP as their primary in-game activity right from day one. After all, ArenaNet has aims of making competitive PvP into a true e-sport this time around. For those players, however, I would still encourage them to take some time between rated Conquest matches and hot-join rotations to go out and experience the personal story for your characters. They’re as expertly crafted as every other aspect of the game, and absolutely worth your time.