Topic: Gameplay, narrative or all of the above - what type of gamer are you?

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Was just reading through the Starlink thread and was going to post this in there but felt like it’s a bigger thing than just Starlink (and I didn’t want to drown out that thread) and more about how we as individuals look at/enjoy games. A fair number of people mentioned the fact that the game (Starlink) has been heavily criticised for repetition. Whilst it may/may not be true (yet to play it) I’m not really surprised because whilst Ubisoft undoubtedly make good quality titles and amazing game worlds, I find a lot/most/almost all of their games are guilty of poor mission structures and cookie-cutter/rinse-repeat repetition? What I personally find more interesting is that whilst Starlink has been taken to task, both of the recent AC games (not to mention FarCry) have managed to largely escape the same assessment when - as large and polished as they are - they suffer more than most from rinse/repeat mission structures (indeed, since 3, I think Far Cry may be the most generic and forumlaic game out there?)?

As someone in the Starlink thread suggested, don't all game missions fundamentally amount to much the same thing? Almost certainly the answer is ‘yes probably' but what sets some/the elite games apart with it is how they dress or mix that formula up to keep the novelty factor alive long enough that you don't feel burnt out; there's an old saying of "always leave the audience wanting more" which is something I think has been lost a little this gen - how often do you see developers now heading off the inevitable "how big is the game world/how long is the campaign" questions in their press briefings/blogs? Flip that on it's head, dlc seemed like a great idea when it first launched, whereas now it often feels massively unnecessary because even great games often wear out their welcome before the end (I LOVED Persona 5 but man, too many dungeons!). I found Awakening to be an amazing addition to Dragon Age: Origins - another chance to spend more time in one of my favourite game worlds ever created... compare that to the boring, grindy slogfest that was Inquisition and I still haven't touched the dlc because, well, bleurgh? I get that not every quest can be an ‘Obivion: Whodunit’ or have a ‘Virmire-esque’ revelation at the end, but if you’re going to fill a game with a lot of repetitive quests you need to make sure the rest of the game stands out sufficiently to elevate it above the rest of the game such that it doesn’t get drowned out - there’s a reason I could recollect those two missions so easily after all!

The first AC was (rightly) criticised for the terribly repetitive mission structure, but at the same time it was also forgiven because the core gameplay loop was so much fun/new/different and both the main story and quests were much MUCH better. Fast forward to the modern AC’s and whilst I love some of the new RPG-y goodness and think the gameplay has been polished to a mirror shine (although fwiw I prefer Origin skills/combat to Odyssey), I think the games have lost the core of what made them so special - the inner conspiracy/mystery that was so compulsive it made me sit up til goodness knows what time to see how it ends. Yes, the gameplay now is infinitely better (although I miss some of the bits from earlier games still, I loved my ‘pet assassins’) but play long enough and cracks inevitably appear because at it’s core, every mission basically involves ‘going to x and killing y’ with often very little reason why/for me to care. I loved messing around in Origins (predator bow was AMAZING) for the longest time, but by about 50% in I realised that as big as the game is it’s scarily shallow, playing Odyssey that feeling rings even truer and in a lot of ways I feel I’m playing a reskin.

Some people will disagree with me which is fine; my own personal take on it is whether it's applicable to you comes down to your exposure to other recent Ubi games/titles in the same series but more often the type of player you are;

Simplifying things (and i don't believe for a minute it's a binary thing of you're 100% one type or the other - but work with me here), by and large I'm a narrative driven player, I see a world, sure I want to explore it but I want it to mean something, or for there to be something underneath - in other words I want to care about it (I call this the ‘why’). Other people - indeed some of my friends - care less about the 'why' so long as the gameplay loop (the ‘what’) is sufficiently rewarding and they're having fun (and goes a long way to explaining how MP shooters remain so popular).

I actually think the 'sweet spot' is a combination of both - it explains why although I place myself firmly on the narrative side, I'm also able to (really) enjoy stuff like Diablo which is nothing if not a glorious (glorious) gameplay loop/grindfest! I can play a great narrative game with average gameplay just fine, I can play a game with great gameplay and average narrative to a point, but get both of them together and bingo (RDR, Mass Effect a good example of this - although notice the change in focus between 1 & 3). I was able to blast through and forgive the repetitive nature of the original AC because I felt the underlying narrative and main assassination missions were more than enough reward for the laborious effort of the less stellar parts. As the series progressed though that stopped being the case (AC3 is where my love affair started to end). The gameplay became stodgy & the story aimless, so much so people have become so fed up of the present day stuff they just want it gone. I understand that, but if they can bring it back and do it properly (Origins made a commendable effort to start doing that) then I feel like we’ll finally have the ‘why’ back with AC that’d elevate it from 7-8/10 levels to 9-10/10 masterpiece notoriety.

The Witcher 3, GTA & Zelda series are other good examples;

I’d argue that the gameplay in the Witcher has never been really good - only functional - but the narrative, world and quests are such that they elevate it to a level where many (myself included) can overlook flaws such as stodgy combat. For those less interested in narrative and are all about the action, I understand completely why they may struggle more with it and wonder what all the fuss is about.

Looking at GTA, IV was probably the most decisive game in that series? First off let me say that I think GTA has long had an ‘Ubi-style’ issue with missions too; they are by and large always ‘drive here, kill people’. The thing in GTA’s favour is though that aside from drive-by’s, they - GTA IV aside - give you so much to do away from the quest that it water down any repetition to it becomes eminently less noticeable. In IV, the side activities/distractions were noticeably not as fleshed out, and those that did exist were tedious busywork to a large extent (babysitting Roman etc) that it wasn’t an escape.

For Zelda let’s look first at BotW. Widely lauded as the best ever game/best in the series, for many (myself included) it was more miss than hit. There are undoubtedly some great parts, the world looks fantastic and just being in it is incredible - there’s so much good in there that I could never call it a bad game. The problem is that there is this whole world I want to interact with but it feels so restrictive on that front, with narrative absolutely drip-fed out in such minimal amounts that it just left me feeling consistently empty, frustrated and missing that emotional connection I normally get/want from a Zelda title (and i know others feel that way)

I’m going to leave it there for now as I could go on for a fair bit and reckon it’d be better to get some other trains of thought going - this was meant to be a 1 minute reply in another thread and now i’ve been writing for 30 minutes and have the beginnings of an essay! I’ll throw this over and ask you for your experiences/opinions? More and more we see games getting lauded/criticised and often there is an alternate viewpoint shared by a lot of people - we all know we have different tastes in terms of genre, but are we aware/does anyone else think about their tastes WITHIN said genre? Has anyone struggled to enjoy a game everyone else loves but is unable to put their finger on exactly why? Does anyone have a 'guilty pleasure’ game that everyone hates but you can’t get enough of (mine was the Warriors series for the longest time but that’s now become more acceptable and I can say it in public without fear of reprimand!)? Over to you all, be interested to hear what you think (congrats if you made it this far!)



Hmmm, I'm really, really firmly on the narrative side of games. Like I can forgive a lot for games that really hooked me up with good story. But in the end I still do need to enjoy the gameplay to really go into it.

Like recently I'm plowing through Touhou Genso Wanderer - Reloaded-, and it's a Mystery Dungeon style game, with A LOT of interaction and dialogue, and once you defeat the first dungeon, the world opens up with more choices for you to do, whether you'll do another character's story or just continue on.

The gameplay itself is simple, you go through these randomly generated dungeons, get these random items and defeat enemies until you reach boss (or not), if you die, you keep ALL items but loses money. Levels are always reset back to 1 for any kind of dungeons too.

But the grind loop for the equipments ARE AMAZING. Like I get hooked for the story, but the gameplay itself feels so good to do! Like you just grind your equipments to higher level and then try to make it stronger and everything. There's also things you can do to your equipment to make it better- seals, meld, fusion, a lot of things. For all its fault (It CAN be boring to just go through the dungeons), in the end you always, always have progress. Even if you die in the middle of a dungeon, because more items man)

Tbh this is the kind of rogue-lite game I've been wanting, something with story, and yet has so many replayabilities compared to normal narrative focused game- although I suppose I'm not sure if I'll continue once I have finished all the stories. I don't get much pleasure out of just getting higher numbers lol

(In the end I know I lean far more to the story since that's what pulled me in)


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Unless it's a visual novel or something like 999 on DS, I'm not bothered by narrative. There are very few games that have actually made me feel things, and I prefer to just read a book when I'm interested in a story.

This does make it difficult when buying RPGs, because there are many RPGs that I bought because they were highly recommended to me by various places only for me to play it and find out that the only reason anybody liked the game was story.

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"Has anyone struggled to enjoy a game everyone else loves but is unable to put their finger on exactly why?"

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it depends on the game of course, I do love a good and developed story, but I do hate playing for 5 minutes the getting stuck watching a 10 min. cut scene or an NPC blabber on for 10 min., ESPECIALLY if special information is given that is integral for you to progress in the game, preventing you from skipping those bits

so yah, i like RPG's that are to the point development

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A lot of my favorite games absolutely have both enjoyable gameplay and story. While gameplay should take priority for the vast, vast majority of games, I'd prefer for that same exact gameplay to make me care about whatever characters or world it has. It's the entire reason why I liked Majora's Mask over Ocarina of Time, same general gameplay that goes way beyond the norm in terms of storytelling.

Though at the same time, I think some people misunderstand what good story in a video game is. It should be good for what the game needs, as much as being a good story by other standards, if not moreso. Banjo Kazooie's story is just a silly 3D cartoon platformer story, who cares, right? But at the same time, the game did a really good job at making you love to hate Gruntilda throughout the entire game and without needlessly interrupting gameplay with a lot of cutscenes, and the game is better for that. There are games that try way too hard to have some deep, meaningful story that don't succeed as well as even Banjo Kazooie, not even joking. And on maybe the opposite side of things, Fragile Dreams is one of my favorite stories in gaming but the gameplay was so mediocre to bad that despite being glad I experienced it, I genuinely wished it was an anime or something that didn't involve gameplay.

I am really annoyed that a lot of AAA companies gave up on making story driven, single player action games, even if they sometimes fell into the failed meaningful story trap I just described. That's one of the main things I actually liked about big budget western games in the 360 era, so the fact that we don't even get that as much (outside of Sony) is a real shame.

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@darkfenrir I've not heard of that game actually but it sounds pretty good (got way too many games on the go though!). I think I get a similar feeling from Hollow Knight. It's not specifically giving/telling me specifically any sort of narrative but it's very Dark Souls-y as I go through in that I can see stuff has happened to the world & it's inhabitants and progressing through I'm finding out little bits at a time that are helping piece it all together. I also think it helps when there's a bit of a grind that you at least keep something at death so you don't feel like you're completely wasting your time? The only time I get irritated by grind though is when they put it needlessly in front of a story that I just want to know 'what happens next?!' etc

@ReaderRagfish it's an interesting point about the books/story/immersion. I used to read a lot as a kid, but as I got older/discovered games I've continually read less and less. Games and storytelling has increased massively since I've been playing and whilst sadly I don't think there are many games that can compare with books/movies in terms of writing quality/narrative (although admittedly there are also a lot of terrible books/movies too!) it's heartening to see - or at least it was last gen before the industry became obsessed with GaaS - so many companies investing in writers/storytelling. I chat with my girlfriend a lot about this as she's a big reader but doesn't get games at all and finds it strange/hard to believe I can get the same level of emotional payoff/satisfaction from a game as opposed to a book... On the subject of 999 (love the nonary's!), what do you think it was that hooked you where so many hadn't? Do you think it's perhaps the agency the game placed on you (as in making you responsible?)?

@Anti-Matter I'm pretty new here so please forgive any ignorance on my part; naturally I've spotted that you're not a fan of violent/shooting/18 rated games - I think in that case it's easy to put our finger on why you don't like those. Are there any games you've played that you don't like, but no matter how hard you try you just can't explain why? Deus Ex: Human Revolution would be one for me - it sounds like the game was actually designed for me, yet no matter how hard I tried I just hated it! I finished it in the end but couldn't wait for it to be over. To further add to the mystery I both played and loved the sequel (Mankind Divided) so it was more baffling - can only put it down to the writing narrative, but even then I can't quite explain what it is about it - any games for you like that?

@jhewitt3476 Yeah I hear you - gave me nightmare flashbacks to cutscenes before bossfights/after final checkpoints too! I think in terms of cutscenes/NPC talk I'm fine with it going on for a while/taking a while so long as I'm already invested in the game. Mass Effect/Dragon Age are talk-y but they broke it up quite nicely right at the beginning however, not sure if you played the first ME, but the first time you reach the citadel the pace drops off a cliff because it is so, so much talking. I pushed through (and naturally am super glad that I did) but I can see entirely how that puts people off - later cutscenes/conversations were the complete opposite because at that point (if you'd played that long) you cared! Someone who has played MGS4 to completion could probably add more to this bit - but even with my love of narrative that game put me off with cutscenes that went on for days about stuff I neither knew or cared about at that point.

@kkslider5552000 Completely agree, some great points! I love ME/Dragon Age/Bioshock style narratives, but at the same time love a Hollow Knight/Dark Souls type 'learn at your own pace' type of thing too. The recent Doom was all the better for not being tied down to a narrative too, in a game about gratifyingly killing monsters who cares as to the reason why - a good example of gameplay loop over narrative (although maybe quite telling that I never finished it?). A game that you brought to my mind reading your post was [strong]Kingdoms of Amalur - they burnt through a massive budget and wrote this insanely detailed/created this huge world but none of it meshed together well at all - they went for the super, super detail when with the core gameplay/concept they could have kept things simpler and reaped far more success...?

Agree about the 360 era too - if we look at the current (PS4/360) era just how many truly memorable games have there been? Sony have obviously had some great hits but take them away and what are you left with? Watchdogs was meh. The Division? Hmph. Mass Effect: Andromeda? Not as bad as some make out but bloated & padded to dull levels - I can't remember half of the party you take with you which speaks volumes. Dragon Age: Inquisition? See Mass Effect. Obviously there's lots more games I could pick on and it's obviously not all doom and gloom, but there's a reason people like me are increasingly throwing money at indies, remakes or JRPGs and that's because there's a gaping big hole in the AAA-single player narrative area that only Sony seem willing to fill. Naturally Nintendo are Nintendo and (virtual console & online functionality aside) I don't ever want them to change!

Edited on by BrainOfGrimlock



@BrainOfGrimlock Yeah it's really good game- I want to continue on to the side story first before delving back to the main story I think. It's really good on its own right, but I'll be a little hard pressed to really, really recommend unless you do enjoy/know Touhou Project itself since they... didn't explain much. The whole thing is pretty much a love letter to that though! (This game got reviewed here, but... it kinda got bad review here :/ Personally I ended up not buying because of that... but I regretted that now, tried it and gamn it's oozing with quality pretty much. Will buy the sequel whenever that come out in english for sure though!)

And yeah, I agree that grind is annoying when you just want to know the next part! The lucky thing with this kind of genre you can be lucky to not need that grind lol (A mix of Invincibility Potion + Superpower to defeat bosses are great!). But I can't say I hate the grind, it's just fun to go into the dungeon, try your best and accept death if you die, or happy if you go farther than you thought you will.

Right, I need to stop talking all about this game xD

Back on topic! So anyway, yeah it's fun to just play games with straight up storyline, with dialogues, cutscenes and stuff, but sometimes there's just something fun with those games that just show things! It's especially great when you find games that can combine these two though.

Edited on by StableInvadeel


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The best games are the games that mix a good narrative with good gameplay. But I tend to agree with @darkfenrir in that, I can forgive repetitive or somewhat boring missions if the story is good enough to justify them or if the lore/world building fleshed out through doing them. The original Xenoblade Chronicles is my all time favorite game effectively (at least if I have to pick one). But it is guilty of dozens of "go here and kill 5 of these monsters" or "bring me 6 potatoes" fetch quests. But why I am very okay with that, is that it almost entirely removed the need for mindless grinding EXP, or blind exploration. If you did all those quests, you got to see all those different monsters, and explore the vast world going in places that, if you only followed the main story, you'd never really see.

However I also can forgive lack luster story if the gameplay is really good. Pokemon is my go to for this. I love the gameplay in Pokemon. But the "story" is barely more than just a frame, a skeleton of what it could be. Mario games are another example.

But the best games for me are always the ones that give me an interesting and enjoyable story that also boasts a fun gameplay loop. Xenoblade, Star Wars KOTOR, Mass Effect, and honestly largely RPGs.

Games that lack any narrative don't get considered in this conversation in my opinion. I love games like Cities Skylines, Civilization 6, and Stardew Valley. But those games are largely a "write your own story" type of thing and it's what they are designed to be.

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I find that games that don't focus on the story tend to be better videogames.
Actually, the best videogames seem to be the ones where the developers understand they are "just" making a videogame and not a Dostoevsky novel or Citizen Kane.
And I especially hate when a videogame tries to "teach" you something about life through narrative. There is a place and time for that and it's "books" and "1800s".

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I realise the majority of folk will say "Wow, that game looks good" when they see sun rays dancing through swaying trees, rolling hills as far as the eye can see etc etc" Me. I say that game looks ace when I see things like Mario throwing his hat, then jumping on it. Gameplay all the way. Then music. Graphics third, then lastly story, which I always thought was just an excuse for making pixels move on a screen. I'm more about pure arcade video gaming. It's what truly differentiates it from other media. If I want story, I can read a book, or watch a film. Not saying there is no room for narrative in a game, but if the gameplay is naff...I might as well just be watching it. But I do get there is a huge audience for folk wanting to feel like they are in a movie or behind the wheel of an expensive opposed to playing a video game.

Edited on by GrailUK

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Gameplay > story for me. I can laugh at a bad story because it would make for excellent riffing material, but I can't laugh at boring or bad gameplay. I need to be able to derive some sort of enjoyment from playing a game through its gameplay.

Some games blend story with gameplay wonderfully, however.

  • Metroid Prime, tied with Super Metroid as my favorite game of all time, doesn't have a deep story, but its method of storytelling works very well in that lore is given to you in concise chunks (something Dark Souls is much more obscure with, as a comparison, but Dark Souls also has positives of its own) while working in tandem with Metroid's sense of loneliness.
  • Dark Souls is very much a more "traditional" RPG where you have your own "morality" if you want to kill people or leave them be (like killing the Seal Guardian in New Londo Ruins early so you can do the Four Kings before Anor Londo) while going almost wherever you want at the beginning. It's "your story", but you actually have influence on what would happen. Do you prolong the Age of Fire, or usher in the Age of Dark?
  • Xenoblade Chronicles 1 and 2, while story and gameplay are more separate from each other than Dark Souls or Metroid Prime, still have great stories backed up by great gameplay so even if you don't give a crap about the story, you can still enjoy the gameplay. But if you're not so hot with the gameplay, you can still enjoy the story if that's what you're into.

A great story can't save bad gameplay though. Xenogears is a prime example of that, it has a great story but the gameplay is so aged I don't want to do a second playthrough because it aged like cheese.

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Although it pains me slightly to say it, especially as a massive fan of story-led RPGS, gameplay is always king - it's why we all ended up playing games, isn't it? Good mechanics can carry a bad story - or no story at all - but a good story can't make up for tedious gameplay. That said, story definitely makes a huge difference, and I will put up with a fair bit of pain for a great story - and any software that manages to combine the gameplay and a compelling narrative can be very special indeed.

I'd go gameplay > story > graphics and sound, I reckon. Don't ask about frames per second - there's enough of that below the line on the main site.

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I don't really care? Trying to come up with a good answer I realised that I don't really prefer one over the other. I like narrative-based games like Uncharted, but I also enjoy more 'gameplay-focused' games like Mario Odyssey. Heck; I love Tetris! Of course, too much gameplay is never a problem in a game, but if the game is almost entirely narrative, well, then it stops being a game I guess.

@EvilLucario made a good point, you can laugh at bad story elements, but bad gameplay is never fun. And I wouldn't say that a good story can make me enjoy a game with bad gameplay either. It also depends on how the story is delivered. I prefer (good) voice acting, as I'm not a fan of reading off a screen. Yes, I'm one of those people who prints out an article or whenever I have to read more than 3 or 4 pages. So I'm not a fan of massive walls of text in video games. Story told through voice recorders can die a slow death as well



Interesting to see how many people are choosing gameplay over story - not in a million years saying that's wrong, I definitely see the appeal; why would I play Diablo if I didn't, that's one of the games I don't give a flying monkey's about the story (really), just point me at the next big bad so I can get something pointier & sharper to go fight more big bads...!

I also think gameplay loves can be won over the other way too; I loved the game but I don't think anyone can say 'The Last of Us' had a super gameplay loop? It was perfectly fine/functional wrapped around a killer narrative and beautiful game world yet the reception was almost universally positive?

Should reiterate that it's not a binary thing, just which is more important & I definitely concur that when you get a game that ticks both boxes it's often those titles that go on to be the 'generation definers'.

How do you feel about games like Dear Esther or Gone Home, or even The Walking Dead/Wolf Among Us?

Edited on by BrainOfGrimlock



I enjoy those kind of games, like Stanley Parable and One Shot that focuses far more on exploration / story compared to the gameplay.

(Although I would argue that the best narrative-based game seems to be Edith Finch? But I can't say that without playing it, and the suckiest thing here is that I tried to play it and end up getting very nauseated thanks to the first person view :/ Like a lot of these Exploration based games are nearly all first person only and it's so annoying argh!)

Haven't played Walking Dead or Wolf Among Us though, but if I wish for more narrative based games, it will be the One Shot experience (which I really can think can be shown at other medium, just like NieR: Automata I feel), or Edith Finch from the little I know (just... wish it'll give third person view, please).


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