Wednesday, February 14, 2007


I don’t mind being forced into a story. Usually. Let’s face it I’m playing a game because I like stories. I expect my games to have a story to tell and I don’t have a need to try and break out of the story somehow (like by trying to kill Lord British or slaughtering everyone in Cyrodiil which is the typical way people like to break out of stories in games) – I’d much rather enjoy the story.

The more “serious” the game the more I expect a good story. I was playing
Dungeons and Dragons Online the other night and we were observing how the doors to rooms would open just as soon as the last monster in the room was killed. Coyote was wondering what magical spell those doors were based on. I’m pretty sure that the spell would be Mordenkinens Plot Hammer. In a game like DDO which is essentially group whack-a-mole I don’t mind it. We’re just there to have a little fun together. I don’t expect much from the story or the world in an MMORPG. Other games particularly stand alone single player games I expect more from. Some stories are not enjoyable and that is annoying enough to break my suspension of disbelief and begin to resent the plot hammer. Another time is when it’s just do darn FAKE that I can’t take it anymore. These are mistakes in games where there is an expectation of quality story telling and a believable world.

Neverwinter Nights 2 is for the most part a fun game. I have mostly found the stand alone game to be plesant to play. Your milage may vary. I’ve had some gripes about being forced into a play style of “kill ‘em all and let Pelor sort them out” when I’d rather try some sneaking around or some sort of subtle approach to the game. And I have run into two bugs during my playing of the game (I’m currently in Act III – attempting to win the trust of the IronFist clan) but neither of them has been game stopping in any way although both were somewhat annoying.

TANGENT: The first was a looping cinematic scene that made fighting the actual battle that started immediately after the movie very difficult to do. Move two steps, start casting a spell, watch the movie again clicking on all the dialog options again, finish the spell, select another party member, watch the movie again clicking on all the dialog options again, open the inventory and select an item to use, try to target the item but….. watch the movie again clicking on all the same dialog options …again. Anyway, that was irritating but not critical.

LESS OF A TANGENT: The second bug was less odd. At one point I noticed I had a quest in my quest log I didn’t remember getting – and in fact the quest log told me to report back to someone because I’d found the mighty weapon it mentioned. Huh? I had no idea what it was talking about. I tracked down the person who had supposedly given me the quest and he went through a dialog tree that was apparently supposed to set that quest. The quest log stayed at the “return and report” message though. I eventually stumbled into an area with a big baddie and after defeating it I was treated to a little dialog that apparently was the weapon mentioned in the quest. Hurray! Ummmm except for one minor problem. It was the exact same weapon that I had JUST BOUGHT at the vendor right next to the guy who gave me the quest in the first place.

That’s right I went on a quest to obtain a holy weapon that I had just bought. Didn’t someone tell this guy there were two of them? Couldn’t he have said something like – go on this quest to get this holy weapon that is oddly just like the one in your hand right there because you are going to need at least one of them later? I mean really. *sigh*

Well the fact is that he couldn’t have done that because the story in NWN2 is on rails. The choices in NWN2 are limited to what companions you take with you (sometimes), what you equip your character with, and which few side quests there are that you do first. I had to go get the bad guy with the weapon in order to advance the story. It turns out that the weapon quest is a small value side quest for certain character classes. I was going to have that exact same fight in that exact same place and way - no matter what I did.

The other time the plot hammer really irks me in NWN2 is the out doors areas. Most of these areas look terrific and have a lot of character. However, after a while you begin to notice that the outdoors areas are all of two types – a big meadow surrounded by impenetrable barriers and narrow twisty trails surrounded by impenetrable barriers. I really enjoy exploring and every time I’m in an outdoor area in NWN2 I’m forcibly reminded how I can not. The indoors areas work very well in the game and have been one of the strengths of the game so far but almost every time I’m outside I feel irritated that I have to go here along this one particular little trail to get to where I’m going.

I am familiar enough with gaming and even some game development to see why the designers have created the game this way. It all comes down to the economics in the end – there has to be x amount of content and it has to fit together somehow and in between that there is tons of details like AI and world databases and spiffy effects so in all of that balancing it’s easy to make the choice of “ok the player can go here but not there because it’s easier for us to make it work that way”. I see that – and usually I’m forgiving of that. I’m willing to work with the designers because I bought the game to have fun. And it bugs me when something jars me out of the “fun zone” while I’m playing.

Looking back over this I think the whole point of the post was to say: Mordenkinens Plot Hammer. Oh well. Now I’ve said it twice so I should be good to go.

The moral of the story is: immersion is good in a game or any story telling device. And things that disrupt immersion are then, by definition, bad for the vehicle. Poorly wielded plot hammers will break immersion.

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