We’re back with yet another instalment of Respawning’s Let’s Talk series, where every Friday we get every one of our charismatic writers together to discuss a new topic.
This week saw the release of two very different games – Rage 2 and A Plague Tale: Innocence. Both games seem to be garnering a lot of interest for complete different reasons, Rage 2 for its exciting fast paced gameplay and A Plague Tale for its brilliant narrative and wonderful voice acting. This led us to start the debate of which of these is more important when purchasing a new game. So shall we crack on? Sit back, relax and Let’s Talk: Which is More Important – Gameplay or Narrative?
As I imagine most of us will say today, both gameplay and narrative are very important. Though if I have to pick which one matters the most then it’s the narrative without a doubt for me!
When it comes down to games that are all story and very little gameplay such as the Telltale games or Quantic Dream games, I’m usually all over them and will always forgive uninspired quick time events if I’m invested in the games story. Where as if there’s a game that has incredible gameplay with little to no story, I struggle to get invested. A good example of this would be something such as Apex Legends, I played it and straight away knew it was fantastic and LOVED the gameplay though I never really got the itch to go back to it and this happens all the time with these sort of games. I think my friends have got fed up of telling me how good a particular game is and me always replying with “Does it have much of story?”.
For all those that are shouting WELL JUST WATCH A MOVIE THEN!.. Yes, my favourite gaming memories usually revolve around the narrative, the end of Telltale’s Walking Dead Season 1 for example but it’s worth noting that my favourite games of all time (last of Us, God of War etc) all have brilliant gameplay so although I prefer going for the narrative that doesn’t mean I’m not all about that bad ass gameplay too!
This is a really hard decision, but…I’m going to have to go with Gameplay. As someone who loves writing, I feel like I should be handing in my membership card or something for saying this, but there’s a reason I’m making the assertion. Narrative is undeniably important in gaming, and has provided us many memorable titles that, without their story, would be hollow experiences at best (just look at any RPG, or David Cage title). But what is a game that’s just narrative? It’s certainly not a game. At best, it’s an interactive movie. A Dear Esther. But a game without narrative? Oh, those can and do most certainly exist.
Look at Dwarf Fortress for example. That game has no plot – you are Armok, God of Blood, and you made the world and decide to run a Dwarven Fort. That’s it. But the gameplay available in that title is just so open ended and extensive! You can build your fort however you wish – surface town, mountainhome, little houseboats, suspended over a volcano, whatever you want, you can do. You can craft items out of nearly any material you can think of, assign people to various jobs and watch them build their lives and your fort both, utilise water or magma pressure to create a fully functioning electricity system, wage war on you neighbours, build a giant glass flamingo that’s 100 stories tall…you can do whatever you want. Not all games need narratives to be satisfying, because a game with strong enough gameplay can allow us to either create our own (as aforementioned Dwarf Fortress) or not need it at all (Mario Kart, for example). A game can be a game without a plot, but a game without gameplay can’t be a game. It’s that simple.
Anyone who’s read my articles or watched my streams should know by now that I’m big believer in gameplay over story. I play games to have fun buy being in control, if I want a deep story I’ll watch a movie. I’m not opposed to story in my games obviously with my love of titles like God of War or Dishonored but even these are rooted mostly in gameplay with the story just woven in there from time to time. Let’s look at it a different way, the Metal Gear Solid franchise is probably best know for its gratuitous cutscenes and deep lore, none more so than MGS4 which is 20 minutes of gameplay per 2 hours of cutscene. Because of that’s it’s most definitely my least favourite game of the entire series, jump forward to the Phantom Pain however, a game famous for not even having a finished story? I love it, all because it’s gameplay is tight and stupidly fun! Even on repeated play through, you’ll see me having a great time, do I have a clue what’s going on with the storyline? Nope, does it matter? Also nope.
Story focus has given us some gems for sure like Uncharted or Last of Us. Then it’s also given us David Fucking Cage, I’ve again made it no secret that Mr Cage’s games are some of my least favourite things in the industry. Shitty movies with button prompts, you’d think a game designed from the ground up to be a story would tell a better one right?
Both of these things are very important, but not necessarily in the same game! For example Dark Souls is an absolutely perfect game, does the story matter, not one bit (I have no clue what’s going on) on the flip side of that would the last of us have been as good without it’s compelling narrative, most definitely not.
Now a game needs a bit of both without a doubt, and games that combine both are most definitely my favourite, such as God of War. RAGE 2 so far doesn’t seem to have the strongest story and i do wonder if it will affect my overall enjoyment, but watch this space as i find out more!
Narrative, narrative, narrative. Of course gameplay is important, but for me and immersive storyline experience is absolutely vital for a game to become a legend in my mind. All my favourites have a strong narrative; the Bioshock series, Horizon Zero Dawn, the various Zelda titles, Night in the Woods. Yes they all have good gameplay too… But the narrative is what drives me to stick on with a game. I like a storyline that keeps me invested emotionally or mentally I don’t mind. Narrative is just the one for me. I like plots and twists and turns and all of that. I am an avid reader, and enjoy loosing myself in another world, so this naturally transfers to my gaming preferences.
Of course narrative is important, but to me, games won’t have any staying power unless the gameplay loop is golden; there’s a large reason why games like Devil May Cry 5, Kingdom Hearts 2, Dark Souls, Bloodborne, Borderlands, every eSport contender and competitive shooter is able to be played over, and over, and over again without reckless abandon… It’s because the gameplay is so good that it speaks for itself. It needs no story. Needs no context. I just need to feel like an absolute badass and shuck some fools, and I’m a happy, happy boy.
Also I don’t think you’d get an experience in any cutscene or in-game-movie quite like dancing around demons in DMC5 going ‘SWO-TRICK-GUN-SWOR-TRICK-GUN-SWOR-TRICK-SWOR-ROYAL-GUN-SWORD-GUN-TRICK’.