Is Story the Death of Replayability?

Stillwater during the City Elf Origin storyline

Over on Tobold’s Blog is a thoughtful question for folks to ponder. Seeing as everyone is talking about Dragon Age these days, his concern is that because the story essentially has specific points crafted to end up in one specific way no matter what you do (for instance, Ostagar), the game (or perhaps any game) would lose its replayability.

I find myself disagreeing with sentiment that a story can diminish replayability. A good number of the commenters on Tobold’s blog cited books as having stories that you’d want to reread, but I find that while it is true to a certain extent, it’s an analogy that is lacking, because video games aren’t simply read, but rather are experienced.

I think that the replayability of Dragon Age comes with creating different personalities. Whether honorable knight or dastardly scoundrel, the thing about DA: O is that the game becomes replayable because different characters are progressing through the story, and having different sets of experiences.

In one of my first communication classes back in college, we learned about semiotics, and one of the basic ideas behind it was that meanings behind a particular structure (such as language) change if we change one aspect of the structure. In language, changing one word in a sentence, or even the stress in one word in that sentence, can create a different meaning than the previous iteration before it.

In the case of DA: O, changing the character who goes through the story may not change the overall story, but it refines one’s appreciation for the story as it plays out. A knave would be more willing to take on contract killings, whereas a noble man might choose to stop the contract killers in their tracks. Sure, the act doesn’t help with stopping Darkspawn, but it shows the strength of one’s chosen character, and also makes certain events more memorable for certain characters played.

The different origin stories also provide the gamer with new ways of looking at the world and at events that occurred within Ferelden. If you’re a city elf, like I am, then you’ll know why a certain Tim Curry-voiced character got a certain position close to the regent. If you’re a human noble, then the path to that Tim Curry-voiced character’s rising through the ranks becomes even more pronounced.

In any event, let me conclude by saying this: story is only the death of replayability if the story is roughshod and ill-conceived. A good story, made up with strong characters, can increase the replayability of a game beyond its original single-play confines, and I think Dragon Age, as far as I can tell, has the characters and stories that can make for many good replays ahead.

7 thoughts on “Is Story the Death of Replayability?

  1. A totally linear story is indeed the end of replayability and the DEATH of an open ended game that MMOs are.

    But if the story lets players some freedom of variation, it can work.

    This is how SW:TOR ideally turns out. If it ends up with “must do this” storyline all the time and the only difference is the various origins and a different starting experience of your char, then it will suck… HARD.

    • I’m hoping SW:TOR doesn’t suck hard by way of storytelling. If there’s enough room to have a well-crafted story and freedom to pursue your own goals in-game, then The Old Republic should be a welcome addition to the MMO universe.

  2. Guild Wars has a story, but it does not limit my freedom to do what I want whatever I want. In general. Some chapters “gate” content a bit.

    Just to name a game with good story and replayability. 😉

  3. I think a good story along with good gameplay makes a game replayable. I can’t tell you the amount of times I have played KOTOR, and I enjoy it everytime even though I know how it ends.

    Some games can survive on the weight of their gameplay only, but I don’t think a game cannot survive if it only has a good story.

    • You have a good point there. A good story, combined with excellent presentation should, ideally, make a game highly replayable. 🙂

  4. If a story has enough choices that are meaningful, if the world itself allows you do and be whatever you want, if things are nuances enough, there can be infinite re playability even with a strong story. (See Baldur’s Gate 2)

    • I agree with you on the idea, but I think you have to be mature enough to see the nuances too. I remember playing BG2 and focusing only on following a specific path outlined in a guide because I wanted the uber gear.

      That said, I’m more inclined now to see the meaningful choices presented in various games. 🙂

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