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I was playing Closed Beta’s last weekend, specifically Marvel Heroes, Neverwinter Online, and Warframe; there is such a contrast between the three games and how they use voice to tell story. Marvel Heroes is your basic dungeon crawler, and I do mean basic; the combat is a step back from the popular Marvel Ultimate Alliance games of yesteryears. The game is better than your average movie license game, but considering the company that’s hardly more than a backhanded compliment. Neverwinter Online is perfectly serviceable and I’m sure in a year the Foundry will be the chief point in its favor, but the lack of quality voice is telling. Warframe is a game that can easily suck hundreds of hours of your time. It’s fast, dependable, and guaranteed to give you small bite-sized gaming; but it’s unlikely to ever be your primary MMO. It doesn’t give you enough story to be more memorable than LAN parties with your friends; fun while it lasts but not notable for anything other than the camaraderie of Co-Op.
Star Wars: The Old Republic was the first MMO to bring us a fully voiced experience. Lauded and vilified, its struggles have given rise to the idea that voice is a meaningless luxury. It’s interesting to be sure how different we treat the single player and MMO markets. I can’t imagine the next Call of Duty, Halo, or Assassin’s Creed not being fully voiced; gamers would riot on the streets. We’ve taken for granted how much voice impacts our enjoyment of the story. If TOR did anything wrong it was risking too little. BioWare stories have captivated gamers for more than a decade, yet the stories were too bound by the systems of an older generation of MMO’s. They risked too little, and as such much of the great story elements are hidden behind tiresome MMO tropes.
Love it or hate it, voice is irrevocably linked to the enjoyment of story. Playing Neverwinter Online for the first time it was striking how quickly I went back into the old ways of clicking through quests; every feature giving me that feeling of déjà vu. The trick is to make everything count; story, like a good meal, cannot be rushed. It’s not enough to have quest hubs or even quests scattered all over a map. Voice has given rise to a reality that cannot be taken back; story; and the quests that drive it, are going to have to be as good as the single player experience.