World Building vs Story Building

I think I’ve completed about 80% of the quests in Fallout 4 now, maybe a bit more.  I wouldn’t say I’ve played through 80% of the content though… I’d put that closer to 25%.  And I think that’s really the kicker for Bethesda games, in that they build a massive world to explore and the story is just an excuse to move around.

If I take the Fort Hagen portion of the main quest as an example, you’re tasked with finding the person who started the whole thing.  You find the building, he taunts you a few times and eventually you make your way to him.  The dialogue isn’t much, and the combat against the synths isn’t exactly mind blowing.  What is super cool is the actual fort.  And that goes for every other spot in the game, each completely unique.

Each room was designed, by a real person.  Each tin can, box of macaroni, each chair and table was put there by a person for a reason.  You might find a few corpses in a corner, surrounded by their old possessions.  You might find a terminal with someone’s logs, explaining how they tried to find a lost loved one.  There’s more story in the actual world than there is in any given quest or dialogue.

It’s even more contrasting when you look at the other games that have open world content.  Some of them have plenty to do but little to see.  Other it’s plenty to read but nothing to hear.  For all the fun had in GTA5, you can’t enter most buildings, so it’s just a bunch of roads to do stunts in. Mad Max is meant to drive through at full speed.  MGS and Just Cause are a lot like GTA5.  They aren’t bad, far from it, but they are different.  And I’m thinking it has to do with the RPG aspect.

Bioware used to build amazing worlds, with neat lore and cool characters.  The stories were amazing but the world’s themselves had interesting characters.  I preferred Pillars of Eternity to Dragon Age because the former had more charm.  Dragon Age just felt like an MMO without people.

And that’s a solid jab at MMOs by the way.  You’d be hard pressed to find one today where the world had any meaning to the players.  TESO and SWTOR are prime example of how the story and world are lost when you add 10,000 other players and everything has to respawn now.  You can’t appreciate the items on the table because JimBob#2828 has just finished looting it to buy a new leather thong.

World building is near entirely in the realm of single player games.  I find it completely fascinating to play through, and I really enjoy seeing neat little items that have no bearing on the greater game outside of providing context.  It’s really impressive what the tiniest of details can have in the big picture… if you have enough of them.

4 thoughts on “World Building vs Story Building

  1. I love the various teddy bears posing in weird poses, like reading newspapers on the toilet, etc. I am half expecting to learn later that there is a crazy person who is known for setting these up wherever he goes. Or maybe its just the lack of non-violent pasttime activities that makes people live out their inner need for calmer activities through teddy-bear posing?


    • Seems like th description of a Tumblr stream to me.

      It is an odd quirk of the game though. Someone was deliberate with the placement. And QA was cool with it (if they even noticed it).


  2. I always liked how a lot of the dungeon design for EQ and even EQII had areas that were as simple as living quarters or kitchens. Most other MMOs stick strictly to them, but don’t bother to root the zone into the world at large.


  3. True worldbuilding in MMOs has been sacrificed to the cult of Everything For Everyone. In a properly built world, where it tells most of the stories rather than quest dialogue, there has to be content that is exclusive to whoever reaches it (and completes it) first. But we can’t have players potentially missing out, now, can we? Never mind that very few people will see – or even have the desire to search out – all the content in single-player games like Fallout, GTA, etc. Never mind that in a properly built world, they will find content that is exclusive to them. Yet they practically riot at the prospect of missing out because someone else got there first.

    True worldbuilding in MMOs can be summed up by the saying “You can’t step into the same river twice.”


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