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Does the Story Really Matter for FPS Games?

I have to admit, I've been enamoured with the release of Overwatch. It's a game that has taken some getting used to and unlearning some FPS control schemes and strategies to get that coveted "Play of the Game". While there has been debate on whether Overwatch is a FPS, or a MOBA, or something else entirely, the consensus about the character videos has been positive. I would add to that. I think the videos has been fantastic. If I were running Netflix, I would hire the Blizzard animation team and start making regular episodes of the Overwatch characters. In fact, I think a movie just about Hanzo and Genji would nothing short of spectacular. On the other hand, the nearly indestructable walls and buildings in the old town where Soldier 76 hangs out were almost comical against the seriousness of his sacrifice to save a child. Then again, my favorite Pixar movie of all time was The Incredibles, so maybe I'm just a sucker for a good CGI action flick.

In fact, maybe the movies are a little too good, at least in relation to the game itself. Let me explain again with the video of Hanzo and Genji (spoilers may follow). In the span of just a few minutes, the storytellers at Blizzard managed to unfold an emotionally charged story about an old legend, two warrior brothers, honor, and forgiveness. You're left wanting more. Then you take all of that emotional attachment to a character or characters in the game and you heroically escort a very slow moving hover car. You can mix up the excitement and defend or take a checkpoint (a checkpoint!) and if you're really bold, you can participant in a game mode that does both.


It's super duper important that this hover Cadillac slowly creeps through this western town.

But never at any time while playing the game, did the cinematic tension between Hanzo and Genji, or Winston and Reaper, or Tracer and Widowmaker actually make any difference. The fact that Winston and Reaper can team up together is a great feature of the game, but then the story of good vs. evil becomes less dramatic. It's kind of like when Anakin as Darth Vader shouts "Nooo!" in Episode 3. It was supposed to be a serious and dramatic moment, but most of us laughed when we saw it. The point is that the Overwatch stories paint a picture of an epic struggle for the fate of the Earth yet the game, well ... that's all it is, just a game. It deflates the essence of the stories. With that in mind, does the story, or in this case stories, even matter?

Now lest you think I'm unfairly picking on Overwatch, I'd like to introduce another example of irrelevant storytelling from a game that I've probably spent way more time playing than I'd like to admit, Destiny. I know, Destiny's an easy target as far as a coherent, compelling, and complete story arc is concerned. But I want to focus on a specific example from a year one mission. In the mission, called "The Sword of Crota", you're tasked with capturing Crota's sword (at least the title of the mission and objective make sense). When you pickup the sword, your Ghost, ie. Nolan-bot or Dinkle-bot, warns you with "Careful. It's power is dark".


Did I say it's power was dark? I meant awesome!

Then nothing dark at all happens. Anyone who's played this mission knows that you spend the rest of the time doing your best Gaurdian the Barbarian™ impression on any and all enemies until the sword disappears. The sword's power is supposedly dark, but you, a gaurdian of light, suffer no negative consequences for using it (unless you don't like the 3rd persion camera view). But the point is again, the story doesn't have any impact, influence, or noticiable effect on the mission or gameplay. With my sincere apologies to the Nolan-bot, it just didn't matter.

I think the people at DICE have also figured this out. Most of their games are either set in history or movies where the story is already well known. Their stories, or campaigns, are more often just tutorials for the online multiplayer modes where they've spent nearly all of their creative resources. With Star Wars Battlefront, there's no campaign at all. It's a simple and effective formula and by sticking with this formula, they've sidestepped the need for explanation or story exposition so that they can focus on providing an well known setting for you and your teammates to go out and shoot all the things™. If we're really honest with ourselves, that is what FPS games are all about anyway. Is that bad? Not really. But DICE may have saved millions of dollars by going light on the story. Quite probably enough to make Mirror's Edge and its sequel, which I think the general consensus agrees is a good thing.

I'll end with a tidbit from the very first PS4 game I downloaded and played (and still do), Warframe. The game has been out on PC since 2012 and is still evolving and in active development. In the game, you are a Tenno. What is a Tenno you ask? Well, up until this year no one knew because the makers, Digital Extremes, never explained it. My best guess is they didn't know either and it took them 4 years to come up with something. As far as I can tell, no one in their community or forum ever complained with "I'm not playing this game another minute unless you tell me what a Tenno is".


Are you my mother?

There were lively discussions on the forums about Tenno and game lore, but it didn't matter at all as far as gameplay was concerned. I mean, you're essentially a magical space ninja™, do you really need an in depth explanation before going all magical space ninja™ on the hordes of enemies in the game universe? I didn't.

In the end, they're all just games. Have fun and enjoy them. With Overwatch, the stories to me are so good that they can stand on their own, separate from the game itself, which made me wonder how important they are to the actual game. To me, not so much. If you agree or disagree, be sure to comment and like they say in Who's Line is it Anyway, just remember that everything's made up and the points don't matter.


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