Gameplay-Driven vs Story-Driven Games

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Interesting feature on Horizon: Zero Dawn's AI prompted this topic. I'd love for their next game to be more gameplay-driven with minimal story/narrative. I liked H:ZD's story but it's really not what I played the game for, or what made it fun.

I'm also playing through The Witcher 3 now and I think I'm at the end of the Bloody Baron quest, because I'm about to collect payment from the Baron. I'm left thinking that as good as it was, I'd hate for most of the quests to be this time consuming. It started getting frustrating feeling like I was being led on a string, or on a wild goose chase so to speak. I like the story, but I keep thinking I could just be watching this on YouTube instead if that's the main goal of the game.

I think I've gone full circle on this. Games used to be all about gameplay with the most basic story outside of a few exceptions. Then when CGI and FMV became more prevalent, story and narrative were brought more into the limelight. To me I was in awe of this approach until around Final Fantasy 9. From a technical standpoint it peaked with The Last of Us, because Naughty Dog is pretty much impeccable at it. But now I'm increasingly weary of it when realizing how far gameplay advancements have lagged behind. It's why the SoulsBorne stuff was so appealing to me because the story was basically discovered through the gameplay, and you could progress at any pace or approach you liked, with the main limiting factor being skill.

Again though, a caveat there would be that the game design could be more dynamic instead of stat-based, because hacking away at something for one minute instead of ten isn't exactly forward-thinking design. I'm hoping Sekiro makes more steps towards this, where playing intelligently or creatively will be more rewarding and successful.

I personally play for story. Why i am doing something is just as much as what i' doing. If The story is trash it won't hold my attention very long. Like the division.

Of course exceptions to this are Fighting games and the like ( Rythm, dance, arcade).

gameplay. why would i play video games for story? i can just go the cinemas and watch a movie if i want story.

.

I like that I have a choice of one or the other, maybe 20% story focus vs. 80% gameplay or vice versa, depended on what I'm in the mood for. But generally there needs to be somekind of narrative hook, whether it's through dialoge or environmental storytelling, to pull me into a game. I need to feel like the setting of the game has some texture to it. Gameplay only entertains in the moment, a game's story/charaters/world entertains long after you've stopped playing. As much as I liked Monster Boy I can't say it's preoccupied my thoughts at all once I was done with it.

I'd say you can make a near-100% (there's still gonna be some story in how the visuals are presented or the names of things) gameplay game, and generally do well with it.

The reverse is, maybe 1 in a million odds. You'd need both an incredible story and a solid foundation for why its not just a movie/book/etc. The closest you get is maybe the Telltale-esque stuff, but that's already kind of questionable as games, and the interactivity that semi-justifies that in most of those is just a blatant lie because of the difficulty of actually implementing a narrative around player choice.

Seth Carter:
I'd say you can make a near-100% (there's still gonna be some story in how the visuals are presented or the names of things) gameplay game, and generally do well with it.

The reverse is, maybe 1 in a million odds. You'd need both an incredible story and a solid foundation for why its not just a movie/book/etc. The closest you get is maybe the Telltale-esque stuff, but that's already kind of questionable as games, and the interactivity that semi-justifies that in most of those is just a blatant lie because of the difficulty of actually implementing a narrative around player choice.

You mean like visual novels? Or walking simulators? Both of which have gotten critical acclaim on this site ( and elsewhere ) in the past.

Gameplay driven for sure. Games very rarely offer writing on par with just OK works in other mediums so why would I play a game for story when I can go elsewhere for that? That's not saying games shouldn't try for solid writing because that can be a very good reason to want to push forward. Though, gameplay should always the priority because as Yoshi basically said why am I PLAYING the game if the gameplay sucks and I'm only here for the story? I think the best games meld gameplay and story to create something special whether it's something serious and "cinematic" like TLOU or something completely bonkers wacky like Bayonetta or something like a Team ICO game where the gameplay subtlely creates an emotion connection with the characters. I think that's the important blend that makes a game most imprinted on your memory vs when someone ask you about XYZ game that you played over 10 years back and you're like "oh yeah, that was a fun game" and that's about all you got. With that said, a game can just do that just on gameplay alone if you get super into where you feel like you mastered it like how people have such fond memories of Halo MP or Smash Bros or SOCOM back in the day, much like a former professional sports athlete can talk all day about the intricacies of their sport.

hanselthecaretaker:
I?m also playing through The Witcher 3 now and I think I?m at the end of the Bloody Baron quest, because I?m about to collect payment from the Baron. I?m left thinking that as good as it was, I?d hate for most of the quests to be this time consuming. It started getting frustrating feeling like I was being led on a string, or on a wild goose chase so to speak. I like the story, but I keep thinking I could just be watching this on YouTube instead if that?s the main goal of the game.

I totally felt the same way about Witcher 3 because I really found the gameplay mind-numblingly boring and I really only cared about the story beats. I definitely felt I could've gotten all the "good stuff" out of the game by just watching a 10 or so hour Witcher 3 "movie" on Youtube and saved probably 100 hours and did something much more worthwhile in that time instead. And there's very few RPG decisions to be made during the game either, it's not even on par with a David Cage or Telltale game in that department either. I totally don't get the hype for Cyberpunk because CDPR have yet to prove they can make a good GAME.

Phoenixmgs:
And there's very few RPG decisions to be made during the game either, it's not even on par with a David Cage or Telltale game in that department either.

How's that? You make decisions during the narrative all the time. The difference being that it's more about putting the player in a moral chokehold, rather than a choice mechanic that incourages the player to simply game the system.

You'll have a random encounter where a bunch of farmers in an occupied territory are ready to hang an enemy soldier. The farmers have had family and loved ones killed by the invaders and are totally justified in their grief and anger, but the soldier is actually a deserter who just wants to leave the battlefield to see his wife and daughter again. Do you let the farmers just hang this innocent guy so they can have some catharsis, or do you help the deserter meaning you have to kill these farmers? And this is before you know whether this guy is actually telling the truth.

This isn't on par with David Cage or Telltale, because it's way, way better.

I like both kinds of games but most of the stuff I play is story-driven. I love things like visual novels and whatnot.

There are some games like bayonetta or bloodborne where the gameplay is what you're there for, also most fighters (though my fav series Blazblue combines visual novel storymodes that last for tens of hours with excellent gameplay) so it's not like I don't care about those games.

I'd never watch a game on youtube, the experience is not the same when you're not the one doing the things and are just watching it. It feels a hell of a lot less personal. Also for the witcher specifically, you lose control of your choice-making which is a huge issue if you decide to watch it on youtube.

I kinda like a nice balance between gameplay and story. I love a good story, but I also want to live the story and not just passively observe it. If I wanted to do that I'd just go watch TV or a movie, or read a book or something.

Canadamus Prime:
I kinda like a nice balance between gameplay and story. I love a good story, but I also want to live the story and not just passively observe it. If I wanted to do that I'd just go watch TV or a movie, or read a book or something.

I will second this.

Games that go to one extreme or the other don't end up being as good. '
I don't care for visual novels, and I don't love games without story. HZD would not have been as good if it did have it's compelling story.

I don't think those two are irreconcilable. When it comes to Open World games I will say I prefer set piece driven ones like the Red Dead Redemption series or the first two Mafia games over mechanics driven ones like Zelda: Breath of the Wild or Metal Gear Solid V.

I'not necessarily a great defender of using the term "cinematic" when discussing games because I feel like comparing it to film is selling the unique narrative capabilities of the medium short. Video games are something very much separate from film and storytelling works differently in them. And the way storytelling works in games fascinates me to no end.

I enjoy games like Dark Souls or Bloodborne for their gameplay to be sure but I find their way to convey information even more interesting. I love games as a narrative medium.

I prefer games that aren't on either extreme end. I'm not a fan of Walking Simulators where the game is basically all story and you just wandering around looking at things but I also find that I tend to get burned out quickly on games where there's no story at all because once it starts getting really difficult and/or tedious, I tend to lose my motivation to finish it.

Other than that I can usually get behind any combination of story and gameplay combination.

Boring answer but ideally you get both. Gameplay makes the game fun, story makes it memorable.

Lufia Erim:

Seth Carter:
I'd say you can make a near-100% (there's still gonna be some story in how the visuals are presented or the names of things) gameplay game, and generally do well with it.

The reverse is, maybe 1 in a million odds. You'd need both an incredible story and a solid foundation for why its not just a movie/book/etc. The closest you get is maybe the Telltale-esque stuff, but that's already kind of questionable as games, and the interactivity that semi-justifies that in most of those is just a blatant lie because of the difficulty of actually implementing a narrative around player choice.

You mean like visual novels? Or walking simulators? Both of which have gotten critical acclaim on this site ( and elsewhere ) in the past.

Pop music wins grammys. Hokey sitcoms regularly win awards. Avatar is one of the most successful movies ever made.

I did start with "I'd say", so feel free to hold your own opinion. And I'll just wonder why people playing those don't just watch a movie.

And 'this site"? I never really did hang out here for the video game reviews, so that's hardly an argument to sway me. Probably a good thing really. Considering we had that long period of maybe 1 review every 5 months. And nowadays the Review feed doesn't subsort, so its just clogged up by MovieBob doing his spew at a 4 or 6 to 1 ratio to the videogame ones.

Visual Novels already kind of give up the idea just with the name. They're literally called novels.

I can't think of a single one of the Choose your Own Adventure games that has managed to keep any of the initial momentum, as episodes kept rolling in and the wider populace realized how little the choices really did.

Most "walking simulators" do aspire to have some sort of puzzle game content.

Seth Carter:

Lufia Erim:

Seth Carter:
I'd say you can make a near-100% (there's still gonna be some story in how the visuals are presented or the names of things) gameplay game, and generally do well with it.

The reverse is, maybe 1 in a million odds. You'd need both an incredible story and a solid foundation for why its not just a movie/book/etc. The closest you get is maybe the Telltale-esque stuff, but that's already kind of questionable as games, and the interactivity that semi-justifies that in most of those is just a blatant lie because of the difficulty of actually implementing a narrative around player choice.

You mean like visual novels? Or walking simulators? Both of which have gotten critical acclaim on this site ( and elsewhere ) in the past.

Pop music wins grammys. Hokey sitcoms regularly win awards. Avatar is one of the most successful movies ever made.

I did start with "I'd say", so feel free to hold your opinion. And I'll just wonder why people playing those don't just watch a movie.

And 'this site"? I never really did hang out here for the video game reviews, so that's hardly an argument to sway me.

Visual Novels already kind of give up the idea just with the name. They're literally called novels.

I can't think of a single one of the Choose your Own Adventure games that has managed to keep any of the initial momentum, as episodes kept rolling in and the wider populace realized how little the choices really did.

Most "walking simulators" do aspire to have some sort of puzzle game content.

There's a lot of visual novel hybrids nowadays like Tears to Tiara 2 and the Utawarerumono series. Basically they have Srpg gameplay like final fantasy tactics or fire emblem but the story parts are all like a visual novel until a battle happens.

Ideally you get a mix but really good gameplay will triumph over a bad story before bad gameplay will be bearable with a great story.

Worgen:
Ideally you get a mix but really good gameplay will triumph over a bad story before bad gameplay will be bearable with a great story.

I think that depends on the genre. If it's a Jrpg then the story being good is prolly more important wheres if you have a fighting game with a terrible combat system but good storymode then it's the reverse.

I'm in the camp that says ideally you have a good mix of both. Going too far to either extreme limits how long it's compelling. The best walking sims can be engaging for a few hours but not longer and the same with games that are "Do what you want" with no/minimal story. There's only so many times I can play "Shoot/stab the guy, conquer the fort and take the stuff" with no reason to justify it.

With no story/bad story even the best gameplay loses any real context to keep going once the mechanics start to get routine and no gameplay means I'm pretty much just there to keep following the story, so the story/atmosphere need to hold up the entire load.

Granted, I've harped on this before, pacing means a lot here. A 40 hour game needs to feel like those 40 hours are justified, not 5 hours of game/story with 35 hours on grinding tacked on. If you only have 5 hours of worthwhile material, make the game 5 hours long and price it accordingly.

Depends on my mood, I guess. I play more story-oriented games from time-to-time. I also play multiplayer shooters and MMOs.

hanselthecaretaker:
Interesting feature on Horizon: Zero Dawn?s AI prompted this topic. I?d love for their next game to be more gameplay-driven with minimal story/narrative. I liked H:ZD?s story but it?s really not what I played the game for, or what made it fun.

I didn't enjoy HZD's gameplay at all. I considered checking out the difficulty that focused on sdetting, but couldn't find the energy to care because the gameplay bits didn't interest me.

Interesting responses. To sum up my feelings on it I'd say that the more gameplay can drive the story the better. I don't like it when most of the interactive elements are passable at best even if the story is great. It needs to be fun to play or it's a chore to get through, since the disappointing gameplay only acts as an impediment that other mediums don't have to experiencing the story. God of War did an exceptional job of melding the two, but it was still just a very well-crafted roller coaster. That's great, but it doesn't fully explore what the medium is capable of.

I'm more interested in how gameplay can affect the narrative outcomes or shape it in significant ways. I know The Witcher 3 has choices, but it sounds like Cuberpunk 2077 will have a design approach that will more dynamically impact a play through. To me the video game medium can truly sing when the gameplay is both solidly designed and has emergent effects on the story.

Johnny Novgorod:
Boring answer but ideally you get both. Gameplay makes the game fun, story makes it memorable.

I want to disagree [sorry].
I am in love with Final Fantasy XII and its story is a piece of shit. I love SO MUCh its gameplay.

Anyway, if I had to choose, I would go with Story. Sometimes you get games which other media can simple translate this experience. Hollywood try and the majority of time the videogame movies are bad...

There's ways to do both right. The best of the Telltale games are 100% story based and truly were amazing experiences. And some truly excellent games actively have little or throwaway stories... and can be infinitely playable as well. There's even good ways to do mixes of the two properly... its not an either/or situation. Whether a dev goes more story driven, more gameplay driven, or tries to mix the two... they still have to make a good game. How much or how little "story is in it" has no bearing on its quality.

Dreiko:

There's a lot of visual novel hybrids nowadays like Tears to Tiara 2 and the Utawarerumono series. Basically they have Srpg gameplay like final fantasy tactics or fire emblem but the story parts are all like a visual novel until a battle happens.

Then they'd be strategy games with a different flavor of cutscenes. Soul Calibur does that too. Along with a chunk of mid-late 90s CRPGs (that tended to be first person dungeon crawlers, but if you had to go into town or engage in story beats and dialogue would jump back to that style). That they just sub-in for a visual element in whatever gameplay genre just kind of hihglights that they don't themselves bring gameplay.

Dalisclock:

Granted, I've harped on this before, pacing means a lot here. A 40 hour game needs to feel like those 40 hours are justified, not 5 hours of game/story with 35 hours on grinding tacked on. If you only have 5 hours of worthwhile material, make the game 5 hours long and price it accordingly.

That was my main quibble with Subnautica. After the initial acquisition of your vehicles, it just becomes a loop you repeat three times to grind for slightly better depth modules. And the story is about a dozen short audiologs and one brief conversation.

Seth Carter:

Dreiko:

There's a lot of visual novel hybrids nowadays like Tears to Tiara 2 and the Utawarerumono series. Basically they have Srpg gameplay like final fantasy tactics or fire emblem but the story parts are all like a visual novel until a battle happens.

Then they'd be strategy games with a different flavor of cutscenes. Soul Calibur does that too. Along with a chunk of mid-late 90s CRPGs (that tended to be first person dungeon crawlers, but if you had to go into town or engage in story beats and dialogue would jump back to that style). That they just sub-in for a visual element in whatever gameplay genre just kind of hihglights that they don't themselves bring gameplay.

See, I think you're thinking of something like a fire emblem game's amount of story being told in a visual novel style, which has confused and tricked many a prospective player into disappointment by using this logic and going into a game like Tears.

These games are actual visual novels first. It is common to go multiple 2-4 hour segments without any Srpg gameplay at all and just various story squences in those games. They're 60-80 hour games where the visual novel takes up a good 80% of the playtime whereas something like an Srpg divides its playtime considerably differently.

I would say story is nice, but the fact of the matter is other mediums often do it better by design and that's what adventure games are for on the flipside of that equation. That and all the screeching of people on a Westboro Baptist Church level about SJWs and the gay agenda or whatever buzz term they'll be using by next week.

That and as a board gamer, who routinely plays Gloomhaven in their BG group... mechanics is king, and the mechanics can be glorious. That really good mechanics can incentivize human greed, but ultimately foster some next-level co-operative gameplay just to survive partly self-created problems of being self-interested powergamers at the start of a scenario facing the problems you inadvertantly birthed and met with the realization that you're running out of time to beat the scenario creates its own 'odd couple' style stories that are in the end deeper than most formal narratives...

Though I would say video games wouldn't know good mechanics if it bit them in the arse. So that basically leaves action games like Soulsborne and Monster Hunter, and RPGs like PF: Kingmaker, and RTT games likes Close Combat or RTS games like the Hearts of Iron series.

Basically all the stuff you can't really get in boardgame format. Or, you know... want some Pathfinder but not necessarily enough to GM a campaign or join yet another group... Not that Kingmaker is superior to tabletop Pathfinder--just easier. And convenience matters.

And you know what? Just going to say it but Soulsborne games are all about the action to me. I mean some of the backgroud hidden story stuff is interesting ad fun to ruminate on to the point where Asperger syndrome could legitimately be seen as contagious, but really you're just there for the gameplay. Unless you do have Asperger's... then IDK, maybe the very literal wording they use to describe a random item matters to you rather than some awesome and routinely mediocre boss fights, but mediocre only really in terms to how awesome the other boss fights are... though sometimes just mediocre. Frequently sometimes just mediocre.

Put it this way, if the gameplay wasn't great would anyone legitimately like Soulsborne games?

Johnny Novgorod:
Boring answer but ideally you get both. Gameplay makes the game fun, story makes it memorable.

tetris didn't become one of the most famous video games of all time because of it's story...

Yoshi178:

Johnny Novgorod:
Boring answer but ideally you get both. Gameplay makes the game fun, story makes it memorable.

tetris didn't become one of the most famous video games of all time because of it's story...

No, it was through lack of viable competition at the time. It's like saying Citizen Kane didn't get anywhere for it's impressive CGI. A little bit weird.

Story is great. Hzd story was quite enjoyable. Hands off, human! But can also appreciate the Zelda's and Mario's of the world as long as there is charm and exploration. Otherwise the morey of story I implore ye please! But one should not necessitate sacrificing the other, preferably.

Preferably for me a story needs to provide context but no more than that. I don't like to be constantly interrupted by cutscenes, dialogue trees, slow walk sections, NPCs that don't shut up etc. So many games pull you out of the experience by mandatory story sections that are never really good anyway. It's a shame too b/c of the amount of resources they often seen to have put into them. I'd rather have they really focus on gameplay and tone(atmosphere, worldview, sound design etc) and have the story serve more as seasoning rather than being front and center of the experience.

There are some exceptions of story heavy games I did like, such as Witcher 3 and Red Dead Redemption 2. But at the same time I really need to be in the mood for such a game, which isn't often. RDR2 is probably my favorite in this regard as it atleast had the superior gameplay to compensate for it's slow pace and heavy story focus. Completing Witcher took me like over a year. :p Otoh, I'm pretty much always itching to play more Bloodborne, Nioh or Dark Souls 3.

Yoshi178:
gameplay. why would i play video games for story? i can just go the cinemas and watch a movie if i want story.

.

Let me know when Persona has a movie on cinemas. Until then, I'll keep playing the series for the story. Thank you.

It depends. I don't play games for either gameplay or story. I play specific genres for gameplay and others for story (I enjoy a splash of one in a genre dedicated to the other tho). People who say "games used to be all about gameplay" never played JRPGs and adventure games in 80s and 90s (and there were tons of them, far too many to be called "few exceptions").

I enjoy both very much, and I don't want either one to go away.

Neurotic Void Melody:

Yoshi178:

Johnny Novgorod:
Boring answer but ideally you get both. Gameplay makes the game fun, story makes it memorable.

tetris didn't become one of the most famous video games of all time because of it's story...

No, it was through lack of viable competition at the time.

Not to mention the unforgettable music...
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BQwohHgrk2s&t=59

Addendum_Forthcoming:
Put it this way, if the gameplay wasn't great would anyone legitimately like Soulsborne games?

I would say yes, since there's plenty wrong with that franchise mechanically that people choose to ignore because they love the way it presents itself. The camera sucks, the lock-on sucks, the fact that your weapon bounces off of walls while enemies' don't sucks, not being able to aim your gun sucks.

Of all the videos about the Soulsborne games on YouTube, the majority are about the lore. And the fanbase can get really pissy if you don't play it the right way, like not doing the rather obtuse side quests or triggering story events. It'd say it's actually the lore that saves this franchise from it's rather cumbersome mechanics. Let's put it like this, if Soulsborne was set in, say, a generic zombie world would it have the pedigree it has now based soley on its mechanics?

Casual Shinji:
Of all the videos about the Soulsborne games on YouTube, the majority are about the lore. And the fanbase can get really pissy if you don't play it the right way, like not doing the rather obtuse side quests or triggering story events. It'd say it's actually the lore that saves this franchise from it's rather cumbersome mechanics. Let's put it like this, if Soulsborne was set in, say, a generic zombie world would it have the pedigree it has now based soley on its mechanics?

This is of course the new Latin.

I avoided the series because the original hype for it was basically gatekeeping. "It's Nintendo Hard!" "It doesn't explain anything!"

And ironically, that was its biggest trick. People had so much difficulty because it was deliberately obtuse, like a clunky old NES title. People can pretend otherwise, but this shit was all over the Escapist and other gaming communities back when Demon's Souls and Dark Souls came out.

It was only after the mechanics were examined and people stopped measuring their True Gamer "sword" length that people started harping on the lore. Before the post-hoc "lore" reasoning, there was the "finally, a hard game for real gamers" reason, and that pushed the earlier games. It's quite possible that any such game could have survived and even thrived in a generic zombie setting. And we can kiiiiinda see that in a number of souls-alikes and what they focus on.

Casual Shinji:

Of all the videos about the Soulsborne games on YouTube, the majority are about the lore. And the fanbase can get really pissy if you don't play it the right way, like not doing the rather obtuse side quests or triggering story events. It'd say it's actually the lore that saves this franchise from it's rather cumbersome mechanics. Let's put it like this, if Soulsborne was set in, say, a generic zombie world would it have the pedigree it has now based soley on its mechanics?

Ehmm..yes as these games have the best melee combat of pretty much any game ever, save perhaps for Nioh's combat. On top of that it has varied locations, highly imaginative creature designs and some very cool bosses that actually requires a degree of skill to defeat. The lore is intruiging, but nobody plays these games for the story. It's actually the best example of a series of games where story is solely contextual. Which is actually way more intriguing than most straight-forward garbage considering the popularity of youtube videos.

Compare that to Dad of War: cutscene, slow walk scene, cutscene, giant QTE, more slow walk, few branching corridors with gameplay, cutscene, another slow walk scene, *booooyy*, some gameplay, more melodrama and watching the game instead of playing it. The flow is constantly interrupted and the gameplay is fun but not that fun that the experience doesn't feel entirely scripted. Souls and Bloodborne is the complete opposite. They are Da Bomb! Sekiro is gonna own every other action game again.

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