Is Story the Death of Replayability?
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.