The RPG Scrollbars: Story Mode

About eighteen years or so after marking Baldur’s Gate off my To-Save list, I’m knee-deep in the Infinity Engine once again with Siege of Dragonspear. I’m not going to talk too much about it here, not least because there’s a full review coming soon. But there’s one thing I do want to talk about – not one new to the Enhanced Editions, admittedly, and that’s its Story Mode option. Essentially, at any time you can flip a switch and even a Level 1 mage can suddenly wander into a Beholder’s lair and poke every single one of its eyes out without the slightest danger. You can’t die. At all. In every possible way, you render playing large chunks of the game pointless.

I entirely approve of Story Mode.

It brings up a lot of philosophical arguments that I’ve had many times, mostly related to MMOs. When I reviewed World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria for instance, I said that Blizzard should offer every player a free Level 85 character to play with. Fans hit the roof. How would anyone learn how to play, demanded the same people who usually insist that the levelling curve isn’t actually playing and that you only learn to play at the endgame. Why would anyone not want to sit through the 84 levels of (mostly deserted at the time) content that haven’t interested them in the past, including the achingly outdated Burning Crusade expansion, to play the game that finally made them want to jump in? What would that say to the players who paid their dues, to see a whole new generation of players simply having fun in exchange for time and money?

In essence: “I don’t want other people to have it better than I did.”

Well, as Descartes once so memorably put it, fuck that noise. I like games to be inclusive. I like the response to someone wanting to try something new to be “Absolutely.” That doesn’t mean accommodating every desire, no matter how silly – “Baldur’s Gate needs car chases!” “Planescape Torment should have been a shooter!” – but it does mean accepting that games are now big enough that even fans of a particular series can come to it for many different reasons and in many different ways. Looking back, Baldur’s Gate’s big success was proving that D&D could be cool, but the parts that are generally remembered most fondly are the characters and the narrative side of their adventures rather than the minute-by-minute action. It wasn’t a particularly great tactical experience, and much of the combat was deeply underwhelming. Even if it had been though, wanting to go back to hang out with Minsc and Boo some more, or see more of the Sword Coast, is every bit as valid a reason to be interested in a return trip as the new bigger scale battles that Dragonspear promises.

There’s lots of reasons to love the genre, whether you like Mass Effect or still have the entire of The Magic Candle mapped out and mounted on a wall somewhere. The word ‘fan’ shouldn’t be a badge that you have to earn, but a statement of enjoyment. And I think it’s totally okay to accept that someone can be a fan and still not like a particular element.

Or for that matter actually be any good at playing RPGs.

It’s a genre that’s historically demanded much and taken few prisoners, whether it’s the 50-100 hour playtimes that don’t necessarily fit into peoples’ lives any more (and often don’t have the content to actually deserve that playing time) or the genre’s habit of letting players get half-way through an epic quest before revealing that their character build is 60 points worth of mistakes or that the second half of the game has all the balance of a drunk one-legged lemur unicycling on chain-links over Niagara Falls during an earthquake.

It’s also a genre that typically expects, if not outright demands, a solid grounding in systems and vocabulary that aren’t necessarily intuitive – buffs and armour classes and skills intended to play into other skills and systems. Pillars of Eternity for instance expected all players to be immediately comfortable controlling a full party of unusual classes without any AI support, and the fact that the core playerbase probably had played Infinity Engine games before doesn’t stop that being pretty bad/shortsighted design for 2015. At least it was patched after release.

If Story Mode is what it takes for players to get through a game that appeals, or even just a comforting option in a particular encounter, then so be it. I defy anyone, no matter how hardcore, to say that they’ve never used a cheat in a game, whether it’s punching FUND into SimCity, tooling up in Doom with IDKFA, running a trainer, knowingly using an exploit, or outright hex-editing a save-file. Unless it’s online, and thus affecting someone else’s fun, it just doesn’t matter.

Are you playing less of the game if you do it? Sure. But by being able to focus on the bits you like, you’re also probably playing more of it. And next game? Maybe you’ll take the training wheels off now that you have a little more experience or comfort with the basic world. Or even start again after a few hours with more of a sense of having ‘gotten it’.

And, y’know, fair’s fair! If you don’t like the talkie bits, why not have the option to cut them down to the bare minimum too? “Shepard, I was wondering how you felt about blue ladies-” “NO TIME FOR LOVE! SHEPARD SMASH! SAVE GALAXY!” (Update: Reminded by comments that Mass Effect 3 had an Action Mode. Had completely forgotten that! Well, hurrah! Fair is fairer than hitherto thought!)

There’s obviously a limit to how much games can bend over backwards for different tastes, though RPGs have a longer history of doing so than most – class choices, moral decisions, alternate paths, romances etc all in service of allowing the player power on a meta-level as well as in-game. The fact that the genre tends to be so systems-driven makes it easier to open up more possibilities than in other games.

Honestly, I’d like to see more options, where possible and appropriate. I’m not saying for instance that Dark Souls should have an Easy Mode, even though I’m probably the worst Dark Souls player on the entire planet. The whole nature of the game; its exploration, its learning by failure approach, its expectation that you work for your victories and so on mean that pulling a Story Mode would destroy the entire experience. It’s asking for a completely different game that it has no interest in being, while removing most of the combat from Baldur’s Gate is closer to just asking for your baconburger without cheese.

I would however love Blizzard to add a Solo Mode to World of Warcraft’s endgame content, so that I can finish off storylines that previously ended in dungeons/raids. I want to fight the Lich King, who spent most of the expansion trying to make this personal. I want to bring down Hellscream in the Siege of Orgrimmar, like I’ve taken down so many threats to the Horde. I want to do the last 2% of my character’s story – to see the big locations and meet the bosses and have a final epic fight… to feel part of the action instead of just watching the cutscenes later on. It’s not that it’s hard to find a group, it’s that I don’t enjoy WoW’s dungeon or raid play, especially with random people who’ve already seen everything and have no interest in anything beyond what’s in the box at the end of the fight. There’s a reason few epic fantasies contain lines like “Thorin turned to Gandalf and said mage food plz’.” or “And then Bilbo rage-quit.”

Is this asking too much? I don’t think so. I just want to finish the stories the way I’ve been playing them, with a character I have around ten years of attachment to. Keep the titles. Hell, don’t open the Solo Mode version until the end of the expansion. I’ll wait! At least there’d be no need to render a new cut-scene, since officially all the world’s ills inevitably end up saved by some NPC running up and stealing the credit.

And I can think of quite a few other games where I’d have liked some more measure of control. Obviously, if you’re making a game with spiders and you put a no-spider mode into it, then you’ve automatically earned 2% or a sentence about how awesome you are in any review. But that’s a hyper-specialised example. While playing Fallout 4 for instance, I’d have loved to have been able to turn down a combat dial and turn up a survival one, to be able to personally tune the systems the way that I want them instead of hoping that the upcoming Survival Mod shares my priorities. In just about every game, I want to switch off hacking minigames. I’m sorry, but nobody’s ever invented a good hacking mini-game, and I’d rather just be told ‘nope’ if I’m not going to break it.

Going the other way, one of the very few things I liked about the rebooted Thief was how you could tune the difficulty according to how realistic a thievery simulator you wanted, even if there wasn’t a ‘goodness’ slider. And of course, we can’t talk about custom difficulty without mentioning System Shock – a game so confident in its users that it basically lets you turn the entire game off. Even if it does lead to lots of hilarious moments where SHODAN goes “Welcome to my death machine!”, only for a bunch of cyborgs to awkwardly appear and not be allowed to shoot anyone.

A little excessive? Perhaps. But I’d prefer controls like this to just one general easy/medium/hard option. Case in point, Deus Ex’s Realistic mode, which technically counted as a ‘hard’ mode, but in a way that shaped the experience closer to what it wanted to be. Or, again, 2014’s Thief reboot, which treated difficulty more as a mark of professionalism than anything else, by removing assorted meta assists. I can think of many, many games in which I’d have been happy for a fast-forward button, or simply a GTA V style “You’re struggling. Want to move on?” option. But it doesn’t just have to be about making games easier as a way of avoiding getting good at them, or adding more satisfaction to repeated and top-tier play.

We’re not all good at the same things, and we can’t be good at everything – as most designers who’ve ever had to think up a hacking mini-game will prove – while increasingly, the amount of time it takes to implement features in big games means that alternate routes and choices can be a big risk. If what starts as a minor itching irritation can soon explode into absolute fury – like Arkham Knight turning the Batmobile into Car-Car Binks over its running time, or a stealth-character in something like Alpha Protocol losing all hard-earned advantages thanks to an opening cut-scene where you get discovered – the risk is even greater. In this new era where nobody puts cheat-codes into their games any more, it’s nice to know you have an escape hatch.

Should every game offer them? Nah. But in cases where designers know that players will be coming from such different vectors, as in most RPGs built on story instead of just dungeon crawling, it really wouldn’t hurt to see a few more options. It’d be good to have options in game, after all, rather than simply forcing players to choose between sucking it up, seeing how the game ends on YouTube, or drifting away with the job undone.

Sometimes, it’s okay for cheaters to prosper, especially when there’s no reason for the rest of the world to either know or care.


  1. Infinitron says:

    scenes that play out more like an adventure than an RPG, like the awesome second chapter of the second game


    • Richard Cobbett says:

      That’s an editing glitch/misunderstanding. Give me a second.

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        Waltorious says:

        I was going to guess that you were actually talking about The Witcher, but then realized that the awesome second chapter in question is actually in the FIRST game. So now I’m just confused again. In my defense, I’ve been awake for almost 19 hours.

  2. Skeletor68 says:

    I played Dragon Age: Origins on easy and loved it. I didn’t have time to fail fights and bash my head against the wall. I still got about 50 hours out of it all.

    • Riaktion says:

      Yup same here! And it was by playing on Easy that then got me into Dragon Age 2 and 3, I would have bounced off it otherwise.

      There are some genres I like having a challenge, others I just play because I like the mechanics and the world they are in, and it is those genres where I play on easy, hardly run into any kind of difficulty and love it all the same. RTS for example.

  3. Wowbagger says:

    If only Hyper light drifter had this feature… eh? eh?

    • Oozo says:

      I was thinking about this as well. Question is, though, if HLD does not fall under the Dark Souls-clause, by which I mean the following paragraph:

      The whole nature of the game; its exploration, its learning by failure approach, its expectation that you work for your victories and so on mean that pulling a Story Mode would destroy the entire experience.

      I have advanced fairly a bit in HLD (beaten the first three bosses), in spite of being not too good at reflex-based games, and I guess that you could argue that a lot of what’s written in the quoted paragraph is also true for this game: the plot is pretty bare-bones, it’s more about environmental storytelling and atmosphere. And in spite of the pretty colors and the soothing soundtrack, the story HLD tells with those tools is pretty damn violent.

      The game also follows the Dark Souls route in that it expects the player to overcome hard challenges, but a) is somewhat patient with her/him (dying at bosses or the more challenging rooms only sets you back right at the beginning of that fight, and you can try again as often as you want) and b) gives her/him options to overcome them (you can walk away and come back later when you have more options). You could probably say that the whole game follows a coherent design, which revolves around the combat and the challenge it provides.

      tl;dr: You could say that taking away the combat and the challenge in HLD would “destroy the entire experience”. But it’s not as clear-cut a case as the Souls games, I figure, and the particular aesthetics the game has chosen might clash with that vision (not brutal enough!), or at least give people the wrong expectations. YMMV, as always, though.

      • Wowbagger says:

        That was a very reasonable response to my feeble joke about John Walker being rubbish at HLD. Nice one! I’ve not had any trouble with it beyond the odd few sweary boss fights.

      • jonahcutter says:

        Absolutely agree with this.

        Some games, like the Souls series and HLD, have challenge built into them. Into the very themes of the games. The gameplay, the art, and audio, the lore and the narrative are inextricably woven together.

        In HLD you are meant to feel up against it, with your life potentially snatched away at any moment. And to make you feel like a champion when overcoming it (yet still a very fragile champion). It wants to create that emotional state in the player. It would be an infinitely lesser experience without the challenge.

        In the end, you either rise to the challenge and continue to move along, fragile as ever. Or succumb. And that is an integral theme to the game.

        • jonahcutter says:

          Meant to say disagree. Primarily with the last paragraph.

          • Oozo says:

            Oh, we do not really disagree. My reply was a semi-successful attempt to describe different possible perspectives one could possibly take on the game, it was not necessarily meant as an expression of what I think. (I’m actually in favor of the first position I’m describing, one that is actually pretty close to how you see the game.) Sorry for being a bit undecided/cryptic.

  4. Philopoemen says:

    To be honest, and I’m not sure if it’s because of flagging subscriptions or what, but SWTOR’s latest moves have been in this direction – content that was party based is now soloable, and you can start off with Level 60 characters and discover everything before through the narrative.

    Story mode for me entirely depends on the strength of the narrative. I played DX:HR on easy/story mode for my second playthrough, as I wanted to concentrate more on the story than being stealthy and finding al the nooks and crannies.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      Yeah, post updates, SWTOR is depressingly easy to play on autopilot – or was the last time I played it. I recorded this clip of the final boss of the first Fallen Empire episodes. They might have nerfed companion healing since then, but I’ve not been back to find out. link to

      • Jdopus says:

        Doesn’t the fact that you find it “Depressingly easy” say something though?

        I get where you’re coming from, absolutely, we’ve all hit a brick wall in a game that stops us progressing and like you, I’ve cheated on occassion to overcome seemingly impossible obstacles in RPGs.

        Where I kind of disagree though is in suggesting that combat is like asking for a burger without cheese. Combat in RPGs like Baldurs gate isn’t just an obstacle or an entirely separate part of the game which can be discarded, it’s a key part of the experience. Baldurs Gate is at its heart a quest, a challenging series of obstacles that your character and party overcomes by wit, tactics, research and generally improving themselves when they hit something they can’t overcome. If you remove that from it you remove the stakes of the game and turn it into little more than a series of disconnected cutscenes. When I’m playing Baldurs Gate normally I’m invested in what’s going on because I myself have faced the struggles to accomplish things, you don’t get that sense of accomplishment by just clicking through something without challenging yourself and without that you lose a massive part of what makes Baldurs Gate a great game.

        To me, difficulty is there to allow us to customize the challenge, people aren’t all equal, that’s fine, but completely and utterly removing the challenge completely removes one of the core building blocks of this game.

        To me, saying you’re a fan of Baldurs Gate but only want to play it on story difficulty is like saying you’re a fan of Shakespeare but you only want to read the cliff notes version of his plays*. I guess you could have enjoyed that in theory, but as someone who enjoyed the original work it boggles my mind and I become frustrated for you because I know that by being unwilling to challenge yourself you’ve missed most of what made this thing great.

        That’s why I’m one of the people who really dislike “Story Mode” in games. It’s not because, in your words, “I don’t want other people to have it better than I did.”, it’s because you’ve deprived yourself of what made it great to begin with.

        *I know it’s a little silly to compare something like Baldurs Gate to classic literature, but I couldn’t think of a better example.

        • Richard Cobbett says:

          “Doesn’t the fact that you find it “Depressingly easy” say something though?”

          Not really. Having an option is a far cry from it being the default in a completely different game. I’m not playing Dragonspear in Story Mode. I just approve of it.

          “Where I kind of disagree though is in suggesting that combat is like asking for a burger without cheese. Combat in RPGs like Baldurs gate isn’t just an obstacle or an entirely separate part of the game which can be discarded, it’s a key part of the experience.”

          Many people feel a burger isn’t complete without cheese.

          • Jdopus says:

            I don’t know, I would say that arguing that stripping out a game’s actual gameplay is equivalent to having a burger without cheese is ultimately a little disrespectful to the creator’s artistic vision. You seem to show an understanding of this in Dark Souls. What’s so special about Dark Souls that you can show respect for the purpose gameplay and mechanics serve in generating atmosphere, challenge and tension in that case but can so flippantly discard the role of gameplay in the case of Baldurs Gate?

            You clearly enjoy RPGs and know a lot about them and it’s why I like reading your columns. In your view is Baldurs Gate’s gameplay irrelevant to the overall game? Is it just a side detour from the story? A matter of taste that you can take or leave? Or does it actually add something incredibly substantial to the overall experience?

          • Richard Cobbett says:

            It’s pretty straightforward. First, there are more reasons to play Baldur’s Gate than there are to play Dark Souls – as in, more vectors for players to be drawn into it. You say ‘stripping out a game’s actual gameplay’, but for many people the ‘actual gameplay’ *is* the narrative side. It’s the conversations, it’s the exploration, it’s the characters, it’s seeing how the epic story unfolds and how things turn out for people you come to like.

            On top of that, most of the combat is there as filler, with big, interesting fights few and far between. There’s a reason we call enemies like the kobolds in the Nashkel Mines ‘trash’ mobs. Personally, I would *love* RPGs to quit that shit and focus the time on interesting encounters instead – I’m hoping Numenara will pull that off. That’s completely aside from the argument that some people just aren’t good enough, but still want to progress. Or simply want to feel like a badass, even knowing things are tilted entirely in their direction.

            As for artistic intent, the developers *already* offer the ability to take most of the challenge out of it by playing on Easy. Story Mode is just a step further. It’s no more a violation of artistic intent than playing it solo when it was *supposed* to be a party based RPG, or putting in a cheat code back in 1998. It’s just accepting that not everyone approaches games for the same reasons, as demonstrated (and I don’t mean this as an attack) by your conflating ‘gameplay’ with ‘combat’. Baldur’s Gate offers far more. For Icewind Dale on the other hand, which really doesn’t offer much EXCEPT combat, I’d agree it’s kinda pointless.

        • Jdopus says:

          Like I said originally, I can’t help but feel that the people who are playing Baldur’s Gate for the story are missing what turns it from a fairly mediocre fantasy novel into a great game. For what it’s worth I would apply the same to people who play a game on a very easy difficulty setting when they’re capable of playing it on a higher one without too much trouble.

          I’m 100% with you on trash mobs sucking too – I look forward to seeing what Numenara do myself although I remain concerned about them trying to live up to PS:T.

          And for clarity when I say “Gameplay”, I mean the entire experience of working through a dungeon – the traps, the skill checks to make the next fight a little easier, the encouragement at every stage to adapt to new situations, the exploration for the little side room that will give you an edge in the next fight. It isn’t all about hitting stuff, but turning the game to story mode makes these other non-combat choices less rewarding since there’s really no punishment for missing them or reward for finding them.

          I can kind of understand how someone can enjoy the game without the combat and without any challenge, I just think it’s a damn shame that they don’t try.

  5. Grizzly says:

    And, y’know, fair’s fair! If you don’t like the talkie bits, why not have the option to cut them down to the bare minimum too? “Shepard, I was wondering how you felt about blue ladies-” “NO TIME FOR LOVE! SHEPARD SMASH! SAVE GALAXY!”

    Don’t you already have that in Mass Effect? You can skip talking to your crewmates alltogether, and there’s this “action mode” where the dialogs are pre-checked. Just fly trough those whilst pressing space bar and presto.

    • Richard Cobbett says:


      Actually, you’re right. I’d forgotten about that. Well, all’s well! I wonder how many people actually used it, versus Narrative Mode.

      • Grizzly says:

        Now that you say that, I’d love to see a bioware game taking Far Cry Primal’s world and running with it, with dialog options like:

        *Affirmative grunt*
        *Acknowledging grunt*
        *Disapproving grunt*

  6. airknots says:

    I approve of the Story Mode idea. Some RPGs out there would work better as a point-&-click adventure than an RPG. From the top of my head, Witcher 1 and Planescape: Torment.

    • Skeletor68 says:

      I hadn’t thought about that for Witcher 1 actually, good call. Loved that game despite it’s flaws.

    • ffordesoon says:

      I used a trainer for Witcher 1. I still don’t feel bad about it. I would never, ever have beaten the game otherwise, because the combat is complete garbage. Frankly, it’s complete garbage with the trainer on, too, but at least you can power through it and see the great part of the game.

    • magogjack says:

      I thought the Witcher one was largerly a point & click adventure, I mean thats how you did combat.

      Snerk !

  7. JFS says:

    Are there really that many people who are against Easy difficulty or “Story Mode”? As long as the game is balanced for classic playing as well, who cares. It’s like sanctioned cheat mode. As if any of us *didn*t ever use a cheat…

    • Michael Johnson says:

      I’m against it as a blanket thing, but Richard explains my viewpoint with his Dark Souls point. Games whose challenge is part of the central conceit of the game and that are almost entirely designed around a sense of danger and improvement just wouldn’t work without it.

      Having just said that, the Soma mod that introduces Wuss-mode has made that into a tempting purchase for me (less because of difficulty issues, than pathetic coward issues). But as I understand it’s actually the puzzles and the writing that most people enjoyed in Soma. On the other hand (sorry for flip-flopping more than a deep sea diver) Alien Isolation would be rubbish if the Alien just watched you run around a ship.

      (Also what kind of maniac asks for a baconburger without cheese!?)

      • JFS says:

        I agree there are many games that don’t work without difficulty, but it’s mainly games without much story, choice and gameplay apart from reflexes/combat. I guess nobody would play the Race the Sun story mode, but for many RPGs it’s valid in my opinion.

  8. Geebs says:

    Many RPGs need to have a “get to the fucking point” mode where the story isn’t slowed down to an aching grind by a writer who won’t stop putting in so many goddamn unnecessary WORDS WORDS WORDS.

    • keefybabe says:

      Especially JRPGs and Especially any game with the words “Hideo Kojima” anywhere near it.

    • magogjack says:

      Not just words but so many empty pointless and often poorly written words…

  9. Menthalion says:

    All I want from Bioware RPG’s is a ‘Can’t we all get along’ option disabling the incessant character bickering during normal play, restricting it to Camp scenes.

    It’s the main reason I have played with mostly one companion (preferably droids and dogs) from Kotor 1 on.

    Games where that wasn’t possible, or didn’t have workarounds (semi-perma shapeshifted Morrigan) I just never finished.

    • Menthalion says:

      Worst offenders that wouldn’t shut up also got their moment to shine sacrificing themselves for the good of the party in rather pedestrian fights.

  10. Jekadu says:

    I completely agree with this article. I have a friend who is developing arthritis in his hands, and between work and studying for a Master’s degree, he has precious little spare time. When he starts up a game he needs to know that it will be a good use of his time: that he will be able to progress in it, that he won’t exacerbate the pain in his hands too much, and that each session will have something fun in store for him.

    He tried Pillars of Eternity when it came out but was forced to give up due to how difficult it was and how much micromanagement was needed. When 2.0 hit he tried it again with AI companions, but it was still too difficult for each session to be satisfying, and he still needed to micromanage a lot. With 3.0 and the introduction of Story Time he was finally able to get into the game, although his hands still limit how much he can play.

    Why anyone would be against this sort of thing is beyond me. Time, effort, age, disability, injury, maturity — there are plenty of reasons people why one might not be able to play a video game “as intended”.

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      Qazinsky says:

      I personally feel like it is that good old tribalism that seems to be pretty common nowadays. It’s not enough to like a thing, the other things must be inferior or outright bad!

      It can be seen all the time with things like NES vs SEGA, XBox vs Playstation, Sportsteam A vs Sportsteam B, Political party 1 vs Political Party 2…

    • Morte66 says:

      As somebody with the beginnings of arthritis in his left wrist, who can’t play WASD shooter/action games like he used to, I heartily endorse this post.

      Now, off to try and find a useful review of the Steam Controller.

    • JFS says:

      No offense, but PoE really wasn’t difficult even on Normal difficulty. One of the major complaints at release, actually, that most combat was filler with pushover opponents and simple tactics like “Cypher em up” destroying everything in seconds. I understand the pain problem, though.

      • zethan says:

        It isn’t that the combat is hard. It is that the combat is boring and I want to waste as little time with it as possible in order to experience the interesting story.

        • magogjack says:

          I actually enjoyed the combat, something about having a small unit of heroes with pikes and swords and spells tickles my war glands….

      • Jekadu says:

        Pillars of Eternity is difficult if you don’t play video games frequently. There are very few safety nets in combat, there’s an immense amount of information to keep track of, and it’s often not immediately obvious when something is going wrong, or why. Combine that with an attempt to minimize the amount of physical input due to hand and wrist pain, and you get a very unforgiving game.

  11. SCC says:

    Hear, hear!

  12. Thankmar says:

    “I would however love Blizzard to add a Solo Mode to World of Warcraft’s endgame content, so that I can finish off storylines that previously ended in dungeons/raids…”

    Yes, please!

    Asking for solo content in a MMO is always a little bit silly, I know, but I always dreamt about class-specific solo-dungeons every ten or twenty levels or so. With puzzles and bosses tailored around your abilities. The possibilities for class-lore!

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      I liked the old class quests they did have, like defeating demons as a Warlock and gathering Druid Forms. I haven’t played much of the Legion alpha for a while, but curious to see what the new class guildhall thing adds during the campaign.

      • Rorschach617 says:

        I did too, but those class quests, which add colour and context to the class, run opposite to “story mode” play. And if you provide the player an easy route to get a certain power (for example, pay gold to learn how to change animal-form), why go to the effort of designing, programming and maintaining a quest that the gives the player the same result?

        Mr Cobbett, you pose an interesting conundrum. While I am not opposed to a “storymode” in many games, at some point “Story mode” runs contrary to story. If the gameworld is one of loss, the player that has never lost a fight cannot engage with the story?

        As to “Story mode” in MMOs, just no. The idea of easy levelling in anything involving co-op or PvE/PvP multi-player is anathema to me.

        I still remember a gaming group I was in which had one guy who, shall we be charitable and say he let his long-lost nephew in China get him from level 1 to 70 plus his choice of raid gear in exchange for some pocket money back in Burning Crusade days. He was impossible to play with. He knew one spell. He spammed it. He spammed it in instances. It was an AoE DoT which spread from mob to mob. I had to tank for him! He insisted that this was the best way to play his character, as he pulled every mob in the room into the fight! For months! Free top level characters would have a terrible effect on pick-up groups. Better to spread the “story” around through all the levels, rather than concentrate it on the endgame and give players a grindless route to the content.

        • Hmm-Hmm. says:

          I heartily disagree with you on your first bit. There is very little story in WoW as it is, especially where it directly pertains to the character one plays.

          Having WoW story-mode apply to class quests by removing them altogether is missing the point. Those quests are designed to add flavour to the class you play. Making them easier in a story-mode? Sure, I’m not bothered by other peoples’ choices in playstyle.

    • magogjack says:

      I don’t know WoW is for many just a solo game and that is really one the problems with the direction MMO’s have gone, they forgot that what makes them special is the need to play with other people. Thats why story content not driven through emergent systems and interactions just doesn’t make sense to me in this particular gaming space. Anything that does it well like The Secret World and The Old Republic would be better of just being single player games.

      This is why my body is ready for Camelot Unchained, and also why I had to give up on Eve-Online (I would have lost my boyfriend over it….).

    • Leafy Twigs says:

      In WoW, leveling has become so easy that many dungeons can be solo-ed at level. Not by every class, perhaps. Mages and rogues might have trouble. But any class with heals, and/or decent armor, can do it. If you can find a friend, it’s possible to treat WoW as a purely co-op game. One tanks and the other heals. Do all dungeons. Can do older raids once you’re a level or two above the raid’s expected level.

      Kinda changes the game completely. It’s not a mad rush for gear and grinding for that elusive drop. Instead, it’s survival. Tough at times. Some of my favorite gaming experiences is soloing or duo-ing dungeons in WoW.

  13. Horg says:

    I think a lot of the consternation over games incorporating ‘story mode’ is a symptom, not of the ”elitist jerk” mentality often attributed to core gamers, but of the general trend for developers to focus on appealing to the broadest audience possible. It makes financial sense for games to have a low barrier to entry, and this often leads into developers providing power fantasies, the illusion of challenge, or simply providing lip service to harder difficulty modes (example, just giving everything double health and calling it a day). While it’s good to see developers trying to be more inclusive, the current trend is overwhelmingly serving one end of the spectrum.

    People who crave a challenge are left feeling increasingly marginalised, and I think a lot of the complaints over ‘story mode’ come from people who want to express that feeling but don’t know how to articulate it. I bet my best hat that if they had simultaneously announced ”This Will Literally Kill You in Real Life” mode, with improved AI that required near perfect mastery of the game systems to beat, then you would barely hear a squeak of complaint.

    Also, spiders rule ¬ ¬

  14. Rao Dao Zao says:

    I definitely get annoyed when a game is all “this special quest is only available to play on HARD because people that play on HARD are COOLER THAN YOU”. I want alllll the content and I think everything should be available to all difficulty levels, because I’ll never be good enough to be HARDCORE. (By the same token, higher difficulty levels also shouldn’t be locked off behind having to complete the game on Easy first…)

    Likewise, if the game is soloable for the entire thing I don’t want to be presented with some “must bring friends” stuff at the end of the game — looking at you Borderlands 2, and your annoying bullet-spoonge special bosses that I will never be able to kill because I have no friends. Grumble grumble.

    • Premium User Badge

      Qazinsky says:

      If I remember correctly, those special bosses are entirely optional, does not get mentioned once during the story of the game, and you get given breadcrumb quests to them after you finish the story. That seems like the fairest way to be inclusive of the “group challenging boss”-players to me.

      My personal experience of them has been taking a brother with me for an attempt, pissing off trash mobs the boss spawned and then Nope!ing out of there.

  15. Assirra says:

    ” would however love Blizzard to add a Solo Mode to World of Warcraft’s endgame content, so that I can finish off storylines that previously ended in dungeons/raids.”

    Uhm, that is exactly what LFR (look for raid) is. For the longest time that did not raid wanted to see the story in the raids since they are important to the overal story and as such, Blizzard created LFR during the end of Cataclysm.

    • Richard Cobbett says:


      “It’s not that it’s hard to find a group, it’s that I don’t enjoy WoW’s dungeon or raid play, especially with random people who’ve already seen everything and have no interest in anything beyond what’s in the box at the end of the fight.”

  16. gschmidl says:

    I said this in the Dragonspear comments, but I played BG when it came out and never managed to finish the final battle. Story Mode lets me, now no longer in school and thus without endless free time, progress there within like 10 hours instead of 100 and finally see it through to the end. Also, the game already had cheats (not that I knew this back then before we had internet at home), so this is more or less just making them official.

  17. Sin Vega says:

    If Baldy’s Gate had implemented this, I might not have given up in tedium-induced frustration within 2 hours every single time I tried to play them. Same goes for absolutely every game in the Infinity Engine, which was fucking horrible and bad and ugly and fiddly and bad words. Planescape is the only one that’s even halfway playable, not least as you can skip so much of the fighting.

    • keefybabe says:

      Well, they have now at least on the latest update of the enhanced version (which has natty features like they dynamic zooming map etc)

      As to the original question. Every game should have a “now I win” mode on it for people who just like to play through the game in the way that people watch tv box sets. It should also have an “ow my balls” mode for those who want to have to defeat the systems that have been put in place, and a “normal” mode.

      That’s just sense in my opinion, all of these type of gamers exist, and they should be catered to.

      I tend to play on hard or normal but there’s been some games where I hated the combat system so much I went easy because I wanted to know the story but didn’t want to have to work around the crappy system they had.

  18. Tacroy says:

    Now I’m thinking about how much I want that Shadowrun FPS, except set in Sigil.

    • Premium User Badge

      Qazinsky says:

      Can we get this person some money and a dev team now, please?

      (The RPG elements were implied, right? Need to be able to talkie talk in Shadowrun and Sigil, right?)

      • Tacroy says:

        I take it you’re not familiar with the 2007 Shadowrun FPS. Unfortunately it took more inspiration from Counter-Strike than Deus Ex, being a purely multiplayer competitive shooter with magic.

        That being said, it was excellent at what it did – even if it was pants at respecting the source material.

        Still, I’d love to see a new version of the game desecrating another hungry fanbase’s expectations, except this time in Sigil.

  19. Eight Rooks says:

    I’m wary of the concept: I know the article addresses this, but yeah, I feel like it’s a perfectly valid argument to say “If you don’t enjoy infuriatingly tough gameplay, you shouldn’t be playing Dark Souls, period”. And I disagree with Adam that the oppression, hopelessness, etc. are not necessarily linked to the level of challenge. They are, IMO. I ragequit DS1 on Ormstein and Smough, and I’m basically never going back to the series because it’s clearly not for me. I wish it was, but that’s not “It should cater for my lack of skill” – I honestly feel very strongly that if I were to cheat my way through that fight or stick it on autopilot it would be wrong.

    Yet at the same time I don’t disagree with the general idea that far more games should be inclusive and try and let as many people as possible play. The best example I’ve ever seen of this was on consoles, actually, and not an RPG at all – Wipeout HD/Fury had some staggeringly tough qualifying times to beat when it first came out, and the developers patched in a set of Easy/Normal/Hard times instead. Beat Easy and you still got a gold, but beat Hard and you got a gold with a little swoosh on it. I absolutely loved that. The higher speed classes were still pretty much unplayable for me, but I accepted I was never going to 100% the game, and enjoyed clearing as many Easy medals as I could (plus a few Normal or Hard) to the point it became one of my favourite games ever. So sure, if more developers can figure out how to work this kind of thinking into their design process, I’m all for it.

    • beikul says:

      Dark Souls was an interesting one for me. I also hit a wall with Ormstein and Smough but rather than quitting I summoned a friendly human phantom for the first and only time, used their help to beat the bosses then carried on and completed the game solo.

      So maybe the phantoms are Dark Souls’ medal system and I only beat it on ‘normal’ not ‘hard’ but nevertheless it was a great experience and I’m glad I played it to completion.

    • jonahcutter says:


      The themes of games are woven from not just story and art in games, but gameplay itself. It is the great, unique strength of games over other art forms.

      Ornstein and Smough are arguably the best example of this. There is so much woven into the encounter, including the difficulty, the game would be far lesser without it. It is a gateway through which the player passes, beyond which so much opens up and is revealed.

      I’ve beaten it a few times, but always with the NPCs to help. I just this last weekend, at my oldest and slowest reflexes ever, beat it solo for the first time. (Perhaps my age worked in my favor, making me more observant and patient.) And that sense of accomplishment and relief is tied directly into what follows in the game: Receiving the Lord Vessel, being given your main task by Frampt, and having the world open up through the ability to warp. And even having played it several times already, this sequence of events was most impactful this last time, because I took the game on in the purest form of its artists’ vision.

      • Eight Rooks says:

        Solaire alone was never enough to pass it, for me – he always died when they go Super Saiyan – and I spent literally hours waiting for a friendly summon and never found one, just a long procession of people who warped in then flickered back out again. Perhaps I was just unlucky.

        And yet I’d still say cheating past it would have robbed me of something important and cheapened the rest of the game as a result. I’ve never beaten The Evil Within on Normal because of the car park boss – I know exactly how to do it, I’m just incapable of following through, and yet the one time I cheated past it (God mode and infinite ammo) I felt utterly wretched, quit out and started it again on Easy.

        • Premium User Badge

          kfix says:

          I’ve spent the last week sheparding an endless stream of new players through Anor Londo, and your comment has reminded me of how I first viewed the game.

          I started playing a couple of years after release when other players were sparse on the 360 and saw the game as primarily a single player game. I rarely bothered to go into human form and when I did there were rarely any summon signs around. I only got invaded once in my first playthrough, which inspired one of my three rage-quits vowing never to return (Taurus and Capra Demons being the other two).

          It was Anor Londo that changed my mind on what kind of game it is. After hurling myself at those fucking archers about fifteen times I was already cranky and frustrated, and my first encounter with S&O ended quickly. I had no humanity, so I put down a summon sign for one of the first times, and got summoned by someone who gave me a bunch of titanite unprompted, showed me how to parry the silver knights and how to deal with the giants, and then did most of the work in beating S&O. He then ran back to the bonfire and was there for me to summon to help with my run to the boss, and stayed there for the three or four goes it took me to learn to save enough stamina to roll out of the way when that prick Ornstein jumps up to lighting fart on your head.

          All of this without a word exchanged, just the waves and bows and head-slaps of the emotes.

          That inspired me to become a sunbro ( \[T]/ ) and pay it forward, but it also changed the way I looked at the game. I started to appreciate the interactions the limits of the multiplayer system imposed. I started to appreciate the human invaders as an integral part of the atmosphere and challenge, even though I’m too much of a care bear to do it much myself (except in my occasional forays into the forest hunters). I realised just how wonderful is the design (if not the implementation) of all aspects of the game.

          I eventually got good enough to solo O&S, and last night on about my twentieth playthrough I beat the four kings solo first attempt with about 2 hp left and nearly screamed with excitement, but getting good is only kind of the point. Appreciating that there are many ways to get through the game and many involve the help of other players was, for me, the point.

          I have always played this game as a console peasant, so I don’t know if the flood of newbs due to xbone backwards compatibility is being mirrored on PC with the impending release of DS3. But seeing a virtual carpet of summon signs around every bonfire and still being summoned within a minute or so in most places is making this now-grizzled sunbro very happy indeed.

          The game may still not be for you and that’s of course perfectly fine, but if you made it as far as Anor Londo I’d encourage you to give it another go to see if you can find a friendly ghost to help.

  20. zsd says:

    A long time ago, a friend revealed that he had stalled out on Final Fantasy 7, unable to finish the last part of the game until he found a program that maxed his character levels automatically. “I could have eventually leveled up myself,” he said, “I just didn’t feel like grinding.”

    “Obviously you couldn’t have,” I replied douchily, “If you could have, you would have just done it, instead of having to cheat.” I was miffed that he had unknowingly dismissed my fond memories of many expeditions into the final dungeon, patiently leveling materia in preparation to beat the Weapons, the battle with Sephiroth already reduced to a trivial joke.

    I was, of course, a total hypocrite. I had made extensive use of the W-Item duplication bug to stuff Magic Pots full of Elixirs, and kept plenty for myself, because hey, why not? But I still thought my FF7 experience was more valid than his. I felt authentic.

    But game experience is subjective. I don’t really have a right to tell him he was doing it wrong, even if he never beat the Weapons, even if he never knew the glory of four Final Attack-Phoenixes firing off in the briny deep to finally kill a boss with a million HP.

  21. Winged Nazgul says:

    “If what starts as a minor itching irritation can soon explode into absolute fury – like Arkham Knight turning the Batmobile into Car-Car Binks over its running time,”

    I feel this so much having recently completed the main storyline in AK. As for the story mode idea, I think developers (well, the good ones actually) already have this in their games as different difficulty levels. In fact, many easy difficulty levels are marked as being for gamers interested mainly in the story.

  22. keefybabe says:

    I think there’s equal demand for “story mode” as there is for “hard”. It’s just the people who want story mode aren’t as vocal as those who want hard mode.

    Could be because of the whole “L2P N00B” thing.

    Learn to Play… Yeah, I’ll fit that in between learning 2 musical instruments, things for my job, my actual job and spending time with my family.

  23. kshriner says:

    I certainly want to try the experience of a meal the way the Chef intended, but if it’s not to my taste I wouldn’t hesitate to add some salt.

    I don’t care about achievements so disabling those for the options wouldnt bother me as a possible compromise. I have really enjoyed Factorio but only because of my discovery of “~” /c game.speed = .6 command line. I would have rage quit without it. With that ability I have sunk a good 30-40 hours into it.

    I can think of a number of really good RTS games that I have stopped playing because there was no slider in the Singleplayer campaign. Like Factorio though, I have 40+ hours in teh Wargame series campaigns and love to “bullet time” in order to see the great artwork and details during a battle (and issue a few commands..)

    I certainly agree with your general theme of allowing for options/tweaks!

  24. Babymech says:

    “If Story Mode is what it takes for players to get through a game”

    How entertained are you that you have to force yourself to ‘get through’ additional entertainment? Are you all done with the vast canon of culture that doesn’t try to shoehorn interactivity into a narrative?

    In 99/100 cases, playing a game is the worst way to enjoy a story, if you don’t like the game itself. Add to that the fact that most game stories are horribly constructed by any narrative standard, to accommodate interactive elements, and you have a shitty product delivered in an inappropriate medium. That doesn’t make it ‘wrong’ for anyone to play Story mode, it just means that there’re plenty of other, more effective ways to inject rich cultural experiences in to your brain. It’s not wrong to listen to soccer matches blindfolded, but it’s fairly unreasonable to claim that you are then getting anything near the optimal soccer experience.

    “Looking back, Baldur’s Gate’s big success was proving that D&D could be cool”

    Or you can just be entirely delusional.

    • Jekadu says:

      Playing a story is very different from watching it. Even if it’s a walking simulator you still have a lot of agency, and you can get very it’s a great way of making the audience feel invested.

      “Game stories are bad” is kind of a weird argument. So let’s do better? Right now the thing that seems to resonate best with players are system-heavy games where the player can project themselves into a blank character and enjoy emergent stories. Not good storytelling in the usual sense, maybe, but people love being the protagonists of their own story.

      Also, Baldur’s Gate is overrated as heck. It just happened to be the first good RPG in years when it came out. Every game based on the Infinity Engine that came out after was far superior.

      • Babymech says:

        Why do they need to do better? If I’m playing a vast, open RPG, I want it to be over-written with details and detours. It’s really hard to identify a good story in Darklands, but the story trappings it does have (setting, event descriptions, etc) mesh beautifully with the gameplay mechanics. A more fully developed narrative would just get in the way of my immersion.

        • Babymech says:

          (by which I mean I think I agree with you – it would be silly to make the same requirements on narrative in an interactive medium as in a passive, reactive medium. Which is why I think there’s a certain perversity to introducting ‘story modes’ after the fact… though the popularity of no-commentary let’s play’s show that there’s certainly a market for this)

    • ffordesoon says:

      What absolute twaddle. I’m so fucking tired of people claiming that videogames “don’t tell good stories” because videogame stories don’t conform to a literary structure. The older I get, the more I believe “videogames are bad at telling stories” is a self-fulfilling prophecy. And anyway, nobody claimed the playing with God Mode on was the “optimal experience” in the first place.

      • Babymech says:

        Some good videogames have very engaging stories, but not if you take away the game mechanics. Her Story would be a schlocky, poorly acted 90’s thriller if it was a movie, but with the added game mechanic of investigative discovery it becomes engrossing. Very few games, if any, hold up if you take away their game mechanics –and why shouldn’t they? It would be like reading only the dialogue of a good novel – it’s possible, but it’s difficult to find a rationale for it.

      • FreshHands says:

        The older I get, the less I seem to care for this kind of thing anyhow. Planescape’s one of my favourite games ever because of story and writing but I am just not really interested in reading/listening to endless dialoge like I used to be.

        Nowadays atmosphere and inspiration is what I am looking for – and video games still deliver on that front often enough. Morseso than books in my opionion.

        Not sure this is a true response to what you said, just seemed to resonate somehow.

  25. deiseach says:

    Yes, yes, thrice yes. It’s particularly important that this is available on repeat playthroughs. I really don’t want to have to waste much time applying oils to my sword so I can get through to the Good Ending in the Witcher 3. Speaking of which, I quite enjoyed getting the Bad Ending in what was, for want of a less pompous term, my canonical playthrough. It was poignant and meaningful. But then I found out why I ended up with said Bad Ending. I had a choice between getting drunk or having a snowball fight, and what I picked was Bad? Tough crowd.

    • Geebs says:

      That’s a really interesting point, although I think that’s actually a problem with the story gating itself.

      I got the “good” ending, but as far as I can tell I managed that by role-playing Geralt as closely as I could to the impression of his personality that I’d already developed from reading the books. WWGD seemed to be the right answer most of the time.

      • deiseach says:

        That makes me feel better about my choice(s), thanks for the insight.

  26. ffordesoon says:

    I would so, so much rather have games that allow players who don’t like the challenge to switch it off entirely than have games which comproimise the integrity of their designs to “appeal to a wider audience.” The thing hardcore “git gud” types don’t realize is that removing the barrier to entry for casual players allows developers to make the “intended” experience way, [i]way[/i] more “hardcore.” Witness Nintendo’s recent approach to difficulty and the concomitant overall increase in the standard difficulty of their recent games. You don’t get the nearly Super Meat Boy-level platforming challenges that are in the bonus worlds of the most recent Mario games without the Super Guide and the White Tanooki Suit.

    One thing I’d like to see in RPGs in particular, by the way, is a Practice Mode where you can test out different character builds and see which one you like most without committing to it within the fiction of the game. It should be like Practice Mode in a fighting game or a technical action game – you set a number of enemies, their stats, your character’s level, etc., and you see what being a Level 12 Fighter or having a low STR is like for a minute instead of getting to Level 12 after 60 hours and realizing you built a shitty Fighter or you don’t like playing your Fighter or whatever. Let people see what build they like upfront, then work up to it in the real game. I think respecs are supposed to serve this function, but I always fall prey to the sunk cost fallacy with those. “I hate playing this mechanically shitty character, but I’m attached to them now, goddammit!” You know?

  27. hungrycookpot says:

    “The whole nature of the game; its exploration, its learning by failure approach, its expectation that you work for your victories and so on mean that pulling a Story Mode would destroy the entire experience.”

    The same argument could be made for just about any game. If it was intended to roll over and present no challenge, that’s how they would have made it. IMO putting pressure on developers to add story modes to their games would just be adding adulteration to the experience they want to create for their audience. It’s just like having cheat modes off the bat, and why i believe they’ve become less prevalent now that games have become more expensive and involved to make, because it cheapens the experience that the devs work so hard and put so much into crafting.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      “The same argument could be made for just about any game.”

      Yeah, no, not really. Most games slide up the difficulty slowly so that it develops along with the player. Only a handful openly go “Prepare to die”.

      “If it was intended to roll over and present no challenge, that’s how they would have made it.”

      And yet just about every game has difficulty modes. This is just one step further, with a statement of intent. In any event, I think most designers would rather people stuck around and saw the whole game they made, and the absence of cheat codes has little to do with that. Additional testing complications, DLC options, online clashes etc are far more pragmatic reasons than studios suddenly giving a damn about their creators’ egos.

  28. Bladderfish says:

    You have some valid points here. There are plenty of games that would benefit from being additional choices in how you play them beyond a simple difficulty slider.

    However, you appear to be advocating for the removal of the certain gameplay systems – combat usually – to allow a game to be played more like a story.

    That in itself points to a failure on the part of the developers to implement those systems correctly. If those systems are not enjoyable, if they do not perform their purpose, then the *game* has failed and turning it into a story does not resolve the problem. Also, allowing someone to bypass them is essentially a get-out clause whereby the developer admits they have created a flawed system.

    I’d veer down the opposite path. Know what your game is good at and focus on that. Appeal to those people with a similar mindset to your own. Don’t try and please everyone, because you never will. These “be all to end all” games inevitably end up increasingly dumbed down to reach the mass market, and due to this will always possess flaws.

    So don’t go there. Do one thing right, and become a purer game because of it.

    And generally the best games, those lauded by critics and players alike, are those that follow this rule:

    Dark Souls, Spelunky, Nuclear Throne, Hotline Miami, Nidhogg, Talos Principle, SF4, etc, etc

    • Jekadu says:

      What if someone is physically incapable of playing a game “as intended”? What if they don’t have time to learn it? What if there’s a particularly compelling feature in the game that someone doesn’t want to jump through a number of unattractive hoops to experience?

      It generally doesn’t take much to accommodate player needs. We need to get out of the mindset that a good game needs to be challenging, rewards hard work and something where you compete against other people. It’s entirely possible to make compelling games that fulfill none of these requirements, as well as to open up a game that satisfies all of them to less invested players without sacrificing anything.

      • Bladderfish says:

        Physical disabilities, if that’s what you mean, should always be catered for, as long as it is financially viable to do so.

        “What if they don’t have time to learn it? What if there’s a particularly compelling feature in the game that someone doesn’t want to jump through a number of unattractive hoops to experience?”

        Someone bought a game they don’t have time to play?

        I can’t think of an example of your second point.

        • Jekadu says:

          Games don’t have to require a massive investment in time and effort. It’s a win for everyone to include some way for players to tailor their experience after taste and ability.

          Take Elite: Dangerous. For months I’d tell a friend who wanted to play it with me that I was going to start on it any day. It took months before I summoned the will to force myself to make it through the learning curve. Now that I’m past it I’m having a lot of fun, but there’s no getting around the fact that playing Elite requires an investment first in effort to get past the learning curve and then in time to get anything done. When designing a game you need to be aware of how much it asks of the player, and how the player will perceive this. When you get home after a hard day at work you might not have the mental energy to get over the mental hurdle of having to engage with a massively complicated RPG. Knowing that some of that complexity can be reduced or removed helps you get over that hurdle and lets you engage with a game on your own terms (in this case being in a post-work depressive slump).

    • Sin Vega says:

      Anyone who wants to “be a purer gamer” needs a slap in the nards.

      • Bladderfish says:

        “purer game” I said. I was talking about the design.

  29. jonahcutter says:

    Devil’s advocate:

    Shall we ask for a difficulty-mode in games like Gone Home then? Something where you are chased by a killer, Evil Within-like, throughout the house as you attempt to work out your family story?

    Something to make it more challenging for those who find it too flat as is?

    If we’re to remove entire mechanics for a story-mode, shall we ask for them to be added in other instances for a combat-mode?

    I think Gone Home is fine as is. And difficulty levels work great for some games. But for some other games, asking for removal of integral mechanics to play a game as essentially a walking simulator can be a betrayal of the entire concept of that game as much as asking for combat to be put into a walking simulator would be.

    • Snark says:

      Realize that that’s asking for an element to be added rather than removed. That would be like adding a cutscenes and characters mode to tetris or some other game that has no story elements.

      • jonahcutter says:

        The point is it is fundamentally changing the structure of the game as a whole.

  30. Zachreitz878 says:

    While I am morally opposed to the whole GTA “want to move on” feature, I completely agree with your critique of RPG story modes in general. 99% of all character dialogue and cutscenes I will skip if the game allows. Remember those little lore books you find in WoW? Who actually read those? Id rather be killing stuff. The little lore books in Diablo 3 were the same way, stop talking over my EDM music random NPC, I don’t care who you are or what you have to tell me. I mean, the greatest thing to happen to Diablo 3 was the creation of adventure mode, which allowed you to hop right in and get rushed to end game in 5 minutes and skip the entire story! It was amazing I was so happy they added that! I think the future of Story mode for RPGs is in question, at least for multiplayer games. People want to get to the endgame as fast as possible.

    • Einsammler says:

      I am the one who will stay awhile and listen.

    • Premium User Badge

      Ninja Dodo says:

      I am playing Diablo 3 right now and I quite like the lore books, particularly that they are played as narration while you continue doing stuff. They also seem overall more entertaining, and better written, than the cliché-laden main story.

  31. Deadly Habit says:

    I would also like to propose an idea as well, not every game with leveling progression and the player having stats is a RPG.
    I don’t entirely agree a story mode is needed, but an optional button press to skip cutscenes or entire dialog bits would be a welcome feature in any game.

  32. Robert The Rebuilder says:

    To get to all the good bits of Sunless Sea without all the grinding necessary, I edited my save file and gave myself a ton of cash. There are so many different endings to the game that require a huge time commitment in order to see them… or an ASCII file editor. No regrets.

    • X_kot says:

      There’s the rub: theoretically, any game can be adjusted to fit a player’s preferred level of challenge, but it requires specific tools and/or knowledge to do so. Customizing a game must remain in the hands of the devs or savvy fans, so say those who rebuke suggestions that difficulty be scaled further. A game without combat may be a walking simulator; perhaps one with combat is a walking simulator with busy work?

  33. Wulfram says:

    Story modes are a good idea in principle, but I don’t feel they actually work well. Removing all danger from the gameplay may make it quicker, but it also makes it utterly boring, and even in story mode it still takes up too much of the game for the resulting experience to be very satisfying.

  34. Risingson says:

    Now let’s remember how the old crpgs dealt with this. Remember Wizardrys. Or Might&Magics

    Baldur’s Gate? I remember friends talking about how depressingly unchallengly it was.

  35. Mr_Blastman says:

    So many pussies these days…

    I remember when I was a kid and played stuff like Bard’s Tale and Ultima… ah, yes, Ultima. Remember how Ultima 6 had painfully awesome combat that was strategic and at times quite difficult–okay, maybe I’m slightly exaggerating but it was pretty good for the time and when played on an 80286, every single move counted.

    But then Garriott did something perplexing, he made Ultima 7 and threw combat out the window! Combat has no point in the game! It even mocks you when a character dies to piss you off even further because there’s nothing you can do about it due to them running around like assclowns with their heads cut off. So what do you do? You just… turn on combat and hope everything dies -or- just avoid it wherever possible.

    Was Ultima 7 a better game because of that? Some say yes, some say no. I say no. Seven is a fine game in its own right and the engine at the time was spectacular, but the dumbed down combat really detracted from the experience because all you did was halberd up, thrown on armor and win–and the game could be beat super duper fast without much more to it than some thought (it did have some interesting puzzles).

    Ultima 6 was a far better experience due to how it drew you into the game by making combat matter as well as the various mysteries and quests you came across.

    So no, dumbing down a game with pure story mode doesn’t exactly make it the same–unless it is a pacifist simulator. If it has combat–make the combat meaningful or don’t have it at all!

    • Risingson says:

      You know, I admire Ultima Vii but I think people were too forgiving on its game breaking bugs. Cmon, even exploring was potentially punished by game breaking bugs.

      • Yglorba says:

        How dare you! Those game-breaking bugs represent the creator’s purest vision of their masterpiece, and anyone who would remove them is stripping away an essential part of the Ultima VII experience.

        • X_kot says:

          Patches are for the weak. Mods are graffiti. Expansions are the spawn of panderers, and DLC the product of decadence. 1.0 or nothing. Anything else is compromise.

          Unless I don’t like it.

      • Mr_Blastman says:

        The bugs sucked–especially the disappearing key ones and the interface was awful. I played through it last year in vanilla (no exult) using a specially modified version of dosbox I put together that accurately emulates a CRT monitor and while it looked fantastic (it looks like crap on a vanilla LCD), some of those old flaws really stood out.

  36. Serenegoose says:

    For me, what’s ended up being the most persuasive argument in favour of story modes or whatnot has almost always ended up being the comments threads full of people who cry out that it’s cheapening the experience despite that being objectively untrue. It does nothing whatsoever to your experience. Or that it destroys the creator’s vision. Who cares? I mean people made the same arguments about translating the bible, and it was nonsense hundreds of years ago, and it’s nonsense now. Even if it does mean that I’d get a lesser experience…. who cares? Is anyone’s life in any way affected by how I might choose to enjoy a videogame? How could it possibly be so important that I play a game in a specific way that I need to be protected from my own actions?

    I’ve never used a story mode, and I probably won’t – the closest I came was just bumping the last boss of dragon age 1 down to easy because it was boring. But there’s really no argument you can make against them that actually holds any water, because nothing I do to my game is anything to do with anybody else at all.

    • FreshHands says:

      How dare you spoil the fun of totally subjective discussions with this weak-assed liberal opinion of yours.

      You, mister, should be utterly ashamed.

      True men sit in darkened rooms, avoiding the sun and people and stuff, proving their worth through endless grinding.

      My eyes bleed. Send help.

  37. JoranAtPlay says:

    @Richard Cobbett,
    I’m glad someone remembers “The Magic Candle”.

  38. syllopsium says:

    I’m not sure I’d turn RPGs completely into adventures, but I’d appreciate an ‘oh dear, there has been a monster plague, and 95% of them have died’ option. I play RPGs for the story – even Icewind Dale, which was one of the few games where I enjoyed the combat throughout the entire game – it was well balanced, and had just enough story to chivvy the player along.

    I love PS:T, and Baldur’s Gate 2 is impressive for its scale, but not a lot else. The only fight I particularly enjoyed in ToB was the optional elder god in the dungeon. I don’t even remember 90% of the fights because they’re simply not memorable.

    PS:T absolutely requires combat, even though it’s a relatively unimportant part of the game, because it’s a clear indication of just how powerful you become by the end.

    The original KOTOR’s combat is impressive, purely because it’s possible to issue commands and watch your own real time Star Wars action film sequence without worrying about reflexes.

    I would agree about character construction, though. I’m half way through Icewind Dale 2, but only got that far from constructing my party according to a FAQ rather than my usual tactic of throwing a couple of fighters, a wizard, a sorcerer and a cleric together. It’s fine to make things tricky, but the penalty has to be small – provide an option to turn the difficulty down, ramp the difficulty up slowly without any large spikes, and most importantly don’t waste more than a few minutes (i.e. hours) because a party has got itself into a poor situation.

  39. Mkohanek says:

    I have always wanted a solo mid for Age of Conan. That game had such a fun battle system and story, I would love to just go through it solo.
    They would need to expand the inventory for solo players though for sure…

  40. Yglorba says:

    I was going to mention the System Shock four-part option thing! I always thought it was really cool, although partially I suspect they included it because that sort of story-plus-action game was still very new at the time and they weren’t sure who it would appeal to (so they wanted to give everyone an option that would let them approach it.)

  41. OmNomNom says:

    If you’re not a regular gamer and you lack the skills to really play a game on the harder skills (years of twitch reaction training etc) then I think its fine to play the easier difficulties. Of course you may have limited time to play games, maybe you are a parent and your free time is often not your own but personally I believe the more you trivialise the experience, they less of a ‘game’ it becomes.

    The only thing is, often, by playing the easier difficulties you trivialise a game. It can often shorten its playtime, ruin stage pieces and immersion and really miss the heart of what the games are trying to show.

    If you really only ever play a game at the easiest difficulty then you are most likely not improving and really playing a game as if it were a movie or book. Not that there is anything wrong with this, I just personally feel that this is not the way the majority of games were meant to be experienced. A mild challenge at least should be expected otherwise… what was the achievement? Where was the rush when you finally beat something that you maybe failed at the first time.

    I feel like difficulty levels can often be talked about hand in hand with PVP, hence my next rant:
    This is why PVP games are fun, ignoring the way that many react verbally to the situations, they are dynamic and challenging and offer constant self improvement. There are always a bigger fish or someone who shows skill in a different area and in many games even if you know you are weak in one area you can still be an asset to the team in others. Most of the people I’ve met who ‘didn’t play multiplayer’ mainly just suffered from pride issues. In almost every case where I’ve pushed them to try it out and they’ve got over the initial hump they’ve really enjoyed the self improvement.
    Likewise when I’ve encouraged friends to play a difficulty ‘one higher’ than what they are used to they’ve really enjoyed it. Often the true depth and tactics of a game only shows through once you increase the challenge.

    Anyway rant over. Haven’t read this back and I won’t be able to correct it after because of RPS’ archaic comment system but I just wanted to say some things :)

    • ffordesoon says:

      There seems to be this crazy idea that advocates of Story Mode don’t understand how the game was “intended” to be experienced. Of course a traditional videogame is intended to be played with all the combat and whatnot in it. That stuff wouldn’t be in there otherwise.

      But then, a movie is intended to be seen to the point that the standard phrase used to describe attending a film is “seeing” a movie, and they still offer descriptive voiceovers for the blind. Do you think the blind people who make use of that feature don’t know they’re not “seeing” the movie the way it was intended? They’re blind. Of course they know. They’d rather see the movie like everyone else. But they can’t, so they do the next best thing. It’s no different for people who are bad at videogames, save for the fact that those people can eventually improve at the videogame enough to take the training wheels off.

      And if they don’t, well, clearly they’re happy playing the way they play and don’t care about that rush you (and I, for that matter) find so intoxicating. To which I say fair enough. As long as they’re having fun and we’re having fun, what’s it matter?

      • OmNomNom says:

        I think likening playing easy difficulties to a disability is a bit unrealistic. People play easy most often because they don’t want a hard time (stress etc).

        This is absolutely fine, I’m not saying people shouldn’t play the unchallenging difficulties. I’m trying to highlight why the harder modes exist and why people play them.

        If you don’t want a challenging book, just go for the one with pictures and few words.

        • Einsammler says:

          I refer you to Jedaku’s arthritis-related story above. Sometimes it really is a disability.

          • OmNomNom says:

            I’m not saying that there aren’t valid reasons for picking easier difficulties. Disability is one.
            I’m saying that many people choose the easier difficulties because they just want an easy time and not a challenge, which while I understand I personally believe they are selling themselves short and don’t get the chance to experience all a game has to offer.

          • Jekadu says:

            OmNomNom, I’m not certain why it should matter why people would lower the difficulty level or make a game easier. If altering a game to fit one’s tastes is what allows one to enjoy it the most, isn’t that the best way for that person to play it? If the developers put in a multiple difficulty levels, why should one be considered more genuine than the rest? Even the developers can’t dictate tastes in this fashion.

            Consider the “Auto-Mario” levels in Super Mario Maker (and modded versions of older games). They specifically feature little or no player input and have very little in common with “classic” Mario levels, yet they are still immensely popular, both among creators and players. Minecraft is famous as much for the weird stuff people make in its freeform sculpting mode as for its adventure mode. Mass Effect 3 added “lone wolf” goals in multiplayer after people started taking on maps alone. Someone made a video where they spawned five hundred cheese wheels at the top of a mountain in Skyrim and watched them roll downhill.

            People obviously enjoy all these activities. Emergent gameplay tends to surprise even its creators, and I can’t think of a reason why it should be considered less authentic than playing according to script. Who are we to judge?

          • Llewyn says:

            I’m saying that many people choose the easier difficulties because they just want an easy time and not a challenge, which while I understand I personally believe they are selling themselves short and don’t get the chance to experience all a game has to offer.

            I’m sure they’ll all be grateful for your concern.

            I personally believe that it’s better for us each to concentrate on how we maximize our own enjoyment of games and leave it to others to decide how they might.

        • ffordesoon says:

          Blindness isn’t directly analogous to being bad at videogames, it’s true. Perhaps it was disingenuous to draw a comparison.

          However, by focusing on the imprecision of my analogy, you’re ignoring my actual point: those who are unable to enjoy a piece of art/entertainment without special accomodations are aware that they are not experiencing said art/entertainment “as intended” when they take advantage of said accomodations. They don’t need you – or any of the numerous other commenters on this page – to patronizingly explain what they’re missing. They know. They know because Story Mode was an option they had to choose, not the default mode of play. They know because bad guys can hit them with lethal weapons for ages and not kill them, yet those bad guys shout “DIE, FOOL!” over and over. They know for every reason that Richard listed in the very first paragraph of this article that they have, in his words, “render[ed] large chunks of the game pointless.”

          The thing is, that’s their decision to make. Not mine, not yours, theirs. And it doesn’t affect my game or your game at all, because the game under discussion is a single-player game. So if you’re as fine with people playing easier modes as you say, let’s not bother them for playing their games how they want to play them, yeah?

  42. EtherDynamics says:

    This is exactly what got me into modding Skyrim when the CK came out, and has kept me coming back to the discussion on AI and game experience over and over again. It’s not about just designing a world with a story — those are just the passive elements that are required for making a movie or writing a book. It’s the interactive part that makes it a game, and it’s the interactive part that hasn’t evolved in decades. That’s why I keep making videos to open up discussion on the subject.

    • OmNomNom says:

      See this is what often bothers me about easy modes. When you take away the interactivity then it becomes something less than a game. This can be endless cutscenes, quicktime events etc but the ‘game’ in the truest sense of the word is no longer there.

      • Jekadu says:

        The primary element that sets storytelling in video games apart from other types is the sense of agency. The player feels in control of the story, and it doesn’t matter if that control is illusory. Something as simple as letting the player decide on their own when to trigger a cutscene does wonders for immersion.

  43. Styxie says:

    That Descartes quote took me by surprise, tea has been spluttered everywhere.

    I would argue that Dark Souls isn’t nearly as difficult as people make it out to be, but it does have an easy mode; you can summon in friendly NPCs to help during boss fights, at which point just a basic understanding of the dodge/attack/estus rotation will get you through.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      …yeah. Boss fights.

      Those are tough.

      • Styxie says:

        How far did you manage to get? The problem with Dark Souls is that there are two really easy mistakes to make right at the beginning and either one will lead you to think that the game is impossible. I did both of them because I’m special.

        • TheLetterM says:

          Care to elaborate on what those mistakes are? I bounced off Dark Souls due to lack of time, but I couldn’t get past the nagging feeling I was doing something wrong. I do plan on going back at some point, and I would love a course correction instead of wholly spoiling myself.

          • Styxie says:

            Immediately after finishing the undead asylum starting area you get to a place called Firelink Shire and there are three pathways you can take. The first leads up to the undead burg which is where you’re supposed to go, the second leads to a graveyard full of resurrecting skellingtons and the third leads to an underground city full of spooky ghosts which are also unkillable.

            I went to the ghosts first and got killed five times, then the graveyard – by which point I was convinced that the game was literally impossible. Finally I noticed the path up to Undead burg and had one of those ‘fuck, I’m dumb’ moments. Good times, bad game design.

          • TheLetterM says:

            Oh yeah, that. I remember beating my head against the skeletons and doing probably about 5 corpse runs before I realized I should have been searching for an alternate route. Not the brightest, me.

  44. bill says:

    A story mode for BG1 sounds like a great idea as I just got burned out on killing 1000s of kobolds and never finished it.
    But if I did it in story mode I’d probably have to start again from the beginning. Maybe I should just watch it on youtube.. but then I wouldn’t have a character to import into BG2.

  45. Premium User Badge

    alison says:

    I wholeheartedly approve of this post. One of the biggest hurdles I find when trying to play computer RPGs is that I find the combat mechanics extremely tedious. One of my best friends buys RPGs all the time, and she always skips through the story scenes – for her RPGs are purely tactical combat simulators. It’s unfortunate that game designers don’t make it as easy to skip through the combat for those of us who find that mechanic boring and prefer a focus on dialog and storyline.

  46. Binho says:

    The more I think about this, the more I wonder…why do people not consider RPG conversations as interactive? Your choices totally dictate the outcome of a situation. Perhaps it’s the lack of predictability of conversation outcomes, and maybe lack of nuance in the answers you can choose (evil, good, what author wants you to say)? That’s something they haven’t nailed yet.

    My main problem with ‘story mode’ and ‘easy mode’ is that it feels the gaming community (and devs) view people who play on those modes as inferiors, or ‘pussies’ as one commentator above put it. I tend to avoid those modes because of that sometimes. But also because they often make it way too easy. Personally for me it’s often not that the gameplay is challenging in a problem solving sense, but that they use grind and filler combat to pad things out. I often get frustrated and bored fighting tons and tons of faceless mooks, even if the combat is good. I ended switching Mass Effect 3 to story because the combat grind bored me so much, and I just wanted to get to the end!

    One thing I wish RPG’s spent more time on is interesting puzzles and exploration options. These have pretty much disappeared, not that they ever really existed. As an archaeologist it always kind of frustrates me when you uncover an ancient tomb/dungeon of an unknown 20,000 year old civilization and the game design encourages you to rush through it killing hundreds of pointless monsters. The artists spent dozens of hours creating this tomb for 20mins of genocidal gameplay? Why not have us actually do some exploring, give us time to be amazed by the environment?? The one time I got to work in ancient underground ruins and tunnels in Rome there weren’t any mercenaries to murder…that would hardly have made trying to puzzle out the chronological sequence of the site any more interesting!

  47. Mungrul says:

    A few years ago, I realised that the economies in most RPGs are just there to slow me down and force me to grind before progressing. So I regularly use Cheat Engine to give myself infinite cash in games where the economy and grind isn’t the point.

    As long as it’s not affecting other players, I have no problem cheating to cut past the bullshit.

    To be honest, I’m now at a stage where I’m thinking removing levelling from RPGs may be a good thing. A lot of people can’t get their heads around this concept, thinking that RPGs are all about the levelling, but I’d much rather build a character around a concept at the start of the game and then have to use that character all the way through the game, their stats and abilities immutable after generation. That to me would force me to really play the role of my character, approaching scenarios based on their abilities rather than their level.

    This also ties in to my idea that weapon scales are completely out of whack in RPGs and that a sword at the start of the game should be exactly as lethal as at the end of the game. The development should be the player learning how to play the character they built, and learning how to utilise their strengths and weaknesses in the situations the developer has laid out.

    Every time I get to an encounter that can’t be resolved one way or another simply because I haven’t spent enough time levelling up, I’m forced to grind away until I can continue to enjoy the game. It’s a way of extending the length of a game while minimising development of meaningful content.

    Now in something like Diablo 3, where the grind is the point, I really don’t mind.

    But in games where NPC conversations and interactions other than combat play a large role, don’t make me grind to get to the good stuff.

    I’m currently playing Age of Decadence, and this seems to be approaching this ideal, but they’ve still not been brave enough to completely remove levelling.
    However, I haven’t felt the need to cheat cash, as my thief is adept enough at stealing that she doesn’t have to worry about it. And the amount of combat she has to do has been minimal so far, thanks to the game offering suitably sneaky options based on her abilities.

    • Binho says:

      Yes! I’d love it if at least some RPG’s removed levelling and scaling weapons. The grind and the constant need to upgrade equipment are usually my least favorite parts.

      • Mungrul says:

        Innit though?
        You can never really get attached to your equipment in modern RPGs, as there’s always something “better” in the next lootable container. I’ve mentioned this before, but I really love the feature of Dwarf Fortress where a weapon’s kills and owners will be recorded in its history. That’s FAR more interesting to me than just “Sword of the Slightly Shinier, +1 Damage”, especially when Legends mode allows you to go looking up the specific battles it was used in.

    • ffordesoon says:

      As much as I agree with what you’re saying, I gotta be honest – I like progression and acquiring new skills and all the stuff that comes with leveling. It’s one of the reasons why I like RPGs, and probably a more important reason to me than I’d like to admit. The idea of removing it entirely from an RPG makes me uncomfortable, and as much as I wish videogames would make me (a straight white man who’s been playing videogames for over twenty years) uncomfortable more often, I can’t say I would relish this particular innovation.

      I don’t think you need discrete experience levels, necessarily, and I don’t believe that climbing up the power curve is essential to my experience of RPGs. I have no problem with the idea that your base stats are your base stats forever. What I do value, however, is the ability to broaden my character’s repertoire of skills and mitigate his or her weaknesses over the course of a given game. I’m not sure traditional leveling is necessary, but pretty much any form of chaacter progression would be leveling by another name, and I’m not sure a game without that would appeal to me.

    • Premium User Badge

      alison says:

      Yes. This is the RPG I want to play.

  48. Ericusson says:

    I am really glad you write about this and the debate about difficulty and options given to the player are more and more discussed here.

    I personally believe in giving options to the player.
    Yes it can dull the experience. But why would the players who want a challenge care ? They can still play the original mode designed to be challenging which the devs can decide is the default game mode.
    The rest is mostly ego trip.

    Better this than people giving up on games they bought because of frustration or more or less fair difficulty spikes.

    Some developers now remove the save options altogether. It’s like going out of your way to hide a functionality that has anyway been implemented in the game.

    As for MMOs, outdated content should be made available for everyone to see rather than being lost to most ! Remove the loot, why not, who cares ?

  49. Voidlight says:

    Oi! Go muck about in the matrix of Shadowrun Hong Kong and then tell me all hacking mini-games are rubbish!

  50. Premium User Badge

    Ninja Dodo says:

    Games should totally have cheat codes again. Would dearly love to see modern games replace “achievements” and collect-athons with cheats and customization so that players can again enjoy a game the way they want instead of working through a checklist to get a virtual pat on the back.