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What's better: Interrupt attacks, or a lore codex?

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A mesmer in Guild Wars 2.
Image credit: ArenaNet

Last time, you decided that a stress-free co-op helper is better than timed dialogue choices. A double victory for carefree living, there. I don't understand; how do you get anything done without the constant feeling that everything is about to collapse around you? Weird. Still, we must move on, for science. This week, I ask you to choose between a sharp shock and a deep dive. What's better: interrupt attacks, or a lore codex?

Interrupt attacks

I adore an attack built to interrupt an enemy casting a spell or using an ability. Not stuns, although interrupting is part of their broader deal. Not staggers, which can jostle anything. Interrupts, those attacks which exist purely to say "Hey! No!" and bop someone on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper, leaving them so startled by what you've just done that they briefly forget they were 29 names into speaking the 57 Forbidden Names of Those Who Grasp The Seal at the culmination of a lifelong quest to end the world. And you just bopped them with Tuesday's Metro. Now they have to start over at Xiendunklfraulschin'ka-dam, The Seventh Knuckle Of The Third Night. Unbelievable.

My favourite interrupts are in the original Guild Wars. Its various wizards have oodles of abilities to interrupt spells, skills, attacks, and everything. As a Mesmer main, I was spoiled for interrupts. Interrupts which blast damage! Interrupts which give me energy! Interrupts which disable the ability I spiked! Interrupts which 100% left the other wizard shouting at their PC in PvP!

Interrupt attacks are just uncommon enough that they don't feel like part of the standard video game toolbox to me. This makes it feel cheeky and a little cheaty when a game does have them alongside more typical attacks and abilities, like I've snuck in something I'm not supposed to have. You're trying to throw fireballs and drop stuns and summon minions and pling arrow barrages and charge buffs and oh, what's this, looks like I can just tell you no. Stop that. Bop on the nose with Metro, leaving the inky print of a headline about air traffic control computers.

I suppose digital versions of Magic: The Gathering have some solid interrupt attacks too, with a few of the dual-colour red/blue counterspells slamming damage on top of sinking a spell. Though in the complexities of Magic, where harm is measured in so much more than damage points, could any interrupt with a nasty bonus consequence count as an attack? I wouldn't consider a raw counterspell an interrupt attack but it felt weird to talk about the topic without mentioning Magic, y'know? The entire concept of the stack exists to be an interrupting jerk.

A lore codex

If you're playing a RPG-ish game, odds are good that it has a lore codex. Somewhere in a menu you will likely find a long list of text entries relaying descriptions of items and enemies along with biographies and stories and encyclopedia entries and all sorts set in the game's world.

Many codexes are boring, explaining unremarkable histories and minutiae with a questionable quality of writing. Even then, I can still find them useful. I often play giant RPGs and open-world games in fits and spurts, smashing through 20 hours in a weekend then leaving the game for months. By the time I return, I have forgotten who everyone is, which god did what, why this planet is important, and so on. Thanks for catching me up, codex!

Reading about Strawberry Daifuku in Ghostwire: Tokyo's codex.
Delicious! | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun / Bethesda

A good codex can fill a world with life that would otherwise not be possible. It can skip across histories and galaxies to stories long ago or far away, and focus on the small and inconsequential stories that are what life in this world actually is, and hint at big things lurking in the background (nicely done, Mass Effect), and raise mysteries it needn't solve, and tackle topics that a game would struggle to translate into play within its genre, and retell events that would simply be too expensive to render in the game. And I do like that Ghostwire: Tokyo's codex taught me a lot about the histories of Japanese snacks.

Destiny 2 (god damn its eyes) has much of its best—and most imporant—writing in the codex. I don't know how you're supposed to understand much more than "A ball made you a wizard so now you have to kill aliens, unless they're nice aliens" without these stories. More than that, they have good words! They're interesting! They're evocative! They're funny! They're emotional! They build the world and characters in ways I care about! They test the fourth wall in ways that actually fit the fiction! Some of them are straight-up lies, and that's fantastic! Great codex! But while a good codex is nice, a great codex can be a disappointment.

A great codex does make me wish: why couldn't this actually be the game? A great codex lets you see what more a game could be capable of. A great codex is a reminder of how disappointingly conservative most games are in their storytelling, how formulaic and literal and linear and inconsequential they often are, how much the stories are confined by the game's genres, how reluctant they are to be bold or weird or complicated or potentially misunderstood. A great codex can sometimes feel like a writer despairing that they have nowhere better to put good ideas and good writing.

Maybe that's cynical of me. A video game is a multimedia experience, after all. A codex is a real and valid part of that. Maybe the codex feels jarring partially because games don't lean harder into multimedia, aren't made of more bits and pieces and odds and ends, don't have more curios for interest and delight. In this spirit, what else might you build games with?

But which is better?

I've never met an interrupt I didn't like, whereas codexiceses... the lows are so miserably low. And I'm basically forced to click through the codex to get rid of that annoying 'new entry' marker in my UI. Interrupt attacks for me! But what do you think, reader dear?

Pick your winner, vote in the poll below, and make your case in the comments to convince others. We'll reconvene next week to see which thing stands triumphant—and continue the great contest.

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