How should lore be consumed?

Map of Norrath
This map alone tells me a story, and I only played long enough to see half of it.

Lore is another MMO topic I am passionate about.  I’m picky because I’ve seen lore handled in so many different ways, and I know what I like and dislike very much.

The most important part of conveying lore, or a sense of story, in an MMO is the world.  I strongly believe the simple act of traveling through the world should tell a story.  Everything from visual cues to sounds, dangers, and NPC involvement should act like a perfectly synchronized orchestra sending lore waves straight to my brain — in a way, almost passive in nature.

I want the majority of the lore in an MMO to be apparent and something I can digest almost through osmosis.  Forcing me to read tons of  text or watch cutscenes is too obvious.  Even having to go to a website or read books in-game requires too much input from the player.  I think books and additional lore pieces are fantastic, but don’t make them a requirement for me to understand what’s supposed to be going on in your world.

Something MMO devs do too often these days is focus on the individual for the source of the story.  I hate that!  I don’t want to be the focal point of everything going on in the world.  One of the reasons I play MMOs is to feel like just another adventurer.  I think EverQuest handled this perfectly.  I never, ever, felt like I was advancing a story of any kind, yet when the continents of Kunark and Velious were uncovered I did feel like Norrath as a whole had uncovered something special to go explore.

Quests are the cheapest and crudest form of delivering lore and a story in modern MMOs.  I simply don’t like them anymore.  Quests should be reserved for nothing short of something right out of an epic poem.  They should be enormous stories with outrageous adventures, and maybe have nothing to do with lore at all.

In a way, there’s something to be said for letting a player create their own story — especially in a sandbox.  If the lore of a game gets in the way because it is too rigidly defined, that’s a problem.

  • I agree. I really like the notion of the passive lore. I’m realizing more and more than when it comes to MMOs I’m not looking for a “story” – I’m looking for a “setting”. MMO worlds should provide a rich backdrop for player stories to emerge.

    I’m not looking for characters or quest text or heroes or villains, I’m looking for a world that oozes character and atmosphere. Something that stirs the imagination. I actually think the less that is explicitly explained in lore the better – maintain an element of mystery and the unknown in your world.

  • Lore through osmosis gets a thumbs up from me! I too dislike having to read a bunch of text, especially if that text isn’t even in the game itself. >_< Strangely I'm ok with it being in instruction manuals, do games still come with those? 😛

  • I think in MMOs this is of paramount importance. Seeing hundreds of other ‘chosen ones’ running around completely kills the point for me. Seeing hundreds of other people, all doing what they have to to survive, to group with, trade with, etc is the appeal of the genre.

    It can hugely benefit single player games as well. Dark Souls is a perfect example. From the moment you’re dumped at the Firelink Shrine, the game simply doesn’t give a shit about you. That makes it so, so much more rewarding. The feeling of exploration in EQ and that in Dark Souls are very similar. Seeing a hand sticking up out of the Innothule Swamp could cause me to stop and wonder why it’s there, creating all sorts of stories in my head, because there was no idiotic quest to go click on the sparkle on the hand in the swamp. I discovered it.

    As for quests, I came to that conclusion long ago. In fact, the presence of quest hubs is an easy yes/no for whether I’m interested in an MMO. I do not agree with you that quests need to be epic to fix them. Yes, to this point I would say Everquest had the best implementation of quests. However, I am (coincidentally) very interested in EQN’s quests. If the quests are truly dynamic, based on what is currently happening to the npcs in that area, my history, etc, I’m interested. The fact that quests are humdrum isn’t my problem. My problem is that EVERYONE is on the same shitty path doing the same thing as me. That is an immersion destroyer. If a group I’m in walks into a town, and the warrior who has slain hundreds of goblins is asked to rid the woods of a goblin warlord, but the alchemist in the group is asked to observe and retrieve the recipe for a potion the goblins have been creating, and the cleric is asked to give last rites to some locals believed to have been dragged off by them? I’m fairly certain EQN is going to fall short of my expectations, but I do see it as *a* path for ‘fixing’ quests.