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WoWJan 11, 2019 1:00 pm CT

WoW isn’t going full choose-your-own-adventure — but player choice is definitely a thing

The latest WoW livestream was a little different: it focused more on lore than game mechanics and ditched the Q&A aspect entirely. In it, Cinematic Project Director Terran Gregory and Senior Narrative Designer Steve Danuser got a chance to talk about the process of crafting Warcraft lore, rather than answering a ton of user-submitted questions. In a way, it felt a little bit like a bonus BlizzCon panel.

But even though we weren’t dealing with a Q&A here, there was still some interesting discussion about Battle for Azeroth’s current story. Something that caught players’ attention in the most recent patch was the addition of moments of choice for Horde players. Some of these choices were simply a matter of whether you or an NPC carried out a task – and some came with popup warnings that noted the importance of your decision, and that it would affect your experience later on.

Is this a new shift towards a more BioWare-style narrative experience? Not so much. As Gregory and Danuser pointed out, there are a variety of different storytelling methods in Blizzard’s toolkit. In situations where the story needs some additional punch – or a suitably dramatic finish – things like cinematics or cutscenes can help emphasize the narrative in a significant way.

Choice, it seems, is being tested as another one way to deliver meaningful story where it’s appropriate. In the case of Horde players, over the years people have spent a lot of time with their characters. Not every player focuses on story, but those that do generally have a pretty good idea of what their character is thinking when it comes to matters of the Horde. The current state of the Horde is a touchy subject – while some players love Sylvanas, others are beginning to question where this story is going, and if Sylvanas is really the best leader for the Horde.

Offering players a chance to express their beliefs in-game through deliberate choices is just another way to draw people into the story and make them feel like they’re a part of it. Eventually, those choices will pay off. Both developers were quick to point out that they have stuff in store that will make players feel like their choices mattered, and give them something in return for the decision they made.

But this isn’t fundamentally changing how questing works in WoW. It’s a way for the narrative team to highlight the moments that matter. Just like cinematics, these choices are meant to draw you into those moments and give you a better story experience overall.

Which is… well, it’s a pretty good way of making these kinds of things work. While I love games where choices are everything – the amount of game-changing decisions you can make in any Mass Effect or Dragon Age title is staggering – WoW has never really felt like that kind of game to me. Yes, we’ve moved beyond the crippling sensation of a story on rails like in Cataclysm, but there are still moments where it feels like no matter what I do with my character, no matter what I’m feeling beyond the screen, it makes no difference to how the story is going to play out.

These little moments of choice do a lot to alleviate that feeling, and afford my characters something they’ve never really had before – agency as characters in their own right. Not a lot of agency, but just enough to feel like it counts.

Warcraft is never going to be a choose-your-own-adventure title. It’s not a single player game and it can’t really afford to let players choose where the story goes. But allowing players to snuggle a little closer to all that story, even in small doses and limited moments, is a pretty interesting way of breathing some new life into the narrative. And who knows. Maybe some day we’ll see some kind of single-player RPG from the studio where we’re free to make all the choices we want. I have a feeling Blizzard’s massive narrative teams would be very good at that kind of game, if they wanted to give a shot.

Until then, we’ll have to content ourselves with what we have, and wait to see how those little decisions we’ve been allowed to make will play out as Battle for Azeroth continues. Check out the full video for more on story creation, and how all that wonderful narrative comes to be.


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