Rift: Can An MMO Still Entertain If Its Story Doesn’t?

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“If the gameplay is good, everything else is just icing on the cake.” I’ve said this kind of thing countless times to friends who are criticizing a good game based on… well, anything but gameplay I guess. Usually I’m referring to graphics, but, in a way, this can apply to story as well. Tetris doesn’t need a story (though 2001’s Tetris Worlds tried… and it was awful). The only backstory you need to know about Space Invaders is in the name. Super Smash Bros. didn’t really have a story until Brawl’s Subspace Emissary (though you wouldn’t know it by the plethora of fan fiction). No one complains that sports games don’t have immersive cutscenes with meaningful story choices (as an Ohioan, I’m pretty sure LeBron got a ton of Renegade points for that whole “taking my talents to Miami” thing, but went back to the Paragon side when he came back to Cleveland). But is this universally true? Certainly any game can be made better by its story (there’s no way I would have made it through three Mass Effect games if it was nothing but shooting aliens for no reason), but there are some types of games, like Myst or Obduction, that are so tightly integrated with their story that I can’t imagine them being fun without it. Is the MMO genre one of these?

Maybe I’m just spoiled by Star Wars The Old Republic’s (mostly) excellent writing, but I’m thoroughly uninterested in Rift’s story. I really like the game in general, but the story just seems like an amalgamation of the most boring, generic fantasy tropes imaginable. Ok, there’s some time travel thrown in there, so that’s different I guess, but for the most part it’s all elves and dwarves and humans saving the world from dragons using magic and swords. I think that this is a lot of what turns me off to the game. I feel bad being that guy who skips all of the quest text and has only a vague idea of why I should care about any of the people I’m killing rats for, but, at the same time, I feel like I’m wasting my time reading quest text that doesn’t make me want to care about the people I’m killing rats for. So can I still enjoy the game while completely ignoring the story elements? I knew several WoW players who were hardcore raiders and PvPers who couldn’t tell a murloc from a warlock, and they seemed to get plenty from their game. But I’ve always felt like it cheapened the experience for them. If I blur through Rift’s story, am I going to feel like I missed out later? Or is it legitimately so dull that I might as well save myself the trouble?

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