Thursday, January 21, 2010

Assassin's Ramble, pt.2: Story Awards

A few disclaimers before I ramble a bit more: the standard one, and a SPOILER ALERT.

A Digression
In my last post, I mentioned that assassination gameplay should do more to incentivize stealthy kills over running and gunning, but that the planning aspect of assassination might be better served in story. I'm going to elaborate, but first I need to ramble about the story in general.

A Rant
Kotaku recently mentioned AC2's story in its own and others' awards now, and it kinda boggles my mind. The raves have me worried that I just don't get it. Maybe it's true, but I have to rant. The writing isn't bad, I like writers, and writing is so critical to the growth of gaming, but its for this last reason that I dislike seeing anything but the best gaming has to offer get an award like this.

So how is it getting so much positive attention?
  • The story seems fundamentally flawed in that it begins and ends as Desmond's story, but the character you play is Ezio (or Altair in AC1). When you jump back to Desmond, it's hard to care and it often ruins the game immersion. This is even with out-of-game characters talking to you and giving you information.
  • Worse yet, none of your in-game actions seem to have anything immediately relevant to do with what is going on in the outside world (see incoherent story, below).
  • Worse yet, Desmond doesn't grow in any emotional way, which I thought was the point of a story.
  • Worse yet, neither did Ezio. And neither did any other character in the story as far as I remember.
  • I appreciate that they tried by having you present at the death of your family, but they don't really set up the father as sympathetic or helpless enough for it to hurt. I think trying to suggest that your father was one of these "master assassins" actually worked against the character. As far as I could tell, he ignored his family to play master assassin and put everyone in danger, and I was never convinced that neither he nor I couldn't foresee or stop the situation somehow.
  • The way Ezio grew circumstantially (instead of emotionally) was also unconvincing. He seemed to become a master assassin with little-to-no effort, and by the end of the game, I had no idea why the other supposed assassins relied on him so.
  • The conspiracy plot was incoherent. Maybe digging through obscure symbology or existing conspiracies (?) counts as fan service but the whole Adam & Eve thing struck me as lazy nonsense. Throwing up historical images like the moon-landing and adding symbols to them to piece together an unrevealing cinematic isn't good storytelling? Is it?
  • The involvement of historical figures seemed like a fanboy wet dream rather than an interesting integration. You meet Leonardo da-frickin Vinci and he cracks codes, upgrades weapons, and builds a one-mission flying machine? Is that really the most interesting thing you can do with him?
  • Characters seemed to jump in and out of the story randomly only to be completely forgotten about later. I actually bothered to be intrigued when I met interesting characters only to have Ezio completely ignore them (or the writers disregard them completely) for the rest of the story. Fewer characters that actually grew would have been more satisfying.
  • The reveal that everyone I worked with was an assassin made me groan. At no point in the story did they seem that competent, and to see them leaping off of towers just like Ezio came across as a non-sequitur. Yeesh.
Despite my complaints, there are good moments to expand on. But I spent too much time on this post, so I'll post some thoughts on improving the experience via story tomorrow.

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