A game world with no NPCs (non-player characters) would be a dull and lifeless place indeed. It isn’t that the NPCs inject a whole lot of life into the surroundings per se, but it helps us suspend disbelief if there are people walking around towns and apparently living in the world. Aside from giving out quests and quest rewards and buying our random junk, they help to flesh out the lore and give players something to compare themselves with. Even if it’s just checking out how the high level NPCs are dressed.
They are also undoubtedly the place where MMOs have utterly failed to offer as good an experience as a pen and paper game. In a tabletop RPG, a game master brings the NPCs to life. Players can talk to them, interact with them, argue with them, trick or be tricked by them, and they let a GM get her amateur acting chops on. Now computer games have their fair share of zany and memorable NPCs and good voice acting goes a long long way to helping with characterisation (Deckard Caine anyone?), but you rarely get that sense of personal interaction. And players in tabletop love interacting with the “A list” NPCs in the campaign, even if just so that they can flip them off. You see the difference immediately with computer games, where players treat NPCs as quest and lootbots.
WAR does a particularly bad job in this respect. The big name NPCs are there alright, standing around and giving out quests while they wait for the other realm to storm the city and kill them. But that’s about the limit of their involvement.The Phoenix King has pretty armour, admittedly (although it doesn’t take any big strides in the ‘High Elves aren’t girly!’ campaign). I haven’t found many quests at all involving specific important NPCs and their personal lore and history.
Other games fare slightly better: LOTRO has some clever interactions with members of the fellowship including a particularly nice single-player quest instance where you get to walk around Rivendell with Frodo and talk to him about his fears. Sure, he talks and then pauses, but everyone I know who played that quest says that they typed back to him to fill in the gaps, even though they knew he was an NPC and wasn’t listening. I was impressed.
WoW mostly has static NPCs but there are a few stunning questlines where you get an actual response out of them (the Thrall greatmother chain, Sylvanas’ singing, the Alliance Onyxia chain — don’t worry if none of this means anything to you by the way). And reading about the zombie invasion event, I was impressed at how they’re laying the grounds for players to have a personal reason to hate the Lich King and trust the alchemist who found the cure to this particular plague.
I can name my least favourite NPC without breaking a sweat though. It’s Ostelle Blackwood, who wanders around High Elf Tier 2/3 asking for seeds. I can always find her to pick up the quests but can I ever find her when I want to give them in? No way.
But I’m not sure if I have a favourite, and that’s a bit sad. A whole world full of lore to work with and none of the NPCs have really come across yet as characters in their own right. I suppose I have to go with Teclis since he’s cool in Giantslayer — but he sure ain’t anything special in WAR.
Do you have any favourite or least favourite NPCs?