Here’s a brief post about an interesting moment in a level of the real-time-tactical game Myth 2: Soulblighter. The level is called “Into the Breach” and it involves you trying to get your troops to infiltrate the motte-and-bailey castle of a traitorous baron who is creating an army of Thrall (essentially zombies with axes).
In what amounts to the mission briefing, the narrator mentions how in the night he and his comrades saw an army of 1,000 thrall leave the castle and march off towards a friendly village.
This bit of narrative is reflected and reiterated in a moment in the level itself.
You start with your troops on a road near the outer wall of a village. Past the wall and past the village is the keep which you have to infiltrate. You follow the road which splits in two directions, one leading into the village through the wall and one leading to the edge of the map (presumably to some other city or village or what have you).
As you follow the road you’ll be harassed by some scouting units so you might take a while to get to the entrance of the village. In which case you won’t notice anything.
But, if you’re quick and you travel forward without pause you’ll spot a large group of Thrall leaving the village and following the road. If you don’t get too close they walk down the branch of the road leading to the edge of the map where they eventually disappear (presumably because they’re traveling to some other other town). Which is exactly the same situation the narrator described earlier, but to a lesser degree.
You, as the player, have a choice. You can let these Thrall get away or you can engage them and kill them. Either way, it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t affect anything else in the level.
Now Thrall are the slowest, easiest enemy to fight and there is very little risk in attacking them when they have no backup. Nevertheless, there is always a risk that something could go wrong if you fight them.
So, you lose nothing by letting the Thrall escape and you gain nothing by stopping them. The only benefit the player gets from attacking the Thrall is his own personal satisfaction in doing so. Whether it’s because he’s role-playing or whether he just likes to see carnage or he’s a completionist, the intrinsic enjoyment of playing is the only incentive.
And I like that. It’s decorative gameplay that both does and does not serve a purpose.
Seemingly pointless, decorative moments like these really liven up a game; minutia that serves no tangible purpose in terms of score, progress, or mechanics, but which satisfy some aspect of why the player is playing to begin with.
It’s also a little bit of storytelling that reinforces some of the narrative told in text, so that’s good too.
I wish more games had more moments like this.
And then I blew up all my Warriors because I was only playing the beginning of this level to get the screenshots.