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Which matters more, graphics or gameplay?

Kelly Aarons

Graphics have come a long way in the last 20 years. We've gone from simple white squares on a screen to photorealistic cutscenes and gameplay. We used to have monochrome backgrounds, and now we've got lush, textured environments. Most players come upon a game with an expectation of what level of graphical advancement they would like to see.

Likewise, gameplay has evolved in leaps and bounds. We no longer suffer extreme death penalties, and we can find random people to run dungeons and raids with by only clicking a couple of buttons. New gameplay ideas are being presented seemingly with each patch, and to a lot of success -- a simple gameplay hook can keep people coming back and playing a game for months, even years.

But are the two mutually exclusive, and have they become so?

Obviously, in an MMO, no one wants to run around an ugly world populated by trees that look like pipe cleaners, but is it a deal breaker? Would you rather play a fun, fulfilling game that looks a bit dated or play the most gorgeous, graphically stunning MMO that may lack good mechanics or an involving story?

Take Rift or Aion, for example. Both games surpass WoW visually, but both failed to retain the subscriber bases they needed to thrive. On the other hand, we've seen games like Ragnorok Online that boast cute, simple graphics and (at least somewhat) addicting gameplay.

MMOs themselves are a unique group in that they don't solely rely on graphics for good storytelling. The point of an MMO is that you:

  1. Create a player avatar of yourself
  2. Explore and play in a world in an immersive, non-linear fashion
When given the chance to explore a fully immersive world that you'll be spending a lot of time in, are mind-blowing graphics that important?

Blizzard realized how far WoW had come and that it was in dire need of an overhaul (both lore-wise and visually) -- namely, Cataclysm. By the time Wrath rolled around, it was hard to miss how old, dated and unpolished the vanilla areas looked. You could watch the aurora borealis in Northrend, then go back to The Barrens to see the majestic sky box seam line. Now, WoW looks fresher than ever (except for that one nagging thing).

When visual advancements are progressing at a rate that most people can't keep up with, do you stare longingly at the shinier games walking by, or does reliable and genuinely fun MMO make you happy?

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