I find this post from City State (Camelot Unchained) mostly on point. It’s a good read, and I want to focus on one line in particular: “There’s not a tradeoff between graphics and gameplay when the graphics are the gameplay.”
Graphics are gameplay if done right. For example, shadows in Darkfall do more than look pretty. With floating nametags removed and no tab-targeting, you actually have to see your enemy much like you would in real life, and hiding in the shadows in not just a fancy name for some hotbar ability. Siege strategy has often relied on hiding a force in the shadows, in trees, or just over a mountain top.
A similar thing happens when you see the armor someone is wearing; because deciding what to use is a real choice (rather than just always wearing your best all the time), seeing an opponent in top-end gear is important and different than seeing them in something weaker. The visual impacts the gameplay (fight or flee).
One of the more memorable moments for me in DF1 was seeing an enemy guild leader decked out in the most expensive gear during a siege. As the info came across on vent, many people focused on bringing him down in the hopes of scoring some great loot. The guild leader knew this would be the reaction and planned ahead; he had an ‘e-squire’ who’s only purpose was to follow him around and provide healing or to cover his retreat using knockbacks or AoE blinds. It was brilliant strategy, very memorable, and worked because the graphics allowed him to be identified in the first place.
So while it is important to make sure your graphics don’t impact your gameplay (SW:TOR engine choking with more than 5 players on-screen), it’s also important to consider how your graphics can CREATE gameplay.
Also, cool copy/paste from my blog a few years back Andrew.
“We know that we’re building a world for characters to live in, not a theme park for tourists to visit.
We may not get as many tourists on opening day if we’re not the shiniest park around. The trouble with tourists, though, is that when they’re done with their tour they go home — or on to the next shiny thing. We want to create something here that lasts, and that means we’re catering to the kind of players who’ll stick around.”