Bhagpuss said something interesting in his last comment:
In general I think the idea that GW1 had good writing is fanciful. Much though I like Prophecies, the writing is pretty shoddy. I think when people praise the writing they are mainly talking about the plotting, which is fairly coherent. The dialog is mostly stilted and unconvincing, often risible.
First, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the word “risible” in my entire life. It means laughable, as in, “It’s risible that I’ve never seen the word risible.”
Secondly, he brings up a really good point: Does a good game need good writing?
For myself, when I mentioned that I had heard Guild Wars 1 had a good story, I wasn’t talking about the writing at all. I was talking more about the “immersive experience” or something along those lines. The world, the people in that world, the things those people are doing, and the way that my character interacts with them.
I honestly can’t think of a single RPG I’ve played in over 20 years where I looked at the quest text in a dialog box and thought, “Wow, that’s really good writing.” At best it’s totally transparent to me (which I consider good), or at worst the font is too small to read, it’s full of grammar errors, or it’s an assault of bad puns. Yes, I mean World of Warcraft when I’m talking about the puns.
I mean, I’m sure I must have occasionally thought to myself, “Nice turn of phrase, there.” But it’s so rare that I don’t even remember it.
Actually I can think of one game that I would praise the writing: The Secret World, because those cut scenes are often riveting, but they are more of a combination of good writing and good voice actor performance.
And now that I think about it even more, Lord of the Rings Online consistently has pretty good writing in their quest dialogs, at least in the areas that I’ve played, which is generally up through the Mines of Moria.
I think the issue of writing quality might be a moot point for the upcoming waves of MMORPGs, though. I’m reasonably confident that the days of reading quest text are coming to an end, if they haven’t already ended.