Friday, July 23, 2010

WoW and MMOs: Why the Love?

One of the more controversials kinds of games today is the MMOG, or Massively Multiplayer Online Game. The prevailing kind is the MMORPG (If you can't figure that out, how in the world did you get here?). I'd debate the point, but I will admit that most of them do, superficially at least, have the trappings of an RPG. Of course, that's a pretty wide genre, containing anything from Mass Effect to Fallout 3 to Final Fantasy. My problem has stemmed from my very, very stunted firsthand experience with MMOs-- mostly limited to FTP (free to play) games. (I can almost guarantee you haven't heard of the one I've played the most.) Now, some of these are actually pretty good, but my biggest problem with them is that they almost completely dump the story in favor of grinding and PVP (Player vs. Player). See, I LIKE the story. It's often the main draw to a game for me, and it almost ALWAYS is in an RPG. I have issues with a game that thinks "story" is having you read a few paragraphs of incomprehensible text before telling you to go kill 10 rats.

The thing is, MMOs are almost their own genre. They WOULD be if they the standard trappings of one happened to include some kind of combat system, but as it is you can do just about anything-- despite what it looks like from the current market. (There is about ONE successful MMO that isn't fantasy, and EVE online is a whole other story.) My point is, THEIR point is that MMO thing at the beginning. That's what the entire game hinges on. In a way, you're not really role-playing your character, you're just being yourself without repercussions, in an arena where there is no penalty for failure and all the potential in the world to be a leader. There is nothing like gaining respect in an environment where the only thing you need is skill, reason, and maybe a bit of charisma -- not money, not experience, not even age. (If I had a level for every time someone said I was mature for my age...)

Imagine this scenario: You've been looking forward to this MMO that's been pretty highly anticipated. It comes out, you've preordered it, and you're all set to go. You manage to get ahead of most of the people in the starting areas, and eventually start a guild with the friends you almost inevitably made. The guild expands, and after about a year or so, you look around and all of a sudden you're the leader of the premiere guild on the server. You often end up leading your faction on raids against the enemy, and your guild is always the first to take down a new boss. You realize yours is a respected name, and people look up to you. Now, I haven't actually done this, but it would be pretty much my goal in life with an MMO. Of course this is far, far from the goal of many people. Lots of people are perfectly content with just BEING in this hypothetical guild, and more are just fine with being complete and total nobodies. My point is everyone has a role in the community, and you can interact with people in an environment unlike any other.

All this makes me willing to push through the ridiculous stories of some games and try to make a name for myself (I've done fairly well, occasionally), but eventually I get fed up with my lack of progress (levels, not social) and quit... or go play something else, which is the same thing. This is despite the fact that a large portion of the community is usually, to put it kindly, not very nice (in F2P games, anyway). Of course there were definitely nice people there, and once you graduate from noob-hood and become an equal member of the community, most people were bearable.

So imagine a game where there WAS a story, there WASN'T grinding, and the community WAS good. Sounds awesome, right?

Well, for the last, one of the fastest ways to get rid of the trolls is to make them have to pay. That INSTANTLY makes the community infinitely better. Of course, every game has their own community (like MP games on consoles, only more so). You can tell the difference between the different factions (Horde/Alliance) and even the servers have distinct communities, so it may take a bit of trial of error to find a community that fits you.

Grinding is simple, and a matter of how the game is structured. Somewhere along the line, if the production is at all competent, the decision has to be made whether to put grinding in the game or not. I can see why they would want grinding, but I have issues with a design that requires players to do something not fun to progress. Anyway, grinding is either there or it's not.

Story is a little harder. Most games HAVE a story, but it tends to be walls of text (Like mine, but with less spaces and more nonsense. Hopefully) that you get at the start and end of a quest. Many don't even have honest-to-goodness dialogue. (WoW's mission text feels like dialogue, and it usually at least makes sense.) Story gives you more of a motivation for what you're doing, and gives you something to think about other than "need to kill x more y to get z experience to get to level a". I've always thought that WoW didn't have much of a story. Kind of a stupid idea, considering the ridiculously detailed source material, but I did. I recently heard otherwise in an article I was reading. *FIND ARTICLE. XP on the Escapist?*
That recently having heard otherwise inspired me to try something I hadn't done in a while. In short, try WoW. I'd thought about it several times, mostly just to see what this huge giant thing that everyone talked about was like. I'd never really thought about the possibility that I might actually LIKE it, but now I was.

Part of what stopped me before was the requirement of a real name for registration and I didn't particularly want to do that. By now, though, I don't particularly care, as it's fairly accessible. So in I go... (BTW, I like the trial. You don't actually have to download the client, which is HUGE. It usually takes hours, but you can starting playing the WoW trial in minutes.)

I've played Warcraft III, and I've heard quite a bit about WoW through the years, so I know the factions, classes, and races pretty well. I decide for my trial to make a nice, generic character-- in other words, a Human Fighter. I go through the starting zone, studying the combat system in particular and reading all the text. The combat system passes inspection with flying colors and the story gets a "pass". It's nothing spectacular, but I wouldn't expect it to be. A lot of it comes up as "hey, these guys need help with this, go help them," but as you're a soldier, it doesn't seem too far-fetched. I don't remember exactly how I went from one zone to the next, but I had trouble with the second zone, and I decided I didn't like the class. (ended up as level 13, which is a fair trial of a class in a game where the level cap was originally 60.)

The next class I actually got interested in was an Orc Shaman. If you don't know the lore, Shamans are basically elementalists that use spirits instead of actual magic-- which is a big deal, lorewise, but not really gameplay wise. Silence still stops you from using your abilities, after all. I'm a fan of the shaman quests, and Durotar, the orc starting zone, seemed a lot more interesting than the human starting zone. I also REALLY liked the class, which is a damage-dealing class that can double as a healer. (In my dungeon runs later in my trial, I played as a healer. Did a fair job, too.) That combination tends to work real well soloing, and I eventually ended up as an awesome level 19.

One of the things that stuck out to me was the fact that, at least up to my level, there was NO grinding. There was always a quest to do, and chances are there was several you could do relatively easy. The number of quests was pretty good, enough to get you leveled up but not so many that you would spend forever doing all of them. This was a pleasant surprise, and bodes well for any future games I might play.

The people I met tended to be nice, surprisingly enough. There was a helpful mage that helped me kill an annoying boss as a fighter, and any time I rescued someone who bit off more than they could chew, I almost invariably got a "thank you." I didn't get much, if any exposure to the community as a whole though, due to the fact that trial accounts can't do ANYTHING. They can't chat outside of area chat, they can't invite to parties, and they can't even whisper someone without being whispered first. So I had to deal with whoever I happened to come across in my travels.

I particularly liked the dungeon system. Not only was there an automatic party finder, each player has a designated role and the game tells you which of the three (tank, damage, and healer) your class could fill. The dungeons themselves were nothing special, but I was usually too busy keeping up, messing with the loot system, and chatting with my party members to pay much attention to the layouts. The early dungeons weren't even particularly hard, and I got the hang of the whole healing thing. I've never liked being a healer, but I really liked healing as a shaman. More on the loot system: It's called "need before greed" and requires everyone to Need, Greed, or pass on every item above a particular quality. Then, the people who picked need are rolled for, and the highest roll wins the item. If no one needed it, then it goes to the people who picked greed. It's one of the best systems I've seen, as they are either random or based on damage contribution (really not fair in a role-based combat system.) I just wish they could find a way to automate who needed which item. It doesn't even seem hard to do.

The story (remember, the reason I'd actually tried WoW) wasn't anything spectacular, but I hadn't expected it to be. I mean, I did only get to level 19, and I was only in the first couple zones- and those in the middle of my side's territory. I'm sure it gets infinitely better later, when you're fighting more than bandits and wildlife.

The problem with a trial for any MMO, and WoW in particular, is the fact that it is IMPOSSIBLE to get to the good parts, the reason you are playing an MMO in the first place. There is no way you're going to find a good guild and contribute, even at low levels, let alone get to the PVP and high-level dungeons that are the best part of the game. You barely get enough to make an educated guess. Personally, I can definitely see the potential in WoW, but I also have a lot of secondhand (or thirdhand, even) knowledge of it, and MMOs in general. The problem is there's next to no way a newcomer could see any of this from a trial, and that's a shame, because there are things in MMOs that you can't even come close to in any other game. Or anything, really.

One last thing that I want to mention is the culture in WoW. It may just be me, someone VERY aware of what they were playing, but it seemed to me that the people were very aware that they were playing a game that pretty much spawned an entire new culture, and extremely proud of it. WoW is an MMO like no other I've ever seen or heard of, and it can be felt everywhere, from the dungeon system using the roles it practically created, to the achievement "Jenkins" that wants you to kill 15... somethings in 3 minutes. (If that last one didn't make sense, shame on you. It happens though, so watch this video and now you do!)

In closing, I give to you an invitation. If I ever do manage to get an MMO at launch (at this point, either SWTOR or Jumpgate Evolution, hopefully both) and get the opportunity to seriously play it, I will most assuredly be making a guild ASAP, and any of you that want to get to know me (or already do and just want to play with me, or any other reason you can think of) will be more than welcome to join it. The game, my character's name, and the guild name will all be on here, and I'll remind you guys of the standing offer when it comes out.

P.S. There we go! Finally figured out an easy way to get videos into the post. Should be MUCH easier on the eyes now. Oh, and it's pretty much all the trailers/intros for WoW (not sure if the Cataclysm one has been released.)

P.P.S If anyone knows how I can fit the whole Youtube video player in the column, please tell. As it is most of the options are cut off. You still see the whole video, though. I think.

P.P.P.S (lol, never done a 3rd one) Hey guys! I need your help! Right now, very, very few people read the blog, and even fewer regularly. I'd like to change that! So tell your friends, retweet my tweets, use the #AldowynsMusings hash tag, vote in the polls, comment, anything you can think of! :)


  1. I liked the article, but you missed two things that I noticed; the whole friend system wasn't as revolutionary as, say, Guild Wars (maybe cause you haven't played the game before) and that the class I chose for the trial almost a year ago (ranger/whatever) needed ammo which gave it a disadvantage to other classes. The only GOOD thing it had over the other classes was getting the pet AT LEVEL 10. Which is so sad, because you need the pet the most at the beginning where no1 wants to help you out and stuff. Oh, and BTW, I almost died twice, and saw some1 run by both times and NOT HELP ME. I only got helped once!

  2. And by almost died I mean I called for help and the person didn't help me, THEN I died. :(

  3. aww :P BTW, you should have picked a different class, if you didn't like the first one.
    And I got literally no opportunity to try out the friend system, as trial accounts can't make friends, and I wouldn't have anyway. (I think I mentioned that.)

  4. And that is why i dont play MMO's I tried once and I failed MISERABLY