State of WAR

I haven’t blogged much in the past month because I’ve been busy playing WAR. I’m having a blast, it’s mostly the game I expected (although it’s not my dream MMO, I can see myself playing for a long time), and I’ve been lucky enough to join up with a great group of players in Casualties of WAR.

I wanted to take a little time tonight (possibly a lot of time!) to offer my opinions on the game, what Mythic has done right and wrong, the challenges they face, and why I think a lot of the current semi-negative post-honeymoon buzz is a little premature, albeit accurate.

Before I dive in, I wanted to acknowledge the inspiration for this post. Often times, it takes another blogger or podcaster to help me organize my thoughts, to spark an idea for a post. This time, it was Van Hemlock’s podcast episode #22, which I’d link to on his site, but hey, he’s slacking while he builds stuff in the Egyptian desert and hasn’t actually linked to his own show yet :) I couldn’t find the link on Virginworlds either, but it’s on iTunes! Apologies if I’ve overlooked it on either of the two appropriate sites.

Van Hemlock hasn’t actually played WAR yet, but his co-host Jon has played, and he’s not going to be subscribing to the game. As he started explaining what he didn’t like about the game, I initially felt my fanboi ire beginning to rise, but as I listened to his experience with the game, I realized there was nothing to explain further or defend about WAR; Jon took a good run at the game, found a couple things he liked, found quite a few more things that got in the way of having fun, and he felt underwhelmed and won’t continue playing.

Briefly, I’ll try to summarize what he disliked, as well as I can remember it from the podcast on my train ride home. If I was getting paid for this, I’d listen to it again, take notes, and write a more detailed post, but I’m too lazy to do it for free. Apologies if it’s not 100% accurate, but it should be close.

  • Jon is in Europe, so the population is thin when he’s online, both for PvE and RvR.
  • He didn’t enjoy the Scenarios
  • He felt the PvE was light on content, and not really the point of the game, and consequently not done as well as some other PvE-centric games (I’m guessing WoW for sure, and perhaps LoTRO, or EQ, he didn’t make too many direct comparisons here)
  • The crafting really is dead simple, and not compelling
  • He felt you really needed a guild to feel like you’re part of the game

I can quibble about some of this (and I will!), but overall, I think he made great points, and if I quibble, I can’t quibble about his feelings. No amount of fanboi explaining is going to make someone suddenly like a game they didn’t enjoy before. It’s not like anyone has to explain the magic of MMO’s to Jon; he gets MMO’s. He just didn’t enjoy WAR.

I said, somewhere back during beta, that MMO’s are still in their infancy, and we’re going to see the genre go in a lot of different directions, with a lot of design choices that make individual games quite different from each other, despite the shared MMO tag. As much as people want to call WAR a WoW clone (Jon didn’t, btw), they really have quite different goals at the end of the game. I don’t want to go as far as saying they serve completely different MMO demographics; there are definitely some players who overlap in the WAR/WoW Venn diagram, but listening to Jon made me realize that overlap may be smaller than a “clone” tag would warrant.

WAR’s goals don’t include depth in the crafting model (thinking SWG, or Eve, or even LoTRO), a detailed market economy (Eve, SWG’s player vendors, the simple elegance of WoW’s Auction House), player housing (UO, EQ2, LoTRO, SWG, even Dark Age of Camelot), or massive endgame raiding (EQ, WoW). That’s a ton of stuff to exclude, but I think you have to have serious focus to create a AAA MMO title, and you can’t include everything from every game, do it well, and get your game out in five years.

When you look at everything WAR left out, and when you listen to what MMO fans consider their dream MMO (usually, me included, covering everything on my list above plus great RvR, pizza delivery, and booth babes doing my shopping so I can raid), it’s really no wonder that there’s a post-honeymoon let down. There are a lot of game elements that perhaps people were hoping for, and they’re disappointed to find WAR lacking, or not even attempting, some of those elements.

I’m having a blast, but there are three reasons for that. Maybe four. Well, pretty much three, I’ll deal with reason four at the end.

First, I know what’s coming at end game. I played a hell of a lot of Dark Age of Camelot, and I know that the first 30 levels are just a warm up for end game RvR. I hear people saying that the PvE is too grindy, and that it’s empty in PvE because everyone feels Scenarios are faster, etc. I understand what they’re saying, but I’m going to disagree pretty strongly, and here’s why.

You’re going to have to point to the MMO, any MMO at all, that was faster to level in at launch, even if you skip scenarios and just grind PvE content. I’m level 23 after a month of very casual play, and I should easily make Tier 4 endgame RvR, the real game in WAR, by the end of my second month. That’s equivalent to raiding Stratholme and Blackrock in WoW at the end of the second month of full release. This is, by far, the simplest MMO to level in at launch ever released.

So why are people complaining? First, because I think we’re all burned out on leveling. Most of us have been leveling characters nonstop since UO or EQ, and damn, that’s a long time on the hamster wheel :) I enjoy it, but I do occassionally get fatigued. I suspect a lot of the complaining has to do with fatigue.

Also, and I think this is Mythic’s greatest challenge, is pressure to get to the RvR end game. Everyone knows that’s where the real game goal lies. In my opinon, Mythic has done the best job of any MMO giving players a variety of ways to get to the end game content, but that has not removed the compulsion to race to 40. I happen to enjoy the PvE (I’m enjoying learning about the Warhammer universe through the Tome and the quests), and I’d happily level to 40 in PvE even if there was no RvR options, but I can certainly sympathize with people who are just over it, and just over “Kill Ten More” quests. I think the pressure of wanting to race to 40 makes it difficult to enjoy the PvE for some people.

Jon and Van Hemlock briefly said that if WAR is all about the end game, why not just get rid of the leveling? Van Hemlock called it heretical, but I think he’s right on. Levels are another reason people are feeling stressed about grinding; their friends are either a tier in front of them, or a tier behind them, and we just want to play together. Even if it’s just a couple months to run up to Tier 4, where we’re all reunited in RvR heaven, there’s a separation effect that affects how people feel connected to the game. I know I was sad when I leveled out of Tier 2 and left a lot of my guildmates behind, people who I really enjoyed running scenarios with. I also have guildmates in T4 already, and I’d like to be able to play with them too.

I have the advantage of knowing what’s coming in just a few weeks, or a month or two. Everyone will be in Tier 4, and we’ll see a blooming of gameplay that’s going to be pretty damn exciting. Just because I know it’s going to be great, though, doesn’t mean Jon or anyone else suddenly has to say “Hey! I just realized! I like grinding!”. Nope. Some game developer is going to realize (SWG and UO already kind of did it) that levels and grinding are not requirements for fun. Mythic made the curve pretty darn light, but the fact that players are still feeling a “mid level slowdown” signals to me that players would be receptive to a game that maybe lets everyone into the endgame at the start of the game. Look at what Eve is doing…there are lessons to be learned for level-based fantasy MMO’s there.

Holy &%$*. I warned you this might be long. Let’s move on to the second reason that I’m having fun in WAR, where some other people might not be feeling the love.

I had six months in the beta. I knew what game elements were going to be available. I knew there was no housing, limited crafting. I suspected the auction house wasn’t going to be a priority. There was no letdown for me at launch. I was also lucky enough to play quite a bit at the end game during beta, and I know what’s waiting for me when I’m done with my PvE climb. I know that what feels like a grind for other players will actually be fairly brief compared to the amount of time I’m going to have fun in WAR. That doesn’t mean other people have to like the grind; see point number one. Still, I knew what I was getting into, so there was no letdown.

The third reason I’m having a blast in WAR, which Jon acknowledged, is because of the Casualties of WAR. Some of Jon’s biggest complaints were feeling like he couldn’t participate in Public Quests or open RvR because he didn’t have a group of dedicated people around him. Given the fact that he was playing at non-peak times, I can understand how he felt that way. He was saying that the CoWs have a big advantage, having so many people committed to to playing together, and playing a lot. I’d like to slightly disagree with him there…we really are a casual guild, and I’m only on a couple times a week, there’s absolutely no compulsion to play; it’s less pressure than a WoW raid guild for sure, and less than what seems to be required of serious Eve 0.0 corp. But, he’s right that always having someone around, even if it’s just someone to chat with, makes the game feel less lonely.

Jon, if you see this, I’m curious; are you playing in EU time on a US server? Why not hook up with the Book of Grudges folks, and play on EU time? (that was point number four from above, if you’re keeping track).

I’m out of gas…I have a lot more to say, but I’ll try to get it out in smaller chunks over the next couple weeks. I have a raid starting in a few minutes, I have to get online. Check out Van Hemlock’s site, or the Virginworlds site, and look for podcast #22. It’s good WAR talk, and damn it, they’re getting me interested in A Tale in the Desert, too. I can’t afford another MMO!

5 Responses

  1. Too bad the blog name wall of text was already taken.

  2. Actually I’m playing US time on an EU server. I don’t get into WAR until the early hours because I’ve got my Eve corp to look after (and Eve is fun…) What I should probably do is pick up an American key and join cow or something. It’s no fun when there seems to be only a few people on your tier, just knowing that other people are playing the game when you’re on helps a lot. Region chat will help this, and Mythic are really impressive with their patch rate so far but even when I was playing on a well populated server last Sunday afternoon (prime time!) the fact that there was no more than one person to a PQ and 2 was the largest open group size was a real turn off.

    My biggest problem is that I’m putting 90% of my time into eve, 9% into ATiTD and that only leaves 1% for WAR. I don’t find scenarios fun (a me problem, not a problem with scenarios because I don’t get the adrenalin kick on a kill. I only just clicked with call of duty multiplayer, so I’m not sure what that says) and the game is very scenario focused at the moment. If I had pickup RvR open groups whenever I played I’d be in there all the time but Mythic need to balance things a bit more before that happens.

    As I said in the show the game doesn’t want me. This isn’t a bad thing, I just don’t want what it’s offering and so we’re not in the same space. I’ve had emails from people who seem to forget that just because I don’t agree with them it doesn’t mean that their point of view is worth any less than it is, but these haven’t been by any of the vocal bloggers of course :)

    I’ll be back in the game in a few months, the three month rule works even with a good launch it seems, but I’m just not in the right place for the early WAR game. I am worried about the rush to tier 4 at the moment, but I’m sure mythic will try to fix that.

  3. Yeah Timmy, and I cut it short to make a raid. I really have to break things up.

    Nice to hear from you, Jon. I know what you mean about the game “not wanting you”. I wonder, if you were putting 100% of your time into WAR, if you’d find it easier to group, or if it would just multiply your frustration.

    I suspect that endgame is more where you’ll want to be, but of course, the trick is getting there. I liked the “heretical” idea you and VH bounced around. I almost think WAR could toss levels and make a good game just allowing people to earn Renown levels, but I’m not sure customers are quite ready for that…we’re still co-dependents in the Abusive Level Grind relationship, I fear.

    Anyway, look us up in a couple months if you decide to give it another run!

  4. I wish people would stop sating “the real game is at the end game”. No. The real game is the entire game, for Diane’s sake !

  5. Star Wars: Galaxies might be the only MMO I’ve played where that statement would be true, Modran. I’m not saying I like it, but I think every other major game IS about the end game.

    For instance, what MMO’s out there have zones that still see activity once the top of the leveling Bell curve has passed? SWG is about the only game I can think of where you see newbies and veterans hanging around the same area, both having something productive to do.

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