The Year I Fell Out of Love

I’ve never done reviews or predictions here. I’m not nearly timely enough in my posting to pull it off. That doesn’t mean I don’t mentally review the past gaming year, though, and this New Year’s brought the revelation that 2009 was the year I fell out of love with MMO’s.

I’ve gone through multiple stages of MMO burnout in the past, only to return with a vengeance to a new game/new world, but I suspect that’s no longer true. 2009 found me subscribing and unsubscribing twice to LoTRO and Eve (the closest current examples of the MMO design I prefer), and I don’t think I’ll ever play WoW again. I’m playing a lot of single player games and Team Fortress 2, and I don’t think I’m simply burned out in need of an MMO break any more. I might be done with MMO’s, unless something really interesting appears on the horizon.

MMO bloggers seem to be looking forward to Blizzard’s next WoW expansion, Bioware’s The Old Republic, and Star Trek Online in 2010. I have almost zero interest in any of them (TOR being an exception because of how much I’ve enjoyed Dragon Age, and I hold a shred of hope that Bioware will surprise me with TOR the way DA surprised me). I really don’t expect to buy or play Star Trek Online, and I can’t imagine ever returning to Azeroth. I had three good years in Azeroth, but I think I’ve exhausted that theme park. And honestly, I expect The Old Republic to be a similar theme park, albeit newer and shinier.

I don’t have the same sense of anticipation about new MMO’s that I once had. Maybe WAR broke me; I had so much hope for a DAoC-style game, and Mythic just abandoned so much of what I enjoyed about DAoC in WAR. It felt like it had been influenced far too much by WoW, and I have a fear the same will happen with The Old Republic. I’m still bitter about WAR, so much so that I can’t even bring myself to play the free trial to see what’s new.

The only game I can see myself perhaps trying again in the future is LoTRO. The new skirmish system in the Siege of Mirkwood expansion sounds interesting, and if they make the Book quests solo-able, that might be enough for me to give it another shot. I do enjoy my house, the crafting, and the huge world of Middle Earth, and there’s a lot I haven’t seen there yet; I’m not nearly as burned out there as I am with WoW. I suspect I’m going to have a long stretch of MMO-free gaming ahead of me before that happens, though. I just don’t feel the love any longer.

Restless gaming

I’ve been spending a lot of time reading lately, instead of playing games. I thought I was just burned out on MMO’s, but single player games are causing the same restless feeling I experienced with MMO’s. I’ll sit down at night to play, and no matter what game I choose, I don’t want to play it after about 20 minutes. Games used to be a way for me to disappear into the Sid Meier zone, where I could lose myself in an evening of play, and I loved that feeling. I’m chasing the dragon now, I guess, getting a “been there, done that” vibe, no matter what I choose to play. I hate that feeling, so after some TF2 I end up logging off and grabbing a book to read.

You know what I need? I need a punk rock MMO. In 1980, I was 14 years old. I got to listen to the punk vs. arena rock vs. crappy pop music/disco wars firsthand. MMO’s feel totally like arena rock at the moment. WoW is the Journey of MMO’s, and I can’t take it any more. And most things seem to be following in the WoW model, making the genre accessible and polished. I want an MMO that doesn’t want to be Journey or REO Speedwagon or Foreigner or Tears for Fears. Can I get a little Circle Jerks in my MMO, please? Because I really want to be playing MMO’s. I can enjoy a single player game, but too much single player is like going to restaurants by yourself all the time. I want the buzz of people around me, even if I don’t talk to them all. I want my MMO to be difficult again, or at least challenging.

I lived and worked in West Yellowstone, Montana (the west entrance to Yellowstone Park) for a couple of years, and I heard a statistic that said like 90% of the visitors to the park never get more than 100 yards from a road. That’s how I feel in the post-WoW era…as MMO players, developers never want us too far from the leveling path. That’s one of the things that pissed me off about WAR. I felt like the content was jammed together, like players couldn’t be trusted to travel through the landscape without signposts to content, like we’d need non-stop attractions to keep our attention. Theme park, right? I hate it.

I want a world that feels open, not a world that has billboards to content everywhere I go. I want more to do than just kill things or deliver things. I want to make things, sell things, collect things, display things…and useful things. I want to fight other players. Speaking of being mad at WAR, another thing that made me mad about WAR was the RvR overkill. DAoC, Counterstrike, and Team Fortress 2 are examples of why you don’t need to include RvR in every zone in three different areas with an overly complicated method of zone control. Those three games concentrated great fighting in a limited number of maps or zones, focusing on the quality of the fighting, not the making sure there was an RvR entrance just steps from any location in any zone. So instead of WAR focusing the people who wanted to RvR in a few meaningful areas, it ended up feeling like you were chasing fights all over the map, all over the factional areas. The fighting was diluted because it was so spread out. The PvE was jammed together, the RvR was too distributed. And they really needed a third faction. Ah well.

Eve’s got the PvP right. I wish Eve’s crafting model existed in other games. I like when players have to make everything. Putting all your good gear behind gated content bores the hell out of me. I guess I want a game like Eve, except with an avatar on the ground, harvesting stuff, making stuff, selling stuff, fighting for control of territory, not control of space. With a house. And a pony.

When did I start to sound so old, by the way? You kids get off my lawn.

Anyway, in my boredom, I picked up Chrono Trigger for the DS. My daughter is letting me “borrow” hers, so maybe some solid old school RPG action will get me through my MMO blues.

There’s a positive in my gaming doldrums, though; I’m getting a ton of reading and writing done for grad school. I bet you’ll never see a scientific study on the positive effects of too much gaming :)

Summer break

I didn’t intend to take the summer off from blogging, but that’s exactly what happened. Between work getting a little crazy (anyone else getting hit with budget cuts, wage freezes, hiring freezes, etc.?), spending a lot of time outside with my daughter, and taking a summer class for grad school, life has been about everything but blogging.

Plus, I can’t get too excited about any of the MMO’s that are out right now. I’ve beaten WoW to death, don’t really have the time to enjoy Eve the way it’s meant to be played, I was bored by WAR, grew weary of LoTRO, and there’s not much new to catch my interest. Ok, other than Champions, there’s like nothing new, right? And don’t mention Aion…that’s a definite “give it three months” game. I’ve had my fill of Eastern MMO’s lately, and there’s nothing new under the sun. I even tried EQ2 for a month, and while I liked it, it’s too many steps backward. I want to see MMO’s doing something new and different, or I suspect my malaise will continue.

So, is the problem the games? Probably not. I think I’m just toast on MMO’s after ten years of playing them pretty much nonstop. I still have the desire to log in to a persistent world and build characters…just not any of the worlds that are currently available. I’d gripe about the industry and lack of innovation and clone-mentality development (this is the Internet, after all…I can bitch with no justification, right?), but I don’t really think that’s true or fair. I think developers work really hard to provide good gaming experiences, and I think my inability to stick with one MMO has more to do with me than the genre.

Keen made some good observations about what he misses in current-gen MMO’s last month (yeah, I’m behind on my blog reading, sue me), and a lot of it rang true to me. He started by saying

When I think back at what we’ve lost, or have begun to lose, in the MMORPGs of today, I keep coming back to one thing:  The World.  We’re starting to lose that sense of a big/massive, open, true world that we can explore and live in as we develop or take on the role of our character

Yep. I think this is what disappointed me most about WAR. It’s a game that’s packed with content, and I found out I don’t enjoy that very much. It was a very linear experience, and I never felt a sense of isolation. There wasn’t a sense of danger, either…you could either survive the zone you were in, or you were going to die. There wasn’t much tension, like in Keen’s run across Antonica. And there’s definitely not that much open space.

I blame WoW’s success for that shrinking of the game world, although I think WAR went further than WoW did. The idea that a world has to be convenient after World of Warcraft is pretty pervasive. I miss the sense of distance in Everquest or even Dark Age of Camelot. Making a run from your portal area down to the enemy gates in the DAoC frontier was a hell of an online gaming experience, and WAR didn’t preserve that feeling. WAR’s like a convenience store MMO experience…you can get a limited number of things really fast, and some of them are enjoyable, but if you’re really hungry, you want something more.

I was thinking about resubbing to Star Wars Galaxies the other day, because I was remembering riding around on my speeder with my artisan/architect, surveying for good spots to drop my harvesters. I remember how cool it was to have so much space around me, and an encounter with another person out there usually resulted in some sort of interaction, even if it’s just a wave or another emote. Travel in WAR and WoW feels like commuting…there’s sea of people around you, but you’re not interacting with any of them. I miss the days of physical space and possibility and adventure.

I don’t know if the MMO market can support games like that any more. There’s so much pressure to deliver WoW-like profits, or even a tenth of WoW profits, that designing a world that’s more of a community-driven sandbox is risky. There certainly don’t seem to be any games like that in development, so maybe MMO’s have passed me by. That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with current gen MMO’s…it just means that I don’t think I’ll be playing them very often.

So, instead of logging in to WAR and leveling characters through scenarios and RvR, I’ve been playing a lot of Team Fortress 2. WAR scenarios reminded me of my old FPS days, and I’ve been getting my scenario/RvR fixes through TF2. It’s easier to get in and out of TF2 matches, I don’t have to grind levels or gear, and it’s a brilliant game. Is it just me, or do you think Valve could make a TF2 MMO that’s more fun than WAR? Might just be me, and the burnout speaking.

Anyway, my daughter is playing Wizard 101 and Free Realms, and I have alts on her accounts that I’m playing, so I might hit up some of the folks I’ve seen playing those games and say hi (Tipa and Pete have both posted about those games recently). Other than that, I’m usually playing TF2, on the Gamers With Jobs servers when they’re hopping in the evenings, pining for the old days, the MMO frontier days.

Some WAR links and thoughts

There are a couple WAR blog posts that I wanted to comment on, and I figured since I’m referencing more than one, I’d just make it a new post here.

Ravious over at Kill Ten Rats is wondering about the value of a subscription to a PvP MMO. I was interested in this post, because his reasons for not wanting to subscribe to a PvP MMO over a PvE MMO is similar to my reasons for the exact opposite conclusion; I don’t have much interest in subscribing to a mainly PvE MMO right now.

Ravious says:

In PvE MMO games, like Lord of the Rings Online, there is that feeling of the developer updating “further along.”  When Turbine updates the game with a Book update (as opposed to just a balance, optimization, and bug patch) they push the story further down the road.  We get new quests that expand the storytelling of the world, new instances and dungeons, and sometimes even new regions.  There is the value in receiving the content, but I think the bigger value is knowing that over the next big rise there will be more.

Fair enough. I won’t argue that WAR’s PvE rivals LoTRO, or EQ2, or WoW. Instead of feeling like I’m missing out on great PvE, though, I’m happy that WAR is offering me something I can’t get in any of those games; unpredictable gaming on a nightly basis. I guess I’m bored with PvE and the sense of sameness that I get in every PvE game. The setting is different, the stories are different, but the encounters are too predictable for me. I don’t derive much satisfaction from beating PvE challenges. What really gets me excited is knowing a mob of enemy players is out there, and our encounters will be much more unpredictable than anything a PvE situation can provide.

Does that mean Ravious (or anyone else who misses greater PvE options than WAR offers) is wrong? Absolutely not. I’m glad that there are games available that cater to both preferences.

The next post that caught my eye was Scarybooster’s “Hot for WAR“. Scary is praising Mythic for their attention to their game and their efforts to continually improve it. Now, I fully expect someone in the comments over there to say “Blizzard doesn’t have to put in that much work to fix their game because they don’t release a game as broken as WAR!” I don’t think WAR is broken, for the record, but a sarcastic comment like that still has a ring of truth to it.

One of the reasons that I’m happy in Warhammer is precisely because of Mythic’s attention to their product. I think Mythic is a little more ambitious than Blizzard, and I appreciate their type of gameplay. We really can’t get MMO gaming like Mythic makes anywhere else in the genre. Eve is always an exception; they really have a unique environment with lots of opportunity for excellent unpredictable PvP. At the end of the day, Mythic’s RvR design is more exciting to me than the PvE available in LoTRO, EQ2, or WoW, and I appreciate Mythic’s attempts to provide a gaming experience different from other MMOs.

I’m not going to deny that I enjoy different things in an MMO than many other MMO gamers. I don’t like raiding or dungeon crawling very much. It makes me feel constricted, closed in, like my role is very carefully scripted, and varying from what you’re expected to do will lead to failure. Apparently, the way I enjoy PvE is quite different from a lot players who are unhappy with Mythic’s PvE. I happen to enjoy it very much, and I don’t find PvE leveling much different in WAR than the way I played WoW or EQ or LoTRO. I get quests, I run out and do my quests, I get tradeskill supplies while I’m questing, I do some tradeskilling before bed. For my money, I’m just as happy with WAR’s PvE environment as I was in Azeroth or Norrath, and my progress leveling in WAR is faster than it ever was in EQ or WoW or LoTRO.

I think that the blogging community has to start acknowledging that there’s a lot of different ways to enjoy MMOs, and quite a few different experiences available. Just because a game falls into the MMO genre doesn’t mean it’s going to be similar to other MMOs out there, and it’s quite possible that games are going to go far enough down their own game-design path that we end up disliking the final product, despite the fact that they all start off in a very similar manner.

I won’t try to convince people (like Heartless, perhaps, or Pete), that Warhammer is a good game, or a game they should be playing. I think we’re starting to see people with more specific requirements for enjoying an MMO, and people branching off into the games that best meet those requirements. I don’t think each MMO should try to be everything for everyone. I respect that Ravious really likes LoTRO’s books and the PvE it provides, and I think Turbine has done a wonderful job incorporating a story into their PvE group encounters. I completely understand players who love the product Blizzard offers, and the excellent challenges they provide for small group or raid group gameplay. For players who prefer Eve’s universe, or EQ2, or any other game that’s meeting their MMO gaming needs, I say right on. All we have to do is be happy with our game, and let everyone else enjoy theirs.

And for me, there’s no greater thrill in MMO gaming than seeing 20 or 30 realm mates running alongside me through a zone, looking for trouble, seeing a crowd of Destruction headed our way, crashing together like a scene from Braveheart or Lord of the Rings. I love it when a big fight breaks down into 8 or 10 smaller fights, rolling across the green grass of Avelorn, and the ebb and flow of the battle is frantic and unpredictable, ending in glorious triumph or bitter defeat. Keep battles, siege warfare, flanking manuevers from postern doors, tactics barked through Warband or Region channels, dozens of people switching focus and wondering if the defenders will respond in time, staving off an hour-long keep take attempt from a determined foe, or finally breaking through a spirited defense to lay claim to a keep…

That’s what I’ve found in WAR. That’s what keeps me happily moving through PvE, knowing that at any moment, I might have the opportunity for something epic, something magical created out of the efforts of dozens of players.

In DAoC, on the Percival server, it wasn’t uncommon to get smoked by an opposing realm and lie dead in the grass watching them swarm over the objective you had attempted to defend. Instead of opponents laughing at your corpse, though, or dancing on it, or worse (/spit, /slit, etc.), it also wasn’t uncommon to be saluted at or bowed to by the victors.

As much as players on Percival enjoyed their moments of triumph, we all knew that those moments were made possible by the valiant efforts of our opponents. Without skilled and dedicated opponents, the victory would not have been so sweet. Maybe that’s the difference between PvE raiding and RvR for me. When I’ve beaten a dungeon or a boss, I never go home thinking “Man, they put up a hell of a fight, they’re a really good player, or that was a really good tactic”. After a good RvR fight, win or lose, as I sit there grinning at my computer with the adrenaline still pumping through my body, I know there’s someone on the other side of their computer grinning as well. They helped make my fun possible, and I helped with theirs.

I think that’s the essence of Mythic’s RvR for me, and I won’t tire of it any time soon. And for the record, I’m not really a fan of individual PvP. There’s something about running into battle with a group of friends that creates a shared magic I haven’t experienced anywhere else in the MMO world.

If you get that sense of accomplishment and satisfaction from big PvE encounters, I respect that. I’m just glad that Mythic gives me a chance to experience that in competition against other players.

Darren’s right, but I still don’t want to play WoW

Over at The Common Sense Gamer, Darren is talking about being pleasantly surprised by the WoW expansion, enjoying the finely-crafted brilliance of a Blizzard game.

I expected to hear reports like this from people who went to play WoW. Blizzard has given me no reason to doubt that they can produce excellent expansions for a game that I enjoyed for many years. However, hearing Darren talk about what he’s enjoying also reinforces my feeling that I’m done playing World of Warcraft, at least for this expansion.

Since this is a blog, this post is purely personal opinion, and sums up where I’m at with MMO’s after 9 and a half years of playing them, pretty much continuously. EQ, DAoC, SWG, WoW, and Eve have taken up most of my gaming entertainment since EQ’s launch in March of ’99, as well as brief forays into many of the other major MMO titles.

When I hear people complain about PvE in Warhammer, I do understand where they’re coming from. Having people disappear into instances removed some of the liveliness from PvE, I think. A lot of the time, without organizing groups within your guild, or talking up groups in Region chat, you’re left soloing your way through PvE content. For me, though, moving to WoW wouldn’t be any kind of fix for that situation. In fact, WoW would be like doing PvE in WAR, while subtracting the opportunity to participate in oRvR or Scenarios. WoW is a straight grind. Do quests, upgrade gear, do more quests, upgrade gear, only to top out at the level cap with nothing left to do but raid.

Here’s the rub, and probably where I differ from people who really enjoy WoW PvE. I don’t enjoy PvE raiding. It’s dead boring for me. I get impatient moving at group speed, instead of solo speed. I don’t care a lot about gear upgrades from dungeon crawls, because the gear doesn’t get me anything except the ability to do more dungeon crawls. All that time grinding, collecting, upgrading, rinsing and repeating, and I feel like I’m dressed up for a party that’s never going to occur. There’s a predictability to PvE raiding that makes me feel like I’m working.

I don’t mind PvE soloing, though. It’s pretty much how I’ve leveled in every MMO I’ve played (WAR being a very pleasant exception), and for me, there’s little difference between WAR solo PvE and WoW solo PvE. Well, beyond the fact that I did WoW solo PvE for three years, and I really don’t want to do any more. If I’m going to do solo PvE, I’d rather be doing it in Warhammer.

There are a couple reasons I’m content with solo PvE in WAR right now.

First, there’s a point to gaining levels; I get to compete against other players in ever-larger RvR tiers (note: if I enjoyed PvE raiding, there’d be a point to grinding PvE in WoW…but I don’t).

Second, if I don’t feel like PvE grinding in WAR, I can do scenarios or Open RvR. When I decide to do some WAR PvE, it’s because I want to do it, and I’m choosing it from one of three fun options for advancement. I don’t have that choice in WoW. It’s either solo PvE, or group PvE, and I’m tired of not having options.

Third, I’m actually taking my time, reading the stories in the quests, and having fun getting to know a bit about the Warhammer universe. Azeroth feels stale to me. That’s purely personal, and probably has as much to do with my WoW PvE burnout as it has to do with the worlds Blizzard produces. I’m not trying to say that the WAR universe is any better than WoW; WAR is just fresher for me at this point in time.

I’m posting this because I don’t think I’m alone. My blog has been pretty quiet since WAR released, mostly because I’m spending most of my free time enjoying the game Mythic created. It seems like most of the blogs I’m reading are talking about what’s wrong with WAR. I wanted to post what I’m enjoying, in case there’s a silent majority out there who’s also content with WAR PvE (alongside scenarios and oRvR), and doesn’t plan on leaving Warhammer and returning to old familiar grinds.

I’m not trying to change anyone’s mind. You don’t have to like WAR PvE just because I do. I don’t have to convince you that WoW is dull and uninteresting, because I don’t believe that’s true for everyone. It’s true for me, but who the hell cares what I think? :) If you still get a blast out of playing WoW, I can remember back to my glory days and appreciate what you’re enjoying. That’s a chapter in my past, though. WAR is my present and my future, and I’m having a damn good time.

No WoW for me

Just for the record, I won’t be buying the Lich King expansion immediately. I’m having a blast in WAR, and I’m so so so tired of PvE in WoW. There’s nothing compelling to make me want to check it out. If I want to grind PvE levels, I’d rather do it in WAR where it’ll mean something, rather than WoW, where I’d level to 80 and unsubscribe again.

I’m not entirely ruling out buying it. I may pick it up at Christmas for my daughter, who still logs in to play with her army of characters, but I don’t think I’ll ever play WoW seriously again.

I do hope those of you who buy the WoW expansion have a lot of fun. It’s a great game, and I’m certainly not trying to knock Blizzard’s game. I played it for years, but I feel the same way about WoW now that I feel about EQ when DAoC was released. Those chapters are closed, and I don’t think I’ll ever go back.

I’m really looking forward to Tier 4 Warhammer with the Casualties of War! I see a lot of people breaking into T4 now, and I think we’re going to have a lot of fun.

Presidential WoW achievement

America is officially “Working as Intended“.

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