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.


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.

Little stuff: Mission architects, what I’m playing

I’m behind on my blog reading, and on my blog writing. Spring has finally arrived, and I’m spending a ton of time outside with my kid, and then playing games late into the night, without taking time to write. Work’s crazy busy, so there’s no blog reading/writing time there.

Here’s a quick update on things knocking around my head, or being played on my computer.

I read Zubon’s post about the CoH Mission Architect system, and it made me wonder if anyone has tried it, and also tried the Ryzom Ring. Let me know if you have some experience with each system. I wonder which one is easier to use, has more depth, etc. I really liked Ryzom, but I didn’t get a chance to try out the Ring; I think their finances imploded before I got a chance to try it out, and now I’m distracted with other stuff. I remember thinking that Ryzom was totally on the right track with the mission editor, and I hope CoH has continued success.

I’ve been playing a ton of Team Fortress 2, and I’m thinking it’s one of the best video games I’ve ever played. Simple design, a small number of beautifully crafted maps, awesome diversity in classes while maintaining a really good rock-paper-scissors balance, and wicked awesome team play. I’m mostly playing on the Trashed Gamers servers (the Gamers With Jobs server is usually empty during the hours I’ve been playing), and I was surprised to find that I’m ranked in the low 200’s out of the 56,000 players who have happened to play on their servers. I think the rankings are based on points earned, and the major lesson learned by my stats is probably that anyone can appear successful if they play far too much TF2. Still, I’ll take it as an ego boost for a middle-aged gamer.

I renewed my Gametap subscription for another year. I’m locked into the $59.95 yearly subscription price, since I was a premium subscriber before they raised their prices, and it’s totally the best value in gaming. I don’t think I’ll ever run out of games to play over there. The switch from a client program interface to a browser-based interface has been very smooth for me; I had a small problem that required me to download a tiny executable and restart my computer, but after that, it’s been silky smooth.

The Everquest 2 announcement that players can write books in-game is an awesome addition to MMO’s. I probably made original EQ devs crazy with my constant suggestions about player diaries. I wanted there to be a journal feature, where you could write about your experiences, and other players could read it in your character bio. I love the EQ 2 ideas, but I’d still love to see a journal that would import major game events (where you leveled, who you leveled with, how much money you made, what you looted) alongside a WAR Tome of Knowledge achievement tracker model, as well as a place where the player can enter notes, fiction, etc.

It’s encouraging to see EQ2 taking the first steps toward that, and CoH enabling player mission creation. We’ve bandied about the term “second generation MMO” for a long time, without seeing anything that’s really second gen, but I think these ideas are the initial steps toward an evolution of the genre.

I’m re-subscribed to LoTRO, but playing really casually. I’m still feeling MMO burnout, at least with an achievement-based gameplay, so I’m refusing to get obsessed with levels, or money, or gear. It’s super-easy to solo in LoTRO, and that’s what I’ve been doing. I’m level 34, I have a house, I’m saving for a horse, and I’m having fun crafting. It’s such a drop-dead gorgeous game.

I realize now why it didn’t stick with me the first time I played, though. The classes don’t appeal to me that much; nothing stands out and makes me say “I want to play THAT class,” and the character animations seem awkward to me. I’m not a big fan of the character models, either, and I think that partially contributed to my lack of attachment my first time through the game. I’m still not a big fan, but I have a computer now that can run everything at high resolution, and damn, it’s a beautiful world.

I happen to be on the wrong server to play with Oz from KTR, or with the CoW LoTRO guild, and I’ve considered re-rolling, but I’m 34 levels in, and I just don’t think I have the motivation to start from scratch when I’m playing so casually. The last thing I want to do is make an MMO feel like work again.

Oh, and I’m in a beta. Yeah, that beta. Darren’s shame is my shame as well, but I’m man enough to deal with it, for the sake of my 9 year-old daughter . You’re a good dad, Darren, even if you are a fairy. Takes one to know one, I guess 🙂

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.

WAR vs. WoW mathematics

There’s no shortage of online opinion about Warhammer: Age of Reckoing and how it’s going to perform against World of Warcraft. After listening to podcasts on my daily commute, though, something occurred to me.

I was surprised to hear that Van Hemlock didn’t play Dark Age of Camelot (noted on his very fine podcast, episode 11. Don’t worry about being late putting out your episodes, sir. I’m behind listening to them!). DAoC was a very early MMO, and perhaps easy to overlook. In a way, DAoC was compared to EQ in the same way WAR is being compared to WoW; an underdog competing against the reigning MMO heavyweight champion. Maybe, in the resulting fanboy heavyweight champion buzz, people heard all sorts of things that were “wrong” with DAoC, and didn’t get a chance to discover first-hand everything right about it.

I was mulling over the fact that one of the more prolific MMO game players/bloggers hadn’t experienced everything that was brilliant about the DAoC end game. Van Hemlock knew DAoC’s reputation. He understood on a theoretical level what it was that Mythic had accomplished, but there was no direct experience of the game. It made me wonder how many other MMO players are really in the dark when it comes to what Mythic offers to the genre.

I hope he doesn’t mind me using him as an example. I’m not attempting to critique him specifically; not at all, in fact. He handled his lack of DAoC experience with the grace and aplomb I’d like to see in other internet MMO message board posters. What intrigued me about his revelation was simple math.

Dark Age of Camelot probably hit their subscriber peak at somewhere around 250,000 players. That’s a rough estimate, I haven’t traced the lines on Sir Bruce’s chart to find the precise number. I’m going to compare it to WoW’s numbers, so perhaps you can understand why I don’t feel the need to research the exact number 🙂 WoW’s peak is above 10 million subscribers.

Given DAoC’s 250k subscribers, let’s be generous and say that 75% of them spent significant time in RvR, the concept that Warhammer Online is built around. 75% of 250k is about 185k. Don’t make me do exact math, it makes me sad. Since I’m comparing it to WoW, so I could use the entire subscriber base, or just half, and it wouldn’t affect the numbers too much.

Let’s take those 185k users, with direct personal experience of RvR, and speculate whether those individuals are being taken at their word regarding what’s different between WAR and WoW in the various forum debates in the MMO world. For the other 9, 815,000 WoW players, how would they know if WAR’s a clone? If they’ve never played an MMO with an endgame like DAoC’s (and DAoC was the only one so far), how can they dismiss what they don’t know? How do you have the nerve to make the clone claim, when you’re talking out of your arse? (For the record, I’ve moved far away from Van Hemlock here!)

I know the answer, of course. Discussion forums encourage stupid, unfounded, strident posts. I guess ignorance of what made DAoC unique, and posting that ignorance, isn’t the real story here. For Mythic, the real story becomes how many of the 9,815,000 WoW players who didn’t play DAoC can play WAR with an open mind. Is it any wonder we’ve got Paul Barnett grinding the WAR organ while the monkey dances?

Tobold, WAR, and PvP

Tobold interviewed Paul Barnett from Mythic Entertainment, and something jumped out at me that I’ve been wanting to write about. Tobold asks a question that, quite frankly, I could have written back in 2001, shortly before Dark Age of Camelot was released, and I was happily enjoying PvE Everquest, burned out on PvP. Tobold asked:

Now there are people, including me, who either don’t enjoy PvP much, or who feel they can’t compete with pimply 12-year olds ganking other players all day. How are you going to sell WAR to us?

The selling of WAR, and of RvR in WAR, won’t happen through words in an interview, or blog posts, or podcasts, or articles on the Warhammer Herald. I don’t think I know any anti-PvP players who would be swayed to try PvP in WAR by an argument made outside the game. If people are going to suddenly find value in going out to PvP, it’s going to have to happen inside the game. The developers are going to have to create a compelling reason for someone to take up arms. They’re going to have to provide you with teammates, so at least if you die, you don’t die alone against terrible odds (or against the pimply 12 year-old who really should be doing his Social Studies homework). And, there has to be a reward for putting your character and your ego in harm’s way.

Hmm. I think I need bullets, or I’ll get distracted.

  1. Create a compelling reason to take up arms
  2. Provide you with teammates, so PvP is a social experience
  3. Provide a reward for participating in PvP

I’ll get back to those in a minute. I’m limited by the NDA, but I think I can talk about WAR in general terms that have already been mentioned by Mythic in other places on the web. First, though, I want to talk about how Mythic implemented those three elements in Dark Age of Camelot, and how they turned a PvE player into a PvP player, at least for DAoC.

Before I started playing Everquest in 1999, I was a pretty hardcore MUD player. I played on a PvP MUD, and it was cutthroat. I always had to watch my back, I got jumped frequently, I lost items, experience, and money. And I took some items, money, and experience as well 🙂 Generally, though, I lost more than I won, and I eventually tired of always watching my back. When Everquest was released, I was relieved that there was a PvP switch. In fact, that’s mostly why I skipped  UO…back when I was considering playing it, there was open PvP, and I didn’t want to constantly watch my back. In hindsight, I wish I played UO anyway, but alas, I missed it.

Back to DAoC. I was burned out on EQ in the fall of 2001, and I was looking for a new experience. I was very interested in Dark Age, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to PvP. Since there were separate PvE and PvP areas in Camelot, I figured I would spend my time making characters and leveling, not participating in PvP.

Man, was I wrong.

My first character (and main character) was a Hibernian Ranger, and they had stealth ability. I was a pretty young Lurikeen when I first stealthed up to explore the frontiers (the PvP-enabled areas of each of the three realms in DAoC). I mostly wanted to see the world, but I ended up finding good places to level, and good places to find enemy players leveling. That was my first taste of PvP, doing drive-by killing outside the gates of Midgard and Albion. I had a good time, but it didn’t provide any of the three requirements on the bullet points above.

It wasn’t until I joined a guild and followed my guildmates out to fight as a group in the frontiers that Realm versus Realm combat really caught my interest. I don’t know if I asked specifically why we were going out to fight, or what we were going to do out there, but it involved someone taking one of our keeps, and we were going to take it back, and then we were going to take their keeps, and then we could all go to Darkness Falls, the RvR shared dungeon that was controlled by the realm with the most keeps. Darkness Falls had good loot drops and seals that could be turned in to buy armor and weapons (not that kind of seal). Suddenly, there was a reason to go fight, instead of just ganking people trying to level in their realm frontier.

Back in those days, we died a lot. Hibernia (our realm) on Percival (our DAoC server) took a beating for while, mostly from Midgard. And that’s where the second item on the bullet list comes in. I found that dying with a group of friends was much, much, more enjoyable than dying alone. Dare I say, it was fun dying with friends. It was more fun winning with a group of friends, but there wwas plenty of fun and plenty of stories that came out of dying as well.

The sense of adventure was palpable. Each night, we’d level for a little while, and then we’d saddle up and head for the frontier for RvR. There was value in capturing keeps, or defending your keeps, and we’d gather at bottlenecks in the frontier to prevent the enemy from entering our lands, or rush out to defend a keep under attack. Soon, I wasn’t just having fun with my guild group. I got to know other rangers stealthed on the wall in Emain, facing the Albion portal keep, waiting for the inevitable tide of enemies trying to enter our lands. I listened to rangers and nightshades, stealthed throughout the frontier, offering intelligence reports on enemy movements. I learned who to trust, who gave timely information and accurate assessments of enemy abilities. I learned which players could be followed in battle to defend our realm or attack another.

In Everquest, each group alongside you in a dungeon was a potential competitor. There was little sense of shared purpose, and little motivation to cooperate with each other. In DAoC, Mythic gave you reasons and rewards for trusting your realmmates and cooperating with them in RvR. And that brings us to bullet point number three, rewards for participating in RvR.

I’ve already mentioned Darkness Falls, which was a nice prize to end your evening of fighting in the frontier. Additionally, Mythic offered realm points for participating in RvR, which could be used to purchase abilities for your character. Also, each realm had two relics, prized items which resided in the largest keeps in each frontier (two keeps per realm). Those relic keeps were difficult to capture, but if you did capture and return enemy relics to your own relic keeps, you got additional bonuses for your realm. Also, if your guild claimed a keep in your frontier or the enemy frontier, your guild got bonuses for fighting around that keep, both realm point bonuses for RvR and experience and money bonuses for PvE.

Fast forward 7 years. Take all those lessons learned in Dark Age of Camelot, and picture how Mythic might be trying to take the best elements of realm versus realm combat and distill them into a new game, a post-WoW game. The MMORPG landscape has changed tremendously since 2001, and WAR is a different game than DAoC.

Without breaking the NDA, here’s what I think I can safely say about the WAR experience. First, RvR in DAoC was reserved for the higher level players in the game, especially in the early days. Levels meant a lot. WAR is giving you opportunities to fight your opponents starting at the very earliest levels, and there’s a cap for each area. You won’t find yourself fighting a level 40 opponent when you’re level 12. There’s a level range you’re fighting against, and it seems pretty fair. I wouldn’t venture into the World PvP areas on my own as a level 2 character, but you could make a contribution out there as a member of a group. Scenarios, on the other hand, are definitely something you can participate in at very early levels. I want to say more about how Mythic is attempting to balance encounters, but a) that’s probably beyond the NDA, and b) I don’t want to talk about something now, only to see it changed or cut before the game launches. Let’s just say that I felt comfortable jumping into Scenario RvR at level 3.

Following the bullet points, here’s where I’m at with WAR.

1. Create a compelling reason to take up arms – The game is all about war. It’s all around you. The PvE quests deal with it, your zones abut enemy zones, and you’re encouraged to participate in scenarios (think WoW or DAoC battlegrounds) and open world PvP through quests. So, there are plenty of opportunities to get involved with PvP, but you’re not going to do it alone.

2. Provide you with teammates, so PvP is a social experience – WAR’s PvP would fail out of the gate if you were sent off alone to fight the enemy. Every time you queue for a scenario, you have the opportunity to join as a group. Or, if you queue solo, you can join a group as soon as you enter the scenario through a very simple interface. Mythic is also experimenting with a variety of tools to help you find groups…and I’d like to talk more about them, but ya know, they might get changed, they might get cut, I promised not to tell, bla bla bla. Let’s just say that this is the easiest MMO yet for finding groups to adventure with, and I can’t wait to be on a live server where I’ll actually see the same names around me from level 1 to 40.

3. Provide a reward for participating in PvP – Mythic is freakin’ nailing this. You’re collecting money, PvE experience, and PvP experience (Renown) every time you enter a scenario or world PvP. Renown offers the chance to purchase good armor and weapons as you increase in rank (as does your faction in PvE, which is increased through Public Questing). PvE and PvP are both viable ways to advance your gear opportunities. And that’s just a selfish perspective. If your faction controls the zone you’re currently adventuring in, there are additional bonuses to your faction.

In DAoC, there were indeed rewards for participating in RvR, but they were mainly for players at or near endgame, and I know a lot of my MMO game-playing friends missed out on what I loved about DAoC because they didn’t make the grind to the level cap. Plus, I think i was lucky to play on Percival, which had tons of quality players from all three realms. I think my server community was the glue that kept me playing.

In WAR, Mythic is looking to hook the player on good gameplay experiences almost from the moment you create your character. You won’t have to hit the level cap to enjoy what I loved about DAoC. It’ll be available to you, completely integrated into your leveling, from the moment you enter the world. You’ll be meeting people, fighting alongside them in scenarios, public quests, and world PvP, winning and losing, living and dying, telling stories about your adventures, from level 1 to 40. Making friends and having fun isn’t the only reward, though. Mythic’s also giving you great rewards for pushing back the enemy hordes.

As always, I’m conscious of sounding like a fanboy. Maybe I am, but I think that my tone speaks to Mythic making MMO’s that have a gameplay element that I really enjoy, and I don’t find in other MMO’s. That’s a blessing and curse. WAR is a very focused MMO. It’s not all things to all people. You won’t find SWG-level crafting, housing, and economics here. I’m sure there are things that WoW fans might miss. It’s funny, WAR’s getting killed by some people for being a WoW clone, but I bet there will be people bitching that it’s not enough like WoW when it’s released.

Take WAR for what it is. Mythic wants you to join up with a group of friends for adventure, level, and profit. They want a PvP environment that’s rewarding for everyone. They don’t want people feeling ganked, alone, and hopeless. Run with a group of friends, and even if you die, there is fun to be had and stories to tell…and plenty of rewards for your efforts.

As always, if anyone from Mythic is reading this and needs me to STFU about anything, just let me know. I’m pretty sure everything I’ve talked about is already public, but if not, holler at me 🙂

Addendum – Holy &%$*, this was a long post. It’s posts like this, which was originally going to be a reply to Tobold’s post in the comments on his blog, that made me start my own blog. No one needs a post this long in their comments. Hell, I’m not sure anyone needs an individual blog post this big, but hey, I had extra coffee today, and you don’t have to read it all if you don’t want to 🙂

WAR vs. WoW, and DAoC vs. EQ

Think I could jam any more acronyms into the title?

This turned into quite a rant. Stick with me.

I just exceeded my tolerance for the term “WoW killer” in relation to Warhammer Online. The offending comment was actually delivered indirectly, from a post on Book of Grudges last Monday (catching up on my RSS feed after returning from Las Vegas, I’m behind!), called “Taking a Step Back“. arbitrary was checking reactions to the Mythic announcements about cutting classes and capital cities, and found this quote on Kotaku:

The so called wow killer is releasing half a product and expecting to compete?

I can’t take it any more. Who’s calling it a WoW killer? Who’s expecting it to compete directly with WoW? Mythic has already stated that they believe their game has different gameplay elements, will not outsell WoW, and they’re not directly competing with them. Has anyone at Mythic also stated that Warhammer will be a WoW killer, or is this giving forum blathering from burned out ex-WoW subscribers way too much credence?

I think some of us who follow MMO’s suffer from Compare-itis. Since there are relatively few MMO’s in the Western market, they inevitably get compared to one another, and I don’t think that’s healthy.

The first time I saw Compare-itis in action was when I started playing DAoC, when it first launched. I still had friends playing EQ, still visited message boards with EQ players, and there was far too much time spent talking about what each game lacked compared to the other game. It was like they had to be the same game somehow, and differences were bad. I’d try to tell my EQ friends what I liked about DAoC, and they’d sharpen their virtual pencils and tell me in detail why DAoC wasn’t like EQ, and hence, why DAoC was Bad.

The reverse was also true. There were plenty of people who liked DAoC who’d slam EQ for not having features like DAoC. Neither stance made much sense to me, but clearly, Compareitis is still alive when WAR’s being touted by forum posters as a WoW killer.

Saying WAR is like WoW, or DAoC was like EQ, is like saying Half-Life is like Quake, just because both games have weapons and multiplayer options. It’s like saying Company of Heroes is like Warcraft III because they’re both RTS games.

There are TONS of design decisions that go into making an MMO. You start with a massive world, either a level-based or skill-based system, put in PvE and maybe PvP combat, tradeskills, maybe housing…and it’s like those elements alone are suddenly enough to compare games like comparing apples to apples.

I think it’s time we start to look more at the differences between MMO’s, and the different design goals chosen by developers, instead of thinking that WAR and WoW are somehow wildly similar games. Or AoC and WoW, or LoTRO and WAR, or whatever you’re chosing to compare.

I played a ton of EQ, and a ton of DAoC. They had a common genre underpinning, but they were very different games. I’ve played a ton of WoW and quite a bit of the WAR beta. Mythic is shooting for a very different gaming experience with WAR than what I enjoyed in WoW.  Comparing them directly is bound to be inaccurate, because they have very different design goals. Yes, they share a common heritage, but I think the genre is maturing enough, especially with second and third generation MMO developers, to stop directly comparing games.

The paucity of choice in the MMO market contributes to the desire to compare games head-to-head. We probably have more triple-A MMO titles available right now than we’ve had at any point in MMO history, yet there are still only a handful of good choices for gamers. I guess it’s inevitable that the games are lumped together, but each developer puts their own spin on the genre, and comparing them directly just seems silly to me.

I don’t want to see any more WoW killer comments, or posts saying WAR ripped off WoW, or WoW ripped off the Warhammer IP before Mythic started developing the Warhammer IP, bla bla bla, yadda yadda. Mythic has their own design goals, and I think if you HAVE to directly compare it to any other MMO, it should be DAoC, and not WoW, or EQ2, or LoTRO. There’s a firm academic basis for comparison with DAoC; an evolution of development, ideas tried, evaluated, kept, or tossed aside. WoW, not so much.

It might be a little too early in the genre for an MMO cladogram, with each branch forking out different design choices, each game ending up as individual species with a particular evolutionary ancestry, but comparing MMO’s directly with each other is like bitching that a Stegosaurus isn’t just like an Ankylosaur, or that a 10 million Velociraptors must be superior to 1 million Allosaurs. It’s ok to be different. I learned that in high school. It’s ok to make different choices.

I’m not sure where this Highlander “There can be only one!” attitude regarding MMO’s comes from, but I do know that I’m tired of it. There are now quite a few companies making big profits from their first, second, or third MMO, and I’m glad that each game has its own personality, its own goals. We’ve got to get over the head-to-head, Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots school of MMO fandom.

Listen to me. Suddenly I’m dipping into “Celebrate Diversity!” cheerleading. Well, hell, I like diversity. I like that Mythic decided to do things differently than Blizzard and Sony and Turbine. I’m glad that Turbine tried Monster Play and storyline quests. I like that EQ2 has housing and more developed crafting. I’m happy that WoW is so carefully crafted and detailed and refined. I like boobs in AoC. And elsewhere, for that matter.

I know it’s the nature of internet communication to square off in opinion-related cage matches, but I’m hoping for a little more nuanced appraisal of WAR when it’s released. It’s not WoW. It’s not trying to BE WoW. If you start your review of WAR with a comparison to WoW, you’re missing the point.

Do people dog R.A. Salvatore because his books are in the same section of the bookstore as the Dragonlance series? Do we have to sneer at Spiderman movies because there are already Batman movies, and they’re not the same movie? What is it about MMO’s that invites this type of comparison? Is it because the genre is still so young? Is it because it takes so long to make a triple-A title, and because we talk it to death while it’s being made and being tested? Is it because, unlike other computer games, you have to pay $15 a month for an MMO, and you want to believe that your $15 is going to the best game, and all the other games suck?

Maybe it’s a little of all of that. And I’m gettin’ tired of it 🙂