September 22, 2011

Rinse and Repeat: The De-Evolution of MMOs

Sometimes, you keep wondering to yourself why you always feel meh about things and when you keep searching long enough the answer actually presents itself to you in an unusual way you didn't expect. For a long time I have been pretty meh about the state of the MMO market as it stands. Now while people will say WoW is as good as it's going to get, and people that say that are going straight to Hell for lying, I on the other hand have been around to know that MMOs have been better and that WoW, regardless of mass media appeal, is actually a large step backwards from where things originally started from.

Now while I expect people to come around and try to explain to me why World of Warcraft isn't much more than piss wiffle, I am just going to put forth why I don't care. I've been playing MMOs far longer than most of the 'internet celebrities' with opinions actually have. I have actually been around this particular bush many, many times. And while the average WoWonaut will probably tell me how much skill it takes to down a raid boss that performs a repeated pattern, I will just remind them to keep listening to the bells and whistles of DeadlyBossMod to tell them how to play like a well trained terrier.

Needless to say, I am not going to sit here and try to claim WoW is a bad game, it's just not anywhere as great as people think it is. In fact, the whole genre has been stagnating thanks to that behemoth because everyone is trying to be just like them. But I digress, this is about the revelation I came to a while back ago and how I came about it.

The reason the current and has been for a while generation of MMOs has been one massive train of disappointment for me after another is plain and simple actually. For all the boasting of choice these games falsely spout, there is no choice in them. No matter if I am making a mage in Warcraft or a blaster in City of Heroes, the end result is the same; I am building someone to kill a specific group of dudes. There is no difference between either, and the solution is always the same; build up power to be able to kill more dudes.

Of course people will always try to point out the extreme cases, like the hopeless person who made it to level 85 without doing a single quest and just leveled up on gathering experience. I just shake my head though because those are called fringe cases, and are exceptionally extreme. People who point that out as alternative ways to level in these types of games are just desperate and wrong no matter how they try to slice it. Just because someone did it doesn't make it viable. So quit trying to pass off that extreme nut jobs doing something like that is a viable leveling tactic, in other words. If a person can't play the game like that normally and have equal returns to someone just pounding away on critters, then it's not a viable leveling tactic and trying to pass it off as such just shows how much of a moron you really are.

So, back on point, again. Recently I got my hands on the third installment of Deus Ex. I won't say the game play was wildly phenomenal or even superior to anything else out there, but I will say the game reminded me of what I was actually missing when it concerned my MMO gaming; actual game play choice. What do I mean? Well minus the obvious boss fights in the game, throughout most of Deus Ex I had multiple choices to actually handling almost every situation. I could be the gun ho shoot 'em up type, I could be the sneaky avoid them type avoiding violence where I can, I could go into ducts and avoid stuff, I could be more direct but still sneaky, I could even hack computers and turn the defenses against the enemy. And as small as those choices were, by contrast to where I am going, this was still way more choice than the current generation of MMOs has offered in a very long time.

Let me try and qualify that. Now, I've basically admitted that I've played UO since December of 1997, which makes me a fairly old MMO gamer. Now while certain groups of people hate on MMOs for being grindy or whatever common denouncement they are given, MMOs back then were started to be their own little, breathing worlds where the player could freely do what they wanted. Though by technical standards, UO was pretty inferior, you could still be a warrior, mage or rogue in the traditional sense, but I could also be a blacksmith, a tailor, a fisher, a house builder, a treasure hunter and many other more options that did not involve me once picking up a sword or casting a hostile spell at monsters. There was true choice in the system. I could decide to spend all my game life, if I wanted to, mining a mountain and forging the material into armor and weapons for others to buy. That was the game I fell in love with and got me into MMOs, a system on true choice.

But, as I stated before, UO was inferior, but in many ways, is still the superior game when compared to the current market of games (if you compare classic UO before itemization to what is offered on the market now). What limited the game was it was a sandbox with no real framework. There was no story, though many of us actually made up quite a bit of it. The adventure was to be had by the whim of the players, and the whim of the players could dictate many things in the world. There were events held by GMs that created many unique features on different shards and the results were fascinating as there was actual history and weight to each individual shard as it grew and became its own entity. UO was truly alive, even if technologically inferior.

However, the market has since changed and de-evolved, as I will put it, into games that hand hold and pretty much tell people what to do and disguise the lack of choice behind mountains of speech bubbles and false choice systems. The end result is always the same, no matter the path taken and it's just one boring mess. Most people know they are bored but they've tricked themselves into believing it's fun and exciting. And it is truly a sad thing to me to watch these games try and pretend they have these great communities when nothing in the world is like how UO was. Nostalgia might be powerful but when entire shards would come together for events and help to do things, that speaks many volumes of words.

Honestly, I want an MMO that gives me real choices again. Not some faux talent system that still only leaves me with one way to handle every situation; mass genocide. I want to be able to go into a game world and actually play different ways, not have to slaughter most if not all the critters in a single location just to achieve something. Multiple avenues and objectives work out way better. Hell, even awarding players for not killing everything or being stealthy would be way better.

I don't expect a return to crafting style game play, that would actually require that developers actually care that much about the game they are developing that they would want to see the world to become a living breathing entity, but I would actually want a real choice system in playing and creating characters. I want the option to be able to stealth through the wave  of baddies with an objective that rewards me for thinking outside of the box instead of only giving me the pay off if I spent several minutes chipping away at a bosses large health pool. Methods that reward me for either avoiding the fight, using the enemies against one another or just plain being smart would go a long way. The current MMO gaming formula rewards the dumbest ideas for the dumbest players in the dumbest ways. It's grossly pathetic to be blunt.

I don't know what to expect out of the new games on the horizon. They are touting voice over's and stories as the big things, which seems all and well, but what about the real game, the real choices? Can I actually sneak into the big base and get the data file or do I need to kick down the doors, and fulfill the 100 dude smack down of the standard MMO?

In closing, I will reiterate my basic stance on the current two MMOs that are coming out in the near future; TOR and TSW. TOR will just be more of the same crap. TSW on the other hand, looks like it might offer something, but I am afraid it won't do it quite as I expected and it will also fall into that trap of doing more of the same. In short, whether people believe it or not, for the past decade every big name game with the exception of one or two has been the same game constantly remade with a new skin by a new company, changing very little of the formula and forgetting what made the granddaddy, UO, so popular. How I wish UO2 was being put back on the burner to be cooked and made with some updating and definitely a graphical over haul.

Guess that leads back to the UO2 emblem on the top. Now, back then the idea was to include story in a 3d version of UO with an actual change to the world. But the story would not come at the cost of everything that made the original UO great. In fact it would build upon it. But, as all things went, something happened and EA closed it down. I don't ever expect EA to try again, but I think it would go that a UO2 using modern graphics, built on what UO started, adding story and and streamlining the game play would most definitely attract a crowd.

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