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Lord of the Rings Online Column: Fighting Talk: Old vs New MMOs Part 3

By Adam Tingle on September 24, 2010

Fight, fight, fight! The lines have been drawn, the crowds have gathered, and the storm clouds are brewing. The next 2,000 words will be nothing but balls-to-the-wall action, linguistic explosions, and bone crunching metaphors. It’s Clash of the Titans, Big Trouble in Little MMORPG, and Close Encounters of the MMORPG kind. Think you can handle it?

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Welcome back to part three of Old vs. New MMORPGs. By now you should be firmly sitting inside a camp of opinion and chanting for your champion. Who will emerge victorious? Who will be named winner? Well I don’t know, this isn’t part four yet, you’re such a pushy reader you know that? All that is left to say is: Let’s Get Ready To Rummmbbbllle! (for the third time)

Guilds

Back in the day, guilds were all important. If you wanted to understand the game as a newbie, progress through the trials as a mid-level character, or experience end-game content, guilds were your best shot. While today their use is still valuable, guilds were seemingly a lot more tight-knit in the past. Players came together through necessity to brave the games challenges, but also friendships blossomed.

My first serious guild in EverQuest, by the name of “The Silent Watch” contained players which I stayed in contact with for many years. Guilds were like a band of brothers: those who were involved were trustworthy and mature. One day you could shoot the breeze together and another depend on them to help you through a tricky situation or watch your back in a dungeon. Oh sure there was back biting, the odd moron, and some crap guilds out there even then, but this was the minority rather than the majority. At essence, guilds were all player driven, there were very few systems such as Guild Halls or levels but it outlined the difference between games now and then. To make a guild work it required real determination, a dedicated leader, and a desire for success.


Of course there is a hint of nostalgia and experience to this but many people remember their old school guilds fondly. For instance, my first attempt at finding a guild ended with a slightly insane role-player taking lead and disbanding the organization because we were “Dark Elf scumbags”. Of course there were the bad elements, it was hard to organize due to a lack of in-game tools, most required serious commitment, and it was a little primitive by today’s standards. With that said however, there was something great and friendly to find within guilds of yesterday. The necessity of others is something I sorely miss and grief for in modern MMORPGs. 8/10

Again, I do not wish to sound biased or negative, but, my experiences of guilds in newer MMORPGs haven’t been great. The biggest pursuit of said organizations, in any game, is seemingly to recruit as many people as possible. Almost absurdly in a game such as WoW I would apparently be in guild of 500 and nobody even made a single utterance in the guild channel. Such are the mechanics of today’s genre, socializing is not needed and not at all encouraged.

While most guilds I have ever been in have been rubbish, there are some great in-game tools to help anyone who wishes to form their own guild. Take for instance the formation of a guild, way back when you had to stand in a circle chanting chapters of “The Silmarillion” backwards to create one (I jest) but now it ranges from simple charters to a few people gathering at an NPC. Also organizations has never been easier with: in-game mail systems, bank systems, chat channels, message of days icons, in-game guild forums, websites and the list is endless. It seems almost absurd that being in a guild is now so easy but yet neglected. Perhaps this accessibility and help is part of the reason it is so underutilized?

Of course not every game is bad. Games such as Eve Online (which I count as post 2004, even though I know its release date) positively flourish when engaging in corporation activity. And I am aware that many people have carried on old guilds from older games, therefore not everyone shares my views. I just feel that the short-comings of community in newer games reflect disastrously in guild culture. MMORPGs such as EverQuest 2, Vanguard and Lord of the Rings Online aren’t entirely bad, but guilds just seem pointless unless you wish to spend all of your time on 25 man raids and gearing up: what happened to simply banding together with friends for the common purpose of camaraderie and adventure? 4/10


Difficulty/Time Sink Factor

On a weekly basis I bubble and froth with anger and annoyance. The reason for such negative behavior? Friends and peers who proudly boast about level 500, epic clad and super-mega-wow-crap-yourself-aren’t-I-a-great-big-raiding-bastard characters. Weekly I will berate anyone who dare tell me about their trips to the level cap; did they not play EverQuest, Ultima Online or Asheron’s Call? Do they realize that their jaunt to the level cap, and it was a jaunt, was nothing more than cowardly bottom burp in comparison to the epic, sprawling adventure that older games entailed? I spent 75 whole days in Norrath attempting to reach the level cap and do you know what? I never did.

Of course I am not about to say that the aforementioned is a good thing because it wasn’t. The common slogan of the new MMORPG player is “I want to play not work in an MMORPG” and this is fair enough. Nobody can fondly remember corpse runs and experience loss; nobody can fondly remember losing 75 days of your childhood in the name of a, quite frankly underachieving, Shaman. However, with all this said; the developers only had to tone down some of the harsher elements and not metaphorically wrap the game in bubble wrap and clear a nice primrose path to the level cap.

The difficulty of older MMORPGs was immense and to be honest I enjoyed it. I adored having to learn and wrestle with the game, I loved that not everyone got it, and I rejoiced that it took a long time to get to the level cap. For myself, the end game of an MMORPG is its worst feature; it is the point in which you realize your pursuit has been ultimately worthless. Oh sure you can busy yourself with all the activities such as raiding and PvP but what are trying to achieve now? To me the adventure is the aspiration to hit the top and as such I preferred when most games made it an almost impossible feat. There is a wonderful part of the film Wayne’s World (I know, I am that cultured) where Brian Doyle-Murray’s character, Noah Vanderhoff ,is discussing a videogame in which players pump endless money into to try and reach the next level which doesn’t exist. That is how MMORPGs are for me; their wonder is the journey and not the destination.


While I can fully appreciate progressive development and the toning down of certain elements- I long for a difficult MMORPG once more. Games such as EverQuest and Ultima Online were horrible, nasty and evil pieces of software but they were unimaginably brilliant at the same time. Sometimes when we take away the perceived worst part of something, we also take away something that was fundamental to it. 7/10

Accessibility and refinement: two words which in my view have stopped the genre being truly great. Newer games of the genre are fun for all the family, possibly we will see Wii-motion add-ons: Grandma and that kooky Aunt of yours, stepping up in the living room to play tennis with a goblin. People want to just have fun right? No working or any of that horrible grind required. Perhaps Age of Conan will introduce a dance-mat aspect to proceedings, to hit left simply “boogie on down” that way, to execute a special move, just “throw your hands up in the air like you just don’t care” as they say.

Of course I am being overly cynical; my opinions split and polarize in my own head in regards to difficulty within MMORPGs. On the one hand, I crave time stinks and difficulty, but as student type, I of course would. On the other hand however, I enjoy that I can play a spot of whatever online game without fear of losing a week’s worth of experience and a year’s worth of loot. The MMORPG genre pumps out outstandingly addictive videogames for a generation on the move and I am fine with this most of the time.

The journey to the level cap is now more varied and multi-faceted, other aspects of gameplay are emphasized rather than simply grind, and as a whole, the game is objectively a more entertaining experience. Developers have offered up ways of making their games playable to everyone and I cannot hold a grudge against that, I too enjoy that my dumbest of friends can now tag along in support.

But this slap-on-a-smile attitude of mine simply does not last for long. I can only ignore the sense of dissatisfaction for so long before it gnaws away at my very being. MMORPGs are intrinsically difficult, it is meant to be a grand and epic adventure. You wouldn’t play a BioWare RPG and be joyful that after two hours of story it had ended would you? For veterans who played the older games of the genre, there will always be an element of underwhelming disappointment that MMORPGs are now, at their core, about the end game.


In fairness, the end game of newer MMORPGs is entertaining and varied but honestly, what is the point? Why spend hours laboring away for the pursuit of gear when you know that the only result will be eventual boredom or an expansion which makes your efforts ultimately meaningless. Of course the discovery here is that all MMORPGs are ultimately pointless if one thinks that way but hey, let’s keep quiet about that. While I enjoy that the games are not as vindictive or evil, I do miss the challenge or older games more than I enjoy being handed the level cap on a plate. 4/10

Crafting

I am going to put my neck on the line here and be controversial and say: crafting in older games, for the most part, sucked the big one. Unless you were an Ultima Online player, crafting was a neglected commodity in many games, most items you could make were worthless and the greatest items in-game were found on rare spawns rather than master artisans.

The reason I hold such views is that crafting tended to be so ill explained. Apart from one or two dodgy guides on fan-sites, the games would give no help and more often than not crafting would be neglected and forgotten. While some will now be screaming with anger at my wrongness, in my opinion it was just plain bad in most games. However, with the above stated, older systems of crafting such as Ultima’s were actually more ambitious than newer games.

One of the best advancements of the genre is the ability to branch out more than simply combat and crafting is definitely one aspect that has been updated. While I feel older games systems lacked, they were not completely different or a million miles away and perhaps with better tutorials my views would be different. 5/10


Crafting in newer MMORPGs is a staple to gameplay. Whether you’re an Aion man, a World of Warcraft women or an Age of Conan hermaphrodite, chances are a quest has established your role as an artisan. Items that are crafting are now of better use and a lot of games do include fun systems and mini-games in which things are created. Who would have thought farming pipe weed would be so enjoyable?

Of course while some games really excel in this aspect, most games suffer from a copy-and-paste approach which unfortunately stems from that elephant in the room, World of Warcraft. Blizzard’s game has the most unimaginative, uninvolving, and boring crafting system available that it is hard to see why so many games go in this way. While some stand out, some are just plain old boring I suppose.

While I enjoy a spot of crafting in newer games, I do feel like it is still not as advanced or as ambitious as it should be. Everything in recent games is played very safe and I would like to see a developer take on an Ultima style system or perhaps incorporate something like A Tale in the Desert’s approach and create something truly immersive, unique, and interesting. In short: good, fun, and definitely better but still not quite as good as it should be after almost a decade. 8/10

And that is time once more! After an explosion round we see the respective MMORPG periods stumble back into their corners. As we reach the fourth and final part, the scores are 67-58 to old MMORPGs. Things are definitely hotting up and be sure not the miss the last part of this epic battle.

Adam Tingle / Freelancer for MMORPG.com, 360 Gamer Magazine, and Play Magazine.

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