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Gaming To Hell In A Handbasket

The trials, tribulations and musings of an MMO veteran trying to find the next holy grail.

Author: Strayfe

2008: A Retrospective - Part One

Posted by Strayfe Tuesday February 3 2009 at 5:43PM
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It's been a bit over a year since I posted here. Though I still frequent the site and keep abreast of things, generally my free time has been limited, my fascination with the ever-expanding (hah) world of MMOs is growing more and more stale, and my patience is wearing as thin as a Penthouse model who got called fat during her last photo shoot.

Where I last left off? I had resubscribed to that god-awful drug, World of Warcraft, in order to kill time before Age of Conan, Warhammer, and in theory, Darkfall hit shelves. Thankfully, my Warcraft binge was short-lived, and served more to remind me of all the genre's stereotypical idiosyncracies than anything else.

No, thank you, Mr. NPC, I do not want to kill 35 more orcs, I do not care that they slaughtered your family, and the only reason I am marginally interested in your existence is because you have promised to give me a better sword. And what was that? Princess MacGuffin was kidnapped? And only I can save her? Well, sure... just let me... wait, what do you mean I have to collect 20 rusty nails first? What in the Sam Hell does that have to do with anything? Etc... etc...

World of Warcraft never changes. Even with the release of Lich King, the game is so overwhelmingly dull and mind-numbing that the thought of trying to force myself through an additional ten levels seems more to me like a punishment a court might impose on a computer hacker than something meant to qualify as fun.

So there was that, and mercifully it ended, and I waited with baited breath for the big-ticket titles.

So where are we now?

A year later, I sit here and take a look back at what I've tried... and failed... to like.

Age of Conan

Age of Conan released with more bugs than a copy of Vanguard sitting in a giant roach motel. With ultra-fancy graphics which managed to crash my $2500 gaming rig, absurd gameplay mechanics, scantily clad, poorly rendered virtual women with faces straight out of a digitized horror flick, and a borefest "You are the chosen one, blah blah blah..." storyline, AoC emerges as a frontrunner for biggest disappointment of the year.

My subscription to AoC lasted a bit more than a month, two weeks of which were spent attempting to pinpoint an issue that caused my computer to BSOD with a processor clocking error anytime I'd have the game open for more than about 5 minutes.  My initial impressions were that my computer was pointedly rejecting the overhyped barbarian, having been used to playing games which were actually good. Lo and behold, however, I found out much later that Fun(hah)com had borked something in their coding after one particular patch, causing AMD Quad core processors to dry heave when attempting to process particular commands from AoC. This is why you don't let interns code your game.

Apparently, said computer wizards were haphazardly programming with one hand, while simultaneously soloing themselves, drooling over the concept art of the aforementioned scantily clad women hanging on the walls of their cubicles. Perhaps if the graphics artists spent more time translating the concept art into the game, and less time doing the same, the rest of us might have been able to enjoy the fun too.

Sadly, the only thing I gleaned from trying AoC is a collection of screenshots depicting my poor Necromancer stuck in various sections of Hyborian geometry, which currently reside in a desktop folder entitled, "How not to make a f**king MMO".

Warhammer Online

My initial idea for this section was to type an ellipse after every three words in order to simulate keep-siege level lag in this article. I quickly realized however, that my readers probably wouldn't appreciate that any more than I enjoyed trundling through keeps with all the speed of a morbidly obese man climbing the stairs of the roman coliseum.

I have a good computer, I swear. I can play Crysis on high settings with reasonable frame rates.  Warhammer however, repeatedly informed me that my computer was garbage or that the game was poorly designed... one of the two.

It did this by lovingly kicking me to the desktop about once an hour with all the grace and predictability of a chihuahua with ADHD. The performance issues and bugs in this game were made all the more frustrating by the fact that beneath them all, Warhammer has the potential to be a good game.

There is plenty to love about the PvP aspects, and some nice, interesting fast-pace twists on the garden-variety mash-a-mob PvE encounters. It's difficult to avoid the fact, however, that for every unique, revolutionary idea, there's a bug or two crawling on it, or else it's half-finished, half-implemented, or half-assed.

Public quests... solid idea, and yet, somewhere in the journey from idea to actualization, public quests got put through the ringer of an obtuse scoring system, which frequently awards 1st place to somebody who got blown into the PQ area by a stiff breeze with 5 seconds remaining in the quest.

Obviously, there are hidden bonus points for being an innocent bystander, and for being in the right place at the right time. Those 10-20 people who had been doing the quest for the past 15 minutes should absolutely lose out to someone who doesn't even realize that they're in the PQ area until Warhammer drops a shiny gold chest into their lap.

Sadly, the game is further dogged by it's size. Mythic was overly optimistic in the number of zones implemented for each tier. I can only conclude that Warhammer was beta tested by a bunch of rabid dogs, fighting to get at each other at every opportunity, forcing Mythic to conclude that yes, there should definitely be this many areas to World PvP in. I'm quite sure that Mythic didn't realize that it's customer base would be pansies, who promptly scooted off to scenarios and PvE the second the game was released, treating it like World of Warcraft with slightly better graphics and infinitely worse performance.

Consequently, what you were left with is the framework for a game with nobody to play it. Keep sieges, when they happened, were also plagued by performance bugs, including a particularly nasty one that would frequently cause the ENTIRE KEEP to disappear for certain players. What this would then do, is allow that player to walk into the area where the keep should be, and kill people that player shouldn't be able to even see or target.

This particular bug caused many an outcry of "Cheater! Hacker! Burn the witch!" and rightly so, except the cry should have been directed at Mythic, and not the victims of further atrocious coding. And this time, they don't even have DX10 pinup women to use as an excuse.

Rounding out the short list of problems in world PvP, and again, specifically in keep sieges, is the sheer fact that the game can’t handle the amount of people Mythic said it could handle.  Defending a keep with 20-30 of your buddies against an onslaught of, say 50+ of the opposing faction requires a NASA supercomputer, precognition, or the ability to process the other 29 frames per second that you aren’t seeing via osmosis or something.

I will reiterate my computer’s adequacy before pointing out that the other 95%+ of people with worse specs and more patience will blithely twiddle their fingers and preach about lowering this or that setting, when the fact remains that the graphics aren’t good enough to warrant a configuration file that looks like a redacted court document in a high profile legal case.

The animations, if you can call them that, are buggy and lackluster, and frequently crash headlong into themselves, making characters do odd sorts of dance routines, spasms and herky-jerky movements for every single ability you use. Titles are pointless fluff, PvP gear is, in almost all cases, far worse than the comparable gear obtained from PQs or dungeons and frequently itemized to give you excesses of whatever stat your class does NOT need. Yes, thank you, I would love some weapon skill on my mage staff, where do I sign up for that? In conclusion, you have a game marketed as a PvP (*cough* RvR) game, with little to no incentive to engage in PvP. I am left hoping that somebody was fired for that.

Warhammer, while a far cry better than Age of Conan, suffered as Conan did, from massive overhyping and the drooling ravings of fanboys still embroiled in DaoC, it’s distant ancestor. While there is enough promise to warrant my checking it out again in a year or two, I’d imagine by then, the community will be drying up. There are, after all, already server mergers.

Stay tuned for Part Two, coming soon.