Looking over the previous instalments of this column, I'm feeling happy. It appears as if Star Wars: The Old Republic managed to grab my attention for quite some time now. I felt nostalgia when I leveled my character through zones that I know better than the inside of my own pockets. I felt excitement playing through story chapters I didn't experience before. I felt comradery in the game's flashpoints (dungeons, for the uninitiated), I felt joy finding the odd group of roleplayers playing out their plots in public cantinas... I felt it all, and it was nice.
There's another feeling, though; a feeling that usually slips in after about three months in every MMORPG that I've played in the last decade. Fatigue. That dreaded word, the killer of subscriptions, the dwindler of playerbases.
“It's not you, it's me.”, I want to say. Because it's really not SW:TOR's fault. Or is it? I think many of you fine people can relate when I describe the feeling of MMORPG fatigue as something that creeps in slowly and almost unnoticeable. One day you just feel a little bit less like logging in. The next day, you feel ever so slightly more like not logging in. It's a very gradual, very slow, but most often also very terminal process. Our friends may keep us in the game, at which point our game of choice becomes more like a WhatsApp conversation with 3D avatars and costumes. At face value, when this process happens, it seems like the game we're losing interest in itself has nothing to do with it. After all, it's only natural to tire of entertainment products after having spent a lot of time with them.
After pondering my fatigue for a while, I've come to the conclusion that it's not as simple as the last paragraph suggests. SW:TOR and MMORPGs in general ARE to blame for when our fatigue sets in, and for how quickly it tends to set in as well. I am in no way angry at the game, but I'm now convinced that it's the refusal to let go of World of Warcraft's formula that is making us MMORPG addicts let go of MMO after MMO, year after year. Few of them dare to tread outside the genre's established conventions, which inevitably leads to our brains eventually noticing the repetition. What does a brain do when it notices repetition? That's right, it goes “nah, I'm good, I'm outta here.
Let's use SW:TOR as an example then. The game's dungeons are very interesting from a story perspective, but they're also the 384th (I haven't counted, please don't kill me) iteration of 'instanced linear tunnel with big bad at end who drops loot'. SW:TOR's planets are beautiful, even after all those years. Yet in the end, they're the quintessential theme park zone. Nothing changes, nothing develops. After you've completed the quests on each planet, there's little reason to ever roam their landscape again. Crafting is very useful, and constructing your own lightsabers and armour is satisfying. Yet, the items you craft are the very same items everyone else is crafting too. A quick shout-out to Star Wars: Galaxies at this point. Now THAT game had a crafting system to die for.
Anyway! You can probably already see where I'm going with this. I even understand why most MMORPGs are timid when it comes to trying to re-invent the wheel. Those who tried, failed, after all. Now, Ashes of Creation is on the horizon, promisi... wait... Ashes of Creation. That's it, isn't it. That's the reason why I'm feeling that fatigue. Ashes of Creation is teasing to be that new amazing thing with dynamic zones, dynamic cities, dynamic classes, dynamic everything. It has gotten into my brain. It's happening again.
The hype took over my brain. I look at what is to come, and what I have already seems so insignificant compared to it. I should know better than that by now. How many times did the new kid on the block promise to be the second coming of [insert your favourite deity here], but turned out to be just another kid with no clue? How many times do I need to get disappointed before I learn? Why am I allowing myself to be so hyped?
Probably because the MMORPG world is in need of an upheaval. A good old revolution. Maybe Ashes of Creation is what we need. Unfortunately (for me), that doesn't change the fact that even if it isn't, it's already ruining my SW:TOR enjoyment. I've been there, I've done that. It's all going to be fine. All I have to do is to forget Ashes of Creation exists until the game is actually out, and try to appreciate what I have in the meantime.