Over the weekend I visited Snowdonia in Wales. Over two days we climbed Glyder Fawr and Glyder Fach (known as The Glyders) as well as the ever popular Snowden. I’ve always enjoyed walking - just to explore - and only took up mountaineering recently. While the ascent and descent of each mountain was long and arduous (around 7 hours) the summits made them all worthwhile. To reach the top and look out over the world below, especially on a clear day, is truly breathtaking.
We were fortunate in the fact that the weekend saw clear skies and not a drop of rain, resulting in cloud formations at the summit that no written word or photograph can ever truly describe. It has to be seen to be felt (if that’s the right way to describe such a sight) and I can honestly say nothing has ever shocked me as much: you simply can’t prepare yourself for it.
On the climb down some of the people I walked with were idly chit-chatting about what the other does for a living and talk soon turned to me. My good friend who travelled with me kindly shouted up. “He sits on his arse all day playing computer games!” and while it got a good laugh, it’s not too far from the truth but it did lead to further questions, with one person asking if I’d ever seen such a view. The honest answer is no, but I have seen something truly spectacular worlds in the MMO’s I’ve played. I wasn’t quite going to rush to tell them that (honestly, they’d have thought I was insane) but it’s certainly the truth.
Video games can invoke a huge range of emotions - that is undeniable. While the MMO might lack some of the storytelling polish single-player titles can provide, its ability to “wow” with its bosses and scenery is up there with the best. If it’s one thing the genre thrives on - and fundamentally survives with - is its ability to create a world that’s truly wonderful to explore. Not all MMOs offer vistas that take your breath away, but I’ve certainly played some that do.
Northern Wilds in WildStar, Cursed Shore in Guild Wars 2, The Frontiers in Dark Age of Camelot and Feralas in World of Warcraft all made me excited to explore. They might not have all had visual punch in comparison to others, but this was often made up by the fact they were soaked in atmosphere or had particular sections that were exceptionally well designed. They gave me the wow factor and although many have now been surpassed - certainly with the beauty Black Desert offers - in that moment, they blew me away.
While no game that I’ve played has come close to the beauty of the real world (no surprise there) they unquestionably have the potential. My frustration however, certainly with the recent crop of MMO’s, is the fact everything is so heavily focused on small independent zones with unique biomes. We’re obsessed with packing zones full of content, with boundaries that are clearly visible, you lose any sense of wonder. When you know a zone is X wide and Y tall, there’s an instant lack of gratification to exploring because you know that you’ll soon hit a loading wall, or that you’ll be railroaded away from the borders.
For all the faults that World of Warcraft has, it has to be praised for its approach in how it created landmasses. It may have had the odd loading screen here and there but for the most part, there is a wondrous world to explore without limitation. Zones seamlessly lead from one to the next and while there’s still a far too greater use of forcing biomes down our throat, it remains a gratifying experience to simply soak in the landscapes.
My hope - certainly for any MMO on the horizon - is that developers go back to providing a world that’s genuinely worth exploring. It doesn’t have to be littered with landmarks and I don’t need to be told where to go for a good view (Guild Wars 2’s vistas: how I hate you). Simply providing a world that stretches out over the horizon, without an abundance of loading screens to limit my perception of possibility, would be a brilliant start. Better still, can we accept that sometimes there doesn’t have to be anything ‘out there’, in order for us as players to find enjoyment.
Do loading screens bother you in MMO’s? What is your favorite MMO location? Are you happy to simply explore without the need for something to be there? Let me know!