Current Score: New MMOs 23 - Old MMOs 21
Try to be best 'cause you're only a man and a man's gotta learn to take it. Try to believe when the going gets rough that you gotta’ hang tough to make it. History repeats itself try and you'll succeed. Never doubt that you’re the one and you can have your dream. You’re the best around! Nothing is gonna’ ever keep you down! You're the best around! Nothing is gonna’ ever keep you down! You're the best around! Nothing is gonna’ ever keep you dow-ow-ow-ow-own!
This week we jump straight back into the four-part Battle Royale that has sent shock waves through online forum communities everywhere. After Part I, at the break, new MMORPG’s were leading by a slender lead; can they maintain their momentum? Will the golden oldies of the genre hit back with false tooth and cane? Like always, grab your buttocks with reckless abandon, grab a hard drink, and prepare for the linguistic slaughter that is about to unfold. Let’s Get Ready To Ruuuuuuuuuumble (Again)
The rain beats hard upon my back, the sun disappeared hours ago. My only lifeline for survival is the illuminated Moonstone in my backpack and the sword I wield by side. I have been wandering the countryside for hours upon hours, like Duran Duran I am “Hungry like the wolf” and ironically in search of wolves. To gain level 22 it seems that I have two choices: find companions and slay goblins in a basement, or alternatively brave the wilderness in search for green, blue and yellow considered wolves.
Solo playing in older MMORPG’s was all about one thing: grind. Whether it was Asheron’s Call, Anarchy Online or EverQuest, chances were, if nobody was about, you would take yourself to a suitable zone and abuse the local wildlife. Of course games such as Dark Age of Camelot did bring a quest system about in the form of “kill x of y” but ultimately there wasn’t much to proceedings. Although soloing was incredibly one dimensional, the upside to all this was an incredible sense of immersion (the buzzword of the article) when venturing forth on your own. Nothing comes quite as close to hunting in deserted zones and feeling real terror as the sun set and my monitor’s incapability’s to handle gamma set the screen to almost pitch black.
Of course newer generation games are simply better at solo playing but there was a great sense of independence and involvement in your character. While it can seem a tad nostalgic, there is something almost magical that has been lost to quest funneling and a universal progression shared by all characters. By today’s standards, setting out into a zone and engaging in wild life genocide is archaic, however, there was something generally exciting and terrifying about playing alone. 7/10
Sadly as the genre has progressed, solo play is ultimately the fabric that makes up any MMORPG these days. During my time in WoW and AoC my only human interactions where in the form of duel requests and in the latter, rampant player killers hunting me down like a prize antelope. While I can moan and berate the fact that newer MMORPG’s seem to almost encourage solo play; I can gush and brim with praise at gameplay on offer to the lone traveler.
Possibly the greatest advancement in the modern MMORPG is that of solo adventuring. Players are now given a multitude of ways to level and gain experience and all of this makes for an entertaining and accessible game. Quests, which originated from earlier games, have finally advanced to the point of genre staple and now it would seem almost barbaric to set out into the wild without an objective at hand. Other advancements such as EverQuest 2’s achievements and Lord of the Rings Online’s deeds also add another dimension to proceedings. Rather than simply travelling towards the cap, players now can advance in different ways and this makes for engaging and multi-faceted gaming. In all, developers know how to keep the player busy.
Is there a criticism of solo playing within new games? Well it could be argued that while it has progressed leaps and bounds since the mid 2000s, it hasn’t really gone any further, yet. Newer games such as Age of Conan and Aion simply copy-and-paste the systems already in place and now questing simply feels like grind did way back when. With upcoming titles such as The Old Republic promising to deliver fresher experiences, this may well change in the coming years- as it stands now however, everything is just a little too familiar. 8/10
Dungeon Crawls & Instances
“Train!” would sound out into an over-crowded dungeon. Immediately everyone with any sense would duck and cover and those unfortunate enough to be caught unawares- they were already dead. Dungeons in MMORPGs of yore were hotbeds of death, terror, and feverish excitement. The best way to describe places such as Blackburrow would be akin to a copper mine: the constant threat of death and the unstable behavior of mobs would see everyone clearing out periodically until the atmosphere was safe once again. Am I sexing the descriptions up in the name of nostalgia? I don’t think so.
Back in the old days, to die in an MMORPG was not just a jolly trip to a spirit healer; it was like opening a whole can of excrement covered worms. To enter a dungeon meant preparation and maturity. Everyone involved was drilled with almost military discipline. Before even thinking about entering somewhere, bind points were made, rations were stored, and maps were printed from fan sites. One slip up could spell a five hour naked corpse run and many angry interactions with people who were once your friend. Was such fear inducing adventure fun? Well yes it was and the immersion of it all was simply magical. How many of us tell tales of late night dungeon crawls from games a decade old compared to those who tell of how things got a bit hairy in Great Barrows?
The design of dungeons, while not perfect, summed up a kind of D&D influence. There was no apparent point to venturing into these places just a desire for loot, experience and exploration. One of the greatest things about old MMORPGs was the fact that nothing really had purpose; dungeons were simply there because development deemed it necessary for its virtual world. One day you could explore a dungeon with five groups already ahead of you and the next you could be on an excursion into some dark catacomb that had not been touched since launch. While they were not perfect and their design now is archaic, there was something intrinsically entertaining and immersive about the whole experience. As for the matter of instances, these didn’t really come into use until games such as Anarchy Online introduced their mission system and to be quite honest, I long to go through another dungeon to find our target camped by another group- annoying yes, entertaining and memorable? Certainly. 9/10
While I do not want to sound overly negative and like an old man wishing of past times, the newer dungeon design of modern MMORPGs just reflects the whole game. The word is “refinement” therefore gone are the pointless dead ends and rare spawns; gone are the unused and purposeless dungeons. Everything in the modern genre has an almost clinical purpose; quests are introduced as a reason to venture into such places and achievements are handed out when finished. Is this a bad thing? Not entirely, it makes for a perfect game, however, the ultra-geek within me screams for more than a game…
The dungeons and instances within newer games, it must be said, are a varied bunch. Most games sadly subscribe to Blizzard’s ethos of small linear, Disney theme dungeons. While there is nothing apparently wrong with this approach, it just saps some of the immersion and general feel. While older games delivered true excitement in their dungeons, newer games simply make it feel like some sort of mini-game. There is a definite beginning, middle and end to all of these places whereas older games simply ended when you felt you could take no more. Of course I may be sugaring the pill of older games but the whole genre seems to have taken fully to Blizzards styles and directions, as such everything is just too much of the same.
Of course there are some glimmers of hope; Vanguard and EverQuest 2 deliver massive dungeons that don’t necessarily have need for quests. And while linear is at the core of proceedings, the dungeons are still fun. I feel that I will be fighting a never ending battle between love and hate for accessibility. In earlier MMORPGs it was tough to get into dungeon crawling; you had to meet the right people and be inducted into the experience. It is not bad thing that instances are easily accessible by the click of a button and there are no mammoth texts to read before you actually know your role. Overall instances and dungeons in newer games are fun; however, they just lack that excitement and depth given to them earlier in the genre. I can’t help but think howeber, that through “refinement” and a crusade of accessibility, the genre has lost something more intelligent and immersive. 6/10
“A friend made in Guk is a friend for life” no truer words were spoken. Back in the olden days, we didn’t have Auction Houses, fancy LFG panels, and Facebook add-ons, we had organic communities that flourished and grew in the gaps that the developers left behind. Socializing within MMORPGs was as much a part of the gameplay as combat or crafting was, to experience most of the game you had to bunch together with others and as such, the genre just seemed a far friendlier place.
While in recent years developers have advanced such mechanics as group finding and trading, something has again been lost. I am not going to be a snob and say that people these days are generally immature, but, communities way back when were more like Vietnam Veterans than game players. The rigors and trials you were put through to try and enjoy the game generally produced a different climate of person, sure there were assholes but there wasn’t really anybody within the games that just loved jumping about and screaming expletives every four seconds.
Like most old curmudgeons I truly long for the camaraderie of earlier games. Such places as the East Commons Bazaar in EverQuest were a magnificent sight. It was a fully player run market that consisted of hundreds of players and a hole in the wall. Was it perfect? Certainly not, but was it immersive and magical to the newcomer? Absolutely. Developers these days go a little too far in making their games accessible to all and while this is fine, I wouldn’t expect any other genre developer to make their game easier and less in-depth all in the sake of including everyone.
It’s easy to say that older generation MMORPGs had a better class of people but the general depth of the MMORPG genre did attract a more mature audience. I still keep in touch with certain players I met while adventuring throughout Norrath and the communities are revered in memory for a reason. 10/10
We could stereotype and say that all new MMORPGs contain communities full of sugar injected, Chuck Norris joke vomiting youths. Possibly in some cases you would be right; however, there are still some fine communities littered around the landscape. Generally socializing is not as forced anymore so finding friendship can be tough. My travels through new games I have to say are very lonely affairs- and this is not because it’s any harder to forge companions, it’s just that many people play with RL friends or simply see no need in interacting in a multiplayer game.
As mentioned above, I feel that the demise of the importance of community is due to developer interference. There seems to be a general direction from the developer that feels that accessibility and refinement is the way forward. A player run market and group system is simply not efficient enough, which it probably isn’t, but once this disappears the game becomes more solo centric than it really should. I suppose the general argument here is one of Sandbox vs. Theme Park and that the genre has tended to direct itself more towards the latter. While Auction Houses and other such bells and whistles are not a bad thing, they are detrimental to building a community.
Like I said previously however, there are some great communities still out there. If you wish to socialize then guilds are the way to go and games such as EVE Online are really keeping the old-school spirit alive. In short, MMORPGs have become a lot less player driven which is a shame; however, it’s not totally broken yet. 5/10
And that is time once more. Old MMORPGs are gaining momentum and finish this round as the winners at 47-42. Join me next week as I continue to moan, groan, and berate that fact that it is 2010 rather than 2001.