Fighting Talk: Old vs New MMOs Part IV
As Chesney Hawk once wailed, it's the final countdown. Once and for all we can as a community categorically state just which is better: old or new MMORPGs. Oh sure people may question your right to such a statement but do not worry, just tell them that Adam Tingle, High lord of MMORPG.com's Fighting Talk, told you so.
Hello and welcome back to the fourth and final edition of Fighting Talk: Old vs. New. I can already sense the feverish excitement about you all. Today we will discover once and for all just which generation of MMORPG is the best. I have nothing left to say except: good luck, god bless and let's get ready to ruuuuumble! for the last time.
I seem to remember building a homely little log cabin in Ultima Online. Within my comfy abode was a bed, a couple of chairs and maybe one or two pieces of art adorning the walls - all built by my hand of course. Chopping wood for skill points was a lonely existence but coming home to this place, free of bears and wolves, well, it was virtual bliss until a Rogue type moved next door with a monstrosity of a two story building. My lawn was shot, my view was destroyed, and it took all my willpower not to go round and cause a scene with my neighbor. Eventually I moved on, sick of his constant expansions and loud parties. I never did find a better location for my log cabin.
Did older generation games do fluff better? One thing that I generally concede is that newer games seem to master the art of side distraction but in analysing and thinking back, older games were quite efficient in this area. I remember days spent fishing of Qeynos piers on the advice that a ruby may be caught. I remember spending hours decorating my instanced apartment in Anarchy Online. In essence, fluff in MMORPGs hasn't moved forward, only the way it is presented.
Like everything in older MMORPGs, immersion was prevalent. If you built a home in Ultima, everyone could see it; if you decided to craft a chair and place it against a nice river bed, well that was your choice. Fluff in earlier games wasn't simply to distract you from the toil to the level cap, it was to immerse you even more into the experience: This wasn't a game you were playing remember. This is a virtual, living world that you existed within.
While certain games such as EverQuest didn't do much in the way of side-distraction, it could be argued that players made their own fun. I remember players who would sell certain items setting up shops every week at a specific place and time. There was a sense of total immersion that instanced neighborhoods and appearance armor sets just do not capture. Perhaps I am a deluded nostalgic wreck but I can't help but feel that developers have destroyed player-driven immersion and such pursuits.
Older games also had different languages to learn and a multitude of pointless skills that could be achieved. I remember learning a great deal of Ogre just for the heck of it. When you think about it, it really puts to shame Blizzard's impenetrable Alliance/Horde language barrier. So was fluff in earlier games good and if not better than newer games? In my opinion it was at least the same if not a tad more ambitious with fully persistent player creations and the like. 8/10
Yet again we return to that old bittersweet friend of "accessibility". Fluff in newer games in introduced via quests, tips, advice, and any other way possible. I have to admire that everyone can enjoy the side-distractions introduced in newer games. However, it seems that it all just seems so pointless. Take for instance housing in Lord of the Rings Online. The game itself seems to lack any real need for housing so most of the time neighborhoods are empty. The way the genre has progressed, elements such as housing has seemingly become unnecessary and only attractive to the MMORPG equivalent of achievement junkies.
I think the major difference between fluff now and then is the overall immersive element to it. In older MMORPGs a house was built because it was a way of furthering your belief in the fantasy. These days it's just an extensive trophy collection. The whole argument really comes down to a sort of simulator vs. game argument. While newer MMORPGs are great games, they are essentially just games, there is no element of real depth or emulation of a virtual world and this in effect makes fluff in newer games ultimately meaningless.
Aside from my gripes with overall need for fluff in newer games, this element is well catered for. The list of possibilities is endless from NCSoft's player shops to Xbox Live inspired achievements in WoW. MMORPGs of recent days have oodles of fluff and side distractions to sate your appetites above and beyond grinding to the level cap.
The big question however, is thus: Is fluff better in newer or older games? Well I would have to go with the latter. While there are a myriad of things to do in newer games, it all just feels meaningless. Nothing really adds to the interest or immersion of your character; every side-distraction is now simply a mini-game akin to popping MMORPG bubble wrap. While there is definitely more of it, there isn't anything astonishingly different and definitely nothing as ambitious. 5/10
And so we get to my most hated element of the MMORPG genre. End Game in earlier MMORPGs was essentially at its core not much different to games now. Things were definitely harder to organize and execute. However, raiding in somewhere like the Planes of Fear was essentially similar to raiding in any dungeon in a newer MMORPG. The only real difference was that older games didn't really have the theme park linear path element to them. Players bunched together in regimented groups and the adventure that followed usually involved a dragon of some sort. Was it really so dissimilar?
There is a big issue of player retention these days and end game is all important, but I am firmly of the belief that this wasn't a massive issue back a few years ago. Of course it is important to note that I am not a hardcore end game raider so whatever I say could be complete hogwash. Back in the day it seemed to me that players were not hurtling towards the finish line or trying desperately to conquer the game. MMORPGs of the past were seemingly played on their own terms. There were no honor junkies or epic gear hoarders in the same manner of today. Gamers just seemingly wanted to experience the more stunning elements of the high-end of the game and this usually involved a constant stream of expansions and one or two dragons.
I could be completely wrong but I still believe there was a real element of exploration and immersion to everything. While WoW offers a small number of 25-man raids, games such as EverQuest and Anarchy Online offered hundreds similar experiences. One day you could enter a dungeon unknown to many and the next you could be in the bowels of a familiar place fighting a newly placed epic boss. There wasn't a sense that this was just the end of the game, players still carried on as they always had: Adventuring through the unknown. This was what the genre was about, exploration and immersion in a virtual world.
Of course this could all be blind nostalgia and the end game of the past was terrible but, in my opinion, this element of the game reflected the whole experience. It was immersive, it was adventurous and not at any point did it feel like an endless grind for more stats, more achievements, and more loot. 9/10
Something really irks me about newer MMORPGs end game. Perhaps it is the obsessive compulsive element of collecting and endlessly grinding or maybe it is just a sense of hate towards those who boast of 700 strength points and 25,000 DPS. Who knows? One thing is for sure, the end game of any MMORPG on the market currently is all important and ultimately game breaking.
More so than ever, end game is the be-all and end-all of the genre. The journey to the level cap is now but a minor footnote to the skirmishes, raids and whatever other pursuits are on offer at the highest level. Is this a good thing? Well for myself I find it a bore but for others this is the height of MMORPG gaming.
So obviously we have games such as World of Warcraft which offer raids for loot, boasting rights but also story if you are such inclined. Most games take WoW's approach and copy-and-paste wholesale, which is disappointing seeing how it isn't so different from earlier games. Turbine's Lord of the Rings Online has an interesting end game in that the title still hasn't reached the mid-point in the journey so most raids and other such activities are story driven. Another positive of this is that free expansions, known as Books, are available at regular intervals and this drives the end game away from being stale.
Ultimately the end game of newer MMORPGs just isn't that different from the older generation. Things are definitely more accessible, which is a positive in this regard, and you will not have to spend twelve hours to complete a 25-man raid. With all this said however, has the genre really progressed enough and captured not only the excitement of earlier games but also struck out in its own right? No, not really. Essentially this is the same old beast parading around in snazzy visuals and a better UI. 7/10
And finally the last category of this epic battle. Player versus player divides audiences of the genre. You either love the excitement of invisible dice roll battles or hate it. PvP in earlier games was something quite under-developed for the most part. However, one game stood alone and towered above the rest, and ultimately still does. That game was...Hello Kitty Island Adventure.
Just a bit of last category humour for you there. Of course I am talking about the Goliath that was and still is Dark Age of Camelot. DAoC is a game so brilliantly addictive and excellent that thousands of war mongering Athurites take the battlegrounds and bludgeon, stab and magic one another to death. For many this game still hasn't been topped in terms of PvP and for the most part I would agree.
The only problem with most older MMORPGs was that most of their PvP systems were not developed enough. EverQuest, for instance, had a number of factional wars but its PvP didn't extend much further than arena battles and the odd active PvP server. With that said however, Eve Online offers the greatest PvP this side of a galaxy, far, far, away. My thoughts are divided on whether the latter game is pre 2003 or post. While it was released in 2003 it is definitely part of the high profile MMORPGs of today and I do seem to remember its reception was horrible to begin with and it has spent the best part of seven years continually improving. The jury is still out on that one.
To conclude, most PvP in older games wasn't all that great, however, Dark Age of Camelot is one of the great PvP centric games ever conceived. For the sake of one, groundbreaking game, older MMORPGs hold their own in PvP stakes. 8/10
MMORPG players of present are constantly urged to engage in virtual battle with others. From the charmingly humorous lands of Azeroth to the sexually ambiguous plains of Atreia, PvP is important to any game of the genre. Players are eased into the experience via quests and even rewarded via points and other such systems. This element of game play has never been so popular and widely used, however, is it better than games of a decade past?
I think the answer would be a half-hearted "I suppose so" followed by a mumble and a shuffle of the feet. It's not that recent games are rubbish at this aspect; it's that it simply isn't as good as it should be. Dark Age of Camelot set out its brutal roots almost ten years ago and nothing really has beaten it into submission yet. Warhammer Online surely has its moments but for the time that has elapsed since the aforementioned game, it's just not good enough.
With that being said, newer games such as WoW have really brought the experience to the mainstream so that now you can boast to school friends and work colleagues about how you "kicked their bitch-ass" the previous night without feeling like a sociopath. I for one enjoy the accessibility that developers have brought to this element (which is ironic as I rage against this for the most part).
In short, PvP in newer games is good, no scratch that, it's great, but, it's probably only on a par with the lands of Camelot. With a little more ambition and bravery from developers, we could see something really special with the slight advancements made in this area. However, as it stands, it's not that different from Mythic's classic. 8/10
And finally, we can now all relax. Punches have been traded, blood has been shed, and answers have been sought. I can finally announce which generation of MMORPG is better. It is time to go over to the judges. Old MMORPGs 92 - 78 New MMORPGs!
So there we have it, the older generation is the victor by a fourteen point margin. Surprised? Angry? Elated? Whatever the emotion running through your brain box, rest assured, you can vent them all in the forums below.
It is important to note that these articles are simply my opinions and thoughts. I do not expect anyone to totally agree and I actually enjoy hearing other people's views and thoughts on the genre. As we are all here in mutual love and adoration of this genre, I like the fact that we all enjoy these games in different ways. For myself, immersion is key. I revelled in the virtual world created in earlier games and see the accessibility and overall gameness of newer MMORPGs to be a betrayal of the genres roots. However, I am willing to accept that people think different and for that, I salute your opinions entirely. Nothing is left for me to say but thank you for time, perseverance, and soon-to-come insults/praise.