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Monday, 1 April 2013

My trial and error with MMOs


 I must admit that it's hardly my place to speak of MMOs since I'm not in the range of their tractor beam (or "taget market" how some would say), but I do feel the need to dissect my experience with this type of game. So feel free to comment, rectify and even scold, if you find the need to do so, but remember that this is only an expression of my opinion.
Starting with a bit of my history as an MMO player, I have to mention that I have not started with Ultima Online or Warcraft Orcs and Humans as many of my age did. When those came out I was around the age of ten. No, I started my first quest with RuneScape, one of the most mediocre titles of 2001. Why RuneScape? Three reasons: 1. accessibility, because the game was browser based, running on java; 2. it was free, need I say more? and 3. because it somehow reminded me of Nox, one of my favorite games to date, or it was so probably because I needed something fresh - but still familiar - after a few playthroughs of Nox. But RuneScape showed me what an mmorpg is, with both good and bad. Those factors that drove me away from this type of games are still there, altered or the same, but they still exist. Of course, once in a while I come back, but they still never draw me in.

You're probably wondering whether I bothered with the likes of WoW, Rift or EVE Online. I would probably have a better time with those, than other MMOs I tend to… try, but they are very time consuming, besides having a monthly subscription. My thing with any kind of subscriptions is the same with my everlasting ponder of whether I should buy PS Plus or not. Yes, it comes with free games and it's cheaper as opposed to just internet access, I know. Obviously, I'm not against subscriptions, I don't see them as a moral issue, like DLCs for example. You actually pay for a place on the server, for a service that you can use or not. And that's my personal problem: what if I don't have enough time. It's like paying for cable and not using your TV for a week. "Well, use it!" you might say. Yeah, but I am highly unproductive when I'm playing games, any kind of games. So there's that. Time… I have played through a lot of MMOs in my gaming life, I've spent hundreds of hours, but I have never level-capped on any one of them. I always leave when I get bored and come back to them after a while.

 Aside from the "management" side of the story, I'm delving into technicals. This is the fun part. What I hate and what I love about MMOs.

- Controls. Those damned controls. Just get them right, you frickin' sadists! I have nothing against isometric view rpg controls or when they're done right with third person view, like Dragon Age Origin's style, but Star Wars The Old Republic is the most annoying game with most awful rpg controls I've ever encountered. And I've played both KotOR game. But I did love how Cryptic implemented the "shooter" controls on some of their games, noteworthy Star trek Online and Champions Online. I also had the pleasure of playing one beta weekend of Neverwinter and found the controls intuitive and the combat visceral. I also loved the combat in Vindictus and most space sim battles in any MMOs that have those are engaging and entertaining. For a while… and here's our next entry.

- Repetitiveness. There's no way around this. There are a lot of good games out there that try to diversify the world a bit, but it seems like it's so hard. You go to the quest giver, take on a quest to kill 10 enemies, come back to get reward, and some of these quests repeat throughout the game. Sure, single player only games like Mass Effect or Assassin's Creed have their share of repetitive missions, but at least they're means to an end. At least put some nice shiny shoes there so I must loot, and most of the time you get nothing but the "satisfaction" of grinding. That's pointless XP farming. And then there's that stinkin' boss fight that usually transforms into a trial and error fest. Well, at least they give me the option to skip/drop them if I'd like to.

- PvE and PvP. Multiplayer within a multiplayer how I use to call them. I get the guild part, sometimes it is much more fun to complete a mission with buddies, but those PvE missions are annoying as hell, much like a huge co-op in the bowls of Hell. Also, I have never encountered a well balanced PvP match within an MMO. It's probably just me, but I tell you why I think that is: 

- Micro-transactions. Practically pay-to-win or pay-to-show-off. If you pay your way through a game it doesn't make it more fun, just much more easy. At least that's what I think. Then there's a DLC or an expansion pack that you must pay to play, which makes the game only part free, but what do I know. Cryptic had a great idea with The Foundry for some of its games, which consists in players creating content for players, quests that earn you points and loot, basically like Steam's Workshop, and I have to admit that some creations are really impressive.
- Story. Some games have too much amount of lore, yet lack in the story department, like Star Trek Online or Dungeons & Dragons. This happens especially to games that have less production value and free to play games, but it happens to bigger houses too. Star Wars TOR has a good story, at least good to follow, but it seems like it never pushes forward. I'm not hoping for a perfect voice cast, but at least give me a reason to care about what I'm doing. As usual, Bioware has the upper hand here. They have the money and they have a shadow of their former self. We have to give them credit for that. The story is an important part of a game to me, since I'm more of a single player (co-op at most) myself. Even in MMOs I mostly run through the game solo or with AI companions, seeking whatever adventures I can find, without interacting with other players. It's not that I'm not social, it's because I want to play a damn game. But it all comes down to missions and leveling up…
Wait… Oh no, there's a poor soldier that needs me to do his job or gather 5 mushrooms for him while he stands there motionless with his thumb up his bum! Better get those 30 points, 10 credits and a used shirt that I so desperately need to wipe my butt with. Oh boy! Hey, look out, those wretched villains made camp just a few feet from you, conveniently right outside your field of view. You want me to engage them into a fight? Why bother, right? There'll be others to magically appear right in that exact same place. Some experience points might do me some good though. Now, which button do I push again?