Massively multi-player role playing games have, with very few exceptions, a standard motif. You create a character, complete a few “orientation” or introductory quests, and are then left to your own devices. Thousands of boring and repetitive quests combine with your character having complete lack of any perceivable impact or even place within the background story to encourage a kind of hamster like behaviour. You run in your little questing “wheel”, seeking levels or gear to help you continue to run in that wheel. Your long term goal: running in the wheel long enough and fast enough to eventually jump to the big, shiny end game hamster wheel of raid content. Raiding is where you get to spend all of your time staring at a wall, or the back end of some other person’s character, for hours on end as you beat some giant monster to get more shiny gear so you can do the next bigger raid. Most people don’t even read the story associated with each quest, and in many MMOGs that is a blessing: the stories are vanishingly thin and comically trivial. They have to be, since your character has no impact on the world whatsoever.
Star Wars: the Old Republic (SWtOR) breaks out of that motif. It plays more like a single player RPG, where your character is the hero of his or her own story. Other players and “group” dungeons (flash points, operations, and Heroics in SWtOR parlance) certainly exist, but the personal story your character is playing through is paramount. It is a refreshing and welcome change, even though the basic mechanics of the game are otherwise pretty traditional.
I have caught a number of episodes of The Guild, a web-based video series since it first appeared a year or so ago. Imagine a soap opera based on the web-camera confessions of a young woman geek who is a member of a massively multiplayer online game guild, and you have the basic idea.
Recently The Guild has started going a bit “big time”, with announcements that Wil Wheaton is going to be appearing in some episodes of this upcoming season and now… a music video.
I kind of have a little crush now on Felicia Day… shhh, don’t tell Irene.
Grinding: all massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs) have it. Some more than others, but it is always there. Go forth and slay 50 rats. Collect 10 copper pieces, 32 rat pelts, 19 rat tails. Turn in same. Repeat 245 times. Graduate to killing skeletons. Repeat 895 times. Ding! You leveled! Now go forth and slay 2,655 ghouls…. It is like factory work, but without the pay cheque. In fact, we actually pay someone else for the privilege of doing this, and call it “entertainment”.
You’d think we’d hate it, that these types of games would never catch on, yet tens of millions of players log in every day, strap on their virtual swords, and head out to slay another few thousand denizens of the countryside in pursuit of the elusive level. Every new massively multiplayer online game that comes out perpetuates the grinding “feature”. It is weird, doubly so because I seem to be afflicted by the same behavioral quirk as all the millions of people playing MMOGs. There has to be some reason why…
I’ve been playing massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs) more or less since the genre got its name: about 1996. In that time I’ve played at least ten different games of this type: I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the horrendous. And I’m aware that MMOGs face a tremendous challenge beyond just the initial appeal of the first few weeks of play: they have to somehow capture and hold the players attention for years. And when those years have passed, it is nearly invariable that even the best game will end up being remembered by its flaws and disappointments rather than its strengths.
Thus it is that any review of a MMOG is purely a “point in time” perspective. And at this point in time, after about two weeks of play, I can say that Age of Conan is a brilliant game. I can not remember a MMOG that, from day one of its launch, performed so well or impressed me so much.
I recently mentioned to my nephew, more or less in passing, that the Age of Conan massively multiplayer game was about to ship. I expected this to result in a “ho hum” sort of response: both he and I have become somewhat jaded over the years from consuming a half score or so different online roleplaying games in the last decade. We play EQ2, there are other decent games, but nothing worth getting excited about.
I played World of Warcraft a couple of years ago when my Nephew and family decided to check it out. I didn’t mind it, but was just starting to get into EQ2 when we moved and so it was a bit frustrating in that regard. Within a month or two we moved back to EQ2 and have stayed there since.