The Genre

December 8, 2008 by Tim

If we could get a truly great Batman game, a game that finally does the World’s Greatest Detective some justice, I will be a happy camper.

In other news… I’ve fallen back into league with that unsympathetic digital juggernaut, the devourer of time and self-respect. It’s not that I consider it the best use of my energy. It’s more that feeling that, once you’ve disconnected from the Matrix, seen the real world, seen the ruin that the robots have made of other MMOs, you just need to plug back in. Pretend you haven’t seen it, pretend you’re eating real steak, because the alternative is too depressing.

It frustrates me a little that, even though newer MMOs come up with great new ideas, nice new graphics, nice new everything, they still cannot manage to compete with World of Warcraft. Take Warhammer Online, for instance. I loved WAR. It wasn’t a perfect game, but what it did well, it did really well. And there was a lot of it. There was a lot to do, a lot to participate in, a lot of different ways to level.

And then you’re in there, and you see everyone doing the exact same thing, playing it the exact same way as every other MMO, grinding and rushing to max level. There was some myth circulated that “the game didn’t truly begin until level 40.” What?

So you’d be wandering through all of this available content, the Open RvR, the public quests, etc… and it would be barren. You’d maybe see another person or two once an hour or so. Sometimes you’d get a group of people into a PQ, or find some active Open RvR, and it was incredibly enjoyable… but then it’d be right back to the ghost-town.

Did you know there are dungeon instances in WAR? Most people don’t, and most people will never experience one, because the game doesn’t hand-hold you to the door with the promise of “uber loots”. They were there to be found by explorers, but even when you did find them, getting a group together for one was a challenge all on its own.

And so no matter how much you love a game, it becomes really hard to argue with logging in and seeing nobody around, especially when the whole point of MMOs is to play with other people. Age of Conan is in a state of slow collapse. Tabula Rasa, which was a good game (although a bit repetitive) with a (thankfully fresh) sci-fi setting, is now shutting down. WAR is not doing nearly as well as it needs to be, and is now doing server merges, which are often the first steps down a slippery slope to collapse.

I’m not blaming the developers, I’m not blaming the players for “not playing the game correctly” and I’m not even blaming WoW for being too damn successful. But I can’t help but wonder wether the MMO market would be a healthier place if World of Warcraft didn’t have the stranglehold it did. If more games would get a chance to thrive and evolve, much as WoW has (it is a far better game now, with far more features, than it was its first year). As it stands now, if an MMO doesn’t launch strong and perfect and stay that way, there’s often no chance for a second impression. The damage is done, as they say.

I don’t even think WoW could have survived if it had to launch against itself today.

And WoW is not a bad game, by any stretch, of course. It clearly does plenty right, to experience the success that it does. It is not without its own problems (don’t even get me started on how Death Knights have just totally fucked battleground balance in its sore, fragile rectum). But overall, it’s an enjoyable game. There is a lot to do, and more importantly, there are a lot of people to do it with. I can generally count on, when we log on, finding a group to do whatever.

Maybe it’s surrender, giving into the huge machine rather than struggle for forty-five minutes just to put together a group in some other barren game.

I’d be lying if I said that was the only reason for returning to World of Warcraft, and in the interest of full disclosure, my significant other is also a driving force for me. She enjoys WoW, and I, above all else, enjoy playing MMOs with her. Still, my declining interest in MMOs with declining player bases is a force unto itself, and would probably happen regardless.

The state of the genre causes me some concern though. With the upcoming Star Wars: Old Republic game, one has to wonder: if a franchise like Star Wars can’t stand up to World of Warcraft, what hope would anyone else have?

Though, we are talking about Star Wars here. There is a very real possibility that I’d latch on to that MMO and ride it straight into the ground, if that’s what it came to. Hell, I’d probably still play Star Wars Galaxies if they hadn’t NGE’d it in the face.

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