The MMO scales

August 26, 2011 by Tim

Over the past couple of months, and the past few video game/electronics tradeshows, I’ve noticed a weird shift in balance taking place amongst my interests in some upcoming games. Slowly but very surely, I am finding myself more intrigued and more excited by Guild Wars 2 than I am by The Old Republic.

When TOR was first announced, and over the past couple of years of news, I always felt it was a given that I’d play the game… in fact since I said farewell to World of Warcraft for the last time earlier this year, I’d always planned that TOR would be the next MMO that I really got into, and started a CAD guild in. And I’m certainly still going to play, I pre-ordered my copy the day they went on sale, and I may even start that guild.

However the more I see of the game, the less “wowed” I am. It’s feeling like once you get past the glossy coating of “Star Wars”, and the idea of having a great Bioware story effort with complete voice-acting, all that’s left underneath is… an MMO that looks to be shaping up like every other MMO out there. And to be honest… sort of a clunky one, at that.

I love the graphics, in screenshots. But I can’t be the only one who watches video of these battling Jedi and thinks that the animation looks incredibly stiff and stilted. It’s even worse when this gameplay footage follows some of the CGI cinematics they’ve been producing for this game. Cinematics which are far more gorgeous and entertaining, and feel far more like Star Wars than most of the prequel movies did. And then you watch the actual gameplay, and it doesn’t seem to have any of that soul.

I’m sure gameplay will be just fine, but I’m sure of that because it’s the same stuff we’ve seen in 90% of the MMOs that have come out since WoW dominated the market. It doesn’t look bad, but at the same time it doesn’t look like it’s going to do much to push the genre forward.

Fully scripted storylines and hundreds ofthousands of lines of voice-acting are all well and good, and I’m really looking forward to that experience… but that sort of thing is going to end up accounting for such a small portion of the player’s overall time in the game. Inbetween those NPC interactions, you’re going to be out grinding mobs, running dungeons and raids, etc, just like in every other MMO.

Guild Wars 2, on the other hand, looks gorgeous in its own right. It still brings story and character to the table… perhaps not on a Bioware level, but seemingly moreso than a lot of MMOs these days.

However on top of that, they’re bringing a lot of new or improved game systems to the table. They’re trying new things, they’re trying to push the envelope. In a lot of cases, they’re trying to pare down some of the “standard MMO stuff” that has always been there, but really doesn’t need to be.

If you pick up a new kind of weapon, you have one ability for that weapon. You don’t need to go back to town to a trainer, or buy a skill book to get new skills… you just use the weapon. Use it for a little while, and you gain a new skill for that weapon. Keep using it, gain a third. It makes sense, it’s natural, it eases you into the learning the new weapon.

They’re even attempting to make dying a more entertaining and interactive experience. Instead of simply being killed, players are put into a downed state with limited function, similar to the “Fight for your Life!” in Borderlands. If you kill an enemy while downed, you rally, bringing yourself back into the fight.

It’s these types of changes to the standard MMO formula that are pushing Guild Wars 2 to the top for me. While I’m excited for TOR, a game like Guild Wars 2 feels like a game I could stick with.

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