It’s kind of hard to be thankful this year. Sure, some good things have happened this year, but we also have some things that, to put it politely, are unqualified messes. There’s everything around Star Wars: Battlefront II. There’s the shuttering of Master x Master and Marvel Heroes (the latter I actually flagged a year ago as being robust and healthy). There are titles like Lord of the Rings Online and ARK: Survival Evolved that have doubled down on methods to enrage players. And last but certainly not least, there’s still no sign of a sequel to the Warcraft film.
That one might be a grey area, actually.
But the year hasn’t been devoid of light, and there’s still stuff to be thankful for. So rather than being bitter and cranky about it, I want to focus on what we do have to be thankful for even while I hope for better in the future. Let’s talk about some stuff that’s good to be thankful for, even if it doesn’t tickle your particular fancy, and be a little more hopeful.
Are you ready to play the most anticipated MMORPG from 2004? It turns out that, yes, many of you are. The frenzy over World of Warcraft Classic is probably nowhere near its zenith yet, as the announcement of the server has sparked enormous amounts of conversation among the community.
While we most likely have a while to go before Blizzard’s time travel machine is complete, it is not too soon to start thinking about the logistics and reality that a legacy server will entail. The existing emulator community and a look at the past development and operation of vanilla World of Warcraft can give us an idea of what WoW Classic will be like, although Blizzard’s vision may differ in format, business model, and features.
What will it be like to jump back to the first year or two of World of Warcraft and play that version of the game? It’s going to be a drastic shock to veteran and new players alike, especially those who might have forgotten how MMOs used to operate back in the day. Here are 10 things to expect when you log in to Classic for the first time.
Did you know about all the MMOs I hate? I sure as heck didn’t! I mean, I knew there were a few games I hated (Scarlet Blade, Alganon) and some that I have pretty poor feelings toward for various reasons (Star Citizen, EVE Online, League of Legends, H1Z1: Kash of the Kow), but those are also games I discuss only in particular circumstances.
Yet thankfully, I have been informed over the near-decade of writing about MMOs that there are a number of games I thought I liked but that I do, in fact, hate. This was a surprise to me, but I think that for purposes of comprehension, it’s best for me to list for reference all the games that I apparently utterly despise. It’s all very confusing to me, but I’m confident that by sharing and making the occasional off-color joke, I’ll be able to decipher it all.
Two years ago, NCsoft dealt a harsh blow to a certain subset of gaming fans when it canned the development of Project HON. This MMO was to be a glorious exercise in mecha combat, but scandals and a decision to reallocate development resources meant that it was never to be.
So where can that kid who grew up playing with giant robots go to get a Voltron, Transformers, or Macross fix these days? While many MMOs offer the occasional mech experience, there aren’t as many games that go all-in on that Pacific Rim experience.
But in the interests of a thought experiment and because I have fond memories of slapping five metal lions together to form the ultimate defender of the universe, here are 10 online games that offered or still do offer the thrill of high-tech mech and robot warfare.
We all like making the occasional observation about the weirdness inherent in video games, but most of us also recognize that what we’re really doing is poking fun at the anthropic principle. The real reason NPCs tend to fight rather than just fleeing at the sight of us is, well, the alternative isn’t particularly fun to play. It’s part of an acceptable break from reality, and for most of us, we are willing to accept that fact with a bit of tongue-in-cheek prodding.
What I don’t see very often, though, is an appreciation of the really insane part: What all of this looks like from the perspective of the NPCs – because however many breaks from reality we accept from the game, we are the real breakers of immersion.
Consider, for a moment, that you’re an NPC. Imagine that you have full knowledge of the fact that this is a video game (there’s an old humor blog entry that sums things up nicely). Now imagine that you’re watching PCs. You would quickly come to the understanding that player characters are nuts. Why? Well…
I’m the type of player who has a stable of games that I return to from time to time, particularly when I’m looking for a dependable, enjoyable experience. I’ll stay with these games for a while until I can feel the fringe of burnout approaching and then let them go until they are needed once more.
Among these titles is a long-running favorite of mine — and an MMO that I feel is somewhat underappreciated by the larger community. The game is, of course, Star Trek Online. I was there at launch with my Del Taco cup in hand (there was a silly promotion that involved shuttles you could get from buying a soda), I’ve popped in for most of the anniversaries, and I’ve generally had a great time going through all of the featured episodes again and again while nerding out in my starship.
While I won’t argue that it is a perfect MMO or that it’s free from cash shop shenanigans, Star Trek Online does have a lot going for it that can get overlooked when players are hunting around for a reliable and slightly different gaming experience. Here’s why.
Last week, MOP’s Justin (friend to man and beast alike) posted his list of MMOs he would recommend people play. It was a pretty good list! It wasn’t the list I would have written, but that’s why we’re separate people and not a single fused mass pulling ourselves along on withered, inhuman appendages. That would cause lots of problems in our respective marriages, for one thing. Also, it’d probably render us ineligible to collect multiple paychecks.
One thing I did not ask, however, was why he didn’t include World of Warcraft as a game he would recommend, even though some of our readers wondered it aloud. I would think that the reason for that would be pretty obvious, given that it was a list of Justin’s recommendations. But because I do love being contrary, there’s a good list of reasons why no one, ever, should recommend World of Warcraft as a game to be tried. Under any circumstances. Let’s even make it a nice round dozen reasons… but then subtract two, for no good reason.
If you have ever visited the MMORPG subreddit, you probably know that one of the most frequent posts that pop up are ones asking the community for recommendations. These are players who have left a full-time game and are now fishing around for a substitute, or those who have “played them all” and are hoping that some undiscovered gem exists, or are having a difficult time finding a good game match for their preferred playstyle.
I am often leery about tossing out blanket recommendations because it’s far better to get to know a player, his or her game history, and the type of game sought before giving my opinion. But if you were to put a fish cannon to my head and threatened me with rapid-codding, I think I would be generally OK promoting the following 10 MMORPGs to most players, sight unseen.
These are MMOs that have earned my personal recommendation and are the titles that I tend to promote the most. Here we go!
MMOs are complicated. This seems like a fairly non-controversial statement; there are more or less complicated games, but they all tend to be complex as heck. I frequently cite Star Trek Online as an example of complexity run amok, where the game is significantly more complicated than it even appears to the point where the game has reworked its skill system some three separate times and it’s still difficult to understand, but even World of Warcraft has plenty of bits of complexity that aren’t really explained to new players.
Of course, it’s also been significantly simplified from its early days; who remembers Crushing Blows and 102.4% defense? Most tanks, I’d imagine.
But even seemingly straightforward systems like dungeon rewards tend to increasing complexity over time. Heck, I’ve been dealing with Guild Wars 2’s boost system with Path of Fire and found that hosting some complexity and weird exceptions when it comes to hero points and unlocking Elite Specializations. So why do MMOs tend to be so complicated, even when dealing with simple stuff? I think that’s a fun topic that I can explain in, oh, let’s say ten bullet points.
Probably my greatest and most constant gripe about fantasy MMORPGs is that for all of the freedom and imagination that this genre supposedly boasts, game designers keep going to the same boring well of tropes and limit themselves instead of exploring possibilities.
Nowhere do you see this more than in races. Dwarves and Elves? We’ve got bushels and barrels of them, all on sale at discount prices. There are regular humans, of course, and Slightly Bigger Humans, and Half-Sized Humans, and Blue Humans. But what about getting outside of this been-there-played-that cookie cutter design to offer some interesting playable choices?
Like fairies, perhaps?
I could never understand why we don’t see fairies more in MMOs. They are widely recognized in the fantasy genre, they seem to have popularity, and they even share some cross-over with Elves. But the poor fae have been unrepresented, so much so that it took a lot of digging to come up with a mere 10 MMOs that allow you to play as one, whether it be as a race or class. Let’s take a look!
Lore! Huh! What is it good for? Understanding why you’re standing in the middle of a pack of angry people with fangs in MMOs, of course. It’s the thin line dividing your actions from being reckless, indiscriminate mayhem and discriminating, careful mayhem. Lore is how you know what the world is like beyond your front door, and it’s the difference between understanding that you face Ragnaros, lord of flame or just knowing that there’s a dude here made out of fire, so you should probably use water spells on him.
All lore, however, is not created equal. There’s lore that creates a detailed, vibrant world full of people with their own hopes and dreams, and there’s lore that creates a game where you know what you’re supposed to be doing but have no idea what people do for fun afterwards aside from waiting to die. So today, we explore the tiers of lore, arranged in a numbered list because that’s the entire premise of the column. It’s not Perfect Vague Assortment of Concepts. That’s not even a column.
Every MMO tells a story through the run of its life. A lot of those stories are pretty happy, too. Ultima Online may not be the most happening place in the world right now, but its story is about launching a genre and then running for two solid decades. That’s a pretty great story. However much it’s become a tale of mismanaged expectations, World of Warcraft kind of became the most popular thing for a long while and brought in tons of new people to the hobby. Even titles with sad endings often have bright stories; the end bit for City of Heroes sucks, but everything leading up to that was a gas.
And then you have these 10 titles. These are titles where the whole story is a tragedy, start to finish, and in many cases the tragedy isn’t necessarily over, but the story is still just plain sad. There are reasons, of course, maybe even good ones, but the result is that the narrative for these titles is pretty sad all the way through.
We’re not going to argue that MMORPGs are the dominant form of media entertainment these days, but they do have endurance and a devoted following among gamers. And whenever a crowd of players have been paying into a game for a long time, it will attract the attention and interest of marketers who start wondering what else they could do to siphon off a few more bucks.
Enter “transmedia synergy,” a stupidly awesome term that represents links between two or more forms of media that are connected through the same IP. The thinking here is that fans of one of these forms of entertainment will cross over into the related media and vice-versa, growing an audience together.
Today we’re going to look at 10 experiments in transmedia synergy, for better or for worse, that have attempted to cross over from MMORPG to something else entirely. To make things more challenging, we’re not going to include novels, since we’ve already done that.