Massively Overthinking: Super wrong snap judgments of MMORPGs


The year was 2004, and the month was May. My guild was growing increasingly frustrated with Star Wars Galaxies’ slow development pace, so we hopped to this new superhero MMO that had just come out: City of Heroes. And it annoyed me. I have lovely memories of obsessing over the character builder, but in practice the actual game felt punishing, clunky, and solo-unfriendly. My guild lasted only a few months, with World of Warcraft lurking on the horizon anyway.

The thing is, City of Heroes is one of those games that changed a lot – for the better – given time. Not all games get that time, but this one did, and when my mates and I went back for Villains and AE and Going Rogue, I fell in love. I’m glad I kept going back and that the game kept evolving because my 2004 judgment was fair – but only for 2004.

For this week’s Massively Overthinking, I’ve asked our writers to reflect on their own early-vs.-late impressions of MMOs that evolved over time. When did you make super wrong snap judgments of MMOs, and where are they now?

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): World of Warcraft, like all Blizzard games, just seemed serviceable when it launched. I’d already done leveling via questing in Asheron’s Call 2, I knew about raiding from EverQuest, and I’d done three-faction PvP, so two-faction seemed super simple. The game also didn’t update every month or do live events, which my last games had. I figured people would play it for a few months and disappear back into AAA shooters and RPGs on consoles, and I’d just play for a bit with my brother.

… And that turned into a few years, couple guilds, and MMO friends hopping in too. I still feel like WoW’s biggest claim to fame was making the MMO seem more accessible for casuals rather than doing something truly unique, but clearly there was an audience wanting that. I guess you could argue that’s also what Blizzard does and probably why I always underestimate the company until I’m able to experience whatever thing it’s working on with people typically outside the project’s genre.

Andy McAdams: Final Fantasy XIV has evolved a lot from A Realm Reborn to now (I didn’t play in 1.0, but I’ve heard the horror stories). With each expansion, it seems as if SE loosens the extreme rigidity of the MSQ — it’s not gone, but it open enough now that I don’t feel like I’m being cattle-prodded onto the exact path the game wants me to follow and I can do my own thing. When ARR originally launched, that wasn’t the case, and I stopped playing because I felt so constricted in the game.

On the other side of the fence, I think it’s possible for games to start out in the right direction and veer wildly the other direction – WoW being an example. My snap judgement of WoW originally was that it was amazing and I loved it… but today’s WoW is a far cry from that.

I’m a bit of a MMO-nomad, so I bounce around and cycle through most of the big name active games. You get a unique perspective when you just assume the game has changed from whatever perceptions you had last time and give it a go again because why not? At worse, you lose a few hours of your life being frustrated with the same things? At best, you find a new digital home for a while.

Ben Griggs (@braxwolf): The first time I played Marvel Heroes I was not impressed. Having not played the Diablo series, I was not used to the movement or the isometric viewpoint, and the story felt extremely thin. It wasn’t until I watched Age of Ultron that I decided to give it another shot. By this time, the game had made several improvements based on player feedback and felt much more generous as far as gameplay options. I loved it. Part of this feeling came from the game itself and part of it came from my readiness to experience something different. Kudos to the dev team for sticking with the game and continuing to evolve and improve it over the initial iterations.

Where is it today? Well, I hope to someday understand what all went down at Gazillion, but as it stands, all I have left is fond memories.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I already gave one example – City of Heroes – so let me give another: Classic Guild Wars, and for exactly the same reasons. I found early Prophecies to be a bit of a mess, even with my dedicated crew: Henchies were a disaster, the AI was all over the place, nobody knew how to build a good toon, it was super hard to switch builds, and pugging missions was a nightmare. I didn’t go back until Nightfall was in beta, and it was like coming to a whole new game. When the beta ended, I bought Factions, powered through it, and leaped into Nightfall, staying addicted for years, long after my guildies had all wandered away. It wasn’t really a snap judgment, but I’m still glad I gave it a second chance to make memories.

Carlo Lacsina (@UltraMudkipEX): You know what’s changed a lot? Guild Wars 2. It’s totally different now, and I’m not talking in the mechanical sense either. GW2 has had such a major tonal shift over the years. Case in point: Fear Not This Night no longer conveys the feel of the game.

But every expansion tends to change the feel, though, right? Totally agree, but nothing replaced Fear Not This Night.

Over the years, the scope of Guild Wars 2’s story has expanded to more… galactic proportions. Its no longer about just Tyria; the Mists are involved now. The fear of the unknown is still there; I would really love to see a song that best represents the game’s grander scale.

Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): The Elder Scrolls Online almost immediately comes to my mind. When I first tried it out at launch, it just felt like a stale and boring game with an Elder Scrolls veneer laminated on top of it. After some time away and some time for the devs to knuckle down on what works and what doesn’t, ESO has swiftly become a favorite game of mine and a source of some of my best fantasy RPG stories.

Colin Henry (@ChaosConstant): It’s been a while since I just loved a new MMO the first time I tried it. Even Guild Wars 2, the game that I have poured more hours into than any other, didn’t click with me on the first try. At first, it was kind of a sideline game for when I felt like playing an MMO, but didn’t feel like playing whatever I was mainly playing at the time. I thought GW2’s combat was too simple at first, and I wasn’t really into the story. Nothing really changed about the game, but as I dug into it a little more, I started to see the beauty of it. Both the story and the gameplay got deeper and more fun as I progressed, and now I can’t stay away from it for long.

By contrast, when I first played The Elder Scrolls Online, I knew there was a good game in there, but I couldn’t get into it the first few times I tried. There is an overwhelming number of options to customize your character character, and I had trouble finding a class and build I liked. But over time, they’ve really shored up the game, with One Tamriel’s level scaling, in-game build suggestions, a new class (and another on the way), and generally just a lot more to do. I think the quality of life improvements were really what finally got me into the game.

I guess what I’m saying is, I try not to judge an MMO based on my first experience with it. Sometimes my first impressions are totally wrong, and sometimes they’re right, but the game improves over time.

Tyler Edwards: Knights of the Fallen Empire made me a SWTOR player when I thought that could never happen. I tried the free trial when it was still a sub game, and I found it a bland WoW clone (picking one of the worst class stories to start probably didn’t help). I tried it again after it went F2P, but the monetization turned me off almost immediately.

The refocus on story in KOTFE caught my attention, and I decided to give it one final, serious try. And with the side-quests cleared, the grind removed, and the awesome BioWare story front and center, I ended up really enjoying myself. I paid for a couple months of sub and was able to get enough unlocks to make playing without a sub bearable. Now that I understand it better, I realize SWTOR’s monetization actually isn’t that bad. It’s just super confusing and leaves a terrible first impression.

SWTOR still isn’t my favourite game ever by any means, but I did finish every class story and expansion, so it’s probably fair to say that I’ve developed an appreciation for it.

I (almost) never count out an MMO. The game I hate today could always reinvent itself as the game I love tomorrow.

Every week, join the Massively OP staff for Massively Overthinking column, a multi-writer roundtable in which we discuss the MMO industry topics du jour – and then invite you to join the fray in the comments. Overthinking it is literally the whole point. Your turn!

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I wish I had been wrong! Most MMOs I judge as being unsuitable for me and when I give them a try, I’m always proven correct.

That is because what I enjoyed most from MMOs is not what is being developed. I love deep combat mechanics, but devs are just churning out shallow action combat. I love horizontal progression as it is far better for a multiplayer environment and for building communitues, but all we ever see is massive vertical progression. I love open world, objective based pvp (fighting over keeps) but the general trend in the genre is to focus on smaller, “tightly focused” encounters and to ignore being massively multiplayer altogether.

Even the games that do come close to being suitable for me don’t stay that way for long. PvP is often ignored by the devs, but even if it isnt, vertical progression usually cuts off the supply of fresh meat because their experience of getting stomped is, naturally, really bad and so they don’t return. Deep combat systems inevitably get nerfed because the content has been designed in a linear fashion and so any encounters that require high skill levels (and thus make use of the deep combat mechanics) become barriers to low skilled players.

Kickstarter Donor

Lol, I remember Unyielding planted you in place. I was a Force Field defender and my damage was horrible so playing with a tanker in Founders Fall, I will always remember using Force Bubble to push mobs to him. Much more powerful back then but battle would suffer, basically an adamantium statue.


Rogue is in vogue for a reason.

I snapped judged on CoH due to EQ2, left swg when i was only getting started for EQ2, even WoW went marching straight back to EQ2. When you have something which clicks on every level with your play style ofc everything else is less superior.

Thanks to rogue servers i have the opportunity to make new homes as EQ2 destroyed itself trying to be like wow, it was already far superior than any mmorpg on the market and had it stayed unique, it’d probably doing fine, or possibly even better than anyone could imagine.

In a previous article about many mmo’s or one mmorpg to rule them all. Well as some know i stuck to EQ2 and that’s it.

In devoting to this game i know so many people will never know, and never experience playing a game where content is so intense that you and your crew essentially need to develop a hive mind.

You have to know your class inside out, backwards, upside down and where you can squeeze an extra .5% out of everything that might just save the day. You also need to know the people you are playing with classes almost as well, the synergy of knowing what other are going to do before they even do it, an ahem will remind someone to not forget this critical cast is due. You are operating like a well oiled machine running at 100% efficiency, the slightest wrong move by anyone and it’s all over in an instant.

That momentum, the intensity, the build as you are progressing through, it’s something you have to experience as it’s an indescribable high, failure only meant we get to try again :) and failure was no stranger, but pulling it off, omg you’re on a cloud, literally high for days, as the months it took to get there and do it all paid off.

OK the other side and i never thought about this until i went 100% emu game life, so nice to not worry about corporate greed running and ruining your games and to simply be around gamers who are very passionate about the game you play. I really don’t know what took me so long? This is a gamer paradise. No ridiculous stupid decisions, no nickle dime greed, no angle, no set up for a money gouge, no cash shops, log in and enjoy, you’re a gamer gaming with gamers running the show.

Well the other side of staying with one game back in the day is, well the hey days, the other side of the coin is i missed out on those times, as in CoH, SWG the cu and nge, that’s gaming history i missed out on all that and i will never get to experience that.

Sure ok i’m totally deep into swg:l and now coh and yea OMG! i could not be happier and more impressed with the way they both turned out but it’s not going to be like it was when they were new going through changes. tbh i think at launch i thought coh was shallow, but then again i didn’t give it or any other game a chance back then.

swg:l been around for 3 years, coh i highly doubt ncsoft is going to “approve” anything and for what it’s worth, we think it’s a big deal, well i did before i got into emu oh no kinda like i dunno, not worried anymore is all i can say, and so glad i didn’t wait 3 years to go coh, i think they honestly don’ think it’s worth their time to go chasing after every rogue server which pops up all the time, it’s in the wind they can never truly stop it so why bother and i really don’t think they care, it’s infinitesimal to them in their big mobile vision, it’s an old product a few thousand people love, coh novelty will wear down and yea, it’ll be just the gamers left happily gaming to their hearts content unaffected by corporate greed and fellow gamers at the helm running the show…

WTF took me so long to clue into this world?

Axetwin .

GW2 is one of the only MMO’s I’ve experienced the opposite effect with. I loved it when I started playing, but the more I played, the more I grew to dislike it. To the point I decided to play around with it last week, after 4 days I uninstalled and have vowed never to play it ever again.

Sarah Cushaway

If an MMO doesn’t click with me in its early stages, chances are it never will click completely. I’ve tried GW2 and FFXIV a few times during their various life stages–still can’t stand those games. ESO did change a lot for the better, but underneath it all is still a horrible combat system, so I can only play that one in short bursts. WoW has definitely gotten worse with age because of all the pruning and gating/Mythic-or-die E-sport trend going on (man I hope next expansion they take a good, hard look and realize they’re killing off their subs and get RID of those stupid ideas). EQ2 -was- a great game, but it’s been so neglected now I’ll be surprised if it makes another year or two.

The only exception, I guess, is LOTRO– just wasn’t into it at launch. Now, I enjoy playing it off and on and think it’s a fine game, despite it’s age and old-style combat (actually, I prefer tab target style combat in MMOs, so it’s a bonus really).

IronSalamander8 .

City of Heroes solo unfriendly? What? It’s the most solo friendly MMO I’ve ever seen and I’ve played a ton. It wasn’t at it’s peak in ’04 of course but regardless of which AT and powersets I’ve used, I’ve never had much issue soloing, barring my one Defender whose primary power set was empathy (ugh). I started right before issue one, but after launch, and I loved how after EQ forced me to group to brush my teeth, I could solo most of the time.

Hikari Kenzaki

Yeah, I was in a SG for years that was mostly for solo players who also PvP’d sometimes.

Axetwin .

I have partial timeline to what happened with Marvel Heroes. It comes directly from the developers themselves. Unfortunately, the only people that know what went down in the final days/weeks are the ones in real positions of power, and they’re not talking.

Anton Mochalin

I never return to MMOs which failed to make a good first impression. Because there are so many good videogames out there so why should I bother? If an MMO fails at making a good first impression it is highly likely that it will fail in many other aspects and what’s most important the developers don’t understand what I want.


City of Heroes / Villains.

I picked it up on a lark late in the game’s life (about two years before it shut down, I believe) as it was on sale and initially hated it. But then I tried it a second time a few weeks later with a friend who ALSO picked it up because it was on sale and we had a blast together until they shut it down.

Hikari Kenzaki

I’ve went back to a few games several times over. I’ve went back to STO about 3 times before it really clicked. (“What do you mean you can’t fly up?!?!? Have they not seen Star Trek 2?”)

When Sean McCann (formerly Dr Aeon of CoH) starting working on STO’s Romulan arc, that’s when I was pretty excited for the direction it was taking.