The good old pre-expansion blues is taking its toll on guilds and WoW players all around the globe. Bloggers struggle to find topics to write about while waiting for new content (or argue a lot more than usual), gamers run the same old 5mans on their alts or hunt for the last achievements they can possibly do. This is the twilight hour of the MMO: the old sun is setting as we wait in darkened shadows holding our breath, longing for the new dawn. But Cataclysm is still a good 2 months away, if we want to believe the optimistic voices.
For some it’s been too long a wait already. They take their leave from the game or website communities, some to take a hiatus, others with the firm intention never to return. Some question if they still got any future in the world of warcraft.
Well I have good news for you: if you feel your passion for the game dampened, if you doubt whether you should even bother to play Cataclysm, there is a very quick way to make up your mind. You can do what I’ve done the past few weeks, if you’re hooked to the genre like I am, knowing that you’ll always want to play an MMO because it’s ruined all the single-player games for you anyway.
It’s simple: go and check out the other MMOs out there. Get a trial subscription or try some of the free MMOs that are supposedly “not too bad”. There is NO better way to rekindle your WoW spark than by looking at what alternatives the market has to offer you.
Believe me when I say I’ve tried
The past few weeks and months, I have tried, tried real hard too, to give another MMO a chance. Even if I’ve played and loved WoW since the beta launch, I am not a fanboy, I’m generally equally positive as I am critical of the game which makes it hard for more extreme Nay-sayers or Yes-sayers to place me. I don’t love WoW unconditionally, I have too many comparisons for that. It’s still the best game I ever played and the one that has changed me the most, so that counts for something. I can discuss pros and cons of games in a dispassionate manner and I am open to new things. I am also frankly bored of WoW, so I took some time browsing general MMO sites and talked to friends to make my picks.
The games I eventually opted for were Allods, Age of Conan, Everquest 2 and Rappelz. I also meant to try FF14 at some point but alas, that ship has sailed. I intended for a mix of MMOs that complement my previous experiences and chose some of the more popular ones as much as a few free games with a small, die-hard player base. I’m not a big fan of micro-transaction MMOs but I’m still interested to see what some of them have to offer in return.
It was a dizzying and ultimately enlightening journey through the jungle, or should I say “Black Morass” of the MMOs out there. Not that I expected much in the first place, but there were a few surprises along the way, even if the painful experiences outweighed the positive. I am fully aware that I am not the most forgiving customer: if you have a strong WoW background, you’re basically spoiled, you take a lot of features for granted. Many of these MMOs have got between 50’000-100’000 subscribers. For 2010, EQ2 is said to sport approximately 200’000 and AoC around 160’000. That means the vast majority of MMOs has plus-minus 1% of the player base that Blizzard can work with.
My final judgment can still only be from a very personal and biased viewpoint. This is how new MMOs will have to convince new customers to switch over – they will be measured by what’s considered a standard in 2010+. They don’t have to be perfect and they don’t have to copy WoW (they shouldn’t, in fact), but they will have to deliver good reasons to play them instead of WoW. They will have to deliver a ‘package’, because that is what Blizzard really achieved: neither the best graphics, nor the most content depth, nor the best or most complete features, but A LOT of everything! It’s a well-rounded and coherent world we play in, with a high playability and variety that caters to more than one or two types of gamers. Even if it’s not perfect in every respect, it still achieves to be good or very good in most. When we criticize WoW, we’re criticizing on a very high level.
So I’m not gonna be particularly forgiving or aim for completeness and fairness when presenting my experiences. I’ll be short (kinda..) and selective in retelling what impression the games I picked made on me during my very first hours of gameplay, because that’s when most of us decide to continue or not. The average MMO player does not grind his way up in hope for entirely different or better endgame and that’s usually not what you’ll find anyway. I am also personally not so interested in the endgame raiding aspect anymore, like I used to be. I’ll try and be specific about why I stopped in each game’s case.
(Continue reading via the link below)
As mentioned earlier, I was positively surprised once or twice during my ventures, namely by Age of Conan and Allods Online.
Like Rappelz, Allods is a gpotato deal. I chose to play it because it’s a rather remarkable WoW clone graphically and I was intrigued about the Russian team behind it. As expected the game has huge polish from the second you enter the character creation screen. I loved the style of the different races and even if Allods looks a lot like WoW, it shows originality in character design and other cosmetic aspects like armor and world atmosphere. I absolutely loved the Arisen, this gotta be the coolest race ever! You start your journey in a sort of intro scenario, fighting your way out of your homebase and the game controls are easily handled and intuitive.
That’s when the grind begins…..you keep doing the same fetch&delivery quests we got bored of in vanilla for a very long time and combat is slow. At some point, even though this is one of the best free MMOs out there, you ask yourself “why am I doing this?”. Why play an MMO that looks like WoW when you can play WoW without the micro-transaction deal and in the company of a lot more people?
Allods doesn’t only look good, but managed to copy many good aspects of other MMOs while still retaining its own style and unique feel. It runs smoothly and should appeal to a more mass market audience. But it ultimately fails to deliver enough reasons to switch over from WoW. Also, most gamers want to pay subscriptions rather than dabble around with ingame shops all the time.
Age of Conan
While Age of Conan drove masses of players away at its launch in 2008, Funcom have continuously improved the game since then. I spent several weeks playing (and paying) it, before I rested my lvl 60 priest for good. AoC manages to provide you with a coherent world and lore like WoW does, with its unique style and graphics that succeed to create an immersive atmosphere of High Adventure set in the more barbaric and rough world of Conan (there will be blood!). After a very elaborate character creation, your journey begins with your character washed up at a shore, trying to remember his past from there. You’ll spend your first 20 levels more or less following your own ‘destiny quests’ before you get tossed out into the actual world. The zones are beautiful and of an epic scale, I loved exploring while listening to some of the wonderful tunes. The pseudo real-time combat is fast (especially for melee) and the solo features in the game are great.
I had a good time with AoC, but I was surprised at how little care was given to the UI and controls which are highly inflexible. Features like the clunky quest log and grouping tools make it very hard for beginners to find their way around. I was also baffled that an MMO wouldn’t even bother to provide you with proper friendlist functionality. The skills and talent system are rather complex and it took some reading up to work out specs.
But these are things I can deal with. What really discouraged me and my friends from playing together, was the horribly imbalanced group mechanics and at stages dubious difficulty levels for certain dungeons or zones. It was impossible to group up without an exact number of people and classes present (even for dungeons you should out-skill) and once you managed to find the right pugs to join you, it still ended in a very frustrating experience. The tanking mechanics are supposedly better at max level, but aggro control and CC are hideous when trying to level or pug. And while the healing approach in AoC is really refreshing to a WoW healer, it leaves you tearing your hair out due to the broken group mechanics and balance. Apparently this is also a big issue on the PVP side of the game.
So while AoC is possibly the most mature and unique MMO besides WoW and should cater to a more grown-up audience too, it is not quite there yet. The good aspects outweigh the bad, but it’s still a trade-off in parts. I might re-visit it at some point though.
Rappelz is one of many asian, free MMOs that regularly pops up in respective top 3s. While the overall graphics and character design look okay (if not slightly hermaphrodite) compared to others, the world and game play are horribly stale. The maps are boring and the music is either dull or annoying. That’s just the more superficial aspects of a game but they shape your first impressions nonetheless and are rather significant when it comes to atmosphere and immersion.
The game play does nothing to improve things: you start grinding your way into the first town with two basics skills on your hotbar. 10 levels later, you’re still grinding boring mobs on a boring plain, pushing the same two buttons (attack and smite, yay!). When you finally get to ‘upgrade’ your talent tree and chose a more individual skill path, you get rewarded with a shocking number of 0 new skills or abilities. I kept going until I received my first supposed ‘elite-quest’ and went all “Yay, finally a challenge!”, looking for a group because the NPC told me I’d need one. On my way to find people, I accidentally killed a mob which turned out to be the ‘elite mob’ for my quest…
But that wasn’t the worst about Rappelz, really. The worst is the controls: no mouse-control or WASD, Rappelz is one of the CLICKY-games! If you want to move your character, point and click the environment is all you’ll get. It annoyed me no end and I cannot fathom why some devs still think this is a good idea in an MMO – gawd what were you thinking??!
…and the Ugly
EQ2 marks my grande finale. I am still utterly baffled about those that told me EQ2 was “that other game beside WoW” or allude that it’s somehow similar. Now I’ll be fair and say the free-to-play feature of EQ2 is currently in its beta but still, the game was released in 2004! That makes it as old as WoW maybe, but definitely not as good.
Yeah I care for things like character creation and looks, you know what, it matters! And EQ2 is HIDEOUS!!! I went temp-blind trying to customize one of the TWO available character models for humans and apparently they’re one of the more agreeable races. Seriously Sony, seeeeeeriously??
Maybe I shouldn’t have chosen the green-violet starting area of the silly fairies, but the optic aspects of the game didn’t improve from there. At least you can run the game smoothly, even after you fought and scrolled your way through the gazillion available ingame menus and submenus to max performance. The gameplay wasn’t so bad, it was easy enough to find your way around the UI and first quests which are rather similar to WoW; the beautiful zone map (…) assists you there. Also, EQ2 makes up for all the skills and abilities Rappelz is so reluctant to distribute: for every level gained, you get at least 2 new spells for your hotbar. At level 14, I was already half-way to filling my 3rd, losing track quickly of what each of those buttons do and when I should use which and why. The skill and talent system is equally confusing: 3 different tabs on ‘alternate advancement’ that give you no hint whatsoever on where to start, while the game keeps reminding you that you got unused skill points lying around!
The game is kinda big for letting you know stuff like that…It also tells you that your two bags are full, after which you will have no peace and won’t be able to loot anything until you found the one vendor NPC that lets you sell trash items. You’ll have to make your way there at reduced speed because apparently walking gets harder after you picked too many flowers and mushrooms.
And then there’s that pesky annoyance of a pop-up that you’ll get to click away every 10minutes, telling you to upgrade to the game’s “silver version”. Apparently that’s Sony’s subtle way of encouraging their free-version players and trialists to buy the upgrade. I’m sure that works really well……not.
There’s actually a GOLD version popup following that silver one, I hear!
If you’ve played WoW for years and decide to test EQ2 nonetheless, I wish you good luck. At least you won’t have to wait for a long install and patching procedure, because the game is smart enough to download most of its ugly maps while you’ve already started playing. That is, if you can get the launcher to run without issues, depending on your windows version. ^^
A look ahead
I give every game a chance but I’m merciless if it manages to annoy me already at the start, fails to meet the most basic standards or doesn’t manage to motivate long term game play after several hours. If you want to hook players or lure them over, you better create some motivation quickly! I don’t think I’m harsh, but I got a clear focus on things like overall atmosphere, coherence and playability when having my first look at an MMO. After that, I’d like a new title to feature something unique instead of just copying WoW: it’s not enough to be as good, you’ll need to be better and different! Try and excel where WoW is lacking, have a good look at how the fathers of the genre created content depth. And make sure you’ll deliver a package, because you’ll be dealing with WoW players with a low tolerance for bullshit.
I would love to give another game a go but looking around, I doubt 2011 will change a lot. Very few games of the past years have shown promise, but they aren’t quite there yet. I have the same feeling about upcoming titles such as SWtoR or The Secret World, even if I’m probably going to look into the latter.
However, most of the current MMOs out there, free or sub-based, are a waste of space, time and nerves. It’s something Blizzard ultimately benefits from, aside of WoW being the king of MMOs for many other reasons.
Before I agree to settle for less, look like some ugly hobbit on steroids or move my character around like a unit in some freakin RTS, I pre-order my Cataclysm copy and let it be known: it’s not perfect, but it’s definitely your best bang for the buck folks!