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“Hello my name is Vince and I am an MMORPG addict”. “Hi, Vince!”
If I had written this entry 4-5 years ago this introduction would most likely have been true (despite the fact that MMORPG addiction is a whole topic of itself). But here I am, in 2012, playing Guild Wars 2 and not Final Fantasy XI online anymore and not feeling the same way. One of the reasons for this change is that I don’t get that certain MMORPG feeling out of nowadays MMORPGs anymore. Paradoxically, the more I play them lately, the more they remind me of single player games. Bear with me for a few minutes while I elaborate (there also might be some ranting, sorry).
I got introduced to the world of MMORPGs through Final Fantasy XI online and admittedly have a kind of a ‘first love’ relationship with that game, meaning that every game to come after it has to live with being compared to it to no end. This is why I will use it as a reference (in a totally biased kind of way) to explain what I think MMORPGs are lacking nowadays. As an example for nowadays MMORPGs I will use Guild Wars 2, a game I am eagerly trying to fall in love with, but the two of us are not ‘clicking’ just yet.
Note1: I am well aware that Final Fantasy XI online did in fact borrow a lot of things from other genre classics such as Everquest II and did not reinvent the wheel, but I don’t want to throw in even more games for the sake of the argument.
Note2: I have been playing Guild Wars 2 for little over a week now and have only reached lvl 25. Thus my observations are of course limited in nature, but I feel like I need to get these impressions off my mind.
So what’s new in Guild Wars 2?
Blaspheming the holy trinity
One of the biggest promotional features of Guild Wars 2 seemed to be the credo of finally abolishing the “holy MMORPG trinity”. We would no longer be forced to work as teams of tank, healer and DD (with the occasional support class thrown in the mix) but could tackle obstacles in team compositions that suited the supply of people and our personal preferences best. Every class should be able to do anything, given the right build. Plus: Every class is getting a healing skill and can rezz other players. Finally, freedom from cocky healers when setting up groups.
So how does this freedom of choice feel in game? To be quite frank, to me it feels like the mother of all zerg-fests. Instead of thinking of new approaches on how to kill stuff, everyone is firing away at will dealing damage and using healing skills to self heal, while evading possibly lethal blows form enemies. Everyone is all over the place zerging the crap out of everything. Which brings me to my next point:
Don’t talk, just kill, or: “Under wandering stars I’ve grown, by myself but not alone.”
(So far) the game feels like a single player game within a proclaimed massively multiplayer online role playing game. How come? With everyone busy zerging the living hell out of everything and self healing, there is basically no need to communicate or to set up a strategy. There is not much conversation going on in the game’s chat apart from “WTS this and that”, “Where is this/that” and some random chit-chat. Why should we be talking about strategy anyway? If my character dies, anyone can rezz me or I will just respawn at a waypoint of my choosing. So zerg away!
Everyone despises those “fetch me 10 ogre foreskins” quests when they are overused (and let’s be honest, they are!). So what Guild Wars 2 uses, is a dynamic quest system. Quests pop up as you explore the world and they sometimes involve other options than the usual slaying of x amount of things to advance in the game. E.g. you can help a farmer by watering flowers, searching for truffles while being turned into a pig or by killing vermin that inhabit his fields. The idea itself is a step in the right direction imho. What would even be better: Quests that make use of other game mechanics besides fighting mobs or fetching things in the surroundings. Let the game economy step in! Give me some different options on how to complete a quest! Especially the game economy is one of the things, that bears a lot of unused potential in my opinion.
So soldier Frank Frankenfurter needs a supply bag to keep fighting? Well let me craft him one. Or buy it at the damn Auction House. Or get it from that enemy camp where they keep them after they ambushed the supply delivery and which would have to be attacked by some friends which would serve as a distraction so I could sneak in and get a few supply packs (which in turn we could again sell on the Auction House). At the moment you just wander around that little village that Frank Frankenfurter lives in only to find a big pile of supply bags and then bring it to him (for some reasons he can’t make the 20 sec trip himself) and bask in newly acquired EXP.
I guess you get the drift of my ranting. Other things that grind my gears:
Bind on Equip
I really see no point in this except for very rare high-end items. All I see it doing is that people don’t care about their equip too much especially in early and mid-levels (because investing in higher quality gears at this level is actually a huge loss, since you will replace it anyway and most likely only get the material’s price back) and that the market for low-mid level crafters to produce for is therefore very small. This makes crafting anything else than consumables rather grindy and unfulfilling.
Trash items or: Money for nothing (and the chicks for free)
Why the hell do we need those? They have little more use than making sure that my inventory keeping skills are not getting rusty anytime soon. Apart from that they make for a steady flow of income into the game’s economy, thus making the crafter’s work less valuable. Why not make everything that drops valuable to crafters? And only to them. NPCing stuff should be a big loss. There is the possibility in game to reverse-engineer some stuff into crafting materials which I guess is fine, but trash item are basically an economy killer in my opinion.
Back to the trinity
Ok, nice try. So far, what has the debunked trinity brought us? A single player feel and a zerg-fest. I really understand the problem with being stuck in a certain role for all your MMORPG life. Furthermore I have never really understood the idea of twinks. I want to be a tank when I feel like it and a damage dealer or healer or support class when the need arises, but on the same character. But we still (at least I think so) need these roles that govern our cooperation within these games. Final Fantasy XI online had a simple yet very powerful solution to this problem and it blows my mind every time I think about it why it did not get introduced into more MMORPGs. A flexible job system!
I believe it really started with
Final Fantasy V Final Fantasy III where you could train your characters in different disciplines, e.g. White Mage or Warrior and level them up individually. So you could assume any role you wanted. In my opinion this had a lot of positive implications for Final Fantasy XI online:
A steady flow of gear
Crafting and hunting for gear became profitable at every level of the game. The throwaway character of low level crafting was mostly alleviated and in conjunction with most gear being resellable there were a lot of players around that would have use for your ‘second-hand items’.
A steady flow of players
With players leveling different jobs from scratch there was a constant flow of players to team up with at lower levels. The sub-job system (you could basically equip a second job from which you benefitted in a way) added even more variety to player’s choices and also encouraged players to level different jobs.
Where is the meaning in all this?
How MMORPGs (or even games) generate meaning is a whole topic of it’s own that I don’t want to touch right now. I will although go as far as saying that cooperation, status and money are very likely to help a MMORPG generate meaning. Right now Guild Wars 2 is having a hard time generating that meaning in my opinion. Coordinated cooperation is hardly existent, status is not really visible to other players since I cannot show off my gear and money, well money is pretty much worthless at the moment as everyone has heaps of it. Of course the game has not even been out for a month now and there surely will be a lot of tweaks, but I would hate to see Guild Wars 2 experience the same fate Star Wars: The Old Republic which managed to acquire a very impressive number of players in a short period of time only to lose them again. So long time engagement is key. Meaning helps achieving that.