As one MMO flies to incredible new heights, another that once promised players that very feature is coming to an end.
Recently the MMO world was hit with two big bits of news as “Guild Wars 2” developer ArenaNet posted on their Facebook page, that all first party digital downloads of the new mega hit MMO are suspended temporarily in order to insure server stability. While the game is still available through third party sites and retail stores, the developers themselves feel they have a responsibility to everyone in the game to hold off on new sales directly from them, so that play isn’t interrupted. Currently new methods to expand digital services are being looked at.
The reasons for these individual stories of success and untimely demise are both simple and complex, but ultimately revolve around each other.
First, in case you didn’t follow the insane pre-release hype, or immediately snatch up the product that finally launched, “Guild Wars 2″ is slowly taking the online world by storm in a way that no other MMO has done since “World of Warcraft” itself. It’s doing this through an incredible art style with a scope and integrity never before seen in a game like this, a PvP system that’s so brilliant and well executed it looks to make all other competitive systems irrelevant by the time it kicks into gear, and maybe best of all, a level of difficulty that rewards players for putting more time into it by actually making the game better as you go along, instead of creating more incentive for new players, and providing cold shoulders for veterans. Tying it all together, unlike “WoW,” “Guild Wars 2” is free to play, continuing one of the more welcome video game trends in some time.
I’ve had the privilege of playing the game recently, and I don’t think I could give you an honest critical review of it. That’s because despite some of its flaws, I have such a deep and abiding respect for the game that questions of review scores and likes or hates are irrelevant. It’s one of those stand up and take notice games that only come along once in a while, even if all of the specifics aren’t perfect.
Oddly though, it seems to achieve such lofts, a sacrifice of sorts had to be made. That seems to be the largest reason behind the cancellation of service for “City of Heroes,” as reports still have the game boasting a sizable player base, and even reporting some respectable sales figures as recently as last year for such an aging title. However, earlier this year NCsoft reported its first companywide loss in a while, and at the time “City of Heroes” was at the bottom of the sales list. With other ongoing projects to support, and bigger titles on the horizon, it would seem “City of Heroes” fell to the archvillian known as fiscal reports, and nothing more.
Unfortunately it’s not easy to look at this as a case of one door closing and another opening. As good as “Guild Wars 2” is, and as great as it promises to be, “City of Heroes” long stood as the somewhat appropriate icon of hope in the MMO world. It wasn’t a fantasy or sci-fi game, yet it produced a well built and, initially, successful MMO. Now that it has fallen to a, admittedly well worthy, challenger to the “WoW” crown of fantasy MMO dominance, I worry that the message will become more and more clear in developer’s minds that new entrants in the genre are unwelcome, especially if they are trying something different.
In a year’s time I feel that the MMO market will be hotly divided by “Guild Wars 2” players, and by “WoW” addicts, and with good reason. At that time, the mention of a title like “City of Heroes” won’t lead to tears, but rather fond memories. Still, I wish that it were possible for the game to continue in some capacity for as long as it can. Because while the game’s sales figures may have been mild mannered like reporter Clark Kent, beneath the corporate visage of numbers lied an idea of originality, individuality, and innovation in the American way.
With any game, I always hit a point where I cease to be immersed in the game as a world and start thinking about the mechanics, the way the game actually works. In Counter-strike, it was the day I learned to jumpcrouch. Suddenly this game-changing mechanic turned me from a terrorist running about desperately trying to stay alive into a hopping ball of impossibly accurate death. In Halo, it was the way grenades would explode once they sat still. I perfected grenade trapping on every map, so there was always an extra burst of damage where and when I needed it. With Oblivion, it was discovering that I could beat the game at level one by choosing primary stats and never leveling them up.
WoW suffers from this immersion problem as much as any game. Creating a class for the first time, you rarely think about the different racials. If you’re going to PvP, though, it’s obvious that human is your best choice. I always loved Beast Mastery on my hunter because I got to have a big scary pet and, in Wrath of the Lich King, unique pets, but when Blizzard nerfed BM damage into the ground, it pretty much killed my favorite way to play the class. Hunters lost a lot of flavor for me that day, and it was because of a mechanical change.
The thing I’ve always loved about MMOs is the flavor of the different classes. While I love to try different things, I’ve always been a player who settles into the class I enjoy most and really identify with. Every time mechanics intrude on my class immersion, I wonder how the next great MMO will deal with it. I started taking a look at RIFT recently, a game that has been getting a lot of positive attention in its beta phase. To me, the game looks too much like WoW for me to seriously consider it. If I’m going to pay a monthly fee for WoW or a game that looks an awful lot like WoW, I’m probably going to stick with WoW if only because I have so much time invested in it. Still, I was trying to keep an open mind on RIFT, until I read the talent trees for the different classes. They’re basically the same kind of boring crap you get in Warcraft. Increases your spell haste by 3 percent. Increases your damage from this spell by 10 percent. Gives you a chance to get a free spell cast. None of that stuff is fun or flavorful – it’s all mechanical. It helps your name climb up the damage meters. It doesn’t make the game any more interesting than it was before you put your talent point there.
My hope is obviously that someone will find a way to blend flavor and mechanics for an MMO, but it’s going to take someone with serious vision. I think a lot of developers confuse depth with complexity. League of Legends is a great example of a deep gameplay experience without a super complex experience. The fact that my hunter in WoW has 50 action buttons on the screen seems to me like a design failure. With so many different skills, I’m immediately sucked out of the game to worry about where to put my latest macro. While the four button approach for LoL may be too slim for the MMO experience, there has to be some happy medium, one hopefully much closer to four buttons than 50, that allows me to engage with the game world intuitively and simply enjoy my class for what it is.
I’ve been spending a good bit of my game time playing World of Warcraft and I’ve been enjoying the expansion so far. Yes, it is more of the same, but my favorite class (hunter) has been reworked and feels like he did in early BC when I learned to love him. It’s been good to see Blizzard speed up some of the more tedious aspects of the game, and it’s nice having populated worlds again.
My main focus in the game now is PvP. I did the raiding thing for a while, but I just don’t have those big chunks of time to put toward a single dungeon any more. I want to jump in some BGs, go work on my Archaeology, go bleed some gold from the auction house, and work on my professions in a play session. PvP is a lot more conducive to that. PvP in WoW has always disappointed me a bit. There are just too many different skills to worry about from the different classes, and without thorough study, it can be tough to know what happened to you in a fight. I often find myself looking at the combat log (a feature League of Legends desperately needs) and then googling the various effects to see what the hell they are.
The biggest problem, though, is CC. Crowd Control in WoW is one of the worst active game systems on the market today. It is entirely plausible that you will be unable to control your character for stretches as long as 30 seconds, during which you will most definitely die. Blizzard woefully tries to address this with diminishing returns, but those returns are player specific, so you can get chain-disabled by a group of 2-3 players without them incurring much penalty.
The CC in WoW always brings me back to a simple game design principle: is the anti-fun generated by the mechanic greater than the fun generated by the mechanic. The answer is overwhelmingly yes.
Someone in the thread mentioned that the goal of WoW PvP is to deny your opponent the ability to fight instead of outfighting them. It’s unfortunately true, and again, really not fun for either side. Do I get a sense of accomplishment when I kill a target that doesn’t move and I just shred away for 15 seconds? No. And the guy getting killed is obviously having very little fun. Loss of character control will always be a crap mechanic for the receiving player. The fact that it can last as long as 20-30 seconds (with disables from a couple toons) is just absurd.
To all the people saying the equivalent to “get cleansed bro,” players don’t always have a cleanse nearby, and suggesting they should get one doesn’t at all address the problem. Nerf the CCs, and nerf cleanse with them so it doesn’t get to the point that you can’t lock that warrior down.
A [global diminishing returns system] would be awesome, but I’d also love to see some system where CC breaks when you take some percentage of your health in damage – let’s say 10 percent for the sake of argument. You get stunned, as soon as your health is reduced by 10 percent of it’s max, the CC breaks and you become immune for X amount of time. I say reduced because heals could prolong it – this would hopefully remind people to kill the damn healer. Fights would have so much more back and forth and be infinitely more interesting. It would also rightly encourage people to use CCs against their off-target for spell interrupts. Put that kind of system with a GDR and PvP is instantly more interesting. You’d probably have to move the damage/healing slider a bit, but any change would require some across the board tweaking.
Even though WoW is the rampaging juggernaut of the video game world, it could learn a lot from burgeoning fields, like the MOBA world. I’ll let you know how it feels when I have a couple hundred games under my belt, but for now I feel like I’m either getting disabled to death or doing the disabling. It’s not very often that I’m hitting someone who’s hitting me back.
As of this past weekend, my mind was made up. I was going to skip Cataclysm altogether. I wasn’t going to try it, play it, think about it, nothing. I hadn’t seen anything wild or crazy that would make me want to come back and I was perfectly content with the other games that could fill my free time. I was so convinced.
But lo and behold, I ran some errands today and came home with a copy of the game. It wasn’t really an impulsive decision – I had done a decent bit of research about the expansion so I knew what to expect. I really went for it because, well, why not? I hadn’t been a part of an expansion launch yet. I missed Burning Crusade because I had started playing shortly before it came out. I missed Wrath because I had taken a break and didn’t feel compelled to come back at the time. As someone who writes about games for a living, it seems appropriate that I should see at least one launch.
So far, things have been pretty good. I’m playing a Balance Druid, something I’ve never really messed with before. The new zones are certainly bright and colorful and there is plenty of new content to see. I am pretty disappointed, though, by the lack of time spent in the old world. The whole point of this patch was a shattered Azeroth, a world we used to know being torn apart by this big, evil dragon. So why am I swimming around underwater? Why not send me back to the barrens to do some leveling. The old world place I’ve spent most of time is Orgrimmar, but that’s not really different from previous expansions. I’ve always had to go to Orgrimmar for various things, mostly the Auction House. It’s really cool that it’s been redone, but I want to see more of that in other parts of the world.
For now, that’s my one big criticism. I’ll be playing over the next several days if anyone feels compelled to join in. I play on Archimonde under the name “Milkstout.”
I know this is a subject that has been covered time and time again, but my friend (who you know here as Bojamba) and I have spent a lot of time talking about dynamic game environments and what it takes to keep a player interested in a game. With raiding as the end goal for many players in WoW, it seems the current raid system is a confused mix of incentives and gear, a system that tries to encourage team and solo play and really only promotes solo.
Let me start by saying this: I am painfully aware of the fact that WoW, and every other game, is a business decision at the end of the day. The game has to make money or no one publishes it, no one supports it, and so on and so forth. The more people that pay month to month, the happier Bob Kotick is. I do think, though, that higher quality design and focus on the customer (player) would yield even bigger profits than current models of business.
As it stands, raid lockouts serve a couple of purposes. For one, they limit the amount of loot you can access. This is really a dumb reason to have raid lockouts, especially in the current game system. Farming heroics, which can be done without penalty, nets you gear that is just shy of progression level raiding. In a couple days you can be ready to rock ICC if you want to be. And what of the ICC buff? So you want people to experience the content but not the gear? Artificial limitations to progression point to a flaw in design, and I think that flaw is the social aspect of the game.
A lot of people would say that WoW is the most social of games. After all, there are 11 million players. But what about the game experience is truly social? Raiding is, and it’s the reason that most guilds exist. With the new badge system, though, you don’t really need a guild to raid. The big loot pieces are achieved just by running the place (and a daily heroic), regardless of what you get from bosses. Guilds just give you the (hopeful) chance to limit the amount of mistakes made in a raid setting. There is accountability to other players. For casual players, though, guilds don’t make a lot of sense any more. If your play schedule changes week to week, it’s actually better to just PuG the content. I’ve seen most of Icecrown Citadel this way, and it’s very likely I’ll see a Lich King kill in a PuG before the expansion. That was the rarest of circumstances in BC, but it’s pretty common now. This has turned a lot of people from guild raiders into solo raiders, and some of those people are among the best geared on their given servers.
At it’s core, WoW is a solo game. Yes, groups are important, and yes, you need a group to see the highest level content. But most casual players have variable play schedules, meaning even if you start to level with a friend, within a couple weeks you’ll probably see a large level gap, or one of you will move on to a different toon. The methods Blizzard previously used to encourage team play, like raid lockouts, are largely irrelevant because of the badge system and the simplified content. In a way, it can be a good thing – guilds that exist to be social are organic social systems, not forced. On the other hand, it has killed off a lot of the social aspect of the game. Random heroics are silent affairs, unless you’re running with friends.
Blizzard needs to reconsider the social side of the game separate from the loot system in order to provide quality social experiences. If attaining loot is the only thing that encourages social play, the game will quickly turn into a solo experience, and that’s just not all that fun.