The next great MMO: I need a game where the mechanics don’t break my immersion

World of Warcraft UI.

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.


The confusing state of raid lockouts and badge loot

Icecrown Citadel.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.


Cataclysm CE features announced, I sigh

Cataclysm Collector's Edition

I’ve never understood the collector’s editions for World of Warcraft. I really enjoy the game, but there are so many easily attainable pets (which is the only thing that really entices me out of the feature list) that I can’t really understand dropping the extra cash on it. People spend money on weirder stuff, and I guess there’s enough involved to keep the crazy lore freaks happy.

Here’s what you get:

• Over an hour of developer interviews and commentaries, discussing the game’s development from early design through finished gameplay.
• The Cataclysm intro cinematic and major content patch trailers complete with Director’s Commentary.
• A special Warcraft retrospective examining the rich gaming history of the Warcraft universe.

• Seventeen epic tracks from Cataclysm.

• 176 pages of art, featuring never-before-seen images from the archives of the Blizzard Film Department and the World of Warcraft development team.
• Progressive visuals from every stage of development – from early concepts through to finished, detailed art.

• The full World of Warcraft expansion set on CD-ROM and DVD-ROM.

• One 60-card deck from the new Wrathgate series featuring two extended art cards and visuals from several of fantasy’s top creators.
• Two exclusive hero cards, marking the first appearance of goblin and worgen heroes in the WOW:TCG.
• One full-sized rule book to teach you how to play.

• He may not be a breaker of worlds… at least not yet… but Lil’ Deathwing will still aid you in your titanic struggle to save Azeroth from his much, much larger counterpart.

• A special-edition mouse pad depicting Deathwing menacing the ravaged continents of Azeroth.

See, there’s some good stuff in there. Gamestop lists the box set at $79.99.


All Roads Return to WoW: The people are still the important part

Keep your people close.

I know a lot of you don’t enjoy WoW, or at the very least you’ve burnt out, but I’m still having a lot of fun playing, and I can only see that going up. The main reason: people.

I got back into WoW basically because I knew that a buddy who plays League of Legends was around. I didn’t think – not in a million years – that I would be back with my old raiding guild just a month after I started playing again. It’s actually pretty exciting and has turned out to be the thing I missed most from the game experience on the whole. It’s really nice to have a group of people consistently around for a game. I have that to a smaller extent currently in LoL, but I spent hours with these guys (and gals – hi Ishi!), for good or ill, and it’s been fun to reconnect.

If you find yourself bored or disinterested in any game, I’d recommend one of two things – get to know some people in game, or get to know some people in real life. Either way, you win and win big.


All Roads Return to WoW: I want to slap the guy that invented Gear Score

gear-scoreI finally got my druid to level 80 and I’ve spent the last week or so getting him geared up through heroics and the occasional PUG raid. It’s actually been a lot of fun. I’ve always enjoyed tanking, and despite my relatively little experience doing it, I’d say I’m starting to get fairly skilled at keeping a critter’s attention so my group can kill it.

The problem now, though, is that there isn’t a ton of loot left for me to pick up, and I’d really like to see some more content before the expansion comes out. I thought that would be fairly easy to do, but dear god was I wrong.

According to most information out there, I’m ready to start tanking the 10-man version of Trial of the Crusader. It’s a pretty straightforward zone from what I can tell, and my health pool, avoidance, and overall mitigation should be more than enough. I just have to learn the fights. Unfortunately, the people running those raids are looking for a Gear Score over 5000, and I’m somewhere around 4500. What’s worse, the items that will bump me more than 50 of these arbitrary points per slot are typically from 25-man heroic raids that are no longer being run or the normal modes of raids for which I don’t apparently qualify.

I finally got a guy to ignore the GS issue and let me into a ToC 10 and when our melee pulled the fire from the second boss straight onto me while I was tanking adds and proceeded to follow me around, guess who got kicked? Yeah, it was me.


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