Welcome to the MMO Showdown!
MMO games have cast a great big hole in our gaming knowledge for quite a while. We have always been reluctant to get involved with them because of the sheer amount of time they require. There were always other things we’d rather be playing. However, our ignorance has ingrained in us a very prejudiced view, one that we suspect is widely held among non-MMO players. ‘MMOs are boring, MMOs are too slow, all it is is kill quests, item gathering, stat-gazing and crafting – and all those things are boring, boring boring.’ But we will not be slaves to those opinions! Striking out into the wilderness to drag back the battered carcass of the Truth, Man vs Horse is engineering an MMO showdown. We’ll play three of the most popular MMOs of recent years, and pass unto them definitive judgement. Find links to our other trials below.
As much as we are slaves to the Truth, we are also slaves to poverty. So we tried free trials for each of the games, and, aware of the slowburn nature of many muhmorpurguhs we gave each a solid Sunday of play, about 6 or 7 hours. First up was superhero sim City of Heroes. How did it fare? Read on, good reader…
Minutes after signing up for the free trial, which required a ridiculous number of codes and some considerable copying and pasting of said codes into small white boxes on three different windows, we were in. What kind of superhero would we create? Would it be a technological genius whose powers stemmed from his amazing inventions, someone who dabbled in radiation and got lucky, or simply someone who happened to know a bit of magic?
Dante went au natural, choosing incredible physical prowess and ninja reflexes. I chose technology, which brought energy mastery, and the ability to start fires with my mind.
Then we were greeted by the character creator, and then it became steadily apparent that City of Heroes was going to take a more involved approach to its avatar creation than most MMOs. With its body moulding tool and sheer number of parts City of Heroes offers almost complete customisation of your character. The choice on offer is so huge we spent our first hour exclusively tinkering with it. I came out of the other end with something akin to a red and gold megaman, except with awesome shades and the aforementioned ability to burn people with his mind. Dante made a dour and menacing ninja. The game then asked Dante to customise his katana, and I heard him, off to my right, actually cackling to himself.
Into the world itself, and we were greated by an incredibly dull tutorial sequence that seemed to validate all of our prejudices towards the MMO genre. Kill X number of muggers, speak to another policeman, go kill X number of muggers in different location. Next policeman, kill X number of muggers in this building. Sigh.
However, things were about to take a turn for the better. Soon enough we had levelled up! We had to visit Ms. Liberty in Paragon city to gain new skills. Before we knew it we were in the game proper. We stood before a colossal statue of Atlas bearing the earth on his back. Around his legs buzzed other heroes, not just NPC’s, but actual people. Some were fat and some were thin, some wore capes, and others had giant brains, or claws instead of hands. We walked up to Ms. Liberty and got some new skills, as I navigated the menus a hero in a smoking jacket and a cape flew past, his legs alight with superspeed.
It’s no exaggeration to say that no two avatars look alike in City of Heroes. I explored the plaza, and hopped onto a pillar, but was suddenly stopped dead as I found myself confronted by a tiny two-foot tall ninja, standing perfectly still with arms crossed, the straggling ties of his ninja mask blowing in the breeze in a way that screamed cool, but was sublimely undermined by his stature. As I stared the ninja slowly faded out of existence, and I was left wondering if I had just hallucinated the whole thing. As I came to learn, your hero remains in the world for 30 seconds after you have logged out, and it’s common practice to strike a dramatic pose before doing so.
After we had admired the scenery for a while we set off to actively begin questing, and ran into a familiar difficulty. We were unable to group because we were playing with a trial account. I expect to be denied certain aspets of the game on a trial version, but joining groups is a fundamental part of the mass social interactions that MMOs thrive on. The trial wouldn’t be a very good representation of the real experience. Fortunately a kindly stranger – a monstrous figure made of ice, with horns coming out of his head – recruited us, and soon we were cruising around the city, destroying evildoers by the bucketload. We got chatting, and he told us about his Super Group, and mentioned – pause to fry a determined but ill-fated mugger – that we would be welcome to join if we ever decided to play regularly. We levelled a few times and with much heartwarming banter our new friend left for greater things. But though he had left, Dante and I were still grouped.
Thanks to this strike of fortune we were able to go about for a while together. We wandered into some of the rougher neighbourhoods and battered some slightly harder muggers. By the time I had reached level 6 I had gained the ability to fly. I say fly, it was more float, and then glide in your chosen direction very slowly. I attached some ‘glide slightly faster’ powerups to get me up to speed and proceeded to rain fiery death down upon my enemies.
The satisfaction was immense.
It’s worth mentioning that the quests themselves were never especially interesting, all being variations on clearing an area to gain a reward, but the sense of progress made the experience worthwhile. The powers that you get are satisfying and the level of customisation involved with your character makes you feel that bit more attached to him. As you become more powerful the citizens of Liberty City will comment as you pass, hailing you as a hero, or ‘that guy who saved my brother’s life’. It’s good to see the world responding to your deeds, and makes you feel a bit more responsible for the safety of the citizens.
We had a great time with City of Heroes, and would be tempted to get a subscription and pile more time into it. The servers for the game are unfortunately extremely quiet these days, a shadow of its former self, so instead we’ll be waiting eagerly Champions Online, by the same developer. It’s looking like a flashier and improved version of City of Heroes. That could be the game that finally turns us into regular MMO-ers. City of Heroes is certainly an impressive start.