Hello again noble readers and welcome to the second instalment in our thrilling MMOdown, where Ludo and I, two long term gamers who nevertheless have next to no experience with the dreaded muhmorpuhga genre, give the genre a whirl in an attempt to understand the attraction.
Last week Ludo spoke of our experience with City of Heroes, which was refreshingly dynamic entry in a field we’d always seen as bit stale and static. We enjoyed our time in Paragon City a lot, but probably won’t be taking up a subscription and instead will await, with baited breath, the beta for spiritual successor Champions Online.
This week we decide to go for the big daddy, the heavy hitter, the MMO which defines all others: World of Warcraft. Read more after the jump.
And so we begin, after sorting out our trial code malarkey we were greeted with a fairly standard intro screen. A bit of preliminary research told us we’d start in different cities depending on race, so we both went with Undead, because of Ludo’s better-not-discussed penchant for necromancy. Our first impression was the distinct lack of options on character creation, whereas in City of Heroes we’d merrily tweaked our characters for nearly an hour in WoW we could cycle through all the possible combinations in about five minutes. I went with the bog standard Warrior, whereas Ludo, a sucker for minions as ever, chose the demon keeping Warlock, they looked pretty much the same. (It is at this point that I regret to inform you that we’ve lost the screenshots of our time in WoW, so you’ll have to take our generic screenies and witty captions instead)
With the game proper beginning we get a little canned intro discussing the origins of our race, which I’m not entirely sure anyone really cares about, whilst panning over a set of dumpy purple cottages which look like a children’s book illustration of a spooky house, this turns out to be our city. We are born into the game world within a small tomb under the undead village, honestly you’d think undead would require more tomb space but hey, whatever. As we stroll merrily out the passers by run back and forth minding their own business emphatically, this would become a theme for our stay in this game. While in City of Heroes we found groups picking up players fairly often, and high level characters strolling around casually chatting with the newbies, in WoW everyone seems very much focused on their own levelling, odd for a game in which the social aspect is so touted. And once again we are denied the ability to group with each other, or give each other things, or drop things or the ground, or do much of anything really.
Anyway, we stumble out into the world, surrounded by the aforementioned emphatically unspooky cottages, wandering into the biggest cottage we find a man with an exclamation mark over his head. “Shit, we’ve been spotted!” We think for a second before realising this is the other widely used exclamation mark trope, he had a quest for us. After giving us the standard ‘welcome new person’ speech he sends us off to our respective trainers, they, and many others in the town have quests for us, we eagerly snap them all up and compare notes: “Kill five zombies, kill five skeletons, kill five slightly different looking zombies” Bugger. Well, you know, I’ve known a lot of good single player RPG’s that started with “kill five rats”, you know, there’s a reason it’s a gag, it’s almost self referential now. Anyway most of City of Heroes’ quests were simple slaughterfests too, admittedly you actually felt like you were fighting crime while doing it, rather than fighting wildlife, but we enjoyed that, maybe we’ll enjoy this too.
We did not enjoy this.
It’s hard to put a finger on why butchering minions is less fun in World of Warcraft than in City of Heroes, maybe it’s because we felt like there was more of a purpose when we were fighting crime, maybe it’s because we were firing lasers from our eyes instead of learning various marginally different sword swings, or maybe it’s because we felt like superheroes, rather than feeling like a mook with a sword, no, not even that, feeling like the guy behind the mook, clicking the buttons.
There is zero immersion in World of Warcraft, at no time do you feel like a mighty (or distinctly unmighty, in my case) warrior, or a powerful mage, instead you feel like a man clicking a mouse at a computer, watching a series of numbers steadily increase and decrease under a rather unimpressive graphical overlay. It’s the reason I feel out of love with Oblivion in the end, a sudden epiphany saw me see through the pretence into the shallow mechanics beneath, and I was appalled. WoW makes no pretence of being anything more than these simple, shallow and god damn it I’m going to say it, dull mechanics. Why should it? Millions of people enjoy increasing these numbers, for reasons beyond my comprehension, but for me, every time a number floats out of an enemies head a little part of me dies inside.
We soldiered onwards, convinced that the game would, at some point become more interesting. It was revealed that sufficient levelling up (beyond the meagre level that trial players were allowed of course) would enable us to get bigger inventories, or ride horses, in order to reduce the inconveniences the game had already enforced upon us. A wise man once pointed out that this was how such games tended to operate, holding the concept of reduced irritation like a carrot in front of the gamer, who apparently never realises that the stick of inconvenience was artificially imposed in the first place. However this failed to attract us, we weren’t being put off by the downtime between quests, we were being put off because the quests and the grinding itself bored us, the idea of making it easier to get to something we didn’t want to now was spectacularly unappealing.
We learnt more skills, we did more quests and I could document them in detail here, but there’s really no need to as they were all much the same as the ones I have already talked about, and when I’m avoiding them because they would make for an uninteresting review, you can only begin to imagine how boring the game itself is. In short, World of Warcraft was every bad thing we’ve ever heard about muhmorpuguhs, the dull repetition, the endless fetch quests, the constant pointless grind. In addition the things which we thought we might enjoy about it, like the design that Blizzard are so often lauded for, was simply not present. I’m sure things are much more spectacular once you get out of the starting areas, but surely you should be impressing your players from the start, rather than expecting them to take it on faith that it’ll get better later.
On the whole, I know this will achieve nothing, WoW will continue to sell. Blizzard will never need to change it and other companies will emulate them. There must be an appeal to this type of gaming somewhere, but now, as before, I could not begin to tell you what it is.
Dante, disappointed, signing off.