This is one of those days I have zero clue what to write about… but as not to break the chain of constant posts I am going to push through and post something anyways. In part this post about nothing has been brought to you today by the letters N, D and A. So instead of a normal post about what I did last night, or what I want to do today… I am going to make a post about my top five biggest MMO disappointments. This is kind of the bookend to my post about my five favorite MMOs, so hopefully I can do this without coming off overly negative about each.
Some of my picks for this list will be rather controversial… but they are my picks nonetheless. This list is not about what I consider to be the worst MMOs, or even bad MMOs at all. In fact most of the ones included on this list are games I have played over and over again… and will likely play again in the future. On the converse… these are the games I have been the most disappointed by over the years. This could be due to lack of content, lack of depth, lack of features… or just simply lack of follow through. This is by no means a death sentence for an MMO… it wouldn’t be on the list at all if I didn’t care. For example… I do not care at all for TERA or Aion… but I was not necessarily disappointed in either because I was not expecting to like them in the first place.
5 – World of Warcraft
If you remember… I included World of Warcraft as number five on my five favorite MMOs list… and I think placing it in the number five spot on this list adequately represents the love/hate relationship I have with this game. Without a doubt I have had some of the best times playing WoW, but I have also had some of my biggest disappointments in the path they have chosen to grow it. It feels like an old high school friend… that you were extremely close to… but after years of being apart you grew in two completely different directions. While you want really badly to be happy for it… you can see the potential that was there… and how it has been squandered.
World of Warcraft was a game that I expected not to like in the first place. I remember my very first thought when I heard about it… was where the hell would they get their story. Until Warcraft 3… every Blizzard game had essentially only had enough storyline to keep the game from completely falling on its face. After experiencing the deep and rich world of Norrath… I did not think that Blizzard could pull off anything that engaging. I was wrong… they wove together a world that was deep, rich, and filled with lore. Additionally they incorporated the best features of every game that had come before it… and remixed it in a way that truly represented the absolute best of breed for the time.
However over the years… they have butchered the lore… and instead of continuing to incorporated the best features on the market… have instead created half assed versions of them. I have to keep coming back to the Transmogrification system… because it personifies this concept of the modern Blizzard approach. They took something awesome… alternate appearance systems… and instead turned it into an extremely cludgy money sink. The same thing happened over and over as they tried to incorporate features of popular mods… but the official version was never anywhere near as solid as the original mod that inspired it.
Then on the other side of the coin… the content was just lacking. When new content was introduced… it was too little to late. Like a quick appetizer that never quite turned into a meal. Shortly after the release of Cataclysm… I started a brand new Worgen Druid… and managed to level it without much effort in under 5 days played time. Additionally the raid content just felt more and more uninspired… remixes of previous encounters. So I will admit… at times I am one of those guys… that views the golden area of vanilla through rose colored lenses.
For certain players the new mix of content and the pacing works. I have a ton of friends who are still knee deep in the thrall of this game… and more power to them. I just reached a point where I could not view anything but the disappointment. As a result I am not playing, and trying my best not to complain on a regular basis about the game. But… additionally I do not feel this post would be honest if I did not include WoW in the mix. I feel like it still has so much potential, and maybe if they changed to a content driven DLC style free to play model… they would have the endorsement to build content other than the raid ladder and dailies.
4 – Guild Wars 2
This is another title I did not really expect to like when I first heard about it. I was never a huge fan of Guild Wars 1 despite everyone telling me just how amazing a game it was. I liked some of the concepts presented, like the Magic the Gathering style ability system and the ability to multi-class… but everything else about that game I really despised. If I do not like your games user interface or control scheme… no matter how awesome a game it is underneath I just cannot bring myself to play it… no matter how many times I try. So all of this said I really had written off the concept of Guild Wars 2.
This all changed however when the folks at Arena.NET posted their Design Manifesto. It basically said everything I thought I wanted to hear, and laid out a great vision for a new game. So I was amped when I was able to get access to the testing program. However I was immediately disappointed in the experience I had there, and lack of what honestly felt like a game. I was disillusioned enough that I actually resigned from testing and wished them luck. One of my friends remained in the test a little bit longer than I did… and eventually bailed himself. I hoped they would find some direction and turn the project around.
When it came time for open beta testing… I gave the game another shot. The lowered expectations of expecting to dislike the game… caused me to view it through slightly different eyes. I enjoyed the game enough that I picked it up when it came out. The problem is… there just was not enough meat on the bones to hold my attention for long. There are definitely some aspects of the game that I enjoyed, but the whole experience felt very disposable… more so than any game I had experienced.
Additionally it did not feel like I was progressing my character at all. By the time I reached level five, I had unlocked all 5 abilities for my primary weapon choices and the signets and other related abilities… just did not feel like they had enough weight to them to make them something worth striving towards. The game set out to abolish the holy trinity of tank, healer and dps… but the problem is that it didn’t really replace it with anything in the process. Group content felt like a chaotic mess, and I was extremely disappointed when I did my first dungeon and realized the zerging a boss down from a spawn point was totally a viable tactic.
In the Manifesto they proposed that – Shouldn’t Great MMOs be Great RPGs too? The only problem is the key means for moving the story along in a role playing game is the questing construct… but they sought to abolish that as well. Once again… it is fine that they wanted to change the game… but they didn’t really replace it with anything meaningful in the process. As a result I felt extremely disconnected to the world around me. Things were going on around me… on scripted timers… but I didn’t really care about whether or not we won or lost. I didn’t care about the people and place… and the lack of questing did this.
In the Manifesto they stated that it was time to make MMORPGS more social. The only problem with that is that they introduced so much passive grouping, and took away any need for player roles… that the end result is one of the least social games I have played. When roaming around the world… you may be fighting along side other players, but you do not have to interact with them in any meaningful way. Each player is a self sufficient independent state… and as a result has no real need for anyone other than themselves. The game just feels like it is lacking reasons for players to actually be grouping together.
Let me reiterate, there is a lot to like about the game. It runs amazingly well on low end hardware, and presents a very fluid gaming experience. It has one of the prettiest worlds I have ever explored, and has a lot of things that incentivize exploration. While it is presenting a ton of new content in the form of now bi-monthly updates… the problem is most of it is limited time only. Instead of growing their world… they are creating disposable episodes that only serve to make the game play experience all the more disposable itself.
3 – Star Wars: The Old Republic
I’ve loved Star Wars since before I could even fully verbalize it. My parents tell stories about me seeing the movie when I was one… and then coming home and jabbering endlessly about “Darfa Bater”. So if there was any game that has enough storied lore to hold my attention… it should have been SWTOR. I was a huge fan of Knights of the Old Republic, and as a result I was completely committed to the genre they genre they chose to set the films in. Additionally I love the Bioware style of storytelling, and am a pretty huge Dragon Age and Mass Effect junky.
All of these things should have made SWTOR be the next 8 year game for me. The problem is… the experience while amazing… is overall disposable once you have made your way through the content. So much care and feeding were placed on making sure the quests were just right… and the voice acting was flawless… that it greatly cut into the total amount of content available. The three chapters that were available at launch… felt like an awesome introduction to the game… but the main course never really arrived.
I hear the Makeb release is extremely nice… and the continuation of the storyline extremely successful. The only problem is… that content came a year too late to stave off the players leaving. I feel like had they had more content in the pipeline and ready to release a month after launch, they would have been able to keep the majority of all the players that started playing. We just burned through the content way faster than they had expected. Additionally the fact that there was only one path per faction… and that essentially all the quests were the same minus the handful of class specific ones… alting became extremely tedious.
Additionally when they chose to go free to play… they adopted one of the most blatantly abusive models I have seen. Essentially with free to play, you can choose to take the carrot or the stick… and things like gear locks, pay walling what should be base features, and rolling out a never ending stream of unique lockbox gear just feel too much like being beat with the stick for me. It has however been extremely lucrative for Bioware… and enabled the game to keep its doors open. If it means they continue to release new content… then in the long run it could be good for the game as a whole.
I am still disappointed however at what could have been. Had they been able to launch a continuation of the main storyline each month or so… it would have kept me glued to the game. The original storyline was amazing… and there is no taking that away from the game. The Jedi Knight storyline is probably one of the most epic story arcs I have experienced in any game. It was just over way too soon, leaving me nothing really left that I wanted to do. The problem is… that content was extremely expensive to produce. There was never a way that they ever could have kept up with the demand.
2 – Champions Online
One of my all time favorite pen and paper games is Heroes Unlimited by Palladium games. I had early experiences with D&D and AD&D… but this was the game that really hooked me on the possibilities of role playing games. What made the system so cool is that it had rules to create literally any type of super hero or super villain you could imagine. Of course I created my share of Wolverine or Batman clones… but the game system was this fertile group that through a series of roles I could create some unique characters as well. What made the game so engaging was that the sky was literally the limit in the types of things you could create.
I was a huge fan of City of Heroes, because it gave me some of this same rich character building… but did so in an easy to digest MMO form. That game however had a lot of short comings… and when Champions Online was announced it looked to be addressing all of these base issues and creating this wild open ended super hero creation system. You could mix and match power sets… creating your own custom mix for your character… and this was placed on top of a character generator that was even more robust than City of Heroes. Everything sounded like the perfect super hero game… and I was hooked on it early.
The problem is… the power sets were grossly imbalanced. This is the first game I had ever played where certain power sets were literally unplayable. You could reach a point where you just simply could not progress any further due to the choices you had made. On the other side of the coin… certain power sets were so grossly overpowered that they completely removed any challenge from the content at all. You could steam roll over the top of anything, while your friend that chose one of the broken ones… could not even fight the lowest rank mobs.
The major disappointment is that they did a very poor job of mitigating the different power sets. They would buff one…. but then another power set would become the broken one… making it a constant cycle of your favorite power set potentially becoming the unplayable one. The game had all the potential in the world… and just became grossly mismanaged. Instead of understanding that this constant state of power flux and un-playability was what was driving their players away… they instead decided to streamline the content.
I really do not remember the timing, but I believe this happened around the time of the free to play conversion. Previously there had been a pretty interesting storyline that had multiple paths your characters could take. The end result ended up with everything being a big jumbled mess. The thing that ended up as the nail in the coffin however… is that coming back as a free to play character… I could not play any of my existing characters. Each and every one included some costume bits that were not open to free players. This should be a lesson to anyone… grandfather existing characters… because holding players characters hostage behind a pay wall is never a good call.
1 – Warhammer Online
I had to put this one at number one… because really this game turning out the way it did is one of my biggest gaming regrets. I love Warhammer… have since I was in middle school and painting my very first citadel miniatures. I love the world and the lore… and the sheer brutality of the chaos gods. They took a failing IP and placed it in the hands of MMO veterans… Mythic games… who had brought the world Dark Age of Camelot. It seemed like a no-fail proposal. I thought they knew exactly what players wanted… and could borrow from the success they had with DAoC and all the nuts and bolts that make a game work.
Unfortunately Warhammer Online is really the tale of two games. The one to twenty experience was amazing. The PVE content rich, the new public questing construct extremely fun, and the early battlegrounds extremely inventive and enoyable to play. I still think that the early experience in Warhammer Online ranks among some of my favorite leveling experiences. The problem is that when you hit about 20-25 the bottom fell out… the PVE content ceased to be interesting… and became increasingly more sparse. The game changed from this fun questing experience to this “go grind pvp to level” experience.
I feel like the game as a whole was a clash between these two seperate games… one of which I enjoyed immensely… the PVE experience… and one I really could care less about.. the PVP experience. Had they given me a pure PVE warhammer game… I would probably still be playing it. The game as a whole did so many innovative things, and there were so many mysteries around the world to unlock for your book of deeds. Additionally it shipped with an Addon system that was on par with World of Warcraft, and presented some extremely interesting class and race choices.
If only they had focused on giving equal time to both the PVE and PVP experience. The only problem is… I feel like the makers of this game have come to completely different conclusions about why it failed. Mark Jacobs has gone on to create Camelot Unchained… which serves to be a purely PVP game completely casting aside any PVE aspects. I feel like his take away was that it failed because it just was not PVP enough. In truth not a single friend that was playing left because of lack of PVP. We had a guild of around 40 players… and all of us left when the post 20 forced pvp experience began. Harecore PVP players are a niche within a niche, and I just don’t feel that you can really build any game solely around them as your target audience.
This is probably the game I feel would beneift the most from a free to play conversion. Awhile back I signed up for a new free trial account just to give the game a spin and see if it really is as good as I remembered. Overall the starter experience is still extremely fun, even though they have dumbed down the richness quite a bit by funneling everyone into the empire lands. I feel like a free to play version, might pump a bit more life into the title and allow it to survive. The problem is… this has become the textbook example for MMO failure… and I doubt EA would spend a dime on it going forward. As a result I will always be left with the thoughts of what might have been had the direction been a bit more sound.
This post ended up going a lot longer than expected. I’ve been typing for around an hour and a half now, but finally have reached a point where I have said what I needed to say about each of them. Hopefully none of them came off as too terribly ranty. I hope you all have great weekends, I will mostly be trying to relax a bit before Monday. I am already stressing out quite a bit, because I know going back I will be having to fill in for my boss as he is going out of town.