Why Play WAR Over “That Other Game”

[Hey all, here’s a guest post from a fellow guild-member in WAR (spacecowboy2071 here, I’ll  let him decide if he wants to give himself a more catchy name sometime!). I’m hoping to gather a few people willing to contribute to the blog, so expect to hear more from space-cowboy soon. And give him a good welcome pleasearbitrary]

First, I feel I should confess… I am a Blizzard fan boy.  I’ve purchased every game of theirs since the original WarCraft: Orcs vs Humans.  When World of WarCraft was released I was wet with anticipation, and like many it was my first MMO.

Second, I would consider myself a casual gamer.  This description fits well amongst the MMO crowd, of course my family would disagree and tell you there’s no bigger game geek out there.  I’m logging about 10-20 hours a week, and often limit sessions to an hour or two.  This leaves little opportunity for raiding or the desire to waste precious time spamming looking for group channels.

“That Other Game”

Now with that all being said, it’s no secret that World of WarCraft broke the mold by making MMOs accessible to the casual gamer.  Most of us are well familiar with the formula of their success:  you can level from 1-80 without joining a group, you have access to great items from quests and crafting (up to end-game), etc., etc.  However, where I feel World of WarCraft fails is in the end-game.  What’s more is Blizzard seems to recognize this, but is slow and reluctant to rectify how inaccessible the game becomes once you reach the level cap.  Over the lifespan of game we’ve seen raiding go from requiring 40 players with the original release, to 25 with the Burning Crusade expansion, to now 10 with Wrath of the Lich King.  Blizzard has omitted they need to make end game content more accessible in an interview by MMOGamer,  BlizzCon: Interview With WoW Lead Designer Jeffrey “Tigole” Kaplan, what’s confusing is they are taking their sweet time in doing it.

To WAR!

Warhammer Online has taken MMO accessibility to the next level.  Public Quests allow you to join open groups for “raid”-like content and rewards.  Even if you don’t have the time to complete the Public Quest, you still earn influence, which over time earns you rewards that are substantial.  Further more joining a group for a Public Quest is easy!  The interface comes outfitted with tools, so that as soon as you log on you can immediately display public groups in your area and join them.  Insta-fun-joy!

Likewise, the world PvP influence system (known as open Realm vs Realm) and the Renown Rank system also allow you to build up points over time for great rewards.  In an MMO where gear plays an importance to character progression, it is important that those that can only commit to an hour or less gaming sessions at a time are rewarded and not penalized.

Warhammer Online seems committed to making the game more and more accessible to casual gamers.  Future features include extending open RvR influence bars, token systems, easy public quests, and more uber gear drops from champion mobs in keep takes.  Snippets of upcoming features and improvements are mentioned in a Warhammer Alliance post, NYCC – A Few Answers.

The Question

Now I’ve been asking myself, “Why is Warhammer Online so much more in tune with making their end-game casual friendly when World of WarCraft is not?” Well, I think it’s important to know the senior producers and developers of an MMO, and understand what kind of gamer(s) they are to answer that question.  The original World of WarCraft was produced by Rob Pardo and is currently being produced by Jeff Kaplan.  Both of them where hardcore raiders in EverQuest as mentioned in this post by Tobold, Raid numbers.  Whereas Marc Jacobs is a casual gamer.  He has mentioned that because of his “real life” commitments and interests, he only finds an hour or so to play games himself.

And that’s the case I’m putting forth.  Both World of WarCraft and Warhammer Online offer quality PvE, PvP, and more.  However, each has a unique approach to how this content is experienced and how you as a player progress.  In  the end it has a great deal to do with gamer on the other side of the screen and the game they want to play.

Advertisements

[WoW] Storytelling in MMOs

NOTE: There’s some minor spoilers in here for the starting Death Knight questchain. So skip this post  if you don’t want to be spoiled.

There are three types of storytelling that go on in MMOs. The first and most traditional sort are the stories we tell about players. Ask anyone about their worst ever PUG or the most amusing mistell they’ve ever seen — we all have stories to tell. Our guilds have histories, our servers have ‘famous’ personalities, we have scandals and drama, and all the flotsam of human nature is there. Game design can definitely have a big effect on the way communities form and interact but for the main part, these are interactive stories that are completely player driven. They aren’t always particularly good or thematic stories but that’s real life for you. At least we can guarantee that most get better with retelling.

The second sort is the type of story that players tell on roleplaying servers, from time to time. These are stories about characters that are partly driven by the game lore but aren’t directly driven by developers. If you’ve ever thought about your character’s backstory and where s/he came from, you’ve done some of this.

(Cybering usually falls between the above two categories because two players writing smut to each other isn’t really roleplaying and has more to do with playing out real life fantasies. Which is basically harmless as long as it’s not inflicted on minors or anyone who isn’t interested.)

The last sort are quest based character storylines. You follow the quests and as you do so, there’s some kind of storyline that your character is experiencing. It may involve helping old ladies to find their lost chickens or saving the world from the Big Bad but the story is written into the game. Human beings enjoy stories, it’s how we are wired, but there are major difficulties with these kind of questlines. The main one is getting players to buy into it. Or even to actually read it at all.

And in Wrath, Blizzard have pretty much taken this to the next level in MMOs (in a good way). The starting Death Knight quests are remarkable in that as a player, you feel personally involved in the choice that your character is making without actually being given a choice. They’re remarkable in other ways too – Blizzard did a super job of showcasing everything they have learned about creating fun and memorable quests, there’s the bombing run, the disguise yourself as a peculiar object quest, the nuke vast amounts of enemy quest, the ‘dodge the elite mob’ quest, and so on. But the writers really outdid themselves with one specific part.

Now backtracking a bit, everyone who plays WoW knows that Death Knights begin their careers as loyal thralls of the Lich King. They also know that Death Knights will eventually be fighting the Lich King alongside the regular members of the Horde and Alliance. Which must mean that either they get a redemption storyline or else they are all really really bad spies (if they were good spies, they’d be disguised as Retribution Paladins – all you’d have to do is whine constantly about not wanting to heal and carry a big 2 hander, no one would ever know).

So the Death Knight starting quests present the player with a redemption quest line. The turning point is where you encounter a member of the same race who remembers you from your time before you became a Death Knight, when you were a hero … And they call you brother/sister and ask if you have the strength to resist. I don’t know anyone who has done that questline who didn’t respond emotionally to that piece of writing, and my hats are off to the Blizzard writers. It is probably the most important piece of quest text in the game because if you don’t buy into that, you can’t buy into the character at all, and they make it work.

I can’t overstate how difficult a thing it is that they pulled off with this. Any tabletop GM will tell you that there are some types of storyline that you just can’t run with some players. I’ve had players who hated storylines where they got captured by the enemy and had to escape (even though I thought it would make from an awesome Escape from Colditz type plot), I’ve had players who were offered a redemptive type storyline and refused it because they liked their character the way it was. Some people just like to feel in control and that they are making their own choices.

And letting people make their own meaningful story choices is something that’s been very hard to pull off in MMOs. So colour me utterly amazed at the writing in the Death Knight quests, because it feels as though a meaningful choice has been made and that the player was personally involved, even though it’s a static questline with no choices in it.

Mrs Spinks Goes to Northrend


Aside from all that, I’ve been very much enjoying questing with my warrior. This is basically what I bought the expansion for and it hasn’t disappointed me. It’s the Blizzard way to deliver a lot of basically competent quests with a few gems in each area. I’m just about done with Howling Fjord, have finished every quest I could find and run the first instance a couple of times with friends.

I really miss the red map blobs from Warhammer!!!

It is also that time in the cycle where there’s a lot of guild swapping going on, as people jockey around and decide how hardcore they want to play for the next few months. My semi-casual guild has lost a few people to more hardcore establishments. It’s inevitable that we likely will lose a few more – experience from TBC says that some people will hit 80 a few weeks ahead of the rest and if they get bored and frustrated while wanting to raid, they’re likely to find different raid groups. C’est la vie. It all happened before and no doubt it will all happen again.

Wrapping up for the Winter

Wotcha everyone,

Wrath of the Lich King.  Warcraft’s new expansion.  I have to mention it at some point, because for me to try and ignore its imminent release would be like trying to ignore the imminent arrival of Winter.  No matter how much I might run around in Hawaiian shirts and Bermuda shorts (geographical dressing FTW!), it’s still going to get colder and colder.

So, here is me putting on a big woolly jumper and a scarf.

Will I be playing Wrath of the Lich King?  Probably.  At some point.  Hopefully, my mates who still play World of Warcraft will froth at me about it, in the hopes that I will join them.  If they don’t, it will be because it’s rubbish, or they don’t want to spend time in my company.  Either option would be bad.

Good games are good for all of us.  It keeps raising the bar, it means that standards rise, and that means that we all get to play better games.  So a good Wrath of the Liche King is great for everyone.

But I don’t want a repeat of the playing carnage that was Burning Crusade.  An entire server in one zone, desperately trying to level as fast as possible?  No, no thanks.  Neither would be trying to play whilst thousands of Death Knights are desperately trying to get to level 80 to assure themselves a place in their raid.

I might play later, but not at launch.

But there is something about the launch of Wrath of the Lich King that vaguely disturbs me.  And that’s a continuation of something that really started to strike me during the closed beta, NDA days of Warhammer Online.

For me, one of the things I love about online games is getting out there and discovering stuff.  I don’t have to see every single square foot of the world, but I love discovering things.  I love discovering the plots arcs, and taking part in them.  I love seeing the various places, and discovering what sort of trez there is to get.

Yet more and more, it seems that letting all those juicy little secrets out is part of the marketing campaign.  Now, I haven’t bought gaming magazines for a while, but this month’s PC Gamer has a number of pages dedicated to Wrath of the Lich King spoilers.  I can only assume that there have been similar amounts of NDA leakage to gaming websites as well.  Whether there’s more or less leaking than for Warhammer Online’s launch I have no idea, and nor do I care to find out, but something does worry me.  Is one of the reasons that we look for these leaks to give us a leg up, an advantage over our fellow players, rather than to help us form an opinion about a game, and if we should spend our hard-earned spoondoolicks on it?

It’s quite likely that I’m going senile, but I remember a time, a much gentler time, when gaming was about fun.  It was about levelling your character, so you could do different fun stuff.  It was about “ooing” and “aahing”, and generally going “squee!” when something nice dropped.

And then, somehow and somewhere, that ceased to be the case.  Suddenly it was about getting to maximum level as fast as possible, with the levelling content being there purely to stop you getting bored and going elsewhere.  Suddenly it was all about the epixxx, and moaning because “your” item didn’t drop.  Again.

Will Wrath of the Lich King change this?  Will it bring peace and love back to online gaming?

Or is Wrath of the Lich King just another excuse to wave our e-peens about the ether, in the way that Warhammer Online, and the rest of the current wave of 2nd Generation Online Games have been doing for some time now?

I really, really hope it’s great.  That it becomes more than the sum of its parts.  That it brings happy joy-joy feelings to online gamers everywhere.

Most of all, I’m really hoping they’ve got rid of the grind, because that’s what keeps sucking all of the fun out for me.

Cheers,
Hawley.

[WoW] The Lich King Strikes

The Lich King steps it up a notch and there’s some hardcore orc on orc action going on  in Ogrimmar.

[WoW] World of Resource Management

thorium, is there anything it cant do?

thorium, is there anything it can't do?

Perhaps it is due to coming back from a break but I wonder how I’d never seen WoW as the resource management game that it undoubtedly is before. There’s always an element of resource management in MMOs, but WoW takes this to extremes.

Any time they introduce new content, you could summarise it as “collect token X (which you get by doing activity Y) and use it to purchase item/ reputation Z”. I can’t imagine how confusing this must be for new players when half the resources you collect have been made totally redundant. This gives an impression of the game being more complex than it really is. Yes there’s lots of stuff to do and collect while you level, but much of it is completely pointless now (dark iron ore anyone?). The sheer variety of stuff for people to collect in order to get a character well sorted for endgame does add an extra level to planning alts, though. I think it’s fairly standard for people to play their first character the regular way and just do stuff as it comes, but then try to optimise alt levelling so as to minimise the work needed. I characterise ‘the regular way’ as meaning to organically move through the quests and zones as the game naturally indicates. That means that to optimise you have to do some content out of order; for example, ignoring quests when you would normally pick them up and running higher level instances instead.

Optimising resource management adds a lot of replayability to the game. Jury’s out (with me at least) as to how fun it actually is, but it undoubtedly adds an extra layer of challenge to levelling alts. ie. Can I do this better? I do very much prefer the EVE model with its wider range of choices, many of them based on responding to how other players act in the economy, rather than the WoW on-rails experience of dictating exactly what you need to gather and what you can turn it in for.

It is still quite surprising to me that they’ve turned something that isn’t especially fun into a cornerstone for all of their content. It also contributes to the “same old same old” feel that a lot of people get about the new expansion. Meet the new resource management mini-game, same as the old one, but we’ve renamed the tokens and the reputation grind! It’s not only ridiculous, but also exceptionally lazy. Instead of collecting Primal Water, you can instead collect …. (wait for it) …. Eternal Water! Be still my beating heart! Collecting Primal Water was the absolutely high point for me of TBC and I know we’re all counting the minutes until we can do it again…? No?

Anyway, I resubbed, specced my warrior up the Protection Tree and went off to check the Argent Dawn quests for the Necropolises. I can’t get excited about content I already saw a couple of years back but I trotted off to the Burning Steppes to kill some undead like a good ‘un. It’s a zone I know well because I spent a lot of time mining Thorium there in the past.

Thorium paid for my epic ground mount back in the day so I will always have a soft spot for it. Also it’s bright green and glows (and smokes too, for some strange reason) so you can’t really miss it, plus everyone always wants Thorium because you need it to level half the tradeskills and no one bothers farming it. There are many many more optimal ways to farm cash than running around waiting for ore to respawn but since I was there anyway I grabbed a stack. For old times’ sakes.

I’ll tweak the spec a bit, there’s a couple of talents I can ditch in favour of more damage, but Protection Warriors are pretty hot right now. I was also enjoying the novelty of soloing in my tanking gear. I think Blizzard have really nailed the spec. It feels solid and powerful but not overpowered.