I’ve flounced around on a few different MMOGs in my past. I cut my teeth and damaged my first marriage with EverQuest. I started playing World of Warcraft after that, and have dabbled in varying degrees with EverQuest 2, Warhammer Online, Age of Conan, Eve Online and City of Heroes/Villains. I beta’d Planetside and Tabula Rasa & Lord of the Rings Online have taken it in turns to tempt me – though with Tabula Rasa breathing it’s last, I have less to worry about from Lord British.
I find myself coming back to World of Warcraft time and time again. Considering most of the people who got me started with MMOGs moved from EverQuest to it’s sequel, I feel some loyalty to them and yet I can’t seem to hold onto that game long enough to make the kind of commitment I feel they deserve. So what makes me such a WoW junkie?
Original & Coherent Fluff
Despite the occasional retcon and shoehorning of new content (where exactly did the naaru come from?), Blizzard has proven, at least to me, that their story-telling is original and inspired. Yes, some of their influences are clearly from the likes of Games Workshop and Tolkien, but Warcraft has established its own storylines and cultural identity back around the time RTS geeks like myself were plowing battleships through the Dark Portal. Just as they did with the dark world of Diablo and the science fiction universe of StarCraft, Blizzard carved out their own identity for the “high” fantasy world of Azeroth. The history of that world, while sometimes a bit of a work in progress as more material is written and developed, is still some of the easiest to follow in the genre. It’s not fluff that’s been established in another medium, like Warhammer’s tabletop worlds or Tolkien’s reams of literature, nor is it difficult to research and understand, like the disparate racial identities of EQ’s Norrath.
When I say “balanced,” I’m not referring to class balance. That’s an issue that will be endlessly debated on the WoW forums and over various alcoholic beverages and Ventrilo during raids when the healers should be healing instead of complaining that other classes’ heals are better than theirs. What I’m referring to is the balance between solo content, raid content and PvP (player versus player for the uninitiated). Age of Conan relied very heavily on solo content during its opening levels, so much so that I wondered why I wasn’t playing a single-player RPG like Mass Effect or Oblivion or Bloodlines to get a similar experience without the annoying monthly fee. EverQuest 2 has a veritable lack of PvP which borders on this sort of isolation, but has group content that sort of balances that loss, or would if the group dungeons were instanced instead of open. Warhammer Online is very PvP (or Realm versus Realm) centered, and while the Public Quests are an interesting idea, most of the solo content seems to be a mere vehicle to get a player more viable in a PvP situation. WoW demonstrates how to cater to a variety of audiences by balancing the player versus environment (PvE) and PvP aspects in a way that allows players to pursue either or both as they see fit.
You don’t need a water-cooled quad-core supercomputer to run World of Warcraft. Yes, you might lag in some of the larger population hubs but that is more due to the sheer number of simultaneous players than the graphical or programmatic content. This is, I feel, another deliberate attempt on the behalf of Blizzard to appeal to the lowest common denominator and thus increase their player base, but the side effect is a solid, relatively bug-free game engine that runs smoothly between patches. When wasting hours of otherwise productive time on a MMOG, avoiding things like crashes, bugs and incomplete content helps immerse the user in the experience.
The Significant Other Factor
My fiancée plays.
Now, I’m interested to see how the upcoming Star Trek Online and Star Wars: the Old Republic turn out, but if experience has taught me anything, it’s that the newest and shiniest thing to come along isn’t necessarily the best. So depending on how those sci-fi MMOGs turn out, my return to WoW might not be as short-lived as was my attempt to rekindle my interest in EverQuest 2.
More geeky gaming posts to come, from console gaming to live-action role play.