April 29, 2011

Farewell, Telara

After 90 hours of playing between two classes, a level 32 Defiant Cleric and a level 16 Guardian Rogue, I've cancelled my subscription to Rift. From this statement it seems I was dissatisfied or didn't enjoy the game, which absolutely shouldn't be the takeaway.

One of the best moments in Rift. A massive titan emerged from this portal entirely unexpectedly. I had a few missions that led up to me destroying him. Still furious UI was in the shot despite me checking the box that said "Hide UI."

Rift is polished. The UI, feel, look, and balance of the game is very good. Furthermore, instead of spending the first month patching a game that should have never been released (i.e. 99% of developers), Trion launched new world events and is working to roll out new features. Things like Guild Banks, ways to search for groups, and the ability to pick gear for aesthetic purposes while still using other gear for stat bonuses.

Rift took the very refined MMO trinity of healer/damage dealer/tank and switched it up with their innovative "Soul" system. Instead of 8 or 9 classes, the game has 4: Mage, Cleric, Warrior, Rogue. Within each class the player can choose, at a time, 3 souls from an expansive list of 8 total. Any three! This means a rogue can focus on range damage, stealth, and healing if they want. Or being a stealthy tank with a pet. Or being a ranged guy with a pet who can still do decent damage in melee. Finally, a player can switch between these sets of three any time they are not in combat. This means I can be playing my solo cleric, who is hearty and deals decent damage, while questing. Then, when I switch to PVP, I can instantly change to a healer to help my team that way. Each character can be four characters and each of those characters can be slightly unique. It's a great system and a fantastic evolution for the genre.

But, the core game is still a matter of questing through what is ultimately a gigantic roller-coaster. I believe folks refer to them as "theme park MMOs," which seems incredibly apt. The game is essentially Epcot, only here you're incentivized to hunt costumed park employees. I feel that this experience is incredibly tired. I will slowly but surely increase in power until I hit the level cap. Along the way I will acquire new weapons, new skills, and see new areas. Then, I will be at the level cap and my focus will switch to repeating content in order to get better gear so that I can repeat the content more effectively.

It's an exhausting treadmill that I admittedly find incredibly entertaining for a whileIt's very easy to jump in and succeed, then log off and go back to normal life. You're always improving and that's satisfying. But, as a player, I crave to make an impact on the game world. I was able to make an impact, albeit an incredibly tiny one, in the universe of EVE Online. I'm able to make an impact in my worlds in Minecraft.

The sunset viewed from MY battlement. 
Being the guy who organizes the 300 Ork-strong naked /dance competition in Orgimmar is not an impact. Being #865 on the Arena ladder is not an impact. And following the same story path that everyone else does only to see my accomplishments reset as the enemies respawn isn't an impact.

I believe Bioware would argue that The Old Republic will give me that impact. I will supposedly have an epic story with choices and decisions. Ultimately however, I feel like they've simply (or perhaps with much difficulty) put lipstick on a pig. A very fantastic, hugely popular pig, but they are applying window-dressing to the same formula. That's the impression I take from articles like this one from Rock, Paper, Shotgun. As I said previously I'm not looking for the same scripted experience that millions of others will enjoy.

I believe Trion and ArenaNet would argue that their dynamic events have and will change the face to the MMO landscape. They have, and probably will, but not in a significant manner. Instead of your typical mob patrolling in his pre-set path, they now have mobs appear from dynamic portals with missions of their own. After you tackle a few rifts in Rift, however, you realize that they are dynamically ordinary. 

A death rift consumes the otherwise peaceful landscape in Rift.
Another beautiful Guild Wars 2 screenshot. 
So where do we go from here? Wurm Online is almost unplayable. It's incredibly difficult if you don't have a server lying around to play with friends in Minecraft, and even there you don't exactly have a goal yet (which is nice to have at some point). Dawntide is in open beta but I'd argue it's actually open alpha. Who knows if they can pull it off? Games like Darkfall Online and Mortal Online seem to delight in being insufferable and tedious. Love is actually ridiculously cool (check out those screenshots!) but it's a bit too quirky and difficult to approach for most.

Love, a one-man game that is truly a labor of love.
Fallen Earth, which toes the line between sandboxy and theme park has "player towns" known as progress towns on the horizon. I may re-subscribe to give them a spin. ArchAge out of Korea claims to be a "third generation MMO" that is a true-sandbox. The page is in Korean, but if you watch the video at the top you can see that this CryEngine 3 powered game is gorgeous, but is it fun?

Perhaps naively (ok, definitely naively), I believe the next World of Warcraft-esque smash hit will be a sandbox. I realize history hasn't indicated this, especially as most of these games cater to an incredibly small, arguably deranged niche of individuals. But, with accessibility, polish, and a focus on fun (instead of sandbox for the sake of it) I think something incredible will emerge.

From that foundation, the players will create a world the likes of which no designer has ever imagined.

No comments: