Friday, August 22, 2008
Don't blame WAR for your burnout
I've been playing role-playing games for a quarter of a century, and MMORPGs for nearly 10 years now. During this time my enthusiasm for these games waxed and waned, I had periods of playing deep into the night, and periods of burnout where I didn't feel like playing anything. And looking around the MMO blogosphere at the moment, I detect symptoms of burnout in quite a lot of people. Blogs that went from daily long posts to occasional one-liners. Bloggers switching games every week without ever really feeling at home. And an eternal cycle of hope for the next big game, followed by disappointment that the game couldn't manage to conquer the burnout. All this is very natural. But I sure wish that people would stop blaming specific games for their burnout problems, like they currently do with Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning.
If you are so burned out of playing World of Warcraft or whatever similar game you were playing that you just can't stand this sort of gameplay any more, neither WAR nor WotLK will help you. I've had commenters complaining about the fact that WAR had quests, experience points, and gear, but then getting all annoyed when I suggested that if he doesn't want these features, he might be better of playing a game that isn't a MMORPG, like Spore for example. I spent my summer holidays playing Football Manager Live instead of WoW, because I felt burned out. If you want a complete change of gameplay, it makes a lot more sense to play a different type of game, than to complain that the new games follow the same genre standards as the previous generation. Mythic never said anything to suggest that they weren't making a game which broadly adheres to the genre standards, and then tries to improve upon them. The only fair way to judge WAR is to compare it to existing games, and see what it does better, and what it does worse. Comparing any new game to some totally hypothetical revolutionary messiah of an ideal game is just stupid, because nothing real can live up to the ideal.
The added problem of WAR is that World of Warcraft has so many more subscribers than any previous game. That means that for a large percentage of MMO players, WoW was their very first MMORPG. And people tend to look at their first game through pink glasses. Hey, I still have nostalgic feelings for Everquest, the first 3D MMORPG I really got attached to (UO was 2D and didn't grip me that much). But if I'm honest, EQ was a horrible game, forcing you into endless camping, grinding, and downtime, with little freedom and very harsh punishment for failure. The nostalgia sometimes makes people think of the "good old days", having forgotten how bad those old days really were. It is hard for any game to recapture that first game feeling, because it is based on lost innocence, and people look at newer games in a more cynical and jaded way.
The games that people are often most enthusiastic about are those that don't exist yet. People praised WAR when it was still far away. Now that the NDA dropped and more people get into preview weekends and betas, suddenly WAR isn't good enough any more, compared to the promise of the games of the next year. People earnestly say they won't play WAR, because Free Realms will be better. Then next year they won't play Free Realms, because Star Trek Online will be better. Then in 2010 they won't play STO, because Blizzard's next MMO will be better. Eternally falling for the hype for some future game, and never being happy with the games that actually exist, is never going to make you happy.
Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning is not the perfect game. It does not rip the core gameplay out of the MMORPG genre, and replaces it with something completely different and better. It will not evoke the same level of emotions as your first MMORPG did. It might not even cure your WoW burnout any better than Wrath of the Lich King can. And it is totally possible that at some point in the future some better game is released, to which WAR compares badly. But all these are unrealistic expectations, which say nothing about the actual quality of the game. Nobody needs a review telling him how WAR compares to some future or past ideal. What people need is detailed descriptions of how Warhammer Online works, because many of them already have an idea what they could like or not like. For most people the choice comes down to something simple like either switching to WAR, or sticking with WoW and its expansion. And many will solve that problem by buying both WAR and WotLK, and then naturally drifting towards the game that suits them best, or giving up on both and playing Spore or something instead. We'll see in half a year how things developed. Because whatever bloggers write now, in the end it is the players who vote with their wallets.