Wednesday, August 26, 2020
MMORPG without the MMO part
I've been watching High Score on Netflix, a documentary series on the history of video games. And one thing that becomes clear when you look at all those games from decades of video game history is that due to technical limitations those games were frequently quite limited in scope. You did just one thing in that game, e.g. shooting space invaders. Most of the stories in High Score are about the early days, in the previous millennium. But the games I am playing now are very different from those early games. They haven't just acquired prettier graphics, but also have much grown in scope. And that is especially true for MMORPGs and "open world" games.
I just started playing Assassin's Creed Odyssey, after finishing Horizon Zero Dawn, following a recommendation from a reader. For me, this type of game scratches the itch that is left from me basically abandoning the MMORPG genre. I explore a world, level up a character, manage loot and resources, craft, do quests, battle monsters, visit dungeons, and all that jazz. My gameplay experience is basically indistinguishable from playing a MMORPG in solo mode. Come to think of it, the "MMO" part of MMORPGs frequently just caused more problems than it was worth, from overloaded servers to guild drama to gankers. I don't miss it much!
I don't claim that this will apply to all previous MMORPG players. It basically depends on your player type. As I always tended to be mostly an explorer, the switch to offline games has advantages for me. I can play Horizon Zero Dawn for 60 hours, then decide that I've seen everything I wanted to see, and move on to the next open world to explore. If your player type is socializer or killer, the part that interested you in a MMORPG can't be filled by an offline game. Nevertheless, the killers also moved on, to MOBA and Battle Royale games. I don't know where the socializers hang out these days, maybe Facebook and Twitter and not in a game at all anymore.
It makes me wonder whether the promise of MMORPGs, to be all things to all player types, was untenable, just an illusion. Have MMORPGs been a peak, the widest scope offered in a single game ever, and we have moved on to games with narrower scopes since?
I watched an episode of Lucifer from the latest season on Netflix yesterday. One of the suspects' alibis was that he was leading a raid on the Lich King in Northrend at the time of the murder. Kudos for the writers having done their research, the character was quite believable and didn't spout any nonsense about MMORPGs. But in 2020 it wasn't just the WoW expansion that was all wrong, but the whole idea that this was how gamers spent their evenings these days felt outdated.