You know, the problem with riffing on Dickens for a post title is that it pushes the Lit Geek button, the one that says, “OK, now we go with the ‘It was the best of games, it was the worst of games, blah blah blah’ “and we get so hung up on our own cleverness that eventually we start using the royal We where we really mean I and pretty soon you just want to shoot us, I mean, me.
Therefore, setting Dickens aside, the meat of this: as you might have already assumed, a pair of MMORPGs, or mumorpuhguhs if you don’t mind me stealing from Yathzee.
Allow me to preface this with a bit of history. I divide mumorpuhguhs into two eras: the “Everquest” era, where you spent your playtime desperately trying to get into a group of other players so you could sit in a small corner of a dungeon and kill the same monsters over and over again until you couldn’t take it any more, or more properly until the one guy who’d been masochistic enough to start a healer couldn’t take it anymore and logged off making the whole group dissolve, and the “World of Warcraft” era, where you spend your playtime looking for NPCs with little shiny marks floating over their head that mean they are in desperate need of between eight and twenty pieces of the local wildlife and YOU are the lucky soul that gets to go chop off their ears, wings, noses, etc.
Off to the side of these are the Korean free MMOs, which can fall into either category, plus you spend real money on equipping your characters with more and more elaborate hats.
So, the first MMO I’d like to talk about: Mythic’s Dark Age of Camelot, a hold-over from the grindy age and one of the first games that people used to say would kill Everquest.
It didn’t, but ten years later it’s still running, and that’s more than you can say for a lot of games. At some point in the last few years, it made the transition from grindy to sparkly floaty icon hunty style MMO, and added all kinds of experience boosting stuff to the point where getting a character to max level – and the max level is still 50, it hasn’t gone up since the game was launched – is a reasonably smooth and pleasant experience, even solo.
I say “even solo”, because that’s what you’re gonna be doing if you give DAoC a try. I played it for about four months, leveled a character to 50, got the ten “champion levels”, which are KINDA like going from 51 to 60, only really slow and without much payoff, and only grouped three or four times in the process, even though I joined an active guild quite early on.
I did a little raiding, a lot of exploring, and had quite a bit of fun in the process, but I eventually just ran out of stuff to do; there’s a very harsh division between Stuff You Can Solo and Stuff You Need More People For, and once I’d burned through everything I could solo, there wasn’t much keeping me in the game.
There are a fair few diehards in DAoC, though, the ones that just keep leveling one character after another to 50, and they’re the ones keeping the lights on and the servers up. They’re nice folks – they tend to be older, friendly and relaxed – but they aren’t enough to make up for servers that have turned to ghost towns.
Still, and I come back to this, it was fun until I hit the solo/group wall. The game has an certain… atmosphere to it, it’s a world in a way that few MMOs are. I have a feeling I could really enjoy just running around the zones and watching the sunsets, if it weren’t for the pesky monsters getting in the way.
The second MMO I’m going to blather on about is Everquest 2, which is about as far removed from DAoC as it’s possible for a game to be while being in the same genre. Unlike DAoC, it is obviously a carefully designed game, where you go from one guy telling you to go kill 8 rats and bring him their tails to another guy telling you to go kill 12 wolves and bring him their spleens to finally a guy who tells you to go kill 16 Supreme Demon Overlords and bring him their jewel encrusted spiky codpieces, by which point you have won the game and should probably go see if your children remember you.
To use a jogging analogy, because I don’t get the opportunity to do that often, leveling in DAoC is like running everyday in a forested park, full of twisty little trails that nobody else knows about and passing all kinds of half-buried ruins from a bygone age, dimly glimpsed through omnipresent mist, and leveling in EQ2 is like driving to the health club every day and running on the same treadmill while the employees play travelogues on the giant projection screen in front of you and also your personal trainer is an elf with hooters the size of cantaloupes.
I admit, it’s not a perfect analogy.
On the other hand, it’s also a primary factor in why there haven’t been many posts in the last month, so it’s obviously been an ATTRACTIVE treadmill, elf jubblies aside.
It rather benefits from being set in a future of an existing game, that being the original Everquest, so it can recycle all the lore from the first game, but it benefits even more because it gets to ignore all the lore the game designers came up with after they put out One Last Expansion, One Where You Go Face The Gods Themselves And Kill Them, and just as they were patting themselves on the back and congratulating themselves on a Job Well Done on putting that one to bed, the money guys said “actually, we still have people playing that one, can you come up with some more expansions?” and as a result you have a game in it’s current state, which is that the yard trash from any given expansion, the rats and giant spiders and wolves if you will, could easily wipe the floor with any of the aforementioned gods and the storyline is a weird mish mash of alternate dimensions and space aliens and Newly Discovered Parts Of The World that were there all along but nobody noticed before.
But I digress.
Also, just to clarify the above, while there’s a lot of lore from the original game around that makes for the occasional delightful bit of nostalgia, it is mostly in the background as opposed to front-and-center, so the whole game isn’t banking on foggy rose-colored memories.
Anyway, from a few weeks of playing, it’s obvious that this is the game that the designers really wanted to be working on, as opposed to the legacy game they were forced to support and kinda wish would die.
It’s not the most friendly game for the newcomer, mind you, because it does have six years of content and game changes, so the world is more than a bit overwhelming to take in, but it feels like the designers have been tasked with making those first few treadmill jogs as enjoyable and painless as possible, even while they’re throwing pop-up after pop-up full of Important Game Information in your face.
And, unlike DAoC, the world actually has other people in it; one benefit of the treadmill design is that you see lots of other players in the Chosen Zones, and as a result I’ve actually been grouping with and interacting with Actual People which is always good in a multiplayer game.
Now, it IS taking a bit of a cue from the Koreans in offering a truly impressive assortment of hats to buy with real money, but at least you can more or less ignore that except for a window that pops up every time you log on to remind you that you could buy a new hat, you know, if you wanted.
Would I recommend it? Well, if you have a couple of months of your life you weren’t planning on doing anything with ANYWAY, I feel it’s one of the better ways to dispose of them.