Tuesday, December 05, 2006

License to ill

Last week I was hit by the flu from hell. It's still here with me, clogging up my head and sandpapering my throat. I've missed three days of work so far.

So that's been fun.

In game-related news, I picked up Guild Wars: Nightfall and re-activated my WoW account. Yes, two MMOs. I am that insane.

To be honest, though, Guild Wars doesn't really play like an MMO. At least, not for me. It's really a decent single-player RPG that happens to allow you to team up with other people. Except you don't have to team up - that's its beauty. The combat is incredibly fast, which is good, and you can take on groups of enemies (like in City of Heroes). I leveled up to 20 in about a week, which is the cap, and yet only got 1/10th of the way through the storyline. This is an interesting way to tackle the grind, but it doesn't quite feel right. After you reach max level, you no longer earn more stats, just points to upgrade the skills of your NPC heroes. Your bar continues to fill up, though - when it maxes out it goes back to zero and still shows level 20. This is especially frustrating when you run into enemies that are level 26 or greater, or when you get owned again and again by a large group and you know that beating them won't be as easy as leveling.

Instead you have to juggle your skills. I thought this would be an interesting dynamic but found it tedious. There's no way to auto-loadout yourself. There are also the aforementioned hero NPCs which require the same micromanaging - no auto-loadouts for them, either. So most of the time you just throw some skills into the bar and hope for the best. Because each skill is so specific it's difficult to compare them - they definitely need to add meaningful choice into the selection. The only time I'm sure that a skill is worthwhile is when its elite (which you capture from monsters much like the Blue Mage, except it only works on bosses).

The crafting system is decent, I like it better than WoWs (easier to manage, for one, and not based on separate professions). While there are standard weapons and armors, you can add different kinds of runes, et. al., as well as customize weapons to you for a damage bonus. This means that you can truly make a specialized set. It's also nice to be able to dye your armor, a pretty basic feature that WoW should consider for, at the least, capes.

Which brings me to WoW. I created a new character so I could join some friends. I made an Undead Warlock on Thunderlord, a PvP server. I don't like PvP servers, and this one hasn't changed my opinion at all, not after some high-level Alliance wasted twenty minutes of my time ganking me in Sun Rock.

Blizzard has done nothing to prevent that sort of behavior. They never implemented dishonorable kills (not that I've noticed). I also can't help but think that not being able to communicate from Horde to Alliance makes it that much easier to grief people. At the very least it would be nice to be able to say, "Kill me, you assholes!"

Still, it's WoW. Probably the most fascinating reason for their success is that their style is largely based on limitations of the RTS games that were made into strengths. The first Warcraft, while simple, introduced an abstract quality. This was changed into a cartoony, hand-drawn style for the second. The third game brought in 3-d and, because of the necessity of zooming in and out and panning the map quickly, low-poly models were necessary. They also extended the abstract nature, turning the buildings into ballooning, angular representations.

Blizzard took all of those pre-established styles and leveraged them into their MMO. The abstraction allowed all kinds of jutting plants and buildings to dot the landscape. The hand-drawn cartoony graphics made hi-res textures unnecessary. The low-poly models of Warcraft 3 allowed for a simplified 3-d modeling style. All of these, in turn, made it so much easier to deliver a stable, fast, lag-free online experience. The art is synergistic with the technology. So almost by accident they got this completely distinguishable image.

I also have yet to play an MMO that can give me the same sense of awe. Guild Wars has some gorgeous scenery, evocative of each area, the water sparkling as if full of jewels in one area, stagnant water and heavy plant cover in another. But what it lacked was any kind of place where I could feel part of a great huge world. Part of this is due to the way every zone in Guild Wars has a portal - nothing is seamless. A little thing like that can have a big effect.

Oh, and one other thing I liked about Guild Wars: last names.

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