Recently, I did a post running down my opinions on the very best examples of major MMO features from across the industry. But I am not all smiles and sunshine. I’ve also encountered plenty of bad design, obvious mistakes, mediocrity, and bitter disappointment.
Today, I’ll be looking at the worst failures of the MMO industry.
As before, this is a subjective list and should not be viewed as totally definitive. I know some of these choices are bound to be controversial.
Questing: It’s a tie!
I don’t think traditional MMO questing is as tedious or unpleasant as some do, but certainly there’s a lot of mediocrity out there. However, there are two games I’ve played where questing is even more dull than the rest.
The first is Dragon’s Prophet. Its questing isn’t really all that much worse than the average, but it is overly repetitive — often sending you to the same place to kill the same enemies multiple times — and the poorly translated quest text makes it impossible to become invested in the story.
The other is WildStar. WildStar’s questing suffers from all the sins of traditional MMO questing — repetitive tasks, long travel times, and so forth — and couples them with a shortage of mobs and items, long respawn times, and an insipid commitment to make all quest text Twitter-length, which destroys any chance for interesting story or immersion and generally makes me weep for the future of humanity.
A special mention also needs to be given to the game’s challenges, which pop up in the middle of quests without warning and require you to complete a task under a time limit. With how much wandering and searching WildStar’s questing takes in the first place, it’s very hard to beat the time limit, and even if you do, the rewards are purely random and may not be at all useful. They’re an exercise in frustration and nothing more.
Group PvE: The Secret World
It pains me to say anything negative about TSW, because it is a truly brilliant game that deserves far more recognition than it’s gotten. However, it’s not perfect, and when it comes to traditional group content, it is a failure.
It’s not even that the content itself is bad. The dungeons are excellent: light on trash with stunning visuals, good stories, and interesting mechanics. I can only assume the raids are of a similar quality, though I’ve never done them and likely never will.
But the systems around the group content are terrible. Firstly, there’s no group finder worthy of the name, so the only way to find a group is to sit in Agartha — the game’s most boring and lifeless area — and spam general chat, potentially for hours on end.
Secondly, while the dungeons technically have three difficulties, really there’s only one: nightmare. Elite mode has no real incentive for repetition, so it’s just something to run once to unlock nightmares, and normal mode is largely useless and tends to be ignored by the players. This means that if you want to run dungeons in TSW but don’t want to sweat blood in the brutally unforgiving nightmare dungeons, you pretty much can’t, unless you don’t mind getting absolutely nothing useful for your character out of it.
And of course because elites are so useless, that makes it even harder to find groups for them.
Scenarios are a bit better, not requiring the trinity and having a wide range of difficulty settings that are all at least somewhat rewarding, but their rewards are fairly specialized, and not everyone likes scenarios. They have no story, which is the main strength of TSW normally.
PvP: The Secret World
If you ask me, nearly all MMOs have very bad PvP. But TSW’s is just a little more awful than the rest, so it gets the crown.
I’ve only briefly experimented with PvP in TSW, but it was a miserable experience. Queue times are long, the population is small, and my lifespan tended to be numbered in single digits’ worth of seconds, during which I was usually stun-locked.
Now, no doubt my build and gear were not optimal for PvP. But there’s nothing in the game to give you any idea what does work for PvP, and while not being optimized for PvP is a bad idea in any game, it’s far more crippling in TSW. A PvE player shouldn’t be completely useless in PvP.
The one good thing I can say is that the community is actually halfway decent, which is very rare in online gaming and doubly rare in a PvP environment. But I would still advise you to stay far, far away from TSW’s PvP.
Story: Guild Wars 2
I don’t think the MMO genre is a wasteland of good story as some do, but I will acknowledge there are plenty of candidates for worst story. WildStar has very interesting backstory, but it ruins all that by constantly ramming its forced and immature humour down your throat. Rift is the very definition of bland and derivative. WoW has had some major story blunders. I don’t think Neverwinter is even trying.
But Guild Wars 2 is as bad as it gets. It’s like they tried for a sort of goofy comic book feel like WoW, but fell way short. Instead of delightfully cheesy, it’s just cheesy.
And the voice acting is atrocious, and the dialogue is cringe-worthy, and the plot is rambling and incoherent, and there’s no real continuity… I could just go on and on. GW2’s storytelling is abysmal. You can find better on any random fan fiction forum.
Exploration: Star Wars: The Old Republic
Offering interesting potential for exploration is something a lot of MMOs struggle with, but SW:TOR is just a little worse than most. The maps are narrow, linear, and sterile, and there’s little or no reason to go off the beaten path, even on the rare occasions you can.
I’m told there’s some sort of jumping puzzle stuff surrounding datacrons, and I think there’s a collection system of some sort that rewards exploration, but I never encountered any of this when I played, so either these things are only for high levels or they’re very poorly advertised. Either way, exploration isn’t a significant part of SW:TOR.
As I stated in the “best of” post, I’m not fond of MMO crafting as a rule. Aion edges out the competition for the worst title by having all the problems of standard MMO crafting plus a huge reliance on RNG, with everything having a chance to fail. Even picking a flower can fail, forcing you to start over. And man, does it take a long time for a Daeva to pick a flower, for some reason.
Player housing: Rift
This is bound to be a controversial choice. A lot of people love Rift’s housing for its insane customization potential, and that is cool.
But once you’ve made your virtual dream home, then what? There didn’t seem to be any practical use for housing in Rift, no reason to take time out of questing to visit your home. Maybe one appears later, but the game failed to sell me on why I should care about its housing.
At least in Aion I had a garden where I could grow reagents.
Business model: Star Wars: The Old Republic
Much has already been written by myself and others on the topic of SW:TOR’s “free to play” model, and I don’t want to repeat it too much. It’s just awful. In every way. It’s the hard sell of all hard sells.
The truth is the free mode is only intended as a trial, and you’re supposed to subscribe, but it doesn’t even work as a trial because the gameplay is so miserable you can’t get a good feel for the game. And even if you do subscribe, you’ll still be constantly nickel and dimed by the cash shop.
SW:TOR is actually a decent game, but so long as its business model remains as is, I can’t recommend it to anyone.
Character customization: WildStar
I very nearly gave this to World of Warcarft due to its extremely limited options to customize individual avatars. However, WoW’s plethora of different races does give one a lot of potential looks to choose from, and it is a very old game, so it doesn’t seem entirely fair to judge it based on the limitations of its era.
So WildStar gets the nod here. It’s very much like WoW in that your only real choices are race and gender, and there’s no significant customization beyond that. Oh, sure, there are a lot of options for different faces and body types, but in the end, they all look pretty much the same. If you want to play a human female who isn’t a googly-eyed Barbie doll, you’re out of luck.
There’s no excuse for that in this day and age.
Combat: World of Warcraft (but really it’s a tie)
Combat is another area where there’s not a lot of games that are actually bad, but plenty that are mediocre. I don’t think I’ve ever played an MMO where the combat was actively hurting my enjoyment — except maybe Star Trek Online, but it’s been so long since I tried it that my memory is hazy.
I’m gonna give this to WoW because it set the standard, though I could just as easily have picked Rift, SW:TOR, LotRO, or any number of other mainstream MMOs.
It’s not that the WoW system of combat is bad — it’s functional and has some occasional thrills — but it’s incredibly thin and often dull. It’s usually very immobile, it’s visually bland, it requires no real thought, every fight plays out more or less the same, and there’s no challenge at all. Enemies fall dead after just one or two hits. Even on the rare occasions an enemy does present a challenge, it’s more a matter of numerical supremacy than true challenge, and you can faceroll them once you get more levels or better gear.
In my more cynical moments, I think people only criticize TSW’s combat because they’re not used to a game where enemies don’t evaporate from a dirty look.
Events: World of Warcraft
WoW epitomizes all that’s wrong with holiday events in MMOs. They’re carbon copies of real world holidays, which feel horribly out of place in a fantasy world. They never change from year to year. They require excessive grinding for incredibly mediocre rewards. What few rewards are worthwhile are usually locked behind exceedingly low drop rates and mountains of RNG.
No real effort is put into WoW’s events, so they don’t feel like events at all.
I’m quite surprised Guild Wars 2 got reckognized for the weak story. Sure, the narrative was nothing stellar, but I remembered the main campaign as quite an enjoyable experience, mostly due to the light tone of the plot itself and the diversification of mission tasks (as opposed to the criminally tedious side-quests). But well, maybe my expectations towards the story were simply low enough for me to like it to begin with, considering it was a MMO and all.
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I enjoyed reading your mmo pros and cons blogs. You struck more than a few chords with me, and moved me to post some comments of my own here. Rather than write a TLDR epic, I will start with SWTOR and maybe post some comments on the other games you mentioned at a later time.
I agree with you all the way on the poor SWTOR business model. Annoying pay walls everywhere that remind you at every turn that you are a second class citizen. I’ve since bought a few non-recurring subscriptions, and on hindsight can’t imagine playing it without a sub. It is definitely free-to-try rather than free-to-play. As an aside, my runner up for the worst ftp implementation would have to be Neverwinter. The dreadfully overpriced and predatory cash shop in that game has to be seen to be believed. This is odd though because Cryptic’s own Star Trek Online has a very reasonable cash shop, complimented by a game that lets you play tons of content without ever spending a dime, though I would add that the jury is out on this point with the recently released Delta Rising expansion.
Not sure I would put the exploration in SWTOR as worst-in-class, but I do agree that it’s not one of the game’s better features. There’s little if any reason to explore other than the mildly overrated datacrons, and on shared faction planets if you stray too far off the beaten path you could find yourself flattened by enemy faction mobs in a hurry.
I have a love-hate relationship with SWTOR. The combat is mostly fun as are the player classes, and it is unlikely we will ever again see such strong and detailed storytelling in an mmo. The avatar physical customization options could be better and the player animations seem a bit stiff compared to games like GW2, but you can create a nice looking avatar that you are happy with without too much work. I also really like Galactic Starfighters, though it does sort of feel like an add-on mostly detached from the main game. Still though, to its credit SWTOR has the best variety of content of any mmo I’ve tried.
That said, there are a couple of things that are definitely working against SWTOR. For one thing, the story classes are maybe only 20% of the content, so if you roll another class of the same faction you will be repeating all the same side quests. For another, the player naming system is annoying as hell, the worst Ive ever seen in an mmo. Be prepared for the ‘name taken’ purgatory. What really hurts the game for me though is the player community; possibly the worst I’ve encountered in an mmo (and that includes my two-week free trial of EVE Online ;). All the things people complain about with mmo communities are found here in spades: Toxic general chats, rude, selfish, and elitist players self-empowered by the Internet disinhibition effect, and PUG groups from hell where others can and will kick you from a flashpoint (dungeon) for the most trivial offense/mistake. Playing with friends and finding a good guild are almost a must in this game. Part of the problem may be the archaic mmo mechanics that SWTOR uses, like the antiquated loot system (done much better in GW2), and how players can interfere with each other’s quests (which, btw, happens a lot in TSW as well). At any rate I’ve been playing mmos almost exclusively for several years now, and the vast majority of my bad mmo social encounters have all occurred in SWTOR.
Sorry my reply went on much longer than I had planned. I guess it’s just that I had a lot to say about SWTOR. If I post future comments on the other games you mentioned, I will try to be a bit more brief. 😉
Glad you liked the post.
For the most part I don’t disagree with what you’re saying. I do think SW:TOR is a mostly solid game aside from the business model (a few problems, but nothing game-breaking). If I didn’t find the monetization so intolerable, I’d probably play it at least long enough to finish the main story on my Imperial agent, which I was greatly enjoying for the brief time I played.
The one area where I’d maybe argue is the notion that ST:O’s business model is better than Neverwinter’s. I recently dipped back into ST:O, and while Neverwinter’s business model is very bad, ST:O’s seems even worse to me. All the problems of Neverwinter plus charging out the nose for most ship options, which is pretty much your character for half the game. Not cool.
I’m a bit confused about what you said about paying for ship options. I mean, I’m a long time player and the only ship charges I’m aware of are paying $25-30 for an end game ship, which to me is not unreasonable at all after spending many hours leveling with the free ships. I still think STO has one of the best FTP models on the market.
That said, as I intimated in my previous post, things have maybe darkened a bit in the last 3-4 months. Time was that unless you were big on PvP you didn’t really need a store-bought ship. Now, however, with the sometimes over-the-top difficult Vaadwaur in Delta Rising, I suspect a store-bought ship is a must. But yeah, they have been going a bit crazy of late with all the new ship additions in the C-store, which reminds me of what someone wrote on Metacritic about how they keep adding new ships without adding a lot of new places to use them. The only game that’s worse on that point is the big scam called Star Citizen, but that’s a topic for another time. 😉
To be fair with STO though, one thing I really like about it, and it’s a biggie to my mind, is that unless you buy relatively inexpensive uniforms in the C-store, player avatar physical customizations are completely free of charge. Contrast that with games like GW2, TSW, SWTOR, and Neverwinter where they really sock it to you. BTW, I see that they are shortly doing a map revamp, and not only are they making it closer to Trek lore, but they’re getting rid of all those sector instances. I’ve always said that all those sector instances make the galaxy feel small. Anyway, one more big plus about STO is Cryptic’s rather aggressive update schedule, even if not all of the changes are always universally loved by the players. Still though, it shows that Cryptic is definitely committed to the game.
Speaking of Neverwinter, I actually bought one of the founder packs and got in on the beta which I now regret. Other than the outrageous cash shop and the weak lore and story, what really bothered me was how bad the player avatars looked. I think the only mmo where they looked worse was the now ten year old GW1. I agree completely with Kevin VanOrd’s Gamespot review: “The combat in Neverwinter is very good, but not quite good enough to make up for the shallow game built around it.” And as another critic said, “Winter is not coming.” lol Sorry, didn’t mean to rag too much on a game you obviously like. 😉
One more thing. Have you tried Elder Scrolls Online? It was my biggest gaming disappointment since the dreadful Starcraft 2. Not only was it a big fail as an Elder Scrolls game, it was a big failure as an mmo as well. In fact, given the choice between ESO and Neverwinter, I would take Neverwinter any day.
Admittedly, I haven’t spent an enormous amount of time in STO, so maybe it’s not as bad as I think it is, but my experience so far is that I’m constantly being directed towards the cash shop ships. Maybe it’s different for the other factions, but as a Romulan, I basically have no choice at all in my ships unless I pay. Since your ship is a big part of your performance, it’s also a little too “pay to win” for my taste.
Even if the ships were just cosmetic skins, though, it’d still make me uncomfortable. It’s not like a mount or a costume; for half the game, your ship is your character. I could maybe live with them selling some visual augments for your ship, but an entire ships just feel a step too far for me. As an example, if I’m playing an Andorian, I don’t think I should have to fork over cash to pilot a Kumari class.
I don’t really mind you knocking Neverwinter. Although it’s a game I have enjoyed, I do acknowledge it’s deeply flawed in a number of ways, and I don’t disagree with most of your criticisms. The main appeal for me came from the Foundry; the level of quality some players have been able to offer in their quests is just astounding. I largely ignored the official content.
I haven’t tried ESO, no, but I’d like to. I’m really hoping there will be some kind of free trial soon, because I don’t want to dump $60 on a game I may not like. I’m very curious about it, though, especially now that it’s going B2P. I’ve never been an Elder Scrolls fan (my only experience with the franchise was a brief flirtation with Skyrim after buying it on a Steam sale, which I deeply regret because I found it very boring), but in terms of general game design, it sounds very much like the sort of MMO I enjoy.
For my part really liked Skyrim (well, most of the time), if maybe not quite as much as Oblivion, Fallout 3, and my all-time fav RPG Fallout New Vegas. In any event even though it was wildly popular, I can see why it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.
FYI, ESO is currently registering a dismal 5.7 player score average on metacritic. For my part I found it incredibly boring. Anyway, this reviewer at Craven Online I think said it best:
“The Elder Scrolls Online takes the esteemed The Elder Scrolls universe and manages to make it a boring affair. You’d think being able to share your adventures online with others would breathe fire into the franchise. Quite the contrary. Its MMO features are archaic, often times making you wonder why you aren’t playing Skyrim or Oblivion instead. Those who played the beta had their suspicions of the game, and those suspicions unfortunately turned out to be correct. A buggy, tiresome chore of a game, The Elder Scrolls Online failed to live up to the hype or investment the game received.”
BTW, about the whole pay-to-win controversy, I used to be totally opposed to it, now I think it’s maybe no big whoop (as Kristen Geary in TSW would say lol. I mean, when you pay to win, what exactly is it that you are winning? The only place I can see it making a difference is in PvP, but if you aren’t an avid PvPer than who cares what other people do with their money? I know there are PTW Galactic Starfighter ships in the SWTOR Cartel store, but the advantage they give is relatively minor and can only be realized over the long term. In any event I think the jury is still out in gaming circles on the PTW controversy. I’m reminded of something Darth Zash said in SWTOR: “Since when has being SIth ever been about being fair???” lol
Ok, about Wildstar, I think you nailed that one on both its strengths and weaknesses. For my part I really wanted to love this game. It was overflowing with charm and personality, and has a quirky and offbeat sense of humor not seen since the original Starcraft/Brood Wars. I also really liked the cartoonish art style where your avatars really are toons. 😉 The problem for both you and me though seemed to be the map clearing/level grind. The grind started setting in with the first major map after the tutorial and starter maps, and by the time I got to Whitevale I just couldn’t do it anymore. It had me seriously burned out. As one girl gamer wrote, “Wildstar is not very casual-friendly, which means that you need to be ‘on’ every time you play. If you’re having an off night the game will punish you greatly.” Very true. I would add though that at times I miss the game and almost wish that Carbine would offer me an incentive to come back, but I’ve not received any followup e-mails from them.