The Secrift World of Guild Warscraft Aionline

Or Building the Perfect MMO:

If only...I’ve tried a lot of MMOs in the last year or so. Though I’ve generally wound up going back to World of Warcraft after every one, each has had at least one little area in which they blow WoW out of the water, and it’s always left me wishing I could smoosh all of them together to create the perfect game.

So just for fun, I’ve come up with a list of all the best features of the MMOs I’ve played, the traits that when combined would form what I believe to be the perfect MMO.

World of Warcraft: Class design and backstory

Say what you will about WoW, but I think their class design is second to none. The classes provide very different playstyles, and while some are occasionally similar, they’re generally very different from one another. A combat rogue plays nothing like a demonology warlock, and both are totally different from a retribution paladin.

The end result is that there’s something for everyone. In some cases, multiple somethings. Why do you think I have so many alts?

All my Warcraft charactersThe other great strength of Warcraft that other games can’t match is its years of backstory. More than half a dozen games and countless novels, comics, and short stories have created tens of thousands of years of fictional history that simply makes the universe come alive.

Guild Wars 2: Overall design and philosophy

It’s difficult to succinctly explain if you haven’t played GW2, but when I tried the beta, I just felt… free.

All the pressures and pointless crap you put up with in other MMOs are gone. If you want a linear story experience, it’s there for you. If you want to wander the world as an itinerant adventurer with no specific goal, you can. Play alone or with other people; it doesn’t matter. Just do whatever you want.

Battling a major boss during a dynamic event in the Guild Wars 2 betaYou don’t need to worry about gearing — upgrades are cheaply available from vendors. You don’t need to worry about other players stealing your loot or your kills.

Guild Wars 2 may be weak in peripheral areas like story or class design, but when it comes to the bones of the MMO experience, it’s a quantum leap forward.

Rift: Patch cycle

Rift isn’t a game that greatly impressed me. But the one thing you have to give its developers, Trion Worlds, credit for is their patch cycle.

Trion has managed to completely embarrass the entire MMO industry with the speed and regularity with which they’ve been able to roll out new content — all without a huge subscriber base or the massive cash behind something like WoW. In the long months between patches, bored Warcraft players look at Trion’s record and cry themselves to sleep.

Rift patch 1.5: Ashes of HistoryAnd these aren’t insignificant updates, either. We’re talking whole raids and game-changing updates, like merging the playable factions. Most games would reserve such changes for an expansion pack — if they found the balls to do them at all.

Rift is the evolving game all MMOs try but largely fail to be.

Aion/Star Trek: Online: Customization

I’ll be the first to admit that Aion is a game with a lot of problems, but I still have a soft spot for it, and the character customization is a large part of that.

Aion’s customization options are nearly limitless — some even say it went too far, allowing people to play as bizarre freaks. But I don’t really think there’s such a thing as too much customization. It’s just too cool to be able to make a character look exactly how you want, down to the finest details. I was even able to perfectly recreate characters from my novels with Aion’s amazing character creator.

A character from my writing recreated via Aion's amazing character customizationStar Trek: Online is another game with great customization, if not great gameplay. It doesn’t have quite so many options as Aion, but it’s close, and it does have perhaps the best customization option I’ve ever seen: the ability to choose your character’s animations and body language.

I’ll never stop wishing other games had that option. Never.

The Secret World: Story, ambiance, and quest design

I read a comment on Massively the other day that struck a cord with me. Paraphrasing: “It’s funny how SW:TOR spent all that money on all that voice-acting and story, and then The Secret World sneaks in with better voice overs, better writing, and better cinematic direction.”

That about sums it up.

The Dragon mission "Into Darkness" in The Secret WorldI would go so far as to say TSW probably has the best quest design of any MMO to date — Guild Wars 2 doesn’t count because it doesn’t really have quests. The quests are challenging and diverse, and they actually help teach you how to play the game, introducing you to the kind of mechanics found in dungeons and raids.

More importantly — to me, anyway — the quests have good stories that are well-told. Funcom, the developer, hit the perfect balance that needs to exist in video game story. There’s plenty of story for those who like it, but it’s not obtrusive.

Each major quest has a good voice-acted cinematic to explain its basic plot, but then it’s pretty much non-stop action to the end. If you want more story, you can engage the NPCs in conversation, but that’s entirely optional.

Out at night on Solomon Island in The Secret WorldThis is both more streamlined from a gameplay perspective and more engaging from a plot perspective than either the “busywork occasionally interrupted by a story” approach of WoW and its clones or Star Wars’ technique of ramming story down your throat at every turn whether you like it or not.

Blend until smooth:

The end result is a game with diverse, compelling classes; non-obligational, BS-free design; unmatched customization of every aspect of your character; rapid content updates; and a compelling, well-told story based on massive history and backstory.

Sigh…

We can dream.

Review: Sanctuary, “Out of the Blue” + Thoughts on Rift

Two topics in one post; it’s a delicious blog sandwich!

Firstly, I recently decided to take a few days off from WoW and give the free trial of the much-hyped new MMO, Rift: Planes of Telara, a whirl.

I was immediately struck by the fact that, in terms of gameplay, the game is virtually identical to WoW. The similarity is frankly absurd at times. I won’t quite go so far as to use the term “rip off,” but… I can’t think of a way to finish that sentence.

There are only two substantive differences between WoW and Rift. One is the class system, which allows you to build your own class by choosing one of four broad “callings” and then smashing together different subclasses. This system is both a blessing and a curse. The opportunities for customization seem virtually endless, and many of the potential classes are very, very fun, but it’s also incredibly complex and overwhelming, even for an experienced gamer like me. This is made worse by the fact all this complexity is hurled your way before you even hit level five; I’d much prefer it if you chose your subclasses slowly over time. I can only imagine how lost a total newbie to MMOs would be.

The other difference is the Rifts themselves, which create a dynamic world in which rampaging hordes of demons can come out of nowhere and sack your town. This, too, is a double-edged sword. It creates for a much more dynamic and interesting world than WoW, and it allows for some genuinely epic and fun times, but it can also be very inconvenient to have a small army of elites appear between you and your objective, and I see this as a gimmick that could get old fast. The Rifts are not solo friendly from what I’ve seen, so once the player base matures and low level zones become underpopulated, I imagine newbies will be screwed pretty badly. Though to be fair, I only played for a few days, and there may be some failsafe to prevent this I’m not aware of.

Rift is, on the whole, a pretty good game, but one thing prevented me from getting into it: it has no character. Love it or hate it, no one can argue that WoW is a game oozing its own unique style and personality. On the other hand, everything about Rift feels generic–the artwork, the world, the story, the characters. I felt like I should have liked it, but I got bored very fast and have already gone back to the lush, cartoonish pastures of Azeroth. I’m sure a lot of people will love Rift, but it isn’t for me.

If anyone else out there has given Rift a try, please comment. I’d be curious to hear your thoughts.

Now, onto the latest episode of Sanctuary. “Out of the Blue” is, frankly, not an episode that inspires a lot of commentary. It was neither good nor bad. Merely predictable and ordinary.

Like the past episode, it is a very generic concept–Magnus and Will* are stuck in a hallucinogenic fantasy world a la the Matrix and several dozen episodes of Stargate and Star Trek. It’s well told, but feels exactly like every other version of this story I’ve ever seen. The only real spike of drama was their ultimate plan for escaping, which I won’t spoil but was pretty cool–at least in my opinion.

*(Why is it always Magnus and Will? Couldn’t something horrible happen to Magnus and Henry for a change? Should be careful what I wish for; I might get another Kate-heavy episode. *Shiver.*)

What is exciting, however, is the ad for the upcoming season finale, which featured both John “Jack the Ripper” Druitt and the show’s best villain to date: Adam Worth, AKA Dr. Jekyll. Those two (or three, if you count both of Adam’s personalities) can only mean awesomeness is approaching. If Tesla shows up, too, I might just have to hug someone.

Want to give Rift a go? Feeling ready to catch up on Sanctuary? Pick them up on my Amazon affiliate.