Critical mass?

Disclaimer — this is not a post about how omgwtfbbq crap WAR is. If you’re here for that, move along. It *is* about why I’m not enjoying it so much right now. It’s also about whether having lots of population really is the only thing WAR needs to suddenly be a happy shiny people game.

People are leaving WAR. Not necessarily in droves, and not all for That Other Game (or the Other Other Game, insert your own, eg LOTRO, various smashing console titles that came out recently, etc etc.). Still, they are leaving. I haven’t got a whole lot of desire to log in to WAR myself, for a variety of reasons.

WARNING — I am breaking my anti-negativity vow. I shall go straight to blogger hell. Mea culpa; now on with the show.

That’s the thing. A lot of folks reckon population critical mass is THE thing that will save or sink WAR. It’s undeniable that an RvR game isn’t quite what it should be when you don’t have enough flesh-puppets to actually create said RvR. But if there were, magically, enough people every day and night, would it really “save” WAR? (Tangent: I don’t think WAR actually needs saving — it wasn’t all things to all people, but who the hell realistically expected that it would be? Get a clue-by-four. It’s doing well enough, even though it’s not WoW, at least for the time being.)

While having enough people to make a player-versus-player based game lively enough is pretty crucial overall, I don’t know if it’s the single factor that would, for instance, make me want to log on more right now. I suspect at least part of the issue includes:

  • The waiting game. Open RvR tends to be mostly hurry-up-and-wait, and instant gratification types don’t wait so well. Instead, half the warband melts away to play scenarios.
  • Traveling is slow. I know loads of people who haven’t joined a keep defense because it would have taken too long to get there on the very slight chance there was real action happening. It’s disappointing to cross half the world only to discover the stupid keep lord over-reacted when a lone witch elf tickled his kidneys.
  • No real idea whether anything you do really makes a difference. And, since the campaigns reset at intervals, nothing you do really does make a difference. That’s unmotivating.
  • Only two sides. What usually happens is one side has overwhelming numbers, and crushes the other side for a while. Very rarely the numbers are more balanced and fun ensues. Would critical mass population solve that? I don’t think so — in most cases it’s easier to rumble over an outnumbered opponent and collect your loot bags than it is to actually wait until a proper defense (or offense) can be mounted.

I do know that a lot of my negativity about games very often comes from bad stuff happening in real life. If a game suddenly isn’t doing it for me anymore, for no real reason… it’s not usually the game’s fault. An improvement in RL will usually mean the game suddenly becomes shinier and more interesting too. Ah, the humanity. We’re emotional creatures, and we don’t all compartmentalise well enough to distinguish between “RL is crap” and “this game is crap”. I try to, but it doesn’t always work.

That being said, what bothers me most right now about WAR is that whenever I log on, I feel like I’m caught in treacle. Getting places is slow. Running around in scenarios is slow. (And spending 75% of a scenario running slowly back from being quickly dead is not heart-pounding action, trust me.) Watching the xp bars creep in the high teens is so slow, glaciers seem to move at light speed in comparison.

This is all mostly a matter of perception. I’ve played my healer a lot, and that’s contributing to the “slow” feel of… everything. We’re playing in Ostland, which is freaking pillar-to-post cross-half-the-freaking-map to pick someone’s nose and-then-run-slooooooooowly-back. Not only is it slow, it’s just plain bloody boring. (Sadly, I’m not sure how to solve that one. Would it be easier if I could port back to quest givers, so I’d only have to run half the distance? Probably. But oh noes, it would break immersion (that fuzzy concept people ONLY use when they want to prevent something they don’t like making it into the game). But I digress.) Everywhere is packed with mobs so that is all you bloody want to do is bloody run from bloody A to bloody B, half the bloody time it means you’ll progress 20 feet, have to fight a spider, progress another 30 feet, fight another spider, and so on. I just don’t have it in me to find that entertaining right now. It’s the D&D random travel encounter taken to its MMO extreme and you know what? Random encounters were 95% boring and 5% amazing even 20 years ago; not much change there, then.

I feel constrained in WAR right now. I am extremely unhappy at the return of issues like cloaks (and other stuff) suddenly being un-dyeable again. I detest my stupid conehead SW hat and it irks me no end that I can’t just turn it off and have it stay off. It drives me bananas that every time we zone (into a new map, into a scenario, whatever), ALL MY FACKING BUFFS DROP!!! And I’m an archmage, I only have one and it’s a one-cast group-wide; if I were a runepriest, I think I’d be chewing on my staff.

For me, the little things don’t all have to work but when enough of them mess with my experience every single time I log on, I will eventually stop logging on, population or no population.

The RvR part of WAR is great, provided there are enough people. The rest, while perfectly workable, is somehow soul-less. I’m not sure why, because the quest text is probably the best I’ve ever seen in an MMO and the NPCs are funny, pathetic, tragic, noble, or all of the above.

Maybe my malaise has nothing to do with WAR, and everything to do with the current incarnation of the MMO genre. It’s YAFMMORPG, as Syp calls them, and maybe I’m growing tired of that. It’s also the most closely linked to tabletop games that I’ve seen (I beta tested DDO which cured me of wanting to play it, so we’ll exclude that one) — and oddly enough, that doesn’t help. I’d outgrown the quest-kill-reward basic paradigm even before I started playing MMOs, and had moved on from (A)D&D-style games to others where the quest-kill-reward mechanism was a little less obviously implemented; so perhaps it’s not surprising I am starting to find it tediously repetitive in online games too.

I’m not sure. I’m dabbling in Wizard101 right now and that’s rather standard in terms of quest-kill-reward. Maybe the main difference is that I run faster there, can have some really disgustingly cute pets, and can recall back to the main square almost anytime I like.

Inspirational credits to MMOment of Zen, Mystic Worlds, Symptom of a Greater Cure, Werit, Dragonchasers and hell, most of the WAR-blogosphere for the lively debates and thought-provoking posts. Discussing the merits, fun, nuances and irritations of a game isn’t necessarily bashing said game — or if it is, why do we bother having book and film reviewers?