Is Cataclysm World of Warcraft’s Last Hurrah?December 31, 2010 at 3:21 pm | Posted in General | 1 Comment
Tags: cataclysm, game design, mmorpgs, World of Warcraft
The next year or so looks like it could be a period of change for MMO game-play.
Admittedly, I’m not the person to come to when it’s news about MMOs that you’re after. I am barely capable of venturing an opinion in print, never mind backing it up with cold, hard facts based on proper research.
I’m a shoddy researcher. When it comes to MMOs, I’d rather be playing than poring over the publisher’s website for hidden nuggets of information. But, just like any good consumer, I don’t like getting stung by a retailer.
So I do a little research. Not enough to feel that I can news-blog, but enough that I can feel comfortable partaking in the whole consumer/vendor relationship.
Currently, my research has involves going to an MMOs website and watching the trailers, after which I’ll skim down the “News” section and see if there are any articles that catch my eye. Finally, I’ll see if there are any funky-looking screenies. Loves a good screenie, does I.
Where does all this tie in with that title up there? The contentious one, squatting like some particularly gargoyle-like gargoyle?
Well, virtually every site I’ve seen really, really wants to tell me that their game is Next Generation.
“Next Generation” isn’t, it seems, just a Star Trek thing. As with all jargon, it’s a fantastically woolly term, that marketing men probably hope means all things to all men.
To myself, and when applied to MMO gaming, it means a significant advance in game-play.
That doesn’t mean a particular game was the first to include a particular element, and is no guarantee of innovation. And to muddy the waters, there are those games that seem to straddle the generational divide, being a perfect refinement of the previous generation, yet including many elements of the new generation.
I’m not going to sit here, and profess my beliefs on how many generations there have been within the MMO genre, and I’m not going to state which games have heralded a new generation.
My main reason is that it would completely destroy a rather fun but thoroughly geeky discussion/argument that’s perfect for drunken evenings in the pub. And I’d probably get it all wrong.
For all that, I can’t help looking at these trailers, at the hype, and think that the behemoths looming on the horizon might actually be the real deal when it comes to advancing the genre as a whole.
From all the hype gushing out, I can see two elements that, for me at least, signify the advancement of the genre.
First is the pre-eminence of story, and the personalisation of that story. In the past, story has been on the grand scale, with players partaking in the grand story by taking and completing quests, but without any of it being of any real impact. No story mattered (or even could matter) overmuch because the game world would be reset in ten minutes time.
In the future, story might well be freed from being tied to questing; I would imagine questing won’t be removed, or even sidelined, but unscheduled events occurring in and around the player, as well as content specifically for the created character, are making story important in its own right, rather than as something tied to a chunk of xp and some trez.
Both Guild Wars 2 and Star Wars: The Old Republic seem to have this as a core part of their game design. Having monsters actively participate in naughtiness, rather than hang around waiting for a player to enter their aggro range, is one of the exciting elements of Guild Wars 2. And both games have spoken about having a tailored story for each class, resulting in a different game for every player.
Yikes, that’s exciting.
And whilst I think that, thanks to its marketing campaign, Rift is placing itself firmly in the “Ultimate Refinement Of This Generation” camp rather than “Herald Of The Next Generation” spearhead (that’s what happens when you keep saying you’re much better than the other guy. Sorry. Try saying that you’re just *that* good, standing by yourself. You’d probably get my money then. Oh, who am I kidding; you *would* get my money then), I can’t help getting excited by all this rift malarkey.
Rifts opening, monsties barging through, taking over an area, and having to be forcibly removed? That’s just pure gaming jam, that is. That’s “to be spread on toast, thickly” levels of nice. In fact, it’s so nice it’s noice.
It makes the world feel like a world; what was supposed to make poor, doomed Horizons such a great game (Horizons is one of the few games that I wish had lived up to all of its aspirations. It would have been so wonderful) was a changing game world, where player actions made a difference to the landscape.
Anything that aids immersion is good, in my book. A more interesting world to game in, one that changes due to player action, is something that really makes me excited. The Secret World’s attention to detail, with The Test (I’ve taken it twice now, and came up Templar both times. There is a part of me that is vaguely worried that I’m becoming increasingly reactionary as I grow older) the Kingsmouth website, and even the zombie invasion of Kingsmouth trailer all serves to make the game world more immersive, and therefore compelling.
Suddenly the revamped levelling experience, the comparatively heavy use of cutscenes, and the nifty use of phasing seems less exciting than it used to. Of course, it’s always hard for something that exists, that is currently available and has been experienced, to compare favourably with the fevered wish-dreams of this particular geek. Of course a game in development is going to be amazing; they all are, especially when viewed through a Greener-Grass Filter.
But I can’t help wondering if Cataclysm is the last time that World of Warcraft will be the big fella; the one everyone looks to when an opinion is needed. It’s hardly surprising, seeing as it’s now six years old. I’m pretty sure that in MMO years, that’s older than most pyramids.
And seeing as World of Warcraft is very much of *this* generation of MMOs, it’s hard for it to be a part of the *next* generation as well. The way that the game has been put together would make it hard to modify into the all-singing, all-dancing promises of dynamic worlds with dynamic events; it would probably be easier to just create a new game. Quite possibly with a working title of something like, oh, I don’t know… “Titan”?
Add in the seductive promises of enhanced story-telling (in a fourth pillar stylee), and it’s highly likely that, in a year or so’s time, we’ll be looking at World of Warcraft in the same way that we looked at the original Everquest shortly after Azeroth opened its doors:
As a bit tired, old fashioned, and worn around the edges; like those grand old fleapit cinemas filled with faded glory that we all abandoned shortly after the new multi-plex cinemas started appearing.
It’s a shame, but it’s also part of the natural order of things. Old games get replaced with new games, in some sort of electronic evolutionary chain. World of Warcraft will most likely be at least seven years old before all these shiny new temptresses sashay onto the shelves anyway, so there’s plenty of time to enjoy what World of Warcraft does best.