All is not lost.
As a continuation of my previous post, My Kingdom for a Sandbox: My Dream MMO, I would like to further outline the current state of MMORPG’s, and also what is still right around the corner.
The overwhelming majority of MMORPG’s today belong to the Theme Park category. A Theme Park is often carefully planned and can deliver some very unique attractions. On the other hand, the attractions usually require you to be of a certain age or length to ride them, you have to stand in line, and none or minimal interaction is needed from your part. Like a real theme park it always looks the same and chances are you grow tired of the rides after 20 times or so, unless the theme park creates new exiting rides to keep the park entertaining.”
I place World of Warcraft (WoW) as the prime suspect in this camp. As I mentioned last time, I am a long time veteran of WoW. I played in the open beta and the day the game was officially released. I was the first to hit level 60 within my group of friends and have been on multiple raids. But the attractions in WoW became increasingly boring to me and all the new content that was released after Burning Crusade just did not peak my interests. It was the same old grind. Raids took too long with little reward and PvP was fun at first but just became another grind. My last login to WoW was July 3rd of 2007.
Many are quick to judge World of Warcraft of muddying the MMO waters, leading to a slew of half-assed clones of the ‘winning’ WoW formula. Star Wars Galaxies was one of the hardest hit victims of WoW’s popularity when SoE/Lucasarts decided to scrap everything that made the game good and turn it into another cookie cutter Theme Park MMO. It is not World of Warcraft’s fault though. It is not Blizzard’s fault for making a smash hit game that made them eleventy bajillion dollars (not an accurate figure).
It is the fault of the publishers and developers that are not thinking outside the box and trying to deliver a unique playing experience in a new MMO game. Not a re-hash of World of Warcraft under a different coat of paint. It is also the fault of the consumers who cannot see beyond the world of Azeroth of what is possible in a MMO game. But the same thing can be said in the music industry as well.
It is not the fault of the Jonas Brothers or Coldplay that the most popular, thus most profitable music totally sucks. They are in fact smart because they make music for mass appeal. That is what makes the big bucks in that industry. That is not what good music makes, it’s just what works. Blizzard designed World of Warcraft for mass appeal in mind. And I reiterate, that is not what I am currently looking for, and I am not alone in this.
Luckily, there are three MMO games currently in development that I’d like to speak about. I touched briefly on two of these already, but there is one more I’d like to add. Each have their own pro’s and con’s but the one thing they have in common is they are unique in gameplay and are all considered a sandbox MMO game.
First I’d like to mention again is Darkfall Online, from Aventurine S.A., a Greek based developer. It offers real-time combat and a skill based advancement system. It is touted to have 500 different skills and 500 different spells to make an extraordinarily unique character. Darkfall is Free-For-All Player vs. Player, so anyone can kill anyone at any time and take all of their belongings. There are 6 races in Darkfall. Humans, Elves (or the Mirdain), Dwarves, Mahirim (Wolf People), Orks, and Alfar (kinda like Dark Elves). The Humans, Elves, and Dwarves are allied with each other while the Mahirim and Orks are allied. The Alfar are enemies with all other races. PvP in the game is very risky and can lead to drastic consequences for you actions, but with that comes a rewarding playing experience. Because it is easy to be killed in Darkfall and lose all your items, the game has little emphasis on epic or legendary items. Truthfully, most of the items in the game are made my players to help keep people equipped at all times. This will drive the player economy with heavy needs on resources. To top it all off, clans or guilds in the game can construct their own player cities which can then be attacked by other clans.
The downsides of Darkfall are many however. Darkfall’s development started back in 2001 by the company Razorwax. Down the road it was acquired by Aventurine. The game has a large number of screenshots, but not much to speak of in terms of videos however. There are only a small handful of videos that I can mention and they don’t really show much of the game’s features. Beta for the game has been promised 3 or 4 times in the last 5 years and now the game is constantly getting assaulted by vaporware allegations. Supposedly, there is a comprehensive video going over all of Darkfall’s features that is coming out some time in August. I will wait to see what the video has to offer. If however this video doesn’t blow my socks off, I do not have much hope for the remainder of Darkfall’s development.
On to the next game, which I talked about before is Fallen Earth. Fallen Earth is being developed by Icarus Studios in North Carolina, USA. Based on a post-apocalyptic world after the release of a deadly virus nearly wiped out humanity, nuclear weapons were set off to destroy the remnants of the virus. 90% of humanity was killed. The game takes place in and around the Grand Canyon. It also serves up a completely skill based advancement system with real time combat. It has six different factions for you to join and they all fight against each other for their ideals. The game features an extremely involved crafting system, where crafting items actually takes time to complete, therefore warranting to be paid for time spent making someone else an item. There are not only animal mounts in the game but also vehicles of different types, including cars, trucks, buggies and motorcycles. There are areas of the game that are Free-for-All PvP and clans can wage war against each other. Towns in the game can be defended from attacks of NPC monsters/bandits and can be attacked by members of enemy factions. It features a completely open landscape to explore and lots to do. Some of the features promised after release include player constructed towns and multi-person vehicles.
The development of Fallen Earth is a lot more promising. There are plenty of screenshots and a lot of nice videos of the game in action (one, two, three). Alpha testing is set to begin Mid-August and run until early 2009 where they hope to have an official beta for the game begin. Hoping to see the game release by Q3-Q4 2009.
The third and final game I’d like to discuss, which is a recent discovery by myself is Mortal Online. Mortal Online is being developed by Star Vault AB, based in Sweden. It has a lot of the same features as Darkfall Online, but in a much prettier package.
In Mortal Online we want you to be free. We create a world for you with a minimum of rules but with endless possibilities, meaning you decide the path and goals of your progress, and where your actions are reflected back upon the world. As you decide the fate of your characters during their lifetime, responsibilities and consequences arise with many different options to choose from… “
Utilizing the Unreal 3 engine, MO will feature FFA PvP with full looting, player built houses and keeps, and skill based advancement with real-time combat. One interesting feature about Mortal Online is how it handles things like raid/rare monsters, events, or quests is when they are completed or killed, they don’t come back again. Ever. So what I am hoping to see is some real world changing events going on in the game. For example, say a demon from the depths of the underworld appears in some remote area of the world. He builds an army and starts to wage war on all the nations of the world. Once a certain number of guilds in the game come together and they defeat the demon, he is gone forever and the actions of the event leaves permanent scars on the world and on the players.
Mortal Online was announced back in April ’08 and has a projected release date of Summer ’09. Whether they can actually hit that date, we’ll just have to wait and find out. Star Vault this year will have a booth at GCDC in Leipzig, Germany, so I am hoping to see some new MO info come out around that time.
One main thing in common about all three of these MMO games is they all feature real-time combat. So your skills as a player is just as paramount as the skills your character has gained. That helps to even the playing field in PvP by allowing a high skilled player with a newer character defeat players that have played longer but might not be as skilled at playing the game.
Those are my top three MMO’s currently on the docket for release. Which ones I’ll end up playing in the future will depend on what comes out first and which ones end up being a better game. What I do know for sure is I will not be going back to Theme Park MMO’s ever again.