Hey, have you heard about that world. That world of war and craft? Yeah, I’m sick of that world. I’m getting out. I seriously haven’t launched WoW in probably over a month now and I feel no urge to. I think my adventure with that game is over. Damn it, I’m an antisocial beast. I have no clue what made me think I could play a game populated by millions of other human beings and not wish they would all die and rot in hell, and get the fuck of my game. I mean there were times I had fun teaming up with other people but usually I was just hoping that all these friendly people just fuck off.
Often if someone wanted to talk to me I would pretend that I didn’t speak Orkish and just type stuff in the Troll language, then use the /confused emote when they responded, wave, bow and run off to do my thing. I’m being social at work, then I come home and I’m being social with my family, and then I sit down at my desk to be social with some random assholes in WoW? I think not. My brain gets totally pissed off if it doesn’t get it’s daily quota of sweet solitude. It was plain to see that I was not getting all out of WoW because my general dislike of chatty online strangers who want to team up and run instances all the time. If you take the social aspect out of WoW the game essentially turns into a Diablo like running game that involves running around and killing things. There are some plesant diversions such as collectibles, minigames, achievements and etc. But in the end, your daily grind usually boils down too running from one area to the other and killing X of Y. There is nothing wrong with that, but I have been spoiled by RPG games with real depth to them.
You know, games which will actually allow you to play a thief and level up by stealing, fencing and trading, without really needing to commit any bloodshed. I’m talking about Morrowind of course – that one game that keeps drawing me back in over and over again due to it’s immense replay value. The great thing about Morrowind is the sheer variety of quests you will get just by doing side missions unrelated to the main storyline. One day you are spying on someone, next day you are stealing secret documents, later you are sent to negotiate trade agreement and etc.. You can easily level up and advance your character without ever needing to kill anything.
Yes, you can play a pacifist in WoW too but it is not easy. It is actually quite difficult, if not impossible to achieve without serious commitment to the cause. If you are doing it, you might as well start a blog about it and people will read it because it is such an unusual (and strangely awesome) thing to do. In games such as Morrowind and Oblivion, a semi-pacifistic life style can simply a logical outcome of you choosing your character class. If you rolled a thief or a rogue you will be doing missions that require stealth, good speechcraft and security skills (stealing, extortion, burglary, pick pocketing) rather than the heavily combat oriented stuff. And there is nothing unusual or blog-worthy in that. It’s just how that game works.
Part of it is of course the fact that Morrowind and Oblivion have fairly complex system of rules that allow you to train in pick-pocketing, or lock picking and then use these skills in the game. This complex system of attributes, skills, racial/class feats and special abilities is the legacy of the western single player RPG tradition. Computer RPG games inherited it from pen and paper games like D&D which (out of necessity) had to include rules for all this non combat stuff.
Funny thing is that MMO’s break with this tradition. If you are a gamer you know that this is true. And yet someone looking from the outside would be surprised. D&D is social affair isn’t it? You get together with bunch of friends, you drink a gallon of Mountain Dew, eat a bag of Doritos an tell inappropriate jokes while the GM is trying to build tension or whatever. You could almost say that D&D is a multi-player game, could you not? WoW is a multi-player game too. Massively! Sounds like a match too me. But it’s not. Playing WoW is probably as far from playing an actual pen & paper game as you can get. In WoW your stats are limited to bare bones minimum that is required for calculating how hard your character can hit stuff. When you level up, you get almost no choice as to how you can upgrade your character. The skills you learn are mostly special attacks of varying range and/or damage output. You can’t learn lock picking in this game because there are no locks to pick. You can’t use your superior charisma or speachcraft skill to talk your way out of sticky situations because you never actually talk to anyone in this game. Your interaction with NPC’s is limited to taking or turning in quests and not much more.
WoW does have a limited crafting system but you can’t just play a craftsman. In order to excel at your craft (be it smiting, engineering or leather working) you need to go out and kill large quantities of “things” to gain the necessary levels and XP. The crafting system is meant to be a diversion you engage in between missions. The kill X of Y thing seems to be a MMO thing rather than a WoW thing though. It is like a MMO questing paradigm that almost defines the genre.
Is it always like that though? Are there MMO games out there that do not follow this pattern and offer you alternate ways to advance? I know of two counter examples. One of them is Eve Online which I have tried and got bored with pretty quickly. But then again I wouldn’t really call Eve a conventional MMO. I’d probably classify it as a hybrid between Microsoft Excel and Progress Quest – the only other game I can think of, that rewards you for not playing it. But that’s just my opinion and you have to keep in mind that I’m a people hating introvert and when I play MMO’s I actually run away from people that want to team up with me more often than not. If you are a social person, Eve like any other MMO offers you tons of entertainment in the form of guilds (or corporations) and player driven drama.
The other game that used an approach that was closer to single-player games (and thus the pen & paper roots) was Star Wars Galaxies where you used to be able to pick a merchant or an exotic dancer as a class. I never played that game, but I heard both good and bad things about it. All I know is that at some point they decided to overhaul the whole game engine and nerfed it down to the point where it became almost a WoW clone.
Everything else seems to follow the WoW lead, simplifying the stats and game mechanics to the bare bones minimum, and reducing the game play down to a controlled genocide. I can see why this is happening. The “kill X of Y” type missions are easy to write, script and deploy (so you can make them in bulk). Players can easily team up and accomplish these missions together as a team, and the missions are easily repeatable (ie. large mobs do not deplete easily, so players are not sitting around waiting for them to re-spawn all the time). But I can’t help to think that the MMO genre would be richer and deeper if it went back to it’s roots, and added bit more complexity to it’s system in order to allow for some more variety. But that’s me.