Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Ride Astride the Beast: Levels 15-20

Having played through levels 1-15 of World of Warcraft, it would only be fair to finish up the levels I am allotted. Unfortunately, it was discovered that this is only till level 20, and that the adventures of Myrdo would end well before they began. This shorter post will include more about experience with the first dungeons, an important facet of World of Warcraft, and PvP. 

As was revealed before, my experience with MMOs is rather widespread, yet not complete. Dungeons are not foreign, and they tend to follow a simple formula gained from their parent genre, the RPG. You go into some deep dark place, either a cave or taken structure, then you and your allies must stay close together to clear it of its tough enemies and bosses without dieing. In World of Warcraft, this is no different.

In fact, my first experience with one of these dungeons was by mistake, Ragefire chasm. Having leveled up my character to 12, I went into a portal at the bottom of Oggrimar, the capital city for the Horde. When Zigglez and I entered, we saw a worm only a level above us, and we attacked it. The worm killed both of us, only nearly dieing. The room was full of duplicate creatures. We decided that we would come back at level 14, and get revenge on this creature. We did so, again fighting that one worm, and with all of our abilities spent, we killed it. We were proud, and managed to kill 6 more.

When we hit level 15, we entered the dungeon queue to go in as a group. All three of us, since Witrig was with us, entered as DPS characters, or damage per second characters. This dungeon finder is a fun mechanic, it allows players to jump right to a dungeon that they want to do, even if they have never visited it. For those who appreciate the in character elements of a game though, this is a travesty. There is no need for exploration to find a difficult dungeon, they are all listed, and the game will then teleport you halfway across the game world just to go destroy the enemies there, even if you have no idea what story lead your character to be there.

It was done though, and soon our tank, the character meant to take the brunt of the damage, charged into the chasm and started to fight several worms at once. The three of my personal allies all went in to destroy the creatures, and in a flurry of attack animations, they were all dead, the tank barely hurt with the assistance of the healer behind him. Yet, I felt no great satisfaction, I simply stood behind an enemy, and did what I do until they were all laying on the ground so we could collect their loot. Killing them one by one, each of them monstrous villains, was better than this... slaughter. Soon we met bosses, and each fell a slight bit slower. Since ragefire chasm was part of my actual storyline, I knew that these people were part of the burning blade, were demon summoners. We ripped each of the bosses to shreds, and any damage on us was short lived.

I will mention that after this we did Shadowfang keep, a dungeon that has been altered from its original form as a werewolf filled keep. The reason for this is because those werewolves, are now a playable race, so the story has changed to their keep being overrun by the undead. I did not participate in most of this dungeon, because the game is slow to download its elements on my crappy internet connection. It took me at least 8 minutes to load, if not more. Then when I died, as our tank and healer were not nearly as good this time, it took another 15 minutes or more to load the world outside of the dungeon. Both of these places I never visited before, so the game had no reason to think I would need to download them in advance. It was still quite irritating.

As for the other game element, PvP, I cannot say I know why anyone would participate. This was level 19 PvP mind you, very early in the game. Yet, every fight felt like a wandering slaughter. The fight moved from one place to another, both sides flinging status effects at one another like fear and disorient, that eliminated that character from the fight. If the DPS on one side decided a character would be dead, they were then dead very fast. Personally, my Rogue could do very little, as whenever I tried to attack, everyone would turn to me and have me dead in seconds. The PvP in Warhammer Online and other Everquestian MMOs have a similar feel, yet this truly felt like the lowest of the low. 

When I reached level 20, the quest in the game seemed to get a slight bit more engaging. Not that they took any thought, they were still stagnant elements all built to make me fight a different sort of monster. Yet the feel of them because a little more serious, at the very least, as I entered the Ashenvale. 

This all doesn't matter though, as my time as Myrdo is done. The game capped me at level 20, so moving forward would be suicide. So in the meantime, as my trial finishes, I have moved to playing a Dwarf Paladin, for a different view of the situation. The life of Dezuun the Dwarf will need to be covered later though.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Ride Astride the Beast: Levels 1-15

Taking something apart always reveals its flaws, always shows it wanting. Yet it is also important for figuring out exactly what we want, why, and what should be done about it. So WoW will be examined, and the whole of the MMORPG genre will be examined with it. Because when we examine MMOs, we must examine World of Warcraft, or we are skipping a vital step, ignoring the largest sample.

For this two parts will be required. First this post will examine World of Warcraft in particular, in its first few levels and its structure. Then this will be reflected onto all MMOs, since WoW is just the poster-child, not a single child.

The other day I started my game as an Orc rogue. This choice was partly my own feelings toward the best race, and partly going for a standard experience. Orcs are the central race for their side, the center of 'the horde'. Yet rogues are not the standardized MMO experience, that would be Mage or Warrior.

I'll start by saying that the character creator in this game is ancient. Sure WoW came out in 2004, but that is no excuse for having a character creator that is simply a choice between 5 hairstyles, 5 faces, and 4 skin shades. I didn't even need to see another player, and I already felt like I looked exactly like everyone else. This feeling of being 'just one of many' continued as I picked up the same items as my other leather wearing allies, and did the same quest which the dialogue made seem was special for me. 

Now what some may not know is that WoW has had some changes because of the upcoming release of their new expansion, Cataclysm. The content from level 1-60 has been modified, down to how you gain points as you level up. So imagine my surprise when the big change in my starting area was, as I heard another player say, the boars I had to kill constantly were in a pen instead of roaming. This was the same beginning as many other fantasy MMO, killing animals and other pest that every NPC around you should be capable of killing. The game tries to make you sound like the chosen one in dialogue, yet any NPC you see at work is obviously better at their task than you are. Your character has no place in the natural order, which goes directly against the idea of being an RPG. This is likely my number one complaint about WoW, and many MMOs. The only thing about the game that has me 'Role-playing' is that I fill a very specific role in a combat group, either healer, tank, or DPS.

But I will spend more time on that later. The trial of World of Warcraft is in particular, offensive. The game's system because a wasteland, your character a phantom in the middle of real people. This is not a trial, this is a single player game plugged into the middle of a multiplayer game. You cannot talk except in tells to certain people, you cannot trade around gold (this one I understand because of mules), and worst of all you cannot invite people to groups. For a game, a genre, built upon social interaction this trial is built to stop it at every turn.

Which is okay, since these levels are all about being an errand boy of the NPCs around you. From collecting cactus apples to killing scorpions, only half the quest I did ever felt like something important. I dealt with the burning blade, and the Northwatch patrols, but they somehow made these things that should have been profound, feel like dummies assisting in a practice exercise. It doesn't help that your kills are far from permanent, with enemies spawning around you within a minute of you slaughtering them. 

Then an aesthetic complaint, mounts and cities. The wandering hordes of level 80 players should be something awe-inspiring in a game. These people have worked hard, and their characters are the true champions, people doing the most dangerous things for their faction. So it saddened me to see them look like goofballs, riding go-karts and motorcycles while wearing costumes to look like pirates and goblins (note goblins were not playable as of this posting). This makes going through large towns, like Ogrimmar, a bother. Every time I went into town, I was pulled out of the already lofty setting. Not that WoW didn't try hard to pull me out by itself, with a world of blades and spells being back to back with stealth camo generators and rockets to the moon. Blizzard makes it very clear they don't want you to take their setting seriously.

There was a lot of good in here too though. I managed to get a group by playing with a friend with an actual account, so there were times I could actually group up. It was fun filling my role, to manipulate stealth and try to only fight one or two characters at a time. Thorn hill, and other razormane related locations out in the barrens, turned out to be the most enjoyable. There were plenty of enemies to kill, and because of the sparse population, it felt like there was a reason I was out there doing the dirty work, which all related to killing specific targets. There was also a subplot of the survival of the Razormane, as a people, which was of course largely ignored. There was also good fun in Azshara, but that fun was stifled by the fact that none of it felt like it fit in the setting. When I'm walking a mech around to fight people, and then doing quest for hyper-intelligent raptors, I have no idea where I am anymore, or what to expect.

All MMOs tend to have similar problems to this, missions not seeming important, and really slow starts. Yet I would expect better from the big daddy of MMOs, especially with how often it has been changed. In Warhammer online, most races start off fighting legit threats, fighting off a siege or pulling raids against the enemies of your race. City of Heroes starts off being about crime fighting, so its version of fighting boars is fighting basic street criminals who can't do much but try to punch you. 

The biggest problem here is the lack of role-playing, something that plagues just about every MMO except maybe Eve Online. By role-playing I do not mean pretending you are the little girl, I mean having a full investment in your character, and having control over their fate and story. In an MMO, often the quest will dictate to you a story that you may not want to take part in, which is okay if there are multiple paths, or your character has multiple ways to apply him to the problem. If someone tells me to take care of a target, and I can kill or persuade them, stab them to death or blow them up, I have options. In World of Warcraft, as in Warhammer Online and City of Heroes, there are a select few paths of where my character will go. My rogue will be of one of three specializations, and his gear will be to exemplify that, and my quest will all lead to the end game content. In Eve, at a point, the quest don't matter anymore. I can become a miner, I can be a CEO of a business, run special ops, or drive a giant ship into battle. The quest, at least early on, do not try to lead you anywhere. You are simply one of many, and the game knows this. You are not unique, you are not a butterfly, if you don't do this quest then someone else will.

These observations and complaints are all for a specific group of players though. For many, MMOs are about the group combat and challenges. I understand this as a person who played a game built around that from top to bottom, Guild Wars. Yet when I play a game that attempts to have a story, I hope to find enough in there to satiate me, and push me forward. World of Warcraft has failed in that respect, so far.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Ride Astride the Beast: Myrdo's Humble Start

The time was now, and what a time it was. I did not know much, but what I did know was that a great beast struck our borrowed home, that even the barren land we Orcs called home was ruined by the mere stretch of its wings. I also knew that now was my coming of age, and that today I truly joined the horde, no longer young and wet, now a strong young blood. Soon all would know the name of Myrdo Reargut the Rogue, son of Tarn Reargut.

So I struck out to the North, to find the Valley of Trials. There I hoped to put to the test the axiom of my father, That any situation could be solved with the proper application of a blade to a spine. Of course Pa always said it as "Wrench guts, win lots". A practical man my Pa, a trait that won him the nicest grave in town. 

As I trekked the Valley to its center, I crossed the discarded shells of the spoils of others. Spent men, empty carcases. I did not see another Orc there in those fields, but it was obviously many trampled the ground in front of me. So I continued on.

There in the center of the Valley I found my mentor, a small and angry man, prone to repeating himself in identical blood thirsty yells. He seemed keen to make a man of me, and it seemed the best way to do so was to dull my blade against the backs of many beast. Very many beast. First were the boars, doing the work of some peon who looked on in slack toothed glee as I slaughtered his pigs by the dozen. When this was enough, I moved to Scorpids, a beast that before I only killed for desperate meals. Now I made a feast of them, and a river of their venom.

When I found my brow wet with sweat and my stiletto slick with gore, I was finally given a true task. Thazz'rill, or Old Thazzy as he was so often called, told me of a secret. The humans, who we so recently made peace with, were in our lands again. There were scouts from Northwatch scattered across the Valley of Trials, and I was to introduce them all to my Pa's particular creed. The sun set early on many men, some carrying boxes, some carrying boxes with big crosses on them, and others shooting faulty guns, yet each found their death before my blade. Though they cut into me as well, some with blades, some with lead, I found myself invigorated by the exercise. Every time the battle found its climax, so did my being, and I was renewed. 

I was not alone though, and I do not think I could have finished the trials without friends both old and new. Old Zigglez Strumdoom, or just Zigg for short, a true shot who could calm any beast. Witrig Shadeheart, a frightening warlock whose introduction to the hordes forces fell on the same day. Then finally Mahou, or Little Miss Mahou as she preferred to be called, an enigma of a caster, driven yet queer.

Together we flew across the red landscape I called home, and slay anything with a back to prove our worth. At the end Old Thazzy gave me a letter, a recruitment letter to join the Hordes forces defending the barrens. That was a place I knew by name, yet not by sight. Its reputation proceeded it by miles, and my body quaked in fear, while my blade quivered in anticipation.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Ride Astride the Beast: Prologue and Explanation

Among those who call themselves gamers, by social permission or through an equal transcendence in respect of the medium, there is a great distinction between persons. A gamer either plays WoW, that is Blizzard's World of Warcraft, or they do not. At 12 million subscriptions, WoW's numbers outrank all the state of Ohio, and dwarf my own home state. Its players range from the light-hearted social player who takes the game an hour at a time, to the hardened warrior who ranks the in-game raids just below breathing and right above defecation. With its large audience, wide appeal, and addictive framework, WoW is the behemoth of its genre, the kodo beast in the room if you will allow me to get into the mood.

It is also a game that I have never played, and had no intention of playing. Between my arrogance, ignorance, and need to hate on anything more popular than myself, I have never given World of Warcraft its fair chance. I have judged the game on its players, on its culture, and any other object I could use to differentiate it from myself. But as with the motto of the Royal Society, "nullius in verba", I realize now that I should "take no one's word for it". I will confront the beast first hand, and though I dangle myself before its horrid white flesh, my hope is to come out with limbs and sanity intact. This I do out of a sense of duty, pride, and boredom. 

As a man of 23 years, I was playing video games before I stopped wetting the bed. Mario was my babysitter, and Dragon Warrior 3 my tutor. My genre of choice are Strategy and RPGs, the second rather important to this exercise with WoW placing itself within the 'Role-Playing Games' genre with its MMORPG subgenre classification. My MMO credentials run a range of games, recent and old; Ultima Online, City of Heroes, Guild Wars, Warhammer Online, Planetside, Dungeons and Dragons Online, and trials of Lord of the Rings Online, Pirates of the Burning Sea, APB, and the Matrix Online. These games usually have similar buildings blocks, mostly the prototypical MMOs of Ultima Online and Everquest, yet all have their own twist.

To come at this game, I will play as one character for a 10 day trial, possibly more if the game warrants it. I will play with as many friends as I can manage to play with, to create the proper setting and social interaction an MMO requires. My server of choice will be Destromath, my faction Horde. From here I had to make a hard choice, since race and class will definitely warp my playing experience. Yet I have played enough MMOs to know what will interest me, and to know how to overcome in game challenges. So because of this I will play an Orc Rogue, not because this is a particularly good combination, but because it is what interest me.

This page will chronicle my time in the game. I will at times post in character in a fashion I hope will be considered humorous, others I will post out of character to summarize my experiences from that of a man who has played games for over 15 years of his life. I hope to have everyone's support in this, both during and in the aftermath of what will be my greatest flirtation with darkness since I, as a teetotaller, took a shot at a christmas party.

I cross my fingers that this all goes well, for the love of the game, for the sake of fairness, and most of all for the horde.