Gorked Out on Cataclysm

NOT a reference to the Orc gods Gork or Mork!

That other MMO some of you may have heard of launched its big expansion last week. It’s called Cataclysm and the gist is that the world of Azeroth has been devastated by some ancient, all-powerful dragon (Deathwing … very original name) leaving the world torn asunder and forever changed. The business model is to sucker fans into dropping another $40 plus the monthly subscription to replay the same game over again from the beginning in a newly graphically devastated world. The cinematic trailer is quite nice, actually it’s pretty awesome. There is so much hype and talk about WoW that a lifetime gamer such as myself can’t possibly avoid playing this thing … can he? You bet.

A part of me did consider giving WoW the 10-day free trial try. However as I’ve learned the past two years, one MMO is more than enough for anyone to keep busy. I had zero clue what MMOs were or what the gaming experience would be. I’ve been an avid console gamer for decades and never spent time playing online. As I’ve mentioned previously, WAR only drew my attention because of an interest in GamesWorkshop’s Warhammer 40,000 universe.

Since starting I have been a devoted subscriber but have cheated on WAR. I’ve given Champions Online a go. It has an interesting art style but the gameplay is like other MMOs. Heavy on PvE players can duel if they want PvP. I’ve found that my opinion feels PvP > PvE. I never made it to Level 10 on any of the zillion toons I rolled. That’s the most fun in this game (and I assume the same for City of Heroes and the soon to be released DC Universe Online) is creating your character(s). It’s a lot of fun with near infinite possibilities. I even created one that resembled an obscure DC Comics character, Dr. Midnight.

I also gave Aion a brief try and like many others have commented, it was a grind. That grindiness and lack of PvP saw me again abandoning before I reached double-digit levels. The game looks stunning … it’s amazing! Visually it blows all other MMOs away. Grinding mobs made me stop and think of the time and effort I placed into my toons in WAR. MMOs steal a ton of time from your life all while you’re having fun. Your characters grow, advance, power up, acquire gear. None of that is handed to you. Players have to invest the time. I realized that I don’t have that kind of time to further a super-hero or Final Fantasy-like emo in addition to defending Altdorf. And that definitely means I don’t have time to dive into the World of Warcraft, which is better than the best dessert you’ve ever eaten and delivers the biggest gaming orgasm, period. Not as good as Doritos.

I’ve learned a lot about this genre and many MMO vets say that the true MMO experience has long since faded with EverQuest and Dark Age of Camelot. From what I’ve read those were real MMO worlds with all the immersion, depth, and newness that defined the genre. WoW came along afterwards and “improved” on these by taking the MMO to a broader audience. The 12 million subscribers it has can’t be wrong, can they? Depends upon who you ask.

I tend to feel all MMOs are graphically lacking and solely in place as social spheres for like-minded gamers to come together and play with or against one another in some capacity to have fun. WAR is not the best game I’ve ever played. And despite the legion of WoW-hards it isn’t the best game either. There are far better games that I’ve played at one point or another in my life. The social-gaming universe is a relatively new one that started niche and has exploded into a phenomenon. And don’t look now but WoW has already been passed by the likes of Farmville. You think 12 million players is king? Try 80+ million! Despite the sheer number of people who play or love them, those games themselves aren’t that great (and many even contend their status as games). It’s a matter of how much a slice of escape you’re willing to let into your life and the amount of fun perceived.

I’ve never written a WoW post but the game has always intrigued me. I mean, doesn’t every MMO blogger have at least one “WoW is Jizztastic” or “WoW Sucks” post in them? This is neither. Many others know more about it, have played it, or have better insights into it. But getting a good look at it now I am left wondering why it is this unparalleled maitreya. WoW reached people that weren’t hardcore gamers. That’s its magic and still is to this day while alluring a significant chunk of hardcore gamers. The old-school MMOer will say WoW dumbed things down, made things too easy to achieve, and you can dance. In today’s world we have so little time to enjoy the fun things in life. The casual gamer isn’t willing to work long and hard to achieve something a true gamer would. WoW wouldn’t be king if it didn’t make major concessions. That’s difficult to swallow for the hardcore as those not so hardcore encroach upon their turf.

As I scan gaming blogs to read those writing about the Cataclysm it is interesting to see the differing opinions on the highly anticipated expansion since it released …

  • Some are nostalgic at the game they spent so much time in and are inspired to go back to play yet again. The world has been “redone” … remade. It will be different this time. It’s a chance to see old friends, to explore lands you once walked before, now changed. It’s a chance to do the things that were fun in a game that changed gaming.
  • Some sound like the mistreated girlfriend who finally left to date other men only to be disappointed time after time until realizing the mistreatment wasn’t so bad as to go back and believe it will be different this time.
  • The gear-minded are realizing that their once noble grind for epics in the last expansion are now gimp compared to greens that drop in Cataclysm. Thanks for the time you spent getting uber only to be chumped one level into the new expansion.
  • While others are simply so sugared up at the pure awesome that not a single thing is wrong in WoWville. It’s as incredible as they remember with the most innovative quests and the most immersive lore and story.
  • Some already say they are close to completing the new content. Really? It just freaking came out but you know it’s coming. The hardcore hardies will play non-stop and breeze through the new stuff thus crushing their own enjoyment by prematurely cataclysmalating after the long tease waiting for it to come out in the first place.
  • Lastly, people talk about how active the zones are now but in a few months they will be barren as players return to the cities to chat, craft, and wait for raids. Is that really what WoW is? That’s the best game ever?

It appears WoW is like the Kaiser Soze of gaming. It’s difficult to explain, extremely intricate, and is difficult to truly put your finger on what it is that makes it so incredibly interesting, different, (and dangerous) … right in front of your face but poof … gone. I don’t understand, yet I do. Damn Kevin Spacey.

As a gamer I like when my hobby of choice thrives even when it’s due to a game I don’t play. For you youngsters, there was a point where gaming almost died. Honest. Gaming hit big in the late 70’s/early 80’s. There were places called “arcades” where us kids would go waste quarters in these stand-up boxes blasting alien invaders or jumping barrels to save princesses. I have no idea how much money I wasted but I loved every single minute of it. I remember when Space Invaders came out. I remember eating dots as Pac Man. I remember the first time I heard that heroic music as Mario grabbed the hammer on his way up the ramps in Donkey Kong.

And when gaming came home via Atari … it didn’t matter that the graphics weren’t as good as what was in the arcade. You were at home playing! Block-graphics never looked so great. That continued with other systems but then suddenly things started to flop. Arcades weren’t doing so well and people weren’t buying games like before. Were we over the fad waking one morning all grown up?

It took the Nintendo Entertainment System with its improved graphics plus flagship characters to turn things around. Through a series of new systems, new gaming concepts, and a semi-resurgence in arcades, gaming stayed alive to grow and thrive into the multi-billion dollar beast it is today. Games keep getting better and keep evolving. No one bats an eye at seeing game commercials during prime time television and even grandma can play the Wii!

This brings me back to WoW and what I’ve written previously about those who like to shit on things for shitting’s sake. It’s not relegated to gaming but we find everyone in life wants to defend what they like and criticize what they don’t. Why do I hate the New York Yankees? I could write a huge post why. Why does Twilight suck? Ditto. Why do I look at WoW as an outsider and simply do not get it?

I think visually, it’s lame. As I viewed videos of the new Cataclysm gameplay to see what it’s all about (and even ponder trying it), the game was as if I was watching a better Banjo Kazooie or a little known game called Vexx. It’s cutsie, cartoony, and goofy. Everyone seems to sport Popeye deformed forearms. I find that it’s a little too Disneyesque for me. And the faithful tout the new look of the game as amazing. Really? This is the visual improvement that took Blizzard years to complete?

There’s 3500 new quests that are more detailed, more immersive than before. They look like every other PvE quest I’ve seen in my limited MMO life. You still have to stop, click the NPC, and read the quest text. You still get hints on your map where to go. You still have to find X item or kill X things. That’s immersion? That’s awesome?

There are goblin hotrods, disco parties, swimming pools, girl gobbos with pigtails. WTF?!? That super slick game trailer up top … it’s the classic bait-and-switch for MMOs. If WoW looked like the trailer I’d be in there playing. But it’s not. It still looks like a really well done PlayStation 2 game. And the fans eat it up.

Star Wars: The Old Republic does the same thing with its trailer versus actual gameplay. Granted, its in-game art is better than WoW. And I understand that going with simpler graphics enables better, smoother gameplay online. But it amazes me at what so many will accept and annoint as awesome. I can admit that WAR did the same with its trailer … however its in game graphics at least come closer to the trailer than others.

That’s the WoW appeal, I suppose. It has fun baked in with the funny look, whacky NPC names, and casualness that doesn’t seem to take itself overly serious. That’s what makes the non-hardcore love it, right? It also seems to have everything in there to appeal to just about everyone. Blizzard really does have it figured out and people are playing and having fun. That’s the bottom line. Games are supposed to be fun but we dissect them and analyze them every which way we can. I can definitely see some fun in WoW … but I’m not biting. As if Blizzard is missing this lone gamer.

So the big dog did their thing but is this truly the pinnacle of MMO gaming? Subpar graphics, goofy toons, borrowing mechanics and pop-culture references from other games and places in a world that envelops millions of people around the globe? What’s next? Are there no more innovations to this market? Is it one big gorilla and a bunch of niche monkeys that will continue to make up the MMO universe churning out the same old same old? I guess as long as the fans are willing to settle.

There’s already grumblings about what’s coming down the pike. BioWare is catching flack for using voiceovers to relay quest content in Star Wars: TOR. Guild Wars 2 and SWTOR are being attacked for seemingly catering towards a single-player RPG style. Please school me if I’m wrong … other than raids in WoW, is there really a reason to group up? Can’t most quests be completed on your own? Aren’t some WoW-hards complaining at how single-player WoW has become? Is the new awesome playing a game over again with slightly improved graphics, new races, in a destroyed environment really it? I’m thinking more my problem is the MMO genre in general than any of the current offerings available.

Warhammer 40K Dark Millennium Online recently announced no action bars … no “Kill 10 Rats” quests. They want people to look at the game on-screen and not know it’s an MMO. Will it be as simple as shooting a gun or swinging a sword hitting buttons a la some fighting or shooting game? Is that the future? Maybe it is … a return to doing it yourself with a little help from your friends when needed to enter some dungeon.

I’m not meant to get WoW completely at this point. I missed the boat. But I am happy for its fans despite all the differing opinions from their community. These games are all about what we make of them and how we experience them. Depending what MMO grabbed you and enthralled you first will likely determine how you feel about other games and the industry. Had my first MMO been WoW, how would I be looking at other games? Take any MMO and there are people who love it, defend it, and play it all the time. I just criticized the “best” MMO ever for its success and new expansion while playing a game whose only “expansion” was 20 new levels, fluff, and new armor. Case in point.

Right now I think we’ve plateaued until someone wants to really take a chance. Innovation doesn’t always take hold and can summarily get squashed even when it’s worthwhile. Will it be Blizzard who takes that chance or will they continue a sure thing: 10 more levels, more loot, more quests, more raids, so-so graphics? The safe road. I read an article that claimed WoW could be sustained this way for another 20 years. Really? Our expectations are that low.

Comments are welcomed. Help me to understand this and why we are all so easy to please. We’re all friends here.

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5 Responses to “Gorked Out on Cataclysm”

  1. I’m easy to please because games are really just a diversion. WoW is not my favorite game, but for short periods of time I do find it entertaining. I do agree, its MMO formula is tired. I’m not really sure what the solution is… other than taking a step back from the casual trend.

    • I can see that there must be “fun” in WoW or that many people wouldn’t be playing. I’m thankful that its graphics turn me off as its Achievements system would surely suck me in.

  2. Love that movie. Anyways;

    I’ve played WoW for about as long as I’m now playing WAR. I had fun and when I quit even I thought (as most of my friends) that it’s just a sort of a break and I’ll be back. But I had no desire to return, eventhough I had a lot of friend and some very close RL friends playing it. I loved the game from the first day I tried it and if I had to put my finger on what made me quit, it was probably the realisation that I was doing the same old thing over and over again.

    I’m sure you’ll ask if I don’t feel like I’m doing that while playing WAR, and my answer is no. PvP is interacting with players, on both sides of the fence. And it feels more alive, more immersive and responsive. I also get way more emotional in WAR then I did in any game ever before. God, those destro ganking bitches piss me off. But I love the game despite it’s flaws and I don’t think I’ll be able to go back to the grind of a PvE game ever again. Because that’s what it is. PvE is an RPG made accessible to everyone at any time. It’s easy and repetitive. I don’t want it.

    And yes, the MMO formula seems to be a bit tired. It’s up to the upcoming MMOs to break the mold and make something happen, or I fear they’ll find themselves in the same niche WAR is in. I’m pinning my hopes on GW2 or Rift, but I just can’t stay positive. GW2 looks to me a bit like it’s going to try to refine the WoW formula and try succeed without a subscription, which isn’t what I’m looking for. And Rift is at the real danger of becoming just another grindy MMO with Rifts thrown in for effect. And don’t get me started on WH40k MMO.

    In my opinion MMOs are one field where it’s very hard to innovate. As they are probably the most costly of games to develop and launch, failing to stay profitable sinks the ship most of the time. Look at APB or Global Agenda. In addition, I think the only thing that would be really innovative at this point would be a persistent dynamic world (no instancing) that reacts to each and every player. But that is so hard to pull off we probably aren’t seeing it for at least a decade or so. Other than that, I’d really like to see someone give a shot at what WAR tried, an open world PvP game with collision and all that jazz but without things WAR failed at, essentially. Or Planetside 2 done right, which some think WH40k MMO might be trying to do. I’m not convinced.

    Anyway, I think we’re stuck. Turn to singleplayer games for your immersion/escape fix and to MMOs for your sense of false achievements and community. 🙂

    • Thanks for the comments. PvE is fun the first time through but after that … you know all that’s going to happen. I am more hopeful that 40k DMO will be different and they better have a significant portion of the game devoted to PvP. That universe screams for it.

  3. Haha, Kro, nicely put sir.

    I have to agree, mostly.

    I cut my teeth in MMOs on WoW, didn’t play much, but eventually got my Lvl 70 toon when Burning Crusade was out.

    It was fun, but then WAR released. It took me away for a few months, but I soon left due to lack of polish on launch. I got a taste of it, though. A little less than a year later, I was informed by a friend that WAR had seen a lot of polish and work since launch, so I gave it another shot. My WoW account lapsed, and I haven’t touched it since I got into the PVP world of WAR. No, it’s not as polished, no the PVE isn’t as good, and no, it is NOT as smooth. But… it is a game where, as you say, it’s different all the time. You find different fights, different situations, different strategies, and it really makes you think.
    A game that achieves that, for me, will ALWAYS be better than perma-PVE because the BGs of WoW are pug-hell, and the arenas are dominated by fotm team builds (moreso than WAR, to the point where it’s the only viable option).

    For the PVP, simple (well not really, but shhh..) stuff like collision really sold it for me… if they ever got rid of collision I seriously believe it would ruin a lot of the game.

    I’m also looking forward to W40k … it better be good, and as you say, it better be PVP, or else… they’ll be getting a lot of hate-mail, to begin with. I have high hopes for THQ, though… they did a good job with Dawn of War, so we shall see!

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