Quick MMORPG reviews!

So, armed with a fancy new PC, I set about to trying to find a good MMORPG to take advantage of it (because Guild Wars 2, Diablo 3, Torchlight 2, and Path of Exile are yet to be released [I am playing in the Path of Exile Beta, of course, but it gets boring after a while]) because WoW isn’t very graphics intense, and after leveling now 13 characters to level 80 (three of them to 85), it gets so damn repetitive. So a quick breakdown of what I’ve found so far:

Everquest II quick review: It sucks out loud, stay away from it.

And to elaborate on that just a touch… First off, the free to play your way thing is the biggest line of bullshit since you told your girlfriend you’d just stick in the tip and stop if she didn’t like it (or your boyfriend told you that if you’re a girl). You download an impressive 15 gigs of information, fire up the game, and find out that the your way in which you are free to play involves being limited to about 1/10th of the playable race/class combinations. If you want to play anything else it is $7.50 a pop (for each class. The races appear to come in three packs for $7.50 … but are exclusive of the class payment). So that was mildly irritating, but I figured what the hell, if the game was good enough maybe I wouldn’t mind spending a few extra bucks to unlock some additional race/class combos -it is free to play, after all.

Next up is the first impression when entering the game world: The graphics are terrible. I want to point out here that I played the original Everquest, starting very roughly in 2002. I remember the graphics being very chunky, but this was at the dawn of 3d games, so at the time it seemed pretty amazing. Now here we are a decade later, and the graphics haven’t improved much. Everything looks better for sure, but it just doesn’t seem like a decade worth of progression. This is especially true of the world itself; I can’t think of a single MMO I have played in the last 5 years that had worse environment detail and jutting polygons. I think the game engine was probably created in 2005 (first release) and they have just been adding expansions to it ever since. For all I know the game is so glorious that it looks like real life by the time you make it to whatever level max is, but I’ll certainly never know… Because…

Most of the reason I will never know is that I uninstalled the game within about twenty minutes of play. The major reason for this was the interface. Monitors haven’t really gotten that much larger over the last five years or so, but they have increased the resolution dramatically. As a result of that, I play games in 1920×1080, but on a monitor that is the same size as the one I was playing games at 1440×900 with just a couple of years ago -which is really only a couple of inches wider than the one I was playing games at 1024×768 a couple of years before that. This means that you need to be able to scale your UI or else the icons on the screen will be roughly the size of your mouse cursor. WoW has a feature right in there that will allow you to go in and scale the UI to any size you want to, thereby making it so you can see the game world in glorious 1920×1080, while the interface is still large enough to be seen by adult, human eyes. Everquest II does not have that option. Or, I should say, it has that option for the fonts in some of the dialogue boxes, and for some of the action bars, but not a broad and sweeping UI scale button that will do it all for you. Also, in order to get some of the text and buttons larger you actually have to download some add-ons, which is just not something you want to be doing within the first thirty seconds of gameplay. I mean seriously, the first thing a new player sees is the UI, it should be the most welcoming, most easily altered feature of the game, not something that requires you to learn how to program in order to fix. So I had to turn the resolution on this down to some 1024xsomething setting to be able to reasonably see the icons -which could have something to do with why the graphics seemed to suck so bad. But since that is entirely their fault, I am damn sure calling like I saw it.

The quests and combat in the game seemed pretty good actually, and if not for the shitty interface options and 1990’s graphics (when played at the ridiculously low resolution that allows for actually seeing your interface) I imagine the game could have been a lot of fun. Pity. But since there are so many MMORPG’s out there, I’m certainly not going to waste the time on this one when I can just download a different one.

Next up is Lord of the Rings Online. LotRO is one that used to be subscription based only, and I had fairly high expectations for it coming in. There are some things about this game that are really great -the Epic quest line being the biggest one that springs to mind- but there are also a lot of things that sour it.

This one is free to play only early on, then you simply have to pay to continue. I don’t mean that in a ‘it will be easier to progress with better stuff’ kind of way, I mean it in a very literal ‘once you reach a certain level, you no longer get experience from killing monsters and no quests will be available’ type of way. Shitty. I enjoyed it enough early on to go ahead and pay for a couple of the expansions (keep an eye on the store to catch these on sale and you can get them for a fairly reasonable price). I managed to keep entertained playing for a couple of months before eventually giving up completely.

While I haven’t read the books since High School, the Epic quest chain (that is what it is called in game, not my assessment of its relative size, scope, or coolness) seems to follow the story fairly well. That is absolutely necessary, as there isn’t really a lot else to tie this to the Lord of the Rings franchise, and without that it would just be another free MMO with relatively good graphics and relatively lackluster execution of pretty much everything. As with the previous game, I can’t comment on endgame content (assuming it exists) because it didn’t hold my interest long enough to get there. If I had to pin down a single element to cite as the reason I just gave up, it would actually be two elements (because, evidently, I suck at math), which would be these:

1) Travel. Much like vanilla WoW, they are making up for a lack of early game content by making everything as difficult as possible. Travel time is how they achieve that. If you want to go from one zone to the next you have to walk there (or ride if you’ve purchased a mount. There is a taxi service to some places as well, but it goes at the same speed). Professions can only be advanced while at a profession trainer -of which are there are many conveniently spread out across the fucking globe. You want to learn the next level of weapon crafting? Be prepared for thirty minutes (real time) of running to get to the trainer, learn them, and get back to what you were doing. So why not wait and just do it every ten character levels? Because your bags can hold roughly 5% of what they would need to be capable of holding in order to pull that off. And that is if you have paid for the bag upgrades (with real money). As near as I can tell, the professions never get any easier to level. And one thing I have learned from every MMO I have ever played is that you really must level them as you go or you will regret it later. And that leads nicely into the second biggest thing that sours me to the game:

2)There is no attempt to group things by zone. By that I mean quests -or any other reasonable means to level your character. Depending on which expansions you have purchased (and again, you must purchase expansions to level beyond 20 [I think]), you may have half a dozen quests that you can do in one zone, then another half a dozen that you can do in another zone -some fifteen minute ride away. Don’t get me wrong, you will have other quests in those zones, but they will either be 5 levels higher than what you can reasonably do, or they will require a group to complete unless you are ridiculously over-leveled, and thus worth no experience. Add to that that the Epic quest line will invariably either send you to a zone you’ve already completed, or one that you won’t be reasonably questing in for another several levels, and the overall effect is just maddening.

I really wanted to like LotRO, and I kind of do, but when you add the mindlessly boring travel in with the fact that you frequently have to buy another expansion to be able to fill in quests from level x-x, the thirty minutes round trips to learn a couple of points in you professions, and that’s not even mentioning the horribly executed auction house interface, I just couldn’t do it long term.

Next up is Runes of Magic. This is AFAIK the largest free MMORPG out there in terms of player base. This one, unfortunately, falls into the free to play: Pay to win category, and instantly loses points for that. You could theoretically make it to end game without paying for anything (slow as it may be due to travel without a mount) then you would be totally fucked. There are those who will argue that it is possible to get geared for endgame without ever spending a penny, but even they will say that it is impractical to do so -and that it would take thousands of hours of farming for currency to even attempt. Of course if your credit line is big enough, you can just pop right out of the gates leveling with speed and ease, be geared and ready for endgame in a couple of weeks.

The graphics in this one are really quite good (certainly the best I’ve seen in any F2P game), and the gameplay is very similar to WoW. The professions are slow to go -and I’m not just talking about leveling them here; it very literally seems to take 3x longer of channeling to farm a node than in WoW. The quests are much better than LotRO for staying around the same area though, so leveling can actually be done fairly quickly. If you shell out a bit of cash for a mount, this one will keep you entertained for a while. I’ve actually installed and played this one a couple of times. It will hold my interest for a few weeks before I invariably go back to WoW. The idea is that I was trying to find a F2P replacement for WoW, and this just isn’t it. An annual WoW subscription costs about $160 bucks (bought in six month increments), which unlocks all available content for as many as 50 characters. To get one character to endgame content in Runes of Magic would cost at least 33% more than that. And that is just the sticker price; you need to continue spending money to keep your gear and goodies current or else you’ll quickly fall behind. Hardly seems like a free alternative.

That said, when I invariably give up WoW again, this is probably the game I’ll go back to -unless something else grabs my attention.

Next up is Requiem: Memento Mori. I happened across this one while looking for something more vampire-y. This one was pretty fun to play just for being different than the MMOs I am used to… At least it seemed like it was. When you break it down, though, its really just the same 8 or so Archetypes from every other MMO ever. They aren’t afraid to throw around some gore in this one though (something that has been all but cleansed from WoW over the years) and that alone was enough to keep me playing for a while.

This game has a nightmare mode that they tout as unique- but it is really a direct ripoff from Everquest (who probably ripped it off from someone else). The basic gist being that a zone will have like level 12 cats in it in the daytime, but at night the same area will be populated with level 60 elite dragons. What a great selling point, eh? Not paying close enough attention to your clock while questing and you go from 6/10 dog tails collected to getting one-shot by the meanest dragon you’ve ever seen. Wouldn’t that be a fun thing to apply to some real life stuff? Say you’re shaving before you go to bed and don’t see the clock hit 9pm -BAM! your electric shaver just turned into a chainsaw and cut off half your face. Try it again tomorrow, sucka!

Overall the game wasn’t different enough to be unique, and it suffered from many of the same issues that seems to plague all of these F2P games. This one, though, offers the ultimate fuck you in that you rent mounts for 30 (or 1 or 10) days at a time. Way to hook us!

Seriously though. If you are looking to start the next big MMORPG, what you need to do is 1)make mounts free and achievable through normal questing. 2)make professions at low level easy to learn, easy to progress, and easy to research (in game) so you get a sense that you are choosing the right profession for the right class but won’t feel attached to it at level 30 if something else seems like a better idea. 3)make questing/leveling quick and easy by zone; no one enjoys having to spend 30 minutes of their two hours of game time riding across fifty zones to bang out the three quests you have available to their level. 4)make your pay items fall into a couple of very clearly defined categories like A)cosmetic only. This could be different spell animations, different skins for existing items, non combat pets, different mounts, dyes for armor, character look editing etc. B)time savers not game breakers. Consumables for quick travel from town to town, increased experience gain for a limited time, increased profession experience for a limited time, etc. C) Useless junk. A great example of this is something in WoW (though I can’t remember exactly what it was) that does an emote where the character will equip an electric guitar for a couple of seconds and play a few notes. It has no value whatsoever, but is just the type of thing that a F2P’er wouldn’t mind seeing since it makes no difference whatsoever to gameplay.

There were a couple of other games that I had intended to put in here, but this has already gone much longer than expected. I may add a couple more at some time later as time/my fuzzy memory permits. If you are a big fan of any of these games and think I have missed the mark, please do drop a comment to let me know why.