The Faction Trap

One of the givens in an MMORPG is that each player must choose a faction, usually right at character creation.  In Warcraft, you are either part of the Horde or the Alliance.  Alliance players are always human, dwarf or elves, and Horde players are always orcs, trolls, goblins, and so forth.  This, of course, all dates back to Tolkien and a perhaps a dualistic view of the world that was made for a very convincing good guys/bad guys story.  Gollum may have been the one character in those stories pulled in both directions, a study of the light and dark, Jekyll and Hyde.

If George R.R. Martin has done one thing for the fantasy genre in Game of Thrones, he has blown apart the trope­.  The “evil” Lannisters certainly have their more admirable members in Tyrion and Ser Mormont, and the “honorable” Starks certainly have their overly black and white view of the world in Ned, and of course many characters who are somewhere in-between.  It’s a much more complicated world, which in many ways is very realistic and satisfying, but perhaps a bit less comforting.  It’s good to know who the enemy is.

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Choosing an MMO

Not too long ago, there were only a few MMORPGs on the landscape; the genre was relatively new.  The big names started with Ultima Online, Dark Age of Camelot, then EverQuest  and EverQuest 2, and finally, the ultimate behemoth, World of Warcraft (yep, I know your other favorite was in there somewhere as well, but those are the biggies).  Since that time, the genre has literally exploded; currently, there are almost 600 active MMORPG’s available, from every genre imaginable, with emphasis on one feature over another, browser-based, to mobile, and even some targeting consoles.  How the heck do you choose?  I say this because to many folks, an MMO is a long-term commitment; many are looking for a game home that will provide off-hours recreation for a good many years; many solid friendships and even marriages have come from people met in-game, so finding that right mix is essential.  Keep in mind that as you ask yourselves these questions, there is no right or wrong answer; everyone has their own preferences for play, just be honest with yourself.

It pays to narrow down the options, so let’s start with…

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The Endgame Dilemma

One of the most criticized and praised elements in more recent “themepark” MMORPGs is the concept of “endgame.”  A themepark MMO is a static world that remains largely unaffected by player actions.  It can be described as a backdrop where players are “led” through quests (with many pointers and hints making it difficult to fail at the task.)  Players critical of themeparks joke about games being “on rails” like a rollercoaster ride at a themepark.   Eventually—the time varies depending how frequently the person plays—the character completes most of the quests and reaches “max level” or “level cap,” and endgame.    This is simplified, of course; there are often additional ways to reach max-level besides questing, including player-vs-player (PVP) battlegrounds, crafting, and instanced dungeons.

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Funcom’s Trying Something New with The Secret World

Well, it’s been a few months since The Secret World (TSW) launched, and of the new games arriving – Guild Wars 2, Mists of Pandaria – this is the one I find myself returning to.  A big part of the reason is the setting – there’s simply no other game quite like it.

The Setting

The Secret World is set in the modern day, but with one critical difference – the stuff of dreams, nightmares and mythology have begun manifesting in the waking world.  Zombies, Lovecraftian horrors, ghosts, the wendigo and sasquatch of indian legend, Slavic vampires and more have made their way into our countrysides and cities, all with the seeming intent of destroying our world.  There’s a hint at some kind of power behind this invasion, and player characters begin their creation by being “selected” somehow by a mysterious force, (imparted by magical “bees”) that imbue them with extraordinary powers.

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Promoting Social Play in MMORPGs

The biggest selling point for the MMORPGs is the “massively multiplayer” part of the acronym.  At the time that many small Dungeons & Dragons groups were gathering 3-8 players around the dining room table, folks at Essex University in the UK were creating the first text-based “MUDs” or multi-user dungeons that could have as many users all playing in a shared virtual world.

While on the surface it would seem that there is a lot in common between these two scenarios, they are actually quite different – the former has a small group of players sitting face-to-face and working through a roleplaying scenario using the standard rules of conduct of any public social interaction.  Sure, they may be playing in character, but because the person is sitting directly across the table, all the power of verbal and non-verbal communication is at the group’s disposal, making for an infinitely complex and memorable session.  In an MUD, the number of players was greatly increased, but there comes with that a great deal more anonymity, and none of the non-verbal methods of communication one can have in-person.  Communication was by text only.  It’s the difference between a small town where you know all the neighbors and a big city where thousands of strangers walk by without ever speaking to each other.  Ironically, while it became much easier to gather large groups of gamers in a MUD, it’s was still very difficult to produce the quality of interaction you’d get in a small tabletop roleplaying session.

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The Neverwinter Nights Experiment: Player-Created Content

One of the more interesting experiments in computer gaming was Bioware’s Aurora toolset for the single-player RPG, Neverwinter Nights.  With the toolkit, players could create their own adventures within the game and make them available to other players in the online community.  The tools proved surprisingly popular, and many modules sprung up.  And even though Bioware no longer supports the toolset, the community continues to develop adventures using them, even to this day.

The experiment harks back, once again, to tabletop roleplaying, where players were always encouraged to create their own adventure scenarios.  Sure, many commercial modules were available, and these were always available to groups who didn’t have time to write up their own stories.  But creating your own adventure, running it for your friends, was at the heart of roleplaying—nothing was more satisfying.

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