Monday 13 September 2010

Stride towards your fortune boldly on your way.

I cancelled my Warhammer Online subscription over the weekend, having logged on several times, stared at my Warrior Priest and my Slayer for a while and found myself unable to summon the enthusiasm to log in with either one, I decided that I already had enough MMO mash on my plate and I could afford to leave some of the over-steamed vegetables to one side. Or, more correctly, I couldn’t justify affording such an MMO any more. With a veritable wealth of MMOs going free-to-play at the moment, and the fact that I have a lifetime subscription to LotRO, I really don’t find myself wanting for subscriptionless adventuring options. I’ve started a couple of new character projects in LotRO, a group-orientated Minstrel for as and when I feel like being sociable, and a new solo project in the form of a Hunter for me to quietly plink away at when I’m possessed of a more solitary humour. LotRO has become my reliable gaming mistress, she who will keep me happily occupied until some young-faced damsel flashes an alluring winsome smile from behind a mask of demure innocence, teases and tempts in equal measure as I follow her, like some enchanted Anthony pursuing his Egypt, back to her residence. Whereupon she is suddenly released from her cleverly marketed appearance, and under the harsh light of a more intimate inspection is revealed to be a gap-toothed bug-ridden wreck. At which point her real lover steps forth from the shadows before I can make good my escape, clubs me over the head, and steals £14.99 monthly from my wallet until I regain my senses. Yet always LotRO is there to welcome me back from my folly, she opens her arms wide and cradles me against her voluminous content, hushes my blubbered apologies, reminds me of the intimate little details that made me love her and make me love her still. She is the mature mistress, secure in the knowledge of her own worth, happy to welcome and entertain the experienced and inexperienced alike, and I remain there in her embrace, comfortable and content. Until I catch a glimpse of the next porcelain and lace doe peering out from behind the curtain of MMO news, fluttering her eyelids innocently, her shy yet coquettish demeanour promising a life of long term commitment and happiness, and delivering yet another sharp blow to the head and dent to the wallet.

My reason for quitting WAR was quite simple in the end: you get experience points when playing in scenarios and open RvR. There are two levelling systems running in parallel in WAR, the standard experience points which work much as they do in any MMO RPG, and renown points which primarily work as a gate to the more powerful PvP gear, as well as a sub-system that allows you to purchase significant boosts to one or two primary stats, tactics which give you increased damage against certain races, and other PvP enhancing features. For me, the system doesn’t work. Ideally as a player you want to keep your character level and your renown level close to one another, this then means that as your character level reaches the upper boundary of the tier of content in which you’re currently participating, your renown level will allow access to the best PvP gear that can be purchased from the merchants in the war camps, thus giving you a fighting chance in yet another MMO which ‘balances’ PvP by boosting all characters to the same level while entirely ignoring the fact that the characters that are closest to the upper bound of the level cap will have access to gear which puts them far outside the reach of anyone at the lower end. Going into a scenario when you’re level one or two and trying to put even a dent into a level eleven character is an exercise in frustration and futility; I’ve seen a level eleven cloth-wearing priest happily tanking five low level axe-wielding fighters with consummate ease until the rest of their side arrived. There seems little point in having a free trial to a game when any genuinely new player is going to head into the much touted main area of content – RvR – and find themselves slaughtered constantly at the hands of twinked-out characters at the upper bounds of the tier. You might as well just have the trial be a couple of staff who go around and yank the nose hair of anyone trying to download the client. Trial by name, trial by nature.

What happens for me is that I get bored with constantly running scenarios and oRvR because there isn’t enough variety in the maps and objectives to hold my interest, while at the same time there isn’t enough flexibility in the system to let me find new ways to contribute to the war effort. So when the tedium sets in I go off to play the PvE game for a change of pace, which is pleasant enough but which also nets me experience points. As soon as you switch to the PvE game you start to increase the disparity between your character rank and your renown rank, because whereas in PvP you gain both experience and renown, in PvE you gain experience only. What this means is that when you reach the top level of a tier of content you may not actually be able to equip the PvP gear available because it is gated based on renown rank. There is supposedly comparable PvE gear, but I find that it often lacks the stats I really want, and relies far more on random chance; the PvE gold quality set of items is, as far as I can tell, obtained through gold loot sacks from public quests, which aren’t guaranteed to drop for each completion of the PQ, and even when they do you then need to win a roll against others to get it. The gold quality set of PvP gear, however, is bought from a vendor with tokens which are rewarded with far more regularity in the various PvP sub-games.

WAR simply never seems to have known what it wants to be. It is a Frankenstein creation, full of brilliant ideas and clever concepts, all stitched together into the semblance of a hybrid PvE-PvP MMO, but which has never really found general acceptance in the PvE or PvP communities. As such it skulks around in the background of the MMO scene, trying to prove that it is a proper MMO even though its appearance inspires the mainstream of players to, at best, cross over to the other side of the street. Thankfully for WAR it is not a creation of Dr NCSoft, who tends to throw his handiwork from his tower down to the pitchfork wielding, torch waving masses at the first sign of imperfection.

The reason I don’t get on with PvP in WAR is that, in the main, the motto of the game seems to be: he who zergs, wins. There’s no empowerment of the individual, no Knightrider Effect where one man (or woman, thanks Stan) can make a difference. If you look at games such as EVE, and online FPS games such as Counter Strike, what you see is team battles where individuals can manage to overcome greater opposition through careful play, using hit-and-run tactics, and guerrilla warfare, and thus turn the tide of a battle. From my experience that just doesn’t happen in WAR, even in the smaller scenarios, you are either part of the Zerg or you are assimilated, and unfortunately for me that is a style of play that I don’t find compelling.

I am Healbot of Zerg. I am 6 of 24. Resistance is futile (you should have gone for +Wounds instead).

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