Wednesday 12 October 2011

Life is a train of moods like a string of beads.

The locomotive of my MMO enthusiasm has finally run out of steam, for the time being at least. The once huffing-puffing funnel is cold and still, and the roaring firebox –burnt out– now smoulders silently, where even a vigorous stirring of hype elicits nothing more than a gentle ember glow. As the running gear of my fervour slowly seizes, resistance to resuming my journey along that straight, bland, unchanging MMO track builds inexorably. A number of us are still keen on playing together, and as such we have all clambered like the Keystone Kops onto a single handcar, which we propel perilously down the MMO track, our arms flailing, but hanging on against all the odds nevertheless.

City of Heroes is the game we find ourselves enjoying at the moment, primarily, I feel, because it is one of the least MMO-like MMOs around. Oh, it still has all the standard MMO tropes, I grant you, but what it lacks is many of the border guards, barking dogs and machine gun posts of the traditional MMO regime, whose only purpose seems to be to stop you getting together with the people of your own kind, whose company you enjoy. CoH used to be excellent for getting a group together, now I would say that it is probably unsurpassed. I’d proffer that its whole purpose is to delight those who use it, but that would be inaccurate; its purpose is to be ignored entirely by those who use it. In short, City of Heroes’ grouping system works like this: invite people to your group, pick a mission, have fun. Everything else is taken care of. It’s the Jeeves of MMO group mechanics: useful, helpful, discrete, empowering, facilitating and, sadly, an incredibly rare find.

I tried to enjoy Lord of the Rings Online’s latest expansion, but outside of the absolutely stunning cosmetic items the new content provides, there’s nothing new there that excites me. If I were already chugging happily down the MMO track, then this would undoubtedly be solid fuel to keep the big wheels turning, but there’s simply not enough originality there to kick-start a seized and stationary locomotive of enthusiasm. I think I am, perhaps unfairly, disappointed that the latest expansion doesn’t really include any fresh system which drags the game in new and interesting directions: despite how players may feel about the skirmish and legendary item systems, they were at least attempts at something a little bit different. This latest expansion includes an implementation of phasing, a technology which Blizzard has already successfully proven doesn’t really work as intended, often breaking the immersion it is supposed to enhance, and sometimes inadvertently becoming one of the barriers to grouping with friends. I hesitate to say that this expansion was lacklustre, but to my mind it seems as though Turbine may be dedicating resources to their own Titan, because although they are clearly not neglecting LotRO, there just doesn’t seem to be the desperate drive to impress that was present in the previous paid expansion, as though LotRO will not be the flagship in Turbine’s fleet for much longer.

In the meantime I’ve switched tracks and find myself hurtling along in the game train, whose tender is overflowing with rich fuel. So far I’ve shovelled Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Space Marine, Gears of War 3 and Bastion into the firebox, and the pressure of choice was so great at one point that my boiler was in danger of bursting. I burnt through those games in short order, however, and now I’ve picked up the latest DLC for Dragon Age 2, because despite all the raging Internet forum complaints, I still found the game enjoyable enough to run through it twice. Mark of the Assassins has added Felicia Day, which is never a bad thing to my mind, or to the minds of the majority of Internet nerds, upon which I’m sure Bioware’s marketing department is relying. Somewhere in the recesses of Bioware Marketing HQ, a big tick is being slowly and firmly scribed with a squeaking whiteboard marker against the name Felicia Day, ensconced as it is alongside the names Jennifer Hale and Claudia Black, beneath the double-underlined heading “Voicerotica for nerds”.

It’s good to be back on the game train, something always worth doing from time to time: often, when you play MMOs exclusively for too long, you forget what the simple pleasure and satisfaction of playing a game actually feels like.

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