Clicking, followed by a flash of light, colors, and a pop-up screen. Although this may sound like the beginnings of a computer virus, it is in fact how many video games display a player’s progression. Especially common among MMOs (Massively Multiplayer Online) these kinds of games loop together clicking, waiting, reading, and bright colorful flashes to cause addictive levels of commitment to compensate for underdevelopment and flat-out bad game design. With that being said, here are some decent and bad MMOs and how I rank them.
World of Warcraft: 3/10
I was first introduced to World of Warcraft (WoW) sometime within the 4th or 5th grade. It was unlike any other game I had played before having only played games like Minecraft, Tower Defense, and most of the“Sid Meier's Civilisation” franchise (yes, including Beyond Earth). The forced third perspective was unlike anything I had ever experienced. Then I played the game.
First there are the graphics. WoW is an old game; first coming out in 2004 (geez, now I feel old) while the low-level areas look decent enough.
Then, at a high enough level, graphics once again start looking good again due to the relative age and active player count in those areas being much higher.
Secondly, there’s the actual gameplay loop which tends to fall under many of the same unfortunate patterns. “Kill X of this and Y of that” and “retrieve Z for me”. Of course the main quests tend to deviate more from these patterns but I believe that is from the sheer amount of quests you actually are given. Another problem that WoW suffers is the need for “grinding” which is the act of repeatedly killing the same few enemies and completing side-quests in order to reach a certain in-game level or item. Unless you are playing with a group of about 2-3 other players at least, grinding becomes a large part of the game past level 20.
Speaking of level 20, it’s where my main issue with the game arises. In WoW, once you make it to level 20, you must pay the monthly membership fee to be able to play your character. Otherwise you will be permanently locked out until you renew your membership. I was put under this exact circumstance while playing through WoW at one point. If I had known that WoW was not truly a free-to-play game, I wouldn’t have been nearly as upset. However, as it was advertised as a “free to play” game, I was livid with the fact that I now had to cough up money in order to continue playing my beloved characters.
Finally, Blizzard Entertainment is just a generally horrible company. If you are unaware, it was recently outed as having an incredibly toxic work environment for women and there were even sexual harassment charges brought up against senior members. Overall, Blizzard/Activision is a terrible company and you shouldn’t give them money.
I admit to suffering from nostalgia-poisoning and am heavily biased toward Everquest. Shortly after playing WoW I began to play this game with my dad, (now that I think about it I might’ve played this game before WoW). It was much more of a role-playing game (RPG) than WoW claimed to be, with having to “hail” every NPC you meet in order to talk with them, and having quests be dispensed through the chat log. In fact, Everquest is the game that inspired me to write this article. But enough with Everquest’s background, time to talk about why it is less-than-stellar.
To begin with, once again there are the graphics. While World of Warcraft looks old, Everquest looks ancient. The character models are the equivalent of Coelacanths, still somehow alive, and from the age of dinosaurs; functional but not at all flashy or interesting.
Secondly, there are the controls. Everquest is much different from other MMOs in that commands are hugely important to the gameplay. Aside from using the command “/hail” to further your leveling, or from simply closing the tab, to exit the game you must use the command “/camp”. If you are playing a class that casts spells, you use “/sit” to more quickly regain mana. Aside from commands, standard controls are there as well. A right click gives you the level of an entity as well as its disposition (whether it is likely to attack you or not).
While clunky at first, it becomes much easier after the first hour or two.
Combat, however, is another beast. The primary way to deal damage is through your auto-attack, a slow, low damage-dealing attack which has a fair chance to miss until you are higher level. For melee classes, this is painful, because of the low amount of abilities you get until you advance. For spellcasting classes though, the auto-attack feature is a great add-on to an already killer arsenal that you are likely to have. Although, the auto-attack is made less punishing by having a mercenary (an NPC that follows you around, says nothing, and will attack any mobs that you come into contact with).
Wizard & Pirate 101: 5/10
The 101 franchise is a “series” of two MMOs. Widely popular from 2008 to 2014, these games were the first exposure to an MMO for many. So, how do they stack up?
The 101 games are effectively the quintessential example of what’s known as a “gameplay loop” AKA the idea that “playing the game leads to more playing the game”. It perpetuates this through “fetch quests” (go and grab me X number of a certain thing) and “fight” quests. This gameplay loop is hugely repetitive and incredibly boring which hurts both games. Next, there are the graphics. Both Pirate and Wizard 101 are old, Pirate 101 being the younger of the two came out in 2012 and Wizard 101 came out in 2008. Both games show their age with Pirate 101 being especially guilty of… less than stellar graphics. But, both games get away with it, due to having anthropomorphized character models. Also, I would be remiss if I didn't bring up the aesthetic influences of many of the areas, with the worst perpetrators being the “Mooshu” area, and to some extent the “Cool Ranch” world.
Starting with “Cool Ranch”, it's a western-themed world, with anthropomorphized Bison taking the place of the wise… stoic… natives with warriors known as “Braves”. Then there's “Mooshu”. Mooshu is a feudal Japan inspired world, with anthropomorphized Cows, Pigs, Sheep, and Elephants that all have a hugely stereotypical “Japanese Accent” which… I shouldn’t have to explain how horribly problematic that is.
Additionally, there is a cost to play this “free to play” game, in either the form of membership or via the in-game currency “crowns”. Using crowns to buy areas gives you permanent access to the worlds and areas, while the monthly $9.99 membership gives you unlimited access to areas with the caveat that once the membership runs out you are prohibited from re-entering those areas until you pay the fee again. Essentially, you are still able to play the character, just not in the areas you once were able to.
Guild Wars 2: 8/10
Guild Wars 2 is probably the best MMO I’ve played in recent memory, and possibly ever. It executes a few things well: one there are no problematic or cringey stereotypes being supported. The gameplay loop is also satisfying and not at all boring, and thirdly it’s incredibly replayable and beginner-friendly.
How does it look though? Well for a game made in 2012, the graphics still hold up all things considered. Despite the fact that it suffers from floating shields and sleeves in addition to muppet-mouthed conversation, the effects and combat animations still hold up and the weapons have weight behind each swing.
Then there is the gameplay loop. In Guild Wars 2 (GW2) the only “main quest” you have are the personal story quests you, the player, make. Aside from your story quests, much of the gameplay loop is supported by the fact that exploration is a key piece of GW2. Exploring itself in GW2 helps you level up; this along with GW2’s version of quests “renown hearts” allows for GW2 to be much more of a free-flowing experience than say WoW or Everquest.
Albeit, the main reason for GW2 being
graded so highly is that it is almost completely free to play. Unlike WoW and the 101 games, which are free to download and require a paid
membership to continue past a certain point, GW2 is completely free to play up until the level cap of 80. There are member-only perks of course and expansions that are blocked off behind a paywall, but none of this actually keeps you from completing the base game unlike in the aforementioned games.