Out of Curiosity about ONE Feature
And I could really use that update. Next month, I get my 36-month veteran's badge in City of Heroes, and at 35 months, I've long since run out of new things to play with in it. If and when that next release ever comes out, it'll be well suited to fix this, because "Issue 13: Architect" will be the free add-on that lets would-be game masters write and publish to the servers up to 3 full story arcs each, set in the City of Heroes universe, for anybody to play. That should slake my thirst for novelty, both as a story arc writer and as someone looking forward to seeing what other interactive fanfic people write. But in the meantime, I'm vulnerable to the pitch for a new MMO. Even one that I know that I'm going to hate.
I am going to hate Warhammer Online. I already know this. This takes no prescience on my part. I've watched plenty of game-play videos, read all the available documentation, so I know what I'm getting into. By the developers' own admission, 85% of this is copied from World of Warcraft, and from other generic MMOs before and since, and they very specifically copied the 85% of WoW that I hate the most. Before I even log in, I can write you a list as long as my arm of things that I'm going to hate about it, things that keep me coming back to City of Heroes where they don't make us put up with this crap. It's yet another D&D ripoff; adding a whiff of August Derleth attempting unsuccessfully to channel H.P. Lovecraft doesn't change my boredom with and distaste for generic medieval swords-and-spells game worlds. It's yet another MMO where you're glued to the terrain like a fly on flypaper, running everywhere at a slow, painfully slow jog until somewhere in the 20s or whatever when you gain a "mount" -- an animation and model change that only lets you run a teensy bit faster. Quests and other missions are given out by randomly placed NPCs scattered all over the map with yellow exclamation points over their heads, and it's up to you to find them, and then you have to run all the way back to them to get the reward for each mission or quest. You have no control over your character's appearance except for picking a face, a face that you will cover up with a helmet at level 10 or 15 or whatever and then never see again. All of your appearance is random, based on what random looted armor you happen to find. (At least, in true Warhammer fashion, there is "armor paint" so you can "paint your figure.")
They even manage to make it worse than World of Warcraft in some ways. For example, substantial amounts of the content are inside designated PvP zones, where you can and will get ganked by people up to 12 levels above you, even on the non-PvP servers. (At least they got rid of WoW's death penalties and "corpse runs," I'll give them that.) Each side has only three or at most four character classes, and they're the same tired character classes from every D&D rip-off since Chainmail Fantasy Supplement: tanker, melee DPS, ranged glass cannon, and support. (Only two of the sides have even a rudimentary pet user class, and only one of the sides that I've found has even a rudimentary rogue class. Those being my two favorite classes. Oh well.) Inexcusably at this late a date, there is no sidekick or "reverse sidekick" function to make it possible to keep playing with your friends once you've out-leveled them or they've out-leveled you. And then there's the fact that the game setting is an actively unpleasant one. The three pairings are religious bigots (Empire) versus quislings to our would-be alien overlords (Chaos), smug xenophobic "Sunni" tribal chieftains (High Elves) versus fanatic militaristic and equally xenophobic "Shiites" (Dark Elves), and drunken, depressed, grudge-bearing losers who're almost died-off already (Dwarves) versus semi-mindless asexual alien war machines (Greenskins). And all six sides come with so many centuries of ugly tribal warfare history, and the landscape is so torn up, that there is no "well, you have your point of view and I have mine;" no, the game world is the medieval sci-fi equivalent of the Balkans, or Iraq. Lovely, that'll be fun -- not. Especially since the game missions fill you up with propaganda that is specifically designed to encourage poor sportsmanship: you're not supposed to view players from the other side as your opponents in a game, you're supposed to actively hate them. And any of you who know me, know how much I'm going to just love that feature.
So why did I pay for it, and why am I in the middle of a 6 hour download? Curiosity about one thing. That one thing may, just may, hold my attention for a while. Probably not. I'll probably cancel it after the first month, for all the reasons above. But they have done one thing that really jumps out at me: they've solved "the LFT (or LFG, or LFM) problem."
Game designers have been complaining, quite justifiably, that they design these games around team play, but people insist on soloing as much of them as they can, and none of the designers has yet faced up to the possibility that maybe, just maybe, it's their fault, not the players. Jack Emmert, the lead designer at Cryptic Studios, is quite bitter towards his customers over this, blaming them for (as I recall him putting it) going out of their way to play the game in the most boring and unpleasant way possible, rather than have any kind of fun. The designers of Warhammer Online, on the other hand, seem to be the first yet to take a serious look at why MMO customers hate teaming, and they've done something kind of innovative about it: they've almost completely eliminated the long, long down-time involved in recruiting a team. If you go into any MMO in the world other than WAR, you'll see the area-wide chat channel full of people yelling "LFT" (Looking For Team), "LFG" (Looking For Group), or "LFM" (group Looking For (more) Members). What's more, the games are designed so that you can't just take any person. You need a specific mix of character classes to move forward, including the two character classes that almost nobody enjoys specifically because they're the least solo-friendly: tankers and healers, neither of whom can kill anything on their own without waiting for it to die of old age. So you spend more time yelling "3 DPS LFM tanker and healer!" than you do actually playing the game. By the time you get the Classic Trio (tanker, healer, DPS) assembled and ready to go, you're out of time, and you might as well have just soloed the bloody thing. So everybody does.
Warhammer Online's designers did two things about that: Open Groups and Public Quests. Open Groups are what they sound like. If you start a team, it defaults to "open" (rather than "closed"). Then, anybody who LFTs gets a list of open teams with room for more, sorted by proximity. That makes sense, because they've gone to rather more effort than is normal to cluster contacts and quests together, which means that the teams nearest to you are probably working on roughly the same quests you are. You can go about your soloing, sharing credit for kills, or you can track them down if you're a support class and help them kill faster. They've also gone out of their way to design the game so that teams aren't helpless if they don't get the right mix of character classes, so you don't have to stand around with your Open Group waiting for the right person to join, either. Similarly, Public Quests are instanced scenarios, most of them PvP (and limited to equal numbers per side), in which as soon as you wander into the area where one takes place, you're automatically added to a pseudo-team of everybody on your side in that scenario. The objectives of the scenario at its current stage show up in your window; jump right in. I'm extraordinarily curious as to just how well these two things are going to work. Because I'm just barely bored enough with City of Heroes, no matter how obviously superior a game it is, and just curious enough, that part of me just has to find out, first hand, whether or not Warhammer Online has really solved "the LFT problem."