Sunday, April 18, 2010

How quickly is it OK to judge an MMORPG?

So I got into the closed beta of Battle of the Immortals, an isometric style MMO being translated from the Chinese by Perfect World Entertainment. I wrote a moderately lengthy post about it on the forums which I may fatten up into a blog post, but the quick summary is, I played for a few hours, got to level 24, and didn't like it, concluding that it was (a) a confusing, poorly translated mess and (b) considerably less fun to play than Diablo II (my main point of reference for isometric action RPGs), despite that game being almost ten years old.

Anyway, I was taken to task by one of the regular posters there, who reckons that my opinion is not going to be taken very seriously when I've only seen the early game, and not tried PvP (which, apparently, becomes accessible at level 31). Basically, he said, all games are the same from level 1-20, and not a single one is any good.

Needless to say, I disagree with this. If there was not a single MMORPG which was any good for the early hours of play, this hobby would have been dead in the water a decade ago, and it certainly wouldn't have been my main leisure activity these last six years. But it got me thinking: just how quickly can I judge an MMORPG without being unreasonable?

My thinking is, as someone who has tried an awful lot of MMOs, that I can judge pretty quickly if a game is no good. Every MMO that I have spent any significant amount of time playing - Horizons, WoW, EVE Online, LOTRO, EQ2, Runes of Magic, Atlantica Online - has had something to it that hooked me right from the start. Whether it was immediately fun gameplay, intriguing mechanics, story, or just plain being different from the crowd, they all made me want to log back in and play more.

Battle of the Immortals did not. I played a couple of sessions and had to force myself to even log in to play a third to get as far as I did.

So, while I can conclude that every game I have enjoyed had some hook right from the start, I can't necessarily argue that no game which did not have that hook would be entertaining. It's very possible that there are games that I've tried for a couple of hours and ditched, which would have opened up and become genuinely entertaining if I'd given them a better chance.

But, you know what? I don't care. I'm not starved for games to play. If a developer can't manage to build an early game which isn't boring, I don't feel bad about denying them the chance to wow me with their endgame. I think possibly the biggest blight on this genre is that developers have learned that Achiever-type personalities can be lured into playing games which simply aren't fun in order to achieve in-game goals, and for that reason feel they can avoid making gameplay their number one priority.

Imagine playing an arcade shoot-em-up which isn't very good. Endless waves of similar enemies, no variety, a single slow-firing gun on your ship. You're about to walk away with your pocket still half full of change, when someone tells you how awesome the final boss battle is.

Do you bang your head against an un-fun game for hours (spending a bunch of change in the process) to try to get to this supposedly fun boss battle? Or do you say, "screw that, I'm playing 1942 instead, that game rules."

I'm of the latter school of thought. If you can't make your game fun to play from the start, there are other developers who can.