Come with me to escape your everyday life and take on a role for a world much different than your own. Where evil abides in numbers, will you stand with those against it or aid to empower the imbalance? Will you join others in the greatest fights of all or will you be confident enough in your own skills to survive the terrors unaided? Venture to a world where you can make a difference in the lives of its citizens; where fierce beasts lay havoc on the lands and wait for formidable adventurers, like yourself, to bring their reign to an uncompromising finale. So choose your weapon, don your armor and take your first step into the adventure of a lifetime…
This is but a general set up for a genre of games called MMORPGS, or Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games. It is the epitome of creating your own character, your own legacy and your own story. While this does not discount the establishment that single player RPGs or other genre of games bring to gamers, there is one vital difference that MMOs bring to the table: community. Some of the more notable games of this type that most people will recognize at least on some level would be WoW (World of Warcraft), Final Fantasy XI or XIV, Rift, Tera, Guild Wars and the list continues. They are immensely popular games, some being free to play while other require subscription – yet the adventure, fun and camaraderie has always brought more and more people to their ranks and continued to draw people back in.
I will admit that I have never played WoW, I know, it seems crazy. However, my first experience with MMOs was years ago not long after Final Fantasy XI launched. I remember the first time I launched the game and saw the warning message telling me to have fun but not to forget about friends, family, work and school. I had always spent a good amount of time gaming on various platforms, but to think something would have to put that message up beforehand just seemed amusing to me. I soon learned why it was there and encountered people within the game that clearly could have taken those words of wisdom a little more to heart.
But here is the thing: MMOs have taken a turn for the worse lately, and it is sad to me. Although I had many large breaks from FFXI due to other things I was doing in life, I probably went back to it on and off for almost 9 years (9 years! That is a good bit of devotion). It clearly had enough content, challenge and fun to keep me going back and accomplishing more and more. Of course, having played since nearly the beginning I was able to see first hand as the genre began to warp into the creature it is today.
What Final Fantasy XI used to be was what I loved. It was difficult and unforgiving but it gave you a true sense of accomplishment. Level 75 was the max level that could be reached for the first half of the game and it wasn’t something that could be done in a month…it took me years to get there. Quests were mostly to give you gear or items needed to unlock certain level caps or abilities; missions were used for story progression and to increase renown and gain other benefits and rare items; and leveling to 75, well that was something completely different. The fastest method of leveling was made by putting in time, hard work and team effort. Parties of 6 people of different jobs would gather together at a specific place and simply kill enemies until they reached a higher level and needed to move on. At best the enemies may have given 200xp each; however when it takes 18k, 30k or 50k to get one level it can be quite a time-involved endeavor. Other aspects of the game involved hunting extremely difficult bosses for rare items which would only spawn once every few hours or days and could only be claimed by the first person or party to attack them; a death and exp loss penalty for dying; huge maps of which to traverse usually by foot or with some teleportation help from certain job classes of higher levels. Then of course there was the end-game which had numerous events made up of large alliances of people of varying jobs that met multiple times a week and would give great reward for those who were able to put in the necessary time. All of this made for a challenging and beautiful adventure. Unfortunately, it is something very rare to find now.
Some of the more recent MMOs that have come out the past few years still offer much of the same format, however it is hard to ignore how easy the games have become. The greatest part of the genre was the community aspect: teaming up with random people who may end up as close friends to fight through difficult battles, level, or down huge mega bosses for merit and reward. This is hard to find now. Leveling up can be done completely solo via quests and missions and done within a matter of weeks usually; and most people tend to just do their own thing as opposed to joining forces and getting to enjoy the game with others. Sure the larger bosses and end game events still require groups to survive, but these are likely random people placed together through a group finder who are spread throughout many servers and will likely never see or hear of each other again. It just feels so soulless and empty. Why play an online game geared towards cooperation between people to simply play it alone or only expect the best people to join you so that you can win the first time, every time?
People said the games were too hard, so they changed the format to be more friendly to casual players. Sure, not everyone has countless hours every week to put into a game, that is understandable; but they made the games so that everyone can easily be swept to max level and then carry on with the same mundane and simple tasks, guided by their happy lighted arrows on the map. The adventure and exploration is gone for most people and the magic went with it. People wanted to see results and they wanted them now. They didn’t want to work on something and earn their reward after putting in the time and effort. There are still many who would like the challenge of years ago to remain, but the majority simply want everything handed to them – which makes for quite a boring game in the long run.
Sure, I enjoyed my time playing Guild Wars 2 or FFXIV and the others, but they maybe lasted me 8 months tops before I felt like anything else I did was repetition and mostly I stayed that long for the friends I had in game. Sure there is new content being put out, but really, it is the same format as everything else but with a different background. The community is still unimaginative and self involved and the challenge is minimal – sometimes only being difficult at the very start until the method is found that will kill the boss easily. They have made the games so that almost anyone can have the best of the best – and when everyone has it, it loses that special something that made it what it is. Sure having the strongest weapon and the best gear stats is great and will help you, but it has lost that accomplishment of “I worked hard to get this and now I have the right to wear it”.
When I played FFXI, I certainly did not ever have the time to get the best gear. It took years for me to get my first job to 75 and I struggled and fought and suffered to get there. I never had time to join groups that did end game events, so I did the best I could and I had fun doing it. I learned to be good at my job and my abilities on there instead of simply relying on getting the best gear to carry me through. Skill is what sets people apart in those games, and sadly they have made it so that even those without skill can look just as good with little effort.
Some people may disagree with this view, but I personally dislike that I can max out level and gear on a job within a month or two of the game being released. What will make me stay? The friends I have with me certainly will for a while, and sure, I will want to work to get the gear to match my skill and usefulness; but after that? The adventure fades, the sparkly new-ness of everything becomes dull and I move on to something else. I understand why companies have shifted to create a larger, more diverse, player base; but at the same time the longevity that would keep people going back seems to be dwindling.
Times change and people change, it is just how things are. For myself, I will always be on the lookout for something that may be more akin to the type of MMO world I loved; but in the mean time, at least the variety and adventure of gaming can be found through numerous other genres and platforms – and that is something that I know will never fade away.