28 December 2011

The Next, Next Big Thing

With the new year comes new expectations, new accomplishments, and new games to waste our time on!  So I thought as the year winds to a close, I would talk a little bit about what I am looking forward to in terms of MMO's in 2012.  Since my personal gaming time is somewhat limited, I have to focus my attention on those things that I truly find interesting and that will (hopefully) be worth my time.  So if you don't see your favorite upcoming title on this list, just understand that I have to prioritize somewhat.  And if there is a title that you are really looking forward to, let me know in the comments.  I am always on the lookout for new possibilities.

The Secret Worldwww.thesecretworld.com

This is actually the only game on my "wish list" that is going to go live in 2012.  Funcom announced several months ago that they were targeting an April 2012 launch date.  Now obviously things can always change, but none of the other games on my list even have a launch date yet.  I find TSW interesting for several different reasons.  The first is the setting and story.  No I'm not a conspiracy theory "nut," but you have to admit that some of these stories and crazy theories are fascinating.  Well, TSW just takes all those stories together and runs with them.  One of the taglines for the game is, "Everything is true!"  Bigfoot, werewolves, Stonehenge, the Illuminati, they all exist.  Take all those concepts and drop them into present day Earth, and you get the setting for TSW.  I think there is a lot of potential here for great storytelling and an engaging background for an MMO.

The other thing about TSW that really interests me is the combat and character advancement system.  There are no "levels" in TSW like most traditional RPG's and MMO's.  Instead they use a skill based system.  Want to learn to use shotguns?  Pick one up.  You'll get better at it as you use it.  Want to throw fireballs instead?  Start chucking them.  The way it is currently described, it would be theoretically possible to maximize your ability to use all the weapons and skills in the game.  But no matter how skilled you are, you can only equip a set number of skills at any one time.  This feels somewhat similar to the Guild Wars system in that you are limited in the number of active skills but can swap them out pretty much at will.  I really like the potential here to create varied and diverse characters without being stuck with fixed archetypes.

I know Funcom has a somewhat mixed record in terms of developing MMO's.  Anarchy Online was a mixed bag at best, with one of the worst launches in the history of MMO's.  But the game survived and was considered a success for several years.  Age of Conan was also somewhat of a mixed bag.  The beginner content (Tortage) was well created and almost universally regarded as excellent.  But everything beyond that was mediocre at best and the game itself fizzled out quickly after a strong launch.  It recently joined the ranks of the "converted F2P's" in an attempt to generate more revenue.  Funcom has already announced that TSW will be a subscription game but also have a cash shop for "cosmetic" items and luxuries.  Count me as skeptical on this one.  I hate games that double dip (*cough Star Trek: Online cough*) but if they stick to their word and only sell stuff like costumes, I won't care too much.

Guild Wars 2www.guildwars2.com

I'll be honest up front here, I really don't think GW2 is going to "revolutionize" the genre like many of its most ardent supporters do.  And the only rearison I will be picking it up is because all I will have to buy is the box and not have to maintain a subscription.  The original Guild Wars is how I got started in MMO's, even though that game doesn't fully meet the definition.  But it was a highly polished product that was fun to play while it lasted.  For those reasons alone, I would be willing to give GW2 a shot.  But when you look at what this game is promising, it's hard not to get excited about the possibilities.  If you haven't already, I would recommend hitting their website and watching their "MMO Manifesto" video.  You have to give them credit for their ambition, even if I personally think they are going to come up a bit short.  It also has been delayed again and again.  It just went into a closed beta phase and still has no release date.

So what is it that GW2 is going to revolutionize?  Well mostly it seems to be a matter of changing how questing works and how your character interacts with the world around them.  One issue that MMO's always have is "persistence."  We all supposedly exist in this common world.  This is the main attraction of MMO's.  But at the same time... we don't really change that world as we progress through it and interact with it.  In the vast majority of games, when you kill a creature or complete a quest, it has NO effect on the world itself.  The creature respawns, the quest giver sends the next person out to collect rat tongues, and the rampaging band of goblins is still camped out on the hill outside of town.

This is what GW2 is claiming to change.  First of all, quests won't be "handed out" in the traditional sense.  You won't walk into a town, see an old lady with a mark over her head, and get a quest to go collect rat tongues.  Questing will be handled more "organically" than that.  And when you do complete an action out in the world, the world changes.  For example if you beat back a goblin war band and stop them from sacking a town, those goblins won't exist for you anymore.  You won't see them after completing that mission.  If you destroy a bridge, that bridge stays destroyed.  So as you progress through the game, the world changes around you.  Now how this will affect your interactions with other players is something that remains to be seen.  What if I destroyed the bridge but you didn't?  What will I see as opposed to what you see?  Will we be unable to interact with each other?  Does only one person get to decide what happens to that bridge in the entire life of the game?  These are questions that remain to be answered and are part of the reason I think that the expectations for this game are a bit unrealistic.

WildStarwww.wildstar-online.com

This game is unlikely to release in 2012, in fact I'd say it is almost impossible that it would do so, but this list would be incomplete without mentioning WildStar.  Ever since the game was first announced, I have been fascinated by it.  The artistic style, the proposed mechanics, it all intrigues me at a level that no other current or announced MMO does.  Details are few at this point since the game was just announced this year and is still very early in development.  But there are already a few things that we know.

The first, and most intriguing to me, is that you will be able to follow one of four different "paths" in the game.  These are not character classes (the game has those two) but rather these are an expression of how you choose to play the game.  What motivates you?  Do you enjoy killing lots of things?  Do you enjoy climbing the highest mountain?  Building the biggest gun?  These "paths" in WildStar closely approximate the four Bartle "archetypes" of gaming personalities.  While many games have acknowledged that there are different ways to approach a game and to play it, as far as I know WildStar would be the first to directly address the issue in such a formal fashion.  How will this work in reality?  No way to know, but the possibilities are fascinating.

Outside of that, there isn't much to know at this point.  The concept art and videos are very nice.  The artistic style isn't going to appeal to everybody, but I find it enjoyable.  Hopefully 2012 will offer much more in terms of details on this title, maybe even a beta test.


So those are the games I am really looking forward to seeing in 2012.  What games are on your calendar for the upcoming year?  Anything big that I overlooked or missed?

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