How do I MMORPG thee?

Before I can tell you what I think of Dungeons and Dragons Online, I first want to tell you of my previous experiences with Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games.

1. Asheron’s Call. I played in the beta test of Asheron’s Call. It was my first MMORPG, so I didn’t have much to compare it to other than text MUDs. The nice thing about this game was that the world seemed to be one big contiguous area, and if it wasn’t, the transitions were hidden pretty well. Except, of course, for the portals one used to access dungeons. Those were a bit of a bloody giveaway. One bad thing was this. If your character happened to die, others could loot your corpse. This led to a rash of unscrupulous adventurers leading bands of unsuspecting victims into certain death. I wasn’t interested enough in this game to play it after the beta concluded.

2. Everquest. After being talked into it by friends, I played Everquest for a long while. This game had several glaring weaknesses. First of all, there were only a few adventures to go around, but there were many adventurers wanting to adventure. Most of the quests were too hard or just plain broken, leading would-be adventurers to just hang around certain landmarks, slaying the monsters that inevitably spawned and respawned there. Because the loot thus found never decayed, even the rarest of items eventually became commonplace, and many characters also had more money than they could possibly carry. And because of that, many low-level characters soon realized it was easier to beg for loot than it was to go find it.

I quickly got bored with this game because it took a lot of dedicated monster-slaying to rise up in level. It seemed that there was a "baby boom" of characters that were twenty or thirty levels higher than myself, and they were the ones to which all the new content was being targeted. And since the level cap was continually rising, there was no incentive for any of these folks to go back and do it all over again.

In Everquest’s favor, at least it was not possible for your character’s corpse to be looted by anyone else. But, you still had to run naked through hostile country just to get your loot back.

3. Anarchy Online. I played Anarchy Online during their beta test. I liked the idea of a Science Fiction MMORPG quite a bit, and the character creation screen was pretty good for its time. But the most important feature of Anarchy Online was the introduction of the door mission. A character could be issued a mission that was his and his alone! There would be no earlier bands of adventurers camping in his dungeon, eagerly awaiting the respawning of some rare monster that may or may not be carrying some coveted piece of loot. Instead, the promised boss monster would certainly be there waiting.

Unfortunately, once I left the relatively simple (and deserted) newbie zones, my computer could not handle the processor intensive 3-D graphics, so Anarchy Online stayed on the shelf.

4. City of Heroes. I played City of Heroes during the beta test and beyond, up until about March or April of this year. I could tell that the developers of this game were players of other MMORPGs and definitely considered the weaknesses of the other games when formulating this one. For example, the problem of "ninja looting" (quickly grabbing loot from someone else’s vanquished enemy) was made irrelevant because the game assigned loot to players automatically. The problem of loot devaluation was solved by making "enhancements" (items that improved your character’s powers) permanently attach to a character, and the related problem of "twinking" (giving overpowered hand-me-downs to one’s low-level character) was solved by making an enhancement useless to a character too high or too low in level. Although a fixed level cap and new alien races encouraged players to make new characters after maxing-out, most of the new content was still targeted toward the highest levels.

Although the game concentrated on randomly-generated door missions granted to characters by special NPCs called contacts, for those players that preferred the old style camp-and-hunt, there were still plenty of villains wandering the streets causing trouble. This was also handy for those casual players who may want only an hour or two of mild amusement. Unlike Everquest, which more or less forced players to group to accomplish anything, grouping is optional in City of Heroes. But to make finding a group easier, City of Heroes implemented a group search menu, so that it became unnecessary to squander most of one’s gaming time in begging to join a group.

The character generation screen was excellent in that it gave one unprecedented flexibility in the creation of your character’s appearance. There were also costume shops that one could visit later in the game to create a wardrobe of alternate costumes.

The scale of the game worked well, also. The game took place more or less within the confines of a sprawling metropolis. Buildings were building sized, cars were car-sized, and parks were park sized. On the other hand, the world of Everquest supposedly spanned several continents, but would really have been only about the size of a large national park.

5. City of Villains. This was the sequel to City of Heroes, which I beta-tested as well. Although the graphics were a level above that of the earlier game, this game seemed only to be its predecessor wearing a fancy costume. Rather than being hero versus villain, it was now mostly villain versus villain, with a few meddling heroes here and there to deal with. On the last day of the beta test, I participated in a huge hero versus villain war in one of the new player-versus-player areas. It was great fun. However, when I reached a high enough level to venture back into this area in the production game, there were few other players about, and those that were there were simply sniping off the opposition near their starting points. So much for PvP.

I played and played, looking for that new cool feature that would make me feel as though I really had seen something new, not just something shiny. I did get to rob a bank, which was also great fun. I also tried making a super base, but couldn’t raise the funds to do anything interesting. To build a real super base (as opposed to a super broom closet) would have required a large super group with many active members.

A side track here. What is up with this fad of room-decorating minigames? Okay, I’ll excuse The Sims, as that was the point of the game. I’ll allow the super-base building in City Of… because the idea is for other super groups to raid the base while your group fights them back. But what is the point of decorating a virtual room when nobody else will see it? Such as in a single-player RPG such as Elder Scrolls: Oblivion?

That’s all for today. Join us later for our next installment, when you’ll hear me say, "A wizard, huh? I throw my drink at him!"

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