My wife was away, so I had the kids and a big deliverable. Life was hectic until Friday, and we had the weekend to kill. Both kids were looking for downtime, so I had a chunk of time at my disposal. Now it was time to do something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time: I signed up for the free trial of World of Warcraft (which, in case you somehow don’t know, is *the* massively multiplayer online role playing game, or MMORPG, set in a ‘swords & sorcery’ fantasy).
Now, this isn’t a frivolous pursuit; as I tell the attendees at my (learning) game design workshop, to do this well you have to be on top of the different forms of media experiences and what makes them engaging, to have the broadest repertoire of sources to draw upon. I also say that it’s important to try games outside your area of comfort. Being ever mindful of financial issues, I note that a great way to do this is to try out the free trial demos of all the different games that are available. So, it was with serious intent that I started my trial…oh, the heck with it, I like fantasy, and I was looking forward to it. OK?
Now, it’s a bit of a confession to admit that this was my first MMORPG, but I also to get to admit that it wasn’t much different than I imagined. You move around, and fight monsters, gaining levels, attempting to get more powerful weapons and armor. That said, there are some very interesting features, and some frustrations.
The world is quite simply gorgeously realized. It may not rival the best console games, but it’s certainly stunning, particularly as it’s playing over a network! And the entrance for new players is quite reasonable. They do suggest you read the manuals (which I’ve yet to find), but they give you hints as you go along, and set you a series of quests that develop your skills. The nice thing about the quests is that they’re reasonably well set in the world.
It’s quite impressive, BTW, just how much they can cram into a small area. You don’t go far to be questing after new goals, even surrounded by a bunch of other folks doing the same. It doesn’t feel crowded, but right next door to a previous quest is a new one. You didn’t realize that just beyond that rise, there was a whole new camp of evil creatures, yet when you make that traverse it’s totally plausible that they were there all the time.
The difficulty goes pretty linearly, the farther from your home you go. The world is constrained to have you doing things in this area, then this next, one, and each gets gradually harder. If you go too far too fast, you’ll die. Of course, dying is of no real consequence, either, you can go back and revive your corpse and keep playing (and it’s not morbid, really).
It *is* a multiplayer world, with all that conveys. There are other people clearly doing the same quests you are, and you can all do them independently, but you do realize that it’s a ‘setup’. And there are the predictable puerile folks doing things like creating inappropriate names and yelling obscenities. However, as a trial user I couldn’t join groups, and the quests were capable of being done alone. I could see how coordination would help on some I’m currently at right now, but I worked out one on my own via some strategic thinking.
There are only a couple downsides. For one, some of the interface elements are not ‘safe’ enough. I was trying to look through my stuff to trade and sell, and I think I bought something and then sold it back again before I realized it. Unfortunately, the price you get is less than the price you pay, so it was a very quick act of unintended philanthropy. It’s also surprisingly hard to find good information about certain constraints. As I mentioned, the manual is hard to find, and it’s tough to find answers to specific questions. I’ll admit that I have a tendency to charge ahead (at least, in games ;) and just try things, which isn’t bad but may lead me to inappropriate actions that I’d rather have warnings about at the beginning. And it’s a very rich world.
It’s well done, and it’s clear what a big budget will let you do. I think that there are some real good ideas in helping new folks (newbies) get up to speed, when you have a large investment in time to pay off. and, it really is fun, but ‘hard fun’, and I’m going back ’til my trial is over. Then I’ll stop. Other things to do, and no need to acquire yet another time sink. But I’m glad it’s a limited time trial!