My post-Festival discourse on the future of Massively multiplayer gaming.
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What’s Your MMO?
The world of Massively Multiplayer Online gaming is one of the newest forms of gameplay available to gamers. Ironic then, that its roots lie with two of the oldest: the humble RPG and the MUDs of the early 90s. The setting of these games has varied from film tie-ins like ‘Star Wars: Galaxies’ and ‘The Matrix Online’, to full blown space adventure in ‘Eve Online’. But the hardcore still lies in the classic Dungeon Hack fantasy worlds of ogres and castles.
As most gamers know, the true revolution in MMO gaming came with Blizzard Entertainment’s ‘World of Warcraft’; it gained a quick lead after being released in 2004 and has never been successfully knocked from its perch. That’s not to say there hasn’t been much in the way of competition, by far the most successful has been ‘Everquest 2’, often cited as the grittier alternative to WOW’s garish colours and more cartoonish graphics. In fact they are compared so often and with such fervour on each side that it leads to arguments not seen since the days of ‘Quake 3’ and ‘Unreal Tournament’.
This Christmas, the main pretenders to the throne of all things MMO is Codemasters’ Online Gaming. After the tepid reaction and universal apathy that met RF Online they are looking again to launch a two-fronted assault on the industry big-boys, as they showcased at this year’s Edinburgh Festival.
Their first offering is ‘ArchLord’, a far more combat oriented and less story-driven game than many MMO’s; it features only three races and a mere handful of customising options, standing it in real danger of becoming another level-grinding slog like RF Online. On the other hand, it’s damn pretty and there’s every chance of getting a ride, or a mount that is, without having to wait for this to be implemented later, as has been the case previously.
However, the main selling point in this case, is the position of the titular ArchLord. Any player of a high enough level can, after a series of quests, challenge the ArchLord; ruler of the game’s world, and take up his mantle themselves. Along with the ensuing prestige, you can expect to alter the weather, summon armies of monsters and ride into battle on the only dragon in the game. After an extensive open-Beta testing phase, it’s now on general release.
Codemasters’ real gravy comes in the form of ‘Lord of the Rings Online’, made by developers Turbine, who already have the the pedigree of Asheron’s Call series and ‘D&D: Online’ to show for themselves, and are hoping to cash in on the popularity of the fantasy genre originator. The make or break of the game will undoubtedly be the far more story-intensive gameplay, as the events of the book unfold in the game world, with the Fellowship appearing in undisclosed places. In a more risky move, they’ve not included any of races of Mordor as playable characters. So no PvP? Well, the makers have stated there will be a Monster Play option, transforming your character into an evil beast so you can enjoy killing your friends as usual. This, in addition to rumours of permadeath, go further to show how risky this may be.
Will it pay off? Does WOW have a rival? Only time will tell, but with ‘Phantasy Star Universe’ about to be unleashed on the PS2 and XBOX 360, moving MMOs onto Next-gen consoles, one thing seems certain; Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games are here to stay.