Before I played WoW, I played around with other MMOs.
You know, before I made my big commitment to WoW, before I settled down as a happily playing Bear, I did… experiment a little.
I can understand that you might be shocked to hear that. After all, I’ve been happily playing WoW for years now, and you’ve gotten so used to me being a settled Bear that it must be jarring to picture me with any other MMO.
But back in my youth, my eye used to wander, and I’d find myself taking one or another MMO out a few times, trying to make a connection, to find that perfect one to spend the rest of my gaming time with.
I have to say that my preferences swing to the straightforward third person PvE MMO. None of that kinky PvP/Psuedo-shooter stuff like Planetside for me.
But back in the day, I did have a brief fling with Dark Age of Camelot and City of Heroes.
Now, Dark Age of Camelot was nothing but a tease. She promised me an engaging fantasy MMO, plenty of character, an enticing personality with lots of Celtic mythology if I wanted to go around that world, and some hot action.
Sadly, DAoC just didn’t fulfill on the promises. The more I got to know the MMO, the more I discovered it was shallow, boring, and a little too full of itself. There were a few nice ideas in there, being able to dye your armor different colors to ensure you had a collor coordinated set of whatever you were wearing seemed like a thoughtful touch.
But… there just wasn’t enough there to hold my attention for long. Very superficial.
City of Heroes, on the other hand, offered me the possibility to create my own super hero, with a graphic character design process that allowed for millions of possibilities.
Ah, she engaged my imagination right away. To be a super hero, flying… FLYING! through the air at will, or teleporting, or super jumping, or super speed running, and fighting and beating down super villains in a vast array of styles.
Ah, that temptress! I had to see if she really was as wild and deep as promised.
I found myself blown away by the truth. The character design process was just as rich as I’d been led to believe. Maybe more!
Even better, City of Heroes understood that sometimes, a person has needs. A need to bring in friends for an occasional night of extra excitement for some group play.
But you don’t always play with your friends every night, so City of Heroes understood that you might be more… experienced. That once you got down to the action, your friends might be vastly intimidated by what they were expected to be able to handle. They just wouldn’t have the moves.
So City of Heroes had the Sidekick system, where if you invited your friends into a group, and they were lower level than you, the Sidekick system would bump up their effective level to be very close to yours.
They’d still have the same abilities, they would just have their health, attack power, their relative effectiveness raised to be equivalent to what they would have at your level. They wouldn’t be able to act with the same depth of moves and options as your more experienced character, but at least they wouldn’t have to stand back and watch you do all the heavy work, afraid to jump in and get their hands dirty.
And of course that meant that your friends could join in occasionally and do something new with you… but they’d get experience appropriate to their level. No boring going through the motions, no watching you have all the fun, they’d get to join in!
Although there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the watching part of it. I’ve just always been more inclined to want to get in on the action myself.
It seemed that City of Heroes was as thoughtful and beautiful as promised, enticing me into playing the game.
And indeed, for awhile City of Heroes seemed like the real thing. I happily spent many hours with City of Heroes, exploring all it had to offer.
Unfortunately, the better I came to know City of Heroes, the more I started to feel that there was something wrong. Very wrong.
I found that I was most excited by the idea of creating a new character, of designing a costume and name and identity and story… but once I began playing for any length of time, the more I got to know the game, the more boring it was. The gameplay, that funny little thing that makes all the difference between playing an action game and just dressing up dollies, was lacking.
There was just no depth to the experience. It was all… foreplay. Biff. Pow. Crash.
Aside from the boring, repetitive, uninspired combat, there was another problem.
There was no crafting.
There was nothing to just do when you’d like to be in the game, but not mindlessly getting down to action. Sometimes, you’d like to be with your guild, and relaxing… crafting, or exploring, or running around. But there was no crafting, because the characters had no gear. You upgraded your powers by customizing slots with little badges that would let you increase your range, or do a little more damage, etc. But you had no actual gear to change your abilities or your appearance, nothing to ever make that was cute, no pets to collect.
Just make a character, and run around punching bad guys, and get quests to go into randomly generated instances, punching more bad guys.
And no equipped gear. Your powers are your powers… and without gear, fighting became an experience to do something with friends, which is awesome, but there were no souvenirs unique to the experience to carry away with you.
I realized that, no matter how much creativity I could put into my character’s appearance, the actual gameplay just made the entire relationship feel shallow and unfulfilling.
Which was sad, since I liked a lot about the way you made power choices, I just didn’t like the incredibly limiting feel of the power sets themselves.
So, I drifted apart. I stopped visiting City of Heroes. I’d get calls from City of Heroes, emails asking me to come back for a while and see what they were up to with new Issues, but I just didn’t want to get back into that kind of thing. Better to make a clean break, than to let things linger on.
Around that time, World of Warcraft came around.
Oh, the wonder of that first login. It was like playing an MMO for the very first time.
The depth! The wonder of the experience! The world was vast, and full of adventure.
The character choices, the options, seemed very limited… but after I played for a while, I came to realize that, while the basic options to choose from were limited, each one had the potential to fill my time with endless hours of fun, as they each took ages to master.
And to play a class with a pet… a pet that was my friend, my companion. A pet that I wasn’t assigned by the game and stuck with, but one I had to go forth into the world to seek out, and personally choose. No, not you. Not you. No, I’m sorry, I don’t think so. Ah! Yes, you, I choose you to be my pet!
Ah, the fun.
And the Druid! A Class where my abilities and powers are tied up into shifting into various animal forms! Where what I do is intrinsically tied into the very being of my character!
Now this was the innovation, the charm I felt CoH was lacking.
The crafting, the pets, the exploration, the endless questing and adventuring…
Truly, World of Warcraft was the one I’d been waiting for.
I never really made the decision to make that commitment to WoW, to solemnly proclaim that above WoW there would be no others. It just happened that way.
As the weeks and months and years went by, I happily played WoW, and never did my head turn when new MMOs like Warhammer Online or Guild Wars or Age of Conan came around.
They seemed pretty, and I’m sure they were each very nice MMOs, but World of Warcraft was the only MMO for me. Let someone else occupy their time with Conan. I was sure I had found the most fulfilling MMO that I could ever know.
But years have now passed, and expansions have come and gone.
And expansion, while it may seem like a good thing in some ways, can often make you realize that the MMO you once knew has changed a lot.
And in my case, while I still have a lot of fun, I have lately begun to think back in fond reminiscence of the days when I played City of Heroes, and the fun I remembered having.
I remembered those as being good times, simpler times. When a night’s entertainment would consist of calling up City of Heroes and having some light hearted fun, without the commitment of spending hours doing something with a large group. The character creation was wonderful, wasn’t it? Millions of choices, a custom looking character unique in all the land?
Over the years that I’ve been involved with WoW, I have to say I’ve followed the continued development of City of Heroes with some interest.
I guess that, once you’ve known an MMO that intimately, you’re always going to have a warm spot for it in your heart.
So I’ve known that City of Heroes added the City of Villains addon, combining the ability to have a hero or a villain on the same server, and to do battle between factions.
And I’d also been fascinated to learn that they’d taken the idea of player and guild housing to a new level, allowing a guild or ‘super group’ to design and build their own headquarters… and fill it with minions and booby traps. A guild headquarters that other players could actually assault.
That seemed amazing. I’ve always wanted to be able to have a place, a private place, where friends could hang out without being subjected to Trade Chat abuse. A place for an in-game dance dance revolution party!
That it would be a place where great battles could also be fought intrigued me.
But the most recent changes to City of Heroes truly stunned me.
City of Heroes now has an Architect mode, where players can create their own instances, with quests, personally designed bad guys, boss fights, the whole thing. Player-created quest chains and storylines, within instanced areas.
Woah! I had no idea that City of Heroes would grow up to have such depth, such amazing skills and such an openness to doing and being whatever fantasy the players could wish.
It’s as if City of Heroes was desperate for attention, and was willing to be anything, do anything to satisfy the players desires for fun.
So I did it. I can’t believe it, but I did.
I feel so ashamed.
I… I reactivated my City of Heroes account.
I did it. I called City of Heroes up, just, you know, to see if it still remembered me.
To my surprise, not only did it remember me, but it reminded me I had actually played around a bit when City of Heroes was still underage. They had records.
My old account was still in the system, and they also still had my old Beta account. I’d totally forgotten I’d played from day one of the Beta. Five years later, and it still remembers me fondly.
So, what the heck. I was tempted to activate it, for just one month. I could pay with Paypal, just once, no long term commitment. Maybe I could try it again, just to see for one month if it was really all that I remembered fondly.
Just a brief summer fling, right?
The character creation. The flying and super speed and teleporting and fun.
I still recall with fondness my awesome player names and costume designs. Pulse Hammer. Celtic Rose. Lord Nabu.
So, yeah, I did it. I installed the game again from an online download from the website, activated it for one month off Paypal, and immersed myself once more in CoH.
I went online, and saw I still had all of my characters, stored in an offline database… and was interested to know that the login screen told me that I had not played any of them for… over five years.
Has it really been that long? Why, it seems like only yesterday!
Ah, I missed you.
I logged in, and found that, of all my characters, only Cool Dragon needed to be renamed.
Somebody used Cool Dragon, but didn’t use Pulse Hammer or Celtic Rose in over five years? Really?
Fifteen minutes later, I remembered every reason why I left City of Heroes without a backward glance.
The game may want to please very, very badly. It’s desperate to please you. It’ll do anything.
But damn, it’s just not fun.
There is only so much character creation you can do before you have to actually go out there and play it.
I logged into each of my old characters, and it was amazing. The memories came flooding back, the fun, the dreams we had…
But I did feel surprise. Did I really only get to level 7 or 8 on most of them? Did I really stop playing when my highest level character was level 33? My second highest was 13?
Okay, I guess I spent more time than I thought just making characters.
Oooh, what’s that shiny? Oh, right. I had pre-ordered the full game and had a Prestige super power of Sprint. Same old default sprint, but you have sparklies when you run.
Lol, brand new toons with a Prestige Power you only get from pre-ordering five years ago. I wonder if this is how people with the pre-order Pets in WoW feel?
I tried to find something enoyable about playing. I really did.
I remember loving my time with this MMO, and while I knew you can never quite recapture the same magic, I guess I hoped that it had changed enough over the years that I could develop a new relationship, one based on maturity and mutual fun.
Instead… aside from wearing some nicer clothes, and having more accessories, it just seemed like the same tired old shallow tart, a closet full of pretty dresses and some basic moves, but no depth at all. And even if it had depth… it just didn’t feel fun.
Perhaps I’ve grown myself, in the years since I started playing WoW. Maybe my expectations for what makes a good MMO have changed since those days.
Maybe I’ve had so many good years, gotten so used to how wonderful an MMO community can be, how rich and deep and fulfilling the gameplay can be on so many levels, that I’ve lost sight of just how many ridiculously long hours of fun can be found here, and how all of it started with an already insanely amazing game, and just kept being built up from there.
Maybe I’m so close to the game that I’ve forgotten just how good I’ve got it…
I know how great WoW is, and I do appreciate it.
I guess distance and memory had just given a warm, rosy glow to the things I had liked in City of Heroes, and had helped me to forget the things I didn’t like that made me leave the first time.
Playing it now, cold, while still being immersed in WoW just pointed up all those differences.
I’ve still got City of Heroes’ number on my speed-dial, and I can call it up anytime. They’ll take my call for another month.
I’d still like to see what this base design thing is like, and play with the Architect stuff. Making my own adventures for others to play was what I loved about D&D, after all.
But I don’t know how much I can stand… just visiting CoH, and seeing how awesome it looks, thinking of how incredible it could have been, and then being reminded of how… well, unsatisfying it is just annoys the bloody heck out of me.
I think I’d much rather stay home and watch a movie.
EDIT: I just realized that when I put this post live, it somehow was missing the wrapup paragraph. Nice.
My end point to all this, was simply that, while being close to WoW the entire time makes it hard to look at the game with detachment, coming back to City of Heroes after five years makes it a lot easier to notice some things.
And the biggest thing I’ve noticed is, when an MMO gets released, that first release program sets the foundation everything else is bolted to.
No matter how many expansions you make, how many tweaks or changes or additions you make, the game remains tied inextricably to the foundations you put in place.
You can add player housing, flying mounts, pets, chainsaws, concussion cannon and orbiting deth ray lasers if you want, but the core gameplay is set by the core game. The style, the rules, everything is based on that original game, and all else is just fiddling with it.
If the original game is awesome, then tweaking it is just fine tuning the awesome. You have to be careful not to screw it up, but you’re building on awesome.
If your original release just isn’t that good, if the FUN that keeps it sustained isn’t there, then instead of building on the game with each expansion, you instead end up trying to find that magic bullet to fix it’s problems. To suddenly make it fun.
From what I’ve heard from people who played it, Star Wars: Galaxies suffered from a lack of fun… and in the end, they tried to address it by addressing the failures of the original game release, and drastically rebooted the core rules… and broke the game for many players.
It’s a hard lesson, but it looks to me like, if you intend to release an MMO into this market, make sure that the one thing your game has is fun gameplay that keeps you coming back for more… and then just concern yourself with adding more features and making small tweaks in upcoming releases. Don’t count on the luxury of fixing core gameplay issues. It might not work all that well.