Digits & Dragons
Storytelling on a Massive Scale
WARNING: Massively Multiplayer Games can be Ridiculously Addicting
One of the biggest changes in the way we play games and interact with others
online has been the explosion of massively multiplayer online games or MMOGs. It's
easy to see why they have become so popular: the competition and teamwork created in
these games are strong enough to keep you playing long after you would tire of a single
As in the "real world," actions in MMOGs are both long-lasting and affect more
than just the player alone. While the inability to simply reset the state of a game may
keep some away, for many it brings a feeling of excitement and investment that makes
these games extremely addictive.
And addictive they are! As a recovered Ultima Online addict I know just how
immersive these games can be. These online worlds can be time-consuming not just
because of the hours you spend attached to your chair, mouse in one hand and pizza in
the other, but they also take mental time throughout your whole day. While you are in
school, at work, at the beach, whatever, the world is always there, still changing, still
calling to you.
It's been a couple of years since I broke the Ultima chain and haven't been too
involved in MMOGs since. As I started getting back into these games, I was especially
interested to see how story telling had developed in these games and if this aspect would
keep players involved as much as the purely social or competitive factors.
Among the hundreds of MMOGs out there are a number that stand out for their
popularity, uniqueness, or depth. We'll look at three of them this month and several
more next month.
A chaotic clash of new ideas
As much as I love fantasy role playing games, the magic, swords, and elves do
get a little repetitive. Enter Anarchy Online. Breaking the mold of most MMOGs,
Anarchy Online takes place 20-something thousand years in the future on a very foreign
planet. On Rubi-Ka, I didn't find little dwarves running around with ale on their beards,
but I did find plenty of guns, aliens, and a very fresh world to explore.
Now THAT's a sword!
Anarchy Online has been around since 2001 and although I heard plenty about it,
I didn't actually start playing till early this summer. The first thing I noticed is that this
game is NOT anything like the other MMOGs on the market. The world created by
Funcom is extremely complex; even after a few months of casual playing I felt I was
only beginning to scratch its surface.
If you like character customization you should have fun here. I began the game
by choosing one of four different "breeds" which determined some of my strengths and
weaknesses. I chose to play the large but stupid and genderless Atrox and selected a
fittingly brutish head and large stature. Then, after picking a profession and race, I was
off to Rubi-Ka!
If pumpkin heads and big guns are your thing, this game is for you!
Quests and missions are done in a pretty unique way in Anarchy Online.
Whenever you want, you or a team can stop by a machine that generates a mission:
retrieve something, kill someone, or a variety of other goals. This is nice because you
can feel as if you have accomplished something in a short time, but I was left feeling a
little empty and disconnected by these very artificial tasks.
Graphics are obviously dated and action is a little slow, but the extremely
customizable user interface and ridiculously-huge range of items and weapons make up
for some of that. If you are looking for a simple quick reflex game, stick with Flash
advertisements because AO probably isn't the best choice; this is a world that you could
spend months exploring and still find new things to do. If nothing else, you can
download and play Anarchy Online free until 2007!
Bringing single player stories to a massive world.
Holy crap, this is an addicting game. It was a Friday night in September, my
girlfriend was gone for the weekend and my roommate and I thought it would be a
prime opportunity for a little bit of gaming. Well, after installing Guild Wars, that "little
bit" turned into an 8 hour binge of butt-glued-to-chair multiplayer goodness. This game
is so engrossing my roommate literally didn't leave his chair the entire session. He's
not even a game freak, really! (Or so he says…) Guild Wars combines the best of the
action RPG and MMO genres with its gigantic map, instanced dungeons, and fast
Guild Wars reduces lag and frustration using a technique that is becoming more
and more popular, instancing. Instancing involves creating a local or unique version of
a dungeon for each player or party. I didn't know how much I would like Guild Wars'
instanced dungeon and world system; after all, isn't the point of MMOGs supposed to
be interaction with tons of other characters? Well, interaction is a big part of these
games, and GW certainly has that part with common areas and arenas, but I really fell in
love with instancing once I saw how lag-less and idiot-less life was in my own little
Guild Wars does an excellent job of catering to a diverse range of players. For
the hardcore, there is plenty of PVP and difficult assignments, but for beginners and
casual gamers, you still won't feel like a complete weakling and can join up in a group
for added strength. Speaking of groups, this is another area in which Guild Wars shines.
The ability to mix human and computer allies means you will always be having a party
on the battlefield. Our adventuring group consisted of two humans and two computer
controlled characters and the combat AI was good enough that battles were intense and
You're going to want a group when things start looking like this!
The graphics are pretty impressive, and as good as the world looks from above,
there is a lot more detail than you'll initially notice from a high point of view. Zoom in
to the first person view and you'll see every tooth on the ugly gargoyles' faces.
With no monthly fee and a lot of life left, Guild Wars is a great online extension
of the action-rpg genre. The quick pace and story-driven world made this game my top
pick from the three this month.
If she's cold, she certainly isn't letting it slow her down!
Dark Age of Camelot
There's a war and everyone's invited!
By combining constructive teamwork and destructive competition, Dark Age of
Camelot is trying to wedge a place for itself in the saturated online fantasy genre. What
really sets DAoC apart from the many others is its Realm-vs.-Realm combat where
players gain glory and bonuses for their region by taking strategic points from other
Character customization is awesome. With three different realms, a number of
races, and specialization within races you will definitely not feel like you are playing a
cookie-cutter character. Add a great assortment of armaments and items and you have a
pretty well fleshed-out world. Despite the mundane nature of many of the tasks and
adventures (deliver this dirt, kill this rat, collect these flowers…), quests weren't purely
random. Adventures are given by and related to the characters in the game.
Connections with characters, real or not, are what worlds need to be immersive.
Tons of options for your man or beast.
When I first heard of this Realm-vs-Realm idea I was pretty excited. Here,
finally, was a way for players to feel like they were part of the world and to have a direct
impact on society as a whole. Does it work? Well, it seems to. Battles are constantly
raging and the effects of these really do carry through to other players in the realm. Yet
the game still seems to be lacking… something. Perhaps it lacked the fast pace of Guild
Wars, or the extreme customizability of Ultima Online or Anarchy Online, but I just
wasn't as hooked as I have been with other online games.
Looking to the Future
Online games either hook you for months or leave you cold after a few days.
This is readily explained by the ongoing nature of these games. Your time in them is
really an investment. Once you have put in a lot of hours, you are bound to continue
making use of your investment and improving on it. I experienced just this with Ultima
Online, which I'll talk about more next month. After days of frustration that would
normally turn me off of a game, I pressed on because I had already invested so much
time in the world.
Of the three, only Guild Wars really grabbed me, but thankfully there are people
with different tastes than I who are supporting these other games. While none of these
games can touch the success World of Warcraft is having right now, each of them has a
standing with unique, appealing features. Next month we will look at a few lesser
known games and discuss how developers are using these online communities to keep
players hooked in their worlds.