I've been playing MMOs for a long time. Nineteen ninety-seven to be exact. In that time I've rolled with every MMO fad and fashion, telling myself that I'm growing up with the genre and things have changed in my life and the lives' of the players that the genre has had to change with them to keep up with out demands. However, a recent experience threw up so many red flags that it bears repeating. I'll only describe three, but it's enough for you to get the picture.
I've been playing ESO mostly with a few forays into GW2 when my guild asks and a beta or two, all the time keeping an eye out for the next new game. Something definitely was missing and that was the feeling of mystery and excitement I felt when playing older MMOs. I decided to go back and play some of the older games and see if I could recapture the magic.
First up: Ultima Online. This was my first MMO and I remember how much fun I had playing it. In it's current state, it's just a shell of what it used to be and I was surprised to see some of the more modern mechanics added to the game to make it "easier". Three days and I uninstalled.
Next up: Dark Age of Camelot: The second MMO I played back in the day. I purchased a month of time and installed. First thing I noticed was the game feels the same, but there are no people. I wandered everywhere, including RvR but nada...nothing...no one. Well, very few but you get the picture. The lack of players is what did it for me. One week and I uninstalled.
Third time's a charm right?: World of Warcraft. No. Sorry. One day. Uninstalled. It's not even close to the game I remember from 2004-2006 when I played. It feels more like an amusement park. A billion different types of currency. A billion different things to do that have no cohesion whatsoever.
I decided to try one more, Everquest II...it's free to play, right? What's the harm?
This is where things changed. First I had trouble finding my old characters but with a bit of effort I solved it. I logged in and it felt very much like the same game. There were some new things that were different, but I wasn't ready to explore them just yet, so off I went looking for something to do.
I found a pirate on a dock. She had a feather over her head and I thought, "Right! That means she has something for me to do." I spoke with her and she offered me a quest. I clicked Accept and then...
Wait. Shit. No markers telling me where to go. No arrows. Nothing. I'm going to have to read the quest text.
Red Flag #1: Modern MMOs have so many visual guides about where to go and what to do that you don't have to read quest text anymore. We've become so accustomed to the "click, go, and collect" mindset that we bypass all the good bits.
OK. Read the text. Go north and find a ship. Hmmm...only water to the north so it must be a sunken ship. Back to the quest text. Yep. It's a sunken ship.
So I dive into the water and start looking. Nothing anywhere. No ship to be found. Now I have to surface because I'm running out of air. A few more tries and I'm thinking, "There has to be an easier way to do this."
I vaguely remember I used to be able to swim underwater for longer periods of time so there must be a skill or something. No skill. In desperation I open up my inventory to find some breathing "masks" that give me thirty minutes underwater. Re-reading the quest text confirms it. Must stop skimming the quest text.
Mask on. Back to the sea. Swimming north.
Nothing. No sunken ship. A few boards here and there but no ship! WTF!!!
A third read confirms it. The WRECKAGE of a sunken ship. Must stop skimming AND pay attention to the quest text. I swim over to the wreckage.
Ding! Ding! Ding! You have found the ship! Yay! Now I need to find a chest and get the contents.
There are several chests but nothing happens when I click on them. My first thought is, "Crap! the quest is broken!"
Red Flag #2: We are so used to getting everything handed to us on a plate and so entitled to being successful the first time that it never occurs to us there might be a trick or puzzle to figure out. You know, like having to think about it.
I look further. One of the chests over in the distance is slightly different. I swim over and open it. A monster appears. I kill him and then head back to the dock to turn in this very long quest.
As I approach the dock, my NPC has no red book over her head. What happened? Am I supposed to talk to someone else? Again, "This quest must be broken!"
Another trip to the quest text gives me no information other than I still need to loot the chest. Swimming back I realize that I TRIED to open the chest and the monster appeared. I had to kill him and open it again to get the contents. Must stop skimming, start paying attention, AND read text feedback in the chat window. Scrolling back proves it. See Red Flag #2
I finally make it back to the NPC and turn in the quest. Yay! Done! Now to sell off the crap I gathered along the way.
I walk up to a vendor and click...
"This merchant won't to business with you." WTF? I'm the hero. Everyone loves me and wants to help me, dammit!
Um, not in EQ II they don't because YOU ARE NOT A HERO.
Red Flag #3: Modern games have to support the other two red flags because they place you in a hero's role. Failing would be out of place for a hero. Sorry. Not to mention that our egos have seemingly become more fragile over time where we can't deal with failure. Modern games capitalize on it.
That's enough for today. As I log off, I realize that I ACTUALLY feel like I accomplished something and EARNED my loot. Something I haven't felt in a long time.
I also realized that the old feeling I had playing EQ II for the first time was still there. It hadn't gone away.
So what happens next?
Well, I'm putting ESO on the back burner for a while and trying my hand at EQ II again. Don't get me wrong. It's far from perfect. The client crashes, there is some graphic weirdness, support sucks, and some of the newer features don't sit well with me, but overall it's a far better MMO experience than I've had in a long time. Kudos to the nostalgia factor and to EQ II for breaking me out of my modern MMO slumber.