Memories of an MMO: Part One – WoW, this is it?

I’m not big on MMORPGs. I’ve spent the majority of my gaming years playing RPGs, which are typically solo-only affairs where I can enjoy a story based on fully-integrated lore and discover the merits of the game based on my own personal play style. The game has a definite ending and a definite beginning. The game has an explicit purpose that it challenges me to discover, and mandatory conflicts that it requires me to overcome. And when all is said and done, a great RPG will leave you feeling a sense of accomplishment like no other: the reward that you lived a life and made a difference to a person, group or world of people and (normally) had a fun time doing it.

MMORPGs exist, in many ways, as a polar opposite to the RPG. The purpose might be there, but it can be unclear because the game, by its very definition, caters to the concept of complete personal freedom. The conflicts that arise are only those in which you choose to engage (minus tutorials). You interact with a community rather than NPCs for a shared experience rather than an individual one. There is no definite ending to this genre of game. Even after you’ve completed the end-game content, the game continues for as long as you choose to play.

Despite utilizing the same letters of the alphabet, the two genres offer extremely different experiences, gameplay and styles. They are not so much siblings as they are distant relatives. You know, the ones you talk to at the family reunion every ten years for the sake of common courtesy even though neither of you will exist in each others’ lives long enough to have any meaningful impact. You share blood, but that’s where the similarities end.

RAWR! You makey own character!

I’ll admit it right now: I was never swept away in the mass hysteria that came with World of Warcraft (WoW) many years ago. Why do I point to WoW? Because it revolutionized the MMORPG genre as we know yes. Yes, Everquest and Ultima Online came first, but WoW was the first game to make it into the ‘big leagues’, so to speak. It brought MMORPGs to a wide audience of people, appealed to hardcore and casual gamers alike, and remains disgustingly successful. Every MMORPG wishes it were WoW given its massive success. (Aside: yay for Blizzard!)

I never got swept into the sandstorm of WoW, mostly because the universe itself has worn off on me. Back in the golden days of Warcraft I and II, I played like an obsessive madman and enjoyed every second of it. Warcraft III came along with more races, more epic conflict and blah blah blah, and the fundamental aspects of the game, and the lore of the world, became saturated with so many elements that it was difficult to understand just what worldly issue required my attention and what issues were little more than minor tangents. WoW demands attention to the changes and lore within the game world, and since I’d lost interest there was no reason to pick it up at all. (The threat of losing my social life altogether was, I admit, a secondary factor in staying far away from the game.)

It’s all your fault, WoW.

As of September 2010, I had my first foray into the world of MMORPGs with Final Fantasy XIV. Since that time, I’ve made a point of trying many of the other MMORPGs to get a sense of not only what is happening within the genre, but to understand its popularity, appeal, sense of play, and storytelling. And to do a few “harmless” comparisons too, of course. :P

Next time: Final Fantasy XIV sets the bar.

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