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MMORPG: The Next Generation Part 1
by Jolex Del Pilar
Friday, September 17 2004
Which one deserves your gaming dollar?
The next generation of MMORPG is set to storm gamers later this year, and with so many to choose from, who besides the wealthiest of us can afford to play them all? While I won't give you the ultimate answer as to which one is the "right" choice, I will give you some insight as to the pros and cons of some of the major upcoming MMORPGs that I've noticed from demos and developer interviews, along with some input from gamers who commonly play within these massive game universes. Most of these games are just preparing to enter their main beta testing stages, most notably World of Warcraft and EverQuest 2, so keep in mind that most of what is written here is simply preliminary observation, and of course, gamer opinion.
This week we will cover EverQuest II, and World of Warcraft.
Everquest II is set to open its beta stage at the beginning of October. This will be the first time most gamers will have stepped into the new world of EQ2. On two occasions I've gotten to talk with designer Bill Trost, and also preview the game world. Now, admittedly, I missed the whole EverQuest craze when it was at its peak but I have an inkling of an idea of how popular the game has been over the past 5 or 6 years. While the stories of people conducting marriages online, to selling Everquest accounts on eBay for hundreds of dollars are certainly indicative of a popular game in which its own personal lore, outside of the actual content, has kept the game growing strong, it's new content and a new look that will keep gamers excited about the EverQuest series.
The Unreal Tournament Engine really adds that visual shine.
One thing that SOE has done, to mostly positive responses, is upgrade the EQ2 engine. It's now UT 2003 powered, and looks a lot better for it. The character creation system actually features "morph points" in the models. This means you can basically customize your characters physical look to your hearts content. I saw a demo of this when I met with Bill Trost at Sony's Media Event at the Sony Metreon in San Francisco last year. At E3, I was treated to a personal demo in that showed how the UT 2003 engine has improved the terrain graphics. Weather effects such as snow, and rain will cover the world of Norrath. The visual quality of bosses will also surprise many who are lucky enough to enter beta. SOE has also promised new content for both new and old zones which means lots of new areas to explore. So far, the confirmed zones list looks like this: Befallen Bixie, Beehives, Busheldown, Castle of Marr, Castle Nektropos, Commonlands, Deathfist, Draftling Tower, Erudin, Fallen Gate, Feerrott, Freeport, Grand Plateau, Nektolus Forest, Qeynos, Stormhold, Temple of Cazic Thule, Varsoon, Visk, and Wailing Caves. Truly an expansive list of areas to explore, and this list isn't a complete by far. It's becoming apparent that Norrath will take months to explore fully, very good news for your rabid questers out there.
More eye candy: NPC battles...
However, some gamers, including EverQuest players, have had mixed reactions about EQ2. Chris Richards from San Diego sent us an e-mail commenting, "After a while EQ was just full of level grind and seemed totally carebear. Either people didn't want to PvP, or people were so good at it that I was worried to even try." Others have voiced more positive reactions.
"EverQuest II is going to blow WOW (World of Warcraft) out of the water. Too much new content for Blizzard to compete," said Tyler Smith from Seattle.
Still, of all the new MMORPGs coming out within the next few months, EverQuest simply has the pedigree and subscriber base to be a major player in the next generation. First, SOE (Verant) has the experience of EverQuest to help guide its new baby into smooth waters. Expect a relatively problem free launch for EQ2. Also, given EQ's massive subscriber base, EQ2 should have a vibrant, player filled world at launch. Even if only half of the 400,000 current EverQuest subscribers transfer to EverQuest II, that will still put EQ2 ahead of all of its contemporaries. With lures like special in-game items for pre-order participants, SOE is trying hard to make that happen.
World of Warcraft
Some have called World of Warcraft the heir apparent MMORPG for numerous reasons, some of which include a successful closed beta and stress test that was conducted in the past few weeks. However it's Blizzard, and it's Warcraft, these two words are connected at the hip with another word: Success.
Gamers have never seen Azeroth like this before...
The world of WOW, like EverQuest II, has many Tolkien-esque elements within its content, but that's where the similarities stop. Blizzard is placing its MMORPG within a familiar setting for real-time strategy games, but not necessarily for RPG fans. If the words Khaz Modan, or Stormwind mean anything to you, then it's safe to say you've been through Azeroth before. This is the setting for WOW. Many of Azeroth's locales will serve as WOW's zones. Still, while most zones have not been opened (or even created) during beta for adventuring, it's becoming apparent that WOW's world will be at least as rich as EQ2's. This is impressive seeing as EverQuest has had 6 years of world building, and Blizzard has had only its RTS games to draw its content from. Places like Gnomeregan, the city of Gnomes, will feature technologically inclined architecture which reflects the inventive nature of the gnomish race. Night Elf cities will be shadowy, forest, encampments with more organic looking buildings. I never thought I'd see Blizzard be able to translate Azeroth to true 3D as well as they have. Azeroth evokes a feeling of interest in even its most trivial parts.
WOW has also tackled sensitive issues such as PvP quite well in my opinion. In WOW, the humans, orcs, and other opposing factions are still at war in the game. So that means, if you're human, orcs, and undead NPCs will be your main targets of choice. Also, it will be difficult to communicate with different races at first since Blizzard will force players to learn languages (learn Ocrish to speak to Orcs, etc). However, for a more daring flavor, killing other players may suit your taste. Blizzard has handled this with battle zones. These are areas which are "flagged" for PvP combat. Killing players who are higher or near-level to your character will give you "honor" points. Conversely, killing lower level players will give you "dishonor" points. The more dangerous the opponent you kill, the more honor you will gain from PvP. Team PvP works in much the same way, except the targets become larger (towns, faction bosses), and the honor points are spread around over the entire team depending on each team member's contribution to the battle. At the top of all this is the PvP honor list. To be a top member on a server is always great for bragging rights.
Busy Beta: Many gamers have jumped on the WOW bandwagon already.
Still, even with Blizzard's master touch, some gamers worry about Blizzard's initial foray into the MMORPG arena. "This is a tough decision for me since I've been with EverQuest for 3 years. I will probably pick EverQuest 2 because I don't really know how WOW will be since Blizzard is just a rookie," said Brian McKinney from Modesto, California. Others have already jumped on the WOW bandwagon.
"I'm going to WOW, and I know lots of EverQuest people going too. I don't want to pay for $25 patches when new content comes out," said Terry Myers from Salt Lake City.
Although Blizzard is a relative "newb" when it comes to the MMORPG market, you would have to think really hard to find a "bad" game that Blizzard has released (I know of none). Whether World of Warcraft continues that flawless record should be answered very soon.
Next week I'll be covering The Matrix Online from Warner Brothers, and Guild Wars from NCsoft.
Until next time, keep questing (sic Richard Garriot).
--- Jolex Del Pilar
With all the women, exams, and general pimptitude that goes along with his life, Jolex still finds time to occasionally answer e-mails from readers.