How to choose a MMORPG this year
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 18 March 2014, 9:11 am
Playing a MMORPG can take up a significant chunk of your time, and it is hard to play more than one of them intensively at the same time. In the case of subscription games you also might not want to be subscribed to several of them at the same time due to financial reasons. That often makes the choice of a MMORPG non-trivial, and somewhat more akin to a lifestyle choice than to just choosing a game. At least that is how some people feel about it. And like with any lifestyle choice, people tend to come up with reasons why theirs is the best choice, and how other choices are simply "wrong". That starts out as a justification to themselves, and in some cases ends up with bad cases of fanboi-ism, attacking others for having chosen differently.

Now 2014 has three major contenders for the triple-A MMORPG crown of the year: The Elder Scrolls Online, Wildstar, and the WoW expansion Warlords of Draenor. How to choose? One option obviously is not making a choice at all, but rather playing a tourist: Play TESO a month or two from its release in April, switch to Wildstar in June, and end the year playing Warlords of Draenor when it comes out in "Fall 2014", "on or before December 20th". But maybe you don't want to play MMORPGs all year, or you would rather stick to one game longer.

Now while I have made a choice for myself, I am in no way a fanboi. In fact I would say that the three games have more similarities than differences. While the fans certainly will argue while this or that feature or detail makes their game far superior to the other choices, I think that if you regard the games with a bit less passion, you will find that they aren't all that different: They are all three quest-driven "themepark" MMORPGs, and they all are rather expensive with a box cost plus $15 monthly subscription cost. They all will offer features like housing, PvP, a solo PvE leveling game, and a collaborative PvE end game.

One factor in deciding for many people will be the novelty factor: TESO and Wildstar are new games, which can make them either more attractive or less attractive for some people than an expansion to a game that is going to celebrate it's 10th anniversary this year. Another factor is graphics style, and beauty is in they eye of the beholder there. But clearly Wildstar and WoW can be grouped together here in the colorful category, while The Elder Scrolls Online has a less colorful, but closer to photo-realistic look. Or you could choose a game based on what your friends play. In the end there are many possible criteria for choosing a game, sometimes down to minor details like only one of those games offering a particular race which just happens to be a big favorite with the person choosing.

Personally, apart from the "what my friends play" and preferred graphics style criteria, my biggest consideration was combat. Let's face it, most players spend a large majority of their time in these games in combat, or moving from one combat to the next. If you dislike the combat of a MMORPG, you won't stay long, which is for example what happened to me with LotRO, where all my love for the setting and my life-time subscription couldn't overcome my dislike for the combat system. Now overall I would say I prefer less twitchy combat, which would point towards World of Warcraft. But having already killed thousands and thousands of monsters in WoW, I grew somewhat bored of WoW combat. The Elder Scrolls Online and Wildstar both have faster combat system, where you need to "aim" to some degree to hit somebody, instead of just target-locking on him. But to me (and other people) the TESO combat system felt somewhat "floaty", with not sufficient feedback on whether you were actually hitting your target and how hard. I much preferred combat in Wildstar, where both your and your enemies' attack zones are clearly painted on the ground, combat feels very immediate, and you get good feedback.

While I consider the feel of combat an important criterion of choice, it is obviously a problematic one if we consider the box purchase plus subscription pricing model. I had to get into the betas to find out which game I liked more. While that wasn't terribly hard, it is only an option during a limited window of time before release. Only World of Warcraft offers a free trial in which you could see for yourself whether you like the combat of the game or not. After release for the other two games it would cost you $60 just to find out whether you like combat and other features of the game which aren't obvious in screenshots and descriptions.

While they do tend towards a more passionate, less impartial view of games, I'd like to link to No Prisoners, No Mercy here, who write about an article in Forbes arguing that The Elder Scrolls Online should either have a box price or a subscription, but not both. What worked for World of Warcraft in 2004 will not obviously work as well for the new MMORPGs of 2014. Times have changed. People today complain loudly about an iOS/Android game costing $15, or a Free2Play game which expects you to pay $15 once to unlock something. So a $60 game with a $15 monthly subscription looks out of sync with the time and the spending habits of today.

That brings us to a last method of choosing a 2014 MMORPG: Don't play any of them in 2014. There is a significant probability that all three of these games, and yes, that includes World of Warcraft, will move away from the subscription pricing model in the years to come. I really wouldn't be surprised if by 2016 all three of them would be Free2Play. Which as we all know isn't really "free", but would at least allow you to play the game first and then decide whether you like it.

In the end you need to decide what exactly is important to you in a MMORPG, and make the choice based on your own criteria. I would say that all three games have their strong points and their weaknesses. They might well receive similar review scores. So in the end it might be helpful to keep in mind that you are really just choosing a game, and not a lifestyle. Respect those who made a different choice!
Tobold's Blog



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