Friday, March 09, 2007

Not WoW

Having recently tried Lord of the Rings Online, as well as reading reviews of it, I often heard people commenting, both positively and negatively, that the game is too much like World of Warcraft. On the one hand, some people like that fact that the interface and general gameplay are similar to that of World of Warcraft; on the other hand, people complain that the interface and gameplay are just rip-offs of World of Warcraft.

Now, as far as MMORPGs go, WoW has what people want; while it is certainly not the best MMORPG possible, it seems to have hit close to a local maximum (That is, the best you can get considering certain premises, like a class-based system). For a MMORPG to be very different from World of Warcraft, it would have to be very innovative in many ways, because, within the (albeit very large) niche of players who want class-based grindfests monster bashing, World of Warcraft has done very well, and there is little left to add. Games like the Lord of the Rings Online just have to change what they can and hope that the LotR theme will be sufficient to make the game profitable. Because, really, the only things LotRO can offer to fans of the genre is a story based around the sagas of the ring-bearer and a different world for those who have exhausted their WoW capacity.

It's not say that LotRO is bad; it's really well-done and polished, and I expect there will be very little need for patches after launch, which is certainly a very welcome change from what MMORPGs want people to get used to. You won't pay to beta-test LotRO (Unless you pre-order and get to play the pre-release game, but meh, you know to expect if you do that, and that is to actually get to keep your character after launch. Tobold said it best). But you won't need to learn how the game works if you've played WoW, which is a blessing and a curse.

Now, the point here is not to lament the lack of innovation in LotRO; Turbine thought that a class-based system would work best for Lord of the Rings Online, so they stuck to a WoW-like system of questing, monster-bashing and leveling. The real problem is that people will keep comparing LotRO to WoW, completely missing the fact that MMORPGs existed before WoW. MMORPGs have a rich and diverse history, and the fact that WoW was so popular simply means that they hit the demands of the market at the time with great accuracy.

What we need now, though, more than ever, is a game that can be defined not only as being not WoW, but as not being WoW (Take a moment to think about it). With LotRO, I think the market will hit the limits of how much of the same people can take, and the next big thing could very well be a game that shows more innovation than fans of the genre dared hope for. We don't need another UO, another EQ, SWG or DAoC; we need a game that can only be compared to itself. We've endured hack-and-slashes long enough to deserve that, right?

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