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Back To (M)MO Role-Playing

Once again, I decided that it was time to find a replacement for online Diablo 2, which is a great game but after seven years it's beginning to get old. Last summer I gave A Tale In The Desert a try for mainly the same reasons; this game caught my eye because it's highly innovative and very different from everything else I've played so far: Instead of competing against each other, the thousands of players all work together to achieve a common goal; instead of fighting they have to help each other out so everyone can assume their role in forming a successful society, which is even able to take influence on the gameplay rules itself by making suggestions and voting for them. All this, plus the availability of a native Linux client, completed my decision to subscribe.

Although the game itself and the other people who played it were immensely fun, I quit playing after a few months; I found it to be extremely time-consuming, and I was not willing to put that much time into playing video games anymore. I needed one that doesn't care whether you spend ten hours a day or one hour a week on it.

Enter Guild Wars.

I picked up a copy of this game recently and I've only spent a few hours on it so far, but the first impression looks promising. It requires no monthly fees so it doesn't get expensive on you if you don't play a lot, and it feels like a mix between Diablo 2, Neverwinter Nights and World of Warcraft. Compared to these, Guild Wars has a few interesting twists that seem weird at first but make a lot of sense if you take a closer look. For example, your mana refills constantly over time and so do your health points, except in battles. This may seem rather lame, but all it really does is to save you the hassle of teleporting back to town after a battle and refill on life potions, like in Diablo. Since traveling back to town in Guild Wars can cancel the quest you're currently on, you normally don't want to do that. Towns are also the only places where you can meet other players to chat, trade and find party members; this means no player-killing and guaranteed availability of monsters, but not running into players other than those in your party during quests makes the game feel much more like Diablo 2 than a real MMORPG. On the other hand, not having to keep the whole world consistent for all players is probably the main reason why they don't require monthly fees.

I cannot say much about the community after this short time, but the people I met so far were all friendly. However, there's obviously not nearly as much communication going on as in A Tale In The Desert, especially since towns are the only places for public chat.

Here's an overview of the pro's and con's I found in Guild Wars and A Tale In The Desert; if you are looking for something new and willing to spend more time with online games than me, I highly suggest you give the latter a try.

A Tale In The Desert

Pro

  • Completely new approach to multiplayer gaming: Players try to achieve one common goal together instead of competing against each other
  • The most friendly and varied gaming community I've ever seen; lots of communication, frequent real-life meetings
  • Close contact with the developers, both in-game and outside; personal support, including the permission to call the lead developer on his private cell phone 24/7 in the event of a server crash
  • The ability to take direct influence on gameplay rules by suggesting and voting
  • Native MacOS and Linux clients

Neutral

  • Sound and graphics aren't top-notch, but manage to create the proper atmosphere
  • Rather high monthly fees that, however, feel like money well spent

Con

  • You have to spend a good amount of time playing to really achieve something
  • Repetitive action like resource-collecting and long ways to travel can get boring

Guild Wars

Pro

  • No monthly fees
  • You don't get "left behind" if you don't play constantly; good for people who don't have much time for playing
  • Very well-documented; the official Wiki has almost Wikipedia-like quality
  • Easy to get into if you played similar games like Diablo or Neverwinter Nights before
  • Nice graphics, music and overall atmosphere

Neutral

  • No Linux client, but it runs well on Cedega (officially supported)
  • Only the towns feel like you're in an MMORPG

Con

  • Customer Service (more on that later)

(to be updated...)


By the way: Probably the closest you can get to pen-and-paper in an online roleplaying game is Neverwinter Nights (which is actually based on the Dungeons And Dragons ruleset). People can create their own adventures using the powerful editor that is shipped with the game and put them on their own servers. Players can log in either as normal adventurers or game masters which can take almost unlimited influence on the world (create and destroy items, change players' attributes, take over control of NPC's, etc.). However, creating an adventure, setting up a server and finding a constant team of game masters takes a lot of effort, so it can be quite hard to find these games.

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