As has probably not escaped the notice of the longtime reader, I am a fickle but monomaniacal gamer. I tend to focus on a single game that I will play heavily (by the standards of my schedule) for somewhere between 3-6 weeks, then drift away and into some other game, sometimes after a week or so of wandering about in non-MMOs (Team Fortress 2, Europa Universalis III and Audiosurf tend to be my non-MMOs of choice. Empire: Total War may get added to this list early next year.)
This practice has an upside and a downside. As a plus, I get to try my hand at a lot of different things, and have, at this point, at least tried almost everything on the western market except some of the Asian imports and Pirates of the Burning Sea. Some of these – WoW, Vanguard, EQ2 and EVE – I’ve stuck with for varying lengths of time, but never more than two months at a stretch. This gives me a nice broad base of knowledge and the ability to point out, for example, that Warhammer’s ‘Living Guilds’ are at most an enhancement of the guild advancement feature long-established in EQ2.
On the downside, it means that I never really get all that far along in any one game, and in the model of MMO favored in the west, this means never experiencing a major section of the game, that which happens at the level cap. I’ll return to games and push some more, and moving in jerks and leaps as I do, this means that in a couple of years I’ll probably have endgame characters in a number of traditional titles. But in the meantime, it’s more than a little frustrating to see and hear other people talking about all the fun that I myself am not able to participate in.
The interesting thing here is that the two games that I’m playing right now are ones that depart from that traditional model to varying extents. WAR looks on the surface to closely copy established elements, and indeed there’s leveling and a cap in the game, which will change somewhat when you hit it. But the older examples of that model, EQ, EQ2, and Vanguard, and most especially World of Warcraft, change significantly when you hit the cap – WoW (the example which, sad to say, I’m most familiar with the endgame dynamic of) is practically a whole second game that you generally only get scattered tastes of before that point.
As of right now, from where I’m sitting, it appears that the WAR experience changes much less at the level cap. You’ll still run scenarios and World RvR, but these will not be that radically different from anything you’ve done before, even if the scope is larger when it comes to things like fortress captures and city sieges. It’s different, but not that much different.
This changes the dynamic of leveling somewhat, in that there’s not a whole wing of the gameplay not available to me for not being at the level cap already. It also seems to me that for this reason, WAR will have a much easier time attracting new players, at least in the near future, than WoW does, and that WAR may have a greater appeal to people who want to play casually – something WoW had traditionally been able to boast.
But this is a piece about my personal gaming habits, not about WAR vs WoW. And I’m getting a feeling that WAR is helping me break a bad habit inculcated over years of tabletop play and reinforced in MMOs by the practices and design philosophies of games in the traditional model, in which leveling becomes the point because the game is always cooler farther along.
In this sense, while leveling in WAR is a nice accomplishment and all, it’s not as though leveling in and of itself (beyond a certain easily-achieved point that one might call the ‘fun threshold’) really adds all that much to the gameplay, so it seems to me to be a lower priority than it was in, say, WoW or EQ2. I’m able to sit back and focus on enjoying the game rather than fretting about progression and keeping up. If leveling slows down in Tier 3 as much as I think it will, I should be able to park there for a good long time enjoying a modest diet of scenarios, PQs and world RvR (the areas in which I’m having the most fun,) without having to worry about guildies or the general population overtaking me and leaving me in barren zones with nothing to do and nobody to do it with.
EVE comes into this equation as a game that does much the same thing to a greater extent. Yeah, there’s people I’ll never catch up to in skill points, but the game is still growing at a steady pace, promises to continue to do so (although I expect a significant surge when Ambulation goes live,) so there is no shortage of fellow noobs to play with – and the design of the game causes non-noobs to congregate in much the same areas as the rookies. And given a relatively short time focusing on a given element of EVE, you can be pretty good at it because of the diminishing-returns balance of the skill system. PvP, mission-running, mining, or whatever. I may never fly a Titan, but I could easily be part of a fleet that takes one down, and really, isn’t that even cooler?
This isn’t to be confused with a lack of grinding – all subscription MMOs include grinding in some form or another. But because the basis of EVE is economic and because doing something doesn’t in itself you make better at it, it’s possible to outsource the grind part of the game out to people who find fun in those parts of the game. This is most easily accomplished in a corp, of course, which can (in the best case) subsidize the activities you enjoy pursuing with the labor of others, but you can do it yourself, too.
The point is that I enjoy leveling because I enjoy accomplishment, and have too long conflated the two. I’m finding a decreased enthusiasm for games in which I must progress in order to get to the fun. WAR does this by getting to the fun right away, and for that reason it’s a game worth continuing to play. EVE does it… well, that’s the challenge in EVE for me, really – to find the fun. I know it’s there somewhere, and the simple fact is that EVE suits my temperament, interests and aesthetic sense better than any other MMO. I’m willing to give it as long as it takes. Until I get bored.