It feels like I’ve fled the MMO blogosphere, but I’m still here. The reason for the unusual quiet time is, of course, Skyrim, which I continue to play avidly and am in no danger of “finishing” any time soon. It seems like it’s keeping a lot of bloggers on my feedreader away from their usual MMO haunts, too… and even spoiling Star Wars: The Old Republic for a few. The latter is seeing a bit of a surge in interest lately with a beta event upcoming this holiday weekend, to which seemingly everyone remotely interested has been invited. I got my invite but will probably not participate.
I’m 11 hours into Skyrim, right now (level 9) and boy… coming from WoW it seems I’ve been playing a videogame for small children, really.
I’ve been thinking that over for the last few days. One of the biggest reasons I got into MMORPGs in the first place is to experience a virtual world that could be explored and interacted with. Oh, I like progression and camaraderie as well, don’t get me wrong, but in terms of interactivity and exploration value Skyrim simply dwarfs virtually every MMO out there, even including sandboxy stuff like EVE Online and Fallen Earth. The only MMO remotely comparable to it in this regard is the much-neglected Wurm Online, which really deserves a bigger audience (and a better interface) than it has. Of the traditional, EQ-style MMOs only Vanguard seems to carry a weight to Skyrim, and even there it’s mostly an illusion; opaque systems and a huge world give Vanguard the sense of a bigger sandbox than it is.
These are all good games, and I’ve championed all of them in the past to greater or lesser degrees. But in all of them I have the distinct drive to “catch up,” as if there is greater fun awaiting me if I reach some magical level or other milestone. Only when I do, it’s the same game there too. Skyrim hasn’t been like that. It’s been immersive fun from the start, and I feel no pressure to not screw things up or waste time or money. I’m at the point where I am questioning whether MMORPGs are even a good idea for me – and that’s not just Skyrim talking, but where video games fit into my life. To be sure, I will have more to say about the particulars of how Skyrim compares to MMOs and affects how we perceive them, but that’s for another time – right now I’m talking about how it has affected me.
That sense of “catching up,” even if it’s just in my head (and it is, although I believe it’s a common sentiment,) means that it’s difficult for an MMO to work for me in the same way that Skyrim does. MMOs function best when you can dedicate what is frankly a lot of time to them, and on a predictable schedule. Right now I’m getting a fair amount of gaming in but not during the same times from day to day and week to week, and that undermines the social strengths of an MMO. When Skyrim satisfies another key appeal of MMOs and blows the entire genre off the table on the other… well, I can’t see any reason to be more than peripherally involved at the moment. There’s plenty of solid games but not enough interesting going on.
Certainly, this wears any desire I have to approach SWTOR down to a vestigial nub. I’ll be dabbling in LotRO and Champions Online and EQ2 as I get the chance and as I need a change of pace, and paying close attention as always to what EVE and Vanguard are doing. I am not “abandoning MMOs” so much as reorienting my gaming life around stuff that can be played “sub-casually” without feeling like I’m wasting my time. Until I can find the time to play properly, which almost certainly means two years from May when I finish school. Right now there’s Skyrim – but also Oblivion, which I never got as far in as I would have liked, and Minecraft and Mount & Blade: Warband. There’s a common thread of an open world and a sandboxiness among those games, but I’d also like to delve into strategy stuff again. Stuff with a savegame, where I can have an impact and yet not feel pressured to play or advance or not mess up.
At least until Guild Wars 2 comes out – likely to be late next year. That’s the one MMORPG on the horizon that has me really excited, and the only one I see releasing anytime soon that’s bringing anything new to the table at all. Other projects with possibilities, like World of Darkness or EverQuest Next, are years away, and ArcheAge is a big unknown from where I’m sitting – it could be anything from a world of awesome to hot buttered ass.