I haven’t really done much with Massively Multiplayer games in quite a while. Three years or so, really. The closure of Vanguard was a loss that subtracted from my enjoyment of the whole genre, and the lack of vision shown by then-current developers was further discouraging. While I stayed mostly in the news loop and occasionally checked in on Guild Wars 2 or EverQuest II, I never stayed for more than a matter of hours. I made a crack at getting back into WoW that lasted for maybe two weeks and maybe a dozen hours played.
The MMO genre moved back, not forward, as big money remained involved and risks ceased to be taken. Those heavily invested in extant titles presumably stayed happy, of course, but I was never that even with WoW, which I played regularly for something like a year. My lack of enthusiasm for MMOs in general is really the reason for the paucity of posts on this blog for the last couple of years. Trying to write here about other stuff never felt quite right and I never achieved a rhythm for it.
But it’s not like I’d sworn off the genre or anything. And thankfully there were interesting-looking things in the pipeline: Shroud of the Avatar and Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen but more so Star Citizen and Elite: Dangerous. I said at the time that the last sounded like the game that fit me best. I still think I’m right. Moreover, I am not only playing Elite: Dangerous, I am excited enough about it to write stuff.
I’m not going to say that Elite: Dangerous is the game for you. It’s certainly got problems and deficiencies and things it desperately needs and goofiness here and there and weird tangents taken by the development team that don’t interest anybody. Its multiplayer is still kind of rudimentary, but that’s… maybe not as much a problem as one might suppose.
I was for a long while a big booster of EVE Online, respecting its achievements even while only playing it intermittently. The biggest issue was that there was a whole end of the game that was only open to people in big nullsec alliances, and I get to be a tiny cog in a very big machine every day. There’s no romance in doing that in a game. Plus, a dependence on interaction with the community when that community is filled with pustulent fuckholes is really not a selling point.
What drew me to EVE in the first place was not empire-building, which I think there are better platforms for (see any 4X game,) but the dream of Traveller, of taking a spaceship out into the black and writing my own destiny with it, of seeing sights never seen before and sometimes getting into trouble. It took comparing the two games to get me to realize that Elite: Dangerous the MMO Spaceflight Sim was what I wanted, where EVE the MMORPG wasn’t.
The difference is significant; Elite: Dangerous isn’t an RPG in the video game sense, because it lacks clear, mechanical character progression. I love RPGs both on the tabletop and (when well-done) on the PC, but I find the absence of progression absolutely liberating. No longer was I years behind other players and with the best and most interesting gameplay locked behind a pseudo-social wall manned by misanthropes. In Elite: Dangerous even the uttermost end of the galaxy is within reach; if not today, then someday soon. Which is not a meaningful knock on EVE, by the way. It’s just the reason, I now think, why it never took ahold of me like I felt it should.
Like I said, Elite: Dangerous has its issues, and its stupid title is only one of them. It’s not as deep as it could be in a lot of places. But it’s the biggest canvas of all, and if I am only a tiny, tiny speck on that canvas then I’m not all that much smaller than anybody else. And this speck is out there doing what it wants to do — voyaging far from Sol, seeing things no one has ever seen before.