If you’ve read the start of my recent Retrospectacle on World of Warcraft then you might understand that both Tim and I were big time fans of Blizzard’s MMO. We loved that game and everything about it and both of us, at one point or another, reached the end-game raiding content (even getting quite far at times). Both of us also quit for similar reasons, and none of those reasons were that we were fed up of the game. The simple fact was that it devoured our life, free time and money (money which we could not spare at Uni) and so we quit (him a good two years before me).
Since quitting WoW we have both managed to move on from the game, slowly extracting it’s hook-like claws from our souls one at a time. We were both tempted more than once to go back to WoW and have also both relapsed. The truth is though, that even though we HAVE moved on from WoW and onto other games, we have both always had that urge to find another MMO, another WoW, another game which we could devote ourselves to.
Over the course of the past few years we have both tried a variety of MMOs, hoping to fill the void that WoW left in our hearts, with varying degrees of success. But, for some reason or other, we stopped playing all of them along the way. None have ever quite managed to hold our attention in the same way, despite being often very excellent games in their own right. Some of the reasons for quitting the games are very straight-forward, things we can point out and say “this is why I stopped” but for others it is less clear-cut and less obvious. I will here give you a small taste of our journey to find a New World of Warcraft to play, before finally arriving at what seems to be the most promising offering in many, many years.
The first couple of years after WoW, neither me nor Tim really spent much time looking for a new MMO. We were both newly arrived at University and so we wanted to try and spend some time in the Outerworld, maybe even try to see the sun every now and again. During this time, Tim dabbled with a few other smaller MMOs briefly. Never sticking with them, for varying reasons. Age of Conan was one which attracted both of our interests for it’s nifty combat system, but I never got around to even trying it and Tim dropped it after a very brief stint of fun. There wasn’t really any reason for never getting into Conan other than neither of us were ever THAT keen on it.
There were two MMOs which had pretty big releases, Rift and Aion, both were dubbed as potential WoW killers, and both of them literally dropped off our radar almost as soon as they were released. These were both games that had a lot of potential, but like Conan, just never really grabbed us in such a way that made us feel like we had to try it. Rift has, as far as I’m aware (I’m getting my information from the charts on http://mmodata.blogspot.co.uk/), only a very small player base remaining despite it’s free to play model. Aion on the other hand remains one of the few MMOs to actually hold on to several million subscribers (even if that membership is also decreasing). I suspect I won’t be trying either of them any time soon either.
Before I continue I want to briefly talk about some numbers. YES. NUMBERS. And… And. GRAPHS. YES! Boom! If you look at the subscriber count for most MMOs that have been released post WoW, and so have to compete with the behemoth of Azeroth, it tends to follow a set pattern. Following a period of hype, build-up and slow release of information prior to release many people will decide that this is the new MMO for them. It might be because they love the universe the game is set in or the mechanics or the look of the game. They buy/subscribe/sign-up and finally, after a period of betas and testing the game is released and they can start playing. Depending on the amount of publicity and the renown of the world itself, the game can get a lot of subscribers very quickly, but what follows almost always occurs the same way. After the brief honeymoon period where everything is new and exciting, the vast majority of people decide that they would rather return to the MMO they have invested the most time in (which is inevitably WoW) and so the game loses subscribers in droves. This results in a huge percentage of the subscribers disappearing from the game, leaving only a more hardcore fanbase. This base then tends to slowly dwindle over the following years until either the game perks up (via an expansion perhaps) or it dies.
The reason I mention all this is because of the next game which has, from time to time, attracted both mine and Tim’s attention. I have absolutely nothing but respect for EVE: Online. In a world where most MMOs follow this trend of a rapid gain of subscribers, followed by rapid loss of subscribers and then slow and painful demise, EVE has gone an entirely different route. It was always small and not particularly popular amongst the MMOs. However, it has done something NO other MMO has done. It has shown a consistent and continuous increase in subscribers since it’s release. It’s still not one of the big one (according to the above graph it has around 350,000 subscribers) but the important thing to note is that it is NOT decreasing and shows no signs of going the way of oh-so-many other MMOs. That takes a certain level of skill and demands a certain level of respect.
The point of this is that both Tim and I respect EVE: Online and can appreciate some of it’s more ridiculous moments (such as the times when ships worth several thousand dollars of REAL-LIFE CURRENCY are blown to pieces). However, we like to appreciate the game from afar. It’s slow pace, ridiculously steep learning curve has put both of us off. We think it’s very cool and awesome, but we just wouldn’t have any fun.
The first game which actually had a very strong chance of hooking at least one of either me or Tim back into an MMO was Star Wars: The Old Republic. When it comes to MMOs, if one of us truly got into it, it’s likely the other one would get dragged along for the ride, and as a massive fan of Star Wars, I awaited SWTOR with my legs crossed, breath bated and fingers twiddling. Adding into the mix the fact that it was made by Bioware and one might understand why I in particular was so excited by it. Both Tim and I got into some of the open beta weekends of the game back in the weeks prior to it’s release, and honestly we both had a blast. At the end of it though, we both left feeling uninspired by our time in the game. The combination of a subscription fee (which neither of us wanted to pay) and the fact that the combat felt like we were only playing WoW with lightsabers and NOT Star Wars left us a little disenchanted. It was a solid game but it just didn’t grab us.
Since TOR went free-to-play I will admit that I continuously think that I ought to give the game another shot, especially as I understand that many of the early issues of the game were fixed by Bioware. In truth though, I don’t really see that happening at any time soon. One day though, one day I might return to the world of the Force.
The next truly massive MMO release which could have been a WoW killer was also one both Tim and I were anticipating eagerly. Guild Wars 2 promised to be a truly new and exciting MMO, it promised the world and all of the early media from screenshots to gameplay suggested that ArenaNet had every chance of delivering on that promise. By this stage both Tim and I were so keen to scratch our MMO itch that we both bought the game and both eagerly jumped in on the release. I’ll admit that to this day I’m unimpressed with how little patience I had with GW2. I only got to level 17/18 or so before quitting (and I don’t think Tim got above the mid-twenties). I can’t speak for him, but for me I just felt totally disjointed from the world I was in. The quests in particular felt just like busy-work without following any definite sense of progression or improvement. The combat as well felt like I was doing it all wrong and that none of my abilities were the ones which I needed to be using. It was a very weird feeling to feel like each won fight was a fluke (and it’s not like I died unusually often). At the end of the day, it didn’t hold our attention and it has since been gathering dust on my hard drive (with the promise to return one day).
There was one final game which did, very briefly, seem like it might prove to be the WoW we were looking for. Neverwinter was very much in the style of WoW and had some very nice ideas and design. It was good fun and proved enjoyable to play together. The issue arose when Tim reached max level and discovered that there was practically no end-game and what was there was rubbish, and that was a fair portion of what we were looking for. So we discarded that too.
Since then there was one more MMO release which didn’t even cause us to turn our heads. Tim and I share an unreserved love for the Elder Scrolls Universe, but we both were extremely sceptical about Bethesda’s plans to create an MMO from it. We both felt that a game that was supposed to be to completely and entirely single-player, a game so totally focused on the ONE hero in the world to the exclusion of all else, would suffer as an MMO with thousands of players. Despite some very cool trailers, lo’ and behold we were proved right, with the biggest complaint about the Elder Scrolls Online being that it DID NOT FEEL LIKE AN ELDER SCROLLS GAME.
By this stage Tim and I were so desperate for something to tide us over that we both purchased a month’s subscription for WoW and enjoyed a very brief, but tumultuous, affair with the game again.
It would appear though, that all our suffering may well have been answered. Both of us have watched the development of Wildstar with very keen eyes since it’s announcement and it was finally released last week at some point. Tim is already balls deep in the game and its world while I sit on the side-lines and seethe with envy (attempting to play the game during an open beta resulted in my laptop imploding, forming a mini supernova and destroying half of the United Kingdom).
From what I can see though, it looks like this might FINALLY be the answer to our prayers. It has a new and exciting combat system, one reminiscent of both Guild Wars 2 and Age of Conan. It has gorgeous technicolour visuals and a huge array of exciting locales. It has dozens of tiny little bits and pieces, just little dabs of polish which can simply MAKE a game. I realise that it’s really far too soon to make this call, and indeed Wildstar may go the way of every other MMO since WoW. But honestly, the game looks simply so fabulous that currently, I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt.