A while ago I whiffed through the classis NES game The Legend of Zelda. It’s a fairly primitive-looking tile-based adventure; you trudge through an “Overworld” populated with crudely rendered monsters, ugly trees and dialog in “engrish.” As you grind through the dungeons you collect magic items and clobber boss characters. There’s an ultimate battle with a trick. Nothing is terribly pretty in this game; the graphics are frankly terrible, but the game play itself is very, very good.
I haven’t been addicted to too many games, but this is definitely one of them. At one point, maybe thirty minutes into the first session, I had the conscious knowledge that I had just become hooked on the game, and that I was going to finish it.
I don’t finish many games. I came close in Quake, and did finish Quake II (though it got boring and sloggy in places), and I only had to cheat a little to get to the end of Unreal. Then my wife and I spent about a year playing Diablo II. (We also slogged through to the end of Dungeon Siege, but it wasn’t that much fun, and the ending was a letdown). I still sometimes pull out the Diablo II disk, it’s fun.
My verdict on World of Warcraft is that it is quite good, but that Blizzard made the game a little too social. You can advance to the highest levels without teaming up with anyone, but it’s a fairly slow process and you have a choice between boredom (playing it safe) or dying a lot (exploring and getting clobbered), and there are places that you just can’t go without a bunch of help. For a curmudgeon like me, the social aspect is difficult. Also, I’m never quite sure if I can join a party for the couple of hours necessary to get to the final boss and claim the Amulet of Hurting Bad Monsters or the Ring of Excessive Violence.
The other problem with WoW is that the game play is pretty much the same no matter what level you’re at. You’re level 1, you kill level 1, 2 and 3 monsters (collecting their teeth or horns or something and turning them in to complete quests). You’re level 30? You kill level 30, 31 or 32 monsters (collecting their arm-bands or iPods or whatever, turning them in to complete quests). Oh, along the way you can craft things like potions and armor, and the spell effects are cool, but the essential game play is that you clobber things, over and over. While there’s a lot of detail, there’s not a lot of depth.
Basically, Blizzard (and I suspect the other MMOOGRGHRGs) are getting the really interesting AI for free, from their players.
Now, all of these games have non-player characters (shop-keepers, ho hum, but also characters that give you quests). It will be interesting to see if the games start letting you play these characters, rather than have all of the NPC interaction be hard-wired. Player-moderated DMing, in other words. The MUDs allow it, why not the MMOOGRGHRGs?