As I stated before in my prior post, choices are wonderful, and what’s out now are wonderful choices. That said, I have to take a small bit of agreement with those who believe that MMOs are stagnating, design-wise. At least the current crop of releases. I enjoy looking out the same window when it has pretty enough drapes hanging in front of it, but there is something to be said for replacing that window or changing up the actual view outside.
So as much as I enjoy themeparks, their rides and even the stories they tell…it’s nice to see the winds of change beginning to blow across the MMO landscape. And it’s not just sandboxes either. We’re seeing sandbox and game designs that focus on a playstyle, a dynamic, or building a captivating world that you can live in.
I’ll admit that my expectations were tempered with cynicism. The only other sandbox experience I’ve had is EVE Online, and that was just a level of horror and pain on a psychological front that was so jarring and so damaging that it has continued to steer my view of sandbox games and their designs to the realm of worst case scenario. The interest of self-preservation has taken over my instincts to the point where it’s irrational. I hated EVE. I hate the way it made me feel. I hate that the simple act of flying my chunky metal lunchbox from point A to point B carried the risk of someone blowing me to smithereens and the only protection against it was a money sink when I barely had any money. It’s why I dislike any PvP-related game, be it an MMO or most modern shooters or a MOBA. The idea of being wrecked and ridiculed isn’t my concept of a good time. It’s akin to entering a small box full of angry ferrets.
So what is it that made me change my mind? A personal New Year’s resolution, actually.
I realize how completely stupid that sounds, but allow me to explain. By the time New Year’s came around I was up to my neck in Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. I was having a great time. But I also felt that switching things up would be a good idea…so I promised myself that I would try to get in to one of these sandbox games that I’d read about coming down the pipe and find out what all the huge fuss was genuinely about. I would work to battle against my prior prejudices in the interest of getting my feet wet. I usually say “You can’t hate it without knowing it”, so it was time to put my money where my mouth was.
The first of these games I backed was The Repopulation. My reasoning was that it was the closest to the game that a lot of people cite as “sandbox done right”: Star Wars Galaxies. I completely missed the boat on SWG, but to hear some people opine for it you’d think that it actually issued a cloud of endorphins from your computer right into your nasal passages. Reading about it has enticed me, too–here was an open world game that didn’t demand you PvP in order to play the way you wanted. Sure, there were some mechanics that pretty much shoehorned one into that playstyle, and of course some managed to twist the game mechanics to their advantage…but by and large, this was a game that, apparently, was a progenitor for sandbox MMO design and did it far more correctly than the ones out currently.
So I tossed the project $25 in January during its second round of crowdfunding via Kickstarter. Initially, it was a knee-jerk maneuver: the game was similar enough to SWG that it suited my resolution fulfillment needs, and I had the money to burn. But as I read more and more about the game, and heard more and more about how this little project kept updating at such a steady and even pace, I found myself genuinely getting intrigued.
That got the ball rolling.
Repopulation bled in to Landmark. Landmark in to Camelot Unchained. Then Pumpkin Online. MMOs that were once things I never would have dreamed of entering in to have now become places I desperately want to visit. It hasn’t exactly cooled my love of the themepark model, but having read up about–and in some cases, explored actively–these titles has me slowly understanding what some of the genre doomsayers were on about.
Is my mind completely changed? No, not really. There’s a risk inherent in all of these titles: Repopulation could still end up with me entering the FFA PvP areas in order to get the best materials to craft with. Pumpkin Online might not even make it. But the point is, we’re seeing attempts. We’re seeing things shuffle around and away from what’s safe or comfortable and now getting some genuine pushes against the envelope. No matter what some of those angry ferrets above this sentence may say….this is an exciting time for the MMO genre, and I’m glad to have maybe helped usher some of that in.