Disillusioned with MMORPGs
Square Enix's FINAL FANTASY XI (FFXI) is the first massively multiplayer online role playing game I actually sat down to "play" as opposed to merely "dabble in". After spending 120+ hours of playing since the release of the PS2 version, I'm seriously weighing whether to cancel my account, for a number of factors described herein. The biggest issue seems to be the "massively multiplayer role playing" part.
Square Enix's FINAL FANTASY XI (FFXI) is the first massively multiplayer online role playing game I actually sat down to "play" as opposed to merely "dabble in". After spending 120+ hours of playing since the release of the PS2 version, I'm seriously weighing whether to cancel my account, for a number of factors described herein.
The biggest issue seems to be the "massively multiplayer role playing" part. For FFXI (and apparently others), this means you're "encouraged" to become a valued member of a party anytime you want to accomplish something "important". When I say "encouraged", I mean "required": there are just some things you can't do by yourself, monsters you can't kill, quests you can't beat without an alliance of 15 or more players, etc. This rubs me the wrong way. See, I don't really like my video game RPGs with human interaction: forcing me to "play well with others" is a monumental act. For the sake of the game, I can cope. What I can't cope with is the waiting: by the time I've found a good party to accomplish something, I've wasted two or three hours of my session. Take tonight, for example: I spent three hours running around looking for a decent group, got rather disgruntled at turning up empty-handed, bitched about my feelings to a bunch of people in a linkshell (think IRC channel), and then left to write this rant. Am I having fun yet?
According to the linkshell, this is all normal. "Once you find a great party, whammo, the game is awesome!". And when you're sick in bed for a week and don't login? Said party has improved without you, leaving you underpowered and undesirable for their future exploits.
Now, don't get me wrong: I love seeing little numbers increase ever so slowly. This, the act of "leveling", is common in all RPGs: there comes a time when the goal is merely to become "stronger", not to save the princess, not to unleash the horde, not to defeat the dragon. I can handle leveling. But in a world where partying is an essential gameplay element, leveling can be stymied: once you get past a certain point, the monsters are just too strong for you to reliably gain enough experience per day to justify "fun". It's certainly possible, but for someone who likes to do "everything" (ie. me), there are other roadblocks to the enjoyment I remember from offline variants.
Since partying is an essential gameplay tactic, there are deliberate attempts to force you into those situations. Each major city in FFXI has an "Eco-Warrior" quest: an extermination of dastardly pests, if you will. In most offline RPGs, if you have enough numbers (ie. if you become strong enough), you can beat any challenge with time and effort. In FFXI, however, eco quests impose a level limit to your character: regardless of where you're at skillwise, once you start, you'll be "magically" lowered to a pitiful level 20 character that can't hope to succeed alone. You need help consisting of 15 or more other players before you can complete the quest. For a completest like me, this is absolutely confounding: no longer am I in control of the game, but instead, the reliance on others is in control of me. I'm sorry, but when I play a video game, I want to play a video game: I don't want to wait around for other people before I can have fun.
The linkshell also told me that fetch quests are common in most MMORPGs too: the mindless act of being told "I need three rarab tails and one poofball before my baby will stop crying!" and retrieving the items to get inconsequential rewards. The more quests you finish, the better your fame; the more well-known you are, the more complicated fetch quests you receive ("we're so busy, we haven't eaten! please go fetch these ingredients!", "i'm homesick! i'm gonna return home. please get me gifts for all of my family!", ad infinitum). And you know, I really don't mind fetch quests: but paying $13 a month for the privilege, being forced to depend on other, often idiotic, people for help, and doing this for months and years on end, isn't as rewarding as simply buying a new offline RPG per month and doing things slightly different than last month's variant.
Another emphasis on group play revolves around your FFXI "subjob": the ability to handle two jobs at once ("red mage / white mage") as opposed to just one ("warrior"). From the very beginning, I had decided that I wanted to be a "red mage", and my subjob would be a "bard" (or vice versa; hadn't worked that out). Ahhh, but my meagre aspirations were dashed: bard's are "advanced subjobs", which means I wasn't allowed to unlock them until level 30, as opposed to the normal level 18 for any of the standard subjobs. After consulting with the linkshell, it was admonished that I choose a temporary subjob until I got to level 30, else only a rare few would want to party with such an unskilled character. Due to the quirks of the subjob system, this meant I had to spend a week or so leveling up a job I didn't even want, just so I could impress people I didn't want to play with. Huh?
Some of you who know FFXI and similar MMORPGs will shout: "you know, you don't have to play with other people; just learn a trade like furniture making, or goldsmithing, or alchemy, and earn a living that way! people will respect your contributions to commerce!" To which I reply: roleplaying games are, traditionally, about story and how you fit in... that's what I want to play, not some bastardized version of SimWoodworking. Becoming a master fisherman and selling my one millionth sardine isn't what I consider fun. Even if it was, selling widgets for the sake of selling widgets is not something I'd consider paying $13 a month for.
So far, my "playing" of FFXI, as opposed to my "dabbling" in others, has suggested two conclusions: in the past seven years of "popular" MMORPG development, the depth of the same old same old has increased (more quests, more jobs, more crafts), but there hasn't really been anything "new" (CITY OF HEROES has piqued my interest though). Secondly, "low end models" of online play, like browser based gaming, where party forming / forcing is hindered by HTTP's stateless gameplay, are still more palatable (as I mentioned back in 2000), solely because something else has to fill the gap where real-time human interaction normally would.
Are other people rabid about browser based gaming?
Would anyone care to see a series of articles on it?