All we're doing is pressing buttons.
A good joke doesn't need explanation, you either find it funny or you don't; the same goes for fun. You know if you're having fun, and the only possible effect of someone telling you why is that you stop having fun. You'd have to be some sort of demented sadist to expect anyone to read multiple columns on that topic.
So here we are with Part 2!
In the previous edition of Your Next, I lamented the fact that I couldn't get on with The Elder Scrolls Online. I have been critical of it for some time, and while that could have clouded my judgement of the finished product, I still feel it is underwhelming overall. Again, that doesn't mean that you shouldn't like it.
One thing the game did give me was the desire to figure out exactly what it was that made MMOs fun for me, why I was still drawn to the genre after so many duds. Maybe it's the same reason we kiss so many frogs when looking for a prince.
So we move on, and look to the horizon for the next potential disappointment. This time we don't have far to go at all, with WildStar already dashing in like a neon cavalry, replete with hoverboards and a sense of humour that is so refreshing after years of po-faced offerings.
WildStar is another game I gave a hard time in the early days. It's difficult to see at a glance why anyone who doesn't want to play World of Warcraft would want to play WildStar, a feeling compounded by an aesthetic and structure that make no attempt to distance the two.
However, as a jaded MMO veteran and an individual who has very much had enough of the WoW model, I found WildStar to be incredibly fun to play (at least after the obligatory training wheels come off).
The difference for me, aside from the aforementioned sense of humor baked into the game, is the combat. The combat system in WildStar feels familiar, responsive and comfortable, but has an energy and potential for challenging, visceral content that is unmatched in the MMO space. It's not for everyone, but if you're like me and want your input to be a real factor, it could be for you. I may have to commit a whole column to discussing the telegraph system in the future, but for now I will say it's an elegant way to massively increase the potential difficulty while making the game accessible to new players. It's a win/win, and much more than 'don't stand in the fire'.
The folks at Carbine went out of their way to develop this system, their reasoning is that fighting things is what we spend most of our time doing in MMOs, so it should be a fun activity. In my opinion they have succeeded, and the combat will be a huge selling point for many.
However, I have to wonder if the combat system is enough to distract players from the most common complaint of themepark-style MMOs.
Yes, the combat is fun and engaging, but is Carbine putting the means above the end? When discussing this topic I often use the analogy of swinging a tennis racket. Imagine you're holding one now (or go and get one if this analogy isn't immersive enough for you), now imagine you're swinging it. This action may have some novelty, but after a few thousand swings it probably won't be fun for anyone not classed as criminally insane. Thankfully, it's not important that swinging the racket isn't fun, once you introduce balls (tennis balls, if you please), other players, a court, rules and so on we can create contexts for the action.
We spend the bulk of our time fighting in MMOs even if the combat is not fun in and of itself, and we do it because of whatever the context of that combat is.
Once the shine fades off WildStar's combat, the novelty wears off and monotony sets in, all we have left is the result to motivate us. Making the process more fun is a noble endeavour, but sooner or later the game will come up against the same problems as all MMOs of this type.
We all know this is probably the biggest weakness of the MMO genre; developers cannot create content faster than the players consume it, and when players feel like they have nothing to work towards they become disgruntled. Everyone knows this, but MMOs continue to spike in the first few months before dropping off the radar when the next 'Next Big Thing' comes calling.
I promise I haven't forgotten this column is meant to be about EverQuest Next and Landmark; this is all leading to a satisfying conclusion. Next week, we'll discuss how Landmark is playing to the strengths of the genre rather than trying to paper over the cracks, and the pitfalls it could still find itself in.