So I’ve read some posts, mostly at Righteous Orbs and Pink Pigtail Inn, discussing whether Cataclysm is too linear or not. That’s not really what I want to talk about – well, it is, but I’m going to start by saying yes, the game is currently very linear, you don’t have a lot of real choice, and I can see that replayability may be low. A lot of people are complaining about the cut scenes which frankly I’m loving. I’m not totally sure what’s causing the difference there.
Basically the discussion comes down to, can our games be epic, still feel like you have freedom, and be an MMO all at the same time? Frankly I don’t see how they can, not with current technology.
Take “open” – the idea that you can go anywhere and do anything. First off that’s a myth. Even the most open game ever invented has to have some rules, or it’s not a game. The question is where the rules come from. In a computer game, we the players can’t just make up the rules, because most of the rules are hard coded in by the game itself. You can’t climb up walls without special tools, you can’t teleport instantly except under defined circumstances.
The most open MMO I’ve played is EVE Online, a space game where you fly your starship through a huge galaxy of systems. You can mine ore, trade, build things, fight…. there’s a lot of options, and most of the content is therefore player created. But it still has rules. Some of them are built by the game: if you gank someone in high sec space, you’ll get creamed by the guards. Some of them are player enforced: if you’re in low-security space and don’t belong to the group that controls it, you’ll probably get blown up. But the rules still exist.
What does not exist is a story as such. There are stories in Eve, but they are mostly player created: they usually involve someone swindling other people out of in game currency. Or blowing up a battle fleet. You have exactly as much influence on the universe as one person with a little set of space ships should have; not much.
Then we have games where you are the Hero, the Destined One, the Savior. These are usually single-player games. I played Dragon Age recently, which is a great example of a very “open” feel that isn’t, really. Yes, the choices you make matter. No, they do not actually change the outcome of the game. The way to win the game is to defeat the evil. You can’t negotiate a peace treaty, or convince the people to flee somewhere else. The story is planned out just as heavily as WoW’s stories: it just has a few more branches before you get down to the end. It does, however, feel more open.
It can do that because it is a single player game. In WoW, if the events we are witness to are meaningful, they have to happen for everyone. The Battle for the Undercity took place, whether your character was there or not. If you were there, you were part of the force that retook it. Maybe when you did it, it looked like it was just you and a NPC hero or two, but in “reality” there were hundreds and thousands of soldiers and heros taking part.
As you are questing along in Cataclysm, you aren’t actually the sole lone hero convincing the Stonemother to help restore the Pillar of Earth; you are representative of the force that is actually doing the task. Imagine hundreds of you helping the locals out with their problems. Just because you can’t see everyone else doesn’t mean they aren’t there. It’s too bad there isn’t a nice visual way to show this. I think it would help a lot with peoples’ feelings of “no choices”. Because you don’t actually have a choice. You signed up to help save the world and despite what Generic Epic Fantasy Novel says, that usually means you do what your commanding officer says and hope not to win too many medals.
I think Blizzard did a great job of letting us feel like what we did actually mattered. Sure it’s a bit confining to have to do every quest in order, but honestly they’ve improved the quests so much I’m not dreading it as I level alts. And heck, if I do, I can just go level a different way. There’s plenty of options out there.