Thursday, April 17, 2008

WoW: The Quest for Alternatives Part I

Enter the portal at your own risk!

I have been playing World of Warcraft since mid-2005. That is close to 3 long years. I have spent more time on this game than any other games I have in my library. I quit in late 2006 but then returned in early 2007 to experience the Burning Crusade expansion. I quit again in mid-2007 then returned to it later the same year. I have recently cancelled my subscription again. I still have two more months on it before it ends but I have a feeling that I will not be going back to it with the same amount of frequency.

Everyone raced towards the new island after the last patch.

Don't get me wrong, WoW is a good game. The problem with it is of course the fact that it is a persistent online game, which means that it is a video game that is an anti-video game at the same time. It is a game that you have to play everyday and commit to if you want to be successful in it. A game that you can't stop playing may sound like a gamer's dream come true and for a while, that was the feeling I got from it. It is just that the end game is not getting any better for someone who just cannot see the point of doing large, lengthy, dungeon raids a million times just to get the next epic drop. I am hardly a casual gamer but WoW was supposed to be a game that is solo-friendly and more forgiving than its massively-multiplayer brethren. That statement is true when you are leveling up but when you finally reached the end, the whole facet of the game changed dramatically. I have a level 70 undead priest and what I have been doing of late is endlessly grinding gold to get my epic flying mount -5,000 in game gold is not cheap- and doing some arena battles to get the best epic gears available outside of raiding. Recently, with the patch that introduces the new Sunwell Isle area, I discovered that raiders can also get the gears that used to be exclusive to those who do battleground. The funny thing is, if you only play the battleground, you cannot exchange the honor points you receive from it with the nice epics you can get from raiding. With that, I went to the account management website and cancelled my subscription. I know what this game has become. It wants all of my time, my very soul, and it will accept nothing less. I have a lot of other games to play and WoW is hardly a complete gaming experience.

I like exploring the open areas and not get stuck in one of those unrewarding, mercilessly long instance runs.

Thus, I started looking at my gaming library. I checked for other role playing games that can be my WoW replacements because I know I will not be able to quit cold turkey. There has got to be some games somewhere in my list that contain similar concocted formula that makes WoW so addictive without being attached to a subscription fee and without being another persistent online game. I found several titles that stood out from the crowd and I plan to play these games during the time around the evening hours when I usually would jump on WoW. I will chronicle this life-changing intervention by measuring the performances of these WoW replacements via the following factors.

A snippet of lyrics from the newly announced WoW music video contest. It clearly shows you the kind of demographics this game is really tailored for.

Factor 1: Social Gratification
Seeing how some of the WoW players act online, especially the popular egotistical ones, you may conclude that a lot of them are socially awkward in real life. WoW is the only place where they can pretend to be cool. Do the alternative games attract a lot of people to play them thus creating a large community of followers? Do they even have online functionality at all? For the last 3-4 months, the only reason why I still play WoW and eventually extended its subscription is because a good friend of mine is also online. Though I have heard tales of people actually finding love on WoW, finding like-minded people in the game is like finding a needle in a haystack. I guess I'm more into finding life-long friends and trustworthy people than just hanging out with your generic guildies.

If you are not a shadow priest, you are a healbot.

Factor 2: Illusion of Grandeur
WoW does a great job of making you think that you are a powerful being, until you get killed mercilessly in the middle of nowhere by a gang of grievers. Preying on players' subconsciously hidden god-complex, WoW lures new players in with its fast leveling up system and almost unreachable epic armor sets. How addicting is this process in other games? Do they make the players feel better about themselves as they level up?

I don't know... The only pain I have been suppressing is the endless grinding to get my gold to reach the 5,000+ mark.

Factor 3: Illusion of Uniqueness
Even with the unlimited number of drops you get from adventuring in WoW, you can always find your twin. This is true especially with the fact that the character creation options are so shallow. As a matter of fact, you get to feel less unique if you are a maxed out level 70 because you will be wearing the same gear set as everyone else in your particular class. You may think that you can actually experiment with the talent specialization options when only certain combinations are truly meaningful to effectively play the game. Still, that doesn't stop people from thinking that they are god's gifts to the WoW world. How will the other games fare in tricking people into thinking that their existence in the game is important and cannot be substituted? Do these other games allow the players to create unique looking characters?

What's that? You have +1722 healing? This Paladin has +2000, dude.

All of these factors will be rated with a 5 point rating scale. I will then conclude the analysis with a direct comparison whether the game in question is indeed a good WoW substitute. Will I be able to escape the wrath of this addiction or will I fail and be beckoned back to the eventual Wrath of the Lich King? Stay tuned for Part II that will pit PlayStation 3's Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom against this evil game!

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