In my last article I compared old school MMOGs (those released within the first 5 years of the genre) to next generation games (those released after) to determine which provided a better PvP experience. I came to the conclusion that the old school MMOGs were clearly better at PvP. This time around I'm looking at raids.
Are raids fundamentally better in MMOGs today than they were 8+ years ago?
When I think of old school raids, one game stands above all others, EverQuest. The game launched in 1999 and changed the face of MMOGs forever. Here was a game that was more than an open sand box where you decided what you wanted to do. EverQuest gave us quests, and a level progression system. It played more like the classic RPGs we were use to, with a sense of direction and purpose. A huge and innovative step forward from the MMOGs that came before it. I remember a few 30 hour benders, camping spawn points in the Plane of Fear, hoping beyond hope for a rare Blighted Robe drop (and yes, you bet your ass I got it). It also introduced me to the wonderful world of raiding and earned its name EverCrack, "Destroyer of Marriages" and "Bringer of Unemployment."
Raids in EverQuest were huge affairs. You had to gather groups of 40 to 50 players, coordinate times and locations, ensure the right group mix of tanks, dps, and healers. To top it off, if your raid wiped, you didn't just have to restart, you lost experience! You could lose so much experience that you actually would lose levels in the game. One bad night of raiding could cost you weeks of experience points. Only the best could lead a raid with any hope of success. Many headed the call to lead, few were successful, but those that were had access to incredible fame and loot. OK well, more loot than fame, but still it was pretty damn good. The only problem was the raid itself. Most boss mobs were little more than giant rocks that hit really hard. Sure they all looked different. Some being dragons, or giant skeleton warriors, but they all played pretty much the same way. They had tons of hitpoints you had to whittle away and they hit really damn hard. You might have had to use certain spells or items they were more susceptible to, but once you were told what to use, you basically just stood in one spot and swung your sword, or cast your spells until you chipped away enough to kill it. Finishing a raid was more an act of attrition than any complex strategy. It was great for its time, but have we accomplished anything better since then?
When I think of which next generation MMOG captures the spirit of raids, I have to go with World of Warcraft. The game launched in 2004 and like EverQuest, for better or worse, it changed the world of MMOGs forever. Nobody can argue that today WoW is the 800 pound gorilla in the genre. With more than 11 million subscribers (over 60% of all MMOG subscriptions), WoW shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon. It has been said by their critics that WoW didn't do anything new, they simply took what was done before, polished it up, and released it. People claim there is no real innovation in World of Warcraft. Being the old curmudgeon that I am, I tend to agree with this, and long for the good old days gaming. You young kids with your fancy 3d graphics and stereo surround sound. In my day, we had 2d sprites for graphics, and no voice acting... we had nothing but beeps and whistles. I digress. There is one area that I do wholeheartedly believe that WoW has shown real innovation... raids.
Raids in World of Warcraft are an experience not to be missed. While not as large in scope as EverQuest , raid sizes are usually 10 to 25 players, the core concept remains the same. You have to make sure you have the right mix of tanks, dps, and healers. However you don't have to worry about losing experience and levels in WoW. The worst that happens is that you have to run back and restart the fight, and your items are damaged that you have to pay to repair. I am not saying that it's no big deal, but you won't lose levels because some asshat keeps screwing up and getting your raid wiped. Boss mobs in WoW follow those in EverQuest by having tons of hitpoints and hitting really damn hard. Where WoW is different, and where I feel the real innovation has come into play is in the environment, and special attacks that boss mobs do. Blizzard has done an incredible job of providing extremely different strategies for many of their raids. From having to watch out for waves of lava that randomly sweep through an area while fighting a dragon, to bosses that randomly polarize players positive or negative causing you to harm players of opposite polarization if you are to close to them. Instead of simply an act of attrition, you actually have to have everyone in your group learn the different strategies each raid requires. This can be frustrating at times. Learning exactly what has to be done in each raid takes time, and you wipe many times in the process. But once you have it figured out and kill the boss mob, you really gain a sense of accomplishment.
In my last article, I said, "I can't help but come to the conclusion that as far as PvP goes, old school MMOGs clearly win." I liked saying that. I'm old by gamer standards (35), and I tend to remember the good old days with a rose tinted glasses. With that said, if I am to be honest, I have to say that the next generation of MMOGs are far and away better when it comes to raids. I hate myself for saying it, but if you want a good raid, look to the newer games, that is where the good stuff is. Next time we will take a look at crafting and see if the old school MMOGs can make a come back. Until then, "Get off my lawn!"