After more than ten hours of driving in just over twenty-four hours, I can officially say that I hate being in a car again. It wasn't too long ago that I made the trek halfway across the country while relocating back to Colorado. I used to love driving, right now I loathe it. This time around I came to the realization that I've grown to hate current MMOs as well - for many of the same reasons.
It's All a Grind
Now 30 years old, driving is practically all muscle memory and mind reflex for me. Sure, you make active decisions here and there, usually only when encountering other vehicles on the road, and that's about it. When you're traveling to places you've already been on before, it's the absolute worst. There are times when I set out to drive somewhere, I get there and I honestly don't remember where the last 30 minutes of my life went. Sometimes it's hard to believe I was the one driving, because I can't remember a single detail of the trip.
That's how MMOs have become to me. The mechanics are all so similar, there's so much memory reflex and automation to what you're doing that you don't even have to pay attention really. You make a few active decisions, but for the most part you just ride forward on cruise control. These days even completely different games feel like a different season on the same old road. Beautiful autumn leaves in EverQuest II, but less detailed and comparatively barren scenery in the winter of original EverQuest. It's all the same game to me these days, it's just visually different.
If there's a way to break free from the stagnation, I haven't found it yet.
I've played some MOBAs (a lot of MOBAs), I've played a bunch of smaller indie games, but all those have really done is accentuate how ridiculously non innovative MMOs have become. Most MMO"RPG"s these days are quite boring (unless you've got friends with you) - which I can relate back to my military days and actually having a lot of fun on multi-vehicle patrols. Even though we were combing the same old empty patches of open desert, we had a lot of fun as a group.
Given the fact that most MMOs have been steering more and more towards less-mandatory group play, soloing has all but destroyed the social landscape of every MMO out there. There are pockets of small communities, but they're hard to find and they're usually barred to entry by massive time commitments that most people my age just can't commit to. Sadly though, multiplayer experiences just aren't as rewarding as they used to be. Finding success in a group scenario these days doesn't feel any more rewarding than finding success on your own - and that is a big problem.
Off the Beaten Path
I still believe there is hope. New locales and new diversions are the best way to re-engage the mind. I love getting to drive to new places and exploring new landscapes and cityscapes, even in the comfort of my own vehicle. One of my absolute favorite things to do is find an empty mountain road in the summer and just cruise and enjoy the drive for everything it can be - paying little attention to whether I'm staying in the lines or where I'm going. It's all about that in-the-moment experience to me. I like just enjoying the adventure of somewhere less-traveled, somewhere I haven't been before, and most importantly something that isn't just different - but actually feels different. Better than all that, is doing so with friends and family and creating memorable moments.
That's exciting to me.
MMOs don't offer that. Not one; or at least, not any current ones. They're all too similar, and very few made any executive design choices to change that. Developers do their best, but when they're getting the big-money orders from on high there isn't a whole lot they can do. Their hands are tied and they're just as much slaves as they are masters of their own games. It's a shame too. After having met so many people in the development side of the industry, I know there are a ton of great ideas out there. Unfortunately there are too few in power who are willing to take the necessary risks to explore sincerely innovative design on such a massive scale. They're shooting their own profits in the foot and they don't even know it.
Looking to the Future
I'm keeping my fingers crossed for EverQuest Next and Revival, which seem to be paving the road in terms of large-scale game innovation. Unlike some of the latest MMOs which have just a handful of small innovations (usually in the realm of combat, along with upgraded graphics), EQNext and Revival are giving the entire experience a renovation with completely new AI mechanics that should destroy the static-world experiences that so many of us have grown bored wtih.
If they succeed, it won't be the same drive anymore.
It will finally be new. Not just a new road to travel, but a new experience entirely. There will be no need to touch the cruise control button, as you'll have no idea what pace you can keep, with all the dynamic twists and turns that an evolving world will spring on you. The weather will factor in to the mix, and so will other vehicles - as a successful launch of these two games will likely bring in convoys of curious players.
It will be just like the old days, in a way. Developers pioneering new and risky endeavors, and curious players coming in bunches to explore and see what all the buzz is all about. It's not about recapturing old MMO game mechanics. If people wanted that, they'd all still be playing those old MMOs (they're still out there and kicking, barely). That's not what people are doing though. They're jumping around looking for something new, looking for the same thrill and exhilaration they had when they stepped foot in their very first MMO. That's what a new game must do to truly claim the title "Next Gen", and I have yet to see one that has.
My eyes are fixed on EQN and Revival, and there's no looking back. Not for me.
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