Thursday, May 29, 2008

Can you trust early MMO reviews?

It's hard to review a MMO. It’s a simple statement, but so true for those who have ever tried to put their opinions about a game into text. The problem is that unlike normal video games, a MMO is filled with gameplay that is essentially endless. There really is no way to finish a MMO and that makes it very hard to give one a decent review. Most professional review sites have adopted the practice of just focusing on the first ten levels but that often gives a skewed impression of the game. Developers aren't idiots and they know that a well polished newbie zone not only gets them good reviews but also convinces players to stay past the free month.

In every MMO I've played since World of Warcraft the newbie content seems overly polished at a detriment to the rest of the game. What's worse is that I've seen games that assume a good newbie zone combined with long and grindy "mid game" content would allow them to patch an "end game" in at a later date. Both Lord of the Rings and Tabula Rasa were guilty of using this technique, though they have improved in recent updates. The problem is that when a MMO pulls a stunt like that, they make most professional reviews useless. I think that's why game blogs have become so popular in recent years.

Blogs allow a normal player to experience a game for a decent amount of time while recording their experiences. If a blog is still talking about a game three months after release and singing its praises, then you can assume the game is good. There really is no quick method for finding out if a MMO is decent without giving someone a lot of time with it. Some people try to find blogs of players who were in the beta for the game, but that doesn't always work out. One only has to look at Age of Conan and their "miracle patch" which made a lot of the beta complaints about the game moot.

In general if you are looking for a new MMO that you want to play long term, you need to wait a month or two after its release. By that time at least some bloggers will have hit max level and started messing around with the end game content. Also it's a safe bet that the patches during the first month will add in some changes and fix any major bugs or exploits that slipped pass quality assurance. It's always embarrassing to be shouting loudly about some unfair exploit during the first week of release and then have it fixed the very next day. Thankfully, the internet has a short term memory and it quickly forgets prophets of doom.

I even had my own experience with a doomsayer back in November 2004 when I was on the fence between World of Warcraft and EverQuest 2. I had read some initial bad posts on World of Warcraft which said leveling was too quick and people were going to rush through content. EverQuest 2 on the other hand was supposedly safer but having some problems that were sure to be fixed in upcoming patches. I waited until near the end of the holidays and found that most of the negative critiques of WoW had disappeared but EverQuest 2 was still getting major changes every patch. I've learned from that experience and while both games are now viable options, at the time World of Warcraft was the better choice.


Tipa said...

Careful, there. You're making it sound like we bloggers provide an important public service by gauging our long-term enthusiasm!

Do that too much and who knows where that could end.

Viet said...

You may be on to something. I admit that I had been reading a few bloggers early experiences with the game and they were the final push factor in my decision to purchase AoC. Forums are usually a mess with fanboys and guilds that have already committed to the game. Bloggers can be the same, but there a few seemingly objective ones. ;)

So keep informing us on how things pans out!

Relmstein said...

I'm amazed sometimes at how the internet functions as a free distribution channel for anyone who wants to write about something. Blogs are just a small part of the overall picture but one that seems to replacing several traditional forms of information.

Wiki's also kick ass.

Karl said...

An example of difference in reviews when it comes to MMOS would be EVE-Online which got a 69% review by the American edition of the magazine but 89% (or 90 some % I cant remember exactly) by its English sister publication.

But you are right reviewers take far too little time playing through new mmos to give us a fair assessment of the game. That developers cater to them by investing lots of effort into newbie areas most of us will be through in a day or two is just a giant cop out.

Scott said...

More importantly, the "professional" reviews from magazines and websites need to have a different approach to MMOGs.

Review a shooter? Review a Wii game? It's a one-shot review. Has been since Pong! They might issue a patch or few but those are for bug fixes or, in the case of shooters, adding new maps. The one-shot reviews work ok within that context.

MMOG's however are ever-evolving beasts. Is EQ2 the same now as it was on launch day? Would day-one reviews be the least bit relevant? WoW was altered with its 2.0 (intro to TBC) patch. Even the much-maligned DDO has changed quite a bit in two years, and has more than doubled in content.

MMOG's should be on scheduled reviews. Perhaps annually? At the very least, when an expansion is released, do a full comprehensive review as the game stands on its own post-expansion, not just reviewing the expansion's "new hotness."

Openedge1 said...

I agree
TTH (Ten Ton Hammer) has done re-reviews of EQ2, Vanguard, etc..
I rather enjoy those...
And I agree with your assessment as well.
I got so sick of reading all the butt kissing reviews of LOTRO, which I still to this day abhor.

That game has some of the ugliest UI elements (even moreso than AoC...which by the way, has the best Mapping system of any MMO in existence...the whole Web 2.0, Google maps interface with it's rolled out map on a table look is just great fun...but, leaves a lot to be desired in their slash commands)), character visuals and animations (who can forget the Hobbit full poopy diaper run animation) and stuttery combat and movement..
It's a miracle it still keeps any scrips..
"But, it's the LORE" the fanbois cry...

Anyways. I hope if we do get reviews of the new MMO's, they come back and revisit them on a regular basis (For example: I noted one review so far for AoC which says it will break up it's reviews for 1-20, 20-40, etc...nice)

Scott said...

I've been playing LOTRO since launch and I still haven't seen this "stuttery combat and movement" everyone complains about. Unless they mean the hitching that happens the first time you execute a skill? Otherwise, it isn't as fast or responsive as WoW, but then, only WoW is. And every single patch since launch has quietly replaced the art for all the UI icons. They're much better now. I'd still rate WoW and Vanguard's as better (also a bit larger) and DDO's as the downright fugliest UI art ever.

But that's where "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" comes in, and the "ugly UI art" shouldn't be a make-or-break issue in a comprehensive review. In an opinion piece, yes, but not a review which should be unbiased.

Saylah said...

As a blogger, it concerns me if anyone takes anything I write as more than just, my humble opinion. It should be rather obvious that is very opinionated being that it's blog. I don't think that we owe the reading populace pure objectivity, they can go read the news for that type of writing.

Now the gaming sites are a whole other thing. I think they do you their readers some level of objectivity but since they need to have revenue and want to be on the "in" with the development shops, that's a hard line to walk.

Regardless of feeling entitled to my emotional opinions, I do try to be fair and clear about what leads me to my conclusions, so people can take it as a grain of salt and move on. Similarly, if bloggers whose sites I read and have in the past shared common views with completely hate a game, I am very unlikely to be an early adopter unless there was some shining feature or mechanic that I'd been dying to see.