WAR isn't consistently jaw-dropping or anything, but it still holds its own by virtue of plenty of nice graphical touches and cool, creative artwork. It looks good by MMOG standards.
But, I had to admit as I pondered Allen's comments, only by MMOG standards.
And that's the catch. To Allen, who spends most of his gaming hours with titles like Half-Life 2, Rainbow Six: Vegas, and Soulcalibur 4, modern MMOGs seem obsolete. Graphically, they usually don't measure up. They're completely lacking in features standard in other games for years now, like robust physics simulations, sophisticated lighting effects, and collision detection. Their character AI is often woefully primitive. In short, MMOGs can often get away with levels of technical sophistication and presentation that would ruin games of other genres.
That's not the only thing off-putting to those unfamiliar with the genre. Look at an MMOG screenshot and you'll see a 3D landscape completely smothered by buttons, meters, minimaps, progress bars, portraits, chat windows, character names, and other tidbits of information. And that's just what's onscreen. When you consider the numerous map, social, quest, and other essential windows that players are forever popping open and closed to get things done, it's a wonder how any fantasy world can shine through all this junk.
There are reasons for these perceived shortcomings, of course. Many are technical. The average console action game doesn't need to track and record the actions of thousands upon thousands of players and characters, for example. Others are practical. If you're building a PC game for the largest player base possible, you need a game engine that will run on cheap, off-the-shelf PCs. And then there's the stubborn, if-it's-not-broke-don't-fix-it tradition of game creation. If WoW's refinements to familiar MMOG design drew in more than 10 million subscribers, why not stick with it? Why reinvent the wheel the next time around when you can simply refine it?
I can't really argue with Allen's assessment, but I'm still enjoying my travels around the Warhammer universe. I don't think that will change anytime soon. And when the next well-built MMOG comes around, I'll probably get my money's worth out of it even if sticks to its genre conventions and falls comparatively short in the areas I've mentioned. But I will keep hoping for something a little better.
Imagine an MMOG with the graphical prowess of Fallout 3, the AI sophistication of Half-Life 2, and the physics engine of a game like Crysis. And imagine seeing it through an unobtrusive, streamlined interface that didn't compete with its imaginative setting. Is such a game possible? I don't know, but I like to think so. I'm certain I'd enjoy it. And I'm willing to be my friend Allen would, too.
Adam LaMosca is currently grinding a day job instance in the Portland, Oregon realm, where he's leveling up his research and writing skills.