Paeroka’s Ponderings: Original vs. expansion “maps”

Paeroka's Ponderings featured image for columnWhen an MMO originally launches, I often find myself exploring the world and simply enjoying the stories that can be found. When you play a hobbit in Lord of the Rings Online, you start off with things like delivering a cake to a neighbour. There is this peaceful village that has no idea about the threat in the outside world, so naturally, their biggest concern is this cake (and well, they are hobbits, after all). But even in other regions, you get to explore the culture of the people living there, you get to read about their lives and all that. One could argue that it is a bit boring at times, but I personally enjoy this part of an MMO. I mean, it is a virtual world, so why not have a look at the everyday life of its citizens?

But with expansions, this seems to be gone quite often. In Rift, for example, I don’t find myself exploring. Instead, I find myself eye-rolling and longing for the previous worlds again. Of course, Rift’s “Nightmare Tide” expansion is an incredibly bad example as I find it to be by far the worst area/region I ever played in any MMO. That whole “you’re in a dream/nightmare“-stuff is just too over the top for me. But that is my point, after all. Everything is focused on the expansion’s storyline and yes, you even do get to experience the way the citizens live in that world. But for me, it is too much and I want to get back to the origins in the “original world”. It often feels slower and wider than what you get with an expansion.

Rift_Dreams

Could it simply be me? That the “magic” of exploring a new (game) world is just gone and I can’t appreciate these things anymore like I did when I first entered the game? On the other hand, I wonder if it really is related to the scope of the story. How much time does it take to create such an MMO? How much time does a company have to let their artists and writers create the world and how much time do they get to create the expansion maps? Or maybe it’s just the typical “we start slow and then the ‘main storyline’ gets into the focus more and more”. The developers may feel the need to bring out bigger and better stories and with that, the little calm areas that I care so much about just get pushed off, because they’re not important anymore.

I would say that this is at least partly what bothers me about Guild Wars 2. I get it, the threat of the Elder Dragons gets worse every day and it would not make sense to have our characters stroll through an area and bring a cake to my asura’s grandmother. There is a world to save, after all! Still, that doesn’t mean that I have to like the change.

Looking at the different MMOs I have played – at least those who did get an expansion – I would say that I liked World of Warcraft’s Burning Crusade as it gave a whole new continent and two new races with two new starting areas. The new maps had different storylines they followed while the big bad guy, Illidan, had his own storyline. Not everything was focused on this big bad guy. Guild Wars 2’s Heart of Thorns and Rift’s Nightmare Tide both focus on a big storyline and the maps seem to exist only to deliver the story (while yes, also sometimes telling a side story). Thankfully, both games have a feature that downlevels you (or lets you downlevel in Rift’s case as it is optional there), so I can actually go back and enjoy the lower level zones whenever I want to! Still, I wonder what those two games would need to do to give me new high level maps that I enjoy.

I regularly have rants and ramblings in my mind, but never really know if I should post them, so “Paeroka’s Ponderings” is where I will try to give these rants a place. Sometimes they will make sense, sometimes they won’t.

6 thoughts on “Paeroka’s Ponderings: Original vs. expansion “maps”

  1. I wonder if the reason for that is because MMOs haven’t found a good way to deal with the whole “Hero’s Journey” kind of story yet. What I mean is, the base game would be your usual “Hero’s Journey” with a humble beginning until the final confrontation with the Big Bad Guy. Then they want to release a expansion and they figure, as far as the story goes, “You are a hero already. So here is another big evil guy that conveniently showed up just now and you are the only one who can stop him.” It is like cutting the entire journey straight for the climax of the story where the stakes are already high and all your character has left to do is fight the bad guy.

    Perhaps the solution would be for the developers to try focusing so much on story and go back to focusing more on the strengths of MMOs: being a virtual world. Make it so the new areas to be the carrot and leave the story more in the background, perhaps as part of dungeons or some locations the players have to find. Kinda like the villain is working in the shadows so nobody can stop their plans until it is too late.

    Ok. I am not sure what I just said makes sense or even if it has any relation to what you said. If that is the case, apologies for the rambling!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Rambling in a comment for a post that belongs to the “rambling”-column sounds just about right to me. :p

      And you are right, I think. It could very well be part of the “problem” I’m having. I am not exactly a fan of the whole “you are the hero” storylines in MMOs. I remember Blizzard saying that there are a lot of regular people in Azeroth and then there are heroes who battle against the bad ones, who set out for their adventure. Those heroes are the players. But at least, we’re “one of several”. Same goes for Rift where you are “one of the Ascended”. In Guild Wars 2, YOU are THE hero.

      But if you are one of several ones or THE hero, it always begins with building up your experience and reputation in the world and with the expansion, you are the hero already, just as you said.

      Maybe having several big storylines simultaneously and not one main storyline could help, though.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I am much more about the adventure in MMOs. I think that’s why I was so disappointed in Guild Wars 2 – although you could explore, you were kind of shown where to go rather than find out for yourself what places you should level in and where you shouldn’t go.

    With WoW (in Burning Crusade, in fact) I remember wandering into areas where I really shouldn’t have been at that level… but I always wanted to see where I could explore to before getting inevitibly mobbed by high level enemies.

    I hate it when storyline dictates game play, but I can also see why it does to some extent; most players are in it for end game. As sad as that is, there’s not many adventurers out there anymore (or that i’ve noticed) and the MMO creators are catering more and more for this.

    I remember a day where you had to physically walk to dungeons in WoW – there was none of this instant teleporting!

    *sigh*

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh yes, I regularly got my characters killed by NPCs when I wandered into regions I shouldn’t have been at yet, but that I wanted to have a look at. Nagrand comes to mind especially. I was really looking forward to when I could finally safely set foot into this region because I really liked how it looked.

      Getting a sense of direction via storylines isn’t too bad for me. It helps when there’s the “where can I go now?” in my mind. On the other hand, having it too streamlined like it was the case with WoW’s cataclysm isn’t nice either. I remember that you had to finish one quest chain before you could start the next. It felt like I was on rails which just isn’t fun either. But having NPCs suggest where you *could* go next is much nicer. :)

      I like the convenience of LFG tools, especially as I always found those dungeon groups that were looking for a 5th person for ages only to then have somebody else drop out because their mum/spouse called for dinner… :p At the same time, I really miss getting to know other players which always happened while you were waiting for the 5th person.

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      1. I loved Nagrand in TBC. It is still my favourite place, and I do have fond *ahem* memories of drinding repo for those talbuks while exploring.

        Yeah, I like *some* direction, but there has to be some sense of “You can do this.. or this… or even this”.

        I do agree that I would be lost without LFG. I don’t miss sitting for hours, but I do sometimes miss running to dungeons. That’s easily rectified when I play with a friend and solo those dungeons and raids, so I do still have that option!

        I think a lot of MMO’s need to improve the “multiplayer” aspect. I don’t know how, but even being in a raid… i still find myself being the only one actually trying to communicate with people… other than the “OMG TANK WTF” kinda conversation that you’re always going to get.

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