When I was a little Sauce, I wasn’t a fan of horror movies. My parents would not stop me from watching them and tried instead to warn me away, but of course I knew better than my parents as soon as I could walk and insisted on watching the end of one with them, burning myself with nightmares and a permanent inability to let anything touch my eye.
Ghost stories were scary enough for me. Around second or third grade, I became both frightened and obsessed with a movie called Lady in White (imdb). In this movie, there are a pair of ghosts whom nightly reenact the circumstances that led up to their death. They go to the same locations, follow the same path, have the same conversations, and inevitably, they both end up dead at the bottom of the same cliff.
In Guild Wars 2, I’ve met a lot of these ghosts, frozen in time, doomed to repeat certain circumstances in the exact same locations with the exact same companions for all of eternity. Or until the servers turn off at least. Oh sure, as Syncaine points out, the events are stuck in victory mode, but he’s probably right as well that later they will be stuck in failure mode instead. In Lady in White, the main character eventually breaks the cycle by finding the killer. But instead of switching from a murder event chain to a confronting the killer event chain, the ghosts, and the narrative, move on. The poor ghosts of Guild Wars 2 will never have that freedom.
GW2 is the best theme park MMO that I have ever played, and it has addressed a number of the minor annoyances that made me run quickly from most theme park games. But it’s still a theme park, and dynamic events hammer that point home. They’re the absolute lowest point of the uncanny valley. They’re clunky, plastic, animatronic Abraham Lincolns giving the Gettysburg address at quarter past every hour for bored, sweaty, easily distracted tourists that only caught the speech at all because it started while they were sucking down hot dogs and soda before moving on to the next ride.
We’ve reached MMO 2.5, the refinement of the second generation. And I feel part of that refinement is the acknowledgment that this style of game doesn’t deserve a subscription fee. There’s not enough variety in the play mechanics and systems, there’s not enough variety in the ends, not enough variety in the game’s motivations to create social groups to retain players, to convince them to pay that entry fee for a long period of time.
What there is, instead, is a large variety of content and a respectable variety of game modes. And while the stories told by the content are varied and often interesting, they all utilize the same underlying systems and feed into a predefined progression.
And while that’s provided for a heck of a lot of fun, the subscription model still hangs over most developers as a proverbial carrot on a stick, an admittedly attractive carrot made out of millions of $15 payments dependably arriving every month.
Getting that subscription out of me again is going to take a 3rd generation MMO. Declaring something as a “next gen” MMO is going to take something else. More on that another time.