Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The WoW-Clone Syndrome

NOTE: If you don't want to read a bunch of feature lists, skip to the conclusion at the bottom.

I'm going to hunt down and flog every single little twit that continually calls Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning (WAR) a WoW-clone, simply because they saw an early alpha screen shot of an Orc. These are the same people that believe Age of Conan to be the new "hotness".

First, WoW-clone needs to be defined. This is simple.

1. Level based advancement, primarily via solo PvE quests. Variation in quests is limited. Required group interaction minimal. Other activities do not contribute to leveling.
2. Classes based on archetypes: healer, tank, and DPS.
3. End game focuses on instanced PvE raiding and group-required content. Other end-game content a sideshow to main PvE aspects.
4. Gear centric approach to character advancement at max level, also known as meta-levels. Division of gear: one set for PvP, one set for PvE.

Other than that, everything else in WoW is really just good game design, applicable to all games in all genres. No need to list "responsive controls", etc. Those are items expected out of all games, but for some reason not seen in the MMO space until WoW.

Now that the WoW-clone is loosely defined, we can put the contenders up to the test to see which one is the true WoW-clone.

Age of Conan


PvE leveling via solo quests: yep.
Variation in quests limited: yep.
Required group interaction during leveling limited: yep.
Other activities do not significantly contribute to leveling: yep.

Classes based on archetypes: yep.

End-game focuses on PvE raiding and PvE group-required content: to a degree.
Other end-game activities: yes, cities, border kingdoms, but still to be determined level of importance.

Gear-centric advancement at max level: yep.
Differing sets of gear for differing aspects of game: unknown.

My WoW-clone'o'meter for Age of Conan: 90%

Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning

PvE leveling via solo quests: yep, but in the form of public quests which can involve interaction among many solo players.
Variation in quests limited: yep, but once again public quests break the stereotypical quest mold, offering a staged series of events to unfold for the players participating.
Required group interaction during leveling limited: unknown, but again shattered by public quests.
Other activities do not significantly contribute to leveling: false. WAR will offer three very distinct activities to contribute equally to leveling: PvE questing experience, Realm vs Realm experience, and Tome of Knowledge experience will all contribute in part or in whole to leveling. Most things a player does in WAR will contribute to leveling.

Classes based on archetypes: yep.

End-game focuses on PvE raiding and PvE group-required content: to a degree, but end game PvE raiding will be a result of the Realm vs Realm campaign.
Other end-game activities: yes, the campaign system, scenarios, sieging, and open-field RvR, all contribute equally as much as PvE raiding and PvE group play.

Gear-centric advancement at max level: yep.
Differing sets of gear for differing aspects of game: unknown, but unlikely.


My WoW-clone'o'meter for WAR: 50%

Conclusion

People are going to yell at me for comparing feature lists. Others will scream that AoC just launched and WAR is still in beta. Unfortunately for those yelling, the base of these "games like WoW" are not going to change. WoW hit the nail on the head in terms of online game play, and not just for MMOs, but for games in general.

That leads me to compare the features of each game, because honestly, there are not many features in WoW. WoW is a great base of a game, with a ton of potential being wasted. I hate to say it, but I was wrong for a very long time thinking that WoW could ever be anything more than a well done and simplistic PvE game.

Age of Conan is almost a direct WoW-clone, but saves face by adding some new end-game activities in the form of player-owned cities and border kingdom PvP. AoC's combat is pretty standard, with just a bit more clicking. AoC is taking the WoW base, copying it whole-sale, and fluffing the fringes to make it feel unique.

WAR is half a WoW-clone, which really isn't a clone at all. WAR will have a PvE end game, but the means of getting there will be drastically more dynamic than what is found in WoW. On top of this, WAR is shaping up to be a far deeper and more feature-rich game than WoW will ever be. WAR is taking the WoW base and piling on the goodness.

I fully embrace playing new games that "feel" a bit like WoW, because honestly, that is the way I want my games to play. I would kill for WoW's responsiveness and controls in a dozen other games I've played over the last few years. However, the time has come for a game to capitalize on WoW's success by adding a full feature set and in doing so, become the non-WoW Clone of the "next generation".
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