Friday, January 04, 2008

MMORPGs that bite rocks

Specifically, PC versions of the sort-of-downloadable World of Warcraft demo, and the $2 Final Fantasy XI 30-day free subscription.

Final Fantasy XI, at least in this cheapskate distribution, was a huge disappointment. Once you get the game started, user experience degrades by the minute: Controls are hidden and counterintuitive, the fullscreen mode has lines, gamma is completely washed out, there's no way to quit the game, besides pulling the plug, you can't walk anywhere, you can't even point your guy in one direction and have him go that way without falling into a breakneck drunkward's walk. These aren't spoilers. The crew at Square-Enix has ruined years of goodwill, or even outright admiration, by promulgating an ill-advised human interface that makes MS-DOS look cuddly. The game is horribly spoiled by simple inability to get past the controls, whatever they are. You spend $12.95 a month to play this game, assuming you're rich enough, patient enough, or smart enough to have found the "real" version somewhere. This demo makes no friends at all.

World of Warcraft, on the other hand, has a user interface that makes sense slowly and rewards patience — or as much patience as you can garner at 50 cents a day to play this tripe. There's not much wow in WoW for newbies. Blood and mayhem, world history notwithstanding, makes a boring narrative and an even more brittle Weltanschauung, but hey if you want to beat something up for an hour or two this is the place. Newbies must simply endure the carnage, and not wander too far afield from their eventual cenotaphs or the trek through the gray spirit world to find your own corpse becomes another checkmark on the old boredom list. If you get tired of attacking wolves and goblins, you can annihilate the occasional bunny before the wandering Level 50 mages hunt you down and remind you what masochism means.

So, glitzy online cash cows don't need to be good either, evidently, if the public will buy anything. I surely do wish Square-Enix would revisit this idea, though; the current implementation is a real turnoff and does the franchise no good at all. Microsoft, being Microsoft, gets a pass from me. You know what they're like going in.



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