Sunday, April 25, 2010

WoW, I Really Like RoM

Anyone who has ever read my blog knows that, at one time, I was quite obsessed with playing World of Warcraft. I played it daily, for hours at a time for just shy of a year and half. This past January I finally got bored with it and broke my WoW addiction. I found myself months later, kind of jonesing for a MMO fix, but really not wanting to shell out the $15 per month fee to start my WoW account back up. I just wanted to play a couple of nights a week, not get sucked back into the pecking order for raids and heroic dungeons. So, I started searching the internet for free-to-play Massively Multiplayer Online games. My thinking was, if it is free-to-play, then I won't care so much if I don't get to play every day. I mean, part of my WoW addiction was fueled by the thought that I was paying $15 per month (and I usually paid in six month blocks), so I needed to play as much as possible to get my money's worth. Shortly before quitting WoW, I had dabbled a bit in Dungeons & Dragons Online, which had become free-to-play. I really didn't care very much for DDO, mainly because of the leveling limitations for free-to-play subscribers (the level cap was only 4 unless you paid real money to increase it). So, I began searching and found hundreds of free-to-play MMOs, most of which really didn't appeal to me because I've never particularly been a fan of Manga style artwork. One day, while reading one of my favorite webcomics I spotted a banner ad for a game called Runes of Magic, so I clicked the ad. The game looked fairly promsiing, and the most like WoW I had come across, so I decided to give it a try. I have now been playing RoM for a couple of weeks, and while I'll admit that I'm still learning the finer points of certain aspects, I really like it; in fact, I think I like it a bit more than I did WoW. So, here is my somewhat limited comparison of WoW vs. RoM and what I think each does better or worse than the other.

Similarities & Differences

First of all, let me just say that all MMOs have the same basic concept, that being rolling (1) a character and the leveling that character via questing and fighting monsters and other “bad guys”. In this aspect, RoM is no different than WoW. First level characters begin in a “starting zone” where they can accept a battery of quests that will get them to roughly level 10 before being given a final quest that usually involves taking a message to someone in a village or city near by that has another battery of quests available that will take the character to probably around level 20, and so on and so forth until the character reaches the highest level the game offers (called the “level cap”). For example, the current level cap for WoW while RoM's level cap was recently increased to 60 (it had previously been 55).

Many MMOs also allow the character to learn “secondary skills” or “professions” such as blacksmithing or tailoring, to name only two. RoM is no different from WoW in that it offers this aspect, but it differs greatly in that it allows a character to learn all of the various gathering and crafting skills, while WoW limits the character to only two professions (2). By allowing players to learn all of the gathering and crafting skills, RoM allows them to experiment with each before making the decision of which one to gain levels in beyond apprentice.(3)

Like WoW (and pretty much any other MMO), RoM does have Guilds. Guilds are basically groups of players that have banded together for mutual assistance. This assistance can take many forms, from sharing materials from the gathering skills to helping each other with quests, having a ready made group for doing dungeons that require five or more characters to survive, etc. What differs here is that RoM handles guilds more like Guild Wars with the entire guild having a level as group, being able to build a guild castle and being able to enter player-vs-player combat via guild castle sieges. This isn't really my cup of tea, to be honest, so I'm not going to lie to you – I've not researched this at all. I could be totally wrong in my comparison to Guild Wars. I played WoW on a PvP server, which was kind of fun, but I'm really not into the PvP thing anymore. So, you're just going to have to do some Googling on your own for how guilds and guild sieges work in RoM. Sorry.

Where RoM really stands out from WoW, in my opinion, is in item enhancements. Just like in WoW, as a character advances in RoM, he/she is able to equip better and better gear, and also has the chance to enhance that gear through other means. In WoW, item enhancement is done through either enchantments (which requires the abilities of someone who has taken the enchanting profession) or through attaching gems to equipment that has gem slots (but this typically isn't available until level 60 or above). In RoM, items that have rune slots can be enhanced using runes; the nice thing here is, even as low as level 5 I was able to begin finding gear with rune slots and runes to use in those slots. RoM also has other means of equipment enhancement, most notably the Arcane Transmutor, which allows the combining of several runes' statistic bonuses into a single stone. This is available to all characters beginning at level 10. I have to admit, I have yet to use the Transmutor as I'm still trying to figure out how to do so (if RoM fails anywhere, it is in a lack of online guides/documentation to assist new players with figuring out some of the finer points of the game like the Arcane Transmutor). Even though I'm still iffy on how to use this feature in RoM, I still love that it makes the game seem less like a “gear grind”; in WoW it seemed like that's all I ever did was constantly try to find new gear with better stats, and in fact there were add-ons for WoW to determine characters' “gear score” which could affect whether or not you got invited to participate in certain dungeons and raids since only those with the “best” gear had a chance of being successful.

Another aspect of RoM I like over WoW is the ability to use a mount as early as level 1! In WoW, characters are not able to utilize mounts until level 20 (when I first began playing, it was level 30). At level 20, a WoW character has to find a riding trainer, spend gold to learn how to ride, then spend more gold on the mount itself. At higher levels (level 40 I think) the WoW character can learn to ride faster mounts, and eventually even learn to ride flying mounts – but all of these abilities require large amounts of gold (the game's currency) to learn. In RoM, no training is required to ride a mount, you just have to pay the gold to rent the mount. Yes, I said “rent.” That's the one thing about RoM I don't like is that mounts are only rent-able with gold usually for either 15 minutes or 2 hours at a time. There are ways to get mounts that last 7 days, 30 days, or are permanent, but those require the expenditure of RoM's other currency, diamonds. Diamonds are obtained by spending real money (I'll have more to say on that in the pros & cons section).

Pros & Cons
  • RoM doesn't have nearly as much supporting documentation for new players as WoW did/does – lack of fan sites that help in this area as well. I have found two different Wikis for RoM, but wikis tend to have a lot of missing or inaccurate information. WoW, on the other hand has hundreds and hundreds of fansites and guides available just a Google away. Advantage = WoW.
  • RoM has a free client via download and is free-to-play unlimited. WoW costs $20 (WoW) + $30 (Burning Crusade expansion) + $40 (Wrath of the Lich King) + $15/month subscription fee. Advantage = RoM
  • RoM, however, can cost real money, and a lot of it if you're not careful, via gift a card system to buy in game diamonds to be able to purchase special items such as mounts, house furniture, gear enhancements, etc. I still think RoM has an advantage over WoW here though. Most free-to-play MMOs have some type of mini-store system like this. It costs money for them to keep those game servers up and running, and they have to generate that revenue somehow. I mean, hell, look at how many people have gone into real world debt buying crap for Farmville on Facebook for crying out loud. The thing to look for in obtaining RoM diamonds is special offers. For example, last week (April 16-18, 2010), a special promotion was run to give 100% extra diamonds – in short, my $25 gift card that normally would have been worth 600 diamonds, netting me 1200 diamonds. Plus, there are companies that have partnered with RoM to give away free diamonds for doing online surveys or trying their products. So, while it seems scam-ish at first, it's actually not a bad system overall. Just be careful and don't go overboard, else you'd be better off paying that $15 a month to play WoW again. Advantage = neutral.
  • Multi-classing – WoW does not offer multi-classing at all. If you roll a Rogue, then you are a Rogue, period. In RoM, beginning at level 10, a player can multi-class his/her character. Did you roll a Knight, but wish you had access to a Priest's healing spells? No problem, just go to a Priest trainer after you've reached level 10 (or higher) and you can become a level 1 priest, without having to lose you levels in Knight and without having to completely re-roll an entirely new character. While it is true that other MMOs (D&D Online for example) offer multi-classing, I like the way RoM does it better. I like that I can have a character that is Level 60 in both of his classes, as opposed to say, Level 19/Level 1 or some other odd combination (using D&D as an example here – character levl cap is 20 and each time you level you have to decide which class to increase. RoM on the other hand allows to flip-flop which class is primary or secondary so you can level them separately from each other as though they are different characters).

Final Thoughts and Opinions

Ok, so this may not be a complete comparison, mainly because I've been playing RoM for only a couple of weeks versus the year and a half I played WoW. I'm still learning the game. There a lot of in game aspects in RoM that I like much better than in WoW. Basically, RoM's developers seem to have made it easier to level and get around and have included some tools in the base user interface that WoW players have historically had to go install third party add-ons to get.(4) All in all, RoM seems to do more right than wrong compared to WoW. The developers of Runes of Magic obviously did their homework in terms of paying attention to what MMO gamers liked and disliked about various MMOs like World of Warcraft, Everquest and Guild Wars, and tried to incorporate as much as they could of the most popular aspects of those games. The free-to-play aspect makes it much easier to not feel like I have to play everyday. The quick leveling and multi-class system make me want to play often because it keeps the game interesting and moving forward; I don't feel as stuck in one zone or quest chain as much as I did in WoW. The portal ability helps with this as well – bascially, when you learn your secondary class, you are taught two transport spells so that you can go back to one of the starting zones to begin leveling your new class. Being able to transport across the map like that makes it less monotonous when questing because I can easily jump from one side of the world to the other if I'm getting bored with the zone I'm questing in.

No MMO is perfect. RoM has a lot of growing room (how about some flying mounts, eh!) but seems to be trucking along much faster than most MMOs in terms of new content (the game launched March 2009, relased its second expansion September 2009 and its third expansion is due out in May 2010, and in fact is already beginning to be introduced in patches(5)). In short, if I'm going to continue to play an MMO, I'm pretty sure that it's going to be very difficult for anyone to convince me to start paying for WoW again, when RoM is such a superb MMO and is free-to-play. Most free-to-play MMOs look like their free-to-play. RoM looks professional and clean, it plays well and I've actually had less issues with server lag than I ever did playing WoW. Considering that RoM boasts a subscriber base of over 2 million (announced a mere six months after its initial release), I'd say it's a safe bet that it will be around for pretty good while.

Recommended Reading & Resources for Runes of Magic

End Notes
  1. The term “roll a new toon” or “roll a(n) [insert character class]” refers to creating a new character. If I'm not mistaken, referring to it as “rolling” is a nod to tabletop role playing games, such as Dungeons & Dragons or Palladium Fantasy RPG, which requires the rolling of dice to determine a character's beginning abilities and health at level 1. In an MMO, these statistics are pre-determined based on the race and class chosen by the player and increase as the character gains additional levels beyond the first. “Toon” is a slang term for an MMO character due to most MMO graphics having a cartoonish look; toon, being short for cartoon.
  2. WoW has three gathering professions (mining, herbalism and skinning) and six crafting professions (blacksmithing, alchemy, leatherworking, tailoring, enchanting and engineering). Since WoW limits characters to only two professions, most players choose one crafting profession and one of the gathering professions that most compliments their creation skill (e.g., a blacksmith would need mining to gather ore). The other option is to select two gathering skills and sell all the materials (“mats”) one gathers to other players either directly or through the Auction House. There are also three secondary skills that all characters can learn in addition to their two professions; they are first aid, cooking and fishing.
  3. The gathering professions in RoM are woodcutting, herbalism, and mining. The crafting professions are blacksmithing, armor crafting, weapon crafting, alchemy, carpentry, cooking and tailoring. Like WoW, you need the gathering skills to get the materials for the crafting skills, but unlike WoW, characters can learn all of these if they so choose, but they can only master one. Go to http://rom.wikia.com/wiki/Professions for more information about how RoM professions are leveled.
  4. Some examples include, a quest log and tracking similar to the WoW add-on “Quest Helper”, transport portals in major cities to make it faster to get from one side of the city to the other quickly, an auto-run feature that allows a player to click on a name or item in the quest log and begin automatically running towards it and I'm sure there are other things I'll uncover as I play more.
  5. When MMOs need to fix bugs or add new content, those changes are downloaded when the game client is started. This is called “patching” and is usually a very small download that introduces new content in stages until the full expansion is released.
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