Nostalgia in the PC gaming world is a dangerous vice. When games die they’re rarely left to rest in peace, more often buried in that weird Pet Semetary graveyard the game industry owns. Often they come back and some come back ‘wrong’, resulting in some hideous abominations in recent memory. It fails to alter the fact that nostalgia is still a very powerful force in marketing games. Much of the time that feeling of nostalgia is short lived or bitter tinged but just once in a while something comes along that delivers. DOTA2 might be just that something.
The original DOTA (Defence Of The Ancients if you don’t know) was an extremely popular mod for Warcraft3. It was basically a 10 person PvP RPG combined with tower defence with a bewildering array of playable heroes and usable items (which can combine to make better items). The basic goal is to kill enemy heroes and enemy ‘creeps’ which are spawned by both bases and run along three paths towards one another. Level up your character’s abilities to make them and your team more lethal. Ultimately the goal is to destroy the opposing team’s towers and base but this can only be accomplished by good teamwork.
Looking back over the catalogue of MMORPGs which have come out since World of Warcraft spawned the genre there are only a tiny handful which have sparked any interest for me. Of those I haven’t played one. I used to think it was because I wasn’t a social gamer, then I realised that I really enjoy online gaming. The reason was that nothing with the possible exception of Eve Online has managed to make a remotely convincing departure from the mindset of singleplayer narrative and non-persistent multiplayer online.
I’ll confess at this point, I’m a gamer who considers narrative to be a fairly important part of any game. I do love a good story based game if the writing is good and even just if the story is a strong one, but I’ve realised something in the last few years of gaming. As I replayed Crysis, Bioshock or the oldschool Call of Duty games (past Modern Warfare I lost interest) I found their kind of narrative storytelling immersive but lacking in real connection. It’s only the ability of games to allow for emergent narrative that really allows gamers to connect both with a game and their character. When you think about it this is pretty natural, emergent gameplay can constitute the only opportunity to create your own narrative for your character rather than following a path determined by the writers. I have spent a lot of time playing open world games like GTA and the STALKER series and while there is some ability to create your own story in these, it’s limited to the gaps inbetween the game’s ongoing narrative for you to try. In setting up even a primitive open world producers give gamers the ability to go forth and create their own adventures but always within limits. You will always have to go back to the story mission to progress the game and the game is defined by that narrative progress. Even in a traditional roleplaying game there is conflict between the investment of players in their character’s narrative and it being predestined by being someone else’s imagination, unchangeable from the few choices you are given no matter how compelling. Reactions to Mass Effect 3 demonstrated the impact of this cognitive dissonance on a spectacular scale. Playing three games and creating what often felt like your own truly unique universe from your decisions only to be confronted by an ending which only grazed the surface of the character you had become and the universe you crafted was a frustrating experience for many. But what does this have to do with MMO gaming?