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Ask Massively: Can't talk, slaying darkspawn edition

Eliot Lefebvre

If it wasn't obvious through previous posts, I'm rather keen on the whole Dragon Age franchise. Which means that yes, I've been playing the stupid Facebook game that has just gone into open beta. The next revolution in gaming it is not, but it's got just enough of the setting to tide me over for the moment. Plus, it has player housing, which is conspicuously absent from most of the more modern MMOs out there.

Seriously, guys -- if it's able to fit into a Flash game on Facebook, you can fit it into your umpteen-millionth triple-A title. Get on that.

But I'll put aside the slaying of darkspawn and associated questions about how they're this far north, because it's time for another edition of Ask Massively. This round, we're talking about reviewing new MMOs, the conceptual space of games, and Star Wars: The Old Republic. As always, you can feel free to leave your questions in the comment field or send them along to

Chris asked: Can you perhaps explain (to me and your readership) why reviews of new MMOs (thinking of RIFT specifically) are so hesitant to give high marks?

Speaking of RIFT specifically, I'll note that it is getting high marks. Holding at an 84% on Gamerankings is actually a pretty good set of marks.

The problem is that most scales in game reviews aren't very absolute -- while a 10-point scale should place most games at either 5 or 6, most reviews will be 7 or 8, and depending on the site, 10/10 won't be uncommon. The reasons for this are many, including our natural instinct to judge something new and exciting a bit higher than something old and familiar. So our perception of "high" marks is skewed to the point that only the top actually matters.

Reviewers are also presumably just a bit biased against giving out perfect scores to new games when the game experience is going to depend a great deal on longevity and community, neither of which you can actively score until well after launch. This is precisely why Massively avoids score-based reviews -- MMOs grow and evolve, as do our opinions of them.
Bramen asked: Has the gaming world narrowed? It seems like when I was younger there were more options and styles of games to play.
Yes and no. No, the variety of the field hasn't changed -- but yes, the sheer number of games has increased, and any genre that grows in number without growing in diversity is going to look stuffed to the brim with clones. When it comes to MMOs specifically, we've gone from the genre's being new and untested to having a decade of examples to draw on for what works, what doesn't, and so forth.
Valdamar asked: Are you telling us the dialogue choices in Star Wars: The Old Republic have zero effect whatsoever on how the quest turns out?
The short answer is a definite no. Dialogue choices will have an effect on the end result.

The longer answer is still "no," but it has more information. It depends on what you mean by "zero effect." The odds are good that not every single dialogue option will lead to a completely different quest experience, as telling the old couple you'll happily go find their hyperdrive components or telling them that they'd better have a big reward for the lost hyperdrive components still results in your going to retrieve the MacGuffin. Er, hyperdrive components. Whatever.

If you're familiar with BioWare's other offerings, however, you know that even trivial quests will usually have at least one point of divergence mixed among several other conversation options. So that quest to get the hyperdrive components might lead to your either taking them forcibly from people who probably stole them or buying them yourself and avoiding bloodshed. Or you might find out that the components were stolen in the first place and decide whether or not the old couple deserves to have them back. And so forth.

How much of a long-term effect will all this have? We'll find out on the game's release. But the conversations are doubtlessly going to have a major influence on how things turn out, even in instances (one of the earlier previewed flashpoints allows players to help or kill a captain of a Sith vessel, with the remainder playing out differently based on player choice).
Looking for some advice on which class is best for soloing in Aion? Not sure who this Raph Koster fellow is? Curious about the release date of NCsoft's newest MMO? You've come to the right place! No one knows MMOs like we do. If there's anything you'd like to know about the MMO genre or the site itself, Ask Massively is here to help every Thursday afternoon. Just ask!

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