The Needles

Massively Malygris Online Games


I resolved at the beginning of the year to finally try an MMOG. I’ve played online games before, but generally they fell into that uniquely fun category of entertainment in which people chase each other around with homicidal intent. Good times, but it’s hard to get around the fact that there’s not a lot of depth to it. An MMOG, on the other hand, promises more: Cooperative multiplayer interaction toward a number of diverse goals in a grand tale spanning a vast and exotic landscape. A living, breathing D&D campaign, really, where not only do you and your stalwart companions quest for justice and treasure but, much as would happen in a “real” D&D world, thousands of like-minded others are living out their own simultaneous, yet independent, lives of adventure.

So when I was passing through EB last week and saw a copy of Dungeon Runners for sale on the serious cheap (which included six months of full membership) I took it as nothing less than alms from Heaven. But what I saw as destiny, others were less certain about. Response to my choice of massively multiplayer cherry-popper was mixed: A pair of Escapist staff members expressed guarded praise for the game, while online friends who are typically less cautious about how they speak to me suggested that playing it would probably cause me brain damage, although they noted that my decision to buy the thing in the first place was evidence that said brain damage had already occurred. Undeterred, I installed, patched and played for a week.

I had envisioned nights of role playing and exploration, spelunking through dim caverns and great abandoned halls, sharing victory and trading stories with like-minded fellows who were interested in living the experience rather than just slaughtering endless hordes of AI thralls in a fast-paced quest for incremental improvements in equipment. I knew this wasn’t the common experience but I was confident I could make it happen and if my character didn’t advance as quickly as others, so what? I would approach a table of rough, yet noble, sorts and slam my tankard down. “Ho, good fellows!” I would say. “My ears have caught word of whispering caves no more than a half day’s travel beyond the city walls. Seekest thou adventure, and perhaps the glint of gold, in those dark recesses?” Their grumbled interest would turn to hearty laughter as the ale flowed, and soon we would be tramping through torch-lit dankness, our eyes straining ahead to make sure we didn’t step in any evil.

What I got instead was dickheads.

I think what surprised me most about Dungeon Runners, which is ostensibly a social game, was just how unsocial it actually is. Dungeons are instanced, which means that aside from common areas like towns, you’re playing by yourself unless you manage to hook up with a group. That in itself was more of adventure than anything I actually did in the game. The vast majority of players I encountered simply didn’t group in any meaningful way, so after two nights of fruitlessly trying to join with someone else I took the more proactive step of forming a group myself and leaving it open to anyone. Results came relatively quickly, as two players joined me for some low-level hack-and-slash through the game’s tutorial levels.

But my friendly “hello” was ignored, as were two or three other attempts at small talk, until I began to worry that maybe I was somehow misunderstanding the way the chat function actually worked. I finally asked outright why neither of them would talk. One ignored me completely and continued to play while the other said – and this is a direct quote – “too busy pwning.” Well, then. We pnwed for a few minutes longer until I decided I might as well just play by myself, at which point I left for greener pastures.


My next encounter was at least more brief. A higher level player asked if I wanted to join with him, an invitation I gladly accepted. He took me down to the third level of an early dungeon, still beginner territory but far deeper than I would have dared go on my own. We began the slaughter, him leading the way while I took on the weaker creatures one or two at a time. Before long, he was gone, forging ahead faster than I could keep up. Or so I thought. A moment or two later he reappeared, running like a mad fool straight at me with a great conga line of nastiness behind him. He stopped beside me. Then he disappeared.

I’m no fool but I guess my naivete was still intact at that point because the only thought that went through my mind before the horde came crashing down on me was, “Boy, I hope he comes back soon.” Needless to say, he did not. Death came swiftly, as did my anger when I realized he had left not just the dungeon but the whole server – not just because he’d bent me over (and I’d fallen for it) but because he was gone and the only one left to swear at was the cat.

Ironically, I did find someone, the next night, who played Malygris style. Friendly, articulate, cooperative. Spoke English instead of “lfg insane sissi run,” whatever the hell that means. Very nice to play with, and not a hard-charging, loot-sucking clear-and-reset player, either. Precisely what I’d been wishing for from the moment I first logged into the game.

I was reminded of the proverb about wishes when I discovered that my ideal MMOG companion really sucks to actually play with. I had three largely unproductive nights of Dungeon Runners under my belt so I was hardly in a position to criticize anyone else but good God, he took just about forever to do anything. I actually found myself hoping that enemies wouldn’t drop loot because every new item discovered necessitated what could only be a complete review and reorganization of his entire inventory. I suspect he didn’t know the quick-key for health potions because he died several times in combat, his health bar steadily whittled down until he fell against the onslaught; perversely, I declined to mention the quick-key because the greatest pleasure – after awhile, the only pleasure – I was getting from our partnership was watching him die, over and over again.

I did find some decent people to play with on my self-imposed final night of play, but to my dismay even that wasn’t actually fun. It was civil, which by that point was remarkable enough, but in the grand scheme of gaming just wasn’t enough to justify a return. My expectations were too high, sure, but insisting on something better than half-assed isn’t unreasonable.

Which isn’t to condemn MMOGs entirely. One game does not a genre make and I suspect Dungeon Runners is a bit of a niche title anyway. But I did experience first-hand a number of MMOG conventions that I’d hoped to avoid, or at least to discover that they weren’t as bad as they’re sometimes made out to be. I’m not encouraged by what I’ve seen. Grinding seems to be mandatory while any depth in gameplay is conspicuously absent. The players themselves are a problem, because most of them aren’t the sort of people I want to play with. That’s not a good sign for a genre that lives and dies on multiplayer.

Online shooters are fantastic because they set the bar low: If you’re not bringing harm to your fellow players, you’re doing it wrong. The cards are on the table and everyone knows what’s going to happen when the lights go up. I had hoped – and, I admit, still hope – that MMOGs can achieve a higher standard. But what I’ve seen thus far hasn’t done much to feed my faith.

Andy Chalk has very high hopes for Runes of Magic.

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