Wednesday, June 24, 2009

BioWare and Mythic are merged? This is a good thing.

My initial kneejerk reaction is to say, "gg EA," and roll my eyes. However, reading into the matter and thinking upon it, it's actually a great move.

If you've played Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning (WAR), then you know that the game falls flat. It's not bad, but it's not exactly all that great either. It feels slow and clunky, especially compared to something as fast-paced as Guild Wars (which, I think, captures the perfect pace for a Player vs Player MMO). The art style and general presentation for the game is great. It looks and feels just like the Warhammer universe. As someone who has dabbled in Warhammer for over 2 years, I think I know the nuances of the style pretty well.

The problem with Warhammer Online comes in the gameplay category. It's just nothing to really keep you interested. The PvP scenarios seem generic and to lack any real strategic depth. I feel like I've done it before, and done it better, in other genres and in other MMOs. The pace, as I said before, seems sluggish, which is antithetical to what one would think of a vicious and brutal PvP-oriented MMO. People have trumpeted that WAR is so much better than World of Warcrafts' PvP. Really, though, that's like saying that eating shit is better than eating vomit covered shit. I'm sure it is, but it's still shit and not exactly something to rave about.

Now, getting into the nitty-gritty: What has happened? Why am I talking about how much I don't like WAR (and I really wanted to like the game)? Because Electronic Arts has decided to merge the much-beloved RPG developer, BioWare (Baldur's Gate 1&2, Mass Effect, Neverwinter Nights, Star Wars: Knights of The Old Republic), with Mythic Entertainment, developers of the aforementioned Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning.

There's several reasons why this is pretty big news. Firstly, BioWare recently opened a new studio in Austin, Texas (their only USA studio (they have 2 in Canada)) to work on the much anticipated Star Wars: The Old Republic MMO. This is BioWare's first MMO, though they do have netcode experience with Neverwinter Nights. BioWare was also bought out by EA, with numerous conditions made to keep BioWare semi-independent. Mythic has well-renowned MMO experience with Dark Age of Camelot and WAR. Both are PvP-based MMOs focusing primarily on Realm vs Realm combat, but that's not really important. What is important is that they have a lot of people who are quite good at doing netcode. Another important tidbit is that Mythic was bought by EA.

The most interesting thing about this somewhat bizarre move is this:

Creating what is effectively a massively multiplayer RPG development juggernaut, EA has tapped Muzyka to become Group General Manager of their new RPG/MMO Group, with fellow BioWare co-founder Greg Zeschuk acting as Group Creative Officer. With the departure of Mythic's Mark Jacobs, Mythic co-founder Rob Denton will step up as the General Manager of Mythic, reporting directly to Muzukya. BioWare's operations will remain unchanged.
- Source

WAR was touted to be a massive success, and it looked like it. Touted on a fantastic and rich IP (Warhammer) and focused on visceral PvP combat, it seemed like a great game. Even after release, many people touted is an excellent game. However, the hype didn't last. It became mundane and routine. The veneer of hype wore off and you were left with a fairly mediocre and somewhat by-the-numbers MMO. Individuals might agree or disagree with that assessment, and I do not claim to hold some certain truth, but the numbers don't lie. The numbers for WAR are bad. Not terrible, mind you, but not good enough. Especially considering how much time and money was put into WAR. When I did the free trial, I saw zero high capacity servers in North America. There was one in Oceania. There was one server that was medium capacity, but all the others were low capacity. And by "all the others" I mean the eight other servers. It's not like there's 30 servers out there. Even at a relatively modest amount of servers, WAR cannot fill them up. That is not good.

Essentially, this taking Ray and Greg (the founders and big-wigs of BioWare) and putting them in charge of Mythic's flagship, WAR. I can only assume in some kind of attempt to salvage the massive investment that EA put into that game. This allows not only for BioWare to borrow from Mythic in resource management and netcode programmers (BioWare also plundered the laid-off Star Wars Galaxies employees to work in their The Old Republic studio in Austin), but this also gives Mythic access to BioWare's fantastic art, sound, and storytelling resources.

Why would Mythic want BioWare's resources? Why wouldn't they! BioWare is the undisputed king of RPGs. Yes, you can point to Square-Enix and tout Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, and that is certainly valid. However, BioWare is typically regarded in higher standing. This is not a put-down of Square-Enix, as I hold FF7 as one of the best RPGs of all time, but I would be lying if I said that I thought FF7 was better than Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn. BioWare's games are solid. Neverwinter Nights is still regarded as the pinnacle of a new trend in RPG gaming, allowing players to craft their own games using the provided toolset. Knights of The Old Republic is highly heralded as one of the best RPGs during the PS2/XBox generation, and helped push a lot of XBox sales. The Baldur's Gate series is regarded as fantastic and is routinely placed within the top 5 of any RPG fan's list. Mass Effect was received very well and highly regarded. To say that anticipation for Dragon Age is high is a massive understatement. BioWare is an RPG developer that has rarely done wrong and has the strong catalog of high-tier products to prove it.

While I think the merger of BioWare and Mythic is, at face value, quite odd, I also think it makes a lot of sense. Mythic's WAR is floundering, trying desperately to stay afloat. BioWare seems to be growing by leaps and bounds these days, and if anyone can help turn up the quality a notch on WAR, BioWare is an excellent choice. Not only does this allow the two developers to share their vibrantly rich resources, but it makes for a massive juggernaut in the RPG realm, both online and offline. It's never a good thing to see someone who was so integral as Mark Jacobs get canned, but I also cannot think of anyone who could give WAR the truly magnificent makeover that it needs and deserves than Ray Muzukya and Greg Zeschuk.

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