Those MMO “Intro Scenarios”

So I’ve been playing some new games lately that I can’t talk about just yet but while being stuck at 92% of a patch that clearly hates me, I started musing on an old pet peeve of mine, namely MMO intro scenarios. To be perfectly up-front: they’re annoying.

I’ve never been the patient tutorial kind, not for the many oldschool RPGs I have played nor any other type of games, even though I’ll acknowledge there are genres where tutorials make a lot of sense. I’ve had a quick look at Reus over Xmas and would’ve been pretty lost without one. Then again, I gladly skip the tutorial in Witcher 2 because there’s nothing a key mapping menu can’t tell me if I really need it. For most games, I want tutorials to be optional.

blarghtut
Or MAYBE, I could just play the game first!

Now, MMO tutorials are different in the sense that the large majority of them won’t just run players through a quick session of popups and UI-exposition – no, MMOs after all have narrative ambition! Instead, many feel compelled to invent some type of forgettable intro quest chain to demonstrate basic controls and menus to the player. What’s worse, they’ll have you start in some artificial, not rarely underground type of restricted area (two words: Allods Empire) that you really hate and, if you’re very unlucky, will have to re-visit and linearly follow through on every new character created of the same faction. Oh gawd.

Is it asked too much that I can just jump into a fresh MMO and be blown away by a brand new world? A wide vista opening in front of me, with beautiful starting zone music coming my way? Do I need to spend the first 20 minutes down in some pit, tunnel, whatever, faking interest in NPCs I can’t possibly care about yet, so when the game decides to kick me out I can’t even talk first impressions to friends because ALL I’VE SEEN WAS A TUNNEL?

Last time I checked, this was a genre where I have all the time in the world and where I don’t need to learn everything there is to know in the first few minutes.

I love you vanilla WoW. I love you still for so many things you did right, simply because you didn’t know better.

P.S. Obviously not all MMOs feature the exact intro scenario described above and many, like GW2, Rift or LOTRO, are allowing players to start outdoors. Still, tutorials and instruction pop-ups have become more obtrusive in recent years and I’ve seen way too many tunnel stories lately….and that’s all I’m saying.

17 comments

  1. bhagpuss

    This is one of my pet hates too. First time I saw it was when The Mines of Gloomingdeep was added to Everquest as a separate tutorial zone. It conforms exactly to all the design flaws you outline above, with bonus annoyance points for naming most of the NPCs after devs. On the positive side, however, it was always optional. People did it because at the time it gave very good starting gear but if you really wanted to skip it you could.

    Since then I’ve suffered through many compulsory tutorials, often in caves or sewers or bunkers. Even The one I most detested was the Fallen Earth tutorial which is a) indoors b) very long and c) starts you as a fully-equipped high-level character, teaches you how to use your high-level gear and abilities and then takes it all away at the end when it kicks you out into the world as a low-level in rags.

    Allods or DCUO are are indoors but they are at least entertaining. Once. The Rift tutorial(s) may be outdoors but they are in a zone you will never see again and they are among the worst I have ever played in terms of sheer, relentless tedium. Even the revised version, played at top speed when you know exactly where to go, takes nearly three-quarters of an hour. By the time you reach Telon proper you will be level 6!

    GW2 has five racial tutorials which are all decent representations of the gameplay and include NPCs you’ll meet again. Still very irritating when you have to go through them multiple times. Both EQ2 and Vanguard allow you a proper start in the real world, although strangely the former used to make you start on an island you’d never revisit, then took it away and made you start in the world while Vanguard did exactly the opposite. At least both the islands were/are large and allowed the exact same gameplay you’d get in the main game.

    In the end I’d just like to start the way we started in EQ or DAOC all those years ago. In our hometowns or in a village nearby. Plonk us down and let us work it out for ourselves. Have an optional tutorial, by all means, but put it right there in the “real” world and let us choose whether we use it or not. And if you really MUST have it in an instance, for god’s sake don’t put it in a cave!

    • Doone

      Ive always wondered why those werent optional. Over the years in games similar to WoW, questing has become *MORE* linear instead, *more* mandatory (due to features like phasing or other “dynamic” content in MMOs). I think devs stopped making the worlds for veterans years ago. its all about snagging new players because they believe old ones just want to skip right to the end of the game anyway. And hey, some of us do (not me personally).

    • jsquirrel

      >Both EQ2 and Vanguard allow you a proper start in the real world, although strangely the former used to make you start on an island you’d never revisit

      What! I can’t believe you made this mistake. EQ2′s design was especially epic because you DID return to the Isle of Refuge for the final boss of the original game.

      • Syl

        “…for god’s sake don’t put it in a cave!”

        I don’t get this approach, anyway. what is it with caves and tunnels? I assume it’s meant as some form of earning passage, quite literally, but why a game I’m paying for needs to impose a tutorial on me in such a way is beyond me.

  2. Murf

    100% agreed. For me, my preference is Ultima Online’s approach.

    At least after the Renaissance expansion when I got into the game, beginning it put you on an island which was just for new players. It had everything you needed, it gave you an incredibly rough and amateur breakdown of the bare minimum basics, and said, ‘Once you leave, you can never come back.’

    And that included making alts.

    That’s right! The game had something like seven cities and making any new character meant choosing any one of them to be your start. They didn’t even have small introduction areas in them. You literally got dropped in front of an Inn like you were new in town.

    I also really liked Everquest’s offline tutorial that you could do or not do and repeat or not repeat. I used to do it for fun when the house phone was in use and I couldn’t connect to the internet.

    • Syl

      That’s why I liked the WoW approach as well. the different starting areas were part of the world, even if a more protected part you would like not revisit. Starting of at Northshire Abbey was wonderful and featured its own microcosmos, in a way.

  3. Pingback: A Brief Rant About MMORPG Tutorials | Murf vs Internet
  4. Imakulata

    I thought you meant a metaphorical tunnel rather than a literal one up until the P.S.; the only game I can remember I played recently and started in a closed area was City of Steam. The metaphorical tunnel is a consequence of the game design. I never remember questlines (in the times when they were just an addition to grinding) as anything but railroads (assuming one can travel with multiple trains at the same time – I’m not very good at this metaphor thing as you can see); players who didn’t fail (in games where one could permanently fail quests) and didn’t abandon always arrived at the same destination. And the tutorial zones, more often than not, have been too small for more than a single questline.

    My problem with most of the tutorial zones is not they are too long but something that’s closer to opposite: They seem to teach too little. Maybe it’s not the tutorial part that’s wrong with tutorial zones but the zone part. I believe even high level players still have a lot to learn and maybe games could give them a little nudge rather than leading them by a hand for first moments and then throwing them out and locking the doors. Especially now, when most games’ controls are similar or the same.

    But I remain optimistic – more games than before try to actually do so instead of explaining me I can stab baddies with daggers.

    • Syl

      Well, all I can say is that I’ve played through several tunnel experiences lately, so they’re definitely not gone. I agree by the way, in that they teach too little – and teach it at the wrong time. the two are most likely connected anyway. The first hour into a new MMO is the worst for trying to teach many mechanics. players are distracted and overwhelmed as it is, learning their way around controls, the UI and gaping at the environment. given there’s so much to learn until max level, I’m not sure what the rush is other than that MMO devs are trying to cater to vocal minorities demanding more/better tutorials.

      • Imakulata

        I agree that dumping all the information on players in the beginning is bad – it’s a guaranteed way to make them forget everything. I am sorry that I didn’t make it clear.

  5. Klepsacovic

    Not all tunnels are created equal. The first time I saw WoW was in a tunnel, or at least I thought it was. The friend who introduced me to it was in Stratholme fighting the abominations near the gate. It looked like a very confined space, but he also appeared to be having a lot of fun. It turns out I was completely wrong about the tunnel but completely right about it being fun.

    There was a tutorial of sorts in the form of totem quests, but I beat the system by getting lost and dying. I say there is no better tutorial than dying. It breeds the proper paranoia and persistent fear.

    These days I dislike the “train this ability then use it three times” quests in WoW. We already have the Core Abilities tab. Maybe that scares developers, the notion that much of their gameplay can be summarized on a single screen, so they try to obscure it by giving it out with eyedroppers.

  6. Stumps

    I think the only tutorial I actually really liked was Age of Conan – in fact I think I probably enjoyed Tortage more than the rest of the game.

    • Doone

      Must second this, Stumps. Tortage blew me away. so much so that the game afterward was a HUGE let down. I quit AOC at level 41. Bland, bland, bland, but full of great ideas.

      • Syl

        Tortage was great but then Tortage also took its time and was very much a zone in its own right. This is similar to starting zones in WoW really, the way you were eased into the game at Northshire Abbey or elsewhere for the first few levels. Imo the best way of doing it, for sure.

  7. Electrolux

    The first time I’m okay with it to be honest, no matter how bad. There is a risk you’ll bore me to death in 5 minutes and I’ll uninstall (RIFT lol) but I won’t resent it either way. If I paid money already I’m going to tough it out, if I only wanted to play games for fun what am I doing in an MMO anyway?

  8. Jaedia

    ICK! Yes. Hate this. Some I don’t mind because you are at least playing.. some have annoying pop-ups which I can deal with as long as they have a nice easy option to turn them off, and some just hand hold you in the most irritating of ways. Have you tried Aura Kingdom? Hated the way it locked you into a tutorial zone and treated you like an idiot.. Make it optional and it’s all good.

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