One thing that I haven't mentioned recently is that I have started playing WoW again, casually. Sunraven has been transfered to a PvE realm, joined a guild with some old faces and levelled to 80. Wrath of the Lich King, the new WoW expansion, has proved to be a very entertaining little buy and I have been continually impressed by both the improvements to the game and the depth of the content. However, last night I realised that I had missed one of the most important features new to the game: Phasing.
It was like being punched in the jaw.
Flashback to the early days of WoW. I remember Gorthaal, my druid, battling hard to free the Crossroads from the threat of the Bristleback Motherf*ckers and their seek-and-destroy hyena allies. No matter how many I killed, no matter what rewards I gained, no matter what level I returned to rain hell and damnation on them, they were still a Clear and Present Danger to 11-14th level characters in the vicinity. My pwnage was for naught.
Jump to Age of Conan. Gorth, my Bear Shaman, rescued the City of Tortage from the evils of some nasty dude during the instanced Night period, whilst doing all manner of jobs for people during the Day period. My Night was my Night and my Day was shared with everyone else. In the Night my actions were persistent, in the Day they were not .... until the end of level 20 when I owned the bad guy and the place changed. Under the veil of loading screens, transitional NPCs etc, we had the vestige of a persistent world.
Back to today, well, I won't talk about Wrathgate but I will talk about Shadow Vault. I was on a mission - infiltrate the Shadow Vault for the Knights of the Ebon Blade and deal with it's undead denizens. Fair enough. Kills a few, grab some items - standard fare. However, I then had to convert some NPCs onto the side of the Ebon Blade. OK. And now me and the NPCs attack the Elite Boss Man. We own, naturally and I get sent to tell someone far away that Shadow Vault has been taken.
Now in old WoW, I would return to find that Shadow Vault was still held by undead, my new allies are now enemies and everything has been reset.
Not now. Now I return to find a thriving Ebon Blade supply camp. My new allies are now Vendors or guards. There is a flight point and a Quartermaster and even, I believe, an Innkeeper. The game world has changed.
There are other points in the game where this happens. It doesn't happen everywhere though but when it does it is very subtle indeed. No loading screens. No transitional NPCs. Its just like a story unfolding before you.
This, I believe, has been one of the things that has been requested of MMOs for some time - a truly persistent reality. Of course, this is still a single perspective reality but it goes some of the way. I was truly stunned by it last night because it meant that, in the story, for once, I had really made a difference.