WoW Clones and the Point of Divergence

Labeling an MMO as a “WoW Clone” is generally meant as an insult. Such games were developed to match the features and mechanics of World of Warcraft in order to duplicate its success but in actuality the popularity of WoW has been a singular event in the history of the genre. To some extent the criticism is warranted. Foregoing creativity and risk in hopes of making a quick buck is hardly a development tactic to be applauded however two of these games have been in continued development for 3-4 years and warrant a second look. Both Rift and Star Wars: The Old Republic began by closely approximating the gameplay of WoW but since their launch have diverged along their own path offering players a “WoW that was” or a “WoW as it could have been”.

As someone who enjoyed World of Warcraft for several years, I am biased toward games of similar mechanics and feature lists. I enjoy storytelling on rails, instanced group play, and traditional combat but I haven’t always agreed with the development decisions Blizzard has made over the last 12-18 months or the features they have neglected to improve in favor of others. Garrisons for example are an interesting addition but the transmogrification system is grossly outdated. At a time when nearly every other MMO is improving cosmetic customization for player gear this is a significant oversight. And so I find myself enjoying the type of MMO WoW represents but not the game itself in its current state.

However when I take a look at both Rift and SWTOR I see games similar to WoW that have developed along very different paths. Looking at their evolution over the last 3-4 years is like catching a glimpse of two possible alternatives to the current iteration of WoW, a multi-verse of MMO development as it were. Each game features many similarities to the MMO they were developed to mimic but since their creation both games have changed systems, mechanics, and feature lists independent of WoW’s own development cycle.

Consider talent trees for example. In early 2012 all of these games featured three branching skill trees for each class and a pool of skill points for players to use in order to customize their characters. From the beginning Rift brought an interesting twist to this system by allowing each class to choose three options from a broader selection of skill trees called “Souls” and the game continues to maintain this approach. WoW on the other hand has eradicate the branching trees in favor of three talent choices offered every fifteen levels and relative freedom in adjusting those choices on the fly. SWTOR held out on traditional talent trees up until the end of last year at which point Bioware adopted a talent system of their own featuring three tiers of seven choices of which players could choose seven total across all tiers by level 60. There are limitations in place that prevent overpowered combinations (like players choosing all seven in the highest tier) but overall the system offers more choices than the one in WoW.

Did you prefer the branching skill trees that World of Warcraft offered prior to the launch of Mists of Pandaria? Rift provides you with that choice and from the start has doubled down on the character building freedom that the system offers. Or have you liked the stream lined talent choices MoP introduced but wish for a little more flexibility in choice amongst the tiers? Then you may want to try SWTOR’s implementation of talents in their discipline paths. The point is not that one design choice is inherently superior to the others, but rather that for those of us who enjoy the MMO model presented by Blizzard in World of Warcraft, we now have alternatives with slight variations. Sure Rift, SWTOR, and many other titles may have been clones of WoW at their point of launch but since then they have developed independently. For my preferences these two games offer features and mechanics that I enjoy more than those present in their parent MMO. If you enjoy World of Warcraft but haven’t sampled either of these “clones” in the last two years I’d highly recommend you do so. They may have been replicas at the start, but since that point of divergence both Rift and Star Wars: The Old Republic have matured into MMOs reminiscent of World of Warcraft but refreshingly distinct.

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7 thoughts on “WoW Clones and the Point of Divergence

  1. I thought the best thing Rift did was add the pre-made souls. I played the game for about six months from launch and fiddling around with those skill trees was about the most annoying part of the game. EQ2 has ferociously complicated skill trees too and an infuriating habit of making changes that require players to redo their choices; again, fairly recently they added pre-set options that very much improved my enjoyment there.

    It’s plain that lots of people like nothing better than spending hours diddling around with points-based skill systems while others see having to do so as more of a punishment than a pleasure. The key to keeping both extremes happy would seem to be complex systems with a range of single-button options to fill them out automatically.

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    • I completely agree, I use the prefab builds in Rift myself, but I like that the option to tinker is there. It does make the game accessible both to those who enjoy spending hours on builds as you said and those like me who just want to get in and go. For a game using an older skill point system, they’ve done a good job making it both engaging and newbie friendly.

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  2. Great article and I agree pretty much completely… though I think that SWTOR for example was already different enough from WoW to stand on its own at launch. I played WoW for more than five years and got very jaded with its design decisions towards the end of my time with it – so I was very happy to see SWTOR defy some of those trends, for example by encouraging grouping up while levelling, even as WoW was removing all low-level group quests from the game. Like you say, it was like a chance to go back to an earlier point in WoW’s development and start over with a different direction.

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    • Absolutely, neither of the games I listed were exact copies, but they were certainly accused of it at times. I don’t like some of the changes to WoW either but I do like the basic template. SWTOR is my go to game right now because I like the way it is similar but I also like all the ways it stands out. And the longer these “clones” live the more they differentiate themselves.

      By the way, I love the name for your blog! “Going Commando” is great. I haven’t read much yet but I certainly will.

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  3. HAven’t played wow at all but those other mmo system we’re really good. I found swtor a little simplistic and rift about right as I’m one of those people that likes tinkering with things to make my own playstyle. It’s nice to have that choice there but having those pre fabs too was a great aspect for those not wanting too.

    I’m also enjoying systems like TSW too. I love complex systems like that and crafting builds. It’s fun to work with and learn. Those prefabs could be a bit better though

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