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It is quite funny how games players react when their favourite games change genre. One of the most successful MMO games is World of Warcraft with players in the region of 10 million worldwide yet the WoW card game and the WoW boardgame were met with fairly strong resistance from that strong base of onliners and neither were anywhere near as successful. Magic the Gathering has probably ten times as many card game players than WoW MMO yet online it can't get near to that number. Dungeons & Dragons was a phenomena when it arrived on the scene and is still one of the most popular role-playing games, yet how many people do you know who play it online ?

Paizo's superb, thoughtful and exciting, role-playing game, PATHFINDER is already available worldwide and is the first rpg to really challenge Dungeons & Dragons for the crown as King of the rpg's. It is gathering momentum every day and at conventions it is fast becoming the number one role-play competition to be filled with players.

So what makes Pathfinder rpg so popular ? After all is said and done it is basically D&D in another universe, another high fantasy land filled with magic, monsters and mayhem, with games presided over by a referee (GM) and players taking on the roles of characters who want adventure, wealth and the death of a myriad untold creatures in their resumé. This is a world or resourcefullness and inventiveness, put into the minds of the players by a variety of authors and artists and delivered through the media of colourful, illustrated books, where dice rolls, charts and tables, along with inspired decisions and spur of the moment actions can be the difference between life and death (of a character). Surely such a world, such an experience is perfect for adaption to the unlimited vastness that a computer can distribute, transporting the universe as we see it in our mind's eye as it is explained to us by the GM, to the screen in front of us.?

Unfortunately this is where the problems of transferring role-playing games to online games begins, because we, the players, all "see" the game differently. Our brains have already been imbedded by our own personal identifications of places, people and the environment in general. If you think of role-playing as being a movie for just a moment then think of the wonderful films Peter Jackson gave us for the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings. Each one an amazing spectacle no doubt, but were they how you had envisaged them when you read and were fascinated by the text in the books ? I very much doubt it. You only have to listen to conversations about the LotR movies and everyone has an opinion, in fact the only thing that most people agree on is that Jackson and Ian McKellen got Gandalf pretty much correct on all counts, but even so there are those who were not happy with the representation.

Speaking of the Lord of the Rings, what an amazing story to produce as an online MMO, or so you would think, but despite the beauty of the Shire and other landmarks the LotR MMO has struggled to keep its players and has never reached the heights of WoW. What makes World of Warcraft the benchmark when it certainly wasn't the first MMO ? I think it is because there were no preconceived ideas of the land, the universe or the characters and adversaries, in fact virtually everything was new to the player. There were a few nods in certain directions, Orcs being green and evil, Trolls being evil and wiry and Dragons flying and breathing fire, for examples, but generally everything stimulated the brain into believing because there were no books, TV shows, boardgames, card games or role-playing games to compare it to. When the boardgames, card games and role-playing game did arrive they were treated with fair disdain by the majority because they were not the same as the online game.

PATHFINDER ONLINE disappoints in the same manner as LotR, D&D, Star Trek and other online games because it isn't how we, the players, see it and it doesn't play with the fluidity of the brilliant role-playing game that it is. If a GM sent the player characters to visit Ogden the Dwarf for example to speak with him about a problem he is having with something digging up his vegetable patch whenever he isn't looking the characters would go off and try to solve the puzzle. They may then return to Ogden to tell him the job was done and his vegetables were now safe, and possibly accept a little payment for their time and effort, but they wouldn't then go off to deliver a message to Ogden's sister a few miles down the road, then take the reply back to Ogden and so on and so forth, basically becoming a postal service for Ogden and his sister. The players would soon be bored and they would be more bored if after playing postmen everytime they asked Ogden a question (via the GM of course) he replied "I know nothing of that". Of course this happens in online games because the computer as GM has no imagination to answer questions it isn't programmed to whereas a smart GM will always have an answer. In this way PATHFINDER is more of a comparison to the MMO DAoC (Dark Age of Camelot) where running back and forth between NPCs is the main staple diet of missions and quests than it is to PATHFINDER the rpg or even the PATHFINDER ADVENTURE CARD GAME. 

In my time playing PATHFINDER MMO it was as if I had stepped back in time. Not to an ancient time when people lived in hovels and log huts and believed in dragons but to a time when computer game designers were finding their feet and really had no idea of the power and perspective available to them. A time when a character could go no further onscreen even though they could see beyond where they stood because they were at the perimetre of the game-world. The areas around the starting camp were sparse and the quests given by the NPCs were generally vague as if the NPC didn't really know what it was asking. One of the first quests, to go kill a number of Goblins who were constantly ravaging the camp, seemed obvious enough as a way to introduce fighting to the new character without putting them in too much danger. Unfortunately after several hours over several days playing I still hadn't found enough Goblins to complete the mission. The NPC had given no indication where these Goblins could be found and so it was a case of choosing a direction and travelling that way until I encountered something. This turned out to be a couple of creatures who were higher in game level, better equipped, stronger and with more hit points and so I died. Never mind as that is all part of the learning process, but it all too soon became more than a part of the process and more of a regular occurrence. I understand that Starter quests are usually simple to get the player into the feel of the game and the use of the controls and maybe adventure around a little to get the lie of the land but in PATHFINDER ONLINE it is almost as if you have been dropped into an ongoing world without any preparation. When you speak to the NPCs in and around the Start camp you get the feeling that instead of being in a free-flowing environment you are back in a non-online fantasy game where you have to do things in the correct order otherwise you will get nowhere. I cannot even say that the backdrops or cities or characters are fantastic because they are not, in the world of computer MMO gaming they are old and tired by comparison.

Of course PATHFINDER MMO is not all doom and gloom and negativity. There is a very intricate and imaginative crafting system for example with characters learning skills that allow them to collect the necessary resources. Of course this has been done in virtually very other MMO to some degree of success or failure. As MMOs progress the players often lose interest in making things that can be sold at Auction because the gold spent, the time and the effort that goes into making something is very often not worth what you can sell it for; also it is almost always inferior to what you can find by killing the right creatures. Where PATHFINDER does differ quite considerably from other MMOs is that when you kill an adversary, a robber, a goblin etc you don't get to search their bodies, and if you die then you lose everything you were carrying, everything you had collected, unless you can get back (often from a long way away) to claim your remains and even then you do not get everything back, plus of course if you die again en route then your first body disappears and everything is totally lost.

PATHFINDER MMO is still in its infancy and will I am sure go on to become a major player in the world of computer gaming in the same way that the role-play version has in the world of RPGs, but from what I have seen and played this is still some fair way into the future and will take the time and dedication of PATHFINDER fans. I hope I am wrong but my experiences in gaming have shown that there is not as much cross-over between Online players and tabletop players as you would think. I, for instance, will happily play PATHFINDER rpg or World of Warcraft MMO, but unless there were special circumstances, not WoW rpg or, at the moment, PATHFINDER ONLINE.

There are a lot prettier and more eye-catching MMO games and environments with wondrous background views, cities and amazing character races than PATHFINDER ONLINE but they don't have the depth of storyline possibilities that PATHFINDER ONLINE has available. Personally I would have liked to see PATHFINDER ONLINE hit the ground running with an exciting storyline from the beginning instead of all the going through the motions of building the character via the boring collect and deliver quests. These could have been available in a pre-entry level setting for new players while experienced MMO players who know PATHFINDER as a role-playing game could get straight into an exciting tale. Most MMOs have a lot of similarities just as most RPGs do. Think of it this way, when you sit down to play a new RPG for the first time, how many of you actually read the part in the GM's Guide or Player's Handbook that explains what a role-playing game is? You don't because you already know what is expected of you. You create your 1st level character and are filled with the expectation of an adventure that is doable for characters of your level but that will offer some challenge and test your character's skills and abilities. As I said earlier, if every time you began a new rpg your GM sent you off to play postman you would soon get a new GM. Well in online gaming the game is the GM!

At the moment, for experienced online games players I am not convinced that PATHFINDER ONLINE has enough to offer to make you want to change from your current regular MMO. When D&D Online appeared for the first time many role-players who were playing WoW went over to the new game, but within a very short time most of them had returned; the reason being that they were having to do everything again as if they were newbies instead of seasoned veteran players. But for players new to MMO I believe they will find something as established as WOW to be too daunting and very difficult to get into, and so PATHFINDER ONLINE is the ideal MMO for them. They can take their time to learn and grow their characters and gaming experience without the hustle and bustle of the very busy WOW universe. Think of it as driving on holiday; you can get onto the Motorway and experience the mad rush of traffic speeding along and missing every place of interest en route, or you can take the A and B roads and have an entirely new and more satisfying experience; PATHFINDER ONLINE being those A & B roads and WOW being the Motorway.

PATHFINDER ONLINE is from Goblinworks who can boast having the renowned Ryan Dancey counted in their number. If you want to know more about PATHFINDER ONLINE Characters please follow this link POC where you will find an excellent feature.

Personal Note:
I had a good run around in the universe of PATHFINDER ONLINE but for me personally I think I came into it at the wrong time. I had just virtually stopped playing WoW after having played it since day one of the UK beta and I was again getting more into tabletop role-playing (Pathfinder) as well as playing card games (Pathfinder Adventure card game) and boardgames (all manner of...) Plus I am involving myself more into my music, writing songs, playing guitar etc all distractions that take up my time. 


© Chris Baylis 2011-2015