This series is primarily intended for an audience who has never played the game and possibly has never played an MMOG before, although the last part in particular should be helpful for some players of the game. I stopped playing in September 2006, prior to the release of the expansion pack and the rise in the level cap to 70, so that material is not covered.
It is very important to prepare for this game prior to play. Get friends to join you in playing it. Ideally get a friend who has a higher level character to make a new character to guide you along. If you’re planning to play for at least a few hours a day (non-casual) or if you end up playing that much, you should invest in a headset and microphone and use the free software of Ventrilo or Teamspeak, so you can talk to your friends and/or guildmates during play. With very few exceptions (discussed later) this game is a social activity. I (and perhaps others, given the growing popularity of these types of games) see these games as providing a transition from an isolated mass-media (television) culture to a culture of solidarity. As I describe the game this will come to light.
In this game you possess a character and guide him or her around a color-saturated environment from a close 3rd person perspective, initiating some interactions with that environment. The primary progression of the game involves the degree of power of your character, which rises through “killing monsters” and following orders issued from computer-controlled characters. By “killing monsters” I mean you gain physical proximity with a computer-controlled creature and use various skills to cause the creature to fall (sometimes yielding treasure), which then returns intact in a few minutes (the McDonald’s version of reincarnation). You’ll have choices to make when you construct your character but don’t worry about them – just pick whatever sounds like fun. If your friends are also making new characters coordinate so that each of you chooses a different class – it will help you proceed through the game more quickly.
The cumulative effect of killing a lot of monsters and successfully following a lot of orders is that your character gains levels, gains statisical points and skills which enhances his combat abilities, and then moves to killing different monsters, following different orders, and moving to different environments within the gameworld. So at one point in the game you’ll be fighting in a snowy land and in another a dry desert. The monsters to an extent become more fearsome as your character gains in level.
The gameplay in these games is boring (players call it the “grind”) which is partially why socializing with your friends is so important. What makes these games a valuable social experience is that it helps to coordinate with your friends in killing the monsters and following the orders – you can then raise levels faster and explore more areas of the game more rapidly, gaining a shared sense of accomplishment.
Much of the non-social aspect of fun in the game is based on your character’s equipment. Much as the character progresses in power through levels, his equipment also progresses in power (through levels and otherwise), and has enough variety to keep many players satisfied as they proceed through the game.