Bring up AOC amongst a group of gamers and one of them will invariably bring up its “amazing, realistic graphics“. Bring up WoW amongst a group of gamers and one of them will invariably complain about its “cartoony graphics“.
So why is AOC realistic and WoW more like a cartoon? Obligatory decision? Personal preference of the designers? You could argue that WoW has cartoony graphics so it scales better with older machines. That makes sense, but there’s something else to consider here.
WoW is High-Fantasy. AoC is Low-Fantasy.
Let me put it another way. Comic Book Movies. Yes. Comic Book Movies. More specifically, X-Men. Even more specifically, Wolverine.
In the comic books Wolverine wears a yellow spandex body-suit comprised of a lot sharp angles. In the comic-book, he looks awesome. In real life though, he’d just look silly, which is why in the movie Hugh Jackman wears a black leather outfit along with all of the other X-Men. Their costumes from the comic-books just don’t translate to real life.
WoW is High-Fantasy, therefore it involves elves, wizards, gnomes, etc.. It also involves flamboyant spells, weapons, armor, you get the idea.
Wow has to look cartoony, because a lot of its weapons and (especially) armor wouldn’t work if the game looked more realistic. Since WoW is entrenched in a high-fantasy environment, it has to look cartoony. Genre denotes graphics.
Low-Fantasy, however, is more down to earth. The weapons and armor are all based more in reality and therefore really shine when shown with graphics that make them look as real as possible.
So which one is better? Neither. They’re just two opposite ends of the spectrum. For what WoW is, WoW needs that cartoony look to support it. For what AoC is, it needs those fabulously realistic graphics to help push the limits of what its genre offers.
One has to wonder if that’s one of the reasons why that’s why high-fantasy MMO’s were more popular earlier on. Cartoony graphics are easier for computers to handle (fewer polygons, etc). Since cartoony graphics work best with high-fantasy (and anime styled games), perhaps that’s why we’ve had so many of them. A case of graphics actually denoting the genre. If that’s the case then perhaps as the average computer grows more powerful will begin to see a substantial increase in games that work better in a realistic environment such as low-fantasy and sci-fi.
We’ll just have to wait and see.