(…that awkward moment when you finally enjoy playing your MMOs even more than you enjoy writing about them)
Archive for the ‘MMOs’ Category
I apologize to those of my readers who are still around and who might have thought they’d get any sort of meaningful commentary from me about The Secret World’s release or the impending, almost anti-climactic (no, really, who am I kidding? It was always going to be climactic) FINALLY of Guild Wars 2. I’m still alive, though a number of real-world matters have pushed updating the blog and gaming itself to a bit of a backburner. Everyone’s fine and healthy, though, and I’m not pregnant, so I can’t really complain.
Mr. Randomessa and I have been enjoying our limited time in The Secret World, however. We’re lifetime subscribers, which makes the next few days blissfully decision-free since we don’t have to evaluate how much we’ve been playing or how much we intend to play. We play when we can, and we’ve been having a blast. We’re running with different factions so that we can read each other our respective factions’ responses to our mission status, and watch as we sabotage one another.
We steered relatively clear of the last Guild Wars 2 beta weekend event because we’re honestly just ready to play the real thing at this point. We spent just enough time tinkering with character creation and the Asura and Sylvari starting areas to develop a whole new appreciation for those arrogant little midgets. As someone who previously had my Sylvari main’s life journey planned out for the past two years, I can say that I for one welcome my new Asuran overlords.
It’s my hope that life settles down soon enough (and enough in general) that I can really sit back and enjoy playing these games and continue to post about them, because from what I can tell, this is going to be the best year for MMOs for me. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that after this I may very well be done with looking for the next Great Thing. These two seem to have us covered, and I hope they remain to for a good long time.
Hope you all are well, my friends in the computer. Ciao Ciao!
Being the MMO junkie that I am, I have been following the development of The Secret World with some interest for the past few years, despite the fact that it seemed in many ways to be the polar opposite of the kind of MMO I thought I’d enjoy. I mean, it’s set in the present day when I love medieval fantasy settings, it’s got a horror theme when I avoid the horror genre like the plague, it’s an ARG when I dislike having to look up sources outside a game to progress, it’s gear-based when I’d rather bring my wits to a battle, and it’s got a raiding endgame when I’d rather gnaw off my own arm than partake. Oh, and it’ll have a monthly subscription fee, and I’ve all but sworn those off.
Still, I couldn’t help but be intrigued by the ideas being put out there by Funcom, and I’ll be the first to admit that the first 30 or so levels of Age of Conan (yes, even the first few post-Tortage levels) were some of the best story and most memorable times I’ve had in an MMO. A level-less system appeals to the part of me that hates self-enforced leveling pacts, and Funcom’s eye for scenery, and gorgeously replicating such, can’t really be denied. So while I haven’t pre-ordered, I did get on over to Gamespot and nab a weekend beta key to try this out for myself. And even though I’d seen a ton of footage and read up on many of the game’s systems, I was still pleasantly surprised at how much I liked what I saw when I got to take the reins.
First, the bad, or maybe the “meh.” Character customization is limited. There weren’t very many female faces (or combinations of features) I could choose that made me feel I was looking at a real human, nevermind whether I felt they straddled a believable range of attractiveness. Skin color was inexplicably tied to base face shape. There were no varying ethnic hairstyles to correspond with the diverse (thank you!) ethnic facial features on display. No sliders makes a sad Randomessa. And I couldn’t see a way to alter my body size or shape, even to the degree that Age of Conan allowed it.
Character animations are… not very good, in my opinion. Running is pretty bad; jumping is quite awful. In-combat animations have no “oomph” to them; I never feel like I’m really hitting anything, just swinging my arms through mush. I couldn’t figure out how to emote, though in the case that I didn’t miss something obvious, beta is beta and that’s one thing I’m sure will be added in prior to launch. Quests, whenever they more closely resembled typical MMO quests, suffered from the same problems I have with them elsewhere: waiting in line for spawns, competing for interactable nodes, etc.
Quests, whenever they did not closely resemble typical MMO quests, were a delight. Being able to put a random bit of knowledge to use in cracking a password was amusing. Having to decipher notes and apply recipes and talk to all manner of crazy people really mixed things up for me, and having quest icons let me know right off the bat if what I’d be asked to do involved wholesale slaughter or investigative work of some sort was just the kind of quest hint I appreciate. As with Age of Conan, NPCs are fun to talk to about a wide range of subjects, and they all are injected with quirky personalities that make them memorable after the fact (I still remember the guy in Tortage who hid the pearl in his… hidey place, for example, and I’ll remember Kingsmouth’s Deputy Andy for a long time as well). I greatly enjoyed all the voice acting and the varied accents involved (being neither a New or Old Englander, I have no idea how cringe-worthy they might have been for one from those regions. I did guffaw with recognition at the fortune-teller’s southern Californian nasal drawl, though).
Once I actually got down to fighting, I quickly stopped minding the combat animations so much. This is not to let Funcom off the hook for not making them more impressive, but I did find myself more interested in the effects I could apply and exploit, and combining the skills of two weapons to be more effective. There were plenty of circles of doom to step out of, and big monster wind-up tells, which meant that animations or no, I felt I constantly had to be on the move to get out of hairy situations alive.
Scenery-wise, I couldn’t have asked for more, and I did muse aloud that I think The Secret World may have the best-rendered trees I’ve seen in an MMO yet. Having the in-game clock displayed as a cell-phone HUD is ever so fitting, and made me use the in-game clock more readily than I have in other MMOs that provide the same – it probably helps that sunrise and sunset are done so well here, with the light playing off structures in a really believable way. I’m reminded of LOTRO and Fallen Earth, but I feel TSW takes it just that bit farther, which makes sense given the release year.
Finally, I wasn’t sure how the “level-less” system was going to feel in practice, and I think it’s clear that you are still gated, in a sense, by how many skill/anima points you can put into building your skill trees; I’m sure you’ll need skills more than 2 points deep (and so on) to beat certain bosses in missions, etc. But from what I could tell, there was one very big gate missing for me as I progressed through the overarching storyline missions: at no time was it “suggested” to me that I be of a certain capability before proceeding, and I actually did skip most side missions just to see if I would be able to. Not only was I allowed to do this, I could also still keep pace with the monsters the game threw at me, even within story instances, which is more than I can say for the previous two heavily story-based MMOs I recently beta tested. I don’t know if this is indicative of the rest of the game or just a case of beta trying to make it easy on us, but I could not have been happier.
Oh, I’ll do the side missions – I have nothing against them – but being the story fiend that I am, if I had a common complaint to lodge against both SW:TOR and Guild Wars 2, it was that my major storyline was spread out over levels such that I had to engage in other activities before I could feasibly continue, and I hate being restricted in that way. Not having levels meant both that the early zombies were not quite trivialized, while still allowing me to see progress in my ability to take down harder enemies. Later I look forward to not facing down an exponential XP curve to acquire that next SP or AP (dare I hope?).
One riddle I can’t seem to crack about The Secret World is that of audience; that is, what is the audience Funcom is going for, and how big is it? On the one hand, I welcome the changes from the standard MMO, both genre-, mechanics- and content-wise, and I think this could be a really strong niche title with an amazing, helpful, tight-knit community if it gets all the technical issues ironed out before launch. On the other hand, with EA backing it, how happy would they be with a “strong niche title?” I just don’t see this going over well with a lot of crowds, from the open-PvPers to the action combat fans to the sandbox aficionados to the rush-to-endgame crowd. Yet it has the raiding and the gear progression and a subscription fee that seems to imply they expect more than a few folks to cross over from other games and make a home here. I can’t quite figure it out. What would constitute a success for The Secret World?
So now I find myself wondering whether the things I feel TSW does so well – story, interesting world and characters, variety and complexity in gameplay, stunning graphics – really do trump the things that bug me like the odd old-school resource competition, a raiding end-game with gear progression, subscription fee, and my qualms about the audience and success it may or may not achieve. I don’t have an answer yet, but prior to this weekend, I thought there was no question at all. I’m not convinced there isn’t some Illuminati mind control involved.
*With regards to Katy Perry (though I prefer Karen Gillian‘s version myself).
When one of my Guild Wars alliance mates offered up a SW:TOR buddy key a few weeks ago, I took her up on it since I have been curious about how things would play out given more time to explore other storylines in the world. Since I discovered during the SW:TOR beta weekends that I liked the Bounty Hunter playstyle best (but didn’t care for the story), I rolled a Trooper this time, and had a better time of it. Something about the fact that I was a soldier made it easier to accept the game’s conceits (and most quests) and “just go along” with whatever was going on – I have orders, after all – rather than playing a civilian where I always wonder why they don’t just decide to up and leave. This is true of most MMOs I play, by the way – I like my grunt status, thanks.
I liked playing a Trooper enough to get past many of the other niggling things that I already noted rub me the wrong way about Bioware and traditional MMO style games, and the sad fact is that since Mr. Randomessa refused to join me on this experiment, leveling was easier because I never had to wait on or catch up with him either. So it was with regret that I reached level 15 on my Trooper and the game informed me that I would no longer be able to progress, nor would I be able to continue my storyline to the point of getting to ride in the ship I’d just acquired, or travel to another planet. I’d have known that if I’d read all the fine print, of course. Well played, Bioware.
I then rolled a Jedi Consular and an Imperial Agent and hated the gameplay, and further ran into the complication of my Consular being sent to the same planet as my Trooper and therefore running into the exact same quests I’d just completed a day earlier. I also had the frustrating experience of my Consular outright stating in her quest dialogue that she would try to find a peaceable solution to the quests my Trooper had previously solved by “lighting it up,” only to be faced with the same sea of red names that my Trooper had. I think I got the option to use Force Persuade at one point, which I guess is the game’s way of letting you have a peaceable solution, but I was kind of hoping I could do things with actual diplomacy rather than Jedi Mind Tricks. I know, I know, I was asking for too much.
At any rate, I liked playing the Trooper the most, but I didn’t like it “price of the box at launch cost for 30 days of play” much. If and when there’s a nifty discount on the box price of SW:TOR I’d like to free up her leveling path and see where I can get her, but in the meantime, she’ll remain in the hangar, ineffectually trying to board and re-board her brand new ship. For what it’s worth – which is not much – I would have bought the game at full launch cost in a heartbeat if I could play my Trooper at my leisure, instead of trying to get her as far as possible in a month’s time. But it was not meant to be. This is much more an indictment of the subscription model than Bioware’s game at this point, so I feel I’ve come a long way since that beta weekend so many months ago.
Well, I couldn’t let this one go by without comment.
All right, we’ve all read it. We’ve seen the forum outrage (and encouragingly enough, some reasoned discussion about it in places like Reddit). Mike O’Brien cites EVE’s PLEX system as the most apt comparison to GW2’s gems, though I haven’t any experience with that system, so I will let more informed observers comment on that. Hunter notes the similarities to Runes of Magic’s Diamond currency, and raises what I think are valid concerns on that front.
I have a rather strong aversion to heavily speculating on things I don’t have much information on, so I can’t pretend to know how this will turn out when real players with real cash are let loose in GW2 at launch. I do strongly feel that the people who are most upset are forgetting a few things:
- it’s impossible to buy power for the purposes of structured PvP
- buying one’s way to max gear or even max level won’t be the I Win button it is in some other games due to level-scaling and the fact that the max-level continent of Orr is full of elite dynamic events that can’t be soloed.
- further on the buying gear front, the most elite sets will still be those that are acquired in explorable-mode dungeons and not those purchased with either gold or karma. I would be surprised unto the point of hat-eating if you could trade explorable mode dungeon tokens or armor sets for gold.
- even those items, such as siege weapon blueprints, which can be purchased with gold in WvWvW, require supply to build, which requires playing the game as intended. The worst thing that could happen is that a guild spends a ton of money to hold a keep for a little longer for one campaign after which two things will happen:
- The rest of the servers will catch up in leveling to 80
- The WvWvW campaign will end and they’ll be re-matched and lose their advantage
The other aspect that people are upset about is the idea that some will be able to buy their way past significant time investments. There are two parts to this:
- The first is the stance that ANet will tune the game so that leveling without XP boosts will be tedious. I know the game is still in beta, so this is subject to change, but I think simply watching the videos that came out from the last press beta should put that worry to rest for the time being. Since the leveling curve plateaus, I don’t think it can reasonably be argued that we’ll hit a “grind wall” at this point.
- The second part is that people fear that certain time-or-monetarily-gained rewards will lose their impact if players can buy the gold with gems. While I understand the sentiment behind this argument, I also think that ArenaNet never gave me the impression that this was a particular feature they were supporting. The emphasis on armor sets won in explorable-mode dungeons, for example, as a source of prestige, rather than extremely expensive armor sets, seems clear in retrospect. I think it’s safe to say that while there would be high respect given to a FOW equivalent type of armor in GW2, there won’t be as much value placed on the equivalent to Vabbian armor, which only involved a high monetary (and thus time, rather than skill) investment.
(Bear with me, as I know you can “buy” runs to the FOW to pick up your armor set, but buying runs as they were in GW1 seems to be done with in GW2, so I doubt the same would be possible there.)
For my part, I do intend to use the cash shop, but I don’t see myself buying items of convenience. Give me shiny costumes, minipets, character slots and the like and I’ll show ArenaNet the money. And hey, if I happen to earn enough gold over time to get some of those shinies for the mere investment of my time, I’ll do that, too. It’s not like I need that XP bonus to play a 2×2 PvP match with my husband and a couple of friends, to vanquish the Shatterer, safely escort a caravan full of supply for the glory of my guild, or to put an end to Zhaitan’s reign of terror.
Could any of this change? Could ArenaNet really change the XP curve to make it tedious and grindy to level without the assistance of XP buffs and boosts? Could they sell armor and weapons through the cash shop that gives stats above and beyond what is ordinarily obtainable or affordable in-game? It all comes down to whether or not you believe Mike O’Brien:
it’s never OK for players to buy a game and not be able to enjoy what they paid for without additional purchases, and it’s never OK for players who spend money to have an unfair advantage over players who spend time.
I think GuildMag has the take I agree most with regarding the very much talked about PvP armor post, which was supposed to be about PvP armor and somehow became a thousand-word dissertation on the place of women and their clothing in video games.
I’ve found the response to this very interesting, especially since most of the outcry seems to be coming from either people who feel everyone’s making too big a deal out of the matter (but are throwing in their two cents anyway) or those who are in defense of the right of women everywhere to have virtual avatars wear as little as the the game will let them. This, despite the fact that these two groups are the ones whose positions are being represented by default.
As someone who has written blog posts only semi-mocking the initial deluge of innocent questions newcomers have regarding Guild Wars 2, I’m familiar with the notion that someone can come across an article or picture and not know the history behind it; the famous (among GW2 fans) “six or none!” quote by Kristen Perry, the article in which ANet’s armor design philosophy is laid out, the examples of variety among even Elementalist armor art in Guild Wars 1. With TERA looming on the MMO landscape and the controversies regarding its portrayals of Castanic armor and caster gyrations, I’m not surprised when someone happens by late in the game and wonders if Guild Wars 2 is any different. It’s really no different from when someone asks if they can still be a healer, what the raiding endgame is like, or if, indeed, you can jump.
But this matter, this matter was somehow so different. Unlike the many fans of GW2 who remain confident that raids as we know them won’t be added to console the gear treadmill junkies (no offense, some of my best friends are gear treadmill junkies and they told me it was okay to call them that), or who confidently create Youtube videos explaining how GW2 can exist without dedicated healers, the responses to concerns expressed about the featured PvP armor seemed to take the position that any concern was an attempt to lobby for the removal of that and any other armor that exposed the delectable female form.
Oh, there were informative links posted about how transmutation stones can be used to customize armor looks as well, but while inquiries about raids are occasionally peppered with a suggestion to “go back to WoW (or insert MMO here),” an alarming number of these responses just wanted the concerned parties to go away entirely (because there really aren’t MMOs where female avatars don’t have skimpy armor at all. Not that anyone was really asking for that, of course – it was a strawman to be knocked down – but it’s worth noting that there isn’t an MMO for such proponents to go to, if those people existed).
And therein lay the amusement for me. So many people were so worried that their option to clothe their female avatars (person behind the screen’s gender not relevant) as skimpily as they like would be taken away, that the fact that there is no alternative vision made their arguments all the more absurd. In what universe has anyone ever successfully lobbied to have skimpy armors removed from a game? None? Then why so serious? Really, look at the percentage of arguments out there in favor and defense of the featured PvP armor (especially the ones accusing others of being sex-negative or white knights) and tell me the vehemence of that response is warranted.
So, yes, check out the article. I really can’t recommend it enough.
Last week, Mr. Randomessa’s excitement got the better of him and he, too, re-subscribed to Star Trek Online to join me in boldly getting ahead of the free-to-play launch.
Of course, then Cryptic opened up access to anyone who had previously held a subscription as of January 5th. D’oh! It would just be our luck.
Since then, my husband has gained a rank on his Klingon and he and I have quested together Fed-side, and even done a couple of the PvE scheduled events together Klingon-side. I have been going to bed earlier the past few nights, so my own gameplay has been spotty, but the wonderful thing is – no worries; I just match his rank when we group and all is well!
He is also very enamored of the Duty Officer system and is taking it extremely seriously. Tipa has referred to Doff management as Facebook-style “cow clicking,” and I have never played a FB game so I can’t comment on how close that comes to the mark, but at any rate, it’s helped me set a new criteria for what I’m looking for in any future MMOs I play. In fact, one of my only existing concerns about Guild Wars 2 is that all of the minigames I’ve heard about so far involve competitive gameplay of some sort (bar brawl, keg rugby, shooting gallery) and what I really want is something with a non-combat focus and in which I do not need to compete against other players, but can still advance my character. I don’t need it to be all of the time. Just some of the time.
More and more I’ve been thinking about the MMO features I prefer and how they affect my enjoyment of the games I play, such as how greatly world travel and level-gating has impacted my husband’s and my enjoyment in LOTRO. These are old issues, familiar enough to MMO players that we have our cute slogans and practices, our static groups and our spousal leveling contracts, but something about wanting to enjoy my time in Tolkein’s universe and feeling thwarted instead of welcome every time I tried to share my gameplay with someone outside of a PUG made me snap, and I have decided I just won’t put up with these kinds of things anymore, no matter how intriguing the subject matter or setting of an upcoming game. I think this is what made it so easy for me to pass on the launch of SW:TOR after one beta weekend, my other reservations notwithstanding.
If I were to have a New Year’s Resolution this year (I haven’t made any), it would be: I will not participate in another spousal leveling contract.
There was an excellent forum post put up at MMORPG.com recently, called The Tao of Arenanet, that explains Guild Wars 2’s features in light of ArenaNet’s design philosophy and thus attempts to show why GW2 is not merely a collection of features that may or may not be represented to some degree in other MMOs such that they are interchangeable. I have been arguing this in a more or less incoherent fashion, here and in forum and blog comments, for the past two years, but this post says it so much more eloquently that I now tip my hat and say, “QFT.”