Archive for March, 2010

Re-evaluating The Way I Play

With the latest set of MMOs to hit the market (the STOs and the Allods, the Alganons and the Aikas), and the vague specifications we’ve been receiving concerning upcoming games (APB to be subscription-free, DCUO’s financial model up in the air, Vindictus’s F2P vs. Tera’s P2P), there has been a fair amount of discussion on the blogosphere about ideas of immersion, casual play, subscription vs. free-to-play, time commitments driving what you play, etc. etc.

All of these bloggers have made points I can agree with and relate to, and the realities of my life have caused me to make certain choices about the type and number of games that I play as well. I have realized, since moving on from Guild Wars and into the larger world of MMOs, a few things about the way I play and the time I use for play, and the more I recognize these things, the happier I feel I’ll be with the reality of the situation.

  • As with many others, I feel the desire to play in an immersive virtual world, with a home to call my own, a profession with which to pay the bills, friends I can rely on, and a ready set of adventures upon which to embark at any given time.
  • However, maintaining such an environment requires a commitment of time that I lack, and a regularity I am unable to adhere to.
  • This fuels my determination to no longer continue to play subscription-fee games, with the possible exception of those which provide long-term or lifetime subscriptions at a discounted rate.
  • Games such as Guild Wars, DDO, or STO provide manageable, discrete packages of content that can be completed within a certain time-frame without a long-term commitment; however, such content does fail to fill in the sense of “belonging” to a game world and fully interacting within it.
  • Furthermore, the more convenient it is to solo such content, the more isolated I can become as a gamer and the fewer ties I feel to such a game, unless I am also playing with my better half.
  • The result has been that I no longer seek or expect to find any one game that “scratches all itches;” that is, one Ultimate MMO that provides every single craving I have for a virtual world; if one did, I would be unable to fully engage with each of those spheres due to my real-life limitations.
  • Instead, there are several games that each fulfill a particular niche in my range of interests, and provide a particular source of fun for the duration I am able to play.
  • I am perfectly okay with that. It fits the way my life is today the way MUDding for hours on end fit my life in another age.
  • Rather than lament the loss of one model (which is really the nostalgia for the responsibility-free, sleep-deprived life I led when I was 19 years old), I prefer to marvel at the model of gaming that I use today, which enables me to sample a variety of games the likes of which I could not have imagined a dozen years ago.

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I am utterly susceptible to trying practically any game at all if enough people talk about how good something is, regardless of my own trusted experiences with said game. I simply cannot resist seeing for myself what the fuss is about. This flaw in my psyche is why I tried WoW three times, why I patched up LOTRO last weekend, and why I am now re-downloading Dungeons & Dragons Online Unlimited.

Having tried the free trial of DDO (pre-Unlimited) on two separate occasions, I can say that my previous impression was that I vehemently hated it. I simply do not feel that a video game based on a pen-and-paper strategic turn-based combat system is the place to insert an real-time, action-based combat system. I agree with Syncaine in that I feel combat is far too fast, and that it is this fast in a game based on Dungeons & Dragons of all things is particularly upsetting to me.

I also found it frustrating that outside of RPing in a tavern, I did not feel there were enough tools to make role-playing choices or interact with the environment in the sort of varied way you would get with the traditional PnP version. My cleric felt like just another cleric running just another dungeon (and don’t get me started on repeating dungeons!), and while I accept that this is the case in many other MMOs, I expected so much more from such a franchise. There is also a rather vocal contingent on the forums who show up to any negative post or review of the game, eager to tell anyone who doesn’t love it all about how they’re obviously doing it wrong.

In short, I had expected a more role-play heavy, slower combat type of game. I had been looking forward to seeing more room and more in-game rewards for personal creativity realized in digital form, and I was sorely disappointed with the reality.

But I am me, and I cannot resist picking the game up again in light of the newest reports that members, subscriptions and profits are way up for DDOU these days. I admire Turbine for implementing a F2P model that has far eclipsed many others currently being tried in the western gaming world. In some way, I want to do my part to support them because I want other companies take heed and adopt this model as well.

I don’t know that I will not throw my mouse at the monitor (…again) after half an hour of clickclickclicking my way through another dungeon. I do know that I will be purchasing a Warforged character this time around, for increased survivability (this is a huge hit to my Pretty, Pretty Princess factor, but so are the red-blooded character models). I will be taking advantage of the Hireling system, which is new to me, as well as playing with my better half and perhaps a couple of RL friends when possible.

I want to like this game so badly. It is the only Dungeons & Dragons Online we have, and probably the only one we ever will. If I can just manage to have some fun this time, I am sure that I can overlook everything else.

I am taking a deep breath, dusting DDO off, and going back in.

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I have tried out a number of MMOs, both paid and free to play, and I can’t say I’ve noticed any stark differences between the two styles as far as the fun factor is concerned. I’ve even subscribed to a few games, and/or bought longterm or lifetime subscriptions to others. But I am beginning to feel more strongly as time goes on that no one game can appeal to all of my gaming desires, so it is not reasonable for me to buy into one game and play it to the exclusion of all others. I just don’t want to have to pay subscriptions for all of them, when I play them so sporadically!

Currently I am playing Star Trek Online (year-long sub), Wizard 101 (free until I purchase more content), Aika (as further betas allow), and am trying to get back into Lord of the Rings Online (lifetime sub). Now, if I could continue to play any of the following without paying additional subscription fees, I would gladly pop back into:

  • Warhammer Online: the thought of a free T1 experience was appealing to me until I discovered that only Empire vs. Chaos lands could be accessed. I would be back in a heartbeat if Mythic enabled me to, say, pay by the tier – if I could purchase T1 access and have access to all three lands forever (or even one fee per pairing; I would pay that, too!), with all of my characters. If they would add fees for access to T2 through 4 in the same way, I’d be all over that. They could take from DDO’s model in this way, such that anyone could obviously bypass the Tier For Fee option and just pay a full subscription for access to the whole game.
  • Age of Conan: I loved the Tortage experience, but even so, I’m not that big a fan of repetition and after playing through the 1-20 game with all four archetypes, I feel I’ve exhausted that content. The addition of new content through the Rise of the Godslayer expansion has me really tempted to return and try running through with a member of the Khitai race, and really itching to try out the lands of Khitai for their contrast to the existing continents. But again, it would be really nice if I could buy this content. I would even be willing to pay extra on the price of the expansion if I could “own” access to the lands of Khitai. Heck, charge me $25 over the expansion box price and let me progress only through the lands of Khitai, stopping at level 40, but have access to that area forever.
  • City of Heroes/Villains and Champions Online: My partner and I had a lot of fun with CoX, though, as many others have said, most of our time was spent in character creation and we never really made it past level 12 or so (though I have a level 21 character that I soloed with). Again, it seemed just a bit too much to maintain a subscription for the amount of time we were spending with the game, and feeling compelled to “get our money’s worth” on the subscription tended to make us feel a bit sick of the content early on (I doubt I would have felt the mission structure was as repetitive as I did if I only attempted one mission in a week, instead of trying to get in 4-5 per night). Champions Online was my solo game, and I had enough fun with it that I felt sad when I canceled my subscription after one month, for the aforementioned reason.
  • Vanguard, Saga of Heroes: Now, here is a game that I feel would benefit from enabling permanent free access to the trial island. Between my better half and I, we couldn’t even make it to Adventuring level 10 in the two-week trial period, let alone in the other two spheres. I do have a concern that we game in too short of spurts to really make it far in a game of such sprawling landscapes and dungeons as Vanguard, but I would like to try, and would happily pay a one-time per-area fee for that opportunity.

Someone on the Massively forums said, in response to a player bemoaning the lack of American players’ ability to pay by the hour when playing games the way they do in Asia, that “if you play enough” the subscription fee is a bargain. Yes, it certainly is – if you play enough. Right now the only option with subscription games is to either play “enough,” overpay for sporadic gaming schedules, or not to play at all.

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I have given serious thought to returning to Lord of the Rings Online since the newest addition of Book III, which will enable solo players to take on epic quests that formerly required groups to complete. Since I have a level 30-something Minstrel parked somewhere in Book 2, and a level 22 Hunter parked at Book 1, I thought I would give it a try and see if I can get that sense of story progression back. The story is the reason I wanted to play LOTRO in the first place, and I’ve always found it discouraging that I cannot progress at the pace of my choosing.

LOTRO hasn’t made it easy on me so far: the first time I tried to log in, my driver blue-screened my system, spooking me for a couple of days (there has since been a warning posted about an issue with new Nvidia drivers).

The second time I logged in, I discovered that the level 20 mount I blew all my silver on when I last played is no longer in my possession. I no longer have a mount skill in my Mounts tab. Upon asking the Advice channel, several other returning players noted that the same thing had happened to them. Okay, bug report submitted, no real skin off my nose (just 200 silver).

Then I lost connection with the login server (while my better half plays Warcraft III, so our internet stability is just fine).

Okay then! Perhaps I’ll try this returning to the game thing next week.

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There are two upcoming MMOs that have only recently started to make waves, with websites and forums going live within the past week. They could not be more different from one another in approach: one will be a boxed product with a subscription fee attached, set in a post-apocalyptic world with heavily skill-based character development, and is being developed by a small indie group. The other is being developed by a prominent Asian free-to-play distributor, in a familiar theme-park format with classes, magic, dungeons and pets.

What both of these games have in common is that they appear to be promising the moon among their respective features; if they manage to deliver on their promises, both may just succeed in making a big splash within their genres of choice.

Xsyon (forecasted release date: April 2010)

Among Xsyon’s touted features are in-game seasons, character aging, the ability to create or destroy all items in the game, migratory animals and creatures with no respawn, body part targeting in combat, player tribes, player housing, and the list goes on and on. I don’t even like sandbox games or post-apocalyptic settings, and I am still salivating to see how this game pans out. Currently the only way to get a peek of the game in action will be to pre-order the box, something a lot of gamers are predictably leery of. I hope enough people give it a shot to see what’s out there; even though Xsyon might sound too good to be true, I am an optimist and I always cross my fingers for small indie developers to buck the trend and make their dream come true – even the outlandish ones that everyone tells them aren’t possible. I am definitely keeping my eye on this one and have recommended it to my Fallout 3-loving better half should it hit the stores as planned in April.

Forsaken World (forecasted release date: 2010)

Forsaken World comes to us from Perfect World Entertainment, who also produced Perfect World, Jade Dynasty, and Ether Saga, and who are distributing Torchlight. They certainly seem determined to bring high production values and something different to this game, based on the feature list which contains such goodies as greatly enhanced monster AI, sub-professions that complement and enhance gameplay from increased XP to better bargains with the merchants, non-combat dungeons, persistent world effects caused by bosses, moving guild capture points, astrology, and many other items, all of which sound too good to be true (I will believe in smart monster AI when I see it). PWE has been working on this for around two years and have made it an international project. I’ve heard this “game will appeal to both Eastern and Western audiences” speech before (hello Aion), but again, I like to see companies try new things, and perhaps PWE can even take the lessons learned from Aion and make something really cool happen with Forsaken World.

Perhaps these games are little more than pipe dreams, but I just don’t have it in me to be too cynical about gaming.  Games make me happy, and I like being happy, so I will always look on the bright side and give these developers the benefit of the doubt.

I’m holding my breath, Notorious Games and Perfect World Entertainment!

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Aika: On Notice

Aika - You're on notice!

Dear Aika,

My experience in killing 50 Young Boars before I could obtain even one of three Fire Essences I required to summon my Fire pran was not one I hope to repeat in this lifetime. It was such a frustrating ordeal, in fact, that I simply opted to summon a Water pran instead and bought the necessary Essences from an eyesore player-run store at the city’s entrance. I don’t even want a Water pran! However, I suppose I can learn to like her. It sure beats killing 150 boar, after all.

Aika, you’re fun so far, you’re certainly pretty, I’m excited about my new pran and am interested in learning more about your storyline when you go live. In the meantime, Aika, consider yourself ON NOTICE.

Water Pran: A hard-won prize

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