30 August 2013

SW:TOR // World Events

World Events are a common aspect found in many modern MMOs and Star Wars: The Old Republic is no exception. In addition to the Life Day festival, four world events (officially named In-Game Events) have taken place over the course of the game so far: the Rakghoul Pandemic Dynamic Event, the Chevin Grand Acquisitions Race, the Relics of the Gree Event and most recently the Bounty Contract Week. Each world event in SW:TOR may look good in theory and I am sure that a lot of players have greatly enjoyed all of them, but I for one felt that they were all rather boring and poorly implemented – some with very distinct drawbacks.

At the moment the Relics of the Gree and the Bounty Contract Week are considered recurring events, meaning players will be able to participate on a regular basis. It seems that the first week of every month will be a Bounty Contract Week while the Relics of the Gree Event will become available again every other month or so. One can assume that the Chevin Grand Acquisitions Race and the Rakghoul Pandemic Dynamic Event were one time occurrences, even though there is some discussion about whether or not the latter will return. This is one of the reasons why I generally dislike world events: players who are not online when the event takes place are going to miss the experience altogether. A problem that is somewhat mitigated by SW:TOR's recurring events. Another reason is that world events distract from the usual business, the everyday routine so to speak. I value structure and order and dependability extremely high, both in the real world as well as in virtual worlds and therefore do not appreciate distractions very much. I can, of course, fully understand why many people feel the need to mix things up now and then.

It was only after reading Shintar's description of the first Bounty Contract Week that I eventually decided to give it a try. I actually did everything exactly as she described it on my Chiss Bounty Hunter, but alas, I found the experience very unfulfilling, if not to say boring. Suffice to say I have no plans to repeat this event at all, let alone being sucked into the associated reputation grind.

Shintar has already beautifully covered the Relics of the Gree Event and its various iterations. I would like to point out that the major flaw here is inclusion of a PvP component which is also the primary complaint voiced on the official forums. The missions themselves only serve as another reputation and token grind and are not intrinsically fun. Therefore it should not be surprising that many people are only interested in reaching the desired reputation level or token count as soon as possible, thereby feeling forced to complete the two additional missions in the PvP area as well. Bringing two groups with very different tastes (PvE versus PvP) together in the same environment is a surefire recipe for disaster. Apparently the same situation has also happened in another game – with the same results.

Interestingly, even many players actually interested in PvP are ignoring this opportunity and behave in an orderly fashion just to complete their mission without delay rendering the whole “let’s add some PvEers as cannon fodder for the whining PvPers”-point moot. This does, however, not happen everywhere and/or not all the time, so that the individual player may still be faced with the typical PvP ganking.

In a similar vein, the Rakghoul Pandemic Dynamic Event was horribly designed because it consisted of several staged missions that only became available the following day (gated content). This meant that it was not possible to complete the entire event in one playing session. Maybe the developers felt the need to entice players to keep on p(l)aying. One may suggest that if this was the case, the experience could not have been so good to begin with. Moreover, the final reward for completing all related missions was a set of Medium Armor gear and hence only usable for certain classes (Adaptive Armor and Legacy gear were not yet implemented back then). Receiving all related Codex Entries required the defeat of three world bosses (two of them level 50), one of which was conveniently located in the open PvP area on Tatooine – again forcing the two different groups into the same environment.

Generally, I find the world events in SW:TOR to be utterly boring and badly designed and implemented. It is never a good idea to combine PvE and PvP aspects and, in fact, one should never, ever listen to PvP players in a PvE game in the first place. Make no mistake here: most theme park MMOs like SW:TOR, WoW, RIFT are actually PvE games first and foremost, with a poorly designed PvP component added on top. If someone truly desires an awesome PvP experience, then maybe, just maybe games like EVE Online or Darkfall Unholy Wars match their profile better.

26 August 2013

Personal MMO History

One of the hot topics in the recent past was the announcement that both WildStar and The Elder Scrolls Online will be employing a business model based on subscriptions. The former also offers an alternative payment method similar to PLEX in EVE Online. Bhagpuss has a very good post about how payment models generally do not matter all that much.

I'm a member of the apparently increasingly rare breed of gamers that likes to devote all their gaming time to one game, so a subscription is great in terms of value for money. -- Shintar

Since I agree with this statement entirely, I am more than pleased by this shift away from a misleadingly named F2P model. While I am not that interested in TESO, WildStar on the other hand leaves me hopefully optimistic – at least judging by what has been revealed so far about both games.

Considering the commitment and devotion I deem necessary for real MMO gaming, it should not come as a surprise that I have not played that many MMOs up to now. I am not a very creative person and I find describing aesthetics and art design (in video games) rather difficult. The following is a chronological overview of my experiences with different MMOs.

This was the first ever MMO I played and the one I played the longest. I was deeply invested and the decision to abandon ship so to speak did not come easily. I still think that WoW is the most polished MMO where everything feels natural and in place. Some people are pondering a return, but I am not one of them – even if Blizzard were to revert the game back to a state that I would enjoy. To quote Shintar yet another time: “I think I hit a "point of no return" in WoW, having been disappointed too many times... even if Blizzard changed it into the perfect game for me tomorrow, I'd still be suspicious of it”. Maybe I will revisit my old characters when WoW goes F2P at some point in the future.

It must have been about a year after LotRO launched that a friend gave me a trial pass to test the game. The world Tolkien created has shaped the fantasy genre in numerous ways and the opportunity to enter that world, to be part of that gaming experience – developed with adherence to the lore – was a dream come true. The brutal reality, however, was that I felt almost immediately repulsed by the game. There was no sense of awe or wonder upon entering and I cannot quite point my finger as to why that was. It might have had something to do with the character models, particularly with their movement and with the UI. Everything just felt clunky and out of place. I wanted to give the game a chance so badly that I pushed on until I simply could not take it any more. The level of polish was miles behind what I came to expect. WoW had certainly spoiled me. My wife and I tried again some time ago (long after LotRO went F2P), but we could not force ourselves to like it. My wife is usually very calm and thoughtful, but she ranted on for quite some time about how unfathomably bad that game was and how she was at a loss for words that our friend actually bought a Lifetime subscription.

This is my current MMO and I have been playing it pretty much since launch. The game feels very clean and everything falls into place quite neatly. The level of polish is second only to that of WoW – just ignore the many, many, many bugs. Despite what the haters claim, this game does not suck and its drawbacks are primarily rooted in the limitations of the Hero Engine and certainly do not lie in voice acting or in story-driven content. In fact, it is voice-acting more than anything that has spoiled me yet again for future MMOs. I do not even want to imagine reading quest texts again. Nevertheless, the transition to F2P has hit my commitment and my dedication to SW:TOR very hard and I seriously dislike the direction the game is heading in: more and more daily hubs and an overemphasis on the Cartel Market. I do not know how long I will keep on p(l)aying.

TERA prides itself on introducing action combat to the MMO genre and I felt like giving this idea a try after the game went F2P mainly due to Liore’s positive comments. I have about 14 hours of played-time over the course of a weekend and I can safely say that this is not the game for me as I have come to realize that I genuinely dislike action combat in MMOs. More importantly, however, I simply do not care one bit about the world. I have no prior relationship with the IP and the whole setting feels very generic and exchangeable. This post offers some reasonable explanations as to why TERA is not that successful among western gamers.

This is part of my summer project. I created two characters shortly after the game went F2P and I did have a blast for some time. However, while the game does have potential, especially regarding the soul system, it also suffers from the absence of a compelling IP or lore. There is just no immersive reason as to why players should care about the world, its inhabitants and their conflicts. One thing I will say though, is that RIFT’s F2P restrictions are very unobtrusive, which is in stark contrast to SW:TOR.

WildStar is my new hope on the MMO horizon, though I am only hopefully optimistic at best. The video footage looks quite appealing but who knows what the actual gameplay will feel like. The game seems to be whimsical enough to make me care. However, Syl already adequately demonstrated that the developers have clearly misunderstood and misinterpreted the Explorer archetype. While I do have plans to give it a try when it will be released next Spring, I cannot help but feel a bit uneasy about their intentions.

16 August 2013

Macky's Back in Town

It has been over a month since my last post because I was thoroughly enjoying my summer holidays. My wife and I went on an extend summer vacation. We started our trip by visiting her parents for a week, followed by three weeks in Italy and lastly stayed for another week at my parents. We finally returned back home last week. That makes about five weeks of awesome and mainly relaxing summer time. And I even have one more week of holidays to enjoy.

Anyways, now that I am back online I will start posting more regularly again, especially since time obviously did not stand still in the world of MMO blogs and it seems I did miss quite a few juicy pieces.