Cool stuff that just doesn’t happen in ‘safe’ MMORPGs

Last week I made the case that it’s absolutely possible to include open PvP in an MMORPG without it necessarily becoming a paradise for the wolves and a nightmare for the sheep.

Today I’d like to follow up with the reason to include it in the first place. Why should a game allow players to attack one another without both parties’ consent when it just could, you know, not allow it instead?

When I look back upon 35 years of playing video games my personal answer to that is quite clear: the most elaborate quest, the trickiest of puzzles, the most complicated boss-mechanic – none of this could ever be as unpredictable, exciting and memorable as interactions between human beings in an open, unscripted environment.

Note that I said interactions, not combat. In fact some of the memories I’ll share with you today don’t involve players killing each other at all, or at the very least not out of malice. Let’s face it though, at their heart most MMORPGs are mainly about combat. Even with those that have great housing, gathering, crafting, all that kind of stuff, I’d wager that the majority of players spend at least 80% of their time fighting something or someone (travel time excluded). It’s no surprise, then, that in order to let players interact in non-cooperative ways combat comes to mind rather naturally.

Anyway, here they come, my fond memories of MMORP-gaming moments made possible by open PvP rulesets.

PvPmoments_UO
He also serves who only stands and waits

Not only was Ultima Online my first MMORPG, it was also the first (and last) time I joined a roleplay-focused guild. We were the Guard of Yew, tasked with protecting the eponymous little town. The first RP-event I was part of was centered around a guy who’d done something bad and thus had to be hunted. Somehow I was the one who found and caught up to him. So what did I do to make sure he didn’t escape? Well, I gave him a good walloping with my mace of course. He didn’t wear any armor though and dropped dead from the second hit.

PvPmoments_OOooOO
Errr…about eleven, Sir!

It was then explained to me that I wasn’t supposed to do that. Instead I should have acted out the process of catching him with emotes. Oopsie…

Fortunately nobody was mad at me, actually we all had quite a laugh about it. Someone even made a comment along the lines of that they now knew whom to call whenever real bad guys show up.

Another time I was standing around in one of the game’s cities when I got an on-screen message that someone had just stolen an item from me. When I looked back to my avatar I noticed a player running away from my position whom I hadn’t noticed before, so I figured it must be the dirty thief. I gave chase, intent to teach the guy some manners. Only that when I tried to hit him I found my character angrily shaking his fists instead – for it was my axe that he’d stolen!

Dumbfounded, I stopped running after him and just stood there for a moment, watching him sprint out of sight, probably off into the sunset with his shiny new axe. Then I started laughing and couldn’t stop for quite some time. The axe wasn’t overly valuable anyway, and I found imagining someone steal such a huge hunk of metal from me, right out of my hands no less, just hilarious.

PvPmoments_AA1

Many years later I was playing ArcheAge Unchained, minding my business in Two Crowns, our family’s eternally peaceful home region, when a Haranyan player crossed my path. He wasn’t running or trying to hide, he seemed to be strolling about without a care in the world. This was strange because only residents of the respective continent are safe in these regions. Enemies of the state, in our case Haranyans and pirates, can be attacked at any time (and only then fight back). Either he didn’t know that or he didn’t care. Anyway, I don’t have the habit of killing players of much lower level than myself, but I knew that if he kept prancing around in the open like that someone else would do so sooner rather than later.

I didn’t assume that he’d bothered to learn the Nuian language before coming here, so I couldn’t warn him verbally. Instead I fired one shot at him, which took about a third of his health, and then ran a bit back and forth to indicate that he should get a move on. He just stood there, obviously not quite knowing what to do. Then…he actually fired a couple of shots back at me!

Due to level- and gear-disparity I took next to no damage, but I somehow felt that he hadn’t gotten the message. I fired another two quick shots, taking his health down to almost nothing, and resumed to just stare at him. Then he spawned his mount and ran away full speed ahead.

I don’t know what became of him, but I hope he learned the lessons that a) when you visit the enemy continent you’ll want to be a bit more stealthy about it, and b) not every player will outright kill you when given the chance.

PvPmoments_AA2

One time our daily Hiram-raid’s leader sneakily opened a portal to Hellswamp instead of our next quest-destination. Before anyone had even noticed I, along with half the raid, had already jumped through and was quite puzzled by our new surroundings. As it turned out some of our leader’s guildies had been transporting trade packs during war and were now under attack by a small group of Haranyans.

He asked us to follow him and help his mates, which we did. Some players were a bit miffed by being utilized like that (because clearly no one’s got time for their dailies taking five minutes longer than usual, amirite?), but it seemed to me that the majority was quite happy about the diversion.

I wish I could have seen the Haranyan player’s faces. There were about half a dozen of them, and only two or three defenders, when all of a sudden our raid of at least fourty came crashing over the wannabe tradepack-thieves like a tidal wave.

Once the last farm wagon was safe we finished our dailies, but I for one would gladly interrupt or outright cancel such mundane tasks for rescue missions like this one at any time.

PvPmoments_AA3

Today’s final example is about having ‘bad guys’ get a taste of their own medicine.

Merl and I were farming mobs for their coinpurses in Western Hiram Mountains. We deliberately did so while the region was at war to get the bonus to loot drop chances. Fortunately I’m always trying to be aware of my surroundings in situations like these because I noticed two red players advance on us just in time to brace for the attack. Their intentions were very clear, so I just called “Reds, reds!!” on Teamspeak and immediately opened fire on the one who was already in range.

Everything happened so fast, I have no idea which classes they were playing and how high their gearscores were, but since they’d decided to attack us they’d obviously liked their chances. They were mistaken. We killed them both, with the two of us still standing. I feel no shame in admitting that it felt very good. They didn’t come back and try again either, so I guess we made our point.

To be fair though, I put the term ‘bad guys’ in quotations for a reason, because I don’t really feel that way. As far as I’m concerned players of the opposing factions are fair game when a region is at war. You even get honor for those kills, so it’s not only tolerated, but actually intended gameplay. Hence I don’t blame those two players for attacking us. That doesn’t mean that it wasn’t extremely satisfying to kill them though.

I could tell you about plenty more cool experiences I’ve had in games with open-PvP rulesets – some I’ve already talked about in the past, like this one in EVE for example – but I think these are enough to showcase the kind of exciting events I’m talking about when I say that allowing aggressive interactions between players adds value to the overall MMORPG-gameplay. For me at least.

Designing good MMO-PvP is hard – but not impossible

There’s been a lot of fuss about Amazon’s New World lately, specifically regarding the quite radical changes to its PvP-design. Originally planned as a free-for-all open PvP title, players will now be able to fight each other in “opt-in faction conflict and territory wars” only…or will they?

What bugs me personally about the ensuing discussions – if we can actually call them that, quite often it’s more like shouting and screaming at one another – is that the vast majority of players seems to be rooted firmly in one of two extremist camps, with absolutely no room for some middle ground.

Camp number one is mostly comprised of the hardcore PvP folks who wanted their big budget FFA-slugfest so bad. The gankers and griefers, as it were. Look, I am a fan of PvP and really hate it when all PvPers are painted with the same brush, but I’m not blind or stupid and know full well that this kind of player exists. Their dream-MMORPG would be all but unplayable for everybody else. History has proven as much.

The other camp is home to people who are like “If a game has any kind of non-consensual PvP I’m not touching it, period. Don’t wanna know anything about it, don’t care, lalala, I’m not listening!”.

Both camps seem to be totally convinced that finding a middle ground can’t, or worse, shouldn’t be done. Well, I beg to differ.

In my opinion there are some MMORPGs out there that manage to not only provide open PvP for those who like it, but also give incentives for and meaning to said PvP without actually forcing anyone to participate in it. Is any of those games perfect? No, because nothing ever is, but they prove that designing good and meaningful PvP can be done without the game in question automatically becoming a “gankbox”. I hate that term, by the way, ever since camp number two has decided to throw it around like candy whenever an upcoming game plans to have any kind of open PvP.

I’ll use ArcheAge as an example here because – again, in my opinion – its PvP aspects and how those are integrated into the game’s design as a whole are pretty well thought out. As a consequence there’s something here for everyone, and no one has to do stuff they don’t like, despite the different game systems’ various interdependencies.

ArcheAge_Empire8
Gliding into action – voluntarily

First of all, the game’s population is divided into two warring factions, with the option to switch to a third – the dastardly pirates – later on if you so desire. The two main factions each have their own home continent, separated by the sea. As I’ve talked about before a couple of regions constantly cycle through states of peace, conflict and war; everywhere else on your native land you’re absolutely safe all the time.

ArcheAgeU_first7
My home continent: fifteen regions, ten of which are permanently at peace

Our little family empire is located in Two Crowns, for example, which means that when we’re tending our crops, sleeping in our beds or doing whatever we can be totally relaxed, knowing that no harm can come to us.

When you do venture into a contested region – which you technically need to do only once for the quests there – you can always wait until it’s at peace. Granted, doing all the quests that way might take a while, but it’s possible if you want to avoid PvP at all cost.

Why go there at any other time at all then, or even place your house and farms there?

For one, since living in constant danger obviously isn’t for everyone those regions aren’t as crowded, and farmland is much less sought after. If you wanted a big chunk of land for yourself or your whole family early on your chances would have been much better there than anywhere else.

Said land can also be quite lucrative. If your cheese has aged on a farm in Hellswamp or Sanddeep, for example, it sells for a considerably higher price than cheese from Two Crowns or Dewstone. Since gold is extremely important and always scarce in ArcheAge (much more so than in most other MMORPGs I’ve played) that’s nothing to sneeze at.

Another incentive might be gaining honor. Honor is a very important currency, mostly for gear upgrading, and you gain it in big chunks for recurring events that are either centered around PvP or at least take place in contested regions, making PvP a possibility. Honor is also gained by killing players of the other factions during the highest level of conflict or war.

ArcheAgeU_PvP1

At the heart of all this is one design principle that’s often talked about, but rarely executed this well: risk versus reward.

Pretty much everything that offers big (or bigger) rewards in ArcheAge involves taking a higher risk. You don’t have to take any of those risks if you don’t want to, but if you do and it works out as planned you’re rewarded accordingly.

Another good example of that is the acquisition of Onyx Archeum Essences. That’s a crafting material needed for almost all kinds of advanced products. No matter what your personal playstyle and goals are, you’ll most assuredly need a couple of these at some point.

The only way to “make” them is to buy a special kind of trade pack on one of the main continents and sell it on another. So you shell out 26 gold, strap the heavy pack on your back, and then what?

Well, you can board your clipper (or vessel of choice) and set sail. The catch is that the sea is always at war, so should you encounter other players chances are they’ll try to…umm…relieve you of your burden. Nevertheless this is my method of choice, and I have yet to lose a pack in Unchained. I lost one once or twice in the original game though.

ArcheAgeU_PvP2
Almost there…you don’t see me…and I’m definitely not carrying anything of value

Alternatively you can wait for the NPC-ferry to arrive, pay another five gold for a ticket, take a seat and just enjoy the ride. That ticket makes you immune to being attacked as long as you stay on the ship, so this is a risk-free variant that’s more expensive and takes longer in return.

Option number three is to just buy the essences from other players on the market. Fast and risk-free, but obviously the most expensive way to get them.

There are many more examples for risk vs reward-based choices players can make. Fish caught in the open sea is more valuable and it’s also way more labor-efficient than fishing in a lake; delivering trade packs to a contested region during war yields a bonus; mobs in all contested regions drop more loot during war; honor-bought lunagems (gear upgrades) have lower stats than the crafted versions, but are waaay less expensive.

ArcheAge_Empire7
Also, gaining honor can be quite fun

Remember, you don’t have to ever choose the riskier option. You might progress more slowly towards whatever goal you’re pursuing, yes, but you’ll get there eventually without ever giving other players the chance to attack you without your consent.

Me? Above all I love to have that choice, and which path I take may well vary from one day to the next, depending on my mood. More often than not I’ll choose the high-risk, high-reward option though, not because I love to gank or get ganked but because it keeps the gameplay exciting and fun for me. I’d like to give you some examples of such exciting situations I’ve found myself in, but this is already getting long, so I’ll save those for another time.

Of course, as with any game out there, different people say different things about ArcheAge. Some call it a gankbox (bleh) while others claim its PvP is meaningless, nonexistent or both. As far as I’m concerned those people seem to be playing a different game because for me it’s a (mostly) well designed sandbox that incentivises PvP in all of its forms without actually forcing you to engage in it.

So…if XL Games can do it, why should Amazon Game Studios not be able to? The question is, can they manage to radically redesign New World in the time they have left? Probably not. At least they’re going for a three-faction system now, which is likely better than what they had before. Well, I guess we’ll know soon enough.

A decade of MMO gaming – Part II

Happy new year, folks!

Last time I talked about the various MMOs I’ve played between 2010 and 2014. Now let’s have a look at the past decade’s latter half.

2015

Decade14

ArcheAge won my heart instantly, but alas, only to go ahead and break it soon after. I’ve talked at lenght about all that here.

The realization that the game was basically rotten to the core hit us pretty early on, nevertheless we continued playing for quite a while. We just couldn’t let go. Its great aspects, those we had so much fun with and that made us feel like we’d found our new virtual home, meant too much to us.

Having started in September ’14 we held on until about July ’15. What finally tipped the scales was the announcement of server merges later that year, meaning that everybody on affected servers – including ours – was going to lose their land. That made us drop the game like a hot potato.

Decade15

I’d read about Marvel Heroes from time to time, but wasn’t all that interested for some reason. Mainly because I thought (and still think) that I don’t really need another ARPG when I can play Path of Exile any time I want, I guess.

Quitting ArcheAge left a huge void though, and we’d just rewatched a couple of great Marvel movies – my favourites are still the first Iron Man, the first Avengers and the second Cap – so it seemed like the perfect time to try it. It didn’t even come close to knock PoE off it’s throne, but it was cool and I miss it.

Decade16

We went on vacation in September, and while we were away we pondered which proper MMORPG we might play next. WoW aside one of the the last AAA titles we hadn’t tried yet was Final Fantasy XIV. Lakisa was up for it from the start, I wasn’t so sure. Reading about its gathering and crafting systems won me over pretty much instantly though, and we ordered the boxes so that they were already waiting for us when we returned home.

The game took a bit getting used to, but we had fun and played it straight all the way until the end of the year. However by that time I was absolutely sick of the game’s stubborn gating of content behind the main story quests, the mandatory group content bits to advance said main story, and also burnt out by the crafting grind, so I decided to quit before we’d even seen the first expansion’s content.

2016

Decade17

Some time during spring I felt drawn to EVE again after a nearly five-year hiatus.* As usual I did some mission running to get into the groove again and pad my wallet. When Lakisa watched me doing that she got interested, played a bit on my account and eventually created her own.

We gave her character a little jump start by injecting skill points I’d extracted from an alt of mine who didn’t use them anymore and tried a bit of everything. Missions, exploration, mining, production. The ultimate goal was to get into PvP of course. By that time I’d read that the Mercenary Coalition, one of the game’s first large merc groups many years before, had reformed and Noir., my former corp, had joined them. They even had a training corp for newbies, Noir. Academy.

Long story short, we joined them in March. Perfect timing that was, because World War Bee was just getting intense and we got to see some really big fights. As academy pilots we weren’t allowed to fly “real” ships though, and having to move your base of operations every two weeks or so gets very tiring, so once WWB fizzled out in late June we decided we needed a break.

* I’d last played in 2011, which I totally forgot to mention in the preceding post. Oops. I was in Noir. Mercenary Group from March until about July, a relatively small merc corporation mainly operating behind enemy lines for their contractors. It was the first time I actually received a wage for PvP – we got a cut of the contract payment depending on activity instead of the usual ship replacement – which was pretty great. I didn’t stay longer for various reasons however.

Decade18

In October we returned to FFXIV. The next expansion, Stormblood, had been announced, and being a huge fan of all things Asian I thought, well, if we start now we should easily be able to get through the story until it arrives.

Yeah…no. I’m sorry, but playing this game is work. I mean, we played on and off (more on than off) until August ’17…

2017

…and we did have some fun, don’t get me wrong. But everything takes so much time here, and, more importantly, you have to do things just the way Yoshy P and co. have envisioned it. I’ve never felt so much like being held on a short leash by an MMO. Of course we did not actually make it through Heavensward and subsequent patches until Stormblood arrived, which meant that despite having bought the expansion we couldn’t even fricking go there and have a look at the new zones and housing districts.

It’s sad because there’s also much to love here, but…I’m sorry…screw that game!

Decade19

In June I started this blog, so from here on out it will be much easier to get the timeline right, and I’ll also have posts to link to in case you would like to know more.

Decade20

I don’t remember if it was Lakisa or myself who first expressed the desire to return to EVE in earnest, but by April we were back in New Eden. To make things easier for us this time around we wanted to join an all-German corp, preferably one operating in low sec. It didn’t take long to find Holy Cookie, and we joined them in May. Through the rest of the year we fought in Alliance Tournament XV, moved to a new home and scored lots of kills in low sec.

I also played Destiny 2 when it came out and had some fun for a while, but its problems soon became too blatant to ignore, and I haven’t touched it since.

Decade21

In December I made my third attempt to get into Black Desert Online. This time it really clicked, and hard. I still don’t know why I couldn’t get into it before only to absolutely fall in love with it then, but I guess that’s just how it goes sometimes.

2018

Consequently I played a lot of BDO whenever there was no action going on in EVE. This two-headed dragon absolutely dominated my gaming time until we went on a long vacation towards the end of March.

Decade22

When we came home I seemingly needed something different, so I picked up Path of Exile once more. Discovering how fun and strong a summoner build can be in this game made me stick to it much longer this time around. I even played a challenge league somewhat seriously for the first time and reached hights I’d never reached before in an ARPG.

Just like in 2017 the summer months were also heavily shaped by preparations for EVE’s Alliance Tournament and the tournament itself. We fared relatively well once more, but were again put in our place by more experienced teams in the end.

Decade23

In August I returned to Everquest II after a very long break, wondering why the heck I hadn’t played it for this long. Revisiting Nights of the Dead and Frostfell was a real blast from the past, with additional content I didn’t know yet to boot.

Decade24

Come December it drew me back to BDO though, which carried me well into the next year.

2019

Black Desert is a really exceptional MMORPG, and during the year’s first half I played it almost exclusively.

Our corp joining NC Dot in May gave us another big push to play some EVE again though, and it was a pretty fun ride. Lakisa and I didn’t want it to end either, but many corp members didn’t like living in null sec as much as they’d imagined and left, so leadership decided to leave the alliance again. Unfortunately that whole thing was handled very badly by our CEO in our opinion, which made us pretty unhappy. Thus we ultimately left the Cookies after over two years. Lakisa joined one of NC Dot’s corps, Blank Space, and is still having fun in null sec. I haven’t played EVE since.

Decade25

In August a seemingly minor article over at Massively OP made me finally try out Warframe, and I liked it from the start. I see many parallels to Path of Exile here, which is always a good thing, just in the form of a 3rd person shooter. It’s great!

Decade26

That same August also gave us the announcement of ArcheAge Unchained. I dismissed it as just another cheap attempt to rob us blind at first, but as time went on and its release drew nearer I couldn’t resist and tried to inform myself about it.

Well, I’ll be damned! It’s the real deal, and it’s awesome.

If it works, that is.

By now it mostly does though, and we’re having a lot of fun. I played it every day and didn’t touch anything else for the rest of the year.

Honorable non-MMO mentions

Decade27

Despite my huge fondness of the genre I didn’t only play MMORPGs and MMOs during these ten years of course. I won’t (and probably can’t) name all other games I’ve played, but the ones I liked the most, in no particular order, are:

The Uncharted series (2 and 3 are the best), Resident Evil 2 Remake, Limbo, Inside, GTA V, Heavy Rain, Vampire: Bloodlines (playthroughs four to six or something), Batman: Arkham Asylum & City, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, Overwatch, StarCraft 2.

Here’s to the next ten years of gaming!

A decade of MMO gaming – Part I

Initially 2019 coming to an end didn’t feel any different to me than any other year. I don’t really tend to think in terms of decades or centuries. A year is a year is a year, as the Ferengi say. At least I think they say that.

Anyway, posts and articles looking back on the last ten years have been popping up left and right, and reading those actually made me wonder what I’ve been up to myself during all that time.

I don’t keep track about when and for how many hours I play any given game though, so I’ll have to piece things together from memory, creation dates of screenshots I took and games’ release dates. Might be fun, so let’s go.

2010

In terms of proper MMORPGs this was a pretty light year for me, probably more so than any other year since I fell in love with the genre in 2001 thanks to Ultima Online. I only dabbled a bit in EVE Online during March and April.

Decade1

I ran a couple of missions in my shiny new Marauder class battleship, which finally made that process at least somewhat efficient and even a bit fun. I wasn’t in the mood to join a corporation at the time though, so there was no PvP action to be had and I faded away again after a while.

Decade2

My main game during the early months was CoD Modern Warfare 2, which I’d bought when it came out in late 2009. Its multiplayer mode had just the right feel and pace for me, and I was pretty good at it, too. It was the last time I could say that about a shooter though.

Decade3

2010 was also the year I played Diablo II for the last time. Since its release in ’98 it had always been my in-between game, filling the gap between other games for a couple of weeks or months at a stretch. It’s definitely one of my all time favourites.

Decade4

I don’t remember where I’d first read about All Points Bulletin, APB for short, but I was pretty hyped for the game’s July 1st release, had it preordered on Amazon and played from day one. Unfortunately it had many flaws and problems, bad weapon-balancing and an abundance of hackers only being the most serious ones. The fact that it launched full-price with a 10$ subscription on top (seriously) didn’t help one bit, so there weren’t many players to begin with, and after a very short time only the most faithful (and the hackers) were left. I believe it was less than two months later that the game’s shutdown was announced for September 16th, earning it the Guinness world record of the “Shortest-lived major MMORPG”, which has to be the saddest gaming-award I’ve ever heard of.

It’s especially tragic because in my opinion the game had some outstanding, very unique features and a crapton of potential, and I was pretty crushed by the shutdown. It was later resurrected by GamersFirst as APB Reloaded however and is still going today, which is great. I play it from time to time, but while most serious issues have been adressed said potential was never fulfilled. 2018 saw another change of hands and the new owners, Little Orbit, seem determined to lift the game from maintenance mode. As of yet not much has happened though, so we’ll see.

2011

Decade5

This was the year I returned to Everquest II once more. Lakisa was along for the ride, making her first foray into the MMORPG genre. We played mostly as a duo, but also joined a friendly guild and did some group content with them. It was a very enjoyable ride and we probably would have stayed longer had another, new MMORPG not loomed large on the horizon…

Decade6

Being a huge fan of both Star Wars and old Bioware RPGs it’s no surprise that I was pretty excited for SWTOR. I applied for a spot in the beta and got in for a very fun weekend with Lakisa looking over my shoulder. After that there was no stopping us. We preordered immediately to secure early access codes and started playing on December 15th, five days ahead of the official release.

We started on Tython as a Jedi Knight / Jedi Consular duo and had a great time.

2012

The year’s first half was completely dominated by SWTOR. We played through the story together, did all side quests, traveled from planet to planet and just enjoyed the ride. We also joined a great German guild, Die Pangalaktischen Donnergurgler. We hadn’t reached level 50 yet when they started to run the first operations (raids), but we were determined to catch up.

Decade9

Meanwhile another new MMORPG had launched though, and I read so much good things about it at Massively-of-old that I just couldn’t resist. I bought The Secret World and fell in love with it so hard that I splurged on the lifetime subscription almost right away, before the first monthly fee was due. The world (man, that atmosphere!), the quests, the skill system, the wardrobe…there was much greatness to be found. I still mostly played SWTOR when Lakisa was at home, but my solo gaming time was solely dedicated to TSW.

Decade8

I had totally forgotten this one, but my screenshots prove that we also tried out newly launched Guild Wars 2 during that same year’s September. Don’t ask me how we had time for all that. It didn’t click with us at all though, so we dabbled for just over a month and never touched it again.

2013

Decade12

At the beginning of the year we briefly tried TERA, but that one didn’t stick either. It had a rather different approach to combat that I quite liked though, I’ll give it that.

Decade13

Once we’d reached max level in SWTOR we joined our guild’s raid group and got our feet wet in Eternity Vault and Karagga’s Palace. After that we wiped a lot in Explosive Conflict, hunted for datacrons, ran battlegrounds to bash imperial heads in and did lots of other stuff. My favourite MMO raid of all time, Terror From Beyond, was also visited regularly. After a while I started to lead raid groups myself, which was fun too.

Meanwhile our guild leader was burnt out and Lakisa, myself and a good friend of ours volunteered to form a three-headed guild council and share the mantle. It went pretty well, however the responsibilities that come with such an assignment take a toll on anyone, as time would tell.

Decade7

In August I finally managed to convince Lakisa that The Secret World is a game one just has to have played, so I created a fresh character (I really wanted to play as an Illuminati by then) and we gave it a go.

2014

Come spring I started to feel I’d had quite enough of SWTOR. The guild leadership played a part in that – turns out it is in fact impossible to cater to both casual players and progress oriented players and still make everyone happy – but the game itself had also worn thin on me. I resigned from guild and raid leadership and took a break.

Decade10

I’d loosely followed Path of Exile’s development and was intrigued, but I didn’t really think about playing it until I watched the trailer for its first expansion, Sacrifice of the Vaal. In April I finally tried it and the rest is history. It’s a great game with a terrific business model, and it has taken Diablo II’s place as my in-between game I play for a couple of months pretty much every year.

Decade11

ArcheAge is another game I initially didn’t intend to play, but once again the writers at Massively did a great job at conveying the strenghts and uniqueness of this title. By then Lakisa had been the sole remaining SWTOR guild leader for a while and was burnt out quite heavily too, so she was more than happy to try out ArcheAge with me. We played it for the rest of the year and well into the next.

To be continued…

In part two I’ll look back upon my MMO gaming during the last five years. Until then I wish you all a happy and healthy start into the new year (and decade)!

ArchePass returns to ArcheAge Unchained…again

After failing miserably two weeks ago the folks at Gamigo have finally managed to successfully re-activate the ArchePass during last week’s downtime.

So…are we happy now?

Yeah, much to my surprise I think we actually are. Everyone in our little family is having fun doing the things we’d be doing anyway, while the additional rewards are very nice and enable us to do and buy stuff we couldn’t before.

ArchePass1
Yep, even stealing honey got more lucrative than ever before

So what’s changed compared to the first iteration?

One of the two main differences is that the tasks given by the ArchePass are less specific now. Before, we had to kill 30 mobs in region X or spend 50 labor on profession Y. Now we need to kill 300 mobs, period, or spend 2k labor, period. So, like I said, you can mostly do whatever you intended to do anyway and get the pass rewards on top.

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Yeah, yeah, I’m spending my labor, don’t you worry

At first glance the needed amounts seem pretty huge of course, but these are weeklies, not dailies. Also, for kill quests your whole group’s or raid’s efforts count, so doing just one Crimson Rift nets you ~250 kills right there, for example.

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Which might be one reason for people’s renewed interest in it

Furthermore you get six tries per day to change a task you don’t fancy doing into a different one. Overall I don’t find it difficult to always have tasks running that I’ll automatically complete while playing.

The second important difference is that the tasks don’t award gold anymore. XP towards your AchePass-rank, normal XP and two additional diligence coins per task is all you get. Which, to be honest, is plenty. Yes, not having any diligence coins at all was really bad during the first weeks after release. Now we’re just a couple of days into the new ArchePass’ second week (because it resets on Mondays) and I actually don’t know what to do with them, given how many I have. I also have labor potions galore, and the other rewards aren’t bad either.

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33k labor and pretty much all the inventory space I could ever want, among other things

So I guess if I have anything left to criticize about the system’s design it is that it’s maybe, possibly, potentially just a little bit too generous right now. Pssst, you didn’t hear it from me!

It’s still a bit buggy though, because of course it is. Oh come on, had they managed to do this without any hiccups this time we all would’ve thought the sky had fallen onto our heads, wouldn’t we?

It still seems to generate some lag when a lot of players are doing kill tasks at the same time. Those tasks also tend to behave kinda weird when you do them in instances like the Halcyona battleground. The ‘gain one million XP’-task seems to reset regularly, so I’ve always rolled off of that one right away. And speaking of rerolling, pretty often you get the very task you just tried to get rid of again – the jury’s still out on whether that’s a bug or a feature though.

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This is just here because it’s pretty

So there you have it. As a reminder, it’s a system that was mainly designed to give players a means to acquire stuff that can only be purchased with real world money in the original game – inventory expansions, labor rechargers, pretty much anything that has actual gameplay benefits and isn’t purely cosmetic – and in my opinion it’s doing a pretty good job with that in its current state.

Now let’s see what they manage to screw up next, shall we?

Why so serious?

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Lakisa, Tristron and I cruising around, being anything but serious

The main complaint I’ve heard about ArcheAge since Unchained’s launch – those about the numerous technical issues aside, obviously – is that the game isn’t actually a sandbox anymore because it has turned into a grindfest of daily tasks in recent years.

It’s true that there is a lot of stuff players can do every day. There are various rifts (PvE events located in contested zones, so sometimes PvP does also happen), large and small battlegrounds, many daily quests and various other activities waiting to be done. Some of those even run on fixed schedules, so if you’re set on doing them you have to make time for them when they’re available.

Pretty much all of these activities have one thing in common: they award stuff for advancing your gear or your character. Honor, infusions, awakening scrolls, PvP badges; all sorts of currencies and materials to upgrade your armor and weapons, to buy gems to socket into those items, or titles with stat boosts for yourself.

In essence this is what the complaints are about. Most folks aren’t unhappy that those activities exist at all, their argument is that you have to do all of this each and every day lest you fall behind on the gear curve and cease to be competitive.

Well…so what?

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Yep, we leveled up by beating up a huge pumpkin. Quite unserious

I’ve never understood this urge many people playing MMORPGs seem to have, which is to get to max level and have BiS gear right fucking now. It’s as if they want to be “finished” with the game, get bored and move on as quickly as possible.

Now granted, ArcheAge provides many opportunities for PvP, consensual as well as non-consensual, and not wanting to get stomped at every such opportunity is quite understandable. Still, in my opinion and experience it’s absolutely not mandatory to grind like crazy every day, especially if you don’t enjoy it.

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Running a dungeon without knowing anything about it…much more enjoyable

For the second time now I’ve started playing this game from zero. This time around I was there right at launch, so my progression started along with everybody else’s. Back in ’14 the game had been already out for a month or two, so I was behind from the get-go. Of course I’m behind now too because, well, I do not like to grind every day.

Are there situations where I wish my gear was stronger? Yeah, it happens. But more often than not that being the case wouldn’t make a difference either way.

Most types of small scale battlegrounds deck out participants with equalized gear anyway, so what remains are the large scale battles as well as the open world, where it’s more about strenght in numbers than anything else.

So, no, “being competitive” isn’t all what this game is about, despite all claims to the contrary.

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Fishing is actually pretty rewarding, but also quite relaxing

Like noted above the attitude of wanting to progress quickly no matter the cost isn’t confined to PvP-heavy MMOs anyway, so there must be more to it.

Now, I do get the appeal of feeling more powerful, or of being satisfied with what one has achieved. I have felt it myself. But is it worth doing stuff that isn’t fun for hours, each and every day? I don’t think so.

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We’re even so lucky to have schools of fish right on our doorstep

The kicker is, all those repeatable activities can be fun; it’s the constant repetition that makes them boring and tedious. For the last month or so I have done the Hiram dailies about once a week, Grimghast and/or Crimson rift maybe twice a week and other stuff even more irregularly. The only thing I actually aim to do at least once a day is the Halcyona battleground, but that’s because it’s fun for what it is. The rewards are nice too, but that’s a bonus.

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Getting ready for the slaughter that is Halcyona in potato mode

The much bigger part of my playtime is consumed by all those other, progression-wise “suboptimal” activities I’ve been talking about for the last two months, and some more depicted on the screenshots in this very post.

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I guess nothing’s more suboptimal than buying a Viola that has zero stats on it…I love it!

As a consequence I’m still really happy with the game – and also with my gaming in general. If folks would take their gaming a bit less seriously maybe they’d be happier too and not have to complain all the time.

Wrapping up IntPiPoMo 2019

There’s not much left of November and I’m a bit strapped for time, so today I’ll just give you a handful of assorted ArcheAge Unchained shots to fulfill my quota for IntPiPoMo.

Shouldn’t be too bad though, this is a nice looking game with some rather unique gameplay elements to show off after all.

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Marianople is one of the more realistic depictions of a medieval town I’ve seen in an MMO. I remember exploring every nook and cranny when I got there for the first time. Unfortunately those high towers can’t be climbed, but other than that most of it is accessible one way or another.

Up there you see it in broad daylight, obviously.

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And here it is shortly before dawn.

This reminds me that I definitely need to talk about the game’s gliding mechanics at some point.

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Standing amidst my apple-, olive- and pomegranate-trees, the fruits ready to be picked. The mushrooms are ripe too.

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Farm wagons neatly lined up, awaiting the start of Grimghast Rift. I wish players were always this disciplined…

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I’m blue, da ba dee da ba di, da ba dee, da ba di…

IntPiPoMo picture count: 5 (this post); 51 (total)

IntPiPoMo – The Funnies

During last year’s event I posted a screenshot-collection of stuff that went wrong and/or made me laugh while playing various MMOs. I still believe our favourite genre is the most predestined for stuff like that, which is one big reason why I never tire of playing these games. Here’s another assortment for your viewing pleasure.

As always, click the pics to enlarge.

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You…really should go see a doctor right away, mate

So ArcheAge Unchained unlocks its character creation, I choose a Nuian male archer and on the other side of a quick loading screen this nightmare-inducing abomination is what stares at me. I shudder at the thought of what a Warborn would have looked like.

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I’d been aware that players are able to do some unusual stuff with ship-mounted harpoons, but this was new. This is in the middle of Marianople, mind you, half a mile away from the next body of water. Ships can’t be spawned on land, so they had to drag themselves over here bit by bit to do this stunt.

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I’d just fallen asleep to regenerate some labor points when Lakisa waltzed in and started to cook a couple hundred vegetable soups, entirely unaware of my presence. From now on I’ll lock the door!

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Everquest II definitely has no shortage of fun stuff, yet it still caught me by surprise when this quest turned me into a rat and even had other rats talk to me.

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Looks like someone has found a new calling…

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If you don’t recognize this code…you’re definitely a lot younger than me. I wonder if they left out B and A for copyright reasons.

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Many folks regard the Hildibrand quests in Final Fantasy XIV as the most funny thing ever. Whether you like that kind of over-the-top humor or not, the game has plenty more of that. This pic is the culmination of lots and lots of bickering and arguing between these two NPCs during your first epic weapon quest line, aka the Zodiac Weapon. I’d kind of hoped it would come to this a lot sooner to be honest.

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What? If you had just finished building your own hot tub and hopped right in not realizing you’re still fully clothed you’d look this embarrassed too!

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Depending on the class you’re playing SWTOR isn’t exactly the most lighthearted MMO out there, yet it still can be pretty hilarious at times. This Hutt in particular had some lines up his sleeve that really cracked me up.

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Speaking of the Hutt, I’d heard a lot about a certain piece of headgear the final and eponymous boss of the Karagga’s Palace operation could drop. I didn’t know what was so special about it until it dropped for us for the first time and I of all people was the one who won the roll…my guildmates were adamant that I wear it of course. Yeah, thanks again!

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This is the obligatory group shot after clearing 16-man (and woman) Eternity Vault. We wanted to do something different this time, so we all set our characters’ moods to astounded.

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Not an MMO, but I just had to include this shot from GTA V. The game has countless hilarious moments of course, but this scene after a heist gone bad literally had me in tears.

IntPiPoMo picture count: 12 (this post); 46 (total)

Carrying the load

I’ve touched upon ArcheAge’s trade system a couple of times already, and you might be wondering what that is all about. So today I’ll explain how it works, why I think that it’s really cool despite its flaws, and why it contributes greatly to the game’s virtual world feel.

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Every region on the two main continents has one or more specialty workbenches where players can craft trade packs. To do so you need some labor points and a bunch of resources, varying by region. For example, a Dewstone Fine Specialty requires 50 labor, 180 medicinal powder and 15 narcissus to make. You can get most ingredients by growing them on your farm or buying them from other players. Once you have all that stuff just walk up to the workbench, press a few buttons, wait for a couple seconds and boom, the pack appears on your character’s back.

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Always remember to lift with the legs, not with the back

As one would assume such a huge load slows you down considerably. Inventory-wise the pack is automatically placed in your glider slot, which makes sense because you normally carry that on your back, but it incidentally also denies you that mode of transportation. Needless to say, you can’t use any portals or the recall skill either. All mounts except the donkey lose their speed bonus completely. There is public transportation available, namely carriages and airships, but since those run on fixed schedules your trusty mule is usually the fastest and most flexible option to move a single pack.

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What are you looking at? We all have our burdens to carry

But where do you carry it? Well, that’s your choice to make. Each continent has ‘specialty buyer’ NPCs in three different regions who buy the packs (and some more labor) off you for a price in gold. That price depends on various factors, some of which you can control, others not so much.

To maximize profits craft the pack in a region farther away from the buyer, deliver it within a shorter time span (packs have a “freshness” factor) or deliver it to a region that’s at war, if you dare.

However the biggest contributing factors by far are, quite realistically, supply and demand. For every unit an NPC buys within a certain amount of time, subsequent payouts for that specific pack take a hit. The price recovers over time, but only if no more packs of that type are handed in for a while. At best you get 130% of the base price, only 50% at worst. Fortunately you can look up the current percentages ingame, however you can’t know how many other players might already be on their way with farm wagons full of the stuff you’re intending to make.

Speaking of which, considering the distances involved carrying one pack at a time obviously isn’t very efficient. Enter farm carts and -wagons.

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My farm cart just after finishing its construction

Relatively early on the Blue Salt Brotherhood questline tasks you with building your first cart and kindly provides the blueprint for it. How to acquire the resources needed to craft the sub-components (wheels, engine, etc.) is left for you to figure out though.

In addition to moderate amounts of common and uncommon resources like lumber, iron, copper and silver some upmarket materials are required. Due to good fortune we luckily had the rarest and thus most expensive piece already in stock.

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Luckily I wasn’t standing there when it happened

Yep, trees in this game have a small chance to get struck by lightning while growing – another one of those little details that make the world feel more alive to me – and thunderstruck trees are highly sought after because you need them for many kinds of high level manufacturing, especially vehicles.

A thunderstruck tree can be cut down into four logs, and you need one of those for a farm cart. Which suited us perfectly because Lakisa, Tristron, Merl (another buddy of ours who joined us in Unchained) and I decided to build all four carts in one go. A family project, if you will.

Once we had everything we needed the somewhat chaotic but really fun process of crafting all that stuff started.

Me: “Ok, I’ll make the oils and polishes. Who has our rice and corn again?”

Lakisa: “I do, here you go. I don’t have enough iron ingots though!”

Tristron: “No problem. I have some ore left, we just need to process it.”

Me: “Damn! We’re a couple dozen azaleas short, and here I thought we had everything. Fortunately those mature in less than 20 minutes, I’ll quickly plant some and we’ll have to wait for just a bit.”

Five minutes later…

Merl: “Hey, I have some azaleas, how many did we need again?”

Everyone: “…”

Somehow we managed to craft the correct amounts of everything without screwing up, so all that was left to do was for everyone to assemble their cart and spawn it for its maiden voyage.

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Took us a while to line up like this…turns out not everybody’s good at backing up

Each cart can hold up to two trade packs and you can still carry one on your back while driving it, so we were now able to haul a total of twelve packs simultaneously instead of just four. For starters the guys had other plans though…

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I didn’t ask why, I just went along with it. Thankfully the rides are rust-proof

By now we’ve already upgraded the carts to farm wagons, again thanks to the Blue Salt questline. These can hold four packs each and also have a handy nozzle in the front to water our fields.

We didn’t find the time to do a big trade run together yet, so I decided to take the wagon out for a ride by myself the other day. I went to Dewstone Plains, crafted five units of the pack I mentioned above and made my way to Cinderstone Moor, which is the farthest drop-off point and was going to be at peace by the time I arrived.

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Heading out from Dewstone Plains’ community center at sunset

Once I got there the demand-percentage was at 85% or so and each pack netted me just over 10 gold. Production cost was around 12 gold total for seeds and stuff. Using two units of eco-friendly fuel the trip took just over 20 minutes; the time investment for planting, gathering and processing the materials may have been around half an hour. So for less than an hour’s time and a couple hundred labor I made of profit of 38 gold, give or take. That’s not really a fortune, but it’s not bad either (by my standards at least).

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What do you mean, “Not fresh enough”??

So why is all of this great?

Well, I’d say the obvious reason is that it provides a means to make money through non-combat activities (which all too many current MMORPGs lack) and creates a never-ending demand for farmed and/or processed materials. Whether you like to do the whole production as well as the final delivery yourself, or you just want to handle one part of the process and leave the rest to others, there’s a profit to be made for everyone.

Coming back to that virtual world train of thought though, this system creates an environment that feels actually lived-in because it makes players traverse and interact with it. Literally wherever you go there are always players tending to their farms or hauling packs around.

Here’s an example. A while ago, before we had our wagons, Lakisa and I rode all the way from Aubre Cradle to Cinderstone on our donkeys to deliver one trade pack each. We arrived at the border to Cinderstone mere minutes before the region went from war to peace and were greeted by quite an unusual sight…

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As if a gigantic invisible traffic light was standing right there, looking down on us

Just like us these players had taken note of the fact that the region was going to hit a peace-period and had decided to seize that opportunity. As soon as the war ended the ragtag convoy collectively picked up the pace for the journey’s final leg.

Why wait for peace though? Didn’t we establish earlier that you get more gold for packs delivered during war? Yes, indeed. If you manage to make it to the NPC without someone stealing your pack(s) that is. Drop a pack to the ground, be it voluntarily or because you’re dead (or your cart temporarily destroyed), and anyone can pick it up without repercussions. The only place you can drop a pack safely is a farm that’s only accessible by you or by people you trust.

So that 15% war-bonus is purely cosmetic and not actually useful? Well, I wouldn’t say that. Sure, I certainly wouldn’t risk my pack, let alone a full cartload, going into a contested region all by myself. But imagine you’re in a guild and a group of six, eight, maybe even more people decides to work together and protect each other. There’s still a risk of course – there’s always a bigger fish after all – but at least you’d be able to fend off a single player or small group without breaking a sweat. In any case, whether the additional reward is worth the risk or not – entirely your call.

By the way, should you in fact lose a pack to pirates your efforts weren’t all for naught: whenever a pack is delivered to an NPC 80% of the payout goes to the player turning it in, but 20% always go to the one who made it. And if you still think this overly favours the dirty thief – why not become one yourself?

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Of course I am keeping straight…unless an opportunity presents itself that I can’t refuse

Now, the system isn’t perfect. It actually was nearly perfect when ArcheAge launched but got changed a couple of times for whatever reason. The fact that you nowadays can only turn in your packs in one of three regions, and that you can’t deliver normal packs to another continent at all (only special cargo crates directly bought for gold) restricts your choices quite severely and also ensures that payouts are way down almost all the time.

Despite this I still like it a lot. Whether I personally engage in it at any given moment or not, it ensures that the streets and harbors are always bustling with activity and purpose, and it provides content for a wide range of different playstyles. Which is exactly what a virtual world needs.

IntPiPoMo picture count: 11 (this post); 34 (total)

IntPiPoMo – My MMO characters

We’re almost halfway through November and I haven’t posted a whole lot of pictures yet, so today I’ll knock myself out. This might take a while to load, sorry about that.

Allow me to introduce the main and main-alt characters I’ve played in various MMOs over the years, roughly from oldest to newest.

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If this looks very blurry click the pic to open it in its actual resolution

Right in the middle there wearing a golden helmet you see my axe-wielding PvP character in Ultima Online, whom I specifically created to join one of the warring factions, the True Britannians. I chose to use an axe because in addition to the ‘normal’ melee skills its damage was boosted even further by having a high lumberjacking skill, which I still find hilarious. Here we are preparing to defend Britain’s castle from an attack by the other factions. All those candelabras were placed by us one by one and served the purpose to block the enemy players from spreading out (I kid you not). Unfortunately we lost that day, despite the wall of candles.

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The Zabrak on the right is my rockstar…er…I mean, my Master Entertainer / Master Musician in Star Wars Galaxies. I’ve rocked stages all across that galaxy far, far away with him, as I’ve talked about before.

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He was also a Master Teras Kasi Artist, so any zealous fan coming too close was in for a nasty surprise – as was this scaly soon-to-be-handbag.

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My second SWG character was a smuggler by trade and by heart, and I think I managed to make him look the part too (with the help of a fellow tailor).

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If I had to choose an all-time main character across all games I’ve played I guess this one would have to be it. This Everquest II Dark Elf Warlock is the fella I’ve spent the most time with (almost two thousand hours according to EQ2U). He’s also reached the highest level of them all (93 Warlock, 100 Carpenter), and although several characters that came after him turned out to be more fun to play he’s still the one I feel the most attached to.

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That being said, I really love my Ratonga Bruiser, here standing next to Lakisa’s Fae Inquisitor inside Nektropos Castle. In my opinion he’s the coolest and quirkiest race combined with the most versatile and fun to play tank class ever. Seriously, Ratonga Bruiser for life!

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This Jedi Guardian tank was my SWTOR-main for my whole time with that game. It took me a long time to assemble a look for him that I was pleased with, but once I got that chest piece (which includes hood and robe) and bought a white dye off the auction house (for over a million credits!) everything fell into place nicely. The mask is the icing on the cake.

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My Commando’s look on the other hand was a no-brainer. Once I’d done the Gree event for the first time and seen the weapons and armor sets it rewarded I knew that he’d get this assault cannon and armor as soon as I was able to buy them. The Commando is still one of my favourite healer classes, not least due to the fact that he heals people by shooting at them with that big-ass cannon of his.

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I still think that whoever at Funcom had the idea during The Secret World’s development to completely detach a character’s stats from their apparel deserves a medal. Unfortunately the stream of new clothing items and costumes dried up pretty quickly after the game’s release, which is a shame because I really wanted to give them more financial support – and I know I’m not alone in this. By then I’d had my character’s looks down though, and I was very happy with it.

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This is my original ArcheAge character in 2015 when he was still a Shadowblade. I later switched to Stone Arrow because I rather wanted to fight at range instead of melee, but I have to admit that he looked much cooler with that huge axe.

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Destiny 2 is one of those games that in my opinion, at least back when I played it, made it too cumbersome and grindy to give your character a look that you liked without gimping your stats in the process. I eventually got to a point when my Warlock looked like this though, which I was pretty happy with. Unfortunately, no good tools in the game for taking screenshots either.

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I didn’t get the helmet I really wanted for my Titan – the first Faction Rally event was not only grindy but also awfully RNG-heavy – but fortunately I got my hands on a similarly looking one that completed the outfit quite adequately.

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Black Desert Online is often criticized for the fact that many of its classes look like they’re wearing rags unless you buy a costume in the cash shop, and deservedly so. To give credit where it’s due though, the costumes look superb across the board, and I just had to get this one for my Striker. The level of detail on it is astounding. Unfortunately this isn’t a class-specific costume, in fact it’s available for most if not all classes. As a consequence it’s not a very unique look to have, but it fits my character very well, so I’m rolling with it.

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I’ve talked about Lakisa and myself trying to recreate our original ArcheAge characters in Unchained, and I think we did a pretty good job. This time around I went for a ranged build right away though, so no huge axe for me anymore.

IntPiPoMo picture count: 14 (this post); 23 (total)