I love housing in all kinds of games, especially MMOs. To me it’s much more than just a ‘decorating-minigame’. I like to have a place to come back to after an exciting adventure, kick back and, if the game (hopefully) allows it, show off the spoils one way or another. If it also has functionality like crafting workbenches or items that provide buffs or teleports it’s even better.
Here’s a quick rundown of some of the MMO housing I’ve had (or still have). As always, click to enlarge.
Ultima Online was my first MMO, and this small tower near Yew my first virtual home. Even with its three stories it was tiny on the inside, but I was very happy to have it. It served as my safe haven and storehouse, but also as a place to chill, craft, dye my clothes and stuff like that. To me it wasn’t just one optional feature of many, but an integral part of my gameplay and a proper home.
This is the little concert hall I arranged inside my medium Naboo house in Star Wars Galaxies. Except for the speakers and the armor I crafted everything you see here by hand, including the house itself.
This Everquest II rooftop garden in my Bruiser’s Qeynos manor is one of the coziest places I’ve yet managed to furnish. Unfortunately it doesn’t have any kind of functionality, so I rarely go up there. Still, I like it a lot.
This was our first home in ArcheAge, a small house by the lake in Two Crowns, just after finishing it’s construction. As with my tower in UO it’s living space was tiny, but we were still very happy with it. The little field with the aspen was also ours, and we later managed to convince the grapevine field’s owner to surrender it to us. With those combined we had a sizeable crop area right next to our house, which was very handy.
A couple months later I managed to fulfill my dream of having a large house right by the sea, which you can see here. The view and sounds from the patio were just amazing.
I never managed to have a proper house in Final Fantasy XIV (and I still think it’s too damn hard to get one), but my little apartement turned out quite nice and cozy, especially around christmas time.
I’m a bit torn on Black Desert Online’s housing. The blend of instanced and open world housing is pretty clever and works well, and the abodes themselves range from ok to spectacular. The fact that almost all good looking furniture comes exclusively from the cash shop bugs me greatly though. Still, it’s quite good overall and I’d rather take this than no housing whatsoever.
In my very first blog post I outlined my main reason for starting to write: to preserve and share great memorable experiences that might be forgotten otherwise.
One of those events came to pass in ArcheAge. Lakisa, our friend Tristron and I had a day full of adventure and excitement, and this was the catalyst that kindled my desire to write stuff down for the first time.
I had no idea how to start though, and unfortunately didn’t put in the effort to find out at the time. So now I’m going to try and reconstruct that day, for stories like these really shouldn’t pass into oblivion.
In order to get your medium sized farm in ArcheAge you need to do a couple of trade runs. Trade goods are crafted at certain workbenches and can be sold to trade NPCs for gold or other rewards. The farther away you sell, the more it’s worth. The kicker is that trade packs are very heavy and slow you down considerably. You wear them like a backpack one at a time, and if you put it down on the ground anyone can pick it up and steal it.
If you don’t own a farm cart yet you can only speed up the process by using public transportation (carriages or airships), or by riding a donkey.
The last quest requires you to deliver a trade pack to the other continent, so you need to cross the ocean by boat. This is where it gets dangerous because as soon as you leave coastal waters you’re in lawless territory and anyone can attack you. We were still pretty low level at the time, so even without tradepacks on our backs we’d be easy prey for pirates.
When we finally reached the shore I spawned my clipper and we set sail.
We were very nervous and kept our eyes peeled because the sight of any sail on the horizon was more than likely to mean trouble.
We tried to avoid the direct trade routes and zigzagged our way towards the destination. Nevertheless we spotted another ship once and collectively held our breath, hoping that whoever it was didn’t see us or had other things in mind. After a couple of tense seconds it was out of sight again. Phew.
Luckily the quest doesn’t actually require to hand over the trade pack to an NPC, you just have to reach a specific area with the cargo on your back. You have to get pretty close to the shore though, and since it’s the enemy continent it’s residents can attack you anywhere. I held my course towards the dock with trembling hands, ready to turn around as soon as the quest updated.
Then it happened. “Reef the sail!” I shouted on Teamspeak and turned the rudder (i.e. pressed the D key) as hard as I could. After having turned about 120° I gave the command to hoist the sail again, and we quickly gained pace and sped towards the open sea. Mission accomplished.
We made our way to our own continent’s nearest shore unharmed and delivered our trade packs to an NPC for a bit of profit.
Since this had been so thrilling and fun we weren’t ready to call it quits just yet. Instead we decided to try getting our hands on snowlion mount pups, which meant we’d have to do another trip across the ocean and even venture into the heart of the hostile country.
This time we crossed the sea without incident and soon Haranya’s coast came into view.
But where to disembark? Enemy players weren’t our only concern, for NPC guards, too, would attack us on sight. The coastline consist of steep cliffs for the most part though, so we had no choice but to head for the village pictured above.
We found a spot without any guards close by, jumped off the clipper and tried to sneek our way into the hinterlands. We had to pass by a guard much too close for comfort once, but got through unharmed.
Once out of the village guards were no longer a problem, but we were still wary of other players and had quite a distance yet to cover. We decided to try going over the mountains instead of using the roads and paths.
We indeed managed to get pretty high up with the help of our gliders and some bold jumping maneuvers.
This proved to be a veritable shortcut. Not only did we not see another player the whole time, we were in fact very close to our destination once we started to descend the mountain range on the other side.
Now it was time to tense up once more though, because if the location of our own continent’s mount NPCs was anything to go by chances of encountering other players would rise dramatically the closer we got.
Shortly before we hit ground level we could actually see the NPC as well a a couple of players from a distance. Luckily the players were rather low level, so we figured we’d probably be able to talk to the NPC and buy the pups before anything serious happened to us.
We mounted our gliders and sailed right towards the NPC. We managed to land right next to him, quickly bought the pups we wanted and legged it as if the devil was on our heels.
We got what we wanted and didn’t even die in the process. Victory again! We decided it was time to port home, nurse the pups to grow them into mature mounts and call it a day.
It was a funny, exciting and very rewarding adventure, and this is why I really love to play sandbox-like games.
The other day I was ganked for the first time in Black Desert Online.
The main quests had led me to Sausan Garrison, a popular grinding spot for leveling I had already read about.
I intended to kill just enough mobs for the quests I had and then be on my way again. Suddenly I took a whole lot of damage in a flurry of movement and effects, and before I had realized what was happening I lay dead on the ground.
Another player had obviously decided that I was contesting ‘his’ grinding spot and that losing a bunch of Karma was worth having it to himself again.
I respawned and, because I wanted to at least finish my quests in peace, switched to another channel (BDO has one huge server for each region, each with lots of seperate instances of the game world), which worked out just fine.
Was it a pleasant experience? Not exactly. But is the game worse for this even being possible? In my opinion, absolutely not!
I’ve talked about what my idea of a virtual world looks like. The more interaction between players and the environment as well as between players and other players a game allows the more alive and real the world feels to me. It also makes surprising and exciting things to happen more likely.
An example. When Lakisa, a friend of ours and I were about level 30 in ArcheAge our quests sent us to Cinderstone Moore, an area where PvP is allowed most of the time. The three of us as well as some other players in our level range were busy questing when a level 50 player ambushed and killed us all one by one. When we respawned and continued questing he did it again. Instead of giving up and leaving we teamed up with the other players and tried to take him down together. We didn’t actually manage to do so until another level 50 came in and helped us, but it was a really exciting game of one cat versus a bunch of very angry mice, and I had much more fun than mindlessly ticking off one quest after another would have brought me.
Now, of course there have to be restrictions to and/or severe consequences for doing nothing but killing other players all day long, else a handful of sociopaths can and will ruin a game for everybody else. If these mechanics hit the sweet spot between leeway and punishment, between allowing to gank freely and prohibiting it outright, then, and only then, this can not only work, but be actually great.
In BDO Karma builds up slowly by killing mobs and falls rapidly by killing players outside of Guild PvP or Node Wars. Having negative Karma means everyone can attack you anywhere without losing Karma themselves (I think), and if you die not only normal PvE-death penalties apply, there’s also a chance that a piece of gear loses an enchantment level (which can be outrageously expensive to regain). As long as you have positive Karma you suffer no penalties whatsoever when killed in PvP.
The fact that I got to level 57 before being attacked by someone for the first time shows that ganking is discouraged enough to not be a common occurrence while not being completely ruled out. Seems like working as intended to me.
In ArcheAge a track record of your misconducts is kept, and once you’re past a certain threshold your next death teleports you straight to court where five more or less randomly chosen players put you to trial.
The culprit’s criminal record is presented to the jury members who then get to choose a sentence, the minimum charge being Not Guilty, the maximum a certain duration of (online) jail time depending on the amount of transgressions.
My first trial was against a well known PK (player killer) named Kuroda. When there are ten pages of attacked and killed players to flip through you know someone’s been really naughty.
Because he was a repeat offender the other four jury members were obviously in favour of the maximum sentence though…
The ‘RIP Kuroda’ chants in trial chat went on for quite some time, while he already lingered in the prison’s courtyard unable to harm anyone.
In EVE Online there’s the distinction between high security space (abbreviated ‘high sec’), low sec and null sec, each with it’s own rules and punishments (or in case of null sec, no punishments) for PvP engagements.
My punishment for having shot at a lot of people in low sec is that I can’t enter any high sec system anymore without being attacked by police NPCs, and other players can shoot me without any penalties whatsoever even in high sec. Which restricts me pretty severely in moving around, getting lost ships replaced etc. I can work around much of that with the help of alt characters of course, but it’s still enough deterrent for many players to not choose this path. It took more than ten years until I dared trying it myself.
I think these three games handle non-consensual PvP in ways that, while still not perfect, work quite well, and for my taste they would be much less worth playing if they didn’t allow it at all.
Music is very important to me. I love music since I was little. I became a musician myself relatively late though, I started playing the guitar when I was sixteen. A couple years later the drums became my main instrument.
Although I’m not the most creative person when it comes to composing music, expressing myself through music has been a part of my life for a very long time.
So you can imagine my excitement when Star Wars Galaxies came along in 2003 with a pretty sophisticated system for player-made music.
It didn’t actually allow players to compose music themselves though. Instead it had eight (I think) songs to choose from at launch, and five instruments to play them. Among those songs was the Mos Eisley cantina song of course, but also a couple of new compositions. Each instrument had up to eight musical variations, called Flourishes, for each song. For every bar of music one of those could be chosen while playing. Additionally some lightshow effects could be triggered every now and then.
This was already pretty nice when playing alone, but it was obvious that the system had the potential for greatness when played as a group.
Hence I didn’t hesitate for long to start looking for a band. I found two guys looking to start a new band on my server, Gorath, on one of the german SWG forums. We met ingame and talked about our ideas and visions and decided we were a good match.
We started meeting regularly to practice. We experimented with different combinations of instruments for the various songs, and which Flourishes sounded good together. We even practiced solos for single instruments, which meant all other musicians had to use one or more ‘Pause’-commands at the right time. Since this was before voice chat had become a common thing we had to coordinate our efforts via ingame-chat, which was trickier than it probably sounds.
When we felt that we were good enough to play in front of an audience we started looking for opportunities. Since Gorath had a pretty large and lively roleplaying community that didn’t take long. Soon we were booked for our first gig, at a player wedding no less.
It was great. I have to admit that the roleplaying stuff was a bit over the top for me, I’m just not into these things. But being there and playing for an audience of real players, being cheered at and asked for encores was a gaming experience I’ll never forget.
We were joined by additional musicians and a couple of dancers over time, rehearsed even more sophisticated shows and wore more elaborate stage outfits. I wouldn’t say that we were the best or most famous band on Gorath, but we were definitely playing in the top league. It was a fantastic time.
After I quit SWG I had to wait for about six years until I played a game with player-made music again. This game was All Points Bulletin (the reboot, APB Reloaded, that went live some time after the original game tanked is still running and I play it from time to time). A MIDI-like editor can be used here to compose 5-second long themes or whole songs.
I never saw a reason to do whole songs because the game supports using one’s own music library to be played by car stereos ingame anyway. Also the available sound libraries aren’t really that great.
The themes are where it’s at though! Every character can equip such a theme, and whenever you kill someone it gets played to your victim. If the game bestows the MVP title upon you at the end of a match it’s even played once to all players on both sides.
Because people are people I don’t really have to point out that there are lots of folks who use a theme that’s basically just noise and as annoying as (in)humanly possible. Fortunately blocking a player is but a few klicks away, and then you don’t hear that player’s themes anymore.
However there are also many players who want to have a nice, high quality theme that suits their style or taste, so a talented theme-maker has not only lots of potential customers but can also earn quite a sum with his craft. I made millions of ingame Dollars selling the themes I made, I even did a couple on request.
It feels really great to receive a whisper after killing someone and not be called a cheater/dickhead/whatever for a change, instead getting: ‘WOW what an awesome theme, did you make it yourself?’.
The third and until now last game with player-made music I played was ArcheAge. Here a somewhat peculiar notation system is used to compose songs. It takes some time and effort getting used to. Apparently it’s taken from an earlier game, Mabinogi, which I never played.
Composed music is written down on special paper that has to be crafted first, and these song sheets are then used to play the song with an equipped instrument. They can also be traded or sold. The amount of notes that fit on one sheet are determined by your Artistry skill. Songs can have up to three voices, which is kinda cool because you can make even wind instruments play three notes at the same time this way.
The important thing that’s missing though, at least in the EU/NA version of the game, is band support. Playing all alone is quite nice when you have some good sheets and a couple of instruments on hand, but playing with a band would be a world of difference (see SWG above).
Lord of the Rings Online seems to have a very good system with bands and everything. There are even big festivals, like this one just a couple weeks ago. I’ve never played LotRO though, so I can’t speak from my own experience about it.
Now, I fully realize that there are without a doubt many players who couldn’t care less about player-made music in their MMOs. So every developer team has to weigh the cost-benefit ratio when deciding if their game needs something like that. There are also games where it just wouldn’t fit thematically of course.
Generally speaking though, if you want to make a game that’s more than just a treadmill of quests, gear and combat, instead offering a rich and varied virtual world to explore and experience, a good system for player-made music can be a massive enrichment and a real asset to your game.
A great deal of gameplay elements in many video games are chance based, especially so in MMORPGs. Since those have their roots in Pen & Paper RPGs and board games more than skill based arcade games this isn’t actually a big surprise. Instead of dice being rolled the game’s random number generator (RNG) decides if you succeed or fail to, for example, hit your target or get your hands on a piece of desired loot.
Is this good or bad though? After thinking about it a lot and weighing my experiences over the years against each other I have to decidedly conclude: it depends. 🙂
Many forms of randomness aren’t really noticable as such. That my attacks sometimes miss is a fact that I just acklowledge and that I work against by raising stats like accuracy. But the important bit is that missing an attack every now and then is almost never a big deal. It doesn’t hurt much, is what I’m saying.
My first experience with randomness that could actually hurt was in Star Wars Galaxies. When crafting I sometimes failed, losing all materials in the process. I didn’t know how my chances for success were, nor if I could have minimized the chance to fail somehow (it wasn’t even known for sure if using crafting stations and tools of higher quality had any effect back then). After a while I was convinced that I failed more often on critical combines consuming the most resources, resulting in me thinking “RNG hates me!” for the first time. It wouldn’t be the last.
I don’t know how many times during my first years playing Everquest II I hoped in vain for a specific drop that I really wanted, or worse, saw it drop only to have someone else win the roll. For a while I really hated the randomness of it all.
As time passed and the genre evolved to more accessibility and less overall difficulty, token systems came into play. Instead of specific items (often only usable by a specific class) mobs would drop a token that could then be exchanged for an item of choice. This circumvented the frustration of ‘again a whole dungeon run and not a single drop for my class’, but made competition even more fierce since most players had ‘Need’ on most drops regardless of class all of a sudden.
Even further went The Secret World’s approach. Instead of tokens dungeon bosses would drop a fixed amount of currency. Every endgame weapon, armor, enhancement and upgrade would be bought with that currency. The good thing about that was that every player always got the full amount of currency, so there was no competition and no envy between group members at all. At first I really liked this solution.
After a while I felt that something was missing though. There was no pleasure, no adrenaline rush and no associated story when getting a new item.
In contrast, I still remember under which exact circumstances I got most items for my Warlock in EQII’s Rise of Kunark expansion. The Tormented Bracelet of Doom, for example. This could only drop from a contested named mob in Kunzar Jungle, Doom. I would swing by his turf every time I started playing and look if he was there. He was pretty sturdy and hit very hard, fighting him solo was a tough challenge. On the day he finally dropped his bracelet the fight was particularly close, I beat him with just a sliver of health left myself. I was overjoyed to finally get it, so much so that I still remember now, about ten years later, that it gave +4% to crit chance and +17 spell damage at the time without looking it up.
This made me realize that when it comes to item acquisition I actually prefer the much more random approach of yore. For me token and currency systems took pretty much everything that’s fun about getting better gear away.
Then there’s gear upgrading as seen in ArcheAge and Black Desert Online, among others. This seems to be an Asian thing, basically not being able to use an item right after getting it because it has to be heavily upgraded first to become effective. Chance plays a huge role here too.
I passionately hated ArcheAges’s system, which involved so much RNG and so severe consequences when failing that it made the whole thing downright hostile.
The RNG ‘fun’ began well before the upgrading part. When crafting armor or weapons the outcome in terms of stats was completely random, and most versions couldn’t even be crafted further to higher tiers at all, forcing you to start over.
The real pain started once you had managed to get your desired base item though: the regrading system. This boosted the stats of an item while keeping basic properties intact. From the second tier onward (of which there were twelve!) there was a good chance to fail an attempt. From fifth tier there was an added chance to downgrade by one tier if you failed. From seventh tier you could downgrade two tiers with one fail. From eighth tier onward you could lose the whole item. With every tier upgrade an item gained exponentially more power than with the previous one, making top tier items godly powerful, so just not doing it wasn’t really an option. I quit the game mainly because of this crap.
Black Desert has a system that works similar in outline, but is much, much more forgiving. I’m actually having quite some fun with it, though one important reason for that is the fact that the game keeps handing out upgrade materials, silver and lots of other stuff for free on a daily basis. This lessens the feeling of loss immensely when failing a couple of times.
In conclusion, RNG elements in MMOs can be extremely frustrating to the point of ruining a game as a whole for me. When done right though they are not only ok, they can actually enrich the experience by giving achieved goals much more gravitas.
I still haven’t found my perfect MMO, so when a game comes along that at least on paper ticks more than a few boxes on my feature-wishlist I have to try it out.
Unfortunately not a single promising title released in 2017 as far as I’m aware. So when my annual winterly urge to make myself at home in an MMORPG came around two weeks ago, I had to consider older games, even ones I have already played in the past.
I don’t know what it is about winter / Christmas time, but seriously, every time December comes around and I’m not deeply immersed in an MMO already, I get a serious urge to do just that. I guess it’s not surpsising then that I started playing Everquest II in December 2004 and EVE Online in December 2005, for example.
Anyway, the only MMORPGs I have played after Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies that felt like virtual worlds to me and have numerous sandboxy features that I liked were ArcheAge and Black Desert.
I quit ArcheAge with a heavy heart mainly because its gear progression is P2W through and through, and even if I were fine with not being competitive in PvP I’d have to stomach losing my land again and again because of server merges (and because land rushes are “fun”, according to TRION…^^). So AcheAge’s a no-go.
Prior to the launch of Black Desert’s EU/NA version I got pretty hyped about what I saw and read about it. So hyped in fact that when December 2015 came around (notice the pattern?) I made an account for BDO’s Russian version, installed a translation patch and started playing ahead of time.
The character creator’s quite good, the game looks great and the starting town Olvia has a lot of charm. The presentation of story, if it’s there at all, is pretty bad though. Unlikable characters, stiff animations, cliché story. No wonder the Black Spirit, your main story giver, tries to coerce you into a killing frenzy regularly.
The tutorial just teaches you the most basic, obvious stuff (press Space to jump and Shift to run…my, who would have thought?), whereas most of the important and not really self-explanatory stuff is kept from you. I took every quest I found (which, as I know now, weren’t nearly all of them, as the game hides a lot of them from you by default), ran somewhere, did stuff and ran back. I never felt that I knew what exactly I was doing or why I was doing it. Combat was ok (I played a Musa, basically a guy with a Katana), but everything died so fast that it didn’t seem to matter which skill I used, just spamming left click did the job. Nice looking, but gameplaywise very bland.
Lakisa tried it too and wasn’t too fond of it either.
So the start wasn’t that great. Maybe too much got lost in translation, I thought. I decided to quit for the time being and start again with the launch of the EU version, which was slated for March 2016.
Alas, my enthusiasm for the game had taken a hit, and shortly prior to the EU launch I learned about another huge turn off for me: RNG based gear upgrading. ArcheAge did burn me out heavily with this kind of crap, and I didn’t want to suffer through something like that again. So I didn’t buy it.
Near the end of that year I felt I was missing something again though (I feel I’m on to something here). The game was on discount, only 10€ for the base game. I had followed coverage of the launch and beyond, and it didn’t look half bad. I also read up on gear upgrading again, and while the system it still basically the same, it doesn’t sound nearly as bad as ArcheAge’s, and most importantly: no cash shop items to improve upgrade chances as far as I’m aware.
So I finally bought it. Long story short, it grew on me a bit more this time, but something was still off. I felt aimless, directionless. I made it to Level 29 (this time on a Witch), dabbled a bit in trading, fishing and letting workers do their thing. I rented a nice residence in Heidel. I absolutely should have enjoyed it a lot more, but somehow I just didn’t. I wouldn’t say that I consciously quit this time, I just stopped logging in any more.
Which brings me back to about two weeks ago. For lack of alternatives I decided to give it another go. I patched the client and continued where I left off. I like the same things I had liked before. The story is still crap, combat is still extremely easy. Somehow though I’m having a lot of fun and don’t feel aimless at all this time around.
There seem to be a lot more life skill related quests now (or I didn’t see them before), which is great. I’m cooking, chopping, hacking, gathering, filtering, drying, skinning and brewing my butt off, I grow wheat and carrots (for making beer and feeding my horse, respectively) in my gardens, I haul trade items around, let workers get stuff that I’m too lazy to gather myself, the list goes on. When there’s still time after all of this, I follow the main quest and kill hundreds, more like thousands of baddies in the process. Soon I’ll arrive in Calpheon which I’m very thrilled about. Heidel is a pretty big town already for an MMO, from what I’ve heard Calpheon must dwarf it. Can’t wait.
So the third time seems to indeed be the charm in this case. I know I have said this numerous times before and got disappointed in the end, but right now I can see me playing BDO for a long time.
A quick list of great (for me) features to close things out:
A virtual world
The world is pretty huge and seamless. No loading screens, no artificial boundaries. And as far as I’m aware, no teleporting whatsoever. You are in Olvia and want to go to Heidel? Mount your horse and hit the road. What, you left your mount in Heidel? Well, then off you go on foot. Your warehouses (think bank-space) are also local. The worker farming potatoes for me just outside of Velia stores these in my Velia warehouse. If I want to use those potatoes anywhere else, I have to ride there and get them, or alternatively pay for a transport service. Initially I wasn’t sure if that’s too much realism for me, as it obviously makes things a bit inconvenient at times. I decided to roll with it, and now the game world feels a lot more like a world that I can immerse myself in. Also helping:
No throwaway areas
At first I felt the compulsion to complete every quest I saw right away. Pretty much every Themepark MMO since WoW taught us this behaviour. Arrive at quest hub, take all quests, do quests, go back, get rewards, take quest leading to next quest hub, go to next hub, never look back. Rarely ever is there a reason to revisit an area once you’ve done all available quests there. BDO is much different. There’s always reason and/or need to go back, at least if you have any interest in life skills (anything other than combat, really). If you’re interested in getting good at Alchemy, for example, I hear there’s no better place to be than Olvia, which is the town where every character starts the game. Also, that you didn’t see any more quests in an area last time doesn’t necessarily mean that there are none now, because with a higher character level or higher proficiency in certain skills quite a few new quests become available all over the world.
Complex systems for those who want them
Trading, gathering, farming, processing, crafting, worker-crafting, hunting, fishing, whale-hunting, housing, horse-breeding, leveling, gear upgrading, node wars and undoubtedly some more I don’t even know of yet. I can do all of these on one character if I want to. Or only two or three. Or none of them. My choice. Each of the systems seems to be a science in it’s own right.
I have yet to find a thing in BDO that’s as shallow as ‘press button, wait, done’. I’m also told that pretty much everything can earn you a lot of silver if you commit to it, so no one system seems to be vastly superiour to all others when it comes to becoming ingame-Rockefeller.
So much to explore
Did I mention that the world is huge? I have played 100+ hours on this character, yet well over 80% of all landmass is still hidden in fog (meaning I haven’t been there yet). The ocean I haven’t even begun to explore. In the regions I have been to I found towns, villages, farms, tree-lined roads, forests, swamps, mountains, watchtowers, castles, battle-scarred fortifications, outposts, caves and more, as well as a diverse cast of wildlife and monsters. Climbing on top of watchtowers or into caves is, again, seamless. And the view from far up is breathtaking. Which brings me to…
Holy crap, is this a great looking game. Admittedly the default settings go a bit overboard with some features. But once I turned off all color filters and distance blurring the game started to look, well, real. Astonishingly Pearl Abyss is already working on an engine overhaul to make it look even better. I’d already be happy if they managed to remove the pop ups though, which unfortunately take away much immersion while moving around. This gripe aside, it’s by far the best looking MMORPG around.
The cash-shop can be completely ignored
Unfortunately this isn’t a cash-shop that only sells cosmetics. It also sells inventory and warehouse expansions, pets that pick up loot for you, stuff like that. I don’t have a problem with that though. The game is giving out inventory expansions as quest rewards rather generously, warehouse expansions can be rented with contribution points, loot can be picked up by hand. So what you can buy in the shop pretty much boils down to cosmetics and convenience. It’s not the best or fairest monetization model out there, but in my opinion it’s definitely one of the better. For a game that costs just five bucks right now (ten again when the sale ends) and doesn’t restrict you in any shape or form content-wise if you don’t spend another dime beyond that, it’s a pretty great deal.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to brew beer and cook pet food and pick up my worker’s produce and catch some fish and kill some Orcs and train my horse and…
The perfect game. We all crave it, we all look for it, we all hope that one day game developers will finally “get it” and make it.
Of course it ain’t that easy. My perfect game would probably be drastically different from yours, and yours again different from the next gamer’s. Obviously publishers and developers can’t afford to build the perfect game just for me or just for you though, games have to appeal to a multitude of tastes.
There’s also the problem that some great game-mechanics or -features don’t work well together. Some even actively contradict themselves. So just cramming every great feature one can think of into one game probably isn’t really a good idea.
But still, one can dream. So here’s how my perfect game would be like. Warning: this is gonna be a long one.
A virtual world
My perfect game needs to have a world that feels alive and real to me. This is probably one of the hardest goals to achieve, because there are many factors that play into it.
The world needs to be seamless, I don’t want loading screens to remind me of the fact that I’m sitting in front of my computer instead of being immersed in that world. For example, in FFXIV I have to imagine that my character boards a ship and travels across the Strait of Merlthor when I use the travel option from Limsa Lominsa to Western Thanalan. What I see, though, is just a loading screen. In ArcheAge, on the other hand, when I wanted to get from my house in Two Crowns to Lakisa’s house in Solzreed I actually used my ship to cross Feuille Sound, no load screen or anything. I could have teleported, sure, but I chose not to.
Because during that short trip, stuff could and sometimes would happen. Maybe a fully loaded merchant ship would cross my path, and I would alter my course to see where it went. Why pass up an opportunity to maybe snatch a trade pack or two, or alternatively protect said packs and their owners from a pirate attack?
This is an example of another important thing that makes a world seem alive to me. Probably the most important thing: the possibility of the unexpected.
It’s kinda hard to explain, but I’ll try. Try to remember times while playing MMO X or MMO Y when you had moments of “wow, this was unexpected” or “haha, this was hilarious”. I’m not talking about the game’s story quests or the like, but about normal day to day gameplay. The stuff you spend 90% or more of your gametime with.
There are lots of games where at least to me this happens very rarely. Mostly these are games with a Themepark-heavy design. These do other things well, but they rarely surprise or astonish me. Sandbox-heavy designs tend to fare much better with this.
In my opinion a big factor here is the level of interaction between players and the environment as well as between players and other players that the game allows. I do realize that whenever more interaction is allowed there’s also more possibilty of griefing. Still, the less interaction a game allows, the more it just feels like a bunch of areas to level through instead of a virtual world to me.
Can every game achieve this? I guess not. For my above example to be even possible the game obviously needs to allow to steal from players and to fight against players without their consent, at least under specific circumstances. And I know that there are many who don’t want stuff like that. But for my perfect game, it’s needed. Not because I like spending my evenings stealing from and/or ganking others! No, I want this because without it, it’s not a virtual world in my book.
Freedom of character development
To really immerse myself in a game I need to have a strong attachment to the character I play. To achieve that I need a great deal of control over how he looks and what he can do.
In the last couple of years games have become quite good at the former, although there is still room for improvement. FFXIV has lots and lots of outfits available through ingame means, but the glamour system is highly unpractical. Also, there’s basically two races: Humans and silly Gnomes. Sure, there are also Humans with cat ears and tails, Humans with pointy ears, Humans with scales and very big Humans. Still, they’re humans. Don’t try to tell me otherwise. Everquest 2 does a much better job in this regard, with playable Trolls, Ogres, Rat-people, Lizard-people, even Frog-people and many more. The cosmetics system is also pretty good (now). I wish current titles would borrow more from EQ2 in this regard. Actually it’s a game that does a lot of things really well, I will come back to that later.
In case it isn’t clear by now: I need an Avatar. Essentially being a spaceship is cool and all, EVE Online, but to feel immersed I need legs. So sorry.
What can my character do, and how does it make him special/unique?
Since I want a good deal of freedom, skill based systems tend to satisfy me much more than class based systems.
As far as class based systems go, EQ2 right after launch was really bad with regards to freedom. My Level 30 Warlock had the exact same spells and skills than every other Level 30 Warlock. No differences at all. Later came Alternate Advancements, which make it indeed possible (with enough points in it) to give your character a personal note and to make him better at the type of gameplay you like most. So it’s much better now. Still, a Warlock will always be a Warlock and won’t ever be able to do things a Bruiser or a Fury can do.
Most skill based systems don’t force players to put on a corset of ‘you’re class X’ or ‘you’re class Y’. Ultima Online has probably the most-freeform system, in that there’s just a maximum number of skillpoints you can have, and you can split these among as many different skills as you choose. If you choose many, you won’t be very good with each of them though. Either specialize, or be Jack of all trades, master of none. Skills aren’t raised by gaining XP, but by using them.
The system I liked most was that of Star Wars Galaxies after launch, which also had a maximum number of skillpoints, but the skills were ‘bundled’ into Professions like Bounty Hunter, Smuggler or even Musician or Dancer. The skillpoints weren’t enough to be everything at once of course, but it was enough to mix and match for example one combat profession, one crafting profession and one entertaining profession.
Of course, the more freedom players have at building their characters, the harder balancing everything becomes. SWG at launch was a prime example of this, PvE and PvP both being a hot mess. Still, I prefer messy freedom to constrained boredom/conformity.
Another big either/or these days: action combat or tab targeting?
I don’t really care either way, as long as it feels right. I was always fine with EQ2’s classic tab targeting system. I could have done with a tad fewer skills and spells though. TERA’s action combat felt good, but could get a bit hectic at times (especially in PvP). The global cooldown in FFXIV is definitely too long (2,5 sec), and I could do with a bit fewer ground targets I have to dance out of while tanking.
All in all, this isn’t really my top priority, and until now I could make do with any combat system a game gave me. But please, try to make melee and ranged characters at least somewhat balanced. It sucks to realize that your preferred playstyle isn’t even remotely ‘viable’.
Quests or no quests?
I have played MMOs that drowned me in quests, and I have played some that had, at the time, no quests whatsoever.
I can’t say that I vastly prefer one over the other. As is so often the case, the truth lies in the middle. Give me quests that are fun, and also give me stuff to do besides quests.
I’m fine with the often cited ‘kill 10 rats‘ quests once, right at the start of the game, to teach me the basics. After that such quest objectives can go the way of the Dodo as far as I’m concerned, as can quests that are nothing but ‘go talk to this guy’, then ‘go back and tell them what I said’. FFXIV is really bad in this regard during some stretches of the main story.
Having good quests is better than having none, but quality is much more important than quantity. And, like I said, quest shouldn’t be the only motivator to do things.
Whenever I log into my game, I don’t want to say to myself “ok, first I have to do these dailies, then I need to do this, then that, and what the hell, my gaming time for the day is already over”. I want to log in and ask myself “what would I like to do today in this virtual world?”.
Importance of other players
Forced grouping or no forced grouping? Ah, the old debate. Whenever this topic comes up there are those who say “I want to be able to do stuff alone”, which inevitably someone will retort with “don’t play an MMO then, play single player games!”.
In my opinion it is totally legit to ask for things that can be done alone. Remember, it’s a virtual world I want, and even in the real world I can do things on my own, can’t I?
What do I need other players for then? See above, possibilities and interaction. It has no meaning to me that I can craft the best armor if I can’t sell it to other players. It has no meaning to me that I successfully delivered the valuable trade goods if there wasn’t a chance to be attacked and robbed by other players. And yes, bashing the Chief Orc’s head or razing the walls of the enemy faction’s castle is indeed much more fun grouped with gildies or even friends than alone.
Thus my perfect game needs lots of stuff that I can do alone if I so choose, but also other players as well as things that can and should be done as a group.
Risk vs reward
This has changed a lot since the “old days” of MMORPGs. Most game developers in today’s market don’t dare to implement heavy penalties for failing a challenge or dying, for example. The fact that the few games that do have harsh penalties generally don’t fare too well financially seems to indicate that most players, often despite of what they’re saying, do indeed not want such penalties.
To be honest, I’m not sure about this one.
The possibility of loss gives meaning to things, that much I know. I have quite a lot of good memories of situations where something was on the line. On the other hand, I have also less good memories of similar situations when things went sour.
The prime example for this kind of game is, of course, EVE Online. If our spaceships didn’t actually blow up when destroyed, the game had for sure long ceased to exist. After all, battles fought over nothing aren’t worth fighting. But to get to the point in EVE where I am now I had to endure some very frustrating moments too, moments that would probably have made other players quit the game for good (and many have quit, we know that for a fact). I still avoid looking for combat on my own (i.e. Solo PvP), because I don’t want to lose my stuff, although I’d be easily able to afford some losses.
I don’t have the perfect answer to this, as I do want consequences in my game, but not so harsh as to deter me from doing the fun stuff. But at least let have dying more impact than ‘I lose 30 seconds of my time and 10 silver for gear repair’.
There are types of gameplay that my perfect game absolutely needs, and not only as an afterthought (as is often the case, tragically) but as a fleshed out, well done feature that also impacts and interacts with other features. An integral part of the world, in other words.
Functionally I want a crafting system that is more than just ‘press button, wait, done’. I like EQ2’s and FFXIV’s systems in this regard. FFXIV’s is on the brink of being too complex and time consuming though.
In the context of the game world crafting has to be meaningful. For every craftable item there should be a player saying “I need this, I want this”. In themeparks this often collides with Dungeon- and Raid-Loot being the pinnacle of gear progression, making crafted gear pretty much obsolete in the grand scheme of things.
Ideally every item in the game should be crafted (see EVE), with maybe a few exceptions like armor, weapons and tools for newbies (one has to start somewhere). To make activities like running Dungeons still desirable, drops from bosses could be a crafting component instead of a finished item, and crafters could make the finished item for the dungeoneers. Some games already do something like this.
Also, don’t make a system where every item is exactly the same. SWG was the only MMO I ever played where my question “where can I get good armor?” was answered with “ask player XY, he makes the best armor money can buy!”. And this was great. This guy had put in time and effort to collect the best resources, built or bought the best crafting stations and tools, and just made the best composite armor far and wide. Wouldn’t you like to do that? I know I would. What I did instead though was become his business partner. Being a Smuggler, I could slice (essentially ‘pimp’) armor and weapons, so I enabled him to sell pre-sliced sets of armor, while earning a lot of credits myself easily through sheer bulk. Now this was meaningful crafting (and also meaningful interaction).
Functionally I’d like a mix of FFXIV (when gathering by hand) and SWG (placing harvesters for automatic gathering). Resources would change locations every few days and have different qualities – not just High Quality or No Quality, rather multiple grades for different possible outcomes when crafting (see above).
A gathering system with harvesters obviously needs space to place them. Admittedly much of SWG’s planets looked like either a barren wasteland (when no houses and harvesters were placed yet) or rather ugly shanty towns and/or industrial areas. So a middle ground would have to be found, but I still love the concept.
No virtual world without solid personal housing!
The biggest fundamental question is obviously: instanced or open world? This, again, is a hard one.
I love open world housing. I experienced it in UO, SWG and ArcheAge.
All three games have/had their load of problems with it though, the most obvious ones being not enough space for the demand, as well as the aforementioned areas chock-full of tightly packed houses.
Instanced housing usually has a lot less appeal for lots of different player types. The Decorator/Socialiser/Roleplayer can’t show off their work to passersby or easily invite friends or guests without navigating them through a menu and a loading screen. The Crafter/Trader can’t advertise their wares to passersby either. To me, it just doesn’t feel like ‘coming home’ when lots of other people ‘come home’ to the same door. On the other hand all problems open-world housing has are a non-factor here.
The best solution might be Black Desert’s, which has kind of a hybrid model. The housing is quasi-open-world, but you can’t choose how the building looks like from the outside and can’t place it anywhere else. As soon as you open a door or a window, the game loads your instance of it (for you). Once you’re inside, you can look through the door or windows into the real game world.
Concerning housing items and placement thereof, no game I know beats EQ2. Wildstar’s housing is said to be awesome, but since I haven’t experienced it myself I’ll just settle for EQ2 with it’s thousands (not exaggerating!) of housing items and good placement options.
By land, by air, by sea
A virtual world doesn’t only consist of landmass, and walking and riding aren’t the only ways to move.
I’d like to have ArcheAge’s seas including naval combat and underwater content. The gliding is also very neat, since it beats walking or riding under the right circumstances, but doesn’t make those outright obsolete like flying often does.
Although, if it’s implemented in a way that does not make every other way to travel obsolete, I’m cool with flying too.
Odds and ends
I want to have enough inventory space to not being forced to devote 15 minutes a day to sorting through stuff and pondering what to keep, what to sell and what to trash. Right from the start.
I don’t want systems that punish playing a lot, or not playing enough.
I want a user interface that’s slick and fully customizable (including keybindings).
I want a great soundtrack and good ambience and sound effects. Be sure that everything’s still pleasing to the ear when listened to for the 1000th time. FFXIV, EQ2 and EVE all do a good job at this (yes, EVE HAS sound!).
I want the game to have systems for artistic endeavours. A musicianship-system with the ability to compose own pieces like ArcheAge’s (plus the ability to mute individual players’ music) as well as options for band performances like in SWG. The ability to write poems or novels, for others to read. Maybe even the ability to create visual art (think of APB Reloaded’s symbols and decals) and use these as paintings or advertisement posters (moderation needed, obviously, unfortunetely).
Let me use stuff that I can see. Where there’s a chair, I want to be able to sit on it. Where there’s a bed, I want to be able to stretch my legs for a minute. If a vehicle or mount has obviously two seats, let two people use it.
There’s probably another two dozen things, I’ll maybe add them later.
This list will be much shorter: Pay 2 win and excessive RNG.
I won’t discuss what my definition of p2w is at this time, lest this post grows by another thousand words. Let’s just say I abandoned the otherwise absolutely fantastic ArcheAge because the combination of p2w and RNG is so outrageously huge in that game that I just couldn’t justify playing it any longer.
I don’t like to be nickel-and-dimed. Hence I really dislike having to pay real world money for things like inventory space or the ability to equip high-end gear (often on a per character basis).
My vote goes to FFXIV: monthly subscription with a cash shop that contains only additional vanity items for people who want them. The reason why I’m totally fine with this cash shop is that there are loads of cosmetics I can get by just playing the game, many many more than the cash shop has. For example mounts: there are dozens and dozens of mounts which players can earn through various ingame activities. The cash shop has like four mounts which can’t be earned ingame, but they aren’t any faster than ingame mounts and have no added functionality either. So this isn’t like ‘either buy a 30$ costume or look like a pauper-wizard for all time’-Black Desert.
Of course, since my perfect game would probably only be played by a couple hundred people tops, the monthly subscription would have to be like 150$. But hell, I’d pay that.