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)

Games as a ‘service’, yeah, right

I think many executives currently working in game development need to look up the word service in a dictionary, because they obviously don’t know what it means anymore.

Unless they think what they’re doing is deliver games that are already very good and totally worth their price tag at release, and then continue to refine and expand them for years afterwards.

Problem is, they are not doing that. Not even close.

It’s shocking how many high profile, full-price games that came out during the last couple of years were arguably unfinished and/or disappointing messes at release. Destiny 2, Fallout 76, Anthem, Battlefront II, Sea of Thieves, No Man’s Sky, Mass Effect: Andromeda; to a lesser degree Battlefield V, CoD Black Ops IV and probably some others I’m forgetting right now.

This is not to say there weren’t any good releases at all, quite the contrary. But it’s impossible not to notice a very disturbing trend here. Especially whenever developers or publishers can’t shut up about their fabulous Games as a Service chances are we’ll be getting only half a product for full a price. If we’re lucky.

Of the games mentioned above I can (fortunately) only talk about Destiny 2 from my own experience. I bought it at release and can’t deny that I had quite a bit of fun for a while. Though even at my pace, which seems to be considerably slower than that of most gamers, I reached the point where there wasn’t anything of interest left to do pretty quickly. The first two ‘expansions’ – more like rather meaty content drops, really – were too expensive for what they offered. The first one, Curse of Osiris, even shut out those who didn’t buy it from most endgame content. Bungie only changed that after the playerbase had expressed their outrage quite explicitly.

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With guns. Destiny 2 players solve every conflict with guns. Just kidding of course.

The first ‘real’ expansion, Forsaken, seems to have pretty much fixed the game for many a player, I hear it’s pretty great now. I don’t care though because I had given them too much money already for what they’d offered me in return up to that point. Basically Destiny 2 players who still play today have paid at least 120 bucks – if they bought everything at the time of release or shortly thereafter – to be able to play the finished game. Only now does the service part begin, which – you guessed it – won’t be for free either. No thanks. Fool me once, and all that.

Destiny 2 has yet another problem that’s become a blight in recent years: content that has been developed and could be earned through gameplay – thus making us feel rewarded and, you know, good about the time we spent playing the game – is kept off of loot tables to be sold in the cash shop instead. Gee, thanks, what a great service you’re doing us there after already taking our money for half a game and then some more for the rest of it.

Not all of this is ‘just’ caused by greed either. Sometimes there’s also mind-boggling incompetence to be blamed, as seen in the case of Anthem.

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What are you looking at? Search your feelings, you know it to be true!

On Tuesday Kotaku published an article by Jason Schreier titled ‘How Bioware’s Anthem went wrong’. I highly recommend reading it. It’s pretty long, but if you’re still here at this point I assume you won’t mind. If you’d prefer a video, Angry Joe and friends have summed up their reactions to the piece on their show.

The article is based on interviews with 19 people who either directly or indirectly worked on Anthem and basically boils down to this: while the game was in development for about seven years total, the actual production had to be done in the last 12 to 16 months, crunch time style, because years and years had been wasted flailing around and not knowing what exactly the game was to become. When they showed this ‘gameplay-demo’ at E3 2017 the ground-level developers themselves were like “Oh are we actually doing this? Do we have the tech for that, do we have the tools for that?”

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They were not only lying to us, but basically also to their own developers

How can stuff like this even happen when you have so much developer talent and a massive budget at your disposal?

In my opinion the big publishers and development studios suffer from a development (no pun intended) that Steve Jobs already talked about in fricking 1995. Basically he’d observed that once a company gets big enough the “product people” get driven out of decision making because the “sales and marketing people” become ever more important, get promoted and so on. In the end the company “forgets what it means to make great products”.

This seems to describe spot on what’s been going on with EA, Activision and the like *cough*Apple*cough* for quite some time now, but Schreier’s article proves that not even developer studios who once were hardcore gaming enthusiasts are immune to this.

Now, is there a silver lining at all?

I sure hope so. The Battlefront II disaster has shown that we can fight back, that we can make ourselves heard. It’s critically important that we keep it up now. We need to stop preordering stuff. We need to stop buying games on day one when we don’t know if they’re any good yet (review embargoes anyone?). We need to stop buying season passes when we don’t even know what those will entail. We need to stop buying stuff from the cash shop in full-price games.

I’ll do what it takes, even if I have to miss out on games I’d actually like to play. Who’s with me?

The beauty of gaming

While good gameplay is always much more important to me than fancy graphics I too like eye candy. Who doesn’t?

I also like to have mementos of my adventures so I can revel in nostalgia later.

Combine the two and it’s no wonder that I take lots and lots of screenshots. Today I’d like to share some highlights. As always, click to enlarge.

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This is the city of Calpheon in Black Desert Online. It’s the most realistic depiction of a medieval town (as I imagine it) I’ve seen in a video game to date, and it’s especially beautiful at dawn.

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Destiny 2 is a good looking game for sure. This was my favourite vista.

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Another shot of Everquest II’s Obol Plains. Not bad for a 6-year-old zone in an almost 14-year-old game.

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Multiple fleets are fighting here in EVE Online, with Lakisa and myself right in the middle. Doesn’t look like death and destruction from afar, does it?

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The Scarecrow levels in Batman: Arkham Asylum were really special, gameplay- as well as graphics-wise. Damn, now I’d really like to play it again.

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And what could be a more fitting shot to end this post than Trevor’s supercool Unflinching Walk from GTA V?

Memorable vs always fun gameplay

The other day Tyler contemplated about what kind of games are worth playing, and which one’s are more or less a waste of precious time to him. It’s an interesting read. He concludes that, while it’s all fine and dandy as long as you’re having fun, the most important aspect to him is if the game creates good memories. My first reaction to it was ‘Exactly, mate!’.

He cites Heroes of the Storm as an example for games that are fun to play, yet don’t leave lasting memories or feelings, making the time spent playing them meaningless to him in the grand scheme of things.

When I look back at all the games I’ve played I too hold those most dear that left me with lasting memories of thrilling or hilarious adventures. I even have a couple of posts in draft stage that will share some of those.

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Just a little teaser, stay tuned

It’s no surprise then that I always gravitated towards games that offer much freedom, because that makes memorable stuff to happen more likely. It’s the reason why I still keep coming back to EVE after almost 13 years, and why I am more interested in sandbox style games in general.

But: everything has two sides. Thinking about this made me realize that the games I have the fondest memories of were also the ones with the highest percentage of downtime. By downtime I mean either doing a lot of extremely boring stuff, or even waiting for something to happen and essentially doing nothing.

EVE, for example, can be like that to the extreme. First you grind pretty boring missions or combat sites for hours on end to earn enough funds for your PvP ships, then you participate in fleet ops that take three hours or longer and there’s not even a single hostile ship to shoot. It’s not always like this of course, and when it’s not it can be very awesome. Unfortunately the ratio of boringtime to awesometime has always been pretty bad for me, at least until we joined Holy Cookie.

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Slowly repairing a station’s shield with no enemy in sight

On the other hand you have those games with pretty fixed gameplay loops, like HotS in Tyler’s case or Path of Exile and Overwatch in mine, which do let you experience cool moments but don’t really leave lasting memories or feelings. If you hear me tell a ‘That one time at bandcamp…’-story chances are it will be about EVE, Ultima Online, Star Wars Galaxies, Black Desert or ArcheAge. Maybe Everquest II. PoE, Overwatch, Call of Duty, Destiny 2…probably not so much.

What the latter games don’t have, though, is the aforementioned downtime. At all. You log in…and play. And play. And play some more. Until you log out again. It might always be pretty much the same and therefore not give me those coveted memories I want to blog or tell my buddies about, but if the gameplay is fun to me, it’s fun all the time and not just a small percentage of the time with a lot of boring in between.

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If this doesn’t look like fun I don’t know what does

Now, what to do with these insights? I guess I’ll just continue to play whatever I feel like at any given moment, until that one game finally comes along that has the potential for the most memorable experiences while omitting all kinds of boring gameplay and downtime.

One can dream, right?

Having much fun in Destiny 2

What I knew about Destiny 1 when it launched is pretty much this: A Diablo-style ARPG that plays like a first person shooter, with MMO-like raid mechanics. Which sounded right up my alley. I don’t like to play shooters on console at all though, so I gave it a pass.

Hence when Destiny 2 was announced for PC I got pretty interested. I followed it’s development loosely, and when the console version was released I tried to use reviews and such to get a feel for the game without spoiling too much. The general consensus seemed to be that it’s more of the same, with some improvements but not much innovation. In short, if you liked part one you’ll like this one too if you don’t have too high expectations.

This, combined with the fact that some friends of ours would also be playing it on PC, was more than good enough for me.

So I bought it on release day. I loved it from the start. So much so that I decided to snag a Collector’s Edition on day two, which then was available again on Amazon. I offered it’s code for the base game to Lakisa with a heavy discount, which was enough to persuade her to give it a try and play the game with us.

Now, four weeks later, I’m still having a blast, playing at least for a bit every single day.

There’s no need for me to cover the basics of the game, those can be found everywhere. I’d rather elaborate what it is exactly that I, personally, like about the game so much.

  • It’s incredibly quick and easy to get in and out of the action.

While the menus are a bit consoley and could be more convenient, the act of going somewhere and doing a thing couldn’t be easier. It gets even better in relation to grouping. When I log in and a friend is already playing, I just join his group (called Fireteam here), and boom, one nicely animated load screen later I’m standing right next to him and join in whatever he’s doing. He doesn’t even have to invite me or anything.

  • There are no artificial barriers between my friends and me

95% of the game’s content can be played as a group, no matter at what character- and powerlevel everyone is. When a friend plays a new character I can just join like described above and play alongside him, even the low level main story missions.

  • Every little thing I do feels rewarding

For me there’s always something to do, and nothing feels like a waste of time. This is because the game always drops loot, and the loot scales with my powerlevel. Granted, at around 270 and above most loot doesn’t help to push the powerlevel much further, but I still feel rewarded when my efforts net me heaps of Glimmer, Shards etc. (think crafting materials), as well as XP for Bright Engrams (cosmetics, faster/different speeders and ships). Even when I help out said low level friend I get all of this, and there’s always a little chance to snag an Exotic that I don’t have yet too.

  • It’s collector’s heaven

When I first found out that only one exotic weapon and one exotic piece of armor can be equipped at a time I was a bit miffed. I considered these to be the ‘Unique Items’ of this game. At least for weapons that’s not quite true however. Exotics are more like ‘these unique items have extra special abilities, so you have to choose one’. Legendary weapons, which are one rarity step below, are also unique. And there’s lots and lots of them. And you can collect them all. Want the best hand cannon? Get Better Devils. Need a great Submachine gun for PvP? Try to snag Antiope-D. Looking for a solid allround scout rifle? Nameless Midnight might be for you. Getting a weapon I don’t have yet feels great every time, even if it’s one I probably won’t use much. Plus, you never know when a mechanic comes along that calls for just this weapon. Speaking of which…

  • The raid mechanics are even better and more fun than I had anticipated

I have played the raid only twice up till now, and finished it once. But boy, did I have fun. I didn’t think it possible in a shooter, but the mechanics are really interesting and engaging, and the much faster pace compared to the MMO raid-combat I’m used to makes it all the more fun. It’s also much more forgiving since dying doesn’t cost anything and a wipe doesn’t cost too much time either. If we don’t have to talk things through after a wipe we can be having a go again 10 seconds later. The mechanics also make you think about the build and weapons you use. Your normal go-to subclass or power weapon, for example, might not be the best pick for a specific encounter. Planning, preperation, execution. Fun and profit.

  • The open world feeling is really good

I didn’t have high expectations in this regard, but was in for a pleasant surprise. Not only are the zones pretty big, they are also chock full of stuff to find, of nooks and crannies to explore. I like the Lost Sectors in particular. An inconspicuous street door or a little hole in the ground can lead to a vast basement vault or underground cavern, filled with enemies and a boss guarding a treasure chest at the end. This is what I had hoped for back when Hellgate London came along in 2007. I actually think of Destiny 2 as the game Hellgate wanted to be in more than one regard.

Sometimes I just cruise the landscape looking for treasure chests and boss enemies, joining public events and exploring Lost Sectors when I stumble upon them. I just do whatever strikes my fancy. There are full fledged MMOs out there which make this kind of play less fun and much less rewarding than Destiny 2 does.

  • There’s no global or general chat, and no whispers to strangers

This might sound odd, but for me it’s a blessing. I’ve written about my negative experiences when playing with strangers lately. And I know for sure, without a doubt, that I would have had some more by now if Destiny 2 had global chat and /whisper to non-friendlist people. I really don’t need self proclaimed “pro gamers” telling me I’m doing “their” public event wrong or that I suck at PvP, thank you very much. Great stuff Bungie! I mean it, thank you!

  • The story’s pretty good, the voice acting is great

I have seen some scathing reviews about the story in Destiny 2, and while I can comprehend some of the criticism, I think it’s not that bad at all. Ok, the antagonist looks goofy as hell and is cliché to match. During my second and third playthrough I skipped every cutscene with him. The cutscenes starring the good guys I quite like though. The characters might not be very relatable, but at least they’re likable. They’re also perfectly animated and the lip-sync is the best I’ve seen yet. I’m generally not a sucker for high end graphics, but in a game that aims for photorealism I can appreciate when it’s done right for once. And boy, is this a gorgeous game.

I love the voice acting. Nathan Fillion’s Nathan Fillion, not much more to say there. I also was genuinely delighted to hear Lance Reddick’s voice right at the beginning of the story. He’s just great too. Nolan North as the character’s ghost shows his incredible versatility once again, I wouldn’t have known that it’s Nathan Drake talking to me without looking it up. Even some characters with very small roles have good voice actors, like James Remar (Dexter’s foster-father Harry) and the one and only Peter Stormare as leaders of two of Destiny 2’s factions.

There are of course many who are already complaining that they have nothing more to do. That they are finished, that the game is dead, whatever. For them, this might be the case. In my opinion they’re doing themselves a disservice by rushing through the content and ignoring everything that doesn’t reliably push their powerlevel.

If you play the game like me, you’ll have fun for quite some time and won’t grow tired of it. I’m still not quite at max powerlevel, I haven’t got every weapon and every piece of armor I’d like to have, I’ve not yet seen every Lost Sector and not found every lore object.

What I have loads of, though, is fun.

Now all Bungie has to do is give me an ingame means to take screenshots, and I’ll be happy all around. Seriously guys, PC games have to have this feature, especially when you decide to block the usage of FRAPS, Bandicam and the like. I’m giving you free advertising here…wouldn’t it be great if I had nice screenies to go along with the text? 😉

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Malcolm Reyn…err…Cayde-6 seems to agree.

My multiplayer malaise

Since I started playing and got addicted to Ultima Online in 2001 I have almost exclusively played multiplayer games.

The reasons are manifold. It’s not that I always play in a group, far from it. But even when playing alone, being in a world inhabited by other players gives everything I do a far greater sense of realism. When I craft, not only can I use the item myself, I can also sell it to someone else. When I am too lazy to go out and gather crafting mats myself, I can buy them instead. And yes, I too am not immune to feeling a sense of pride when I achieve something not everybody achieves, and being able to show it off by riding a special mount or wearing a special title or somesuch.

I also like that there’s no ending in multiplayer games. To be honest, I’ve become reluctant to invest dozens or even hundreds of hours into a game that I know will go “that’s it, you’re finished, now go and play something else” at some point. I feel that everything I achieve while playing the game will just go poof when I reach that point.

As of late, though, I withdraw from all kinds of multiplayer activity more and more. I hardly ever play Overwatch anymore, I have cancelled my FFXIV subscription. At the moment I mainly play Uncharted: The Lost Legacy on PS4, GTA V (just the story mode) and Path of Exile (always alone except for the occasional trade) on PC.

Why the change of mind?

It’s actually rather simple. During the last year or so, the vast majority of encounters with other players I had (EVE Online being the exception, believe it or not) were…bad. Just bad.

There’s been much talk about toxicity in all of online gaming lately. MOBAs and Shooters like Overwatch seem to be the worst offenders, but they’re not the only ones, as I had to find out.

When Lakisa and I were playing the Main Story in FFXIV sometime in August we reached a point, as you regularly do in this game, where we had to do a dungeon to progress further. And I absolutely did not want to. The last dungeons we had done had been utterly stressful and unfun experiences, and I just didn’t want any more of that. The group finder does a solid job in getting you together with folks playing the right roles relatively quickly. What it can’t do, though, is get you together with people who are relaxed and fun to play with. And this kind of human being seems to pretty much not exist anymore in that game. Everyone is go go go, pull now, pull everything, faster, faster, all while standing kneedeep in bad stuff all the time. I’m telling you, I refuse tanking or healing for anyone I don’t know from now on.

Unfortunately this pretty much killed my enthusiasm for that game altogether, so we are taking a break.

There’s a whole bunch of multiplayer-centric games launching before the end of the year that I’d normally be very interested in. I’ll pass on most of them.

There’s Star Wars Battlefront II. Lootcrate shenanigans aside (they’re bad though, reason enough to not buy it to be honest) this looks pretty awesome. The ‘I’m right in the middle of the battle of Endor’-feeling of the first game was tremendous. It wasn’t perfect, but they seem to have taken a lot of fan feedback to heart and improved part two a great deal. The story campaign isn’t enough reason for me to buy it though, and I just don’t want to play the multiplayer right now.

Call of Duty is returning to World War II. I haven’t played a CoD since Black Ops 1, but this one looks pretty interesting. Still, not buying it.

Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds is all the rage and makes all the money right now. It sure looks fun and interesting. Won’t be playing it.

The one I’m really looking forward to and that I’m actually gonna buy is Destiny 2 for PC. I haven’t played the first one because I don’t like to play shooter mechanics on console. But I’m pretty sure I would have liked it, and the sequel seems to be, while not very innovative, a straight upgrade on all fronts. The most important thing: I can and will only play it either alone, or together with a couple RL friends that are also buying it. The enemies’ AI might not be great, but at least it won’t make me ragequit the game with it’s antisocial behaviour.

No play with and/or against strangers for me anymore, no Sir. For now anyway.