Farewell to Wildstar and other MMO news

So I come home from a 12-day vacation and the MMO-gaming world has pretty much turned on it’s head. Huh.

Pearl Abyss is buying CCP Games. Since I play EVE Online and intend to continue to do so I hope this will be good for the game. There’s much doom and gloom going round of course. I prefer to share Wilhelm’s more upbeat view. Also, in my opinion Black Desert’s cash shop isn’t as P2W-heavy as many people claim it to be. I didn’t aim for being competitive in PVP though, so what do I know. We’ll see.

A billionaire doctor has invested in Daybreak. Any news concerning Everquest II that’s not decidedly good news makes me very nervous right now. I just fell in love with the game again and would very much like to make up for lost time as long as I can. A shutdown announcement would be heartbreaking. Bhagpuss is cautiously optimistic, and I hope he’s right.

Speaking of shutdowns, the time has come for Wildstar. Unlike others who said their farewells I’ve never played it, but it makes me sad nonetheless.

The game was on my radar since I first saw it’s brilliant gamescom ’11 trailer. It’s funny, it’s action-packed, it has Sci-Fi and Western style…it’s basically Firefly. What’s not to like?

Wildstar
Well, ok, Firefly with WoW-sized shoulderpads

Obviously a render trailer like that doesn’t tell you anything about how a game actually plays. Once details about the general gameplay direction became known I started to doubt if this was going to be a game for me: a themepark with action combat and ‘hardcore endgame’. This is what the devs themselves said about their raids:

How hardcore are our raids? So hardcore that they floss with BARBED WIRE!!!

Okaaaay.

Despite my fondness of playing solo I do like raids. The more people the better. I went from 24-man raids in EQII to 8-man raids in SWTOR and was like ‘this is no raid, this is a group with two extra people’.

My EQII raiding days have taught me one thing though: it’s hard to find enough players of compatible playstyles, skill levels, goals and schedules for raid groups that big. Even if you do find those people, keeping them all engaged and happy for a period of time isn’t just hard…it’s fricking impossible.

So how does the prospect of 40-man raids with super high difficulty sound? Awesome in theory if you do like that sort of thing, but very much at odds with reality.

Once I had read about ‘attunement‘ I definitely knew Wildstar was not for me.

It’s a shame, because I would have very much liked to at least check out it’s player housing. More than a few call it the best they’ve experienced.

Which makes me wonder, again, who exactly the game was meant for.

I have never, ever, met a player whom I’d call at least semi-hardcore who was into housing and other kinds of ‘fluff’. Those people want their game’s devs to do one thing only: design more dungeons and raids. Everything else is deemed a waste of time and resources. From their point of view it’s understandable.

Statistics show that they are a minority though. A vocal minority for sure, but still a minority. Enough to pay the bills for a AAA MMO? Apparently not.

And so it goes. It’s sad because the game has a lot going for it. I think I’d have liked the setting, style, music and non-hardcore features very much.

Farewell Wildstar.

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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.

Screens_BD

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.

Screens_Destiny2

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.

Screens_EVE

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?

Screens_Arkham

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.

Screens_GTAV

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

The times they are a-changin’

Long running online games have a problem franchises like Call of Duty or Gran Turismo don’t: they can’t as easily re-release themselves with a new graphics engine every couple of years.

This leads to these games becoming less and less likely to draw in new players because in addition to not being the new hotness they also look more and more dated in comparison.

Developers try to tackle this with little tweaks and upgrades to their graphics that make the games look slightly better without needing a whole new engine.

WoW has done this for example, and the difference between vanilla (2004) and Legion (2016) is quite noticable.

wow-vanilla-legion

Noticable, but not groundshattering – at least not on screenshots, and I haven’t seen it ingame.

What I do have experienced myself are the changes to EVE Online over the years, and those are pretty huge. I didn’t actually realize how huge until recently. It’s funny how quickly you get used to the new state of affairs after something changes, and soon you’d swear it had always been this way.

When I browsed my old EVE screenshots in search for a picture I needed for the blog I stumbled across a shot of an old PvE ship of mine, the Raven Navy Issue. I almost fell off my chair. First, here’s how the Navy Raven looks today:

EVE CNR1

My Golem, which uses almost the same model as the Raven, looked like this in 2009:

EVE CNR2

That’s not such a big change over nine years, is it? Well, strap yourselves in, because this was my Navy Raven in 2007:

EVE CNR3
Holy crap, what the hell is THAT?

Seriously, I had no idea anymore that the game looked like this when I started to play. In fact I was already playing for almost two years when I made that picture.

And I clearly remember thinking that the game looked pretty great back then. That’s how much our perception changes with the times and everything we see and experience.

Kudos to CCP for putting in the effort, and thanks for another reminder that not everything was, in fact, better in the old days.

When reading about or watching games is more fun than actually playing them

I really like to watch Overwatch tournaments. I’m currently catching up on Season 1 of Blizzard’s Overwatch League. It’s a hell of a lot of matches, and I watch at least one or two maps every day.

I don’t play the game myself anymore though. I gave it another chance after a long break a couple of weeks ago, but was instantly reminded of why I just can’t play it and stay sane. So I keep my hands off it and just watch others play.

How is it possible to have that much fun watching others play a game that’s not fun to play yourself?

To give credit where it’s due, Blizzard does a fantastic job with those presentations. The tools they’ve implemented for good camera angles, slo-mo replays, bird’s eye perspective etc. provide an excellent and entertaining viewing experience. They also have a great pool of casters who commentate the matches in pairs and do a stellar job at it (my favourites are Monte and DoA). I wouldn’t just watch some guy play the game on Youtube or Twitch, but this is highly professional e-sports broadcasting.

Overwatch League

I don’t think I’d have this much fun watching if I had never played the game myself though. The fact that I know the heroes, what they can and can’t do and how they complement each other makes it easier to follow what’s happening despite the breakneck speed, and theorizing why this hero was picked over that one adds another layer of excitement. But I guess you can learn all of that just by watching attentively for a while.

Still the question remains why I can’t play the game without instantly becoming the Hulk, yet watching others is so much fun.

EVE Online is a game that poses a similar conundrum for many people. They love to read about events that happened there, yet give up after a short while when they try playing it because they find it to be too complex and/or boring.

While I’ve never given up on EVE myself I can still totally relate to that. I know from experience that reading Wilhelm’s chronicles of big fights, for example, is indeed more fun than participating in such fights myself most of the time. At the very least it’s much, much faster.

EVE Supers
Looks like epic fun, but might well have felt like walking through molasses for a whole day

I guess what both cases have in common is also the answer to my question. Just watching or reading about these games lets you experience the great and fun aspects while sparing you the frustrating or boring parts.

For a long time I couldn’t quite come to terms with the fact that enjoying a game doesn’t necessarily require to actually play it. Whenever I had fun watching an Overwatch match I immediately thought ‘I really need to play myself again’. No, actually I don’t.

It’s a pity that I can’t enjoy playing Overwatch, but I think I’ve made my peace with that now. Instead of sulking and fretting about it I prefer to just be glad that there is, in fact, a way for me to still enjoy the game.

Appreciating the makers of our favourite pastimes

BlaugustReborn

It’s Blaugust Reborn, and we now have Developer Appreciation Week. So today I want to say Thank You to some groups of people and one very special individual.

First I want to thank Grinding Gear Games for their outstanding work on Path of Exile. Not only did they develop the in my opinion best ARPG and true successor to Diablo II, they have continued to enhance it relentlessly without ever slowing down.

That this extraordinary game is still free to play without any kind of content-limitations is nothing short of amazing. All the more because it’s cash shop doesn’t sell a single item that comes even remotely close to P2W territory. It’s expensive, sure, but I imagine that’s literally the price you have to pay if you want to fund an ambitious game like this just by selling cosmetics and stash tabs.

PoE_Forest

Next I’d like to say thank you to CCP Games for EVE Online, and generally for being the crazy mavericks they are. While it’s true that none of their projects since EVE has turned out to be a big success – and I’m still a bit grumpy about World of Darkness personally – I still admire that they’re always trying to push the envelope and break new grounds.

EVE itself is a very unique game that I love despite its flaws, and I’m glad that CCP never gave in to the temptation of attracting more players by creating safe zones or something. Lots of changes made the game more accessible and even outright easier over the years (remember the time before warp-to-zero?), but compared to most MMOs it’s still relatively hardcore. That has always been their vision for the game, and thankfully they stick to it.

exefile 2018-01-17 20-48-40-212

Lastly I want to thank Emily “Domino” Taylor. She was Everquest II’s main dev for all things tradeskills and housing between 2007 and 2017. That pretty much says it all.

Oh ok then, I’ll elaborate.

Domino’s work and dedication is the main reason why Everquest II has an astonishing wealth of crafting and gathering related quests. Seriously, look at that list. Those aren’t your standard ‘craft 5 of this, get XP’ quests other games have. Those exist too, like the repeatable rush orders I mentioned, but aren’t even worthy to be listed in that timeline. Most of the ‘real’ quests have expansive storylines that evolve as you complete your tasks.

When the Rise of Kunark expansion gave players their first Epic Weapon questline crafters got their Tradeskill Epic to match. It really is an epic quest, and so are the rewards.

EQ2_Epic

EQII’s player housing is, to me, the best there is. I’m not even talking about the abodes themselves or the placement mechanics, though those are great too.

What makes it really shine is the unbelievably huge amount of available items. Eq2wikia lists 9,732 entries in the “House Item (Item Type)” category, and that number doesn’t surprise me at all.

Of course many can be crafted by carpenters (which is why that’s my main tradeskill class). But you also get lots and lots as quest rewards and mob drops. Lore and Legend quests, which let you learn about specific creature types (by killing them, naturally), each give you a trophy and an actually readable book. The reward item of all Heritage quests can be transformed into a housing item if you don’t want to wear it. Seasonal events shower you with housing stuff. The list goes on.

EQ2_Library

Without Domino EQII just wouldn’t be the game that it is today, so again: thank you!

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.

ArcheAge Adventure1
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.

EVE_POSrep
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 telling 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.

PathOfExile 2015-03-22 14-26-35-508
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?

EVE ATXVI Coverage – Part III

Due to our defeat against Bright Side of Death in round two of EVE Online’s Alliance Tournament XVI we had dropped to loser’s bracket and now had to beat lllllllllllllllll (aka Barcode) on Saturday, August 4th to avert our elimination.

We trained a couple more times during the week. Unfortunately our training partners brought more or less the same ship setup all the time (just like us, to be fair), so we didn’t have the opportunity to measure our own setup’s viability against different kinds of opposition.

Match day came, and we warmed up and prepared as usual. Having learned our vulnerability to the Curse’s combination of neuts and tracking disruption the hard way, we banned Widow, Curse and Rook this time. Obviously Barcode had studied our previous matches well, banning Guardian, Armageddon and Oneiros. Hence we had to substitute our Tech II logi cruiser with a Tech I Exequror, and the Armageddon with a Bhaalgorn. We also used a Confessor instead of a bomber for a bit more anti-tackle and a Navy Megathron in place of the Navy Armageddon.

We got ported to the arena system and warped in at our preassigned ranges.

EVE ATXVI Match3 1

So we’d be fighting a shield tanked setup. Not many had been used this year up to now because most teams wanted to use the armor based Triglavian ships. We didn’t encounter many missile heavy setups in training either, and soon we’d have to realize that we were pretty unprepared for what was to follow.

Barcode had rapid light missile launchers on all their cruiser hulls and rapid heavies on the Barghest, and only 30 seconds into the match our Confessor died to the missile spam.

Meanwhile we couldn’t apply much damage at all because the huge range missile boats have allowed them to pull away from us quickly and kite us as they pleased. I was assigned to apply the target painter fitted on my Magus to their Scimitar, but couldn’t even lock it most of the time. In hindsight I should’ve zipped around the battlefield more, burning towards the enemy ships between fleet boost cycles and burning back to my team when the next boosts were due. I admit I was pretty overwhelmed by the situation we were in.

Our Sunesis fell next, which left us without any fast tackle, making it even harder to prevent them from kiting us. When our Exequror died leaving us without reps except for some maintenance bots our chances of winning shrank dramatically.

Mortales, our Vexor pilot, managed to get a tackle on the Barghest, but it didn’t take them long to focus him down. Free of tackle again the Barghest immediately used it’s micro jump drive to get out of our reach for the moment.

Our Vedmak died next, but almost at the same time we finally managed to break their Scimitar. Not only were they without logi too now, this also evened out the scoreboard to 17:25 from our perspective. Suddenly we saw a small chance to turn this thing around.

Unfortunately they coordinated the reload cycles of their missile launchers very well, and it took mere seconds from me being locked and primaried to my demise. Right after that our Pontifex suffered the same fate. So much for our fleet boosts, and now we were down 17:37.

We still had our three battleships left though, our flagship Leshak among them. And they were applying damage to the Barghest and had it in low shields now. Should it fall we’d gain 23 points and would ‘only’ need to keep our remaining ships alive for the win.

They focused our Leshak next, and since they still had everything but the Scimitar alive and kicking a lot of damage came in.

EVE_AT_Leshak
Our flagship taking damage while getting some reps from maintenance bots

Fortunately it had a local repairer, but so had their Barghest, which we were still trying to kill. We probably would’ve taken it down, but since we couldn’t tackle it any more it’s pilot jumped out of our reach again.

Since they couldn’t break our Leshak they switched to the Navy Mega. At first it seemed it might survive, but it exploded 18 seconds before time ran out.

EVE_AT_NavyMega
Heavily damaged Navy Megathron trying to escape it’s doom

And so the match ended with a score of 17:58. It was on the brink of a turnaround once or twice, but in the end we weren’t quite prepared for their setup and couldn’t deal with the missile spam.

You can watch the match here.

And thus our participation in this year’s alliance tournament ended. We didn’t make it as far as we’d liked, but I for one had a lot of fun and hope we’ll get in again next year.