Last time I talked about the various MMOs I’ve played between 2010 and 2014. Now let’s have a look at the past decade’s latter half.
ArcheAge won my heart instantly, but alas, only to go ahead and break it soon after. I’ve talked at lenght about all that here.
The realization that the game was basically rotten to the core hit us pretty early on, nevertheless we continued playing for quite a while. We just couldn’t let go. Its great aspects, those we had so much fun with and that made us feel like we’d found our new virtual home, meant too much to us.
Having started in September ’14 we held on until about July ’15. What finally tipped the scales was the announcement of server merges later that year, meaning that everybody on affected servers – including ours – was going to losetheir land. That made us drop the game like a hot potato.
I’d read about Marvel Heroes from time to time, but wasn’t all that interested for some reason. Mainly because I thought (and still think) that I don’t really need another ARPG when I can play Path of Exile any time I want, I guess.
Quitting ArcheAge left a huge void though, and we’d just rewatched a couple of great Marvel movies – my favourites are still the first Iron Man, the first Avengers and the second Cap – so it seemed like the perfect time to try it. It didn’t even come close to knock PoE off it’s throne, but it was cool and I miss it.
We went on vacation in September, and while we were away we pondered which proper MMORPG we might play next. WoW aside one of the the last AAA titles we hadn’t tried yet was Final Fantasy XIV. Lakisa was up for it from the start, I wasn’t so sure. Reading about its gathering and crafting systems won me over pretty much instantly though, and we ordered the boxes so that they were already waiting for us when we returned home.
The game took a bit getting used to, but we had fun and played it straight all the way until the end of the year. However by that time I was absolutely sick of the game’s stubborn gating of content behind the main story quests, the mandatory group content bits to advance said main story, and also burnt out by the crafting grind, so I decided to quit before we’d even seen the first expansion’s content.
Some time during spring I felt drawn to EVE again after a nearly five-year hiatus.* As usual I did some mission running to get into the groove again and pad my wallet. When Lakisa watched me doing that she got interested, played a bit on my account and eventually created her own.
We gave her character a little jump start by injecting skill points I’d extracted from an alt of mine who didn’t use them anymore and tried a bit of everything. Missions, exploration, mining, production. The ultimate goal was to get into PvP of course. By that time I’d read that the Mercenary Coalition, one of the game’s first large merc groups many years before, had reformed and Noir., my former corp, had joined them. They even had a training corp for newbies, Noir. Academy.
Long story short, we joined them in March. Perfect timing that was, because World War Bee was just getting intense and we got to see some really big fights. As academy pilots we weren’t allowed to fly “real” ships though, and having to move your base of operations every two weeks or so gets very tiring, so once WWB fizzled out in late June we decided we needed a break.
* I’d last played in 2011, which I totally forgot to mention in the preceding post. Oops. I was in Noir. Mercenary Group from March until about July, a relatively small merc corporation mainly operating behind enemy lines for their contractors. It was the first time I actually received a wage for PvP – we got a cut of the contract payment depending on activity instead of the usual ship replacement – which was pretty great. I didn’t stay longer for various reasons however.
In October we returned to FFXIV. The next expansion, Stormblood, had been announced, and being a huge fan of all things Asian I thought, well, if we start now we should easily be able to get through the story until it arrives.
Yeah…no. I’m sorry, but playing this game is work. I mean, we played on and off (more on than off) until August ’17…
…and we did have some fun, don’t get me wrong. But everything takes so much time here, and, more importantly, you have to do things just the way Yoshy P and co. have envisioned it. I’ve never felt so much like being held on a short leash by an MMO. Of course we did not actually make it through Heavensward and subsequent patches until Stormblood arrived, which meant that despite having bought the expansion we couldn’t even fricking go there and have a look at the new zones and housing districts.
It’s sad because there’s also much to love here, but…I’m sorry…screw that game!
In June I started this blog, so from here on out it will be much easier to get the timeline right, and I’ll also have posts to link to in case you would like to know more.
I don’t remember if it was Lakisa or myself who first expressed the desire to return to EVE in earnest, but by April we were back in New Eden. To make things easier for us this time around we wanted to join an all-German corp, preferably one operating in low sec. It didn’t take long to find Holy Cookie, and we joined them in May. Through the rest of the year we fought in AllianceTournamentXV, moved to a new home and scored lots of kills in low sec.
I also played Destiny 2 when it came out and had some fun for a while, but its problems soon became too blatant to ignore, and I haven’t touched it since.
In December I made my third attempt to get into Black Desert Online. This time it really clicked, and hard. I still don’t know why I couldn’t get into it before only to absolutely fall in love with it then, but I guess that’s just how it goes sometimes.
Consequently I played a lot of BDO whenever there was no action going on in EVE. This two-headed dragon absolutely dominated my gaming time until we went on a long vacation towards the end of March.
Come December it drew me back to BDO though, which carried me well into the next year.
Black Desert is a really exceptional MMORPG, and during the year’s first half I played it almost exclusively.
Our corp joining NC Dot in May gave us another big push to play some EVE again though, and it was a pretty fun ride. Lakisa and I didn’t want it to end either, but many corp members didn’t like living in null sec as much as they’d imagined and left, so leadership decided to leave the alliance again. Unfortunately that whole thing was handled very badly by our CEO in our opinion, which made us pretty unhappy. Thus we ultimately left the Cookies after over two years. Lakisa joined one of NC Dot’s corps, Blank Space, and is still having fun in null sec. I haven’t played EVE since.
In August a seemingly minor article over at Massively OP made me finally try out Warframe, and I liked it from the start. I see many parallels to Path of Exile here, which is always a good thing, just in the form of a 3rd person shooter. It’s great!
That same August also gave us the announcement of ArcheAge Unchained. I dismissed it as just another cheap attempt to rob us blind at first, but as time went on and its release drew nearer I couldn’t resist and tried to inform myself about it.
By now it mostly does though, and we’re having a lot of fun. I played it every day and didn’t touch anything else for the rest of the year.
Honorable non-MMO mentions
Despite my huge fondness of the genre I didn’t only play MMORPGs and MMOs during these ten years of course. I won’t (and probably can’t) name all other games I’ve played, but the ones I liked the most, in no particular order, are:
The Uncharted series (2 and 3 are the best), Resident Evil 2 Remake, Limbo, Inside, GTA V, Heavy Rain, Vampire: Bloodlines (playthroughs four to six or something), Batman: Arkham Asylum & City, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, Overwatch, StarCraft 2.
During last year’s event I posted a screenshot-collection of stuff that went wrong and/or made me laugh while playing various MMOs. I still believe our favourite genre is the most predestined for stuff like that, which is one big reason why I never tire of playing these games. Here’s another assortment for your viewing pleasure.
As always, click the pics to enlarge.
So ArcheAge Unchained unlocks its character creation, I choose a Nuian male archer and on the other side of a quick loading screen this nightmare-inducing abomination is what stares at me. I shudder at the thought of what a Warborn would have looked like.
I’d been aware that players are able to do some unusual stuff with ship-mounted harpoons, but this was new. This is in the middle of Marianople, mind you, half a mile away from the next body of water. Ships can’t be spawned on land, so they had to drag themselves over here bit by bit to do this stunt.
I’d just fallen asleep to regenerate some labor points when Lakisa waltzed in and started to cook a couple hundred vegetable soups, entirely unaware of my presence. From now on I’ll lock the door!
Everquest II definitely has no shortage of fun stuff, yet it still caught me by surprise when this quest turned me into a rat and even had other rats talk to me.
Looks like someone has found a new calling…
If you don’t recognize this code…you’re definitely a lot younger than me. I wonder if they left out B and A for copyright reasons.
Many folks regard the Hildibrand quests in Final Fantasy XIV as the most funny thing ever. Whether you like that kind of over-the-top humor or not, the game has plenty more of that. This pic is the culmination of lots and lots of bickering and arguing between these two NPCs during your first epic weapon quest line, aka the Zodiac Weapon. I’d kind of hoped it would come to this a lot sooner to be honest.
What? If you had just finished building your own hot tub and hopped right in not realizing you’re still fully clothed you’d look this embarrassed too!
Depending on the class you’re playing SWTOR isn’t exactly the most lighthearted MMO out there, yet it still can be pretty hilarious at times. This Hutt in particular had some lines up his sleeve that really cracked me up.
Speaking of the Hutt, I’d heard a lot about a certain piece of headgear the final and eponymous boss of the Karagga’s Palace operation could drop. I didn’t know what was so special about it until it dropped for us for the first time and I of all people was the one who won the roll…my guildmates were adamant that I wear it of course. Yeah, thanks again!
This is the obligatory group shot after clearing 16-man (and woman) Eternity Vault. We wanted to do something different this time, so we all set our characters’ moods to astounded.
Not an MMO, but I just had to include this shot from GTA V. The game has countless hilarious moments of course, but this scene after a heist gone bad literally had me in tears.
When asked about their preference regarding combat in MMORPGs many players reply by naming one of the generally agreed upon main categories: A) Hotbar/Tab Targeting, B) Action Combat or C) a mix of both.
I can’t really do that because I’ve played games of all categories where I liked the combat very much, and also some where I didn’t.
My current main game is Black Desert Online. I enjoy its combat a lot, but it’s hard to compare it to most others I’ve played because it’s not really designed to be challenging at all other than excecuting your skills and combos properly. It plays more like a beat ’em up, really. Also, there are no roles to speak of, basically everyone’s a damage dealer. Hence I’ll leave it out of this discussion.
One combat system I had a lot of fun with is The Secret World’s. Interestingly (and unfortunately) though that system was almost universally reviled by the broader MMO playerbase and the most stated reason by folks for why they couldn’t bring themselves to give the game another shot at any point. On the other side of the spectrum many players seem to be pretty happy with Final Fantasy XIV’s combat, which I don’t like at all.
This made me try to understand what exactly I need from an MMO’s combat for it to be enjoyable. If it’s not the fundamental design, and not if it’s smooth and well animated either (which FFXIV is and TSW, admittedly, is not), then what is it?
I narrowed it down by thinking about which role I like to play the most, which is tanking. During the last 10+ years I’ve tanked in every MMO I played (if it had such roles), and usually it’s been my main character. As a tank nothing is more important to me than being able to react swiftly and effectively to anything the game might throw at me and my group. I want to be in control. And I like to have at least some measure of freedom in how I go at it.
These, I realized, are the two key aspects for me: control and freedom.
I’ll stay with TSW and FFXIV to elaborate on this.
In FFXIV I mostly played the Warrior. It’s a hard hitting tank class wielding a huge axe.
Looks and sounds right up my alley, but while leveling him up to 63 and doing every kind of content it never was as fun or felt as good as I’d have liked.
My biggest gripe is the awfully long global cooldown (GCD). It makes the fights feel so. slow. you. guys. Or rather, I feel slow. What’s worse, I feel neither free nor in control because I have to wait too goddamn long after I’ve used an ability before I can do anything else.
This is exacerbated by the fact that the Warrior relies heavily on ability chains, like a lot of classes in the game do. So I’ve just used a combo of three’s second attack when a group member pulls some adds? Too bad, because now I need to decide between finishing my chain (which, again, feels like an eternity due to the long GCD) and interrupting it to react to the new threat, losing a lot of extra damage and refreshing of buffs.
This kind of design is just not fun to me. I think of myself as a pretty good tank player, but the game actively prevents me from utilizing my strengths by forcing its – in my opinion – too tight design corset on me.
In contrast, The Secret World’s much maligned combat system enabled me to be exactly the tank I wanted to be, reliable and very fast reacting if things went south.
I took pride in the fact that I tanked most of the game’s harder dungeon bosses like Machine Tyrant or both encounters with Doctor Klein pretty well on nightmare difficulty. When tanking those a single error would cause you to die most of the time, which almost always resulted in a wipe. That this rarely happened to me made me feel good about myself, and also made those fights all the more fun for me.
So what exactly did TSW’s combat system give me that FFXIV’s didn’t (enough)?
One: freedom of movement while fighting. When tanking in TSW I often felt more like performing a choreographed dance than battling an enemy, and with all the stuff modern MMO’s bosses throw at you to dodge, evade or interrupt I really want to be able to do it like that. To me the most helpful tools in that regard were 360 degree AoE attacks so I could run sideways or even away from a boss and still hit it (not very realistic, but I don’t care), and generally being always able to move. No requirement to stand still while casting or channeling stuff, no animation locks.
Two: rotations with some leeway. As in every MMO ever TSW players of course developed perfect rotations to squeeze every possible bit of damage out of their characters. Because of how the system was designed though, revolving around resource building abilities, consumers to spend those resources and resource-independent special abilities, there was always room for improvisation without fucking up the rotation completely.
Three: a huge toolkit to choose from. A boss has lots of nasty attacks that should be interrupted? No problem, I’ll slot three stuns and rotate through them. Need to constantly dodge huge AoEs? I’ll bring a couple more movement abilities like dashes then. Our healer can’t heal at times due to boss mechanics? Let me prepare some defensive cooldowns or self-heals to stay alive.
I do realize that I’m comparing a class-based game with a pretty flexible skill-based one here, but I don’t think that the former has to be inherently inferior to the latter in this regard. I feel more flexible in how I play my characters in Everquest II than I felt in ArcheAge, for example. While at first glance you seem to have enormously more freedom in AA you actually don’t because 90% of those 120 possible sub-class combinations are crap, and you pretty much have to skill and play the viable 10% just the right way to have any chance at success.
All of the above doesn’t only apply to playing the tank role of course. Especially the ability to move while casting or channeling is a godsend for healers and DPS players. Having to stand still all the time admittedly doesn’t bother me that much when playing my Warlock in Everquest II – despite cast times of up to five seconds – since that game doesn’t harass players as much with bad stuff to move out of as more recent titles.
As a healer in FFXIV though you’re forced to choose between two ills all the fricking time: either finish casting your healing spell and get hit by an AoE because of it or move out of the ground target in time and maybe let someone die. To me that isn’t fun, it’s just stressful.
To summarize, combat is a main feature of most MMOs, and I’m fine with that because it can be tremendously fun. Action combat or tab targeting, I don’t care. What the game shouldn’t do is force me into a too tight design corset dictating the exact ‘right’ way to play. Give me some freedom in how I play my chosen class or build and enable me to feel that I’m in control of the situation rather than the game controlling me. Then I’m a happy camper.
Sorry about the title, I just couldn’t resist. I’m not even sure if that’s a proper rhyme. Ahem, moving on.
It hardly ever snows where I live, so when I crave some proper winter weather I need to either travel a good bit in real life, or get my fix in one of the virtual worlds I also inhabit.
While the latter obviously isn’t as good as the real deal it has the benefit of not actually being, you know, cold. MMO developers are well aware of that appeal, and most titles have at least one zone where there’s always winter. Those that have weather systems also tend to let it snow regularly during winter months.
Here are some places to savour virtual winter should you ever feel like it.
Black Desert Online is one of the best looking MMOs out there, and it’s especially spectacular during winter. A screenshot doesn’t do it justice really, in motion it’s downright stunning. When it starts to snow the world doesn’t just turn white from one moment to the next, instead the snow blanket gets more dense over time. Later it starts to melt and turns to mud or water, depending on the surface, before it finally dissipates.
It’s not just a feast for the eyes either. Walking over snow sounds very realistic, and I could swear all ambient sounds are a bit muffled. I might be imagining that last bit, but it shows that the whole experience just feels right and is probably as close to the real thing as it can be.
ArcheAge has a similar approach, but falls short in comparison. Still, it too looks pretty great. During sunshine you can see Marianople, the city in the background, clearly and with many details from this distance, so the snow’s effect on long range visibility seems to be even a bit more realistic here.
Now we move on to ‘eternal winter’ territory.
The Coerthas Highland zones are among my favourites in Final Fantasy XIV. The architecture and mood fit perfectly to a region where it’s always cold. I wouldn’t have been surprised at all to discover Winterfell just around the corner. Winter isn’t coming, it’s already here!
This Everquest II zone is fittingly called Everfrost. It dates all the way back to the game’s release, and it shows. From a distance it still looks quite good though, and I can’t help but feel a little bit chilly when I see it.
Another one from EQII. These are the docks and the entrance to Thurgadin, city of the Coldain dwarves. It’s an impressive and majestic place, and it’s huge. A player character would fit a couple of times into the head of one of those statues. The winter theme fits very well here I think.
If you want to freeze your butt off in The Secret World the Carpathians have got you covered. I hope you don’t mind that vampires are all over the place though. Definitely bring your collection of stakes along. Or Buffy Summers.
I can’t remember the name of this zone in TERA, nor why my horse is hovering a foot above the ground. Maybe it didn’t want its hooves to get cold…
I didn’t mind the stylized look of Star Wars: The Old Republic in general. Some places, like Tatooine for example, actually looked really great. Somehow the ice planet Hoth didn’t feel right though. The above mentioned effect of feeling cold just by looking at it just wasn’t there for me. Still, this list wouldn’t be complete without Hoth, would it?
I wish you all a merry and hopefully white Christmas.
Mounts are a staple feature of the MMO genre, almost on par with levels or quests. Most of the time their main purpose is to carry you around, letting you reach your destination faster. Some have additional abilities like gliding, flying, having their own inventory or being able to carry two players at once. Then there are those really hard to get ones, which above all else serve as a status symbol once you have them.
Whatever the case, they are our pride and joy, are they not?
Many have accompanied me over the years, and here are some of my favourites.
This is my first Everquest II mount. You didn’t get one for free or as a quest reward back then (as far as I know), and it had taken me quite a while to accumulate the status points needed. As a result I was very happy with it and rode it for a pretty long time, all the way until leapers and flyers were introduced.
Speaking of leapers, I’ve never had so much fun with another mount in any game than I had and still have with these. At the time they let me see all those old zones with new eyes because they jump really fricking high (and I couldn’t use flyers yet), but it’s also pure joy mechanically. Barely making the jump over a wide ravine or landing at the exact spot I aim at feels great and obviously isn’t half as fun with a flying mount.
Star Wars Galaxies had no mounts at release, but pretty large planets. My characters must’ve worn out quite a lot of boots during the first months. I didn’t mind too much because the large distances added to the game’s adventurous, sandboxy feel, but it’s safe to say that pretty much everybody cheered a lot when mounts were finally added. Or…not. The first mounts were rideable beasts and just barely faster than running, so most of us were quite underwhelmed. A while later the mounts everyone was waiting for finally came: gliders and speeder bikes. The perceived size of the game world shrank a good bit due to that, but I don’t think anyone would’ve seriously wanted to go back.
While we’re in the Star Wars universe, here I’m zipping around Tatooine on my collector’s edition mount in SWTOR. I liked this game’s version of the planet very much, I think it has just the right feel to it. Plus, the side quests for the Jawas are hilarious. But I digress. The mount wasn’t anything special, but at least I had one to use right away.
This is my all time favourite SWTOR mount. I didn’t like doing dailies in that game much, but I ground the Gree event diligently until I had reached the needed reputation rank for this because it just looks awesome and fits my Jedi Guardian’s look perfectly.
Final Fantasy XIV has a great many cool mounts, this being one of my most used flyers. It always reminds me of the Goblin beast tribe quests that reward this, which I liked doing because they are just hilarious.
Lakisa and I had just finished the Moogle beast tribe quests, so naturally we took off on our brand new dandelion mounts and spread the love…err…pollen.
This last one from FFXIV could be earned while doing the Halloween quests a couple years back. I didn’t use it very long though; an over seven feet tall Au Ra looks a bit weird on it after all…
The Secret World didn’t have mounts for a long time, and technically it didn’t need any because you could unlock several substantial boosts to your running speed. With those you made Usain Bolt look very old.
But, again, players like mounts, so they were finally added. This motorbike was the first, unlockable by doing a quest. It wasn’t any faster than the normal speed boosts and had pretty clunky animations for turning and such, but it was a nice touch nonetheless.
Zipping around Tokyo on my…shoes?
This is my trusty steed in Black Desert Online. It’s fast and reliable, but man, it eats me out of house and home. So. Many. Carrots.
No. No there’s not. It’s dead, Jim. Well, at least it doesn’t need any carrots. Which is a good thing because I haven’t seen a single carrot anywhere in TERA.
Not only are the gliders in ArcheAge very fun to ride, they’re also instruments to be used to your tactical advantage in PvP. Here we’re coming down hard on the enemy faction’s Grimghast raid.
Another one from ArcheAge. Our guild did a huge cooperative trade run across the sea for a hefty profit. Until we reached the shore we used farm carts to speed up the journey. Now, I could’ve stored my tradepack into the cart and rode on my horse, but why? Sitting in the front seat (actually that’s the hose for watering your fields, but bear with me here) was much more relaxing and less bumpy than riding on horseback.
If you’ve played video games, especially MMOs, for any lenght of time you’ve probably encountered your fair share of things that didn’t work as intended. Getting stuck, falling through the world, physics going crazy, wrong or missing translation, what have you.
Sometimes it’s funny when stuff like that happens, but it can also be a bit annoying if it impedes your ability to, say, progress a quest or even continue to play at all.
Fortunately you don’t have to deal with such consequences if you just look at screenshots of those things happening to me. Yes, I went through all kinds of hardships so you don’t have to. You’re welcome.
This happened to me regularly when I played longer stretches of ArcheAge. I don’t know if it was due to my graphics memory overflowing or whatever, but it looked funny. It kind of felt as if the game had spontaneously transformed into a retro version of itself.
Another one from ArcheAge, this time the old ‘falling through the world’ classic. After I’d dropped through an invisible hole in the ground I was treated to this rather surrealist view. I had to swim quite a stretch to reach solid ground again, but at least I could do so under my own power and didn’t need to wait until a GM got me out of there.
Different game, same drill. This time Everquest II didn’t want me to walk on firm ground anymore and had me literally sink into nothingness.
Over in Path of Exile I tried to complete a couple of league-specific challenges while playing its Incursion League. Whenever you manage to tick one off you get an on-screen notification informing you about it. One day though, I got this:
In 2010 my EVE Online client occasionally produced the weirdest glitches. The first time it happened I was convinced that my graphics card had just imploded.
Whatever the problem was, it looked completely different every time. I can’t remember if I reinstalled the client or if a patch came out to fix it, but until then I was treated to some really strange sights.
I don’t remember the exact circumstances leading to the next one, but after some kind of teleport or other scripted movement in one of SWTOR’s operations (raid zones) my character remained in this pose. I had to /stuck myself to get out of it. Until then my guildmates had their laughs at my expense of course.
Lastly I have two shots for you that technically don’t belong here because they don’t show a bug or something like that. I’m including them anyway because I think they’re just really funny.
Behold my Final Fantasy XIV Dire Wolf mount.
I was taking screenshots of my surroundings while my guild assembled for a raid in Everquest II when our Necromancer’s pet suddenly decided to photobomb me without warning.
I don’t know about you, but unscripted, hilarious stuff like that is the main reason why I love playing video games.
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 its 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.
Normally I don’t make resolutions because I know from experience that I do what I want to do and don’t what I don’t anyway.
Or so I believed for a long time. From late 2016 to mid-2017 I went through a tough stretch in my life that made me revaluate a lot of what I do. Thinking about it in earnest I had to realize that I actually do things that I don’t really want or like to do fairly regularly, especially in gaming.
I’m not a hardcore achiever when playing games. I never chased after world firsts or top ladder spots etc. But I too set goals for myself. During 2017 some of those were reaching a certain rank in competitive Overwatch every season I played, getting the first Relic Weapon with my Warrior in FFXIV and getting my 1000th registered kill in EVE Online.
Of those three I achieved the second and the third. Did I have fun while working towards those goals though?
In EVE, yes. I didn’t try to force anything here, I attended to fleets (which are fun) regularly and the kills just happened.
The other two? Hell no.
Getting a Relic in FFXIV is pure grinding. Finally getting it was great and all, even checking off some of the intermediate steps felt like nice little achievements. But it wasn’t actually fun to do. To be honest, some stretches were soulcrushingly boring and repetitive. I didn’t stop though. I’ve come this far, I really want that Axe, yada yada.
I already talked at length about Overwatch. It’s still a great game, but I still can’t stand losing matches and losing rank. Trying to reach my goal there had me screaming in rage at my monitor more than once, which can’t be healthy.
So here’s my gaming resolution for 2018:
Don’t continue doing things long after they have ceased to be fun!
I have set myself no specific goals whatsoever for Black Desert up to now, and I’ll try to keep it that way. The same goes for EVE. Just playing and having fun feels really great. And isn’t this what games are supposed to be all about anyway?
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 its antisocial behaviour.
No play with and/or against strangers for me anymore, no Sir. For now anyway.
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.