Three changes that would make Genshin Impact even better

Having played the game daily for about five months now I think I have a pretty good grasp of which aspects of its design do and do not work well. It’s a great game overall, don’t get me wrong, but in my opinion it could be even more enjoyable with some tweaks here and there.

I’m going to try and keep it reasonable though, so don’t expect me to say “They should get rid of the gacha mechanics and make their monetization non-predatory and fair” because, while I obviously would welcome such a change, it’s just not going to happen.

Without further ado, here are three possible adjustments to Genshin Impact that I think would be really great for its players while not hurting miHoYo’s bottom line – at least I assume they wouldn’t; in fact they might actually turn out to be beneficial for the company’s profits.

Usual combat rewards on the left, expenses at lvl 79 on the right

Greatly increase XP and Mora rewarded for combat

While we do get some character-XP and Mora for killing monsters in the open world the amounts are so negligible that they might not even be there.

Despite this being the case I still only level most of my characters to 79 instead of 80, for example, but that’s just because I’m weird like that and won’t let anything go to waste, however little it might be. In reality though, it would take years for an 80+ character to gain another level this way.

The thing is, unless there’s an event going on getting hold of XP materials and Mora in actually useful amounts is, like most everything, gated by the resin system. I get why they do it that way, but at least in this case I think it’s a mistake.

Here’s why: being able to level up all my characters would feel much better, be more fun and also make me want to have even more characters.

This is so sad…

You see, at the time of this writing I have 26 characters at my disposal, and the max level is 90. However, the current level-distribution is as follows (rounded):

    • Level 90: zero (!)
    • Level 80: seven
    • Level 70: five
    • Level 2-60: four
    • Level 1: ten

Now, it’s not that I can’t play the game well with these characters, quite the contrary. As a matter of fact the difficulty curve I talked about a while ago flattened considerably once I’d reached adventure rank 40 and stopped doing daily comissions, and by now my teams smash everything but the lowest two levels of Spiral Abyss with relative ease.

Still, all those characters sitting glumly at level 1? I really would like to level those up too, and getting my main damage dealers up to 90 wouldn’t hurt either. Alas, I can’t afford it. As a consequence I’m not looking forward to any new character banners right now. Even if they look really interesting, I just don’t need any more when I can’t even use half of those I already have.

What’s more, roaming the open world and killing stuff would be much more enjoyable and feel more rewarding if we could actually level up our characters that way and also earn some Mora while we’re at it.

As long as it isn’t excessively overtuned I don’t think this would break anything either. The game has so bloody many progression-bottlenecks – character ascension- and XP-mats, weapon ascension- and XP-mats, talent books, artifacts, Mora – that loosening the chains a bit on two of those wouldn’t result in us getting bored or fed up anytime soon.

So, what happens when players have more fun, feel more rewarded and are even encouraged to get hold of and level up more characters? If you gave this a shot it might well turn into a win-win situation, you folks at miHoYo. Just sayin’.

This was really fun…while it lasted

Make event-content permanent with reduced rewards

All those great gameplay additions that came alongside the numerous events we got to play since the game’s release? Yeah, they’re all gone now.

I’m not a developer, so I don’t have a realistic notion of how much work went into that stuff, but I’m pretty sure it was too much to just throw it all away after a week or two.

What’s more, it was ‘something else to do’ for players. And also fun. Why not make it permanent?

Oh, I get it, they want us to feel that FOMO really bad. But trust me, as long as the rewards remain on the generous side (a tad more primogems would be even better though!) we’ll still log in every day to participate in the actual events for sure. But once those are over, just dial the rewards back considerably and let us continue to play the stuff if we want to.

I’ll use Theater Mechanicus as an example. They could bring this back and let us play it as often as we like. The reward per match could be a choice of either, say, 30k Mora, two blue talent books or two blue ascension mats. The first two matches per week are free, after that it costs 10 resin per. Maybe those numbers aren’t quite optimal yet, but you get the idea.

This would encourage all players to engage with the content at least from time to time, while giving those who really love doing it the option to earn their Mora or character mats this way instead of doing leylines and domains, without either being the obviously better choice.

Fire ventures with you? Fine, but please leave me out of it!

Make constellations toggleable

For non-whales constellations mainly exist to take the sting out of getting duplicates from the gacha system and are supposed to make the characters in question stronger.

However, the effects of some character’s constellations can actually have a negative impact, depending on how you play them and which other characters you team them up with.

The most obvious one is Bennett’s C6 (shown above), which makes his ultimate ability convert most characters’ normal and charged attacks to Pyro damage. Under the right circumstances this can be really great. Unfortunately, if your group’s main damage dealer mainly relies on physical damage (and thus probably wears gear with bonuses to that type of damage on it) this actually lowers their damage output considerably.

So…you’d like us to happily pull for more characters and constellations, right? Then at least make sure that we can’t accidentally mess up our characters by doing so and give us a toggle for all constellations please.

This is supposed to always be a joyous moment, isn’t it?

And there you have it. I think these changes would make an already great game even better, and while I’m not an expert on such things I really believe that none of this would make players spend less money on it…so why not do it?

Accuracy is a bad stat in MMORPGs

The other day I was fiddling around with my characters’ artifacts in Genshin Impact, pondering which ones to keep or ditch, which to upgrade further or leave as is and so forth.

Getting really good artifacts like the one seen above is quite hard as there’s a lot of RNG involved.

Firstly, the main- and sub-stats they drop with are – with a few exceptions – completely random. You can (and regularly do) even get pieces of such a set, this one is obviously meant for Hydro characters for example, with a bonus to, say, Pyro damage as its main stat. While such an item isn’t necessarily useless it certainly isn’t what you’re hoping for when farming a particular set.

Secondly, each time you raise an artifact’s level by 4 it gets an additional (random) sub-stat unless it already had four. In the latter case one of the existing sub-stats is chosen, you guessed it, randomly to get a boost.

MOAR CRITS, MOAR DAMAGE, MUCH GOOD!!

It isn’t all bad though. With perseverance and a bit of luck it’s absolutely possible to get very strong artifacts, as you can see here.

The main reason for this, I believe, is that there aren’t actually that many different stats for the RNG to choose from. Therefore you’re gonna hit the desired combination eventually.

Anyway, all this made me think about the different kinds of stats I’ve encountered over the decades in various RPGs, MMO or otherwise, which finally brings us to the point I’m trying to make today: depending on class, playstyle et cetera there are always desirable stats and undesirable stats…

…and then there’s Accuracy.

Seriously though…why?

I’m really glad that Accuracy doesn’t exist in Genshin Impact because, as far as I’m concerned, it is the most annoying, unnecessary and, above all, unfun stat of them all.

The way I see it Accuracy, sometimes called Hit Rating or somesuch instead, is a remnant of Pen & Paper RPGs that should never have made its way into RPGs played on digital devices in real time.

“But Mail, when characters in Dungeons & Dragons have a THAC0 it makes sense that characters in computer- or console-RPGs have it too, right?”

Well, no. Let me explain why.

When you play Pen & Paper a dice roll is usually the only way to determine whether or not your character succeeds at whatever it is you want them to do (unless the GM hates you or something). If you didn’t need to win those rolls your alter ego would be pretty much infallible because in order to make them do something you but need to say it.

Go ahead, try to do that in a real time video game. I’ll wait.

Didn’t work out so well, did it? That’s the thing. ‘Telling’ your character what to do is so much more complex and, at times, difficult in Action RPGs, MMORPGs and other games of their ilk nowadays that this already is the challenge. Adding an arbitrary dice roll to decide whether you succeed or not is not only unnecessary, it’s downright mean.

So you’ve positioned your character correctly, selected the right target and pushed your myriad of buttons in the optimal order and all at the right time? Well done to you, mate, but unfortunately the dice roll says that you failed to interrupt the boss’s one-shot mechanic, and now you’re dead.

Sounds like fun? Yeah, didn’t think so.

In order to minimize those frustrations you can try to maximize your Accuracy-stat of course. I see two problems with that though.

One, more than a few games that have a Chance To Hit mechanic also have a hard cap for it, so you’ll still fail a roll every so often no matter how much of the stat you stack on your gear, which makes it even more unfun.

Two, and this is what bugs me the most, it’s a must-have stat that does basically nothing for you. In The Secret World and SWTOR I stacked as much Accuracy on my tank gear as theorycrafters had figured out was necessary to practically (in SWTOR’s case literally) have a 100% chance to hit in any situation, just to be sure I’d never miss an important impair or taunt, respectively.

So what I did was, in essence, to waste a whole lot of my available stat pool to make sure I’d never realize it’s even there.

Ok, maybe I just fell off the platform this time…

But isn’t raising our characters’ stats supposed to be one of the really fun things about playing RPGs? Hitting harder, running faster, jumping higher, all that jazz…that’s fun! Notice how “Missing less often” isn’t on that list, and it feels even worse when I’m basically forced to pour stats into this instead of those other things that are actually enjoyable.

And, again, having another way to fail in video games where the difference between victory and defeat hinges as much on my skill as a player as it does on my character’s stats anyway is just not necessary. I can easily manage to screw up on my own, thank you very much.

So, yeah, I know where the Accuracy stat is coming from and why it makes sense in its original context. But can we please get rid of it in MMO- and Action-RPGs? Like, for good?

Just let us play our characters please!

The other day I finished the Glassmaker storyline in Warframe. I’d been looking forward to the big finale quite a lot, as this was the first Nightwave episode that I really liked in terms of lore as well as gameplay.

The investigation part played out as usual, and while the last item gave me a bit of grief because it was really hard to spot I still enjoyed it overall.

Then came the inevitable boss fight.

Dude, where’s MY big-ass sword??

I’m not a big fan of boss fights in general – multiplayer games usually being the exception – though this one, while a forced 1 vs 1, wouldn’t have been too bad were it not for one huge design “twist” that all too many game devs seem to be so very fond of using – taking away our weapons and/or abilities and replacing them with something else.

So here I am facing off a 50-foot monster, having equipped my most efficient, highly powered tools of destruction, the acquisition of which has taken much effort over the course of months – and I can’t fricking use any of it.

Instead, I have to dodge lumps of glass the baddie is throwing at me (when he’s not busy swinging his one-hit-kill sword), then pick them up and throw them back at him. I’m not even kidding!

Did I still whup his ass on the third try and got my rewards? Sure. Was it fun though? Hell no.

Game devs use this weird design crutch again and again – and that’s what it really is, isn’t it? A crutch. Beating this particular boss would’ve been a cakewalk had I been able to use my regular weapons and frame abilities, so they just didn’t let me.

*sigh* Alright…let’s do this!

Ok, sometimes it might not be that. When The Secret World takes away our powers so we have to punch our way out of the baddies’ underground lair with bare fists it’s for lore reasons and also for, well, fun, I guess. That whole mission chain is one big homage to the Indiana Jones movies after all.

And it is fun…for about two minutes. Unfortunately it gets old really fast, but the cultists keep on coming. By the time we got out of there on our very first playthrough I was determined to never do that mission again.

If this is what the afterlife’s like I want no part of it!

Over in Transylvania another quest tranforms us into some sort of wraith – and again all of our familiar abilities vanish from the hotbar, to be replaced with two simple, rather underwhelming attacks and one self-heal once more. The following fight was…not pleasant.

I sure hope you will, because I fucking can’t

Of course Everquest II did it too. I guess over the span of 16 years it was bound to happen at some point. Being a rat was good for some laughs at least, I’ll give them that.

Look, I get it. Stuff like this probably seems like a good idea on paper.

It gives players a diversion from their usual gameplay – which can get somewhat stale when you play an MMO for long enough, no argument there – and might also serve as an unexpected twist or even comic relief when done right.

I do not think that the benefits ever outweigh the drawbacks however.

You see, dear devs, by the time you throw this stuff at me I’ve most likely long made my choices. The class I play or frame I use, the abilities or skillsets I’ve picked and the weapons I wield – all of this makes up the character I want to play. You know, because it’s the combination I have the most fun playing.

Letting us pick – or, more often than not, work hard for – our favourite toys and then, out of the blue, being all like “Nah, you can’t use those now; here, have a dull teaspoon and some cotton balls instead” is, honestly, kind of a dick move.

I can’t be the only one feeling that way either. Actually, I know that I’m not. Bhagpuss talked about really disliking it when several of Guild Wars 2’s Living World issues pulled that kind of stunt more than once, for example.

I feel aversion is quite a natural reaction to this, because, again, we don’t play the characters we play by accident. We do because we like them just the way they are.

What my Bruiser’s hotbars normally look like…

Of course the fact that whatever it is that our familiar gameplay loop gets replaced with in such cases is, more often than not, objectively worse and less fun doesn’t help one bit. But that’s not really a surprise, is it? The core gameplay of every MMO, even a freshly released one, has usually been years in the making. How could some ‘gimmick mechanic’, only meant for one event, one quest or one boss fight ever match that?

So, dear game devs, please stop doing that kind of stuff.

My favourite restaurant doesn’t serve an old loaf of bread instead of the meal I ordered for the sake of ‘variety’ or ‘surprise’ – or just because it’s easier and cheaper to do – either, does it?

This is why I don’t play video games on mobile

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been playing Genshin Impact. A lot. It’s really awesome. I’ll probably talk about it in more detail sometime, however Bhagpuss’s first impressions and his fondness of the game’s fantastic exploration aspects mirror mine to a T, so I feel like I don’t have much to add at this point.

What I do want to talk about is my experience playing it on mobile, which is what the majority of players seems to be doing (I don’t know this for a fact, but I highly doubt that the PC and console versions combined come even remotely close to mobile’s 23+ million downloads).

In a word: Thanks, but no thanks!

Ok, that’s actually four words, but you get the idea.

Of course I was pretty stoked about the possibilities at first. Being able to play my current favourite game on PC when I’m at home and on my phone whenever I’m not? Hell yeah!

During my first two weeks in GI I made it a habit to fit 10-15 minute play sessions into my lunch breaks to burn some resin, the obvious benefit being that I didn’t run into the resin cap before getting home. Also, well, playing a great game during lunch break for a bit – what’s not to like?

Here’s the thing though: it isn’t nearly as much fun to play on the phone. At least to me it isn’t.

Genshin Impact might have been developed with mobile platforms in mind first and foremost, yet as far as I’m concerned it is a ‘real’, a ‘proper’ video game. What I mean by that is that it sports a fair amount of complexity, not only in terms of progression systems and such, but also when it comes to the actual gameplay and control schemes needed to execute said gameplay. Play itself this game does not.

Maybe I’m just too old for that kind of stuff, but playing the game on my phone instead of the PC kinda feels like playing with one hand tied behind my back. Hitting the right buttons for normal attack, special attack, ultimate and dodge, swapping characters in and out as needed, all while making sure to actually face the enemy I want to hit and being in range…it’s too fiddly and, frankly, too much for my thumbs to handle. I have only two, after all.

It isn’t just the combat either. Exploring the game’s gorgeous open world, collecting countless doodads and solving puzzles is tons of fun – actually more fun than the combat in my opinion – if the controls play ball. Which, on mobile, they do not.

On PC I have no problems whatsoever climbing walls and statues, doing balancing acts across narrow ledges or performing pinpoint-accurate landings with my glider. On the phone though? Oh boy. I couldn’t walk in a straight line with those controls if my driver’s licence was at stake. When one quest asked me to scale the largest statue in Mondstadt, stand on its hands and spread some dandelion seeds to the winds I was this close to throw the damn thing out the window.

So, yeah, it’s not fun and I’ve stopped doing it.

Gameplay issues aside, my phone doesn’t like the game much either.

I use an iPhone SE2, which sports the same CPU as the iPhone 11, so processing power shouldn’t be lacking. The game runs smooth enough for sure, but the device gets freaking hot within minutes. I’m not talking Need-to-wear-oven-mitts-hot, but it comes really close to that.

Also, the game sucks battery life like crazy. I usually charge the thing every three days or so; while I played those mere 10-15 minutes per day I had to plug it in every evening. Longer sessions would only be possible while charging at the same time – provided the phone doesn’t melt when doing that – which kind of defeats the purpose of playing on a mobile device, no?

In conclusion, playing Genshin Impact on my phone has, in my mind, confirmed what I’d assumed all along: there are mobile games and there are high-quality video games, and a game can be one or the other, but not both.

When I think of mobile games I mean those that are quick and easy to play, can be interrupted at any time and don’t strain hardware or player too much. Back when I had to commute I played stuff like Bejeweled or SEGA Heroes (which is Bejeweled, essentially) every now and then just to kill some time. It’s a good thing that games like those exist, don’t get me wrong. Even so, going by my definition this kind of game has as much in common with high-quality video gaming as Big Brother has with high-quality TV entertainment.

So yeah, please keep your promises of Our mobile game will be just as great as its predecessor on PC/console to yourself, dear developers – *cough*Blizzard*cough* – because it fricking won’t be.

Screen real estate, hardware specifications, power supply and, above all, controls – these are important things that set phones and tablets apart from ‘real’ gaming hardware, which is why even the highest-quality mobile game in existence – which, most likely, is Genshin Impact right now – can’t be nearly as enjoyable as its stationary counterpart, if it has one.

Hence, however great your game might be, if it can only be played on mobile I’ll never touch it, period.

I like having stuff to do, but I hate dailies

Dailies1

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been very busy in Warframe – in a good way. Almost a year ago I praised the fact that the game gives me specific tasks to achieve specific things, which I much prefer over just doing whatever and hoping for the RNG gods’ blessing.

Despite having played for quite some time already there was still a whole lot of stuff I hadn’t done yet, so I set myself an array of goals and got to it.

For example, there’s a plethora of advanced modifications for frames and weapons players can and definitely should get their hands on. Especially those frame-mods enable highly specialized builds that are very powerful and couldn’t be achieved any other way.

Dailies2
Who would have known that less strenght can be a good thing?

So I ran Spy missions with the specific intent to crack all three data vaults (because the mods in question can only drop from the third), did Nightmare missions, hunted for Orokin vaults, purged the Plains of Eidolon of a ghoul plague and beat some puzzle rooms on Lua.

In order to get rid of my annoying Kuva Lich sooner rather than later I also ran mission nodes occupied by his thralls to gather intel, and Kuva Siphon missions to get my hands on more requiem relics.

Sometimes the stars align and I can even combine two or more of these tasks into one, for example when a Spy mission I want to do anyway is temporarily flagged as a Kuva Siphon mission, giving me the chance to nab a desired mod and a requiem relic in one go.

Dailies3

What I like the most about all of this, as I’ve come to realize, is the fact that with very few exceptions I can do everything entirely at my own pace.

You see, almost no mission in Warframe has a cooldown or other form of time-gated restriction to entry. Ran a mission and didn’t get what you want? Just run it again if you like. And again. And again.

Of course that can get boring, and maybe also frustrating if you still don’t get your desired price after your umpteenth run. To circumvent that I try to mix it up. My play sessions in recent weeks mostly looked like this: run two or three spy missions, then a couple derelicts, followed by a bit of stuff in the open world zones or maybe a Kuva mission or two. If I still have time and desire to play after that, rinse and repeat.

As I use different frames, and thus different playstyles, for most of these activities it doesn’t get boring at all, and it’s oh so satisfying to tick one goal after the other off the list, even more so when the rewards enable me to make my favourite frames and weapons considerably stronger.

Dailies4
Or just my hoverboard…err, K-Drive faster

What’s all of this got to do with the fact that he hates dailies? I hear you ask.

Well, that I don’t like ’em much isn’t exactly news, but having so much fun while ‘working’ towards my goals in Warframe – and the process not actually feeling like work at all – made me compare this experience with the other game that had me busy trying to progress in recent months: ArcheAge Unchained.

There’s still much that I love about AAU, don’t get me wrong, but the fact that upgrading your gear is pretty much hard-gated by daily and, to a lesser extent, weekly activities really sucks the fun out of it after a while. And that’s coming from someone who has not religiously done them each and every day, not even close.

Dailies5
I’ve done my fair share though, because there’s just no other way to achieve this

In my opinion the problem with dailies in general is twofold.

One, the amount of progress you can make on any given day is capped, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Have a day off work and want to knock yourself out? Well, sucks to be you I guess.

Two, and this is the biggie, miss a day and you’ll never get it back. It’s no wonder that FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), a term I’d never heard until maybe two years ago, is used in context with online games quite often nowadays, because daily tasks or quests are the very embodiment of it.

Ask yourself this: how often have you logged into a game while not really feeling a desire to do so, but because you felt you kind of had to? If your answer is “never” you have much more self-restraint than I do, and kudos!

Now, what do I propose? After all, criticizing without having suggestions for improvement doesn’t help matters, does it?

Ok then, how about removing the timer from repeatable content? Let me do it as often as I like. And while you’re at it, make all content repeatable, not only a select few quests, and spread rewards out more.

Not only does this work well in Warframe, The Secret World has shown that even a proper MMORPG can benefit greatly from this kind of design. Ok, quests in TSW do have a cooldown, but it’s short enough to do the same quests at least twice a day, and – and this is the kicker – there are so many quests on offer that it’s just not necessary to do the same ones over and over.

Dailies6
However, some quests I just wouldn’t want to do again. Ever! Again!

Of course I do realize that this might cause balancing-problems as there will always be activities that are ‘worth’ more measured against the time they take than others, and it also greatly benefits folks with a lot of free time on their hands.

Well…so? It doesn’t happen often, but for once I agree with MOP’s Eliot when he posits that balance in MMOs is overrated.

Especially in PvE-centric games, who the hell cares if other players progress more quickly than I do? Frankly, I couldn’t care less. PvP-heavy titles are obviously a different beast, but those should be much more skill-dependent than gear-dependent anyway – which is a discussion for another day though.

Dailies7

MMOs need repeatable content, that much is obvious. Even I, as far from being a ‘hardcore gamer’ as I am, have proven time and again that I can consume content much faster than developers can provide it – much like reading this has taken you but a fracture of the time it took me to write it.

But dailies, login-campaigns, rewards on a time-logged-in basis…all this stuff that has nothing to do with us having fun playing your games and everything with MAUs and other such crappy statistics you can proudly present to your shareholders…that kind of shit can’t go extinct soon enough as far as I’m concerned.

A quote about underrated music

Prompta2020

We’re just one third into this year’s special version of Blaugust, and the awesome blogging community has already outdone itself with lots of great posts about various topics.

The fourth blogging prompt, introduced to us by Roger Edwards on August 3rd, was this:

What type of content do you feel is severely underrated?

Well, that’s an easy one as far as I’m concerned. It’s Metal, of course!

Metal1

Err…wait, no, not this.

Metal2

Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about!

My cousin, ten years my senior, introduced me to Metal when I was about eight. Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Helloween, Ozzy Osbourne, stuff like that. I fell in love immediately.

At the time I didn’t really know what it was, exactly, that I liked so much about it. What I did learn incredibly quickly though was that, generally speaking, most people don’t share my passion. Which is severely downplaying the issue of course, as almost everyone I’ve ever met who doesn’t love it actively dislikes it at best, and regards it as “unbearable noise” at worst. According to the latter group anyone who’s into Metal surely must be some kind of psychopath.

Metal3

I really don’t know where they got that idea from…

Anyway, with kids being kids you can imagine that eight-year-old me, already wearing Metal band patches on the denim jacket, had to develop a thick skin rather quickly. It never grew quite as thick as I would have liked though, and I can still get pretty angry when someone badmouths something that I really like, especially when I feel that they have no idea what they’re even talking about.

Yet over time I’ve wisened up at least somewhat. A couple of years ago I would have, at this point, carried on to beat you round the head with at least half a dozen paragraphs “proving” that many flavors of Metal are, in fact, musically vastly superior to most forms of mainstream music, that geniuses like Bach and Beethoven would undoubtedly be metalheads if they lived today, and that channeling your inner rage through aggressive music does actually make you a less aggressive person, not more.

Instead though I’ll just leave you with one of my favourite quotes – which, incidentally, fits nicely into our Blaugust groove too, as Wilhelm gave us the prompt to do exactly that.

It’s taken from Helloween’s song Heavy Metal (is the Law), where Kai Hansen posits

If you don’t feel it you won’t understand.

Truer words have never been spoken about Metal – and I think it actually applies to pretty much anything human beings can be passionate about.

Should I be worried about ArcheAge Unchained?

ArcheAgeU_worries1

We’re closing in on eight months since ArcheAge Unchained’s launch and I’m still playing every day. When I look past the various screw-ups – of which there were many, there’s no way nor reason to sugarcoat that – I see a game that has pretty much everything I want in an MMORPG.

As such the game’s well-being is understandably of great concern to me. Alas, Gamigo’s and XL Games’ current plans make me wonder whether they actually want their game to be successful.

I’m not talking about the fact that the upcoming Garden of the Gods update will be a ‘paid expansion’ although they’d originally said that any future content will be free. Don’t get me wrong, it’s obviously not cool to announce one thing and then do the opposite, however in my opinion it’s actually good that they’ve decided to charge for it.

Why? Because they can’t possibly have made enough money with Unchained up to now to make the whole thing sustainable. Even if they hadn’t openly admitted as much in the forum post linked above it would’ve been obvious to me.

ArcheAgeU_worries2

The thing is, the original ArcheAge is very heavily designed to make money with buy-to-progress mechanics. Labor potions, premium houses and farms, vehicle upgrades, stuff to help with gear progression; you name it, they sell it for real money. It’s P2W at its worst. For Unchained they’ve promised not to do any of that – it’s the whole premise and raison d’être for this re-release after all – and until now they adhere to that, which is obviously a good thing.

What they’ve failed to do, though, is to give us enough cool stuff we can spend money on instead. It’s the same mistake Funcom made when The Secret World went free to play. I’ve said before that the ArchePass – now that it works – is too generous with its rewards, and I stand by that. Almost everything one could ever need or want can be bought with diligence coins, and as much as I hate it when games want me to pay through the nose for every little thing I think this really is a big mistake.

Example: mounts. Lots and lots of new mounts and their corresponding bardings have been added to the game in recent months. Each and every one of them went to the diligence shop. Why, I ask? At least half of those absolutely should have gone to the credit shop. They’re all equalized in terms of speed anyway and the skills they have don’t make much of a difference either, so it’s basically just the looks that set them apart. Put the fancier looking ones in the cash shop, and players who are willing and able to spend additional money on the game have something to buy and show off.

Pretty much the only thing you can exclusively buy for credits are costumes, and there’s admittedly quite a selection. The problem I see with those is that they’re too expensive (the baseline is around 30$, some cost more, some less), meaning that a lot of players won’t even buy a single one of ’em, and the majority of those who do will probably only buy the one they like the most and use that forever. Also, until a couple of days ago* you couldn’t have more than two characters per account, so an army of alts to buy costumes for is out of the question too.

*You can now buy a token that extends the maximum amount of characters per account to three. It’s still capped at two per server however, and the token is bought with, you guessed it, diligence coins.

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The other mistake they’re about to make hasn’t gotten a huge announcement as of yet as far as I’m aware, but the list of goodies included with the two pricier expansion pre-order packs contains this little nugget:

Fresh Start Server Access

Jeez, seriously? The game’s less than eight months old and we’re already getting one of those?

ArcheAge has a long history of such ‘fresh start’ servers, and for the P2W-version of the game they do make sense – in a perverse, demented kind of way. After all each player who chooses to start over has the exciting opportunity to pay hundreds (or thousands) of bucks for all those progression-enhancers and premium items all over again.

For Unchained it is, frankly, fucking stupid no matter how you look at it, and so very, very short-sighted.

The immediate benefit for Gamigo/XL is obviously that each player who wants to play on that server – why anyone would actually want that at this point is beyond me, but to each their own – has to buy at least the expansion’s 30$-package for each account they have.

And that’s it.

They won’t spend much beyond that because, again, there isn’t much to spend money on, fresh start or no, so in a couple of months at the latest we’ll again be where we are right now. Only that the new server may well have done irreversible damage to the playerbase as a whole until then, so we might actually be off much worse.

You see, of all MMORPGs I’ve played ArcheAge is the one that has the highest critical mass of players it needs to work properly. There’s so much content that doesn’t make any sense or can’t be done at all if you don’t have a certain amount of active players – actually encouraging the playerbase to segregate is an unbelievably stupid thing to do.

Their answer to dwindling populations on older servers has always been to just merge those together. Yeah, great idea. Server merges, already a pain in your plain old themepark MMO, are a whole different beast when you factor in open world housing / land ownership. How thrilled do they think will our little family be when they tell us we’ll lose the ‘hood we’ve worked hard for and get the “exciting opportunity” of a new land rush? Exciting opportunity my arse! There’s no doubt in my mind that people have and will quit over stuff like this. Hell, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back and made me quit the original game back in 2015.

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The publishers of the game’s western versions, first TRION and now Gamigo, have always gotten a lot of flak from us, but somehow I can’t shake the feeling that the main problem lies with XL Games, the Korean developer and publisher. Everything that’s happened since the game’s original western release in 2014 left me with the strong impression that they’ve always been a bit miffed about having to provide and support a western version at all. An annoying chore they’d rather not bother with. Now they even have to support yet another version, one without any kind of pay-to-progress no less.

Who do those stupid westerners think they are? Let’s just screw up every patch and marketplace update as hard as we possibly can, segregate the playerbase until there’s nothing left to do and generally make their lives miserable. Then we can shut the whole thing down already and call it a day.

I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong. But hell yes, I’m worried.

So Fallout 76 is better now? Well, congrats Bethesda…not!

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We now have Developer/Creator Appreciation Week going on in Blaprilverse, and while I’m usually not one to overly focus on the negative I’m taking the liberty to turn the idea upside down in light of current events.

Of course I’m talking about the fact that the long anticipated Wastelanders-expansion for Fallout 76 released just over a week ago.

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Originally set to arrive “in fall of 2019

Now, a lot of folks seem to be pretty happy with it. Syp, Naithin and many Steam-users have to say good things about the new experience, and more power to them. I absolutely don’t begrudge anyone finally having some fun (or more fun) with the game they bought, don’t get me wrong here.

Still, in my opinion this doesn’t redeem Bethesda one bit. I’m not willing to just forgive and forget their disastrous and to some extent downright criminal conduct surrounding the game’s original launch 1 1/2 years ago – yes, it’s indeed been this long.

So today I’m going to recap this train wreck of a release, lest we forget what happens when players shower game companies with their hard earned money without knowing whether they’ll actually get said money’s worth (or any worth at all) in return.

Let Developer/Creator Naming and Shaming Week commence.

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I’m not even going to beat the dead horse that is Todd Howard’s grandiose presentation at E3 2018 again. Of course it is extremely funny (and sad) to watch considering what players actually got, but I can hardly blame only Bethesda for doing what absolutely everyone does to get people hyped up for their games, can I?

So let’s leave the land of fairytales behind and cut straight to the facts.

The game released on November 14th 2018. Before being able to actually play people had to download a day one patch, about 50 GB in size depending on platform. Hell, the game client itself was smaller than that!

The real ‘fun’ began after and despite that sizeable download though…

You don’t have to listen to the commentary, just watch the first few minutes of that video to get but a small glimpse of what players went through. Glitches, bugs, crashes, disconnects, duping (accidental as well as on purpose); you name it, FO76 had it.

The game crashed some people’s gaming devices so hard that they had to reinstall the whole thing, in some cases allegedly even their console’s operating systems. Others logged into their accounts – or so they thought – just to realize that they were logged into someone else’s instead for some reason.

However, as sad as it is to say, so far this is all not that unusual for a triple-A release these days. Not many are quite this bad, sure, but bugs, massive day one patches and stuff like that have become the norm rather than the exception in the last 10-15 years or so.

Which is bad enough on its own, but apparently the folks at Bethesda weren’t content with delivering one faulty product and leave it at that. Hell no.

Fallout76_Bag

On the left you see a canvas bag, advertised to be included in the game’s ‘Power Armor Edition’, priced at 200 bucks. On the right you see what buyers actually got. Of course people weren’t happy and contacted Bethesda’s support about it. To give credit where it’s due, they did get a response.

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Click to enlarge

Wait, what? They surely weren’t serious here, were they? When more and more inquiries piled up they added:

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Now you’re talking…wait. How much do 500 Atoms cost again? Oh yeah. 5$. Five. Dollars.

Well at least folks could now buy an ingame-outfit that actually includes a canvas bag…oh.

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So close…

Only after the outrage had become big enough to be covered by pretty much every gaming news outlet there is did they cave in and promise that everyone would get their real canvas bag…in four to six months time.

But fear not, if you feel you’re in desperate need of a drink after all that crap Bethesda’s got you covered.

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Oh hey, that’s a pretty nice looking bottle of rum. And for an 80$ price tag the bottle as well as its content should be of a somewhat high quality, no?

See, they even delayed shipping because “one of the components of the product was not up to Fallout standards“.

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That’s…actually not all that reassuring, is it?

The rum was shipped about a month after its initial release date. The bottle, it turned out, was a standard glass bottle inside of a not really that great-looking plastic casing. Apparently you couldn’t pour a drink without spilling half of it, so you pretty much had to crack open the plastic and use the rather bland glass bottle. Almost needless to say at this point, the rum didn’t taste that good either. Oh yeah, and somehow there were a whole bunch of 5-star ratings before the rum had even shipped. When people called them out for it those reviews quickly disappeared as if by magic.

There’s still lots more I haven’t covered. This video by the Internet Historian sums it all up very well and is also highly entertaining…although it’s a bit like watching a car crash in slow motion.

So yeah, that’s why I think Fallout 76 doesn’t deserve a second chance. As far as I’m concerned it didn’t deserve a chance to begin with. When the makers of a product lie to me, deliver a product that’s not even close to working as advertised (or even something else entirely), fake their own reviews and generally behave as if they can do whatever the fuck they want without the smallest bit of respect for their customer’s rights, time and money, they don’t deserve anything but a hefty kick in the nuts.

I’m sure, I’d like to add, that the majority of people who worked on the game and its related products in whatever capacity did their best, and I’m not faulting them for any of this. The fish rots from the head down though, as the saying goes, and this particular head is undoubtedly rotten to the core.

I’m glad that I didn’t spend any money on this pile of crap, and I definitely won’t buy anything with Bethesda’s logo on the box any time soon. Screw you.

Blapril 2020 post count: 9

Designing good MMO-PvP is hard – but not impossible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Gliding into action – voluntarily

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Also, gaining honor can be quite fun

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

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

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

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

Why so serious?

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

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

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

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

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

Well…so what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fishing is actually pretty rewarding, but also quite relaxing

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

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

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

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

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Getting ready for the slaughter that is Halcyona in potato mode

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

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

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