Another year has passed and it is time to look back a bit on my MMO gaming in 2012.
City of Heroes
For most of the year, City of Heroes was my base game, the one I always fallen back to after excursions to other MMOs. Except for the months July and August when I had a break from the game, this was one I played to the very end. I do very much miss the game and community, in particular on my main server Defiant. I still get sad about it from time to time. There has been a lot of discussion and speculation why it was shut down; it would be good at some point to hear actual reasons and a bit more specific than “change in policy”. It would also be good to hear why they handled the shutdown the way they did, but I guess that is not something we will ever hear.
I did also play some of the competition to City of Heroes in the superhero genre, both Champions Online and DC Universe Online. After all, I am a lifetime subscriber to Champions Online. There are certainly good things in Champions, but for me that is a game that I can only enjoy during short periods of time. Part of the reason for that is because some of the features and elements of the game felt like simple money-grabbing features – the crafting/harvesting is one of those. I initially liked the change they had made, but realized it was a broken design from a game-play perspective – which could be overcome somewhat by spending plenty of money. I am ok with spending money on a game that is “free to play”, but not when design seems to be broken on purpose for people to spend money.
DC Universe Online
Very late this year, after the shutdown of City of Heroes, I also tried out DC Universe Online again briefly. Previously I had played in on PS3, but this time was my first experience with the game on a PC. I liked it a little bit better on the PC, but in the end the controls and the horrible character creator and tutorial turned me off that game. That, and that I could not use my SOE acount either, but had to use a ProSieben1 (Alaplaya) account – plus that it was not possible to merge these two accounts either. Maybe I will give it ago at some point later, but the controls does put me off this game.
Star Wars – The Old Republic
During spring-time I also ventured into Star Wars – The Old Republic. It was really a great and fun game to play – at first. In the beginning it was very cool and fun to play and I enjoyed trying out most of the different classes available, up to the point that it was time to leave the starter areas. For continued play, I stuck with my Sith Sorcerer and it was a quite enjoyable ride for some time. In the long run though the non-class-story missions started to feel grindy though and even getting to the different points for the class story missions became grindy – which is when I lost interest. I reached about level 30 I believe. Maybe at some point I will give this game ago again; I did not read up closely on the details for the “free to play”, but it did not seem that it would require much or any money spent from my side really considering how I expect to play. This is probably a game I will return to at some point in 2013.
Early this sping I did play a bit of Anarchy Online as well and enjoyed it quite a bit; at least for some time. The setting is marvelous, even though the graphics are dated. While there are many nice people in the game, many are long time veterans that have played the game for years. Most of them started playing the game long after I initially played the game, so in calendar time I am “more veteran”, but a newbie in terms of played time in comparison. We do not quite play at the same level, unfortunately. I do hope for a revamp of some of the combat mechanics; it is too much reliant on auto-attack for my taste at the moment. I did sign up for a 12-month subscription close to the end of this year and I hope to jump back in the game during spring, hopefully when there may be some beta testing of a new New Player Experience and the new game engine.
Age of Conan
Late this spring I also jumped into Age of Conan. I do like this type of fantasy setting better than the typical high-fantasy-with-elves-and-dwarves settings one see in a lot of MMOs. I am not too keen on fantasy settings, but this one is at least more tolerable. In the end though it felt a bit empty – most active people seemed to be doing high-end raids and dungeons. The gold seller spam was also quite annoying. Plus, another Funcom game craved for some time and attention in the summer-time, with a more contemporary setting. Similar to Anarchy Online, if this game gets a bit more people playing in my level range and experience level I might try it out again.
I played Guild Wars a bit on and off during spring. This is a game I love returning too – every time I do I realize why this was my favourite fantasy MMO-type game. For some reason I do not stick around though – I have yet to figure out why that is. While I have completed all of the main campaigns in the game, there are other story-oriented content I have bought but not yet played and a number of things on my to-do list. Remains to see how many people still play this when Guild Wars 2 is the new kid from Arenanet.
One game that I played briefly in the beta, but did not write anything about, was Raiderz. For some reason I got an invite to the beta for this game, so I tried it out for a short time. I did not expect to like it, but I quite enjoyed the tutorial/starter area. It was a bit different and it was fun. Then I got to the main land and to me the game transformed a bit from quite fun to more of a normal fantasy MMO-with-a-bit-of-grind from Asia. Perhaps the launch version is better, but the fantasy setting did not thrill me though.
City of Steam
Industral Age fantasy with steampunk elements – that is how the setting for City of Steam is described as. This game have had four closed beta weekends during autumn/winter an d I have played a bit in these four weekends. A notable feature of this game is that is is a browser-based game – there is nothing to install (except for the Unity3D web player plugin). The game looks great for a browser-based game; I think it compares favourably to for example Runes of Magic (at least as I remember Runes of Magic). I thought the combat was pretty fun (dual-wielding “wands” that throw lightning balls – what is not to like… ). There are some design elements that I do not quite like or am on the fence about; but the interaction betweent he developers and the community is top notch I think. I would be happy to provide some support to the game because of this, even if I would end up not playing it so much. There will be an open beta later in 2013, but no dates are set yet. I will try it out again then.
Guild Wars 2
A big game of the year, but one I only played for about a week. Pre-ordered the game and played for almost a week – then NCSoft announed that they were going to terminate City of Heroes and Paragon Studios on August 31st. My focus switched to City of Heroes then after that weekend and I have not played Guild Wars 2 since that. I pretty much lost my urge to play the game during that period. Perhaps in 2013 if I get some cravings for fantasy settings I will try it out again. I am not sure that I will spend any money in the game though; I do have a bit of a trust issue with NCSoft corporate.
The Secret World
And finally, the game that for me has been the best still remaining game of the year. I played it a fair amount from early access to a few weeks after launch, then due to Real Life interfering activity dropped significantly during summer-time. The City of Heroes situation forced a pause from the game as well and now in December I picked up up for real again. The stories and missions are for the most part really quite enjoyable and I have gotten back into making builds/decks for my character, trying out different abilities and play styles & weapons. Contrary to most other MMOs I have mainly played melee-oriented combat in this game and I am quite enjoying it.
I have a lifetime subscription for the game and with the recent change I will get monthly bonus points to buy stuff for from the store. I will probably spend more than those points in the end – not because it would be necessary, but because I am more inclined to buy stuff just because I love the game and want to support it. The same thing happened in City of Heroes, so I suspect it will happen here.
This weekend was the final beta weekend for Guild Wars 2 prior to its launch at the end of August. Some of the new features included in this beta weekend were the two remaining races; the Asura and the Sylvari. My main goal with beta weekend participation has been to take an initial peek at the different classes and races available, to get an idea what I might want to try out and start with. Essentially do some of my initial altoholic experimentation before launch.
So during this weekend I played one Sylvari character for a couple of levels (5) and two Asura characters. I also revisited the other races briefly to check out how some of the personalized stories might differ initially with some different choices. Finally I also took a peek at the two classes I had not tried out before, Warrior and Guardian -and had a visit to WvWvW zone.
Initially I created a Sylvari character. Being plant/tree creatures they do not quite look like a typical fantasy humanoid, different enough that one would not constantly think that they were elves in disguise – which is a good thing. I like the initial fight with the shadow of a Dragon (above), but the zone after that felt a bit lacklustre and uninspiring to me, even though it looks quite nice with the tree background. I did generally like the character models though, but will probably not play this race in the beginning.
The Asura starter area was more interesting I think and the initial area very much reflected a bit of the mad scientist trait of the Asura. I found that pretty enjoyable and will most definitely create one or two Asura. I have not quite decided on class though.
My jump into the WvWvW area was somewhat interesting, but only to get an idea what the area was all about. In fact, during the time I was there I only encountered players from the same side as myself and some of the NPCs, so there was not really any PvP going on at that time. I can see though that it could potentially be fun once it gets a bit more populated.
What I found a bit irritating was to play during the initial rush at the start of the beta weekend. While the game technically worked much better this weekend that my previous visit, the fact that there was a rush of a lot of players at the same time caused many mission objective to become some kind of zerg. This was not really fun and it was more interesting to play with a bit more limited numbers – this was the case when i jumped back into the game on Saturday morning. Even though I have pre-ordered the game I might not jump in right away when available, or perhaps go in during off-peak hours if possible during the first few days. The initial locust swarm of players may have moved on a bit by then.
I tried the two classes I had not tried before also – Warrior and Guardian. These two were the ones I was least interested in based on what I typically perceived them to be and what I have read about them. The Warrior ended up being a bit more fun than I expected it to be, which was primarily due to the variation provided by the different weapon types. The Guardian class secured its place at the bottom of my list though; it did not appeal to me at all. Perhaps with a bit more time with some more weapon types this might change, but for now I will not really play a guardian at launch. Necromancer and Mesmer are my primary choices, followed by Thief. Engineer has slipped down a bit, it used to be in the top 3 for me.
One other source of annoyance for me has been the powers that either switch randomly or switch to a different power because of a state change caused by a previous invocation. The first power used by the Mesmer is such a power. The irritation here comes from that I had trouble figuring out what some of these other powers actually did – in some cases they are only visible for a short while and that might not be enough time or a good opportunity to get a mouse-over text to figure out what they do – especially since my mouse pointer is typically somewhere else on the screen. I could not find them in the power descriptions under the hero panel either.
I like the game, but I cannot say that I am particularly excited about it. Despite its premise of a quite different approach to missions and doing stuff, it still feels similar to a more traditional fantasy MMO which quests and such. Part of that comes from the in-your-face exposure of these various hearts, points of interest, vistas etc. These elements are a bit too visible for my taste and detracts from the more organic experience I was looking forward to. Perhaps this will be less evident after the initial areas, hopefully.
Compared to The Secret World which I am playing now also, Guild Wars 2 feels less like a world to explore than what I have seen so far in Solomon Island. The TSW mission/dialog writing feels much better also, although the target audience is perhaps slightly different. Given that the target demographic for GW2 likely covers a lot more than TSW is aiming for, this would also likely put some restrictions on what they will write.
Still, Guild Wars 2 seems to still be better than most of the other fantasy MMOs, so I will play it initially and it will probably be a good fallback MMO.
Prior to this weekend I spent some time in The Secret World beta weekend #3 and prior to that I also tried out Guild Wars 2 for the first time in a beta weekend. Both games have some good and bad points and I will be playing both of them, but for different reasons.
I had not thought that much about it prior to playing both games in beta weekends, but it became more clear to me why I may play either of the games. Each game seem to provide some neat features and for me those may complement each other well.
From a technical perspective The Secret World provided the best experience of the two games, since it ran smooth without any issues, besides 1 or 2 short lag spikes during the weekend. For Guild Wars 2 on the other hand I had a number of technical issues during Friday and Saturday of that weekend, including locked up game, being disconnected a couple of times, not able to zone due to unavailable login server, a complete freeze that forced me to reboot the computer and terrible performance occasionally (screen frozen for 1-2 minutes, moved again for a few seconds, then frozen for 1-2 minutes etc). I am glad the release of Guild Wars 2 is still some time away, because they will need to do some tuning I believe.
Both games have art styles and environments that I quite like, although I felt it was a bit easier to like The Secret World actually. For Guild Wars 2 I did end up liking it, but I also kept thinking how one of the superhero/comic book MMOs would look like with their painted art style. I think that could work really great actually.
Combat-wise Guild Wars 2 wins – fights in the game had a similar feel that I have had and enjoyed from both City of Heroes and Champions Online – quite visual and fast paced and a fun feel to it. I cannot say I get the same excitement in the same way from The Secret World – it is not bad, but neither is it extraordinary. Then again, for me the setting in the game should not be so much to beat up darker powers in straight-up fights, but find other ways to approach matter at hand. Creating suitable ability builds to exploit their weaknesses if you have to fight them is part of that view. So I am not that concerned that the combat is perhaps not top notch there.
In a way The Secret World is for me more of a game where you may have to out-think your opponents or handle your obstacles – Guild Wars 2 is a more hands-on world when it comes to problem-solving. The way the environment can change from time to time and a bit different events happen looks like it can work out to keep things resonably fresh and fun in such sessions. I was also impressed with that the scaling of events for one, a few and many players seemed to work quite well.
I think I will play The Secret World more when I feel I will dig more deep into the world and explore, while Guild Wars 2 feels more suitable for quick and short/semi-short sessions with action. I like to have both and it seems both games can complement each other in that regard. The Secret World feels much more to have discovery and exploration, while Guild Wars 2 despite the dynamic events system still provided a feel of guided path with all the markers on the map “Action and event here! Get your achivement points now” and all those counters for various things which you could not really avoid seeing. Thus TSW will likely be the game to play for the exploration itch and GW2 more when one want to pick and so something right now.
Neither game seem to have good enough costume/character creation/modification options though, like in City of Heroes or Champions Online. While Guild Wars 2 technically had more options to choose from of the two games, I had challenges in both to get my characters to look in a way that I liked. The results were ok, but not more than that.
From a story perspective it remains to be seen how it works out. I think The Secret World will be more dependent from a game experience perspective to deliver a good story for the character to follow. This may possibly be more linear that what has been outlined for Guild Wars 2, with its Personal Story. However, for the that part of GW2 felt more like a “personalized story” and not necessarily a personal one. I actually ended up stopping to play some characters quite early because the dialog, voice and actions of my character in the story elements did not fit with my view of what the character should be.
I suspect that for Guild Wars 2 I will have to experiment a bit to find suitable character combinations from a story, gameplay and looks perspective.
In short though, I look forward to play both games – they both complement each other I think and also coves a fair amount of what I have been enjoying and looking for in current MMOs.
I recently read a post on Massively commenting on the state of tools for finding teams in the Star Wars: The Old Republic and advantages and disadvantages with the current approach and what for example World of Warcraft uses. There have been a lot of comments there, mainly arguing for or against a tool like the Dungeon Finder in World of Warcraft.
I have not played WoW in 5+ years and I know very little of the details of SW:TOR, but it seems to me that the arguments were somewhat missing the core issue here. It should not be a discussion only about whether Dungeon Finder-type tool is needed or not, but rather about how a game in general supports team play and encourages community building. These may not necessarily happen at the same time all the time, but is of course an good opportunity for it to happen.
The main issue here with combining these I think lies with games that adopted a level-gated, holy-trinity-oriented, play-content-in-developer-mandated-order design. I do not know if this is the case with SW:TOR, but if a game has these elements then the game design hardly has considered it important to have community building and team play happen at the same time.
Community building is not only about forming guilds or similar constellations either – it is about how people in general interact with each other in the game, at any time. A single tool will not change that part completely, although it can adjust the balance.
It seems to me that World of Warcraft is a game that for a long time has encouraged gated communities over general community building, plus an emphasis on gated content or at least segregated content. The Dungeon Finder tool seems to me that it was a a way to try to work around community building issues, but only through addressing a smaller and easier problem than the core issue.
I think ArenaNet gets it whan it comes to general community building for their Guild Wars 2 title – at least from what they communicate they seem to have been giving this a lot of thought. Funcom maybe gets it for their next title – not quite sure yet about them for The Secret World. Paragon Studios seem to understand it, but sometimes perhaps only on a subconscious level and learning from mistakes.
The Massively post raised my curiousity a bit where Bioware stands here? Is there an overall pattern to be seen around community building in the game design of SW:TOR? It is not obvious from the general talk about the four pillars for their game what that pattern would be: progression, exploration, combat, and story. Admittedly, I have not looked much into the game yet so it might be obvious for those with a bit more insight here. But the four pillars mentioned are not elements that are specific for MMO-type games – it can be applied to any RPG-style game.
ArenaNet has published gameplay demo video from ComicCon showing off the engineer profession, as well as underwater combat. I quite like the approach to switch back and forth between utilities and have various skills attached to them, including the special ones for underwater combat. Good also to see a demo where the character is not just standing still. Not quite sure what to think for the random buff they talked about, that is probably one thing that will have to be tested to form an opinion about. Overall I think it looks promising, even though I am not overwhelmed. Part of that may be that there was no really any game audio to listen to. That makes a significant difference I think, so may change perception with the full experience.
It also shows the “downed” state that gives a last chance to defeat any enemies with specific set of attacks.
Towards the end of the video the presenter mentions that there will be a beta and it seems he starts to say “sometime in the new year” but then changes that to “in the future”. He did not say open or closed beta, just beta.