I have seen a few posts from various bloggers about how bad 2009 was for MMOs. Personally I do not quite agree. For me personally there were more interesting new titles released in 2009 than in 2008. But also considerations for a good/bad year should include existing games as well – new expansions and changes, different price and payment models etc.
Thoughout 2009 I have played/tried a few different MMO or MMO-type games:
City of Heroes/Villains, Guild Wars, Lord of the Rings Online, Chronicles of Spellborn, Runes of Magic, Jade Dynasty, Project of Planets, Zero Online, Vendetta Online, Pirate Galaxy, Champions Online, Saga of Ryzom, Dungeons & Dragons Online, Fallen Earth, World of Kung Fu, Twelve Sky 2, Age of Conan, EVE Online, Shin Megami Tensei, FusionFall Online, GhostX – perhaps a few others also that I have forgotten about. Some of these would be an emphasis on tried rather than played though – for various reasons I barely completed the tutorial on some.
While otherwise limited in content updates, I loved when NCSoft/Paragon Studios released Mission Architect for City of Heroes/Villains. A really great feature! It was however plagued with being exploited by some and also in a sense too successful – too many story arcs and less than adequate search tools initially caused some trouble. While it is used by players today, it has perhaps not created the subscriber success that some may have hoped for. Still, it is an important step in making an innovative approach to MMO content a reality. I think that was one of the major milestones of 2009.
With the exception of Guild Wars, most of the fantasy titles I only played for short periods of time. Sometimes a bit grindy and with no special love for the fantasy genre, I gre tired of most of them quickly. Guild Wars has been lots of fun though – partially because it is a good game, but also very much due to the people of Tuesday Noob Club. Not played much lately though and the combination of real life schedule and lack of excitement for fantasy titles has contributed to that.
Just as I managed to totally avoid Warhammer Online last year I also totally avoided Aion this year, and World of Warcraft as usual. There simply has not been any compelling eason to consider playing either of the games.
Champions Online has received the bulk of my play time lately and for good reason – it is an excellent and fun game if you just want to mess around a bit, blow off some steam and get your mind of real life issues, just for a short bit. It is a good complement to other games or other activities.
I think most of the games I have played or tried I have not written much about – which is not to say that there are bad games. Sometimes it has just been bad timing, or some technical issue. I am glad that I have at least tried a fair number of games and see more of what is out there, rather than just focus on a few new Western subscription-based titles and live on the hope that the next big title with be it.
I have not played much of Runes of Magic in the past few months; gameplay got a bit repetitive in a grindy fashion so I took a break from it. The other day I got an email about the next update to Runes of Magic – Chapter II – The Elven Prophecies. This updates includes some possibly nice features, such as being able to train your own pets and introducing two new classes. But they also introduce elves as a playable race. Really, that is probably one of the best thing they could have done to keep me away from the game.
Why must everything fantasy MMO fit into some Tolkienesque template? LOTRO is sort of excused, because they are providing Tolkien’s own setting in a way. If introducing a new race, use something that is not an elf, dwarf, orc or troll - or a carbon copy of any of these Tolkien templates.
Pursuing multiple crafting skills in Runes of Magic, in particular those that rely heavily on the same type of resource, can get grindy.
I have been pursuing cooking and alchemy and I have leveled both to 20, which is the end if the first tier for crafting. But this is the end of the line for one of them – it is just too much resource gathering of herbs to keep up both of them.
I decided to continue with alchemy in the end. Alchemy recipes typically has typically has 3-5 crafted herb items in them, which means 6-10 resources for a regular recipe and 36-60 resources for a rare recipe. Alchemy also needs ore as part of the recipe, but that usually amounts to just one crafted item, i.e. 2 resources. On top of that there are the production runes and the containers to keep the potions in.
With just one crafting skill and two harvesting skills I expect progression to be smoother. However, there is a matter of concern in general for the crafting and that is the amount of items needed to be crafted to level the skill.
Initially, crafting an item gained 20% per level if the recipe was at the same level as your skill. But this gain has decreased as the levels increase and in the late teen levels the gain has only been 5-6 % with the recipe at the same level as the skill. If that increase of the number of items to craft per level continues, it may not be worth the trouble to level any crafting skill – too much grind.
But for now my character is focusing on being an alchemist and we will have to see where it ends.
Looking back now after a few weeks of playing Runes of Magic on and off, a few thoughts comes to mind.
First of all is the “free to play” terminology. I do not really like that one, because the games are not free – in the end the developers and publishers have to get paid for their efforts and they will preferably also make a profit on the game. This is no different from subscription-based games.
A slightly closer description would perhaps be “free to grind” (F2G), but that does not always hold true either.
You pay for content and/or convenience. In Runes of Magic, there is not really much of epic content, at least not what I have seen so far. There are plenty of enemies which are tougher and which you need a team or perhaps a raid to deal with. But that is just harder, not epic.
So the game is in my mind more about spending a bit of casual time in a fantasy setting every now and then. What becomes more important then is a suitable progression rate for the time spent. And in here I think is where Runes of Magic will make its money. It is perfectly possible to progress in the game without spending any money whatsoever. But, and that is a significant but, if you do not spend any money at all it will certainly become a grind.
Ignoring the quality of quests (for now), the progression though questing I think will not be quite enough to support leveling 2 classes for a character with the default progression rate. Hence there will be grinding mobs, grinding daily quests, unless a player more or less ignores the dual-class system (which some do). It becomes F2G.
As my rogue+priest combo is advancing I picked up some new rewards for quests and got a complete set for the Silverspring outfit set (leather edition), which gives a rather nice look. The original colour was pretty much turquoise, which I did not quite like. So I changed the colour of the pieces in the outfit to dark, almost black ans with some red. I have bits and pieces for other outfit sets also, but I will wait with those and keep them around to see if and when I might use them as I collect more of them.
For the priest side I bought some pieces of the Vantis cloth outfit set. All pieces except the crown were quite reasonably priced on the auction house. It seems that for normal dropped items headgear does not start to appear until around level 30, so selling something for the head that can be worn at level 15 might get a bit pricey I guess. I did end up buying the crown yesterday though. The shoulder pads on the picture are not part of the set, they were a drop I added and changed colour on to fit better.
This weekend I had some game time spent in three games, City of Heroes, Lord of the Rings Online and Runes of Magic. The latter two has the fantasy setting and the “kill ten boars” type of quests in common, while the first and last have a quite casual feeling in common.
In City of Heroes I decided to play my controller Frieda and found when logging on one of my in-game friends that do not play so often being there. We decided to team up and he brought one of his favourite characters at the moment, a werewolf type tanker at level 11.
Soon after teaming up I got a tell asking if I wanted to join a group of other 43s (Frieda was level 43). I said that I was sorry, but was already temed up with a friend playing a low level character. And the response was “bring him along also if you want, we have space for more”.
And this is one of the great things about this game – both that the ability is there for someone at a low level to easily team up with high level characters, but also that the community is often supportive for that type of team play. No arguments about have a specific profile for the character or being at a specific level. The more the merrier is rather the attitude often and which is one reason I really like this game.
In Runes of Magic crafting is going through a few phases:
* Harvest resources
* Make items from resources
* Loot recpies only: Make other items from items
* Make target items from created items from recipe
Each step, harvesting a resource or creating an item all seem to go on a roughly 6 second timer to do each task, i.e. harvest 1 resource or create 1 item.
To gain levels in a crafting skill one has to craft items; preferably with the highest level recipe available.
Making items from resources and crafting items can only be done at certain locations (not necessarily near each other), which means there are some travelling involved also. And number of resouces needed may be counted in the hundreds for each type.
Luckily it is pretty easy to find resource nodes. But it may still take quite a while to gain levels and it can get grindy.
In the item shop there are something called encyclopedias. Reading from the text description it seems that they may provide an alternate means to gain crafting levels (or weapons skill levels) in your house.
I decided to buy an encyclopedia to see what it was all about. The encyclopedia lasts for 30 calendar days. If activated in your house, your character will start to study the book, which will cause a progress bar to appear. This bar seem to run on the same 6 second timer as the other gathering/crafting activities. For each run it will increase the skill with something in between 0.00% and 0.03% of a level.
Those are not high numbers; if you let it run continously for about 1 hour you may gain 7-8% of a level. That is very slow, still much slower than going out gathering, crafting etc, including travel times.
I am actually ok with that – if it were faster than normal crafting there would be a lot of people studying in their houses instead. Even though running the study of the encyclopedia can make watching paint dry seem reasonably fun in comparision, some people would still do it if there was a faster gain.
However, I do not like this system though because of one thing – you still have to be online with your character! If the whole study part would be an offline activity that you could set your character to do it would be much better and also feel that the encyclopedias were worth buying.
But forcing the character to stay online – that is just silly. It is of course possible to minimze the game and continue do something else; assuming the computer can handle that. That is, if there weren’t a bug that seems to crash the game if being minimized for too long…
The scenario where I could think this could perhaps be ok is if you will travel away for a couple of days or weeks and you are ok with having the computer running and online during that time. But in most other cases I think it is a waste of money.
Unless you really like watching paint dry.
There has now been an official release date set for Runes of Magic, March 19th. The annoucement says that the game has 450K registered users, which of course is likely a higher number than actual people playing. Comments in the forums say that they think the release is too early and that there too many things that need to be fixed.
So it is all business as usual in the launch of an MMO.
A few months ago I did play a bit in the closed beta of Runes of Magic. I cannot say I was particularly impressed with the game then; although I did only play a few levels. But since it was also a closed beta at the time it would be expected to perhaps be incomplete and a bit rough.
Recently I decided to pick up the game again even though it is in “open beta”, after I read in a post by Saylah that the characters would stick around and not be wiped. This means that they are essentially doing changes and tuning to the game still. But since the characters will stick around we basically have the same situation that a number of former MMORPGs has been at their official release. At least here it is being a bit more honest about where they are currently. Saylah also has a number of other posts on Runes of Magic – well worth a read!
Payment to play the game is through an item shop, which seems to be fully functional at this stage. In order to see how much the game might cost me in practive I did order 500 diamonds (the item shop currency), which cost me roughly 22 Euro. It will be interesting to see how long that lasts.
Starting the game again this time did not initially give a much better impression that from the closed beta, although texts in general had been translated at this point to English. The initial tutorial feels a bit cheesy and not particularly exciting. There is no feeling of excitement, destiny and glorious adventure waiting. The environment does not have the splendor and detail that may be found in Age of Conan, Lord of the Rings Online, Guild Wars or the ambience of Chronicles of Spellborn. And while the sound is not completely non-existant, there is not much of it and not something that I would consider memorable at this point. But maybe they will improve on that before the real release.
Still, that does not mean that it is bad. In fact I did start to like it more and more as I played. It has more of a bit cosy and casual feeling over it, not taking things too seriously and providing a bit fun for a bit of time. In a sense it is a spiritual child of World of Warcraft in my view. The developers have certainly been inspired by Blizzard’s game, but they have done more than merely trying to copy it.