Spring cleaning and story telling

April 5, 2010

When I started to think about what to write in this post I originally thought about talking about spring; the weather outside was starting to get warmer and most of the snow had melted away. But this morning I woke up to a white landscape outside – a couple of centimeters of snow had fallen during the night and continued during the morning. Spring suddenly seemed to have escaped.

I started a bit of spring cleaning in my City of Villains/Heroes account though – across the two European ENglish-speaking servers (Defiant and Union) I had around 30 different characters.  So I started to play a couple of the characters that were not at max or high level to see whether they were worth keeping.

I honestly expected to not like most of those I played, but I found that my experience with them now were in some cases much better than I remembered. Perhaps there had been changes to the game that made the difference – some literally had been years since they were played. While I deleted a couple of them I also got more reason to play – there were a few that were quite fun to play and with fairy different play styles.

Martial arts stalker Tsu Han about to strike the Superfreak - really!

Two of the strong points with characters in City of Villains/Heroes is that they can generally feel that they excel in some area and feel powerful. Not compared to other players, but in the context of the PvE environment.  Sometimes this does not quite come into play until you play in a somewhat large team, but when it is there it provides a nice feeling of satisfaction.

Compared to other superhero MMOs another thing I like about the game is that you can do characters that are a bit vicious, dark- and insidious-looking characters, with a perhaps dubious nature. I think when it comes to portrayal of a characters personality, City of Villains/Heroes is still the one at the top – even if other games provide some more detailed control.

It seems to me that there is renewed activity in the game – more people seem to be playing than some months ago and I have also encountered a number of new players. The latter is quite refreshing to see and it is nice to see that there are people that see and experience a number of the missions for the first time. Good times!

I guess and hope that with Issue 17 (a number of changes, including the new graphics) and later the Going Rogue expansion there will be additional interest in the game.

When play time is limited, as my time as been for the past months, what activities are done in the game becomes a bit more inportant. The stories have always been an important factor for me. In Champions Online there are some quite nice stories in there, told in a quite visual fashion. That is also mixed up with less exciting mission stories. But one of the strong points I believe is the Nemesis system – there are some quite nice missions that are part of the nemesis system.

This weekend my character Toy Master picked up a nemesis mission while swimming around in the underwater empire of Lemuria. Toy Master’s nemesis Steeleye had sent a troop to eliminate Toy Master, which failed. This led to a discovery that there was some secret facility in Canda run by Steeleye, and Toy Master headed off to set things straight.

At the facility there was some commotion; the alarm had triggered and a number of villains attacked Toy Master. As any secret faciulity should have, there was also a mad scientist there – he was working on creating clones of the Millenium City mayor! Toy Master defeated the villains and the initial group clones, shutting down the cloning chambers. He also discovered that a few citizens were held captive for experiments and was also attacked by some early attempts of the cloning process – deformed versions of the mayor attacking the hero.

Fighting the giant mayor clone

Steeleye had already left though and was now in the process of capturing the mayor himself. Off from Canada to Millenium City and the city hall, jumping in through the ceiling. In the city hall a number of fights with various villains and henchmen in Steeleye’s service happened, including a giant clone of the mayor. In the end Toy Master defeated everyone, except Steeleye himself who managed to escape.  Good fun!

In Star Trek online there is also a number of story oriented mission arcs, which can be nice to follow. In this case there was a story (Divide et Impera) about a suspected weapons of mass destruction creation at a Romulan base, where on the surface it was just a medical research facility. The starfleet admiral leading the investigation insisted that they were hiding something though. As a liaison with te admiral you obey the orders and apply pressure on the Romulans in a less diplomatic fashion.

Fighting on the Romulan base

This story is a good example where it would have been nice to have multiple paths to reach the end of the story and perhaps different endings. Without spoiling it for anyone who has not played it, after a while it becomes apparent where things are heading – which all the more can be a bit frustrating if you would have liked to try different options. Nice story, but these stories would shine more if there were not just one path through the story.

Unfortunately this is too common in MMOs still. It is a complex topic to address, but would like to see some more thoughts on designing mission stories that at least give a perception of player choice.

One game that has a somewhat unique approach to story-telling among MMO-type games is Dungeons & Dragons Online. I think the story-oriented dungeons in there were quite nice and that the focus on completion of the dungeon giving rewards and XP a nice appraoch. For a number of other reasons the game did not quite stick with me, even though I tried it 2-3 times after it was originally released.

The new version with the revamped business model to a “free to play with item shop” approach I had not tried though. In the past year my fantasy MMO exposure has been limited and when it comes to high fantasy downright avoided it. Now after a number of months I feel a bit better and have no longer an urge to bang my head against the wall as soon as I see an elf or a dwarf. In moderate doses I can still tolerate it.

So I decided to try out DDO. Again it is one of the more promising MMO-type games when it comes to story-telling it seems to me, so it would be a good choice to try. So far I have had two shortish sessions and I like what I see – the game experience is in general much nicer than I remembered it and the strong parts about the dungeon story-telling still seem to be there. Probably old news to many of you, but this was my first dive into fantasy MMO for quite a while and it seems it may be a good choice. We will see how it works out.

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  1. April 5, 2010 at 19:27

    I felt much the same when I played that mission in STO. I think that adding a small number of branches to some of the episodes would go a long way towards improving the game. Without the branching there was no purpose to the non-combat missions that I’ve been through.

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