Most of the time I try to stay positive in my posts, not go on on a rant and spit venom about various things I do not like. Most of the time.
Back when Cryptic Studios was bought by Perfect World Entertainment from Atari I was quite positive about it – it seemed that PWE was a company that had plenty of experience in the MMO space and probably a better a better place for Cryptic, than Atari.
That might still be true, from a business perspective. From a gaming perspective, from my gaming perpective, it has not gone the right way. Changes in Champions Online were clearly affected by some of the game design used in other PWE titles. Perhaps a bit more streamlined and more monetization oriented.
Not long after Cryptic “soft launched” Neverwinter Online I had a look at that game also. I was not particularly interested – high fantasy is not really my preferred theme for an MMO. But it had The Foundry and I was interested in trying it out because of that.
I have played primarily a Control Wizard in that game, up to level 30. I quite liked the combat for the wizard and some of the missions and the skirmishes were pretty fun – for an action & quick play alternative it did not feel too bad.
But with that game the whole Perfect World game mechanics and elements, which completetly turned me off the game, although I stomached it for a while. All the bling-bling with various vendors, currencies/tokens and many bits and pieces turnes the whole thing more into a mix of an amusement park and a casino, rather than a virtual game world – in particular if one spends tim in the main hub, Protector’s Enclave.
There are some nice pieces in that game, but there is simply too much of the Perfect World branding that it feels like choking on multi-coloured cotton candy. There are so many bits and pieces that annoys me with this game – a lot of it is PWE heritage to some extent, but perhaps also a few other bits and pieces.
This game is far away from what I liked about Cryptic back in the days of City of Heroes – that Cryptic is gone now I guess. Other companies may provide more of a virtual world and character expression freedom instead.
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.
NCSoft has received a fair amount of heat from MMO fans lately, in particular from parts of the City of Heroes community. I consider myself part of that community and I am not happy about the way the shutdown of Paragon Studios and City of Heroes seems to have been communicated to the people involved. Still, I do not see NCSoft as an evil company that cares nothing for its customers/players nor will I boycott everything that has NCSoft attached to it.
My emotional side wants Paragon Studios and City of Heroes to continue running and thrive and I really hope it can be saved in some way.
My analytical side see good reasons for this happening; Ysharros @ Stylish Corpse pointed to a good post by Unsubject on the subject. NCSoft bought the remaining parts of City of Heroes that it did not already own from Cryptic almost 5 years ago. At that time thee were about 15 employees at Cryptic that were working with City of Heroes. Paragon Studios has/had about 80 employees, more than 5 times as many employees. Efforts supported and financed by NCSoft did not include just “safe” bets, but also major efforts like Mission Architect and the Going Rogue/Praetoria expansion.
Paragon Studios seems to me to have had quite a bit of freedom to decide how to improve the game, grow it and make it more profitable. Also, some persons have been working on a “next gen MMO”. Not an infinite amount of money for sure, but probably quite a bit and with a decent amount of creative freedom.
Compare this to Perfect World and their handling of Champions Online. For it seems that the financial reins are significantly tougher there – much more geared to be in line with the rest of the family of Perfect World games and with comparatively limited resources to improve on the game and interact with the community. I am quite sure Champions is profitable, possibly even more so than City of Heroes – percentage-wise. But that is just guesswork from my part.
If City of Heroes will be saved after all, I suspect very much it will be run in a way similar to Champions Online – a quite reduced crew and content updates accordingly and with more focus on getting people to spend money in the store. And probably also server merges to make the game more crowded overall. There may be fewer people playing Champions, but the game feels more crowded since everyone is in a single world and Millennium City zone always has a number of instances.
Would Paragon Studios grown and been able to do the things they did over these 5 years under a different company, like Atari or Perfect World? I do not think so. A few years back NCSoft was a company that were probably my favourite MMO developer company – they supported, ran and developed a number of games that stood out, had some innovative ideas and were not stuck in the typical high fantasy template most other MMO developers worked within. That did not play out well and they have done some significant cut-backs over the years, in particular in the Western market.
They are probably more shrewd businessmen now, but I think there may still be a fair amount of passion about games there. But it may be difficult to grow and stay profitable on passion alone.
In a recent update Cryptic has added a number of villains from a create-a-villain contest that was held before. These villains have been added as villains to defeat in the Alert system that has been in place since April.
I think this is quite neat that they do add characters created by the players; some may say it is about time. If one plays the game I think it is fair to say that many of the most interesting character creations are made by the players – many of the Cryptic-created villains are somewhat bland IMHO, at least the early ones. Perhaps that is a heritage from the pen&paper Champions game, I think the developers have been at least a little bit more creative with some of the later content.
Earlier today it was announced that the Champions Online forums will go through the same integration process as the Star Trek Online forums and adapt to the PWE common forum structure used for all the other PWE games.
Since the functionality is different and also different account systems are being used there will be a bunch of things lost in the process, such as
- Author names on old posts
- Post counts
- Custom avatar pictures
- In some cases, display/forum names. Name rules are also more restrictive, so some names ae not possible to have in the new forums.
Naturally, this upsets people, in particular those that post a lot in the forums. Once the new forums are up it is only possible to login to those through a PWE account. Today the Cryptic account credentials are used and it is also possible to use either PWE or Cryptic login info when logging in to the game.
For such a merge/transfer there is obviously more benefit for the company than for the players.
I have had a few days off and through a stroke of bad luck, also managed to get sick right before and during this time – so I am spending a bit more time at home than originally planned. This resulted in a bit more MMO play time – which all ended up with Champions Online. Revisiting the game as I mentioned in a previous post triggered an urge to explore the game once more. It also triggered some of the memories why I spent a few months almost only playing Champions Online for a few months, almost 3 years ago. I find it quite exciting to be back in the game again, despite some dark clouds and concerns.
When Champions Online was originally released there were a number of little details that were obviously improvements from the state of the game City of Heroes was back then, including easier respecs, traval power available at an early stage, more customization options, including power colour customization, updates to the sidekick/mentoring system etc. Some of these have improved in City of Heroes as well after Champions Online was released and later Champions also introduced some additional/mission features from City of Heroes.
When I look a bit closer to Champions Online now I do see a few other bits and pieces where the games have influenced each other – custome sets in the store is one thing. The Titan Weapons powerset (in City of Heroes) and Heavy Weapons framework (in Champions Online) also have some similarities – not sure which one was first here.
I have been dusting off some of my old characters, going through a list of 15 characters mainly in 20-30 and teen levels – plus also tried creating entirely new ones. The new ones ran through the tutorials and early content.
One thing that striked me here is that in Champions one seems to have had the approach to refine existing content, to make some of it better. Much of the early content seems to have gone through this approach. While there are many things to recognize there are also differences, sometimes major and sometimes more subtle. Contrast this to Paragon Studios approach, where they either leave an area as-is pretty much, or revamp it significantly – although Champions have had revamps also.
This results in that I think Champions feels more consistent and is perhaps also the simpler one to understand the different game mechanics in place and thus more accessible for a new or intermittent player.
There is also a lot of choices for a new player in various areas – basically all content is available for free and there are 10 different archetypes available to all players, plus another 13 archetypes that can be bought if you are not a subscriber – included for subscribers. It is also possible nowadays for free/silver players to buy a freeform slot, although that costs a good chunk of money ($50 per slot).
But in the end it is one important question to answer – is it fun? I would say it is a definite yes to that question! A lot of the content that is available in the game today is something that I did not play or try out when I had initial active period – most of it was not available yet back then.
So pretty much all adventure packs, the comic series and Vibora Bay is all somewhat new to me, plus of course the alerts and some of the content in Monster Island and Lemuria that I did not try out at all even in the beginning.
And getting attacked by henchmen from my nemesis on one of my higher level characters reminded me of the Nemesis system, so it was a nice surprise because I had forgotten about that.
As with most things you end up doing too much of the content may end up becoming stale and repetitive – it may be that for some that has been around and active all the time. For me that has just reacquainted myself with the game content it feels refeshingly different from the playtime in City of Heroes – which after 6 years for me has become perhapa a bit stale and repetitive…
There is also a charm and fun factor which you cannot really find in any other MMOs outside of this genre. That is the fantastic creativity exposed by many different players in terms of costume creations. In the past I have considered the Champions costume creator perhaps technically superior, but the one in City of Heroes one that has been easier to create characters, at least certain types of characters.
For specific character types and attributes I still think City of Heroes is better. But looking at what people play with and have created I think there are many other character types in which the Champions costume creator is definitely superior. Pretty much everyday I see some amazing creations.
My main worry here is that I will end up playing too many alts at once, so that I play much of the same content too many times in a short time. We will see…
This weekend I had pretty much planned to play a bit in The Secret World beta – and this I did, more about that in a later post. However, I also ended up playing another MMO which I had not planned at all to play – Champions Online. And I had a great time playing it!
First of all, I am a lifetime subscriber of Champions Online. Except for one character which had done some occasional visits into the game, most of my characters have between 700 and 900 days since their last activity. A post at Massively about Champions Online getting a new executive producer triggered my curiosity to see what the state of the game was, after also reading the state of the game for June 2012.
Logging into the game again was frankly a bit overwhelming – there were quite a few changes that came with the On Alert update, plus a number of changes and additions that had been made prior to that as well. Millenium City looked a bit different in some places.
With the crafting/gear revamp the crafting seems to have been simplified and actually become more meaningful – gear now can have slots and in these slots one can fuse in modifies that improve a stat of your choice, essentially. All the old gear can still be used, but it is only new gear that have slots and these seems generally to be a bit better than the old ones.
Old crafting material can be converted to the new crafting material (cores) in a single operation – this includes any old material in inventory and in the bank.
For freeform characters there seem to have been some changes and updates to how powers and stats work – there are now one primary superstat and two secondary superstats to choose from. In addition to the power selections there is also a kind of talent trees called specializations which one can assign points into.
Alerts is a neat new feature which is essentially a quick team through a team-up teleporter/dungeon finder tool. There are a couple of scenarios (e.g. bank heist, MC mayor held hostage, 2 minute showdown etc) and also a rotation of villains to encounter in each scenario. Objective are pretty simple and the whole event maybe takes between 2 and 10 minutes. Successful completion provides a reward and a boost for 1 hour of some type, e.g. XP or resources (cash).
I played a number of alerts and I typically waited less than a minute each time for a new alert to trigger. There is not a huge amount of variation though, so it is hardly something one would play all the time – more something to jump into from time to time.
In the past weeks I have played a fair amount of time in Age of Conan also and there besides being quite different games in terms of setting and mechanics, there is also a more general difference. In Age of Conan I do not often see more than a few players in a session. In Champions Online there were people around all over the place. In particular in Millenium City, but also in some other zones I visited. Age of Conan is a larger game in terms of game world, so it is perhaps more understandable. Still, Champions feels more alive. I have no clue how many people are actually playing Champions Online nowadays, but it certainly feels quite active.