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Wrapping up 2012

January 1, 2013 1 comment

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.

Earth

Champions Online

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.

Jorda1

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.

Anarchy Online

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.

Zelmira1

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.

Guild Wars

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.

Tutorial1

Raiderz

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.

Steam Angels gathering at the Xmas tree?

Steam Angels gathering at the Xmas tree?

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.

Ur-Draug

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.

Sente2

Star Wars: The Old Republic business model change

August 1, 2012 1 comment

It was a bit of a surprise to see that Star Wars: The Old Republic is changing business model so soon as in November this year. On the other hand, the amount of money that and customers the game seems to be bleeding now they will need to do something fast. Competition later this year in the mass-market from Guild Wars 2 is probably not going to help.

Given the amount of subscribers they have seem to lost according to Massively they have lost more subscribers than most games have had at all in the first place. It is still not quite as bad as Age of Conan, but there are still a few months left of this first year of the game. Age of Conan sold about 1 million copies in the first year and retained on average 280K subscribers during that time. SWTOR is still better percentage-wise, but presumably the cost to develop the game was substantially higher than for Age of Conan. Business-wise maybe Age of Conan was a better deal even.

Given the numbers Funcom provided in the earnings report they will be quite profitable with The Secret World even with numbers similar to Age of Conan. Now that about a month has passed since launch we may see some subscriber numbers soon – if they have been doing well and are able to retain players. if not sooner then their earnings report at the end of August should have some indication possibly – at least for pre-launch sales.

Leaving the Empire

May 31, 2012 2 comments

A few days ago I decided to cancel my subscription for Star Wars: The Old Republic. The game had many good points, but in the end I did not enjoy it as much as the other MMOs I have been playing. Thus it was time to cancel the subscription, for now.

SWTOR ended up being almost a repetition of my experience with Rift. I jumped into the game some time after it launched and it had a few bits and pieces that I loved and enjoyed quite much. However, there was also a few things that ended up being tedious and boring, plus there was not that much character progress to look forward to, in my view.

There was simply too much trash mob killing for my taste to get anywhere, eating up a lot of time from the more fun parts. Some fights were certainly fun and overall I liked the abilities of my Sith Sorcerer. However, I cannot say that I felt that the character became more powerful and stronger really. Besides that I could control more enemies at a time with whirlwind after a while, I can not say that noted much increase in power. Thus I did not feel that I had much to look forward to from a character development perspective.

The class story part was very good and also some of the other missions were also good and enjoyable. And then there was the rest. I ended up skipping more and more missions as I played.

The crafting part was simple and linear and easy to do. A convenient side track, but one you need to keep in sync with your leveling. Would have liked a more independent approach here.

SWTOR lasted about 6 weeks for me, which is actually pretty much the same amount of time as I played Rift, and also LOTRO a few years back. All of them had some great areas and were very polished experiences, but also some annoyances that dropped them close to the bottom of my which-MMO-should-I-play-tonight list.

I am quite sure I will return to SWTOR; but when that will happen I do not know. There were still many fun moments though. I would still recommend people to try it out, if they have not done that already.

Game choices and Republic frustration

May 13, 2012 2 comments

After spending a couple of hours on Friday and Saturday with The Secret World beta and a bit of time with City of Heroes and Star Wars: The Old Republic on Sunday I find myself at a point where I may change my game choices.

After 6 continuous years as a subscriber for City of Heroes I am starting to get to the point where I may take a break from the game for a bit, despite that there is a great community to be part of. Most of the content that I care for in the game I have done plenty of times now – a break might make it more refreshing again at some point later.

Fortunately with the beta weekend of The Secret World I know I have a new game to dive into in about a month. It provides a refreshing setting and a bit different take on missions and content, which is quite nice to see. I do look forward to see more of that.

In parallel with City of Heroes I have been playing a bit in Star Wars: The Old Republic. While I certainly still do enjoy parts of the game, I also have a growing frustration with it. The frustration comes from the missions and that there are so many which involves killing groups of enemies to get somewhere far away -and killing and killing and killing… Game sessions tend to get a bit long, because one cannot take a break easily always and get back later – getting back would involve killing and killing and killing…

I prefer to be able to have shorter game sessions and this seems to become a bit difficult with SWTOR. After playing through the Bonus Series on Tatooine I am at the point where I might ignore most/all missions that are not strictly the class story missions. I have already started skipping a fair amount of missions already, but may end up skipping even more.

I am pretty much at the end of my initial month with the game now. I do think I will continue for another month, but after that I have my doubts at this point. I will see, perhaps it gets better.

What is your story, really?

April 30, 2012 Comments off

What makes a character stick with you – a story and character you can mold yourself, or an exciting adventure being told through that character? Or the illusion of either?

I have been playing SWTOR for three weeks now; it has been quite fun so far. One of the aspects of the game that I think has been working quite well is the evolving story of the character. My main character is Jorda, my Sith Sorceress. The reason for initially picking her as my focus was a mix of available powers and the initial story elements.

Her being a slave that in a way been given a chance to get a better position in life and be something more was an appealing story element, more so than a some of the other starter stories. It at least seemed to have a potential that it would be possible to take the story in a few different directions. That made it more interesting.

After playing though the story parts on Korriban, Drumond Kaas and Balmorra with Jorda, I do feel that there might not be that much choice in how the story is evolving from my part, but the game provides a real good illusion of choice and making it my story.

Initially Jorda was trying to act as to get some respect and also treat others with respect on Korriban – that resulted in a rather even mix of dark side and light side points. However, the rather harsh attitude of the acolyte training hardened her and she became more ruthless – something needed to get somewhere within the Sith empire. Which is probably also the route Bioware wants to portray here.

Certain events on Drumond Kaas (won’t spoil the details) has raised Jorda’s ambitions and hardened her even more and I have been steering her to become an even more ruthless and cunning bastard. Although I also think that this is perhaps also the main path set of by Bioware for the Sith Inquisitor. There are a few elements in place that seem to steer in the direction of deep red choices really. One of these is of course the companion, Khem Val. A shadow assassin from the past who obsesses about death and carnage and no mercy for the weak, or force users.

Jorda's eye colour changed as her path towards the dark side continued

I played the Sith Warrior starter story on Korriban with another character. While the missions and the story contained Sith ruthlessness, my impression is still that the warrior story might potentially go for a slightly different angle and perhaps not so deep red – do not know anything yet about the story beyond Korriban, but with Vette as a companion and that the character background comes from a different angle I suspect that the main story path there might be a bit more balanced in terms of dark vs light – I certainly felt that the story might go in a slightly different direction there.

I have also played through the starter story on Tython for the Jedi Consular and I must say that I don’t really like neither the Jedi nor the Sith as organisations go in interpreting how to relate to the Force – they are both different extremes in a way. Sith is a bit too much about letting strong emotions like fear and hatred guide you. The Jedi on the other seems to go more along the path of absence of emotions and seems to be a bit too much like a religious sect. But perhaps because of that they do provide a good base for making stories where charactes can either try to find a middle ground path, or head all the way towards either of the extremes.

While I am not sure there is a huge amount of choice in how much you can actually evolve the story, Bioware certainly provides a good illusion and excellent story-telling elements. There are other elements of the game that I am not too keen about, but the story releated pieces are quite enjoyable.

Back to the future, in a place far far away

April 16, 2012 3 comments

After reading Yeebo’s developer appreciation post about BioWare and SWTOR, I decided I should try out the that game. I have to a large extent ignored most of the information and comments about the game in the past. Which means I have been fairly ignorant about details about the game, except that it is set in some past in the Star Wars universe and is supposedly with a storyline focus. Except for two sessions with Mass Effect, I have not really played any Bioware games before either.

So far I have created and played a bit with three different characters; a smuggler, a Sith Inquisitor and  an imperial agent. In hindsight it is perhaps obvious, but I did not realize that each side has classes that are sort of mirror images of classes of the other side, at least in the early levels. Thus I discovered that the abilities of the smuggler and the agent were pretty much the same, with the weapon type being a bit different.

However, the storylines for each played out quite differently and I quite enjoyed it so far I have played with all three of those. Between the smuggler and the agent though, the agent story definitely takes the top spot for me – it has lots good ingredients of a secret agent story it seems and got me more involved in the story the the smuggler one managed to. Besides that, I also liked the look of my agent (a Chiss).

One of the things that Yeebo mentioned in his post that made me want to try out the game was that in terms of fighting enemies the game was more along the lines of City of Heroes, where beating up a couple of (relatively weak) enemies at the same time is the norm, even at early levels. This was certainly true in my experience and quite good fun:)

While I enjoyed the cover mechnic and combat of the smuggler and agent, the most combat fun was definitely with the Sith inquisitor. Shooting off electricity and jumping on enemies and swinging a weapon hitting them was quite enjoyable. Combined with an good story about a former slave rising to glory this is my current favourite.

There are some annoyance factors with the combat through; one is that there is a global cooldown for the abilities used – a bit annoying when you are used to games without it. Not as annoying as it was in Rift though, my previous endeavour into a new MMO title. Might be able to stand it in this game though. Another annoyance fator was that you needed to stand still to perform the magi…ehhm force abilities and you got an error message if you were moving when you tried to use an ability. Again, used to games where this is handled a bit differently; if the devs have decided that your charecter must stand still to perform some ability, then root the character then and perform the ability – do not give just an error message. Maybe I will get used to that part as well.

At around level 10 the missions in the starter area and the storyline for the chosen class came to sort of an ending – with the story continuing offworld. This kind of presented a dilemma for me – play alts or continue the story for a specific character and which character then.  Right now I think I will perhaps do a bit of both and play some more classes at least for a few levels in the starter areas. But beyond that I will likely focus on a single character – feels more natural with the slightly more sophisticated story-telling compared to most other MMOs. Especially when you get to care about more abouyt the story and the involved characters, alternating too much might make story details harder to remember.

Getting off-starter-planet I also got to pick the advanced class and learned about the crew skills – some similarities to the STO duty officer system, but with less anonymous characters performing it. I also got to try out one of the story-oriented team missions, the Black Talon flashpoint. This was a quite fun experience and I enjoyed it very much! I found it quite refreshing that all members of the team could participate and follow the story. This is an area a lot of MMOs do not do particularly well, so it was nice to see an approach which allowe all team members to participate. I did not quite get what all the numbers and indicators meant at first during the conversations, but after some clarifications that got sorted out.

Moving on to Drumond Kaas I found the areas with jungles arond the city parts to be quite something that triggered my explorer itch a bit and it was fun just to get around and look around in the different areas.  The wildlife certainly made it more interesting. Dense enough that you are likely to see wildlife somewhere from pretty much anywhere you go, but not dense enough to just be considered containers of XP ready for slaughter.

Overall I have quite enjoyed my start in the game so far and it is good to have some variation to mainly play City of Heroes. Although if I keep liking it there is going to be some difficult decisions when it gets closer to release for The Secret World and Guild Wars 2. As much as I like what I see so far in SWTOR, TSW and GW2 are still the games I am looking forward to the most.

From reading some chat conversations in game, I might not be alone thinking that either.  There were people that had SWTOR as a stopgap until GW2 would be released. There also seem to have been a drop in activity across a number of the SWTOR servers and a few of the were considered “dead”. A few people had just re-rolled characters on the server I was playing on also, because there were more people on this server and they had given up on their old servers.

It is a rather nice problem though to possibly have too many potentially good options to choose from – the market has not been flooded with interesting MMO games in a few years now, althugh there has been some neat releases.

Community in teams

December 30, 2011 Comments off

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:  progressionexplorationcombat, 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.