We’ve been to Orsinium last night and i have to say i was heavily impressed. The design in terms of landscape, the city, the interiors, quests and story is great. It’s not often that i take tens of screenshots in one night but yesterday i did. More on Orsinium soon ™, but first: a few impressions via screenshots.
I’m still chugging along in Elder Scrolls Online and having a great time. This game offers so much in terms of story, lore, atmosphere as well as gameplay experience and interesting mechanics.
What gets me more and more are, in fact, the “little stories” in side quests and sometimes the bigger ecperiences while playing. It can actually take 1 or 2 sessions for me just to finish one quest.
Right now, i’m finishing up “Fit For Rule” and it’s been my active quest for 2 sessions- but there are always distractions in Elder Scrolls Online. Sometimes, it’s looking for a dog and husband for someone you meet at one impressive wayshrine/temple. Or sometimes, i’ll just wander off, because i saw something in the distance (or a new icon popped up on the map).
Returning to those stories- it’s interesting, i’m pretty sure many MMORPGs deliver small tidbits of similar quality in terms of storytelling (TSW, Lotro), but somehow, they don’t seem to make an impact. Here, well, i have to use the word “weight” again- well, it does feel as if my character accomplished something. I guess sometimes it’s simply because of the heavy use of phasing in ESO- you’ll save someones husband and he won’t lie on the same spot afterwards. And sometimes, it’s because not everything story-related is told, you have to figure it out by yourself or read books, journals or notes to understand what happened.
ESO is also pretty good at giving me shivers accompanied by curiosity. Like that poor Bard above, but also when you go into one of these public dungeons (i love those!) and meet a Daedra who’s got one sick interpretation of gardening as a hobby.
The most interesting thing was when i met some “Watchers” in a tree house- they’ve built a lookout to watch over Laeloria, waiting for a beacon to turn red to destroy a crystal. That’s one interesting part – the other is that in this quest, i’ll need to rescue someone from Coldharbour. I really, really like the mystery behind that quest and am looking forward to do it.
Lord of the Rings Online has almost never been my main game, but since it was released, it has always been my “comfort game”- the game i’d return to, if other games weren’t as good as i thought or something else came up. I really like Lord of the Rings for many different reasons- the atmosphere, the landscape-design, middle-earth (of course) and the very relaxing gameplay. Unfortunately, the last one can make it tedious to play in long stretches, as well. Lord of the Rings Online- at least in the way i play it- is mostly about the questing and i do get tired of the questgrind quite quickly.
When i started to play the game in 2007 or early 2008, i created an Elf-Loremaster and wasn’t very patient when it came to seeing the Shire and Bree for the first time. I made the trip as early as possible- by foot. The world of Lotro is a great one- at least in the early levels- there’ll be villages, roads, all kinds of things to explore and see. And it is large! When Lotro released, large game worlds were the standard- if you’d compare it to the size of newer worlds and what we are used to by now, Lotro’s Middle Earth becomes huge.
Nowadays, we can ride on our own mounts. So i did, to recapture that old experience i’ve only made once and see how long it would take me- the answer? 18 Minutes, on a horse, with some ore-gathering strewn in between. This is, by the way, the road from the first questing area (for dwarves and elves) to the second. I can’t remember how it used to be- if we had to walk this distance, which, by foot, would take more than 30 minutes. But i think we had to.
As an elf, you’ll start in Ered Luin. It’s a small starting area, by comparison, because it is divided in two starting experiences for levels 1 to 15, unlike the Shire, where only Hobbits begin and the Bree-Lands, where the 1-15 experience for humans takes place in only a fraction of the whole map.
I’ve never played a Dwarf in Lotro, so i can’t comment on their starting experience- for the elves, the story revolves mostly around the threat of war between dwarves and elves. There’s an “elf prince” that got kidnapped and the elves suspect the “good dwarves” of commiting the crime. In the course of the storyline, we’ll find out (i really don’t think a spoiler warning is needed here) that they didn’t do it, but another family of dwarves. We’ll then work together in defeating the threat of peace in Ered Luin.
The rest of the elf storyline (read: the normal quests) is mostly about ruins, some missing persons, two brothers who can’t decide and/or persuade each other whether to stay or leave Middle Earth and things like that. It all gives the sense of a race that had its best days in the past- they’re practically living in it and almost every quest- at least those that i remember- has a connection to the past. Only the true filler quests (too many wolves, please kill 10 of them) don’t.
As notable locations, there are the towns of Celondim, where you begin your journey, Duillond, a refuge whose design i never really understood (many bridges- its layout is simple, really, but the steps/bridges always annoy me), a few ruins, Kheledul, a dwarf-port that’s been taken by the evil dwarves, a Vineyard, overrun by goblins, Thrasi’s lodge- a cabin with a few quests the dwarf-town of Gondamon, where the Prologue ends and Rath Teraig.
There’s more, of course, but that were the places i visited before turning to level 15 and riding for Bree.
Unfortunately, you can’t reach Bree from the Ered Luin without a portal. Most of Lotro’s world is open, not zoned, but at some points, there are only portals to get you from one area to the next. For the release version of Lotro this is the only portal i can think of (besides housing zones).
You’ll then continue through the Shire. The Shire is one of the places where you can really see how much passion Turbine put into it- the realization of the Shire is all it needs to be. From the Hobbits, the landscape to the general atmosphere and the music/sound everything fits. The quests, as well, but that’s not the topic for today.
In the Shire, there are a few villages- and i think every one of them has its own Inn. I’d like to visit them another time. The Lotro Shire not only fits my imagination of the Shire from the books, but also my ideal for an MMORPG zone in general- villages, fields, woods, many, many signs of civilization.
The Bree-Lands are equally good, by the way, with the namesake town as the highlight. Bree is, in my opinion, one of (if not the) best designed cities in MMORPGs. It isn’t “economic”, many times you’ll have to travel annoying distances between, for instance, the auction house, the bank and the crafting house, but it is a great town- and again, it is very atmospheric- it seems like a town, that one.
And then, of course, you’ll reach the Prancing Pony and the trip is over.
So much more
All this, you get to see with level 15. And writing this, i could think of so many things to see, explore and write about- the Inns of the Shire, the Villages of the Shire and the Bree-Lands, other interesting places, the quests in the Shire and why it fits into this region. Bree alone could fill a posting like this one, the exploration deeds in these zones and so on.
For explorers and lore fanatics, Lotro has a lot to offer. I’m taking it slow on this one, because i don’t want to fall into the trap of not-reading the quest text again, but i had a lot of fun in these first 15 levels.
World of Warcraft has a few qualities, which shouldn’t be surprising since it’s still the most played MMORPG out there. For me, two are very noticeable- the fluid gameplay/combat/movement and the second one, the world/zone building. It’s not only the graphics and Blizzards ability to get the most out of their decade-old-engine that WoW still looks good- it’s because of the zone design. So i decided to start a “backpacker” series for that. It’s easy to do, too, since you can play World of Warcraft for free up to level 20. After some research, i came to the conclusion that a Druid would work best, what with the travel form and such. It might be possible to explore zones much further into the level bracket when playing this class.
I don’t know where this plan is going to lead me- maybe even into a subscription, but if i’m honest, the last times i started playing WoW, the questing got to me. It’s always the questing- with Rift, Lord of the Rings and WoW. While Rift has decent alternatives to level a character, i don’t think one could say the same for WoW. Sure, there are dungeons and they’re great experiences- but i wouldn’t know why i should play the instanced part of the game to experience the open world. And questing is slow. Exploration doesn’t seem to be rewarded with xp, so leveling through exploration and crafting/gathering is not a good alternative. So you’ve got questing, pvp, pet battles, gathering and dungeons as ways to level.
Gathering could work. But it would take a lot of time, too much for me, even when i could combine it with grinding mobs.
Anyway, the possibility to level a character to 20 without paying gives me the option to travel through quite a few zones. I’ve always been an Alliance player, so i’ll use a Nightelf Druid for this, even if that means i’ll be starting on the wrong continent. I think i can leave for Stormwind come level 10 (already there, but haven’t looked if i can take the ship over there).
So let’s take a look. I don’t really know how long this lasts, but WoW’s zones are believable to me, and that’s the great advantage. In Lotro, for instance, the third zone you’ll play in will consist of one village/inn and some ruins as homesteads for people. I don’t know why these people don’t build and seem to be content in their ruins, but it strikes me as odd. In WoW, which i didn’t experience a whole lot (until Un’Goro in TBC’s time), the zones leading up to Un’Goro seem…well, despite it being a fantastic, sometimes odd world, it seems more “civilized”. I mean, villages look like villages.
Look at that- that’s where your life as a nightelf begins- it might not be exactly as big, but the whole layout is similar to the faction capital of the Guardians in Rift, Sanctum. I’d like to highlight that i don’t want to devalue Rift by stating this, but simply to state how much i like these sort of things. And it’s an exaggeration, of course. Sanctum is still bigger than Shadowglen’s center.
Another thing that i didn’t remember – and that might change later on – is that World of Warcraft really is generous with space/landscape. In other, more modern games, mob density is quite high- it’s for the sake of accessibility, of course, so that you don’t have to search for the mob you need for a quest or compete with other players for the same mobs, but if you look at zone design from that perspective only, what remains is a functional map. When you leave room for all kinds of things- villages, wildlife, trees, the odd cavern, rivers, lakes and whathaveyou- the zone looks and feels a whole lot more believable.
WoW’s zone design always impressed me. Sure, i like my fantasy worlds even more “open”, even less “zoney” and not as “themepark-styled” (thinking about the “haunted house zone” for levels 20 to 30), but there are few games providing that- the last one i know was Vanguard, which had a great world albeit with its own flaws. Other games are good, as well- Rift and Lotro’s worlds are open, and especially Lotro offers great landscapes that still hold themselves very good in terms of graphics, Final Fantasy 14’s zones are of a very good design, as well, but they feel quite small.
OK, i’ll just come out and admit it: Trove is really, really fun. Since playing the other night, it’s the only game i launch- mainly, because goals are forming up. Where i was wandering around aimlessly earlier, slowly i gain insight in the game mechanics, the crafting and the goals you can set yourself.
This is also the first installment of my Project-Trinity-copout-column, the Backpacker. From time to time i will write a piece about a zone, landscape, village, npcs, a quest chain, game mechanics or, like today about a game i visit. It is aimed to be an “MMO tourist” series of posts in the wider sense- usually, there should be a focus on the “Trinity games”, though.
First, i wanted to follow the “golden path”, or thread or whatever it’s called here to gain those cubits i needed to unlock another class. I don’t know why, but instead of only the knight, i also have had access to the gunslinger from the beginning. By now, i unlocked the Boomeranger and the Ice Sage, as well. Of course i spent money- i always do; even if it’s entirely possible to play for free- and with Trove, it is, it is not my goal to do so. When i see value in a game, i pay. So i went and bought the Power Pack (for 20$), which gives me wings, a fast mount, a boat, a sail, 2 class tokens and some other stuff i don’t really know about.
Then, i wanted to find some Primordial Flames to craft a Ringcrafting table. I had 1, but needed 5. The flames seem to spawn close to other ore, but it seems to be on a very rare occasion. Turns out they spawn by themselves in the Dragonfire Peaks biome- only have to find one of those, right? It took a while, though. I don’t know whether biomes are somewhat connected to levels, but i had to enter a level 6/7 adventure zone and explore a bit to find one. It turned out fine, though. Dragonfire Peaks seems to be the biome you should look out for when you’re hunting for ore. There was a lot of all kinds of ore i know by now- and there were even some Primordial Flames.
The next resource i’m trying to gather up is enchanted wood– the best places to gather seem to be found in the medieval highlands, Fae Wilds and Cursed Vale biomes.
And i need to go fishing for the next step in the golden path, not knowing how fishing works, at all.
Free-to-play game design
As you might know, i don’t really care about business models- i’m fine with subs and i’m fine with free-to-play, as well. I know both models influence game design. But i also have to say that some free-to-play and buy-to-play games, especially those designed to follow that model from the ground up, provide fun gameplay without having too many timesinks. There are “pain points” (great term!) to get you to pay, but often, these games do not try to make your sessions longer and play more than you can.
Trove excels in this regard- it is so easy to launch up and just play. Sure, if you are trying to reach some goals it might take you some time. But you can always fire it up, enter an adventure zone and do something- getting there takes about 2 minutes, and that’s including load time.
When we’re talking business model, i’d like to say that i also had a look at the cash shop- and found it to be reasonably prized (a class for about 5€) and i have to confess that i’d have trouble finding something i’d really like to buy. Classes would be one way to go, but my guess is, once i can build in a club world, that the building blocks would be the most interesting. And they’re dirt cheap- of course they are, since you could also just go out and gather them. I’ve received 2000 blocks of each primal block as part of the power pack, so i might be covered for some time. Other than that, i didn’t see anything that would be an issue. Lockboxes, sure, but honestly, i think they do fit somewhat in this game- it’s a whole different affair when a game is more serious. Still not a friend of lockboxes, though, so i won’t buy any of them.
The MMO concentrate
Now, Ironweakness has a great post covering this already, so i’ll make it short here: Trove includes almost everything an MMO should have (i have to agree on the auction house, though- i’d like to see one)- fun gameplay that’s easy to learn but will get more difficult later on, i’m sure. Lots of crafting options, “housing”- or building stuff, exploration for exploration’s sake and so on. It’s playable in small groups, bigger groups and solo. It can be relaxing and quite involved. You can have your downtime, as well- when building, crafting, exploring or whatever.
I can’t tell you yet if it is a shallow experience, mainly because i still don’t understand half of it- how does the crafting work, what can you build? What should you build and why? I can say, however, that exploring these mechanics is fun and it takes time. I think early on, half of the fun to be had in MMOs was to slowly get a grasp on these games, their worlds, features and mechanics. Nowadays, these things are usually “streamlined” and “made accessible” for the “filthy casual”- Trove shows that you can be one of those streamlined, accessible, casual games while still retaining some of that wonder that is exploring online worlds.