Category: MMORPGs in general

Why i chose Rift…for now

Since i started this blog, i tried to pin down my expectations of a good MMORPG, why i chose to stick to only one of them right now and what/why i’d like to see in a Sandbox MMORPG. Now, i repeat myself (a lot), i guess that’s part of being new at this writing thing, as well as having difficulties in expressing thoughts in a short and concise way.

Today i’d like to elaborate why i chose Rift as my MMORPG of choice right now- see, i tried returning to it in the beginning of the year when it was still a subscription game, bought Storm Legion, got to play three times in the month i subbed and left again- only to return when they announced Rift going free-to-play. Why?

Rift has a classic feel

Nowadays Rift feels like one of the last members of the “WoW-Clone”-Club. When you think about it, it released in March 2011, only 9 months prior to Star Wars: the old republic. Now, SWTOR already chose to shake mechanics a little up, put more emphasis on the storyline of their classes, shrank the group size to 4 and tried to do something different. Rift didn’t. Rift was released very much as something you might call a newer World of Warcraft with one new mechanic, the Rifts.

At release time, that was a negative for me- sure, i had fun for three months, reached the level cap and asked myself if i really want to do the same dailies every time i log in- Raiding is not really my thing and i had levelled by way of dungeons i think starting with level 30, so i really didn’t want to continue doing only dungeons, so i quit.

It was only after certain modern games released- these improving gameplay, especially combat, very much in comparison to the WoW-era-MMORPGs that i suddenly started missing the “modern classic” feel of games like Rift (WoW, AoC, Lotro, Aion etc.). Combat being a little on the strategic side, Dungeons with the familiar holy trinity, Quest texts (i never thought i’d miss those) and so on.

Rift has changed

Trion did a very good job in transforming their game from being almost exactly like World of Warcraft to being more alike to Everquest 2. Now, fans of EQ2 might not agree with this; their favourite game surely is its own thing- i never saw the housing of EQ2 and i don’t think the crafting is similar. But Rift grew, not only vertically, but also to be a broader experience. Trion added so many things to the gameplay experience that Rift 2013 doesn’t look very much like Rift 2011. Off the top of my head, they added:

  • Fishing and Survival as two hobby experiences
  • Instant Adventures
  • Onslaughts
  • Chronicles
  • Dimensions (the housing system)
  • Hunt Rifts
  • Ember Isle
  • the Storm Legion Content

The two new continents have a very unique look and feel, and exploring them has been fun.

Free-to-play

Now, when you get to play the game you subscribe to three times a month, you could argue it’s not really worth a sub. But that’s not why free-to-play is a reason to choose Rift- the players are. At least when f2p was new, Telara was bursting with new and returning players in a good mood and a willingness to play that game- as opposed to a launch where the mood is usually a bit more sceptical. It seems to be a good time to pick that title up again.

The model Trion uses is very fair in my opinion, especially when you bought stuff prior to the transition- i can access all of the content without restrictions.

Something to return to and variety

You can do PvE in a lot of different ways, PvP is still there, of course, as is crafting, the shinies (collectibles), Achievements, hobbies and finally, with the introduction of dimensions, Rift has something a player would want to return to. I still haven’t started with that, but it’s something i very much look forward to do.

Outlook

Rift doesn’t bring all i’d expect to the table, but it’s as close as it gets when you put fun in the equation. Now, that doesn’t mean it’s not tempting to visit other worlds, as well- i might even look at Wildstar or TESO if their release dates are much closer than the release of ArcheAge in the west.

I don’t expect EQ Next to release before the end of 2014, EQ Next Landmark will get released this year and i’ll surely have a look at that (if i can do that with my SOE account). I’m not sure about the Repopulation. Wildstar and TESO seem to be headed towards an early 2014 release, but i expect ArcheAge in that timeframe, as well. And, judging from all i know so far, ArcheAge is the game i expect the most right now.

Rift, on the other hand, will continue to change. What’s revealed about 3.0 so far sounds intriguing- we’ll see how that goes. Until i leave for greener pastures, i’d like to bring my mage to level and crafting cap, build a dimension or two and start playing the “side-games” of shiny-collection, fishing/survival and Achievement hunting.

Game time: Rift

Wow, yesterday i found some time- about half an hour- to play some Rift. I’ll confess, though: the new Massively columnist for Guild Wars 2 and his posting yesterday made me want to play Guild Wars 2- go ahead, read it. He almost makes it seem as if there’s a story in the game. I know, i know, some of it seems to come from the personal story quests and it’s totally my fault i didn’t get invested in it. Anyway, his writing is excellent. (Un-?)fortunately, my GW2 client decided it needed to download the whole client again- i don’t know why, but it took to long and so i found myself in the MMO i wanted to stick to.

My “second main” is situated in the Moonshade Highlands, which is a beautiful enough place, but levelling is not my main concern these days. Still, i fired up a round of Instant Adventure to finish the daily IA which granted me around 55k experience in a very reasonable amount of time.

In the Moonshade Highlands
In the Moonshade Highlands

Right now, though, my priority is to find a home dimension where i’d like to build. I got Faen’s Retreat by way of my loyalty, but i don’t really want to build that zone up, because it doesn’t seem to fit what i have in mind for my character. I’d like to build up one of the following:

  • A place where Elomina can charge her batteries. Since every build she has contains the Chloromancer Soul and will probably continue to do so, even when it’s not her main soul (i like hybrid characters of dps and some healing) it would be nice to see some green/wood area. I am kind of waiting for the Three Springs dimension, thinking that one might fit. But there might be others…the Moonshade pools look promising, as well.
  • A place where Elomina does business. I mean, you’ll have to earn some money while saving the world from all the evils, right? A tavern might be too obvious, but is still tempting.
  • A place for hobbies. Unfortunately, i haven’t decided what her hobbies are. Reading, for sure- in her home she’ll have a library (don’t know if it’s possible, but i’d try, at least). Another option would be mountain climbing – a base camp might be something that looks affordable for the beginning.

So, i guess it’ll be one of those three options, and so i spent the rest of my time looking at various dimensions and almost buying one to start building.

Another thing that’s still bothering me is the guild i’m in- i’m pretty sure that i’ll be far behind in levels in almost any guild i enter, but as i already said, it’s just strange when you can only read fragments of a conversation that happens on voice chat. I could join them, of course but it’s not really me and i’m pretty sure i’d need to always join them there to stay in touch. They seem to be nice people, but still.

What’s in a sandbox?

When i felt i couldn’t yet pin down the sandbox in EQ Next, i came to think about this- what constitutes a sandbox? Then i read Azuriels EQ Next impressions and, while he didn’t mention the term “Sandbox”, it became more clear.

World vs. game

In a world, you have options- and these options include more than choosing which mobs to fight and in what way (Rift does an excellent job in offering multiple gameplay options for mob slaughter). We all know housing as “another thing to do”. Add an involved crafting system, trade, exploration and maybe even world-building to that and you have some options for players with different play styles. The thing about MMORPGs is that they can be many games in one- there could be your economics simulation (this doesn’t seem to be the correct english word, sorry), a strategy game as well as a “city simulator” and of course your RPG in it- at least.

This possible combination of singleplayer-genres alongside the possibility to play these games with many other players (being some kind of social network, as well- which in my opinion is what made WoW so successful) is what makes MMORPGs so compelling.

There needs to be a game attached to the world- most players will want to have some kind of progress with their characters and they want to be adventurous, fight difficult enemies, craft unique items and so on.

When someone says the “G” in the MMORPG part is the least important, i really think nowadays this just means “the ‘G’ is fine as is, please focus on the other parts”- when you take a look at the newer games, i think they nailed the gameplay part- GW2’s combat is fun, then there are the slightly more strategic combat systems of WoW, EQ2, Rift, TSW and so on, which are also fun in their own way. And if you like your combat really very much on the strategic side- EVE has that covered. So the combat (and PvE-) gameplay is just fine.

Systems vs. Scripts

Now, here are two words describing the same sandbox vs. themepark / world vs. game – discussion, at least from my perspective. What we need to move the genre forward, is an implementation of systems that slowly start to replace scripts. Actually, when i think about that, there is a possibility that EQ Next has this covered. When we compare GW2 with EQN in regards to the emergent AI of mobs in EQN and dynamic events in GW2, it’s clear that in EQN, there’s this system of likes & dislikes (i’m assuming it gets implemented well), which can lead to all kinds of situations and the scripted, cyclical dynamic events of GW2 on the other hand.

Both implementations could lead, for instance, to a village being attacked by orcs/centaurs. If these orcs from EQN serve as a faction instead of mobs, you, as a player, can make a decision to help the orcs attack the village- this option is not available to you in GW2, since the centaurs are going to attack you anyway.

Now, i wonder: what will EQN do if a part of the players decide to defend the village and another part is helping the attackers? PvP would be one option- it wouldn’t be FFA-PvP, but could be restricted to this area and to this moment until the attack is either completed successfully or not. But there might be no need for that. When you don’t allow players to attack each other, this might come out as some variation of a MOBA- the only targets being the NPCs. Now, i’m really making this up as i go, since we don’t know if it’s going to work this way in EQN or not- but what was revealed at least allows for that speculation.

You can expand that line of thought, of course. Boss behaviour instead of instanced dungeons- you could let raid bosses lay down a camp somewhere in the open world and let them spread their influence outwards. If the world is big enough, there’ll always be places where these mobs could hide for some time. A trade system instead of an auction house, placing resources in a “realistic” way in the world, making rare resources rare and not just attainable at later levels. Making prizes local, allowing for caravans. Implementing a degradation system for items, so you can’t use what you have for eternity.

Player-to-player vs. Player-to-Environment

The systems in a Sandbox MMORPG should focus on interactions between players. Your equipment degrades with time, so you need a crafter to build new armor or weapons or to repair your stuff. Prizes and resources are local, so you need traders to bring the items to your area. Mobs are free to roam, so you might need experienced adventurers in your area to allow you to farm the resources and enable trade. And so on. These interdependencies need to be build into the core of the game, allowing/encouraging/forcing players to interact with each other. The trend in MMORPGs has been self-sufficiency- and this needs to be stopped.

Do we want a Sandbox MMORPG?

Is “Sandbox” the solution to the problems in the genre? Is there even a problem? The term “sandbox” is a vague one, and everybody’s going to have their own opinion about it. But that’s not really what many of us want- what we’d like to see is an MMORPG that we’ll want to play for years, not months- it’s just that i think at least some of the stuff mentioned above would be helpful in being that game.

As Azuriel put it: “All long-term compelling MMO content is player-based”. Again, i agree. Whether the game providing that is called Sandbox, Themepark, Sandpark or Themebox doesn’t really concern me- but there should be (another) one.

Sticking to one MMORPG

As mentioned on my about-page, i recently decided to stop playing multiple titles at once. The main reason for this is that i don’t play much, really. It is a beloved hobby for me, but it still is just that- according to Raptr my gaming time amounts to about 10 hours a week. That’s an amount some reach in 1 or 2 days, and in my experience even players calling themselves casual can do that in 3 or 4. Now, imagine me trying to split these 10 hours up to play Guild Wars 2, Lord of the Rings Online, The Secret World, Rift sprinkled with Defiance and/or Planetside 2. And, of course, don’t forget about singleplayer games. My backlog on those is so impressive that i wouldn’t need to worry about having something to play until the end of 2014, at least.

So i decided on two things.

First, regarding single-player games: i only buy those on sale- the Steam sales being of priority, but i wouldn’t mind spending my money elsewhere when it seems appropriate. But of course, there are temptations- right now, The Raven (i love whodunits) and Europa Universalis 4 are on that list. I won’t go into more detail here, since i called this blog Party Business and none of these titles allow for parties.

Regarding MMORPGs it’s the same thing- i decided that i’ll stop treating Guild Wars 2 and The Secret World as such. Mind you, of course they are MMORPGs- and very good ones at that. Actually, i found one of them my biggest disappointment of 2012 and the other one the biggest surprise of 2012, but i still know they’re both great games. It’s just that, i think SynCaine used that term first (can’t seem to find the actual post, unfortunately) – they are “play-to-finish MMORPGs”. They have a storyline, they are great at what they do, but they both have a point where i’d say they wouldn’t hold my interest any longer. With GW2, that would be after the 100% achievement, with TSW it would be upon finishing the story content. Both of them could still pull me in with updates and/or living story, but i could see the end of the tunnel. And this is something i don’t like in MMOs. I wouldn’t say i’m done with these two games, but i stopped trying to build a MMO rotation around them. The same goes for Defiance.

Strangely enough, not seeing the end of the tunnel is the main reason why i also decided to let go of Lord of the Rings Online. The levelling content in this game is overwhelming- my last effort here brought me into Moria, but came to a halt there. Now, i love Lotro, somehow- it’s an interesting game to play and the amount of content could be a positive, i’d love to see places like Lorien, Isengard and Rohan, but i would need to wade through Moria to reach those places. A good kinship could help, but good guilds are really hard to find and even harder to get warm with for a guy playing 10 hours a week and taking a dislike to voice chat.

Now this leaves me with Rift- some of you who read the first posting here might ask why i don’t play EVE and i would be hard pressed to answer that. Rift has some things going for it- the levelling content is there, but it’s not overwhelming, and you can level in different manners. I also much prefer the combat over the combat of Lotro. Then there are dimensions which are incredibly interesting and fit the bill of something to return to. The group options and content in general leave me with the impression of Rift being a MMORPG, i think Trion are one of the best devs/publishers out there and the free-to-play option is good. Rift doesn’t fit all of my expectations towards a MMORPG, but right now, i think it’s the best option for me. Why that is, i might explore on another post.

As long as you don’t count the temptations, again. After the reveals of EQ Next, and i have to state again that while i might sound critical of that game i really think it has the potential of being a game changer- EQ2 is singing its siren song and i can clearly hear it. So loud, in fact, that i decided to make saturday an anything-goes-day and found myself in Norrath. People say EQ2 has lots of content, interesting places to visit, good, long-lasting quests and other activities to make a longterm commitment viable, and that’s why i’ve been in Norrath three times already but made it only to level 12 by now.

Still, i’m trying to resist that call, since i’m not only looking for a good mmo home, but also for a good guild and companionship. I think, for me, the key to finding the magic of MMORPGs again lies in focus- a focus on game, guild as well as playstyle.

MMORPG criteria

Today we’ll get some Everquest Next info. In preparation i’d like to share what i wish for in MMORPGs. This wishlist won’t be complete and some things will be subjective in their evaluation. But this might still be a good starting point for a new blog.

1. Give me a world

I dislike zoning in MMOs- it spoils the sense of size for me. In Age of Conan, i couldn’t figure out where i was at any given time. It is somewhat better in GW2, where one can imagine there are only a couple of meters (feet?) between those gates. I’d like to have a big, seamless world, the best example i know of existing in Vanguard, where the climate doesn’t change suddenly when you enter a new zone/square.

To name a few things that further contribute to the worldly feeling: fewer instanced zones, and when there are, put them in the world, no cross-shard-lfg-tool, or better yet: no lfg-tool with instant ports, cities that look and feel like cities, maybe even do away with the quest “navigator” and so on.

2. Player driven economy

A “real” economy would also be quite nice. Think EVE online: different prizes for stuff at different locations, resources that are useful throughout the crafting tiers, a degradation/loss-system for non-consumables. Of course, this economy has to be complimented by a good crafting system, where a crafter can earn money, reputation and items that are of real value. Trading and Crafting should be fully supported playstyles in a MMORPG.

3. Something to return to

There should be something players would want to return to- some piece of the virtual world that belongs to them and that they can become attached to. This could be a lot of things- player housing, companions, pets, mounts, a community- there needs to be another hook needs to be added to the level and gear grind.

4. Don’t forget the RPG

In a MMORPG not everything should be easy and streamlined- the UI should be, but skill- and other systems don’t. I’d like to encounter some NPC selling rare housing items or look for skills in the world- i’d like to use a sword to get better with it without seeing naked guys running against walls all the time (see Mortal Online). The three-way-skillsystem of World of Warcraft and Diablo 3 was easy enough, there should be something built up on that, not cut down. Rift and The secret World have gone a good first step. I want to build a character, and while the game i play should try hard to help me not to gimp my character, this should be optional and still hold as many varied character building systems as possible.

5. Be fun

With all that in mind, the game needs still to be fun, and i’m not talking about “action combat” here since strategic combat can also be very engaging. I guess this one is about polish, user interface and general look & feel.

6. Player interaction

A good, long lasting MMORPG needs to steer away from soloability. Don’t let crafters gather all needed resources by themselves or operate on their own products only. Crafters, adventurers, explorers, traders should all have some reason to need the other groups or players with the same preferred playstyle. Do away with solo instances, minimize instanced or phased areas and don’t punish group play. There should be some features or systems where you can get to know other players or even some easy way to make this interdependancy less of a hassle (buy orders, for example), but please no cross-shard-instant-teleport-dungeons.

7. A varied experience

In my version of an ideal MMORPG, there should be a variety of activities- and by that i don’t mean 10 different styles of PvE encounters, although that is at least a good step. Crafting should be an activity and not a look-at-bars-filling-up-game. Trading should involve travel, exploring shouldn’t be about achievements and fighting should include encounters that are difficult without just cranking up the level and stats of the mob. There should be group quests, group areas as well as solo quests that take a long time.

8. You need to make money somehow

The business model: i don’t care if it is subscription or free-to-play. But i don’t want to be exploited and the business model needs to fit the game. I’m actually a little sceptical when it comes to the combination of sandbox and free-to-play, but i’m open to seeing it executed well.

So, i’m excited to see how Everquest Next measures up later today. I’m pretty confident EQN will at least look good in a lot of these categories, but i expect it will be vague or less good looking regarding points 2, 6 and 8.