The newbie hero

Yesterday’s post started the discussion about the perception vs the reality of a new player’s role in Darkfall, and what chance that player has of really contributing to Darkfall’s ‘end-game’ of massive PvP. It also brought up the issue of what it really means to be a hero or MVP in an MMO vs just playing/looking the part.

The first point is of course highly dependent on just who is controlling that new character. If a top-tier veteran player rerolls, his chances of being the MVP of a battle are far better than those of a random player who has yet to find a clan, but that only points towards player freedom rather than game restrictions. That the ‘average’ new player is unlikely to find himself at the center of a massive siege has little to do with game mechanics; it’s all about the social dynamic that all good MMOs heavily rely on. If today one of my friends wants to get started in Darkfall, tomorrow he can fight alongside me at a siege, wearing good quality gear and potentially playing an important role.

To get more specific, there are many aspects of the game that a totally new character is every bit as good at as a veteran. Controlling a ship or warhulk, riding a mount (stam drain aside), firing a cannon, rezzing, looting, or ganking; all of these activities are completely independent of your character’s skills. Someone with everything at 100 will shoot a cannon just as far and deal just as much damage as someone with one hour played (and if the player behind the new character has good aim, he could very easily be better at this role than the veteran).

In addition to these ‘even’ activities, a new player can still deal a non-trivial amount of damage to other players (both melee and ranged with archery), still has enough HP to take a decent amount of hits, and if geared up, looks no different than a veteran, meaning the enemy can’t pick off the new guy or decide beforehand to ignore him.

This sounds limited and simple, but when compared to other MMOs it’s actually rather amazing. What can a level 1 character do in WoW even if he belongs to a top-tier guild? He can’t hit anyone/anything. He can’t ride a mount. He dies in one hit, be it direct or AoE. He can’t rez others or finish off opponents. He can’t equip top-end gear to make himself look like a veteran or to help close the stat gap. Hell most likely he can’t even enter the same area his guildmates enter. All he can do is watch and wait until a lvl 80 comes by and one-shot whacks him. Not only this, but the situation does not change until you hit the level cap and very possibly grind out X tokens or whatever to gear up, and no amount of player skill or guild support will help close this gap. The same applies to LotRO, WAR, and I’m sure countless other MMOs.

Even EVE, which does allow newer pilots to contribute to fleet warfare far quicker than most MMOs, does not allow as much freedom or options as Darkfall offers to a new character. Flying a frigate is not nearly the same as being the captain of a Man-o-War, or roasting an incoming wave of players with a flame cannon.

Oh and roasting an incoming wave of players with a flame cannon is the stuff of legend, which brings me to the second topic; being a hero. In MMOs like WoW there is no shortage of NPCs telling you that you just saved the farm/village/world, and every other item you trip over is some legendary artifact of godslaying power. Yet what can actually be accomplished in-game that would truly make you a hero is so very limited. The guild that opened the gates of AQ did something special (per server), world first guilds do something special, and the top arena team is distinguished. But when you look at what is possible in WoW, the hero/grunt ratio is amazingly lopsided. Your odds of being part of a world first, a top arena team, or the focal point of a one-off event (do those even happen anymore?) are incredibly slim.

No, the closest you will get to playing the role of a hero will be when your guild, thanks to a 25% ezmode buff, takes down the same boss someone got a world-first on a few months ago, walking in their exact steps since you just watched their youtube video telling you what to do. But don’t worry, the NPC at the end will still call you a hero, and you will still wear your godslayer trinket with pride. Just like the thousands of others before you, and the thousands of others who will follow. Being a superhero is not all that special when you live in a world where the superheroes outnumber the ‘normal’ people, just like saving the world is a rather dull event when it’s your 29th time doing it, this week, and you only need to save it 43 more times to earn your sack of godslaying fairy dust.

In contrast, there are no ‘save the world’ quests in Darkfall. There are no ‘unique’ items. There are no ‘final’ bosses to slay or ‘final’ dungeons/areas to complete. A city can be sieged, resieged, and resieged again. A lost ship or warhulk can be remade, a destroyed city rebuilt, and any lost gear can be collected again. And yet I’ve had nights that far and away blow any ‘epic’ quest out of the water in terms of being a memorable, heart pounding, hold-your-breath-till-the-end event.

I play on a server where anyone remotely involved knows who the top players are, knows just how good they are, and knows to fear/respect them on the battlefield. I play on a server that is, more or less, controlled by just a few influential individuals all vying for power, where one move will shape not only the course of their clan and alliance, but of countless others. And I play a game where, in the right situation, I can take down one of those feared players, or turn the tide of a battle and a war to crush one leader’s dreams and position another for power. I can witness, take part in, and potentially influence the outcome of an event that affects close to everyone on the server. And it’s this potential that eventually leads to heroic moments and legendary events. They don’t happen daily, and you might never be in just the right situation to be an unlikely hero, but the fact that the possibility exists is what makes it a thrilling virtual world.

I’d much rather have the possibility of being an actual hero than to be called one in an indistinguishable sea of them.

Chuck-o-the-day: Chuck Norris employs a stunt double for his crying scenes.

(DarkFall-related post disclaimer/reminder. If you click the image link near the top-right of this page and buy a DarkFall account, I get paid 20% of the client cost. If you believe this taints my views and reporting on DarkFall, your opinion is wrong.)

22 Responses to The newbie hero

  1. Sean says:

    A lot of mainstream PvE MMOs suffer somewhat from the dichotomy of their PvE gameplay: primarily solo questing until an arbitrary level cutoff and then cooperative, large group based encounters. I think it’s a major failing on the developers of these games parts that these two forms of gameplay are so disparate, and in WoW’s case the one linking element – 5 man dungeons – does little to “prepare” players to participate in the endgame raiding content.

    I say “prepare” because in your post you’re conflating two senses of that word. A Darkfall player might be able to join you on a siege day one from a formal mechanics perspective (ie they will do damage, they can man a cannon, etc). What they can’t necessarily do, or at least can’t do well if the game has any depth, is make a meaningful contribution because of the dearth of player skill. I would think that no matter how skilled a person might otherwise be at lining up one pixel over another, they would still fail spectacularly in an important PvP encounter due simply to not understanding all the other mechanics at work and the meta-strategies that have emerged in the community over time.

    I find it ironic that you criticize WoW on the former sense of preparedness, a formal sense in which gear and character skills are the measure, when it has done so much recently to remove gear as a barrier to entry to end game content. I watched a guildie yesterday hop into the newest raid content a day after hitting the level cap and meaningfully contribute. How is that possible? For one because he had guild support to make gear for him to serve as a stopgap until he can get some their own. More importantly, however, he is a very skilled player, familiar with both the class mechanics and raid dynamics. The barrier to entry to raiding in WoW used to be gear but it has now shifted much more to player skill. Unfortunately, WoW has little in the way of ingame mechanics to teach new players those skills, relying like most MMOs on the community to cultivate and serve as a repository for such knowledge.

    • Mala says:

      You’re splitting hairs. The fact that WoW has made the leveling process very fast, and lowered the barriers to entry on end game content doesn’t change the fact that the mechanics isn’t in the first place. You seem to be saying that what matters is that once a player is max level they can get involved more quickly than they used to. That isn’t the point. The point is that there are 79 levels where it doesn’t matter AT ALL how good you are. Of course player skill matters in WoW to an extent once you are talking about people with the same character level, and similar (read, at least level appropriate) gear levels. But you are quibbling about the precise details while missing the big picture here.

      • Sean says:

        The bigger picture that I was responding to was the implication that a day one player in Darkfall can meaningfully contribute to “endgame” activities versus something like WoW where that is not possible. Darkfall still gates character progression via a use/skill based system, but Syncaine’s claim was that a competent player playing iOwNZjOO39 could be something more than cannon fodder in the early going. However, Syncaine ignored the period of learning the game, and mastering its basic procedures, that is a part of any game even the most simplistic. I sure hope there is more to being effective, even viable, in Darkfall than “having good aim”. From everything I’ve read here and elsewhere, there sure seems to be.

        WoW and its ilk have a larger barrier to entry to the endgame content than something like Darkfall, at least in terms of time investment. How that time investment compares to the time it takes for someone to be “viable” in a game like EVE or Darkfall would be an interesting topic to explore. At least for WoW, the time to level cap can be very low (<3 days played) given changes to the leveling mechanics.

        The major difference though is that WoW's endgame isn't the only game it offers. The journey getting there should be compelling in its own right and for many players it is. A lot of people, probably most of the active subscribers, never reach or play at the level cap, preferring instead to quest or PvP on multiple lower level characters. Apparently, they (by the millions) find that content engaging. I think a lot of it could be improved to be more interesting, and apparently not only does Blizzard agree but they're doing something about it to the tune of WoW 2.0 otherwise known as Cataclysm.

        Darkfall and EVE have few if any of the rides of themeparks like WoW. You build your own fun, hopefully, without the direct prompting or facilitation of the game. WoW has lots of rides and a tiny, more sandboxy area in the corner called "Arena PvP" and "High-end raiding".

  2. sid67 says:

    I think one of the major differences between players who enjoy PvP versus players who enjoy PvE are how they view heroism in an MMO.

    To the PvP-minded player, you are only the hero if you are better than other players. Players in a “top raiding guild” also have this mentality because their “competition” are the other raiding guilds.

    Whereas, the PvE-minded player has goals that are focused on defeating NPCs and other PvE content.

    I think for the PvE player, the WoW “hero” is a perfectly fine adaptation and everyone CAN be a hero by defeating the PvE objectives like quests and such.

    For the PvP player, well — that just doesn’t cut it. Never will. And that’s where I think you find yourself, Syncaine.

    You identify with that PvP view that YOU can only be at the top only if YOU are better than other players.

    I just think what you need to realize is that’s not a true statement for everyone.

    Clearly, plenty of people can feel like a “hero” when their only competition are the NPCs that they collectively take down with their guildmates.

    There will always be games that appeal to people like that and I don’t think there is anything wrong with it.

    • Mala says:

      This is basically true, I think.

      I actually relate it to sports (of course there are e-sports, but that isn’t really what I’m getting at here).

      When I was younger, i played sports, I did it basically from the time I was 5, until I graduated from high school. I no longer play any sports, but I still have that spirit of friendly competition (i make the distinction because its not so that I care whether or not I win or lose, I just care that whether I win or lose is actually a result of the competition). MOSTLY the MMO genre doesn’t offer this. A few do, though it is more common in the FPS and RTS scenes.

      Its also a difference in game v. meta game in some sense. In the context of the WoW universe, your character did help save the day for real. In real life, you just did a quest. If some sense, if you are willing to suspend disbelief and buy into it, you can feel like the hero. Of course, its much easier to do in a single player game than an MMO in my personal opinion, especially since so many MMO mechanics aside from the quests focus on the meta game themselves (badge collecting, loot collecting, mount collecting).

      I guess its more complicated than just that, but its just sort of a quick and dirty version of my views on it. I’ll elaborate if I wasn’t clear.

    • SynCaine says:

      Certainly nothing wrong with it, but don’t you find it at least a little bit odd to only consider the opinion of an NPC in an MMO? When I play a single player game I feel heroic even though it’s an NPC saying it, but that is a core difference between an MMO and a single player game. I play an MMO because its massive and multiplayer. Take that away, and why are we logging in?

      I guess what I’m trying to say is that isolated gameplay (solo heroes in an instance) is just a very, very odd thing to occur in an MMO, at least the way I view MMOs.

      • sid67 says:

        I know you haven’t played Wrath, but there is a really cool quest chain called the “Veteran of the Wrathgate” in which some pretty major events happen in what amounts to a mini-instance. Likewise, the Deathknight starter quests are pretty neat and tell a compelling story.

        Now they aren’t the game itself, but they do serve to make YOU feel like a hero and are very powerful and memorable because they aren’t just quest text. They are actual events that take you participate in. Other players at a similar stage might even be with you.

        So ya — it’s a weird thing in an MMO but I do think it has it’s place. Because what it does is provide a more compelling and immersive backstory for multiplayer events (raids, dungeons, etc). If that’s all there was, then ya, what’s the point in it being an MMO. But for advancing a story and making future parts believable (you killing Arthas, etc) it makes other group PvE much more immersive.

        And at the end of the day, if you can overcome your disbelief and feel heroic — well, more power to you.

        I see it as a difference in mentality. PvE is all about telling a story. Everyone CAN be the hero of their own story.

        PvP is about winning. So you can’t feel heroic without being better than the other guy. So no, everyone CAN’T be the hero.

        • Mala says:

          Also, I don’t think its PvE is about story, PvP is about winning, not that simple. You could make the argument that in PvE it is about your “a” story (generally a story written by writers who work for the developer). But PvP (in an MMO at least) is about the story of everyone. The sum total of the events that have happened in Darkfall are the story of the game. In fact, its closer to a history. They were actual events that happened. The story is created simply by people playing. Sure, everyone can’t be the hero, but everyone can and does play a part simply by logging into the game.

          In WoW I don’t feel like I’m playing a part, I’m just reading a book. Now, thats fine I love books, but I think video games can and should offer so much more than that when it comes to story. I think thats the core difference to my mind. What happens to the story in WoW if a quest tells me to go to one castle and kill some guys, but I go to another one? Nothing, the story stays the same. What happens if we choose to attack one city in Darkfall instead of another? I think the effect is obvious.

        • sid67 says:

          I think that’s a good way to explain it.

          One approach is like reading a book with others in which you and your friends are the protagonist. It’s the reading with others part that makes it an MMO.

          The other approach is that your reading the story. You are the one writing it and just happen to be writing it in a shared world. Which means that sometimes people can erase the things you wrote. :)

          I happen to enjoy both approaches. And sometimes it totally depends on the mood. I certainly think that Darkfall could benefit from at least some pre-written stories. Not really the quest variety, but more of the backstory type that gives some meaning to the Story of the World.

  3. Dblade says:

    I’d like to know how many newbies are in your guild, and how many of them do the things you describe, please.

    • syncaine says:

      When my two buddies signed up for DF, they got right into Inq, and at that time VAMP was still active in sieges. They attended those.

      I don’t have the link, but on the forums someone recently posted that during their trial they attended a siege and had a blast helping out on a ship. I’ve seen similar threads before as well.

      Does it happen to everyone? Of course not. But it happens more than you would think due to the amount of people signing up because someone they already know is playing and having a good time.

    • Kilratha says:

      I found a city we were in being raided (this was back on EU1) by a small group. I was already on the wall so decided I would run up to the fire cannon to try and help. (all my skills are ass and If I had jumped down I would have surely just died) As I got on the fire cannon I saw a small group of our allies (about 4 on foot) being forced back to the wall by a group of about seven (on mounts). I opened fire and it took about two shots just to zero it in, but the third and fourth shots landed perfectly on their group (couple of allies got hit as well…oops but they lived) I was doing a good bit of damage to them with it though and they turned and started running away after i hit them a few more times allowing the small group of allies to turn around and take chase after them now opening fire on them with bows. If I remember right one mount was brought down but they just spawned another one and took off. (back in the day when you could carry 10 of them if you wanted)

      This was not on “day one” mind you but my skills / levels were horrible and if I had just jumped down to help I would not have done anything but gotten myself killed. Instead I was able to contribute in other ways and turned the tide of their little raid. I personally felt like a hero of sorts.

      The was just in a simple city raid and not a siege, but I have had similar moments in them as well. Mind you my skills are just a tad bit higher now than they were then :) I have landed the killing blow on a couple of really big names on NA1 during sieges and though one on one they would own me EVERY time without even breaking a sweat, during a siege my bow shot is what took them down. ANYONE can contribute even on day one.

  4. Blud says:

    Here’s a new non-snarky article on DF:

    http://www.massively.com/2010/07/02/darkfall-teases-new-environmental-sounds/#continued

    I guess Jef Reahard got liberated from covering AoC. I hope he enjoys DF and can write some good articles about the game.

    • Blud says:

      Nevermind, I think he’s playing EQ2 as well as AoC now. I guess they had no one else at Massively who wanted to do the bit on Darkfall.

  5. nnn says:

    Monty Python on modern MMOs:

  6. Bhagpuss says:

    Bit late to thread, but never mind. I think Mala makes a lot of good points above. I do feel that a huge amount depends on how easily you deal with the metagame. The significance of any action is largely that which you attach to it, or that which more than one person agrees to attach. There’s not really an objective standard of significance against which to measure a given action in a video game.

    On the specifics of in-game “heroism” I personally detest having NPCs go on about my characters being “heroes”. Generally I think it’s none of their business and even it is they are often ridiculously hyperbolic. I much prefer it when the NPCs are rude and dismissive. Best of all is when they actually take credit for what my character has done, something which always amuses me inordinately.

    That guard in WoW who doesn’t like his posting and has you killing umpteen fishmen on his behalf, which he then takes credit for with his superior officers to try and get himself moved to somewhere better had me laughing out loud, for example.

    In terms of actually feeling “heroic” while playing (pretty ludicrous concept but there you go), it’s small things that I find create that particular chemical hit. Healing a group through a bad pull deep in a dungeon in EQ always did it for me. The knowledge that you hadn’t just saved some characters on the screen but you’d saved six people from an hour of fighting back down just to do a CR gave a nice double-layered warm glow.

    In the end, though, I think the satisfaction of feeling like a hero is something you bring to the game, not something the game brings to you. So different people will find it in very different circumstances.

  7. Obmar says:

    Syncaine – GDI!

    Come play APB (bring Remastered, Allerion, and Aria with you… and read this!)

    http://www.casualtiesguild.com/forums/showthread.php?t=3809

    • SynCaine says:

      Going away for two weeks (honeymoon), so not going to be playing anything for a bit. Once I’m back the next DF expansion will be right around the corner as well, so not likely to have much time.

  8. Obmar says:

    Remastered – How else to contact you but via this blog eh? Smart of me yes? Come play APB you tard – you’ll love it – i guarantee…

    Syn & Aria = HONEYMOON! Grats to you both :)

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