The death of Guild Wars 2

August 24, 2012

Tonight Guild Wars 2: The Dream dies, to be replaced by Guild Wars 2: The Reality, and for many the best MMO ever will cease to exist. Fear not, the cycle of life in MMO land will go on, and the next ‘savior’ should be with us in a month or two.

Not since Warhammer Online have we seen a game get this much hype pre-release (Tortanic was 90% corporate hype, as all but a few (paid?) fans believe it was going to work. Rift was very 50/50 pre-release), and the similarities are interesting. Both games came from trusted studios with MMO experience, with well-known brands, and very positive beta feedback. Both games share a familiar themepark base, but claim to mix it up significantly thanks to X and Y (PQs/Events, RvR/WvW, hotbar+ combat). Both games provide plenty of PvE content, but are ultimately relying on PvP for the ‘real’ ‘endgame’.

And while I don’t believe GW2 will share a fate similar to WAR, where the bubble burst fairly quickly and crushing flaws never get fixed, I don’t believe it’s totally out of the realm of possibility. It’s easy now to look back on WAR and say ‘broken’, but even deep into beta everything seemed to be working like a charm and people were LOVING the game. ‘White shades’ is what people today remember about WAR hype, but look back to 2009 and you will realize the hype was just as loud from fans in beta as it was from a guy lying about bears.

And even if GW2 does deliver, and it is a solid game, it will still disappoint some. There are plenty of people who have been ‘playing’ GW2: The Dream for 3-4 years, yet how many of them are going to be playing GW2: The Reality for that long? How many of them will have MORE fun actually playing than they did ‘playing’ with others on forums/blogs/podcasts/etc, dreaming about what might be? Going ‘all in’ on the MMO hype cycle can itself be all-consuming, and what does the software actually have to deliver to justify those years of waiting, reading, analyzing, and hoping? Are those people going to be satisfied just having fun playing 2-4 months after waiting 2-4 years?


Day-one mastery

June 29, 2012

Keen has a nice post about why he is finding current-day MMOs lacking, especially in immersion. I think what Keen writes is something many (most?) MMO players feel, whether they actually know it or not. A major issue with MMOs cloning WoW is that today, everyone is already really good at WoW, and so a major chunk of ‘content’ (learning the game) is instantly missing from whatever AAA MMO you load up.

This is a major reason why, despite having access, I only played GW2 a tiny bit during the first BWE event; just enough to know the game was decent-enough to play with INQ and my wife. Because while GW2 is set to cure all MMO woes, it does so in very familiar fashion. You are still mashing a hotbar, you are still going from lower level zones to higher, still collecting ever-increasing gear, and you still have an end-game where you bash people/doors/npcs until… well until you are bored (or for a small subset, until your server sits at the top).

The details of all of the above is what will make GW2 interesting, and there will be some changes thrown in (ooh, dodge), but learning those will take minutes rather than years, and because this is a mass-market game, the learning will be terrible accessible and dummy-proof.

The ride itself will undoubtedly be pretty, it will have some ‘ooh neat’ moments, and the time spent with it will be entertaining. But I have absolutely no doubts that GW2 will not be immersive. It won’t be something that sucks you in and challenges you on that level for months if not years. It won’t be the land of unique MMO stories, where a year after release we are reading about how a small group of players just discovered a new way of doing… anyway. And all of that is 100% fine, so long as you go in with reasonable expectations. I fear many are not, but what can you do.

Back to the larger point; in the days of the big three, immersion worked not only because no one really knew this MMO thing, but because each game had little in common with the other two. Simply put UO did not play or work like EQ1 in any way, and what AC-DT was doing was also completely different. If you put UO next to EQ and added up the similarities, and did the same for WoW and GW2, which total would be higher? And by how much?

On top of this, figuring each game out took longer, mostly thanks to the games being less accessible and the ‘how this works’ never being officially explained. This lead to information being posted elsewhere, but at that time half of what you read was still wrong. Today not only can you get every system explained to you on one site, but that one site is almost certainly accurate. If today I want to know the absolute best build for a GW2 character, I’m only one Google search away.

As always, the current-day exception to this is EVE. The lack of accessibility in EVE means you are left to figure many things out either on your own or in your group. The wealth of options means that while you can master one aspect, there are dozens of unrelated things you know nothing about. A great null-sec pilot is a noob in WH space, for instance, and to truly become a master of everything not only requires a massive amount of time, it’s also very, very optional. You would have to force yourself to jump from area to area of the game frequently just to experience it all, and that’s not very realistic for a variety of reasons.

What EVE loses by those dropping off before the first month due to the complexity it makes up for (and then some) from those who are 4 year vets and still have things to learn. The PvP-based nature of EVE also means that not only will that 4 year vet have game systems to learn; he will constantly be adjusting his gameplay due to other players and shifting tactics.

It would be difficult for a new MMO to replicate the complexity and depth of EVE on launch day, simply because unlike WoW, EVE has actually been expanding (rather than replacing) its content over the years. But while it would be unrealistic to expect years of complexity on day one, more than a month is not asking too much, is it?


Bucket of rage

June 20, 2012

Random ranting incoming:

One ‘awesome’ feature does not an MMO make.

“TESO is a copy/paste puddle of fail, but feature X looks interesting”. A cute gimmick feature can make an iPhone game worth the buck and download. It won’t get people to subscribe to your MMO for years.

You know what feature separated Asheron’s Call from Ultima Online? Everything. Why was DAOC different from the previous big three MMOs? Because it was, from its roots to its end-game. Way too many MMOs today look identical in all aspects but one or two, and yet devs are surprised people are ‘burning out’ at an accelerated rate. Combine this with the MMO model being one of KEEPING people interested, rather than just GETTING them interested like a single-player game, and the failtrain is pulling into the station earlier and earlier these days. When people can write off your game after your first interview (SW:TOR , TESO), you might want to reconsider some things.

Three faction PvP is the new MMO cure-all.

Can we stop this already? Yes, after DAOC everyone was asking for three faction PvP instead of the two-sided stuff that WoW and its clones were doing. And yes, it’s sad that it’s 2012 and we are just now getting titles coming out that may have it. And yes, in general 3-sided PvP is better than two, but already the concept has been screwed and cheapened.

You know why factions worked in DAOC? Because you had ugly dwarves vs hippy elves vs asshat humans, and most people could identify with one side and hate what the other two represented. DAOC had three factions, who happen to fight over stuff. Hate keeps people logging in and bashing doors or space structures. Fact not opinion™.

It’s not “three faction” PvP if you take your only ‘faction’, split it evenly into three groups, and have them fight off in a corner and then come back to hug it out. If there is no buy-in or hatred, it won’t work long-term, and long-term is kinda the goal here.

Stop talking about your game years before its release.

If your release date can still be counted in years, stfu. If I can’t play your beta in a few weeks, I don’t care, and consider your title 100% vaporware. Feel free to prove me wrong, but do so quietly. Dominus, Copernicus, Embers of Cearus, DF2.0, the list goes on. Any intern with Google can create an awesome-looking list of MMO features. Before they deliver anything everyone is always convinced they not only know what previous titles did wrong, but how to fix it. And of course, come beta (if beta ever comes), we find out that 99% of what you said all these years can be summed up as “bears bears bears” and you just released a horrible version of WoW.

Bonus points to those who, after their MMO is shut down, continue to talk about how amazing their MMO was. If your game was worth a crap, it would not have been canned, but obviously whatever it was you were showing to those with money did not look nearly ‘awesome’ enough for anyone to throw you a few bucks.

Double bonus because no one can ever claim your ‘awesome’ feature was in fact trash, since you never made it far enough for anyone to see. Your e-rep is safe, yo!

Kickstarter.

Kickstarter is about as trendy right now as updating your Twitter or Facebook was yesterday. And while the general concept is cool (vote with your wallet), can we at least get projects that have SOMETHING completed before you ask for money? Like I’m pretty sure if I copy/pasted by “PvE MMO design” post into Kickstarter today, I’d have a million bucks tomorrow. And I could probably hit two million by copy/pasting some obscure MMOs art and making a ‘dev video’ talking about how my combat system is the most “fluid, lifelike, immersive” system ever, and how my housing/ship/war/econ/political system has the depth of a full-on sim title, all within a “massive, unique” world. STFU or start your beta.

In totally unrelated news, I finally finished my Baldur’s Gate 1 game, and having started BG2, I still can’t believe the same company behind those games made SW:TOR. It’s like Grey Goose releasing a new flavor called sewage water. Just disgusting.

Also BG1 is a better sandbox than most ‘sandbox’ titles today, but that’s another post.


The early bashing of TESO, and what it might mean

June 18, 2012

I find the defensive nature of the Elder Scroll MMO devs interesting. The game is not close to release, no one has seen it in action, let alone played it, yet already ‘fans’ are objecting and raising complaints, and the devs are trying to settle the crowds. Not that I believe the criticism is not warranted, mind you, but when has an MMO been under this much fire this early?

To me this suggests two things. One is that more and more gamers are tired of WoW clones. ‘Vets’ of the genre have felt this way for some time now (2008 yo), yet sales of clones have been decent in recent years, indicating that how ‘vets’ felt was not representative of the majority. SW:TOR changes this in a major way. Yes, the game sold a good number of boxes for an average game, but SW:TOR was anything but average in terms of project cost and hype. That SW:TOR only peaked at 1.7m is telling, and its rapid decline, supplemented by EA’s dismissal of the game being ‘important’ to the company, only hammer this home.

The second consideration is that the average MMO gamer seems to be moving back to the roots of the genre, albeit slowly. GW2 is no UO in terms of sandbox design, but many of its features are directly intended to move it away from WoW, rather than evolve it, and fans have responded to this approach. When TESO proudly announces that it’s WoW but ‘better’, it’s notable that many today see this as a major problem rather than something to cheer.

It will be interesting to see if an MMO comes along that strikes the right design balance of MMO longevity with casual ‘accessibility’. I believe WoW had that during its initial run, if somewhat imperfectly, but no game has come close since. Most have been far too ‘accessibly’, with gamers facerolling for a month or so and leaving bored. Others have achieved the longevity aspects, but at the price of excluding all but the most dedicated. As the genre escaped the flawed shadow of current-day WoW, I’m fairly confided such a title will come along.

When is the billion dollar question.

And sadly, it certainly sounds like TESO is not that title.


GW2: The game Mythic tried to make

April 30, 2012

Let me get this out of the way first; GW2 is worth the $60. If it had a sub I’d feel differently, but as it does not, what GW2 does is worth the $60. All of the below is based on getting a character to level 15 and ‘finishing’ the first zone, and playing a few more to 5-6.

Overall GW2 is good-enough, but where all of the jesus MMO talk started I’m not quite sure. It’s not that, at all, and if you go into it thinking it will be you will walk away very disappointed.

In a nutshell, GW2 PvE is what WAR must have been like before EA told Mythic to make WAR more like WoW. Your PvE options are public quests and area rep-grinds. The hype about GW2 PQs progressing and feeling ‘natural’ is just that, hype. You will see the same PQ repeat frequently, and none that I’ve experienced so far have an impact beyond perhaps turning off a warp point. The rep-grinds are exactly what you would expect; some basic tasks you can complete in an area to get some XP/items. Rounding out the options are ‘hidden’ mini-quests and the occasional rare spawn.

Not that the above makes GW2 PvE bad mind you. It can be pretty decent when things line up, but reinvent the PvE wheel ArenaNet did not. Still, getting WAR’s PvE right is a good thing, and something Mythic never actually pulled off. Bears bears bears does apply to GW2, so it has that going for it.

I won’t talk too much about PvP simply because in the first three days PvP looks nothing like it will three months in. What works or does not today is almost irrelevant.

GW2’s combat is what I want to talk at length about, because it’s here I’m most disappointed. It still feels like it did back when I played the game at PAX. It’s not as “stand and trade” as WoW, but it’s not the ‘action combat’ of Darkfall either. It’s this odd space in-between, where you can dodge sometimes, sometimes not, and hits require ‘real’ range but not really. It’s a tab-targeting system, but also one that will allow you to hit a skill and have it go on cooldown even if you are out of range. There is no friendly-fire, but you can hit an enemy you were not targeting it if happened to be along the path of your attack.

For example, you can circle-strafe to ‘bug out’ mob AI at range, like in DF, but not all the time. It depends on whether the mob has an “I’ll always hit you” attack, or a dodge-able ability. Same goes for using the terrain; you can bug the mobs out sometimes, but others they will just ‘cheat’ and climb up a cliff to get you. In WoW you can never do this because all mobs ‘cheat’, and in DF they never do. In GW2, it’s 50/50, which is very inconsistent and feels off.

I like that GW2 has a very limited number of abilities per weapon/class, and the swap weapon feature adds some nice depth, but why does the game still have auto-attack? Is it action combat, or Simon Says? Furthermore, auto-attack itself is very powerful, which reduces the player-skill cap and allows ‘bad’ players to still contribute a significant amount. This is somewhat of a non-factor in PvE, but in PvP it matters. In a high player-skill game like DF, one very good player could take out 20 ‘bads’, which is why elite groups worked. Even grossly outnumbered, they could still win, and taking down that elite player was very rewarding. With the power of auto-attack and tab-targeting in GW2, I’m having a hard time seeing that possibility. Elite players will still flock to each other, and they will still dominate WvW, but they will be forced to do so in large numbers, which is an all-around bad thing.

Some other random thoughts:

Graphically I think GW2 looks good, but not mind-blowing. The lack of DX11 is noticeable.

The personal story was solid in terms of single-player, one-off content. It’s not Skyrim, but it’s a step above the average MMO quest.

Having to use a weapon for X amount of time until you open up all the skills feels very much like WoW’s old weapon skill; a pointless penalty for finding a different weapon that long-term has zero impact. Same goes for unlocking weapon switching at level 9; its 8 levels you have to get through to play your ‘real’ character.

I’d caution anyone writing how great the ‘community’ felt. Its beta and everyone knows there is a wipe coming. People play very differently under those conditions compared to launch, especially in an MMO with a PvP end-game and 80 levels to ‘get through’ to fully reach it.

Level scaling felt horribly off to me. Fighting anything one level above you was a heroic effort, and anything two levels or more was going to roll you (unless you bug it out at range of course). This, combined with the down-leveling mechanic, meant that crossing a newbie field that happens to have one higher-level mob resulted in death, despite the fact that your character is really much stronger now than when he crossed that field 10 levels before. It’s immersion breaking in the worse way.

Getting item drops at your ‘real’ level off lower-level mobs is a smart design decision, assuming no-one figures out a great way to exploit it. Place your bets on that happening now.

My wife played the game for about 20 minutes, asked if she could stop, and commented that it would likely be a fun game in a group, but was the same boring stuff solo.

Over the weekend, I was playing GW2 when nothing was going on in EVE. When something was, it was not difficult to switch. Make what you will of that.

The login issues of Friday night happened again Saturday. Server switching did eventually work. I ran across a few bugs, but nothing horrible like a CTD.

Looking forward to another weekend and trying out a different class to 10+. The human warrior I played was interesting, while the human necro did little for me.


Three amazing games and everyones favorite mistake

April 16, 2012

In shocking news no one saw coming, SW:TOR is doing really well. Someone should start a “is it 6 months yet?” meme. That would be cute. Hey at least the game is free now, how very FFXIV of EAWare.

Speaking of cute, I picked up the Path of Exile beta for $10. Money well spent already. While I’m not the biggest fan of that genre, and it’s hard to play anything but EVE at the moment, PoE has some interesting mechanics and makes for a nice little break. I’d say more but plenty have said it already. If you like this style of game, PoE might be the best example in years.

Random thoughts about Skyrim, as I’m still playing that a bit as well; is it just me or is the game more fun at the beginning and until level 20 or so? I find I complete one major chain (thieves’ guild, mage’s guild, the war, the main quest) and then start a new character rather than use that same one to continue. It’s not just that you get too powerful, but that the whole thing gets… boring. I feel like Skyrim as a world is so amazing, and the stories are so good, that the whole ‘game’ aspect of it, the leveling and different abilities and such, just get in the way. Simple early-game combat and story are what I like.

Also playing with the realistic lighting mod, and having dungeons be truly dark, makes it easier to skip all the little chests and such since you can’t see most of them. Dungeon running now is about seeing the major content and just enjoying the scenery (made even more amazing by the lighting mod), rather than opening ever last barrel for 7 gold pieces.

Quick note about INQ-E: I’ve put a halt on recruitment for the moment. We have enough players in the WH to make that work, and for totally new players we don’t have the Empire presence to make us an appealing corp. If someone is still interested, I would recommend working on your pilot towards WH life, and joining our public channel to hang out. If we end up opening recruitment back up, you will be ready and able to contribute faster.


EVE: Fanfest, Dust bombing

March 22, 2012

Watched some of the EVE Fanfest stream. CCP showed off Dust orbital bombardment from within EVE, which was a bit unexpected. I’m still trying to figure out how the pacing is all going to work out. I mean by the time you setup a bombardment, get the EVE pilot to fire, is it even going to matter on the ground anymore where people are running around so fast? That’s the biggest question I have.

The other more general question is; will Dust actually be a fun shooter? Hard to tell just from videos. It looks good, but then most shooters do. I think the model, F2P, is a smart move since the game will rely on critical mass to really work, and F2P allows more people in than you would otherwise get.

The lack of a PC version is somewhat of a big miss, but I’m guessing Sony paid a good chunk of money to get Dust as an exclusive (for now). Assuming the ‘for now’ part ends at some point, Dust might be a nice side game for EVE players to jump into. It would make for a good Corp event, to have everyone log into Dust for a night and blast away.

Tomorrow Fanfest focuses on EVE itself, and I’m guessing we will hear some interesting stuff.

As for INQ-E, tonight is our first attempt at fielding an all-Corp Incursion fleet, which should be fun. Last night we had our in-Corp cheap-frig PvP event, which went very well and people learned a few tricks. I plan to expand on that concept, either moving up to Cruisers, or perhaps going on a cheap-frig roam to get blown up. Either way the goal is to get people working together, and to get us more PvP-ready for whatever future plans we act on.


GW2: Microtransactions, fantasy PLEX

March 20, 2012

Full post here. Key line:

it’s never OK for players who spend money to have an unfair advantage over players who spend time.

This is good, and hopefully ArenaNet sticks to this. Unlike most devs, I currently have no reason to believe they won’t, or that they might try to pull a Turbine and twist the statement around once things get rough.

Finally, I’m happy to see ArenaNet ‘borrowing’ from the right source in the genre, and using CCP’s PLEX system. The fact that the dev blog outright admits it’s the PLEX system is also something I appreciate; there is no shame in borrowing a good idea, and there is no need to pretend you invented the wheel when you do (Hi EAWare). It will be interesting to see what kind of economic balance GW2 has, since PLEX in part works because the economy in EVE works.


GW2’s perfect storm

February 24, 2012

Ah back to blogging. Odd how even a few days away gets me twitching.

I have an EVE update post coming, but wanted to get these GW2-based thoughts out first.

Queues in GW2 WvW: Honestly it’s the second best solution, and the best (be CCP) is technically impossible for the rest of the industry. If one assumes GW2 will actually perform like an MMO, and not die after the first 1-3 months, populations should stabilize and people can move around until the odds of hitting a queue are low, or the queue itself is short. I would much rather sit in a 5 minute queue during prime time to get into WvW than get in instantly to some pre-packaged 10v10 or 40v40 instance of non-factorism. That said queue rage will be epic the first week of release, and the tears will be delicious.

As for the rest of the info/videos released from the press beta weekend, none of it really changes my mind about GW2. I’m still looking forward to it, and I still expect it to be decent. I think GW2 will be a fun 3-6 months, and then something to wander back to during slow gaming times, but I just don’t see it raising the MMO bar going forward or becoming a stand-out, must-play MMO long-term (unless the WvW ranking/competition aspect takes off, then the game might be somewhat of a massive-scale arena PvP hybrid game, which would be interesting).

With that said, I do think ArenaNet is going to benefit from a bit of a perfect storm situation. The last year+ in the MMO genre has been one failed release after another, and the latest and biggest, SW:TOR, is even more disappointing than even I had expected. Along with new failures, WoW itself has not stagnated, but gotten noticeably worse (linear idiot-proof questing + ‘hard’ raiding; good job interns). On top of all that, shockingly, the themepark model does not have the legs more traditional MMOs have, and so whether you are playing a failure themepark or not, the whole formula has grown stale for many/most.

So here comes GW2, the first AAA MMO in a while that is not a direct copy/paste job of WoW. For many ‘casual’ players, it will be the first MMO in a long time/ever that is not a hotbar smashfest, that has PvP as a feature rather than an afterthought, and that is more massive than a four-person insta-queue silent loot collecting trip (sorry, silent but fully voiced loot collecting trip). That alone will make GW2 special to MMO players that just don’t know a whole lot about the genre (but oh god prepare for the forum idiocy as WoWbies ask for a DF and welfare epics), much like WoW was special for so many because even the most basic stuff, like seeing another player in a city, was something new for them.

The bitter-vet in me knows GW2 ‘active’ combat is semi-active compared to Darkfall, or that their ‘massive’ maps are blips in EVE’s scope, but I fully understand that bitter-vet status is rare in the grand scheme of things, and that it’s not the AAA space that is really going to push the genre forward in significant ways. Hell, I’m just happy GW2 is not a copy/paste WoW. That alone is (sadly) worth celebrating in the AAA MMO space.


GW2 WvWvW – The new Alterac Valley!

February 16, 2012

This looks familiar.

Three-way Alterac Valley that persists for two weeks, with an ELO system and DAoC relics/keeps. Not that the above is bad. God knows we have seen far worse attempts at MMO PvP (Hi WAR/AoC/Aion).

Maxing out at about 300 players fighting it out is pretty good. Impossible if you ask Blizzard or BioWare. And sure, Darkfall has had bigger battles, and 300 people is a small skirmish in EVE (lulz but it’s in space so it’s ez to do right guyz!?), but overall, 300 is still decent by ‘genre norms’. I’m curious to hear what happens to the 301st person who tries to enter WvWvW though. Do they go into a queue, are WvWvW areas going to be sharded, or are GW2 servers going to be so small as to make this a non-issue?

The level/gear aspect is disappointing, but not exactly unexpected. Hopefully your iLvL = I-Win for PvP, and player-skill plays an important aspect, but I have my doubts. I also doubt low level characters will be of much real value. Remember how ‘valuable’ non-60s were in AV? Want to guess how much help they will be in GW2 when my guild of 100 raid-geared 80s is on the field? I get the ‘you don’t have to grind to cap’ sales pitch, but if you are attempting to not force people to grind to 80, don’t have 80 levels. Funny enough, that’s exactly what GW1 did, but hey.

There are also some “I don’t know shit about MMO PvP History” parts in there as well. The whole “small groups can capture smaller objectives” crap. If you have played a PvP MMO, you know how that’s going to work out. You know how players dropping gear is going to work out for smart/good guilds. You know how keep/relic raids are going to go (unless relic/keep timers were simply not mentioned in the post, but I doubt it).

Again, does this mean GW2 WvWvW is going to suck as bad as most themepark PvP does? Nope. Is it going to be god’s gift like the rest of GW2 and solve all MMO problems forever? Not by the sounds of that blog.

Still, come open beta, GW2 at least sound good enough to bother downloading, which is more than I can say for most of 2011.


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