AA: The true spiritual successor to UO

September 30, 2014

With the lead weight that is Trion and F2P covered yesterday, let’s start digging into WHY you should tolerate Trion and play ArcheAge anyway, because yea, you should be if you enjoy virtual worlds and smart MMO design.

I always go back to this point, but for me the perfect MMO is basically a great RPG game that doesn’t end and greatly benefits from the fact that you are playing with others. It’s because of this that I inherently dislike themeparks over virtual worlds; a themepark MMO has an end, and it also has a preset path you travel along to reach that end.

When this is done well you get quality themeparks like 2005 WoW or FFXIV, which can be very entertaining but ultimately not hit the highs of a great virtual world. Nothing a themepark can do will ever top the best moments in games like UO or EVE for me; by design they simply aren’t capable of such highs, and so themeparks in general are a ‘waste’ of MMO development time compared to crafting virtual worlds.

To call ArcheAge a ‘sandpark’ is selling the game short, or getting an EG-level of experience with the title and claiming you ‘get it’. One flaw AA has is that its first 15-20 levels, which in retrospect are basically an overly long and probably unnecessary tutorial, are classic themepark questing gameplay, and if you don’t know better you might think that is actually a major part of what AA is about. But it’s not, not at all really. It would be like saying mission running in EVE is a major focus of the game, with the other bits being side activities, and hence EVE is a ‘sandpark’.

The truth is that AA is very much a virtual world, and it is indeed a modern-day version of UO. Where UO had very rough “bring the NPC here” ‘quests’, AA has all the questing mechanics and systems of today’s MMOs covered. Where UO had basic crafting, AA has crafting depth deeper than most titles in the genre, and crafting that isn’t a tacked-on mini-game but rather a core feature. Where UO had effective yet simplified combat, AA has all the lessons learned about modern tab-target combat included. Where UO had basic but open character building, AA has a very refined skill-tree setup, with a good mix of options and tradeoffs. Where UO had a large but somewhat unrefined world, AA has a ‘zones without actually being zones’ world, one that feels open yet at the same time organized, focused, and interesting.

Some or all of those points might be covered in future posts, but that’s AA in a nutshell; a virtual world MMORPG the feels like it was made in 2014, with 17 or so years of MMO lessons learned under it.

AA also feels like an MMO made by someone who has actually played an MMO before. For instance, players start with the ability to recall, which works just like it does in most MMOs; use the ability, and you get sent back to your bind spot for free. Simple yet useful. But AA also gives you a teleport book, which has all of your discovered teleport spots, along with a tab for your personal locations (such as your house). To teleport, you must have a craftable item in your inventory, and rather than moving you to the spot, a portal opens. If you jump through the portal, you teleport. Simple again, right?

Only if you have been paying attention to the genre, your first thought should be “someone is going to open a portal in the starting area to a death trap and grief new players”, or “someone is going to use portals to make PvP a complete cluster”. And if AA was made by someone who had never played an MMO, like say SOE or Trion, portals wouldn’t require you to JUMP through them rather than WALK through them. But XLGames made AA, and clearly at least one person there has played an MMO, and so they added that little yet critical tweak to something as basic as moving around.

Plus if SOE or Trion were in charge, not only would the game have gone live with the grief portals, but then the fix those clowncars would have added would be to make portals only work for the player who summoned them, killing another awesome feature that AA has going for it; being able to open a portal for your whole guild/group, and regardless of level or if someone has that location or not, everyone being able to travel together without the usual hassle and, wait for it, play together in an MMO. Mindblowing! And this is just one of many examples of AA feeling like a ‘next gen’ MMO, rather than telling us it is in some manifesto and delivering yet another generic and completely forgettable themepark experience. A title that has learned from previous MMOs and feels like it has actually been designed to not neuter, limit, or ‘make everything accessible’, but just solve the previous issues or flaws while still retaining what made the original ideas so great in the first place.

Speaking of feel, AA has that feel of playing to progress forward, without ‘forward’ being some developer-defined thing like a level cap, or a certain item level, or clearing a certain tier of raiding. It feels similar to playing EVE, that feel of always need more ISK, but not needing to always do the most ISK-effective activity just because the game or the devs laid out the path that way for you. I might not have a clear plan for the eggs I gather from the chickens on a farm, but damnit, gathering those eggs IS progress, however big or small it might be. And if a day comes where I can’t stand the thought of gathering another egg, or watering another plant, I can stop doing that completely and, so long as I have another income stream, never be forced to do that activity ever again while still being able to progress forward.

That is sadly the all-too-rare ‘feel’ of a sandbox, the ability to progress forward in a number of different ways, without any one way being the ‘right’ or the ‘required’ way.

Finally, don’t believe the lies and misinformation spread by some, because while AA certainly has a good amount of PvP-focus to it, it is even more limited than EVE in just how open that PvP is. Should you choose so, you can avoid PvP completely and still quest, farm, trade, and progress. Up to level 30 all questing zones are protected (you can attack enemy players and flag yourself, but they can’t attack you), and within those zones you can set up a house or a farm, complete trade runs, harvest, fish, etc. Even further zones change from allowing PvP to not, so a trade route, house, or farm placed in one of those zones could still be tended by someone looking to avoid PvP so long as they enter when the zone is safe (which is visible from the world map).

Your risk vs reward ratio won’t be the same as someone who does head into more dangerous territory, but AA is far from the fully FFA PvP experience of games such as Darkfall or Mortal Online. As stated above, this is yet another example of the game clearly learning from previous games, and rather than taking the easy or limited route, there exists a nicely working balance that caters to many different types of players.

Ultimately I believe AA is worth your time if you are looking for a solid virtual world experience. It’s not without flaws, certainly, but especially in a genre with such slim pickings, it’s easily one of the better-crafted experiences outside of New Eden.

 


DF:UW – Being right isn’t always fun

August 28, 2014

One of the better inside jokes around here is the concept of a ‘Jesus patch’, because all too often the fools tossing that term around are talking about an MMO that has either shut down or is a shell of itself. One of the best/worst example of this is/was Darkfall 1. To this day you will find forumfallers who will tell you patch X was a ‘jesus patch’ for that game and caused a ‘surge’ in population. It’s comical, and also a bit sad.

So how is DF:UW doing post ‘jesus patch’ (released 6/10/14)? Woops. I believe the term ‘off a cliff’ would be accurate?

And to make things about a million times worst, that pre-patch population spike was due to the stacking of a Steam sale, the introduction of a buddy key system, a ‘welcome back’ weekend, a PLEX-like system addition, and a bit later multiple “breaking the economy long-term for short-term gain” massive loot buff weekends, plus AV was on its best behavior in terms of communication (overrated) and patching speed (pretty important).

In other words, AV basically fired every bullet in the gun all at once, got a good number of people into the game for the first time in a long time, that crowd saw what the ‘jesus patch’ was really about, and basically everyone and then some left. Even Forumfall moves along at a crawl now, to the point that keeping up with it can be done in 30 minutes or less per week.

To save the game (if that’s even possible at this point), AV needs to pull what CCP did with Incarna, basically roll back the giant mistake that was the removal of classes, forget that ever happened, and return to what, despite being implemented half-assed, was giving them a slowly growing population; getting the economy under control and focusing on producing sustainable content that fit the theme of the virtual world they originally set out to create. They won’t do it unfortunately. At this point they are too far down the rabbit hole that is the current, oversized arena PvP-for-the-sake-of-PvP disaster that the game has become.

Again, its sad, even from the outside glancing back in.


Pathfinder Online: Everything but the game is looking awesome!

July 16, 2014

I was recently talking to a friend about Pathfinder Online, with the gist of the conversation being that I love everything about the game on paper, from the design docs to what the devs have said, but actually seeing it in video is a complete no-go for me, and what that ultimately means.

On the one hand, ‘gameplay’ is a rather important aspect of any game, if not the most important. If what you are doing in the game isn’t actually fun most of the time, what kind of crazy person must you be to keep playing?

As crazy as most EVE players?

I mean, how much fun gameplay is there in many of EVE’s activities? Is mining ‘fun’? Are missions great gameplay? Even the high-point events like massive battles; for the average F1 pilot, is the gameplay really that great? I think most of the above can be answered with a “no, but…”. And that ‘but’ is huge (rimshot), because while mining is either boring or relaxing depending on perspective, it feeding into the best economy in the genre is a large part of what makes it such a popular activity in the game.

If Pathfinder gets the economy right, if it has interesting/worthwhile crafting, etc, would the fact that it has rather poor mining ‘gameplay’ matter? Because at this point I’d rather take poor gameplay but solid, sustainable systems over the opposite. If I just want great but shallow gameplay, I’ll play something other than an MMO.

Of course some of the gameplay has to be good/great. In EVE PvP can be thrilling, and at the highest levels (Alliance Tourney) it’s as deep and skillful as anything else. Pathfinder is in alpha still, so maybe the combat/gameplay will improve significantly, but even if it doesn’t, I can’t fully rule it out, even in the shape it’s in today.

(That said, please for the love of god improve the gameplay Goblin Works!)

 


Risen is a surprisingly great open-world RPG you should play

July 7, 2014

I’ve been playing Risen since returning from vacation (picked up in a Humble Bundle pack a while back), and I’m very pleasantly surprised by the game. I went into it expecting/hoping for an “80% of Skyrim” type of experience, and while in some ways this is true, in a few key areas I think it trumps even that masterpiece.

I actually loaded up Risen somewhat on a whim, as I was looking over my Steam collection and noticed that over 40 people I’m friends with own Skyrim, which is far more than just about any other game (only Civ V comes close). Needing a little break from TBS titles like Eador, and having done just about everything in Skyrim itself, I figured I’d give Risen a shot.

This won’t be a full review (here is an excellent one that says a lot of what I would), but rather just some observations, mostly around how this game is and isn’t like Skyrim.

Graphically Skyrim is far superior, but then again it’s also the newer game (Risen came out in 2009) with a lot of mod support focused around making it look even better. That said maxed out Risen doesn’t look bad, and I think it’s graphic style has aged better than say ES:Oblivion, particularly character faces. Even a bit dated, Risen will sometimes surprise with a great looking vista or atmospheric cave/tomb.

I have a same-but-different love/hate relationship with the combat, similar to Skyrim. Initially I thought Risen combat was clunky and frustrating, especially because the game can be so difficult (more on that later), but the more I play the more I appreciate fighting different monsters, using different weapons, and getting a ‘feel’ for things. Killing a tougher monster through successful use of combos, blocks, and dodging can be a fist-pump moment, which I think says a lot about the game overall but specifically about the enjoyment of combat.

The biggest difference between Risen and Skyrim to me is the setup of the world you play in. While Skyrim is almost too open-world, Risen jumps between keeping you restricted to one area for a bit of time to letting you run free around the island (though highly limited based on monster difficulty).

I think my favorite example of this is design in Risen is the placement of monsters. Just outside a cave you will find easier monsters like wolves, and if you kill them you can loot a chest they were near. If you go into the cave you might encounter a ‘higher tier’ of monster, and if you manage to kill them and go a bit deeper, you might find an even tougher challenge. The important part here is that unlike many other games, the ‘monster tiers’ in Risen are pretty harsh. An easier monster might need to hit you 10 times to kill you, while you only need to hit it 2-3 times. A ‘normal’ monster might take 5-6 hits, killing you in about that many, while a tough mob will drop you in 2-3 hits, and will require 15+ hits to kill. So while a tough monster isn’t impossible to take down, it sure is damn hard, and when you come across a location with 3-4 of them, you know this is a location you should come back to later.

What I love about this design is that the game doesn’t force you to stop. You can try and power through that tough monster (or have its AI bug out for a cheap kill, which occasionally happens), and if they are related to some future quest, you will actually get credit. More than once I’ve gotten a “quest complete” message while randomly exploring and killing/collecting stuff, and to my surprise, Risen is smart enough to not only give you credit, but also have the related quest NPC dialog handle this situation (“I want you to go kill X” “I’ve already done it, here is the proof” “Well, you work fast don’t you” is dialog that happens in Risen).

Speaking of characters and dialog, I must say I like them more in Risen than I did in Skyrim. Skyrim too often wanted to be epic about something, but came of kinda silly (a lot of the main quest, IMO). Risen feel authentic to me. Everyone is stuck on this island due to the storms, they are all bothered in one way or another by the monsters, and the two major factions dislike each other for solid reasons. Some character are smart about what they want, others are selfish, but I’ve yet to come across anything that feels majorly out of place or disconnected from the game. The voice acting and writing is also top-notch and pulls you into the game, rather than shaking you out of it.

Finally, while Skyrim never felt exceptionally difficult due to its world scaling with you, Risen is one of those “save before every fight, reload a bunch on anything tough” type of games. You will die, a lot, but that also makes finally beating something tough so much more rewarding. I also like that failure isn’t always ‘game over’. For example, I upset a local leader in one location, and to teach me a lesson he had all his goons attack me. Anytime I got close to one of them, they would agro, and most of them were too tough for me to beat at the time. They would beat me in combat, knock me down, take some gold, and walk away with an insult. Once all his goons got me once, the local leader’s dialog reflected this, which was not only excellent but made me really want to get at the bastard when I got stronger.

To tie this all together, I went in just hoping for a budget Skyrim, but instead found a different, and at times better version of the open-world RPG that Elder Scrolls is famous for. Risen isn’t an outright better game overall (Skyrim’s giant pile of content, and just overall polish, are very tough to beat), but for anyone who enjoyed Skyrim, I would say it’s very well worth your time.


DF:UW – Day of reckoning

June 10, 2014

Today Aventurine is releasing their class removal, combat overhaul update to Darkfall: Unholy Wars.

If the next few weeks aren’t a complete balance cluster, I’ll be pleasantly surprised. Worst-case here IMO is that a build that completely trivializes PvE is left unchecked for weeks and further sends the economy into the toilet. I fully expect cheese builds/combos to rule the day for a while as well.

If combat diversity goes up and more skills are used tomorrow than yesterday, I’ll be shocked. MMO history has shown that the more ‘freedom’ you give players related to character options, the more players will gravitate towards a FOTM build while avoiding false-choice options. A game being focused around PvP means you either adapt or perish (bonus point if you get that reference), so ‘doesn’t work as well but it’s fun’ builds reduce you to a loot piñata.

Ultimately however if the game is more fun to more people and the population increases and is able to sustain/grow, that’s all that matters. We’ll know the answer to that in a few months. The ‘new’ AV, if IMO a bit misguided, at least seems very committed to making the game work and putting in the time to make that happen, unlike what they have done in previous years. Hopefully that’s rewarded, and today’s major gamble works out for them.

Edit: Just noticed an item shop (prowess reset and name change currently) is also included. Yay…


DF:UW – Sacrificing the game at the altar of false choice

May 13, 2014

I’ve hinted at this before, but now AV has made their plans for revamping the ‘class’ system in DF:UW public, and rather than post this to the limited audience of Forumfall, I’d rather it get more exposure here on this blog.

The change is a classic example of sacrificing some real choice to create more false choice due to the illusion of freedom. If you have played a few MMOs, I’m guessing you know where this is going.

It’s important to understand what is first being sacrificed by this change. Currently all four roles (Warrior, Skirmisher, Primalist, Elementalist) are seen in-game. Additional, almost all schools (sub-roles) and all abilities are used. There are a few exceptions, but easily 90% of all roles/schools/skills are used and are viable. No system is perfect in terms of balance, but based purely on variety and usage, what DF:UW currently has is very solid.

I’ll use one of the roles (Skirm Deadeye main) I currently play as an example. To farm certain monsters that are best killed at range, this role works very well. I also use that identical setup for PvP. The range allows me to stay alive longer than a Warrior, and the ult (Salvo) is a very useful AoE ability for large-scale combat.

After this update goes live, this will no longer be the case. For PvE I’ll be wearing light armor (+dmg) because for PvE where the failure state is simply a time delay, time-to-kill is king, and +dmg is what best increases that (even if the attack speed bonus is better, durability loss per attack would still make this choice inferior). I’ll also replace more PvP-oriented skills with skills that either make PvE easier directly (self-heal, stat regen, etc), or increase my chances of escaping PvP (movement abilities, more on those specifically later).

For PvP, I’ll have yet another build, replacing abilities that work best in PvE with PvP-based ones (most likely AoEs for damage, and filling the rest with escape/utility).

If you believe the system increased choice, you are missing the boat. Sticking with the above example, I still have one choice for PvP, and one choice for PvE, but post-patch those are two different things, and in a world PvP MMO like DF:UW, that’s not a plus.

When everyone is out in the world farming with PvE-specific builds, attacking people at a mob spawn isn’t going to be much fun. Either you smash them due to running a PvP build against someone with a PvE build, or they escape because their PvE build includes enough of those abilities to make it possible. For a clear preview, see EVE PvP when you jump a mission runner in low-sec. At least today in DF:UW when a fight breaks out, just based on builds the field is more level, not a fight decided by the fact that one guy has a warp scram and the other is only cap-stable vs NPCs.

Moving to a higher level, there is basically zero chance that post-patch 90% of all abilities are viable. That means more skills go unused, which wastes their art, their animation, and the diversity they bring to the battlefield. So while technically the game will have more possible skill combinations on paper, in-game you won’t see nearly as many skills used, and most likely, you also won’t see as many viable skill combinations used. Would I be shocked if there is basically one flavor-of-the-month build for PvP? Hell no. And that build won’t be some fun ‘Paladin’ build or whatever. It’s going to be a tank-mage that chucks AoEs, heals, and exploits movement abilities. If you love playing an AoE-chucking tankmage ala most of DF1’s prime, congrats, DF:UW is going back to that. If you enjoy the current real options and diversity seen in-game? You’re outta luck. Viable options have been replaced with false choice, sorry.

Some other points.

PvE is going to be trivialized with this change even more, as player power is going up while mob difficulty will remaining the same. Worse-case, there is one FOTM PvE build that is broken-level powerful. As with the PvP aspect, hope you enjoy that playstyle, because if not welcome to gimp-ville.

Movement abilities are either going to be grossly nerfed across the board, or make unwanted PvP impossible. To go back to EVE, imagine roaming around looking for PvP if every ship was immune to warp scram and that’s going to be post-patch DF:UW with movement abilities. Going out to dig up some treasure chests? Your ‘class’ is now one where you stack movement and escape skills to reduce the risk of map running to zero. Scouts? Same thing, zero risk build ahoy. Worst case, post-patch the game becomes an arms race of who stacks more movement abilities or exploits them best. That would actually make me miss the bunnyhopping idiocy of DF1.

This change will have massive economic impacts. Some people are going to be royally screwed and will be very upset about it. I don’t want to fully dive into this now, but again if you have played an MMO or two I’m sure you know where this is going.

This change also dramatically increases how much prowess (XP) you must earn before you become PvP viable, which hurts new players most. Currently that point is around 40-60k, but post-patch it will be much higher. Having 100 in all four stats will be far more important, as will having access to all boosters. You will also need to max more skills, especially if the expected PvE and PvP builds vary so much.

Additionally to a longer grind to viable, the system as described is also more complex and arcane. How intuitive is assigning your Wisdom stat to a Greatsword to get access to better Greatswords? Oh and then assign your strength stat to cloth armor so your swing with the greatsword hit for more damage. What sense, even in a world where people throw fireballs, is there in leather armor allowing you to cast spells faster than other armors, including the wizard-looking cloth armor?

So yea, I’m not really looking forward to this. In fact, it’s basically taken most of my motivation to play away. It’s just hard to keep building in something that you know is going to fall off a cliff, and off a cliff is exactly what this update is. Sad really, especially given the big steps forward AV took with DF:UW from DF1, and even with more recent patches.


DF:UW – This is why we play

March 28, 2014

Our alliance is currently in a war with another major alliance, and the result has been great PvP for a number of days now. Last night we had another battle, and it might have been the best one of the war so far.

Here is the video from one of my alliance mates. You can spot me at various points; I’m the attractive blonde elf skirmisher. I’m also the guy who calls out dying near the tower and gets rezzed. I seem to always die in these videos, probably because I generally die in most battles. At least here I got rezzed and didn’t go down again, so was able to experience the entire thing.

As you can see from the video, a large ship had sailed up to one of your cities to do some asset damage. Our alliance as a whole reacted quickly and we soon had just under 20 people ready to defend. The video starts as the boat is already hammering the city walls with its cannons, and they also sent a ground force ashore.

We battled around the gate for a bit, softening them up, and finally making a push out. Along the beach the fight went back and forth for a bit (hence going down), but eventually we broke them and they retreated back to their boat.

The video misses some of the chasing, which involved us using a few boats along with swimmers to keep eyes on the larger ship, until eventually we were able to get some people on board and stop it. Video picks up with the fighting on and around the boat (love the part where the dread warrior climbs to the crows nest, and then knocks our guy off into the water.) Video ends when the cameraman dies, but we continued the fight and eventually won; killing almost everyone in the water and capturing the larger boat along with multiple smaller ships.

What’s great about the video is it shows almost all aspects of DF combat. A ship with a large crew sailing up, a city being attacked and defended, PvP in and around a gate, a battle along a beach that is a mix of ground and water combat, a chase into the ocean by both players and ships, and finally a decisive battle on board a larger ship. This is the stuff that makes Darkfall unique, and oh so much fun.


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