ESO, DF:UW – Sometimes we go looking for something we already have

March 17, 2014

This past weekend ESO had another beta weekend, but I wasn’t able to play much as I had issues with the account my highest-level character is on. I did create an Imperial on my purchased account, but beyond that and testing mob collision quickly, I didn’t really play the game.

I did play a lot of Darkfall, as that game has sunk its hooks back into me. Momentum is a powerful force in the MMO genre, and who you play with is, IMO, a bigger ‘content driver’ than the actual content itself.

Quick example: On Saturday a few of us went out on a boat to attempt to kill the Ice Dragon. We failed; his regen offset our dps and we didn’t have enough people, enough arrows, and enough repair shards. One member of the alliance was driven to killing him, so much so that he pulled together the enormous amount of mats to craft the biggest ship currently in the game (a Ship of the Line), had it crafted, and put together a large crew to attempt the dragon again.

This time we were successful, and even though some uniquely Darkfall stuff happened (climbing to the extremely tall crows nests of the ship was the key to success, as at that height you are able to target the dragon with arrows much easier), the fight was overly long and the loot was terrible, so until its buffed we won’t be going again.

So overall not amazing content in terms of effort/reward, but something that entertained 16 people mostly because of those 16 people. If that doesn’t sum up WoW 40 man raiding, you didn’t raid enough. Is there such content in ESO? We’ll find out shortly.

Another comparison; DF:UW isn’t known for its PvE. ESO has a lot of PvE content and that is a major selling point. One of the early complaints about ESO is that the PvE is faceroll easy. Another is the combat lacks a real feeling of impact, and Bethesda has made multiple changes to that area to help fix the problem. I don’t think anyone has ever said PvE in DF lacks impact, nor has anyone called it faceroll easy by MMO standards.

Quick example: Near one of the hamlets our clan owns is a mob spawn with some easier mobs and one terror-level mob. Lately I’ve been making the quick trip out to the spawn to kill the terror. It takes me 2-3 minutes to kill him using full plate (3rd best warrior armor) and a leenspar greatsword (second best weapon). My character is maxed when it comes to spending prowess for a warrior and the related stats. I haven’t died to him yet, but each time I have to kite him a bit, recover hp/stamina, and use my life-leach attack as often as possible.

Beating that mob is harder than anything I’ve done in ESO, and that’s 100% ignoring the fact that at any point someone could come along and jump me at the spawn; something that can’t happen in ESO. In ESO I’d also never consider what gear to bring to kill him, I’m always wearing the best stuff I have. In DF I could wear higher-tier armor/weapons, or lower tier if I felt in greater danger and accepted that killing him would take longer. Also in ESO I’d kill him once and be done Perhaps not major decisions overall, but still decisions to be made vs no decision at all.

Another example: Rynnik and I set out to farm some Black Knights. We both had not completed the feat for them, we both could use the loot they drop overall, and Black Knights specifically drop the item needed to make the gauntlet for the new village requisitioning system. Three birds, one stone.

We recalled to his house as a starting point as it was close to the spawn, and we both set ourselves to Deadeye skirmishers since we were going to kite and bow them down. Rynnik also brought a party strongbox deployable so we could store the loot inside rather than carry it on us.

Things were going well for the first wave. We killed and looted all the knights, stored our loot in the strongbox, and waited for the respawn. About a third of the way into the second wave, a warrior and mage attacked us at the spawn. Initially they fought both of us, but shortly both focused on Rynnik and he ran them away from the spawn. I recovered and Rynnik circled back after losing them. Stupidly we started farming again, and quickly got jumped by those two again. I went down, Rynnik escaped.

I regeared quickly and made my way back to the area, as we hoped they had not found our strongbox and we could at least recover all of our farming loot. As we crept back into the area, we noticed the mage was standing on the nearby hill, and as we continued, we noticed the warrior was just returning. They found our strongbox, and the warrior had gone to get battlespikes to blow it open. As they were focused on opening the strongbox, we gained the high ground and prepared to attack.

I opened with a large AoE that puts a DOT and also slows anyone caught in it, while Rynnik went for more direct damage. The warrior reacted quickly and moved away, but the mage was loot-drunk and had his head inside our now-open strongbox. Taking advantage of this, we put a half-dozen arrows in his back and down he went. We fought the warrior for a bit, but the 2v1, double-skirm vs warrior setup was highly in our favor, and he too went down. He had banked my previous gear set, but in return we got his, the mage’s, and also all the loot from our strongbox. A nice ending to our little PvE adventure.

 


GW2: Spinning in place

March 14, 2014

Zubon’s description of GW2 updates since release are nightmare fuel for me in terms of an MMO. It’s basically all of the bad aspects of launch (bugs, everyone in one spot) without the good (playing a foundation towards something more). Place that into GW2, by far the most bla and forgettable MMO I’ve ever played, and yea, I’m not exactly itching to return.

GW2-specifics aside, just going off that post and other KTR GW2 posts (they cover the game well), I’d have to say I strongly disagree with how Anet is approaching updating the game. If a new player picks up the game today, how much better is GW2 today than it was at launch? Some, yes (minus whatever the current buggy content is that everyone is doing, of course), but the level doesn’t match the amount of time/effort put in by Anet. A lot of that was one-off, here today gone tomorrow stuff. If you are new, that means nothing for you, other than knowing you missed out on something and can’t revisit it.

Current plays also suffer from this whenever they roll an alt. Now maybe they wouldn’t want to run all of that one-off content again, but in GW2 they don’t even have that choice; they can’t. Furthermore, they fully know they can’t and have context, so if something was up for two weeks that they loved, they KNOW they are missing out on that.

Now the GW2 business model doesn’t rely on players getting sucked in and really committed. The big payday is up front (the box), and if they get a few bucks off you from gems, great. But in terms of building an MMO, Anet isn’t really building much here, rather they are mostly spinning in place, every two weeks removing something to add something else. That they have kept this up for a year is surprising. If they can keep going like this it will be really surprising.


DF:UW – Sweet peaks

March 10, 2014

I write often about the highs and lows a great MMO can take you on vs the sustained averageness of far too many MMOs today. I think in many ways that is the core difference between an MMO and all other forms of gaming; in any other genre getting a solid 15-80hr experience is seen as a successful title, while only getting 100hrs or so out of an MMO is seen as a failure, regardless of how great that 100hrs was.

Since release I’ve had my ups and downs with Darkfall: Unholy Wars. It was in possibly the worst shape I’ve seen an MMO be in beta, to the extent that all of Inquisition decided not to play the game at release. I’ve talked often about how DF:UW was intended to fix the flaws of DF1 and also build on the core (best combat in the genre), and while AV got some things right, some critical flaws remained.

At the same time, here we are in 2014, and the MMO genre still sucks overall, we still have EVE as the only title to get it ‘right’, and so many recent entries are either entirely forgettable (GW2) or hilariously bad (SW:TOR). Yet AV keeps plugging away at DF:UW, trying to improve one of the only decent sandbox titles we have, so it would be rather hypocritical of me to ignore that, especially as I have already wallet-voted for ESO, possibly yet another themepark (the ‘possibly’ is for a different post).

I noted that I resubbed when AV added gear destruction from PvP, because IMO that one changed fixed the biggest core flaw the game had; an unchecked economy. More changes are still needed, and AV doesn’t have the greatest track record in terms of delivery time, but it’s still progress in the right direction, and in the MMO genre until the servers are down, I believe you are never truly out.

The above four paragraphs is a long-winded setup for the events that happened Sunday night. (Spoiler alert: high peak incoming).

I’m currently in a clan named Last Call, which is part of the Sick Bastards alliance. I’m there because of my buddy Rynnik, who I also followed to Proxy from OTG. Hopefully Last Call doesn’t disband like Proxy did. If they do, I blame Rynnik. The clan is a great group of people, and the alliance includes many MVPs I’ve talked/argued/insulted via Forumfall. On that front, so far so good, and having a good group to play with is perhaps the most important part of enjoying yourself.

On Sunday we had some siege action. First our hamlet was sieged by a rival alliance, and we shortly after dropped a siege on their hamlet, the timers being just minutes apart.

The action started off in our hamlet, first with some small (10v10) skirmishes, later escalating into bigger action. At one point the enemy spawned a boat in the small lake near our hamlet, using the cannon to damage our zap tower. We countered with a boat of our own, and ended up sinking their ship while holding their players off long enough to get the job done.

A bit later they spawned another two boats, but this time they were able to keep us off and the boats disabled one of our towers. As this happened, they made a large push into the hamlet itself, and were able to wipe us. I thought at this point we had lost, because most of us were bound at the hamlet and regearing would have been nearly impossible with the enemy right there.

Oddly enough, they instead just looted our tombs and backed out, giving us a chance to regroup and regear. We did just that, and counter-pushed to the siege stones. Someone from our alliance dropped one of the new deployable land cannons, and through heavy fighting that went back and forth for a long stretch of time (and four gear bags for me) we held the enemy forces off long enough for that cannon to take down the siege stones, winning us the siege and ending the threat to our hamlet.

After our successful defense we rode quickly to the nearby enemy hamlet we were sieging. As we rode, we were getting updates that the enemy was trying to destroy our stones, and our defenders were badly outnumbered and just looking to buy as much time as possible. They were successful, we arrived in time, and were able to not only defend the stones but a second force was able to rush the hamlet stone and destroy that with more cannons.

2/2 on sieges that night, not bad, especially considering we had constant action for over two hours without a single technical (lag, FPS) issue.

We then took out a Frigate that I captained for the Sea Fortress, but that is a story for tomorrow.


Fail and try again, succeed and move on

February 27, 2014

“Few people go back to content that was trivially easy; most people repeat content they failed the first time.” – Zubon

I believe the above is true on average. Yes, some people rage-quit instantly, while others love nothing more than facerolling something over and over, but I believe the majority of gamers follow the above, be they MMO players or not.

I think this is a major reason why so many themepark MMOs fall into the 3-monther category; players speed through content because they can beat it the first time, and aren’t interested in beating something trivial again so they aren’t as motivated to roll an alt.

WoW somewhat gets away with this because they have so much content, both during the leveling game and then at the level cap. The problem for other game’s isn’t so much that they can’t compete with that, it’s more that the players they do get just hit that wall and leave.

 


Themeparks: PvP is the filler between the cracks

February 25, 2014

Wilhelm is asking if an MMO must contain PvP. It’s actually a more interesting question when you really thing about it, especially if you limit the discussion to themeparks (the answer for sandboxes has its own tab on this blog).

Instinctively you might want to say ‘no’ for themeparks, because they are PvE focused and you would want that to remain the focus. Makes sense, on paper. But in reality, themepark PvE content is often one-and-done, and what is repeatable (daily quests, raiding) is often tied to some long term, but still one-and-done reward (rep grind, raid gear).

PvP shouldn’t be the focus, but rather play the role of filler between content updates. From my experience I think vanilla WoW did this best. Whether you were waiting for a raid to reset or had a night off, battlegrounds provided a nice side activity, made more rewarding as you could use your raid gear to get an edge (though not a brutally overpowered one from MC/BWL gear).

As time went on PvP in WoW got a bit silly, first with PvP-specific gear and later with rankings and all that stuff. It went from being a fun side activity to a game-within-a-game. It also didn’t help that all of the talent on the WoW team left and the interns ran the place, but we know that story.

I like, on paper, what ESO has planned. Once you reach the level cap, you can still PvE to gain more skill points for horizontal progression (you can only use a small number of skills at one time, so getting more skill points to open more skills doesn’t increase your power, just gives you options), but you can also get into the 3-way RvR battle areas. I think the limit to horizontal progression will help the PvP balance a great deal, as will the fact that (as of now) the best gear comes from crafting, not PvE, raiding, or PvP. Assuming that stays mostly true (a few items being BiS from non-crafting is fine IMO, so long as most stuff comes from crafting and the gap isn’t too great), I can see the model working.

I can further see it working because as players spend time on the repeatable content that is RvR, Bethesda will be given time to expand the PvE offerings. I don’t think ESO players will experience running into a ‘content wall’ like in SW:TOR.

So my answer to the question is yes, you do need PvP, but at the same time you need to ensure that the PvP remains a low dev time, high repeat, limited impact aspect. Not easy to get right, but certainly pays off if you do.

 


DF:UW – If everyone had diamonds

February 17, 2014

As previously noted, Darkfall: Unholy Wars took a huge step towards becoming a sustainable sandbox with the recent increase in gear loss from PvP. As some have asked, I don’t know if it’s enough, but it’s certainly a start, and more importantly shows that AV is serious about the game and making it something worthwhile for the long run to MMO players, rather than continuing down the path of creating an oversized, risk-free PvP arena game.

This post isn’t about analyzing the change however, as it’s much too early to do that. Instead let’s see how Forumfall is taking the news (this below is a reply to how PvE would work as a sink, since the poster suggested that would be a better solution than a sink from PvP):

Remove resources? I don’t care if resources are removed or not, you do. I want active activities like mob farming to actually be worth it. Why? Because I actually play the game. I want to see an active world, and I want contested mob spawns. Does that mean make bandits drop 50 neithal essences each? No, it doesn’t. Give us open world mobs that are actually worth farming though. The Golems would be a great start, limited amount of them in the world, and they have a fairly high respawn timer.

The above is the best of the worst, at least in terms of the content/froth ratio that runs rampant on Forumfall. It does, of course, completely fall on its face in terms of logic, and that really is the point here.

For a long time I had feared that AV was listening to Forumfall too much, and were just doing what Forumfall said it wanted. I think the above post is a nice highlight of that. The player is asking for mobs to be ‘worthwhile’, at the same time that he is saying he doesn’t care to balance how resources enter and exit the game.

Bad AV would just do what was asked, buff mobs, and a month later Forumfall would once again ask for mobs to be made ‘worthwhile’, or more likely complain that non-mob rewards are now ‘worthless’, and to buff those. This, of course, assumes there still exists anything of value, an end-point that DF:UW was rapidly approaching, with most already regularly PvP’ing in the second-best gear (r70). Once R80 is common, what then? Do a themepark-style soft-reset?

So as predicted, the usual suspects of Forumfall are throwing their hissy fit as they experience actual consequence for PvPing. What is surprising, and encouraging, is that others on Forumfall are seeing the benefits of this addition, and trying to push back the idiocy. Ultimately it doesn’t matter so long as AV continues to show a basic understand of MMO design and what’s important to keep a game going.

Furthermore, most of those currently complaining will change their tune, as AV is finally able to add more meaningful and interesting faucets to the game, and those faucets will stay relevant for longer than a week. On that front they have some good plans, and recent actions suggest they will correctly follow-through on said plans.

As for the game’s future overall, as multiple MMOs have shown in the past, a game can slowly build itself back when its core issues are fixed and things start working again. Launch is the best time to grab the most players, certainly, but especially in the MMO niche space, where DF:UW resides, players have limited quality options, and are more than willing to revisit something if they hear it has improved. If AV continues down the path they have set out on with the last update, they will be successful. Here’s hoping.


ESO: Prediction forming is at 85%

February 14, 2014

This article over at Massively by Larry Everett mirrors a lot of my most recent experience with the ESO beta, in that the first area is 100% linear, the second feels like a typical themepark zone, and the third feels like a comfortable cross between a full open world and an MMO themepark. I would love if someone could confirm that going forward, the rest of the game’s PvE is like the third area, if not even more ‘open’. Anyone?

Now to nitpick, I think it’s a bit silly to complain about the first, very short, 100% linear area as not being very Elder Scrolls. Load up Skyrim with a new character and no mods, and tell me what you experience for the first half hour or so? Oh right, a 100% linear experience that is mostly to setup the story. Load up Oblivion and it’s the same thing. If anything, the linear part in ESO is shorter than the single player game bits.

The traditional themepark zone is also a bit of an extended tutorial, in that it introduces you to some of the new stuff ESO does (skyshards, finding runes, stuff like that). I could do without it, but I also see why it will be helpful for new-to-MMO players, which I think will be a significant portion of ESO’s playerbase.

I feel like I need one more weekend with ESO to put down a solid “ESO is themepark 4.0” prediction post. I’m getting there, and I don’t think Zenimax is going to bork ESO just before launch like Trion did with Rift, and hopefully they don’t do a Rift 1.2 ‘accessibility’ patch to kill it, but who knows.

I will say this however, the comparisons to SW:TOR with ESO are ridiculous. SW:TOR wasn’t predicted to be the Tortanic because it was ‘boring’, or ‘more of the same’. It was easy to spot the Tortanic because on day one the devs told us the 4th pillar was the path to greatness, and some of us (or just me) called the game DOA on that day back in 2010. There is no 4th pillar for ESO, at least not that I’ve found yet.

Pre-ordered the digital collectors edition, in part because I think the game will be a good time, and also in part because the genre blows outside of spaceships.

 


Smed talks sandbox

February 12, 2014

Smed has a new blog that yells at you with giant text. I wish he had named it “MMOs are still a niche market”, but no dice on that. His first post is about sandbox design.

“When we first began making these kinds of games 18 years ago (I mean no disrespect to the Muds and other games out before Everquest)”

In the Smed history of MMOs, the first one was EQ, a themepark before the word themepark was a thing. This is funny because the first commercially successful MMO was Ultimate Online (sorry M59), a sandbox. What’s also interesting here is that while UO was indeed a virtual world, a game experiment in what would happen if Britannia was populated by more than one Avatar, EQ was a 3D graphic skin over existing MUD design, rather than the brave adventure into unknown lands that Smed views it as.

Fast forward to 2004, and we all know WoW was just a better EQ1, thus beginning the long chain of SOE attempting to copy something, and Blizzard coming along and simply doing the copy/paste job better. EQ1 is also the first and last time one could say SOE did something more right than wrong. The SOE MMO graveyard can attest to that.

No event is more memorable in sandbox history than the NGE for SWG, taking that sandbox and (spot the pattern) trying to make it more of a WoW-like themepark, without success. Smed being the man behind that blunder is something he has admitted and apologies for countless times, but for SWG fans that wound hasn’t quite healed yet, as evident in the comments section of his blog. That he has decided to target that group to hype his next (not EQN) MMO is an… interesting decision.

“A great example of this happened with SWTOR. I happen to think it’s a very well done game and the team at Bioware should be proud.”

That Smed considers it a very well done game should be alarming. From the first reveal of SW:TOR in 2010, some of us could easily see the critical flaw in basing your game on the 4th pillar (one-off content). Now granted, back then we couldn’t predict that the most expensive MMO ever would also come with a terrible engine, plenty of bugs, and all the other problems SW:TOR had; but even if none of those other things happened, the game would still have failed because at its very core, it’s a horribly flawed way to make an MMO. If the leader of my company looked at something like SW:TOR as a ‘very well done game’, I’d be jumping ship.

Now, Smed does finally mention EVE in the second to last paragraph, calling it a shining example, so that’s certainly a positive if you have hopes for the next SOE product.

“Our belief at SOE is that it’s smarter to head in this direction now rather than waiting.”

The above can easily be taken out of context, given that EVE has been the blueprint for a sandbox for over ten years now, and SOE has been around longer than that, but I take the above as Smed saying that rather than making EQ3 yet another themepark that can’t succeed (forget competing with WoW), he would rather try to tap into the magic CCP formula. And while I’m all for that, at the end of the day this is SOE we are talking about. They will find a way to screw it up. And then they will try to fix that screw-up and odds are decent they will make it worse. Because SOE.

Welcome to blogging Smed, hopefully you stick around for a bit.


EVE: Learning skills in a F2P world

February 11, 2014

A few years ago CCP removed the Learning skills from EVE Online. To quickly recap, the Learning skills took about three months to train, and their only benefit was a boost to training other skills faster.

They were, overall, a design mistake, in large part because players are famous for min/maxing, even to the extent of taking the fun OUT of a game that is intended to be played for fun. In theory the Learning skills would be something you training when you don’t have more pressing skills to finish. In reality, the common advice was to sit your pilot in a station for the first 3 months and just train those first before you started playing. If you are a new player asking for advice, being told to do nothing for 3 months isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement for the game.

Again, they were a design mistake, and CCP was right to take them out while refunding the skill points.

Would CCP have done that if EVE was a F2P MMO?

One of the criticisms of the sub model is that developers will put things such as raid lockout timers to keep you subbed for longer. Now, I find that criticisms a bit silly, because what ultimately makes someone unsub is the simple question of whether you are having fun or not with the game, and I’ve yet to meet anyone who enjoyed a game overall but then unsubbed because of some lockout timer. (Timers help pace the players to content, yes, but IMO that’s more to help players not burn themselves out.)

As EVE is a sub MMO, isn’t CCP hurting themselves here by removing a nice 3 month sub buffer? The short-term view would say yes. The long-term says no. The game is a better game without Learning skills, and as CCP is in the business of running a successful game for years, not weeks/months, long-term making EVE the best possible game is what’s best for business. When you have a solid product, you don’t need cheap tricks to leach another month or a few bucks off someone before they catch on to the garbage you are peddling.

But of course the big elephant in the room here is that under F2P, ‘lockout timers’ are not only in place, but are a prominent feature in the business model; be it locked chests that require a cash shop key, slower XP gains designed to push you towards an XP booster from the shop, long pointless travel unless you buy a portal license; the list goes on. In most F2P MMOs, the “learning skills’ would be an item you purchase in the shop, and just like in EVE, that purchase would do nothing for your actual enjoyment of the game; you would simply feel like it was something you needed to do. We players can be dumb like that, and more than a few suits (and basically everyone at EA) are not above exploiting it.

So again, if EVE was a F2P MMO, would CCP have removed the Learning skills (an example of bad design), or would they have instead introduced that new item to their cash shop to allow you the pleasure of paying to remove the design mistake, and allowed freeloaders to suffer that 3-month “do nothing” phase?

If EVE was run by SOE, Turbine, or EA, I think we all know the answer to that question.


Pathfinder Online: What 1.9m gets you

February 6, 2014

The latest dev blog from Goblinworks, makers of the upcoming Pathfinder Online (currently holder of the very distinguished “Next sandbox MMO least likely to suck” award) talks money, specifically that they spent 1.9m in 2013.

Numbers are fun, especially once this game is released and we see just what 1.9m in a year really gets you. We know what 300m+ from EA gets us (Tortanic), we know 38 Studios wasn’t able to create much of anything with a giant pile of (Rhode Island’s) money, we know the relative cost of WAR, and now we will see what happens here and with the slew of other Kickstarter MMOs.

Side note: The screenshots in the dev blog look refreshing, in that the world won’t be a neon crapland of ‘magic’. The closer someone comes to making a game that looks and feels like a Mount and Blade Online game, the better.

 


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