Dupes and dupes?

May 27, 2014

Finally back from work travel and a short vacation; has the genre fixed itself yet? It hasn’t, has it?

Darkfall just had a fun bought with a massive dupe bug, one that apparently was very easy to reproduce so lots of people took advantage. AV did a three day item rollback (which missed some of the impact of the dupe), disabled the source of the dupe (markets), and has started banning some accounts.

I’m now just of the opinion that the game needs a full and complete wipe once the class removal update is put in. So many economic factors have been changed, this isn’t the first dupe bug to be abused, and with the upcoming updating has already had a prowess respect announced. Bite the bullet and full reset AV, there isn’t a whole lot to lose at this point.

Moving on, Jester did his outgoing post about ESO, stating what a lot of us have stated; ESO is an online sRPG. Certainly around blog circles that’s not what most of us are looking for, but I do wonder if that opinion is somewhat limited to ‘hardcore’ MMO players. Would I be shocked it ESO sub numbers are tanking right now? No. But would I be surprised if they aren’t as bad as the blog circle suggests, because there are a lot of casual players who enjoy an online sRPG of ESO quality (again, it’s a good game, just not a good MMO)? Not that surprised, no.

I find myself wishing some of the kickstarter MMOs would hurry up already, which is depressing on so many levels. For now it’s down to skill training my main pilot, stomping zombie skulls in Dead Island, and playing my daily LoL rank game. Save me Steam summer sale, save me!


ESO: If you have played one zone, you have played them all

May 14, 2014

If you have played one ESO zone, you have played them all.

I think the above is the best way to sum up my feelings as of right now for ESO. It’s so simple, and yet I’m having trouble fully understanding why. Is it ESO specific, is it my continually growing distaste for themeparks, or a combination of both?

ESO gets a lot of major stuff right. The graphics are good, the sound is good, performance is great, and it had a solid launch from a technical perspective. I like the character progression system in terms of modifying skills and selecting 6 to fit into your hotbar, as well as being able to mix armor. At least, I like those on paper. Actually, I think one of the major issues is I like a lot of ESO on paper, and then in-game I’m either indifferent or annoyed.

Quick example; recently my character dug up a treasure chest that contained two blue weapons that were exactly at my level. They replaced two green weapons that were a level or two below at the time. This should have been a large, noticeable boost in power. Maybe statistically it was, but man it didn’t feel like it when I went into combat the next time. I felt just as powerful after equipping those weapons as I did before, and that’s just terribly lame.

Another example; exploring in ESO is better than in most themeparks. There are lots of chests, nodes, and skyshards to be found off the beaten quest path. In the first zone this truly felt like exploring, and it felt rewarding. By just the second zone, this all felt like going through items on a checklist, and while the rewards were the same, they didn’t get me excited or had a noticeable impact on my experience. Again, terribly lame.

Third example; The huge PvP zone is a giant improvement over GW2’s WvW. Bigger map, better siege equipment, better combat system, better performance; just all around superior. Yet I’m as excited to spent time there as I was in GW2; not much. Other than PvP for the sake of PvP, what am I doing there? I really don’t feel connected or care about the outcome, large or small. Dying is an annoyance in terms of respawning, and losing an objective just means a change in spawn points. There are rewards, but they don’t really mean much to me.

Combine all of the above with the general flaws of a themepark (levels, zones, level-based crafting, etc), and ESO flamed out fast for me. What’s different about ESO compared to say Rift for me is that ESO isn’t bad, it’s just not good-enough for me to spent time with. Trion ruined Rift for me with 1.2. That was clear separation. With ESO, it’s just a slow drift away.

ESO: Turn right, always turn right

May 5, 2014

This image, showing just how often ESO uses the same layout for dungeons, is a great illustration of why what worked well in Skyrim doesn’t work as well in ESO.

It’s almost part of the IP that you reuse stuff in Elder Scrolls. It was done in Morrowind, Oblivion, Skyrim, and as we see, now in ESO. The critical difference is that in the single-player, sandboxy games, you have options. In ESO, you progress from one zone to another, without choice. And even within a zone, there is a somewhat linear path that you ‘should’ follow. Because :themepark:

To put it a different way, imagine if Skyrim forced you to do a dozen “kill the bandit leader” quests before you could advance the main plot and get to experience some of the better quest, and during those dozen required quests, the game sends you to a dozen specific caves that all look and feel very similar. That’s ESO at its worst. You COULD do exactly that in Skyrim, but you can also completely skip all of that stuff and JUST do the unique stuff. The option to do either, or to jump between the two, is the key.

General themepark design means you don’t have that choice. And why is it that way? Because the devs are worried you will get lost, that you won’t be properly guided. And I can’t even say they are 100% wrong; how many threads have we seen about a sandbox where someone ‘had nothing to do’? A themepark is like going bowling and every lane has the bumpers up. I’d hate it, but sadly more than enough ‘gamers’ will be happy about getting a higher score and not concern themselves with the fact that failure was never even an option.


ESO: State of the game, state of the MMO

April 23, 2014

Since Bethesda releases a State of the Game today, I might as well post mine now as well.

Overall I really like the game. I don’t know if I’d call it a great MMO, but as just a game overall I’m really enjoying it. I’m progressing slower than expected (lvl 21 right now), but don’t feel that need to catch up or hit the end-game.

Gold spam has been noticeable, and it’s disappointing that Bethesda seems so unprepared for it and that it’s now taking so much of their focus to fix. It’s 2014 guys, and you expected to launch a highly populated MMO, really no excuse here.

On a similar note, I had posted that the first few days of launch where the best MMO launch I’ve experienced. Well the first month hasn’t been. Some quests have been broken, the bots at public dungeon bosses is HORRIBLE in terms of immersion and just general game enjoyment, and stuff like unusually long loading screens and chat lag all result in a game that is not nearly as smooth and easy to enjoy as it was on day one of the early start.

The MMO parts? Pretty hit or miss here.

The 4 man dungeons so far have all been fun, and what limited time I’ve spent with PvP has shown glimpses of something much better than the mess that was GW2 PvP. I like my character, I look forward to trying other specs, and I think overall the crafting has been above-average themepark crafting.

On the other hand questing really is best done solo, to the point that having others around you is more annoying than anything else. On top of that, you basically have to go out of your way to do non-dungeon stuff with your guildmates, which just feels wrong. I should be happy when a guildmate logs on, and I’m just not in ESO.

Even stuff like taking down the elite spawns on a map together feels forced, if only because one player is teleporting nearby to the other, and more than once said elite spawn has been killed by a random coming by and helping out while your guild mate is traveling. Plus once you kill the mob, the guild mate goes back to his solo questing while you go back to yours. (Note: This aspect is particularly striking to me right now because I’m also playing a lot of Darkfall, and in Darkfall having more people is almost always a good thing, and grouping up is so natural and beneficial.)

Ultimately it all returns me to the main driving of this blog since pretty much day one; a ‘sandbox’ is how MMOs work best, but for whatever reason it always (not EVE) seems that the sandbox is limited by its budget or design details, while a good themepark makes for a good game, but it ultimately held back by the fact that it’s a themepark. Why can’t someone other than CCP make a sandbox MMO that is also a solid game?


EVE: Space Famous

April 21, 2014

The latest EVE Blog Banter topic is about “space famous” individuals and everyone’s thoughts about them. Jester has his entry here.

The topic reminded me that I had previously talked about the importance of such players, here in more general terms and this post about my personal experience. I still agree with my 2012 self on the topic; the more “MMOish” your game is, the more important and beneficial the ‘space famous’ players are, at least the ones ‘space famous’ because they impact a lot of people, either directly or indirectly.

Side note but not really: It was kind of depressing skimming blog entries from 2012, in that they just had a lot more passion and drive behind them. Sure, more than a few were ‘off the handle’ rants or seemed to focus on laughing at Massively and the comments section, but overall more was happening on the blog itself and clearly in my gaming at that time.

I’ll of course lay some of the blame on the MMO genre. I mean, I’m currently playing one game I fully expect to kill itself with its next major update (DF:UW), and the other is a really fun solo experience with bits of multiplayer that, while entertaining, don’t really ‘fit’ into the game for me just yet (ESO).

On the horizon the only title I’m legitimately excited for is Pathfinder, but having seen so many similar titles not even come close to delivering, I’m not going to be a fool again and jump in head-first here. It would also help if more of the Inquisition core group was looking forward to it, but I don’t believe they are (or it’s not on their radar just yet). Blah…


ESO: Genre meld

April 8, 2014

In the post below this one, one line of questions revolved around what percentage of ESO’s content is ‘themepark’, and at what percentage does an MMO go from having themepark elements to just being a themepark.

This post won’t have an answer, because I don’t think we (MMO players) can agree on an answer. Everyone will have a slightly different take, both just on the design items and how a player might actually interact with a game. I’ve mentioned before that if you play ESO as you would WoW, you will progress but miss a lot of what the game is really about, but really that is just one example. What about the player who hits level 10 and goes on to do nothing but PvP? What about those who float between quests and everything else, never finishing anything fully? What about those who do EVERYTHING in a zone before moving on?

Taking a step back, how did we classify WAR? Themepark right? But WAR was designed to be more RvR than PvE, it just failed. What about DAoC? For most they will talk about the RvR (as they should), but DAoC also had a pretty significant PvE side, especially Darkness Falls. So is DAoC a themepark? Do we need to start splitting themeparks between PvP-focused ones and PvE ones?

That I do have an answer for, and it’s no. No because the whole definitions thing has been silly for a while now. Some MMOs blur the lines, some lean more towards one style or the other, and on top of all that each MMO player has their own person view on what they consider to be a sandbox feature vs what they see as themepark. When the genre was UO and EQ, it was easy. One was a themepark, the other a sandbox. When it was EVE and WoW, it was easy. It’s not easy today, because some game devs are actually learning lessons from past MMOs and combining (and more critically, combining well) themes and features from both sides of the MMO table, not to mention aspects from other genres.

ESO is the latest and greatest combination. So far, lvl 17, it gets far more right than wrong, and I think in some aspects we are just scratching the surface of that depth. A great example is over at Keen’s blog, in the comments section, about class builds (starting with Kahlmodra’s comment).

Perhaps the biggest hurdle ESO has to get over has nothing to do with its content or design, but in getting the average MMO player out of “Play it like WoW” mode. After years of conditioning, that’s a tall task, and an interesting development to watch.

#ESO #MMOdesign

ESO: Don’t call it a themepark

April 4, 2014

One way to judge a recently released MMO is by how often the devs need to patch in the first few days to fix things. ESO has had one so far, so while no game to date has been perfect, ESO continues to have by far the smoothest launch out of any MMO I’ve experienced.

I think walking into ESO expecting a themepark is also going to cause more than a few people to miss a lot of the good stuff (and was the root cause of a lot of early beta feedback of ‘more of the same’ feelings). Not to say that ESO doesn’t have themepark flavors, it 100% does, but those flavors aren’t “the whole game”, much like the main plot chain in Skyrim wasn’t “the whole game”.

If you went into Skyrim and stuck to the main plot exclusively, you missed a lot of the good stuff in Skyrim. If you go into ESO and do your routine “quest hub to quest hub leveling until the end-game starts” dance, you are going to miss a lot of the good stuff.

I’m currently just lvl 13, and have only done about 60% of the first ‘zone’, despite putting in a good chunk of time with the game because there is just so much ‘stuff’ to do/see that doesn’t directly progress you in levels, which is awesome. As mentioned before, there is true explorer stuff in this game, and not all of it rewards you with great xp or great items, sometimes you find things for a bit of lore, or to view an insignificant but fun little scene play out (I found a tied up merchant on a beach, approaching him caused a few hidden brigands to jump out, beating them allowed me to untie the merchant, who thanked me and walked away. No quest mechanic, no massive reward, just a random little bit of content that took 5 minutes and made wandering on that beach feel worthwhile).

Another random bit: In almost every village or town so far, there have been multiple houses or areas that aren’t directly tied to some quest. Themepark mode tells you to skip those until the game sends you inside, but ESO never will. Sometimes those houses only contain some random stuff and a lore note/book, other times I’ve found new crafting recipes or treasure chests tucked away. Point being, turn off themepark mode and follow up whenever you go “I wonder what’s inside there”. Unlike in most MMOs, in ESO you are very likely to find something.

I went into one of the instanced dungeons last night with the guild, great time. We had two people who out-leveled the place, which made it a bit easier than intended, but not so easy that we didn’t need to work together and pre-plan the encounters. The group size of four puts a lot more weight on each member, which is fantastic, and the whole experience still felt like ESO rather than a side game or something that played completely different than the rest of the content. Looking forward to more of those.

Finally we are hoping to get into some PvP tonight as a guild. I’ve yet to hear anything negative about it, so really looking forward to seeing what a smaller coordinated force can do and accomplish. Our guild is basically open invite, so if you are looking for people to play with, feel free to reach out.

#ESO #Themepark #Sandbox

ESO: Exploring without a guide

April 1, 2014

When the topic of exploration in an MMO comes up, it causes me to massive eyeroll. Usually what ‘exploration’ means in an MMO is heavily pre-planned, pre-set, and usually pre-marked locations for you to ‘explore’ off a checklist. It’s not only lame, but thinly veiled achiever stuff.

ESO is a bit different in this regard, because it has ‘true’ explorer content; completely optional, not must-have power, off-the-beat-path stuff that if you look around you can find, but if you don’t it doesn’t really matter in the long run. That last bit is especially important, because if the explorer content is found to be a must-have, it becomes part of every guide and recommendation and stops being something to find.

Speaking of guides, I think the best bit of advice I can offer related to ESO is don’t look stuff up as you play. Don’t look up maps, don’t look up builds, don’t look up ‘how to’ guides for crafting; just play the game. More than most recent MMOs, ESO offers a lot to someone willing to just play it, and so far it also hasn’t been punishing for ‘missing’ anything.

Maybe that balance shifts at later levels, but so far the game has just been a rewarding journey. Don’t spoil it for yourself to min/max; there will be plenty of time for that at the level cap.

ESO: Day one was a great day

March 31, 2014

The Elder Scrolls Online 5 day headstart began yesterday, with the servers actually going up an hour ahead of the scheduled start time (I’m sure someone out there raged about that as being ‘unfair’, because some people suck like that). As far as MMO launches go, yesterday might have been the smoothest I’ve ever experienced. Everything worked, there was no queue, I didn’t have to jump through any hoops, and I was able to play the game as if it had been live for 6 months. Being able to patch-up the beta client was huge too. Hats off to Bethesda, they nailed day one.

I’ve noted before that during beta, I was skipping all quest text/voice, and basically rushing through much of the game to see more stuff at higher levels. I’m taking the exact opposite approach to live; I’m intentionally playing really slow, wandering around often, doing one quest at a time to get the full story/point, and checking every little corner and box ‘just in case’. It’s sadly surprising how hard I have to fight down my ‘gamer urges’ to min/max stuff, but I’m committed.

So far the game has been far more enjoyable than in beta because of the above approach. ‘Simple’ quest steps suddenly have meaning, and the entire starter island for the Aldmeri Dominion now makes sense to me from a ‘why’ perspective. I can only talk about that one zone, but now knowing the full story behind it and every quest, I can say it was masterfully done, easily on par with the better quests of Skyrim. If this level of quality and storytelling continues throughout the game, I’m really going to enjoy myself.

Gameplay wise I went with an Imperial Nightblade, wearing a mix of the three armor types and duel-wielding whatever weapons I come across. For skills I’m spreading points across the three skill lines of the Nightblade, while also spending a few points in the duel-wield line and a point or two into some crafting stuff (I love the passive gathering). Basically a jack-of-all-trades so far, and I can always respec to min/max him out later if I get serious about PvP or ‘endgame’.

Final note: One of the early criticisms of the game was that the starter zone was small and limited on exploration. While I know that things open up beyond it, taking my time with the zone I can say there are a fair number of optional areas and hidden things to find, be they sky shards, treasure chests, or just little details like a chair with a bow and arrows on top of a ruined tower that requires a jump or two to access. I loved that kind of stuff in Skyrim, and it’s nice to also find it in ESO.


ESO: Game is live, Inquisition has been created

March 30, 2014

Quick note, ESO is now live (headstart period), and our guild has been created. Inquisition for the Aldmeri Dominion faction. I’m Syncaine in-game. Feel free to reach out.


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