SW:TOR – Good enough to be a sub MMO again?

June 17, 2015

Two observations about the ‘big’ SW:TOR expansion announcement (based only on reading Rohan mostly, since lulz actually playing SW:TOR):

Bit early to call SW:TOR trying to save itself here as it going the FFXIV route. FFXIV isn’t special in so much that SquareEnix made major changes, but that it’s by far the most successful MMO released in recent years, and that it may already be the largest MMO out in terms of total subscribers. Lots of MMOs have released large updates or overhauls; but few saw significant improvement/gains. Given the overall history of SW:TOR (hotbars! Get your hotbars!), let’s see what this really brings. Emphasis is still being placed on the 4th pillar from what I can tell, and we all know how well that worked out the first time.

The more significant bit IMO is the heavy leaning back towards the subscription model. SW:TOR launched as a sub game, it wasn’t very good, and as all not-very-good MMOs, it went F2P. The other side of that coin, the one rarely seen, is that when an MMO gets ‘good enough’, it has the option to come back to the major leagues and return to the sub model (Allods). Let’s assume this update is a major positive step for SW:TOR, can it get ‘good enough’ to be a sub MMO again? That would be something.

Fallout Shelter and Fallout 4 additional thoughts

June 16, 2015

Let’s talk Fallout Shelter first. For a free game (and it is free, as buying extra boxes is truly a dummy trap to skip playing the game, nothing more), its not bad, and certainly worth downloading and messing around with. How long you play it depends on how much you like this style of game, and how crazy you are about the Fallout setting. I’m a fan of both, so I’m pretty into it.

Ultimately, as presented, it is a time waster similar to Progress Quest. There is certainly some decision making, such as were to place rooms, when to expand or upgrade them, who to assign to rooms, and how you equip your vault dwellers, but once you do that, the game is mostly about seeing how things unfold and progressing forward.

The one strange thing about the game is a lot of things only happen when you have it open (events, major resource shifts), while other things happen in real-time (wasteland exploring, child aging). I think the game would be better overall if everything was designed around having the game open, with no progress happening when the app was closed.

Moving on to Fallout 4. As I’ve said before I’m most excited about the Boston setting, since that’s home for me in the real world. Can’t wait to see Fenway Park and MIT in the Fallout world, along with a lot of other locations. I can also see why some might be bothered by the graphics not being bleeding-edge stuff, but I don’t think they look ‘bad’ or will distract from the experience, plus mods will make things better anyway. Fallout 3 today is still a gem, despite its more aged graphics, so I’m more than fine with how Fallout 4 looked in the presentation videos.

Far more importantly, I think the gameplay improvements we saw were awesome. The crafting, where you can finally break things down to be used for a larger variety of things, is a huge step forward, and is complimented perfectly by the vastly expanded crafting options in terms of weapon and armor mods. I’m really hoping this finally takes crafting from feeling like an unfinished side thing (Fallout 3 and NV) to making scavenging around the world and finding all those random bits more of a focus.

I’m also hopeful that the housing shown fits into the above as well, and has some real meat to it. We saw raiders attacking and being shot at by defenses (very cool, very tower defense), and the building/placing aspect seemed like a solid improvement over Skyrim’s housing, but I’m still not convinced that at release this will be a major focus for players to really sink their teeth into. That said, either an expansion or mods likely will fill in those potential gaps.

The rest of what was shown was all good, and exactly what I want from Fallout 4. I some ways I just want more of what Fallout 3 was, but improved/expanded for 2015, and that’s what Fallout 4 looks like it is. The fact that Bethesda fooled some by putting the pre-order up, and then revealing at E3 that the game is basically ready to go, was brilliant. Also very surprising that in this day and age, they were able to keep the fact that they have been working on the game for years a secret.

My threshold for what I spend $60 on in gaming continues to rise thanks to Steam and other factors, but Fallout 4 is a no-brainer pre-order. Yea at launch it will have some bugs, that’s basically a given, but unless they are major game-breakers (didn’t experience that with Skyrim), I’m ok with it. Especially since you know Fallout 4 is going to be a game you play through multiple times, with future expansions/dlc and over the years with various mods, so getting in that first, pure run with the game along with the rest of the world is something I don’t want to miss.

Fallout 4 info and the mobile game

June 15, 2015

As most of us predicted, given it was up for pre-order on Steam, Fallout 4 is coming later this year. The full 2+ hour E3 presentation can be seen here (talking starts at 26min, Fallout 4 around 1hr), and you can get pre-hyped with the Fallout mobile game (yet another reason why Bethesda is like Old Blizzard, the Fallout app is #1 right now on the apple charts, unlike the release of HS).

Can. Not. Wait.

Darkest Dungeon mini-review

June 13, 2015

Darkest Dungeon is absolutely kicking my ass. Some times things turn ugly on the first run, before I even open the various buildings. Either I’m doing something (a lot of things) wrong, or the game is just brutal. Fun game though, and doesn’t feel like a ‘traditional’ rogue-like.

Steam summer sale reminder

June 11, 2015

If you want to be a nice person and sent me some/all of your Steam cards as a ‘thank you’ for all the countless entertainment I provide you, that would be much appreciated, thanks.

Trades work too.

Syncaine on Steam, friend request if we aren’t already.

Bringing games to prison

June 9, 2015

Via Az, what PC game would you pick if you were in prison for 10 years with no internet, and what three games would you pick if you were locked up for life but had Internet to play games but no web?

For me this is simple.

Mount and Blade: Warband + all DLC/mods is such an easy choice for scenario one, I’m more concerned that I wouldn’t have enough time in that ten years to finish doing everything. Civ V was also in the running, but really it’s a landslide toward M&B.

Scenario two is also pretty easy IMO.

First choice is EVE. You know its going to last, it has infinite content, you realistically COULD play it 23/7, and being awesome/addicted to EVE would mean you are critically involved in so much of the very best stuff.

Game two would be LoL, mostly as a break from EVE, but also because you know its going to last, get updated, and is a gaming formula that is proven to hold up.

Third option was more difficult for me only because I would be perfectly fine with just EVE and LoL, but I think at this point I’d go with FFXIV simply because of the content depth and pace of updates. At least in prison with EVE and LoL, I wouldn’t burn through FFXIV all that quickly, and the more relaxed pace would be a good break from the other two.

What really makes a themepark tick, and why FFXIV is a rolex

June 9, 2015

Where a good sandbox is like a mountain climb with incredible peaks along with plenty of valleys, playing a good themepark is like taking a nice walk on a familiar path; at no point are you overly thrilled, but the activity as a whole is enjoyable and ultimately you feel good about the time spent.

Most themeparks ‘fail’ because that steady drip of entertainment drops below an acceptable level, and people drift away (or you do something really dumb to instantly piss them off, like Allods with its cash shop). This is especially true if the themepark tries to use the sub model, because now there is further pressure to justify not just your time, but also your monthly cost (trivially low as it may be). At least under F2P, it only takes a tiny subset of all players to whale it out and keep things going (short-term anyway; long-term the need to keep those whales spending inevitably dooms the game), rather than a majority vote of happiness that is the sub model.

For years WoW held a choke-hold on themeparks because of how good+popular it was (not the post for that breakdown/discussion, but hopefully you understand that WoW wasn’t successful just because it was well-designed). The fabled coming of a WoW-killer was announced often, and each failed. If you were going to play a fantasy themepark (or ‘Sci-Fi’ that was fantasy reskinned), you might as well play the one with good content that all your friends are playing, right?

Realistically the only entity capable of ‘killing’ WoW was Blizzard itself, and thanks to New Blizzard making one mistake after another with the game since WotLK, that process has been underway for a few years now. WoD was able to lift WoW as much as it did because the hype was “a return to Vanilla”, but clearly New Blizzard wasn’t able to produce what really made Vanilla WoW, and sub are once again dropping.

While New Blizzard was working hard on stopping what should be an unstoppable juggernaut, SquareEnix re-released FFXIV, a themepark that is, in a way, Vanilla WoW in 2015. Not in terms of content, systems, or any specific design (all those are evolved and better), but Vanilla WoW in terms of keeping you on that nice, steady, enjoyable walk along that familiar path. Much like in 2004 WoW didn’t do any one thing amazingly well, in 2015 FFXIV doesn’t have a ‘killer feature’; it just has basically everything you could want, all co-existing beautifully in a world you want to spend time in and with a character you want to progress further, with plenty of ways for that progression to happen.

Themeparks don’t need a Burn Jita event. They don’t need to push the envelope in terms of battle sizes, or economic complexity, or to build and sustain the history of large player groups and rivalries for a decade. You don’t play a themepark expecting the peak of something like BR5 to happen, because you also don’t play it for the hours and hours of valley that makes something like BR5 possible and matter as much as it did. And you most certainly shouldn’t attempt to design your themepark to achieve this, because you will fail, horribly.

At least so far, SquareEnix seems to understand this with FFXIV. While the pace of content updates is very high, few if any of the updates are highly controversial or change/remove something you previously enjoyed. They add stuff, and generally the new stuff is good so you will experience it, but it if doesn’t happen to click with you, you aren’t disrupted or upset.

The other very important thing for any MMO, themepark or sandbox, is that updates should add content, not replace it. EVE is amazing in this regard, and FFXIV is good as well. WoW hasn’t been for some time. Most of the time a major addition to WoW effectively replaces something else, which can not only cause disruption, but also doesn’t create the massive content juggernaut that the game should be.

Take something as simple as leveling; in WoW every level increase should extent that part of the game (the best part of the game for many), but with every increase the leveling rate is also increased, so while you have more levels, they come quicker, and can be accomplished with less content consumed and time spent. That makes sense if you are dead-set on everyone sitting at the level cap, but for those that wish to experience an older zone as it was meant to be played, they either can’t (outlevel it) or can but only though additional hoops (stopping xp gain, limiting what items you use, etc).

Right now I’m ‘behind’ in FFXIV, with my main class at 38, my highest crafter at 25, and my miner at 21. If I was playing WoW, at lvl 38 I’d quickly outpace my current zone, everything would be a cakewalk due to item inflation, and it all wouldn’t feel like it did for those who hit 38 originally. Forget experiencing dungeon or group content ‘as intended’. In FFXIV none of this is the case. Every dungeon run has felt appropriate, every zone feels alive, and group content (fates) are still very popular (imagine playing WAR a year after release, being in a mid-level zone, and being able to complete every PQ with a group; that’s FFXIV today).

Other related little bits:

I recently opened up ventures for my retainers, as well as the dye and materia systems. All three open up once you complete some quick and easy, but totally optional quests. We talk often about exploration in MMOs, but way too many games have exploration limited to going to a pre-set and easy-to-spot landmark and getting an achievement, which is more achiever content than explorer. In FFXIV ‘exploring’ is, in part, finding these optional quests that open up more content for you, which is awesome.

Ventures for your retainers also tie nicely into the economy, crafting, and the roles system. Since you have to equip your retainer, and how well you equip them impacts the rewards you get, crafting lower level gear is viable/valuable, and your retainer can only level up as high as you have that role, be it combat or gathering (no crafting). Since you can have multiple retainers, this further encourages (though doesn’t force) you to switch and level different roles to open them up for your retainers as an option. The ability to switch roles on your character is already a great feature, and retainers add just one more reason why.

The dye system is fluff, of course, but is one of those “every game should have this” system, and again feeds into crafting nicely. The materia system is, as far as I see it right now, mostly an end-game thing, although you can use it earlier to give your gear a little boost. Creating materia by first getting gear to 100% bind, and then breaking it down, is another nice system that again ties other systems together. Since you can equip retainers, maybe you don’t automatically break down all your older gear? It’s not a major decision point (you can always craft or buy gear), but it exists, it adds depth to the game, and it’s a tiny little piece of a much larger, yet all inter-related puzzle that keeps you playing/paying.

FFXIV rightly deserves its spot as the top themepark MMO out, and hopefully current Square-Enix doesn’t become Old Square-Enix ala Blizzard in the years to come. If they continue down the path they have traveled so far, we’ll wonder if any MMO will ever topple it, much like we did with WoW back in 2007ish.


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