Massively’s Best of 2014

I was looking over Massively’s choices of the best MMO launched in 2014.massively2014poll

That’s a terrible list.

Of those, I consider only two of them to be “legitimate” candidates: ESO and WildStar. And of those two, ESO wins because it is the more innovative of the two. (Only one of the Massively people agreed with me.) It’s sad to note, though, that I only played those two games for two months and one month respectively. Both suffered from the same flaw: You get most of your skills early in the leveling process and they never change much, which makes leveling somewhat pointless because your character doesn’t appear to get any more powerful. You’re forced to keep making alts to experience variety in gameplay.

ArcheAge was technically launched years ago in Korea. But even if you count it as launching this year for the first time, it’s not the best MMO of 2014.

Firefall, Swordsman, Destiny, and The Crew are not MMOs, imo. Of course, I’ve only played one of them–Firefall. Firefall is fun, but it’s nothing like an MMO to me. Swordsman is PvP so who cares. :) The Crew is… whatever, nobody cares. Destiny is just a console shooter.

Elite: Dangerous might be a consideration but it looks too much like EVE for me to believe it’s a real game. (Zing!) But I’ll probably get it soon.

Also, Massively forgot to mention Trove, which I think is officially launched now. It’s a legitimate sandboxy MMO in my opinion, and also pretty fun.

Dragon Age Ate My Life

In case anyone is wondering, Dragon Age has eaten my life.

Get that camera out of my face.

I’m currently playing through Dragon Age II for the first time, after which I’m going to play Inquisition. So, no time for blogging, writing, sleeping, eating, playing any MMOs, or moving away from the PC screen for even a moment.

ArcheAge – Post-Mortum

I’m determined to sit here and write a complete blog post.

Inspired somewhat by j3w3l’s recent post, I’ve been thinking about ArcheAge. Thinking, that is, but not playing, because my work schedule has been ramping back up and ArcheAge is not a game you can play when you only have a little bit of time to play it. Not to mention the possibly-related fact that I’ve lost interest in it. I still log into ArcheAge once or twice a week to make sure my taxes are paid and to stockpile more tax certificates, but that’s about it. (Why they changed it to let you pay taxes with labor points I’ll never know.) I slaughtered my geese and haven’t planted any new fruit trees after they mysteriously disappeared one day. (I’m not entirely sure that someone or something wasn’t messing with my geese, too–I logged in several times to find them in various stages of fed/unfed/starving/recovering, and I’m quite certain I didn’t do any of it.)

This is about the only thing I see in ArcheAge anymore--the mailbox, where I pay my taxes.

This is about the only thing I see in ArcheAge anymore–the mailbox, where I pay my taxes.

Did I get my money’s worth out of ArcheAge? Probably not. I impulsively plunked down $150 for the Alpha Access however long ago that was. In World of Warcraft terms, that should have been 10 months of gameplay, but I certainly haven’t played ArcheAge for 10 months and can’t imagine doing so. I’d guess I got 4 or 5 months of decent gameplay out of it, before and after launch. That’s pretty good for an MMO these days, but not quite $150 worth of good. I’m not ruling out ever going back to ArcheAge, but I certainly won’t go back after my Patron status runs out … whenever. I have no clue when that will happen. The login screen says December 20 but it’s been wrong several times before.

Do I regret spending that $150? Not exactly. I still think I made an informed decision. I knew I was going to like the game. From my experience with the Russian version, I knew exactly how ArcheAge played and what state it was in (ie. finished except for the text), so it wasn’t like Landmark where I spent money without knowing what kind of game I was going to get. But I think I underestimated how much of a time sink that ArcheAge was going to be, and I just can’t sustain that for long.

Then there are the exploits and the apparent rampant incompetence of XLGames (I see Trion as having their hands tied). ArcheAge reminds me quite a lot of the early days of Ultima Online. Early UO was riddled with bugs and exploits that went on and on and on. As soon as one exploit got fixed, five new ones popped up. And these were big time exploits, too. Duping and teleportation and such. If UO were released today in the state it was back then, it would be laughed off the market. Which is more-or-less exactly what is happening to ArcheAge right now. (Although weirdly, ArcheAge queries to my blog vastly outnumber any other game queries, so based on that highly unscientific measurement, the market still has plenty of demand for it.)

It’s a shame because there is a very good core of a game there. I think it has a good balance of PvP and PvE. But I feel like the game isn’t quite finished yet. It needs a sequel. It needs a graphics engine update and an update to whatever underlying system is so vulnerable to exploits, and it needs a slew of tweaks to the gameplay. It needs a longer leveling curve and a shorter profession leveling curve. It needs more solo gameplay options and objectives. It needs more responsiveness so you don’t feel like you get killed by latency half the time. (Guild Wars 2 is the new standard for responsiveness in MMO gameplay, in my opinion.) And it goes without saying that it needs a lot more rigorous quality control.

Most of all it needs to decide whether it’s free-to-play or not. Right now, it’s not. You have to have Patron status to play the game as it’s intended. To me, that means it’s effectively a subscription game. (I feel the same about SWTOR. You can’t play that game without a subscription to remove all the restrictions. I mean, you can’t even use a frickin’ healing potion/stim/injection/whatever? Seriously?) And unfortunately, it’s not the best subscription game on the market right now. (I would subscribe to SWTOR before I subscribed to ArcheAge.)

Bloggy Xmas Day 7: Community and Me

Sitting down to write this, I can’t help but wonder why on Earth I signed up to write about community and gaming. I’m pretty introverted, so the idea that I might have anything to say about being a part of any community seems laughable. And to top it off, I don’t much like the Christmas season, either.

But the nature of community compels me to write anyway. Despite my own anti-social nature, I still feel like I’m a part of a gaming community–a collection of people who share a common enjoyment of gaming, particularly the online multiplayer variety.

If it weren’t for the existence of the gaming community, I would probably feel like an ostracized weirdo (more so than usual). I say that because I know almost nobody in real life who plays any kind of computer games other than puzzle or card games on Facebook. Most people I know in real life that are my age or above (cough 44 cough) find online multiplayer gaming to be an oddity that only strange people do. (Or at least that’s my perception.) Their only experience of it comes from whatever they hear on the news, which is rarely good. It’s not something they think that normal, healthy, well-adjusted adults would get involved in. As adults, if we are to play any kind of game with a group of people, it is generally expected that we are going to be in a room interacting with other people, without any need for computers.

(It’s a totally different story with the real life people I know under 40, though. For people in their twenties or thirties, playing online games seems to be a perfectly normal part of everyday life. I’m envious of younger generations for that.)

I first discovered the gaming community around 1996 or 1997, when I ventured onto the Internet to play Quake. In those days, people used dial-up modems to play games, and we envied and hated anyone who played from a college campus or work environment with a high-speed connection. I spent a ridiculous amount of money for an ISDN line to my rural house so that I could get better pings in Quake. For about a year, I had to dial into a number that wasn’t local, so my phone bills were hundreds of dollars every month.

It was worth it because I felt like a contributing member of a team where my skills were useful, and more importantly I felt like it was normal to play games with people scattered all over the country and the world. There were no judgments and everybody was an equal. I got involved in a “clan” that sprung up on a server that I played on frequently. We played in matches and tournaments, and won a fair number of them. (Back then, you didn’t get anything for winning a tournament except a pat on the back, but it was still great fun.) We also played Ultima Online and Asheron’s Call, which is where my love for MMORPGs started.

Between 2000 and 2006, real life started to intrude on my gaming and I drifted away from the online world, spending most of my time on single-player games. Then I saw that infamous Make Love, Not Warcraft episode of South Park, nostalgia overpowered me, and I dug out a demo CD of World of Warcraft that I’d had laying around for about a year. Since then I’ve played almost every major MMO that’s come out, at least for a little while.

My community involvement is different now than it was before 2000, though. I’m not involved in any guilds or clans anymore, so I don’t have much direct interaction with other gamers. (As I said, I don’t really know any other gamers in real life, except maybe my niece, but I don’t see her very often, and honestly it’s a bit weird for me when online worlds and real-life words collide.) Sometimes I think I should get more involved, and every now and then I join a guild in a game that I really like, but as an introvert, it’s a pretty major commitment for me. After spending all day at work interacting with other people, most nights I don’t want to socialize any more than I have to.

Still, I feel like I need to maintain some connection to the community, and that’s one of the reasons I write a gaming blog. For one thing, I like to write, and for another, I enjoy reading other bloggers’ adventures in the gaming world. It helps me to understand that it’s not weird to play games online, and it keeps me grounded in what can be a challenging world. And if I get that from other blogs, maybe someone, somewhere will get the same from my blog. It’s one small way that I can give back to a community that has been a big part of my adult life.

Merry Bloggy Xmas everyone! (Don’t forget to lock your doors so Santa doesn’t get you.)

Rift Enthusiasm Waning, Bring on Draenor

November is nearly over, which means NaNoWriMo is almost over for another year. As of this posting, I have some 1,500 words left to do before validating. (The story is nowhere near done, and I expect I will need to add another 40,000-50,000 words to actually finish the novel.)

I’m growing a bit tired of Rift. I finished the main story and got my main Mage to 65, and my Rogue, Warrior, and Cleric are all sitting at 60. I still enjoy playing Rift and sending out Minions, but it’s prohibitively time-consuming to farm Void Stones from 61+ Zone Events to upgrade one’s gear, and I’m not really in the mood for dungeons right now.

The Rift dwarven family of characters.

Ezarin and the Rift dwarven family of characters in Nightmare Tide.

With Rift fading from the limelight, I’m turning to Warlords of Draenor “full time.” The leveling game is crushingly easy as always. I finished the story in the first zone Shadowmoon Valley and reached level 92 in the process. I’m enjoying the Garrisons so far. They’re sort of like a slow-motion RTS. (I don’t much like having to wait for followers to finish their missions though.)

I haven’t yet used my instant-90. At first I thought I would use it on my 68 Mage, but lately I’ve come to the conclusion that Mages are the absolute worst class in WoW, and I have no more desire to punish myself by playing one. (Except I’m still determined to get my Mage to 90.) I honestly don’t know what they are good for (other than creating portals). They are terrible for soloing, and they are terrible in groups. The only useful ability they have in groups is a Remove Curse, and I consider that to be a healing responsibility, so I have no idea why the Mage even has it.

Hurray, I saved the world again!

Shadowmoon Valley saved!

Anyway, I think I might now use my instant-90 on my Warlock. Maybe. I haven’t decided yet. Who am I kidding? I’ll probably just hold onto it indefinitely.

In other news, I volunteered to write an article for Syl’s Bloggy Xmas Calendar. My article is scheduled for December 7, a date which seems to be looming a lot closer than I would like.

Rift – Nightmare Judgments

One thing I’ve noticed in Rift’s Nightmare Tide is more pressure to spend money. I don’t mean in terms of a sales pitch; I mean in terms of making the game less tedious.

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Losing my head over Nightmare Tide! (Not really, it’s a Halloween costume mask.)

For example, two new things in Nightmare tide are Earring Slots and the Planewalker “attunement” which allows you to wear some of the new gear. Each of these costs 100,000 Void Stones (the new zone event currency) in the Rift Store. The Planewalker attunement is account-wide, but the Earring Slots must be bought for each character. It is technically possible to grind out the Void Stones to buy those two important things without spending cash to unlock them, but keep in mind that there is a limit of 35,000 Void Stones you can collect per week, so you have to grind zone events for a minimum of six weeks to get both of those items for one character.

Me? I happily paid to get the $50 Collector’s Edition so I don’t have to do that for any character. (Even the $25 edition comes with them, so I highly recommend it.) Did I have to pay to get those things? No. Did I have to pay so that I didn’t die of boredom getting those things? Abso-freakin-lutely. (For reference, I don’t think I’ve picked up more than about 5,000 Void Stones in a week yet, and I’ve been playing a lot, so the amount of effort it would take to grind out 35,000 a week is mind-boggling.)

Now technically, you don’t need to wear earrings or have Planewalker attunement gear. You can still do everything in the game (I assume). I’m a relatively new level 65 and I’m only wearing two Planewalker items, and I’m not having any trouble with world quests and zone events. (Mobs are more difficult at 65 than they were at 60, though.) But obviously, you’re not going to be invited to any high-end Raids without earrings, and it’s going to be that much more difficult to meet the Expert Dungeon requirements without the stats from two extra items (and two extra rune enhancements).

The other area I’ve felt pressure to spend money in is Crafting. Crafting materials are abundant in the Plane of Water. However, it costs a lot of platinum to level up your crafting skills from 375 to 450, in the form of training recipes and store-bought materials. It costs so much money that it would be super convenient for me to drop $10 for a REX thingy, which I could sell for about 1250 platinum. The most platinum I’ve ever had on my main character is about 450, and that was when Attanium was selling like hotcakes. Alternatively, rather than taking your chances with REX prices, you can now, for the first time ever, buy the store-bought crafting materials for 3 credits each instead of spending the expensive 1 platinum each.

Savant-tier crafting materials as compared to the Grandmaster-tier crafting materials from the last expansion.

Savant-tier crafting materials as compared to the Grandmaster-tier crafting materials from the last expansion.

And lest you think you don’t need the store-bought materials, I can assure you that nearly every single crafted item going from 375 to 450 requires at least 1 store-bought item (essence, wax, string, etc.). The least expensive way to level from 375 to 450 seems to be to save up your materials and level up all at once with a +160% Transcendent Skill Sphere, which if you don’t have one costs 1000 credits. It’s credits well spent, though, in my opinion, because of the savings you’ll reap from not having to spend so much on materials. (I happen to have some from previous giveaways, and I plan on using them.)

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind spending money on Rift at all. But this is the first time I can remember feeling any kind of pressure to buy. Pressure in the sense that it’s better and/or more enjoyable to spend money than to play for free. In the past, I’ve felt that spending money is only necessary once you’ve grown bored of a particular activity that was inherently fun, whereas now the activity is so tedious and time-consuming that you don’t even want to start on it.

Despite all of that above, Rift is still a cheap game in the global scheme of things. If you’re keeping score, so far I have spent $70 on Rift Nightmare Tide. $50 for the Collector’s Edition and $20 for some Credits which I used on Minion slots and some Minion cards. I could have gotten away with spending only $25 for the cheapest Collector’s Edition and had much the same experience. Considering I just paid some $90 for Warlords of Draenor and a 3-month subscription (and I still haven’t played more than a few hours of it), what I’ve spent on Rift so far is a bargain and for me, it has a lot more bang-for-the-buck.

A November Kitchen Sink Post

Hi! You may remember that I used to write blog posts. At least occasionally. Unfortunately this month two things have happened: Rift Nightmare Tide and NaNoWriMo. Those two things, particularly the former, are way more interesting than writing blog posts. But I thought I would take a break and quickly write down some stuff about things.

Chatting with Akva near the end of Draumheim.

Chatting with Arak near the end of Draumheim.

Overwatch. Blizzard is making a role-based shooter (cough Team Fortress cough). This is probably a great idea that will make bazillions of dollars. I personally have less than zero interest in yet another shooter in a crowded, stale market. The only way I could possibly become interested is if they find a way to solve the ridiculously unbalanced gameplay that usually occurs between casual newbies and hardcore veterans. Most shooters are not fun unless you decide to dedicate your life to them and start on day one. I can’t tell if they are addressing any of that from the information I’m seeing, but I’m guessing that if it’s Blizzard, there will be progression in it, so they probably aren’t addressing it.

ArcheAge. Sorry everyone whose ArcheAge searches bring you to my blog, but I’ve totally lost interest in ArcheAge. I couldn’t care less about the new Auroria continent. I’ve seen a lot of controversy about the cash shop, but I haven’t been paying attention to it, and that’s not what will drive me away from the game anyway. (Aywren has great posts about the problems with ArcheAge.) For me, it’s basically too time-consuming to fully experience and enjoy the game. All I do in ArcheAge now is log in periodically to make sure my geese haven’t died and to pay my taxes. That is probably all I’m going to do until my Patron status runs out, which could be in a few days or a few months. I can’t tell by reading any of the information in the game or on Trion’s site. (That is another problem with ArcheAge.) After my Patron status runs out, there’s no reason to keep playing because if you can’t own land, ArcheAge has very few interesting features. (I mean, unless you want to run around with a guild doing trade runs for, I don’t know, bragging rights I guess.)

FFXIV. I’ve played a little bit of the new Rogue class in FFXIV. To me, it feels a lot like the Pugilist class, which is not really a selling point for me. I doubt I’ll play very much of it, although I will level it to at least 15 like every other class. But first I need to stop playing …

Rift Nightmare Tide. Pretty much playing this every possible moment, doing all the things, including the Harvest Whatever event. My mage is almost to level 65, but I’ve also spent a lot of other time leveling my rogue from 51 to 55, and building up his survival and fishing proficiency. I imagine this is what you WoW enthusiasts will feel like when Warlords of Draenor comes out. (Actually many of you WoW enthusiasts apparently already feel like this.) The only real problems I have with Rift are that performance is considerably slower than I remember, and there is a weird camera problem when you walk beside things.

My mage in his Ravens football uniform, standing before the junk pile of dimension items I've been collecting.

My mage in his Ravens football uniform*, standing before the junk pile of dimension items I’ve been getting from minions.

NaNoWriMo. I’m seeing a lot of people in my Twitter feed participating this year, which is cool. I’m on pace, which is better than I expected to do considering I didn’t have anything like a plot or characters when I started. My novel is a post-apocalypse story (but not a young adult dystopian or a zombie apocalypse). I’ve wanted to write a post-apocalypse story since I was a teenager (although this one doesn’t look anything like the Mad Max world I had envisioned back then).

Now to find some pictures! And then get back to Rift!

* Note that I am not a fan of the Baltimore Ravens (though I don’t particularly dislike them either). Also note that I do not have permission from the NFL to use the term “Ravens,” “Baltimore,” “football,” the color purple, or a picture of shoulder pads.

Rift – Nightmare Tide

I’ve been playing nothing but Rift since the expansion came out.* If you even remotely like the game, you should definitely check out Nightmare Tide. I’m a little biased though, since I think Rift is the best themepark MMO out there, far surpassing WoW in every possible way. (Except in the amount of available content and player population.)

Just thought this was a nice vista in Goboro Reef.

A nice vista in Goboro Reef.

Good things about Nightmare Tide:

Ridiculously Plentiful Gathering Nodes. In Storm Legion, mining and foraging nodes are pretty few and far between. In Nightmare Tide, you trip over them every two steps. My mage started with Foraging at 375 but Mining at only around 50. (I had decided much earlier that I was going to add all of the gathering skills to my main, but hadn’t gotten around to leveling them.) So I went back and leveled up Mining before I spent too much time in the Plane of Water. It only took a couple of hours to get from 50 to 300 in the “old” zones. But then I hit the Storm Legion zones and progress ground to halt. It took most of the day wandering around to get from 300 to 350, because suddenly you couldn’t find any mining nodes, and on those occasions when you did, you only got like 1/3 of a point! Once I got to 350 it was easy to get to 375 by grinding on some mobs up in Dendrome. I also leveled up Butchering and ran into the same problem. Huge dead zone between 300 and 350. Then you go into Nightmare Tide and you can’t move an inch without hitting a plant or a mining node or something to butcher. This is what I call a good adjustment by Trion. (It would be nice if they could go back to Storm Legion and double or triple the number of nodes.)

Carnage Quests A-OK Now. In Storm Legion, I became pretty irritated by all the Carnage quests. It got so that I actively tried to avoid killing things so another stupid quest wouldn’t attach itself to my already-huge list. I guess it’s not that I didn’t like the quest objectives, it’s that you could never finish one before two new ones popped up. In Nightmare Tide, I’m not seeing that anymore. The Carnage quests seem to be just right. (Or maybe I’ve just gotten used to them.)

Zones Appropriately Sized. In Storm Legion, the zones are enormous and they seem mostly empty. Except for the accursed Carnage Quests. In Nightmare Tide, the zones seem to be just the right size. Or rather, they are still enormous, but there is stuff in them all over the place.

Gyel Fortress, the location of a new dungeon in Nightmare Tide.

Gyel Fortress, the location of a new dungeon in Nightmare Tide.

Leveling Pace Exactly Right. Unlike Storm Legion, where leveling from 50 to 60 was a rather daunting grind-fest, leveling through these three new zones seems just right. I have not yet gotten Patron status, and I don’t feel any need to do so. Without any bonuses (other than the 25% bonus they gave because of the outage) I’m still plugging along at a decent clip, even out-pacing the zone quests a little bit. So if you end up using a lot of bonuses, you’ll probably zoom to 65 in no time. So 5 levels in 3 zones seems like the right call. Good expansion size. Now if we could get one of these every six months instead of every year, it would be even more awesome.

Minions. At first I was befuddled by the minion system. I didn’t really know what it was good for. But then a weird thing happened. I kept sending out minions on adventures even though I didn’t fully understand the appeal, and then I still kept doing it, and then later, I still kept going back and sending out more minions on adventures. I don’t exactly love it, but there is something really compelling and interesting about it that keeps me coming back. I even bought two more slots. It seems to be the only way to get Artifacts in Nightmare Tide zones, because I haven’t run across a single Artifact out in the wild yet. Also you get just crap tons of Dimension Items, if you’re into that. I’m not particularly into that, so I just keep dumping them into my trash heap of a dimension to get them out of my inventory.

76 stages in a Silverwood Nightmare Rift is the best I've done so far.

76 stages in a Silverwood Nightmare Rift is the best I’ve seen so far.

Nightmare Rifts. These things are awesome. The only problem is that some jerk wad will inevitably try to sabotage the group’s progress by pulling mobs away from the center. (Public Service Announcment: Make sure everyone is on board with pulling the mobs to the center so everyone can AoE them down faster. If you’re a DPS and you get aggro, run to the center and stand there, don’t run away like a dufus.) If you’re in a big guild or whatever, I think you can open private Nightmare Rifts so you can avoid that.

By the way, if you’re afraid that the expansion is all about swimming, don’t worry. You only have to swim for about the first 15 minutes. Then it’s mostly land again. (Which also means you mostly wasted your money if you bought that shark mount.) There was much, much more swimming in the Song of Dreams mini-expansion last year. (Last year?!? Good lord I didn’t realize it was that long ago.)

* I almost killed off my geese in ArcheAge.. I logged in to find them starving and half of my fruit trees had already died off. By the way, I have heard people say they think ArcheAge is somehow similar to the look and feel of Rift. I just can’t see it. They are totally different to me.