Wild West Online Announced

I complain a lot about a lack of gaming news (to myself, at least) but I completely overlooked the recent announcement of a new MMORPG called Wild West Online (WWO) from new studio 612 Games. It will be set in … wait for it … the Wild West.

Taking a cue from Wilhelm here and screen-capturing their web site. :)

Initially I understood it would be a PvP game. But before you groan and click away, there seems to have been some miscommunication and MassivelyOP’s interview indicates PvE players will get their own play area as well. There is even talk of “community-run” servers, which makes me wonder if we’re talking about a sort of western-themed Conan Exiles here. (If so, I will rescind the “MMORPG” label.)

Also, apparently it’s illegal to talk about any future western-themed game without also mentioning Red Dead Redemption 2. So …

Red Dead Redemption 2!

WWO was going to run a Kickstarter campaign, but no sooner did I begin thinking about writing this post than I read that their private investors decided to come through with all the money they needed, so they cancelled the Kickstarter plans.

Thankfully that means I no longer need to tread into the sensitive topic of locking playable women behind a stretch goal. (It’s really bad PR.)

I’m a little skeptical about their claims of PvE content though. That PC Gamer “reveal” article made it sound pretty clear that it was a PvP game. Maybe they’re hedging now and putting in some content for PvE players? If so, it doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t treat PvE players as “second-class citizens.”

Still, I certainly won’t complain about a western-themed MMORPG, even if it runs out of steam (hyuk hyuk) after a couple weeks of PvE play. I’d probably enjoy just wandering around taking screenshots in a game like this. The images on their web site look pretty nice. I like that kind of scenery.

Now we just have to wait to see if it ever comes out. I’m going to go ahead and guess already that we won’t see anything more than an alpha in 2017, if that.

ArcheAge – Random Screen Shots

Here’s an oldie from Drafts… and I didn’t even have to find pictures for it!

Here are some screen shots that didn’t fit anywhere else.

I quested for quite a while in Hellswamp without being accosted by anyone. Reds and greens wandered around doing their own thing for hours even while the zone was in conflict.

Me and the puppy hanging out in Hellswamp, not getting ganked.
Me and the puppy questing out in Hellswamp, not getting ganked.

Apparently if you harpoon the bottom of the ocean you can make your Clipper fly into the air. I’ve never tried it but it looks freaky when it happens.

Just a couple of Clippers flying in the air by the coast. No big deal.
Just a couple of Clippers ships flying through the air by the coast. No big deal.

Unlike Cinderstone Moor, Hellswamp actually has both factions questing in the same place. You would think it would be constant pandemonium, but it isn’t. At least it wasn’t for me. Only one person ever tried to attack me, but I survived because a swarm of my faction-mates arrived and killed him. To me, that indicates that more people are into questing than are into open-world PvP.

On the other hand, when the zone went to War Time, a bunch of level 50s from the opposite faction appeared. One of them killed me before I could get away. (I was only there because I thought it was going to switch to Peace Time but I forgot it goes to War for a while first.)

More proof that ArcheAge isn't solely about PvP ganking.
Hanging out in a Hellswamp quest hub with the enemy. More proof that ArcheAge isn’t just about ganking.

I thought that donkeys with carrots were faster than farm carts until I saw these guys using some kind of fuel injection buff to fly down the roads. Somebody needs to invent some better vehicle technology to keep from polluting the environment, though.

The trading race during Hellswamp Peace Time begins.
The trading race during Hellswamp (and Halcyona) Peace Time begins.
My new favorite donkey run - Gweonid Forest to Cinderstone Moor via. the Dewstone Plains airship.
My new favorite donkey run – Gweonid Forest to Cinderstone Moor via. the Dewstone Plains airship.

I went crazy with house decorations one day and built a chair. To watch for intruders.

I went crazy with house decorations one day and built a chair. To watch for intruders.

My first ride in my most expensive creation so far, the Farm Cart.
My first ride in my most expensive creation so far, the Farm Cart. Slow, but at least it’s less pollution!
On your mark, get set, go! At the border of Halcyona waiting for Peace Time to begin.
On your mark, get set, go! At the border of Halcyona just as Peace Time begins.
Rawr! Don't look behind you.
Rawr! Don’t look behind you.
Did you say something? Nope, nope. I wasn't glaring at all.
Did you say something? Nope, nope. I wasn’t glaring at all.

Ashes of Creation – Mandatory Post

Blatantly stolen from their web site.

I feel like I should write something about Ashes of Creation’s successful Kickstarter campaign, although to be honest I don’t have much to say about this game yet. Wilhelm’s post on it is actually a great summary of my thoughts, and I should probably just link there and call it a day.

I’m not on the hype train by a long shot. Not that I see anything particularly wrong with the game, it’s just way, way too early to even think about commenting on it. I’m glad they got their funding, but this game is still years away from being playable. I would be amazed if they have anything but a barely functional alpha by the end of 2018.

I’m not glad and actually just a tiny bit offended at their disregard for the history of the genre in choosing the name Ashes of Creation. I mean, what’s next? Windmills of Wonder? Enduring Quasars?

Yes, it irritates me that they have chosen a name that is abbreviated AoC.

Anyone who has been around this genre even a little bit knows that “AoC” means Age of Conan. What, are we just supposed to forget about that? Is Ashes of Creation going to be so good that it will erase the real AoC from our memory?

I mean, it’s such a simple thing to fix. How about Embers of Creation? Same number of syllables, and not that much different in meaning. Surely at this stage of development they can’t be married to “ashes” in their lore. I don’t see any volcanoes in any of their screenshots or concept art. At least two other MMORPGs–Albion Online and Shards Online–have changed their names during the development process, so it’s not even unprecedented.

It really makes me worry about what else they don’t know about the MMORPG genre. Are they aware, as Syl quite rightly pointed out recently, that we players have grown to loathe tedious inventory systems? The inventory system, and indeed the entire UI, seems to be one of the last, least-thought-about things to go into any RPG. “Just throw a generic drag-and-drop window system from the 1980s in there and it’ll be fine,” seems to be the thinking process. (Notice how there are no images of inventory management in any of the concept art or screenshots or videos.) If somebody wants to reinvent and evolve the genre, how about starting there?

The only inventive thing I’ve seen about Ashes is the “Node” system. I am interested in seeing it, but I’ve seen too many MMORPGs promise we’ll be able to change the game world to fall for it again. I’m not sure they’ve thought through all the potential pitfalls of how players might exploit and ruin it. Letting players change things often has unintended (ie. bad) outcomes. I have a feeling it’s going to change a lot between now and the launch date once they find out that yes, the rumors are true: Some players are jerks.

Remember when we all got excited about Crowfall’s debut some two years ago when they did their Kickstarter? That was cool, but then they kept talking about it like it was a real game, except it’s still not a real game two years later, we still can’t play it, yet they keep talking about game updates like it’s a thing that actually exists. And I know it does exist for certain people, but not for the average Joe Gamer, and I’m kind of sick of hearing about it and I wish they would go away until they are ready to launch the game. There is such a thing as too much transparency when it comes to game development.

I’m not interested in repeating that experience for Ashes of Creation. And yet, I just know that’s what they’re going to do.

So in summary, I’m glad they’re making this game, but it’s hard to get excited about a handful of mocked up videos and screenshots that frankly show very little except the fact that they have successfully installed the Unreal engine SDK and imported some prefabs. It’s too soon to pin all of our hopes and dreams on it.

Secret World Legends Announced

Totally ripped off from https://secretworldlegends.com/

There is some interesting MMORPG news out! Well, “shared-world” news, that is. Some time back, Funcom mentioned in an investor report that they were planning to “re-launch” The Secret World, and Internet speculation ran rampant. Nobody knew what that actually meant. Today, we found out.

Funcom is planning to launch a new free-to-play game called Secret World Legends (the official acronym is apparently SWL, judging from my Twitter feed). This game will be a “shared-world action RPG.” You can read all the announcement information yourself on their site.

The good news is that the existing game, The Secret World, will remain untouched and work as before. The bad news is that it will probably remain untouched and neglected for the remainder of its lifetime, which might not be very long if Legends is successful. (That is pure speculation on my part.)

For me personally, Legends sounds like a good thing. Details are sketchy, but I certainly wouldn’t mind a combat overhaul to something a little more modern (possibly console-friendly?). TSW combat has always been an odd hybrid of tab-targeting and action combat, doing neither very well. I also found the progression in TSW a bit too strange so I would welcome a change there too. And, I’m completely anti-social in MMOs so the ability to play the whole game solo is a plus for me.

People who won’t be happy about this are those who have invested a huge amount of time and effort into TSW, and like the game the way it is. Funcom isn’t saying this, but I can’t imagine they are going to run and update both games in parallel, at least not for long. I could see them shuttering TSW in a year or two, although I think it would behoove them to leave a server running in maintenance mode as long as they are able to.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m definitely interested in learning more about this new game.

Snap Judgment – Shroud of the Avatar (Free Trial)

I read on MassivelyOP that Shroud of the Avatar was having a free trial “test” (whatever that is) so I downloaded the game and tried it out last weekend. I’ve seen increasing buzz about the game and I was curious to see if there was anything to it.

I only played for about an hour, and while I can’t say I was dying to play more, I did find it interesting enough to leave it on my games to continue watching. It had a number of things you just don’t find in traditional MMORPGs.

The biggest problem (or perhaps feature) I saw was that the game felt a lot more like a single-player game than an MMORPG to me. I didn’t see any compelling reason to play it in the multiplayer environment. There is a single-player offline mode and a single-player online mode. And for those people who actually have gaming friends, there is also a friends-only online mode. I can’t imagine why anyone would play in any other mode. In this day and age, strangers rarely do much to enhance my online games.

Still, I played the multiplayer online just to see it. I saw a grand total of perhaps a dozen people in the game, most of whom were fellow visitors. Nobody tried to talk to me or emote at me or even look at me, as far as I could tell. Most everyone was interacting with an NPC.

The game’s conceit* is a bit of a cliche, if you ask me, but it’s at least worth mentioning: Your character finds the game world on the Internet, basically. That is, your character finds arcane texts and rituals and whatnot on the Internet, invokes them, and is pulled into the game world. I don’t think it’s ever been done before in an MMORPG (with the possible exception of The Secret World), but it certainly has been done a lot in fiction. (The Thomas Covenant series and Alan Dean Foster’s Spellsinger books are two that immediately spring to mind.) I even wrote a short story once with that cliche myself.

After the cut scene that sets up how you found Britannia on the Internet, the game starts with an unusual character selection process. The “Oracle” asks you a series of questions to decide your class. I didn’t care for it, honestly. The game tells you that you should play an archer if you’re new, no matter what you picked. Regardless of what you pick, the mechanics appear to be skill-based, not class-based. I give them points for that, at least. I greatly prefer skill-based games. Now that I’m writing this, I wish I’d looked more closely into the character system.

NPC interaction is done through Morrowind-style hyperlinked text. I thought it was an interesting concept in Morrowind where you have all the time in the world to read NPC text and respond but I don’t see it working that well in a modern MMORPG scenario. I especially don’t like typing responses to NPCs. We as a species have evolved beyond Zork-style RPG interfaces, in my opinion. I suspect they got a lot of negative feedback about the typing because there are also selections you can click on so you don’t have to type anything.

After character selection you’re taken to a solo instance to teach you the basics of the game. You get to run around a burning village and rescue a kid (or not, if you want). There were a surprising number of things you could do in the little instance if you looked around.

Combat is very, very strange. The game tells you to point at targets and shoot them, but in fact you can point anywhere and still shoot your target. Somehow you “lock on” to a target and your arrows go there no matter what direction you’re pointing. I’m not sure I can explain it. It’s a weird hybrid of tab-targetting and action combat.

When you finish the burning village instance, you click on a boat and warp to the starter village, and at this point I started to wonder about the technical implementation of this game. It’s pretty clear that you’re always in an “instance” of some kind, and never in a big open seamless world like you’d expect in an MMORPG. (Though honestly, very few MMORPGs do seamless worlds any more.) The starter town is an instance with fixed boundaries. When you leave the starter town you enter an “overland map” instance where you move your tiny little avatar like a Monopoly game piece around. When you get to a place of interest you transition out of the overland map back into another instance. And so on and so on. It feels very much like a single-player game, like Dragon Age, for example.

I understand this game is built from the Unity engine, so it’s not that surprising to see it running into technical limitations with large seamless maps. As far as I know, nobody has ever implemented a full-blown MMORPG with Unity. (Not at the AAA level at least.)

Graphically, the game looks decent, if not great. It’s good enough that it wouldn’t stop me from playing it, and maybe even good enough to become immersed in the world. (I didn’t take a single screenshot while I was playing the trial though. The images in this post were grabbed from the video I recorded.) Character animations weren’t that great, though. The jumping animation made me laugh.

I’m glad I looked at it but I suppose I was left more puzzled than anything. It really feels like a single-player game that they’re trying to convince people is an MMORPG. I don’t mean that in a bad way. I feel like they would be more successful marketing it as a co-op RPG. I mean it feels like a game that was literally designed from the ground up to be a single-player RPG. I don’t understand why they wouldn’t try to sell it that way.

* I’m embarrassed that I used the word “conceit” in a sentence like that.

Snap Judgment – Revelation Online

Yes, that’s a miniature panda on my head.

Last night I took a look at Revelation Online for the first time. I played for about 45 minutes. I don’t have much to say about it, except I didn’t particularly care for it.

It’s a solidly average anime-style MMORPG that takes no chances. It’s an Asian version of a WoW-clone. (A Lineage-clone?) I saw nothing that advanced the MMORPG genre in any way.

I didn’t think it looked that great. They went for a more cartoony cell-shaded sort of style instead of a more realistic style like Black Desert or ArcheAge. It looks a bit like that 2D style that you see a lot in fighting games. I didn’t care for it or the character animations. Everybody moved around like they were playing Mortal Kombat and did not need to obey the laws of physics.

I picked a Gunslinger class. I lost interest in the storyline within about ten minutes. It starts out with mundane tasks to teach you the game. You can literally have the game do the quests for you. It goes beyond simply auto-running to the quest location: It will actually kill the quest mobs for you, too. Is that the only way to fight bots in MMORPGs now? Build the bot behavior directly into the game?

Beware nuclear fallout.

It’s not very efficient if you let the game play for you, since it only uses auto-attacks. But the combat is so easy that auto-attacks are still overpowered. I saw nothing particularly interesting about the gunslinger combat (there was plenty of movement and flashes and sounds but it all just ran together), except one “grenade” ability that sort of looks like a mini-nuke explosion. You get way more combat abilities than you actually need at the beginning.

Double-tapping any movement key makes you dash about a mile in that direction. Double-tapping and holding forward makes you run like The Flash. You get wings so you can fly around, too, in case you get tired of running. I found it a bit difficult to control the flying. It goes so fast that if you blink you’ll zoom past where you’re supposed to go. And you can’t just take off and land like you’re accustomed to with flying mounts, you have to hit a special “fly” key.

Fly! Be free!

I’m getting bored just writing this. I wasn’t into this game at all. It was a big chore to play for 45 full minutes. :) There was nothing new or fresh or exciting to be seen, it was all “more of the same.” The environment was bland. The story was bland. The gameplay was bland. I didn’t see anything that might pull me away from a game I was already playing. Here are the only two things that really made an impression on me:

First, the game starts off in a window for some inexplicable reason, and I could find no way to change it. You have to go through the whole character creation and a cut scene and enter the world before you get to a point where you can configure the game settings to go full screen. (You can hit alt-enter to switch to full screen but it was the wrong resolution for my setup.)

Second, the idle animation of the gunslinger actually shoots birds out of the sky. Your guy shoots straight up like Yosemite Sam, and then some blue birds and a big white duck plop to the ground. It was pretty funny. That was definitely the highlight of my playing time.

In a nutshell, Black Desert, ArcheAge, TERA, and even Aion are all better Asian imports and I would recommend playing any or all of those first. Play Revelation Online if you’re a games journalist and have to play it to write a review, or if you’re a streamer and have to play new games constantly to keep your audience. Otherwise I could only recommend it if you’ve already played everything else and you’re really bored.

P. S. I did not see any bugs or connectivity issues typically associated with a launch, so there’s no worries there.

Amazon’s New World, Part Two

From a draft written somewhere around October 2016…

I finally got around to watching Amazon’s teaser video, thinking that it would erase my earlier skepticism and soften my opinion about their upcoming games, and maybe even start to get excited about the possibilities.

Unfortunately it only pushed my skeptical buttons even harder.

“What if a game was built for Twitch,” wonders a voiceover 12 seconds into the video. Instant buzzkill. The video goes on to mention Twitch about five times in the first 60 seconds, before anything about games. If we go with the assumption that what they put into the very beginning of their video is the “hook” and therefore the most important message they want to deliver, we have to assume that Twitch integration is the most important part of their design philosophy for these games. And if Amazon making games to target Twitch viewers is not a corporate-synergy-driven game design, I don’t know what is. It’s as if they accidentally put the video meant for their shareholders out to the public.

The bottom line is that we don’t know anything about New World right now, except that it’s main, repeatedly-stated purpose is to synergize with Twitch. Which, to me, is not a selling point. When I look at the Twitch ecosystem, and indeed the whole streamer sociography, I see something that’s very difficult to comprehend. Lately I’ve been thinking of streamers as the modern-day equivalent of dancing monkeys or traveling freak shows. Probably an unkind comparison, but that’s the kind of content that seems to rise to the top.

I don’t understand why they’d reveal anything at this point and leave so much room for rampant speculation. They’re talking about this game even earlier in the development cycle than when ArtCraft started talking about Crowfall, which was incredibly early, and now seems so long ago that Crowfall feels like it’s come and gone already.

LotRO Volume 1, Book 14 – The Sloggiest Journey

Another post rescued from my drafts…

Book 14 begins with Laerdan preparing for a journey south. He asked me to collect a bunch of gear for him that he left strewn around Eriador, because the hero’s journey always involves fetching stuff. It was a lengthy, boring scavenger hunt.

When I returned to Rivendell, Laerdan was gone. In a note, he said he sent me away so I wouldn’t interfere. I spent all that time collecting his gear for nothing. But I wasn’t bitter about it. Much.

He left his journal open to a section describing his imprisonment in Sammath Baul. Upon reading it, I felt myself having an out-of-body experience, in which I uh … ah, screw it, I can’t think of how to maintain a narrative voice. I played a “Scenario” in which I observed Laerdan during his imprisonment.

After my “vision” I returned to Elrond. There I experienced another “vision” showing that Laerdan had run to Eregion to re-forge the ring Narhuil and rescue his daughter Narmaleth. He was, of course, captured, and the ring fell into the hands of Amarthiel. (Because Narmaleth is Amarthiel.)

Before Amarthiel could fix the ring, she needed some dragon wings to fix the forge. Elrond sent me back to Forochel to find and kill the dragon Bregmor (apparently the only dragon available) before Amarthiel got to him. Forochel was as dismal as ever. The cave where the dragon lived was dismal and also full of some guys. Unfortunately, when I reached the end of the cave, Mordambor had beaten me to the dragon and killed it.

Poor dead dragon.

I returned to Elrond with the bad news that I’d failed to get the dragon wings. As punishment, he sent me to the ring-forge Mirobel in Eriador to confront Amarthiel and Mordrambor.

It was another slog through a big space full of bad guys, but I finally got to the dramatic conclusion. Amarthiel sicced Mordrambor on me, but I defeated him. Laerdan arrived and confronted Amarthiel (still in the body of Narmaleth, Laerdan’s daughter), but she killed him. Before I could fight Amarthiel, a surprise mystery guest appeared: Mordirith. Mordirith took the ring from Amarthiel and flew away, leaving her broken and defeated.

Thus endeth Book 14.

For most of this book, I was incredibly bored. The only parts I really enjoyed were a brief section of the first Scenario (the part where you kick all the sleeping guards), and the final confrontation with Mordrambor, Amarthiel, Laerdan, and Mordirith way at the end. The rest was an endless, joyless slog.

Speaking of Scenarios, I believe this is the first time I’ve seen one in LotRO. I like the concept, but when you have to do combat it ssssssuuuuucks. As soon as you put me into a POV character where I have a whole new set of abilities, I get pretty annoyed. I spent all this time learning my character’s abilities, and now I have all this new stuff!? It took sooooo long to fight through all the mobs in those Scenarios because I essentially auto-attacked through everything.

Which brings me to one reason why this was a dull book. My character is level 55 now and admittedly over-leveled for this content. But there was no challenge in it whatsoever. A couple of times I literally got up from my desk during a battle, re-filled my coffee cup, and came back to find I’d killed everyone. It’s hard to maintain any sense of excitement in those kinds of combat situations. It’s a foregone conclusion that you’re going to defeat the mobs.

After posting a bunch of these chapter summaries, it occurs to me that I could simply post a link to Lotro-wiki.com and save myself a lot of time in the future.