Rift, Great For Introverts

I’ve been trying to pinpoint exactly what it is that I love(d?) about Rift, and I think I figured it out. It was perfect for an introvert like me who enjoys solo play, but also wants to do group activities without a lot of hassle. Rift’s dynamic rifts and zone events fulfilled that requirement perfectly.

You’re out doing quests to level your character, enjoying the scenery. Then a zone event breaks out, and you rush to the spot marked on your map and find a big group of players there. Ten seconds ago you were by yourself in the middle of nowhere, then in a flash you’re part of a group working together toward the same objectives. You can heal if you want to, you can tank if you want to, or you can just sit back and pew-pew if you want to. You don’t have to spam a chat channel with "lfg" for an hour, you don’t have to sit in a dungeon finder queue, you don’t have to manage a bunch of personalities, you just run to a spot and you’re automatically part of a like-minded group working toward the same goal, without any sense of commitment. When you’re done, you just go back to your quest. It worked beautifully. (You could even ignore the event completely if you wanted to be left alone.)

GW2 has a very similar mechanic with their dynamic events, and I loved doing those while leveling (being able to resurrect fallen allies is awesome). FFXIV has FATEs, and I enjoy them too. Any game that has a way to work together toward a goal without having to "commit" to a formalized social structure is going to appeal to me.

In the next evolution of this concept, they need to find a way to automatically add nearby players to your raid frame so you can heal and buff them without the need to even form a public group.

Undoubtedly all of that makes me sound totally anti-social, but I think it’s more of an introversion trait. (Introverts often look like anti-social jerks to outsiders.) It’s not that I dislike formalized groups and guilds–I did a bunch of guild raids in Rift–it’s just that there is a much higher level of commitment in that, both in time and energy, which I find draining.

WoW Tanks Are Top DPS??

I realize nobody wants to read about WoW, but historically I haven’t played it much, and about 90% of it is still new to me. Well "new" isn’t the right word exactly–it’s more that WoW’s implementation of familiar MMO tropes is new to me. For example, I’ve made a shocking observation in my low to mid-range dungeon runs: The tank almost always does the most damage in the group. Sometimes by a very large margin.

That's the tank up there at the top.
That’s the tank up there at the top.

It’s a bit of a mind-blower when I’m going in with what I think is a pure damage spec, only to get out-damaged by the tank! In every other game I’ve played, the tank has almost no damage output, and is usually second-to-last before the healer.

At first I thought that low to mid-range dungeon runs in WoW are so easy that people simply use a damage spec instead of a tank spec to get through the dungeon faster, relying on their damage to keep aggro. Because it can’t possibly be that the WoW tank specs deal massive damage and withstand massive damage, can it?

Yep, that looks like a Protection Tank to me.
Yep, that looks like a Protection Tank to me.

It seems so. As further evidence, when I play an Arms Warrior, my damage is usually pretty high among the group without any special effort. But when I play a Warlock or a Mage, my damage is usually last place among the damage dealers. I haven’t had the nerve yet to try playing a Protection Warrior to confirm the super high damage. (Not that I think it would be hard; I just don’t want to get yelled at for going the wrong way.)

Perhaps this is just an artifact of the leveling process, and everything will balance out at the level cap. That is, perhaps Warriors do better damage while leveling, but at the cap the Mages and Warlocks catch up. I hope so, because right now it doesn’t look like there’s any reason to roll anything but a warrior for damage.

EQ2 Status Report, 43 Warden

I thought it would be fun to write a series of posts talking about where my characters are in various games. Lately I have been bouncing back and forth between MMOs, so I’ve touched base with a lot of them recently.

At the time of this writing, my main character in EQ2 is a level 43 Wood Elf Warden (one of the many classes of healer, if you don’t know). After a recent spate of playing, he moved from the clockwork-kobold-infested Steamfont Mountains to the icy island of Everfrost.

I’m not really following the story of what’s going on with these quests. When I arrived in Everfrost, it seemed that people on the dock were rather disgruntled about having made the trip there. (Understandably, because being a solid ice field, it did not look like a great place to live.)

Yes, this looks like the perfect place to build a settlement.
Yes, this looks like the perfect place to build a settlement.

One woman’s poor husband had been eaten by sharks and had her luggage scattered everywhere in the ocean. Of course I cheerfully volunteered to swim around the freezing water among the gigantic sharks to pick up her missing stuff. After dealing with the sharks, I moved inland a little bit to some sort of camp. There I discovered that the NPCs on Everfrost will actually attack me if I accidentally hit them with an AoE. Not far from there, on the Jagged Plains, is a dragon broodmother and a bunch of ice maidens who will kill you dead if you make a wrong turn. It’s not a nice place overall.

My main goal with these newest playing sessions has to find a matching set of armor. Somehow I have ended up with a bright white helmet and boots, but brown leather chest and legs. I don’t normally care a great deal about the way my character looks but this is just ridiculous.

How could you let me out looking like this?
How could you let me out looking like this?

I generally enjoy EQ2, but it’s a very strange animal. There is a substantial learning curve because many of its features are just not "normal." One of the most basic things in an MMO–interacting with NPCs–is done differently in EQ2. In most of the universe, you right-click on things to initiate actions. But not in EQ2. When you right-click on things in EQ2, you get a context menu. You have to left-click on things to initiate actions like you’re used to. That was a huge turn-off to me when I first played. I’ve scoured the (incredibly numerous) options a hundred times trying to find a way to change that, but I’ve never been able to find one. It’s almost as bad as a game without an "invert mouse" option.

(I realize that the EQ2 model is technically more "correct" when you consider operating system standards, but you can’t just ignore years of industry standards like that.) (I also realize EQ2 came out before there were years of industry standards, but still, they could have added an option by now, right?)

EQ2 is not easy to pick up after a long absence either. When I came back to my Warden after over a year, I was completely overwhelmed and unable to function. At level 38, I had literally four action bars completely filled with abilities and I had no clue what was what. I didn’t even know what my main abilities were. (To make things worse, I was on a different computer from the last time I played, and all my keybinds were gone.) I ended up deleting every single action bar and starting over, pouring over my abilities until I distilled out a basic set of about ten actions and buffs.

That’s another thing about EQ2. You don’t just have a "heal" ability. You have five (or more) heal abilities, each subtley different from the others. One is a small heal that is quick to cast. One is a big heal that is slower to cast. One is a super heal that is instantaneous, but has a 15-minute cooldown. One heal looks just like the first heal but uses a different "school of magic" or something. And so on. I tried to pick out one or two that seemed like the most general-purpose that would work on myself or others.

EQ2 has a lot of options for character customization. As if there weren’t enough variety in the twenty or so classes, there is also this "Alternate Advancement" system which seems to let you change the basic function of your class. For example, the "alternate" Warden abilities are more melee-based instead of spell-based, which is actually quite cool. But in addition to the regular set of a thousand abilities you get with normal advancement, there is a whole other set of a thousand "alternate" abilities you can add into your action bars.

I guess the theme of this post is that EQ2 is complicated, and you have to work for your rewards. I would definitely not recommend this game to a casual player new to the MMO genre. But once you get past the learning curve, the game is pretty relaxing and enjoyable.

I’ve done exactly zero group content, though. To be honest, I hardly ever see anyone else in the mid-40s level range. I guess everyone else is already at the level cap.

LotRO Helm's Deep Skill Trees

After a patching process that seemed to take hours (possibly because I was playing another game while I waited), I spent a couple of minutes in LotRO to see the class changes in Helm’s Deep. (I am only 45 so I am nowhere near seeing the content of Helm’s Deep.)

It looks like all they did was integrate industry-standard "skill trees" into the game, so you have to choose one of three specializations for your character. For my Hunter, I got to pick from a Jack-of-all-Trades tree, a Ranged DPS tree, and a Traps-base tree. I don’t mind the change but I do think it makes LotRO gameplay a bit less unique. Not something I would rage quit over, though. Who knows, maybe it will bring in some new players.

On the Removal of Leveling

With the announcement of Warlords of Draenor, there was a bit of buzz around the MMO-sphere about the role of the leveling process. I was struck by a post on Healing the Masses suggesting that it’s time to remove the leveling game entirely from MMOs so that we no longer segregate the players into groups that can’t play together.

> … an ideology that is slowly dying, an ideology that never really belonged much in the first place in this genre.

"Never really belonged much?" I feel like one of the things that defines the RPG genre is leveling–starting out in rags and building up over time with new abilities and gear.

Now to be clear I’d be fine with a well-done level-less MMORPG (actually TSW doesn’t have traditional levels, and in some ways GW2 forces everyone onto the same playing field), but if you take away progression entirely I’m not sure that what you have left is an "MMORPG" any more.

If you start the player with everything he needs to go anywhere and do anything with his friends, then you’ve basically just got a variation of an old school shooter where everybody spawns with the same health and a shotgun. Even shooters today have progression in them (which I find incredibly annoying, personally – get your RPG peanut butter out of my shooter chocolate).

On the specific, very valid point of not being able to play with friends at different levels, I like the way that some MMOs (Rift, EQ2 I think?, GW2 in a way) have solved this by implementing a "mentoring" type of thing where you can lower your level down to match your friends. Personally I think that should be a standard MMO feature going forward, along with the ability to turn off experience gain. I actually prefer doing low-level dungeons with PUGs more than high-level dungeons. At the higher levels, particularly in the expert or heroic dungeons, people are far more likely to yell at you if you blink wrong. In the lower levels, people are usually just interested in exploring and having fun, and haven’t yet had their spirits crushed under the numbing weight of grinding out gear or marks or whatever.

I agree with Tobold that we will be seeing more pay-to-level options from developers soon. There’s obviously a demand for it since the gold farmers have been selling power-leveling services since the beginning. (I assume they still do, but anti-spam tools are so good now that I don’t see their ads any more.) No matter how fun and engaging you make the leveling process, there’s always going to be a segment of the MMO audience who just wants to raid with basically stock, pre-built characters. I don’t really see a problem with that. You can’t force someone to like leveling.

I think this discussion exposes one of the biggest problems in the genre right now. MMO gamers have evolved into at least three different non-overlapping sub-types. Some people want to level, some people want to raid, some people want to PvP. And some people just want to play dress-up. (It feels like that last one is the direction MMOs are going in with all the sandbox games.) It’s almost impossible to make one game that satisfies all of those niches, so maybe it’s time for developers to make entirely different games for each playstyle. (That will probably never happen, though, since it’s obviously too expensive to make three games when you can cram it all into one.)

Black Desert?

We all know that blockbuster MMOs EQ Next/Landmark (the minecraft one), WildStar (the cartoon one), and The Elder Scrolls Online (the D&D one) are "coming soon." But a while back some posts I saw about a Korean-made MMO called Black Desert caught my eye.

I hadn’t heard of it before, so I did some investigation. ( That means I went to Wikipedia .)

Wikipedia says it’s a "sandbox-oriented" MMO, but I’m not entirely sure what that means. The Black Desert site itself says it will be "focused on Sandbox Features, PvP and PvE." Again, that’s about as vague as it gets. I’m not even sure it’s going to be available in English-speaking countries. I’ve got to think that since they made an English web page, they’re planning an English version of the game.

I hope so, because the main thing that caught my eye was the absolutely gorgeous screenshots. It looks unbelievable. I’m looking forward to seeing more about it.

Trove Triggers 8-Bit PTSD

Trion Worlds is working on something called Trove. Now when Trion does something, I tend to take notice, because Rift is hands down the best themepark MMO out there right now. Any arguments you might have against my statement are invalid, because I said so.

(Defiance, on the other hand, was a bit meh.)

I anxiously looked at the screenshots for Trove and … drooped with disappointment. Really? 8-bit crap graphics? Really? People are still into this? What is wrong with people?

You see, I lived through a time when 8-bit graphics was the cutting edge. I had an Atari 2600. I had a TRS-80 CoCo. I experienced the days when games really looked like Minecraft. Let me say this clearly. I don’t want to go through that again. You know why people invented newer graphics cards? Because 8-bit graphics looked like crap! It’s not retro, it’s not cool, it’s not hip. It’s unequivocally, objectively bad. All these new 8-bit retro games are like a car company coming out with a new model with a horse attached. Some people might think that was retro, cool, and hip. But most people are going to be like, "I want to go to work at more than ten miles an hour, please."

It’s possible I have 8-bit PTSD.

Oh, the game? Sounds kind of meh. I don’t "get" Minecraft, so I don’t see why I would want an improved version of it. But if it’s got some kind of RPG element, I’ll probably check it out.

P.S. Now that I’ve actually watched the video on their page, the 8-bit-ness of the game doesn’t look nearly as obnoxious as it could be. Still, I’m not crazy about getting voxels thrown in my face.

The Delicate Balance of Beta Testing

I think it’s safe to say this: I got an invitation for this weekend’s TESO beta test. I assume it’s okay to say that because they made a big public announcement that they were sending out the invitations. I had to accept a rather harsh-sounding NDA though so I don’t think I’ll be able to say much of anything else.

Beta testing is a delicate balance. On the one hand, it’s super exciting to see a new shiney and possibly shape the course of its future (though to be honest, in my experience, beta reports are largely ignored unless it is a game-breaking bug), but on the other hand, you don’t want to play so much that you burn out before the game even launches. Not to mention all of your progress is going to get wiped anyway. So it’s like, "Yay, I’m in the beta!" Followed shortly by, "Crap, this could ruin the game for me."