I've entered this place where nothing really new on the horizon interests me in MMOs. Expansions yes, new content yes… new games no
— Bel 🆚 Pax South (@belghast) January 10, 2017
There was a sequence of events that lead me to make the above tweet on Tuesday, namely reading a similar sequence of tweets from Syl and the resulting blog post. In truth I have felt this way for awhile, where I have been hyper interested in extension content being added onto the games I am already playing, but not extremely interested in anything new coming down the pike. The launch of Elder Scrolls Online was really the last big event that wrapped me up into the hope, hype, and heartbreak cycle that is the launch of a new MMO property. I got swept up a bit in Wildstar but that was never really “my game” no matter how much I wanted to try and make it be for the sake of hanging out and playing with friends. This is not to say that I have not tried a bunch of different games that have released since, but they have all largely left me wanting for this or that feature… or similarly wanting to remove other features. The latest boom in the MMO industry has been among a crop of games largely coming from South Korea and they all seem to share a vision of MMOs that doesn’t set that well with me. Not sure if it is the character design or the focus on eventually funneling players towards a murder box, but whatever the case I tend to bounce pretty hard with ArcheAge being the only game in that larger general classification that I play on a somewhat regular basis.
As is always the case with our community… when you bring up an issue folks tend to come out of the woodwork to help you with it. I have to say this is one of the most charming aspects of the world I have gotten myself wrapped up in, even if sometimes I am just shooting off my mouth into the void. As is to be expected there were a lot of games suggested on the near horizon, and most of them I had already mentally bounced from for one reason or another based on past experiences with similarly constructed experiences. However buried in that pack of games was one that I had not even heard of… not that I am actively looking for new MMO properties. One of my blogger friends Isarii mentioned a game that he was interested in, and was just about to release an interview with called Ashes of Creation. Like any game I have not heard of I started googling and came across a sequence of videos showing off various aspects of the world, and I am not entirely certain what peaked my interest directly but something did. Yesterday they also released a much more detailed Q&A video answering some questions from the community, that when taken with the interview with Isarii fills in a bunch of details about the intent of the game. I will say off the bat there are a lot of things that give me hope, and a lot of things that give me potential heartache.
The description of the game weaves a pretty lofty tale, hitting most of the features that I have loved from other games. In the Q&A they talk about the lack of hard faction boundaries, and a part of me almost audibly said “Hell Yeah” at that moment. However they also talk about this dynamic world with ever changing events based on a node system that allows each node in the world to change and effect the nodes around it. They talk about the engine of change being conquest and sieges… and that a guild holding a castle will have ramifications on the land surrounding it. This all sounds amazingly cool on paper but it is also something I am extremely gun shy about. This has been the pitch of essentially every PVP centric open world sandbox to date, that the players make lasting effects on the world. What ends up happening instead is that the game devolves into a PVP gankfest for at least the first six months, because there is a certain player base that the idea of ganking defenseless players seems really exciting to. So while ArcheAge for example is a perfectly reasonable game to play right this moment, it was an extremely toxic game for its first year of life… until said toxic players were either policed away or got bored and shifted to the next shiny object to take a giant crap on. So my big concern is exactly what Ashes of Creation is going to do to ensure this doesn’t happen.
One of the bullet points talked about in Isarii’s interview is that they have a three phased flagging system, and that they hope it will help mitigate this issue. There will be a non-combatant “green” state, a combatant “purple” state, and corrupt “red” state. The corruption system sounds an awful lot like going rogue in The Division, or the pirate system in ArcheAge. Intrepid Studios talks about PVP being optional, but in the description of what a corrupted player is… they mention something that I stuck on mentally. I am going to quote a section of the interview for the sake of pointing this out a little easier.
Players can kill Combatants without repercussions, and are encouraged to do so, since dying while a Combatant means you suffer reduced death penalties. Where this changes is when a Combatant kills a Non-Combatant. In this case, the Combatant is Corrupt, and acquires a Corruption Score (which is accrued based on a number of different parameters, including the level differential of their freshly slain victim). This Corruption Score can be worked off with effort through a few mechanics, but the primary means of getting rid of it is through death.
The particular phase that is bothering me a bit is “when a Combatant kills a Non-Combatant” because in a traditional MMO flagging system this shouldn’t be a possible thing. “Green” players are traditionally not able to be attacked, and if this is a game where that is not the case we might already have our first stumbling block for me personally. Now of note… there is a lot of nuance here that I may simply not be seeing. Like for example in ArcheAge, as a completely non-combatant player you can find yourself in open pvp flagged zones… that entering will make you able to be attacked. So in the case of Ashes of Creation, if there are certain hostile areas that are openly contested… a player would know that entering there could put them at danger. I don’t however want to see the bodies of helpless players littering the ground in an otherwise peaceful zone like Elwynn Forest because they died at the hand of a ganker on an abusive power trip.
The idea behind this game feels like one that no one has really been able to implement correctly. If it works well it could be amazing, but generally speaking it is the player that is the ultimate unraveller of the best made plans. However all of that said, I am interested enough to have done enough reading and watching to be able to post this post… so I have to say I am curious about the evolution of this game. At this very moment everything is so fluid that I am not really certain if the end product is going to be something that I want to play. If will say that right now it is going to be extremely difficult to implement most of the things they are talking about, but I wish them all the luck in the world at trying to translate the vision into video game. There are a lot of parts of the Q&A session that remind me of the ill fated Guild Wars 2 Design Manifesto. The problem with an idea… is once shared it mutates. So when I read the design manifesto it filled my head with all sorts of ideas and dreams of a better game that the reality never came close to living up to. Watching the Q&A session for Ashes of Creation did the same thing… filled my head with a bunch of fevered dreams about all of the things that I wish I could have seen in this MMO or that. It is this whirlwind of “wouldn’t it be cool” ideas that have been collected and carefully curated into the game these folks always wanted to work on. However there is always a chunk of nuance that is lost when you speak your vision, or commit it to paper. In doing so… that vision loses some of the sharp edges and becomes much more hazy. Based on the goals set out… this game could either be literally the game I always wanted to play… or yet another disappointment that cannot quite live up to my technicolor dreams of the way things “should work”. Regardless… in the coming months and years… as likely will be the case… I am going to follow Ashes of Creation as it evolves and see if it can deliver on any of my hopes and is worthy of my hype. All the while of course being extremely afraid of that heartache that often comes afterwards.