Mixed Feelings

TheSecretWorld 2016-02-10 21-38-42-80

This morning like so many mornings I have been feeling largely uninspired in my attempt to find something to write about.  In Star Wars the Old Republic I am in an odd space of doing some miscellaneous clean up before moving on to the Knights of the Fallen Empire content.  This is enjoyable but not exactly the sort of thing that makes a good blog post because it doesn’t necessarily reveal anything worth mentioning.  As a result I have spent way too much time looking at twitter, and almost like a miracle a tweet came across my timeline.  It seems that Secret World Legends is releasing on June 26th, which is admittedly way sooner than I was expecting.  It seems like it literally just went into beta about a month ago, which means one of two things.  One either the beta has gone so amazingly well that they are moving up their time tables… or two that they were always going to launch on the 26th regardless of what happened in testing.  Admittedly I have a lot of mixed feelings about this game relaunching.

TheSecretWorld 2016-02-10 21-38-42-80

I have a lot of love for The Secret World…  but much in the same way as you might love that one movie you saw back in your childhood that you through was really damned cool and remember fondly as a sequence of memories.  It will probably always be one of the best story driven MMO experiences I have had.  They also did some interesting things with the deck building style ability system that let you mix and match actives and passives until you crafted a character that fit your specific play style.  For example I fell in love with Blades/Shotgun which was this amazingly fun build with a mix of ranged and melee abilities that let me adapt to pretty much any open world situation.  The problem being that these extremely custom builds all fell completely apart when you entered the end game.  The game saw every single one of my circle of friends, having to abandon whatever path they were on to choose something new and group friendly to be able to even start to make a dent in the nightmare content.  This is the point where most of us checked out, because we loved being whatever character fantasy we had built for ourselves…  and having to abandon that just ruined the game experience.

All of that said… my twitter time line is full of moments when I broadcast the game out to my friends in an effort to get everyone to experience it.  Each time it went on sale I talked about how good of a deal it was.  I love the setting and I love the challenge of some of the quests that force you to figure out how to do silly things like decode things from base 64 encoding.  In the trailer above they talk about switching the game from an MMO to a shared world action RPG…  which largely sounds like marketing nonsense.  They are switching the game to be reticle targeting, which can be a positive if all of the movement and interaction keys work nicely with it.  In many ways this could be an attempt to make it a more console friendly design, because that sort of a control scheme seems to simply work better with a controller than it does with mouse and keyboard.  All of the individual weapons seem to have a mini game aspect.  About a month ago Elemental was shown off on the dev stream to have a “heat” mechanic that you are trying to keep in check.  This makes me wonder however how well custom builds like my beloved Blades and Shotgun will work in this scenario.  Will we have to choose a single weapon and stick to that?

Mostly I think I am going to have to fall into the “wait and see” camp at least until I get my hands on the game.  I want it to work well, because I would really love to see a game like The Secret World succeeding.  It did a lot of interesting things that no one else is still doing, and presented a game setting that is unique and interesting.  The big problem however is all of that interesting bits came in a package that never quite worked as well as I thought it should.  The user interface was always a bit of a disaster that you learned out to work around, rather than something that really reinforced the enjoyment of the game.  Similarly the combat was scattered with a bunch of really great ideas that never quite coalesced into something that felt really good to play.  There were elements of sheer brilliance, but those were what helped you get past all of the things that you found yourself barely tolerating.  My ultimately hope is that with Secret World Legends they can go back and fix all the bits that never quite worked right, and then arrange the copious amounts of story they already have into a cohesive narrative.  If they can do that and give me fun moment to moment play…  then without a doubt I will be playing a lot more Secret World in the near future.  They are however launching during a super tight window following ESO Morrowind on the 6th and FFXIV Stormblood on the 20th.  That fact means without a doubt that while I might be playing this game… it is not going to even come close to being a primary game for me.

Twitter GOTY “Poll”

TheSecretWorld 2013-08-20 23-32-51-84

Last night was a bit of a rough night, because we had a massive storm blow through.  A side effect of the storm was the fact that about 11:30 my wife woke up on the couch because something dripped on her foot.  In the middle of our living room, dripping from one of the beams was a slow trickle of water.  At that point there really isn’t much to do other than put down a towel and a bucket and hope it stops.  However that sort of ruined any thoughts of a really solid nights sleep.  This morning I had originally intended on writing about a rather hamfisted absurdist article that is making its way through my twitter circle, but in truth I am simply going to not deal with that today.  It reminded me of conversations that myself and Tamrielo have on a regular basis… but I also wanted to approach the topic with more grace than I probably have in me right now.  So instead I am going to answer a twitter poll in blog form.

While technically not a poll, it is definitely a thing that I thought looked interesting so this morning instead of tearing into discussions that I don’t really want to get into…  I started thinking back upon various years and trying to determine the games that mattered the most to me during that time.  Also I may or may not be applying a little “in retrospect” to a few of these choices, but that is also ultimately my prerogative.  I limited myself to only picking games released during a specific calendar year, but in many cases the true impact the game had happened much later.

2012:  The Secret World

TheSecretWorld 2013-08-20 23-32-51-84

I really cannot say enough good about this game… from the perspective of someone just starting out playing it.  I’ve said an awful lot about this game over the years in three pages worth of blog posts… and probably some others that I failed to categorize correctly.  This often makes my “best games I am not playing” list whenever I compile one.  Functionally there are two vastly different game experiences…  the leveling game when you are digging through the story and trying to solve the mysteries of the world…  and the end game where you lose all creative freedom that you had while leveling.  The first game is phenomenal and something that I feel everyone should experience at least once.  The later…  is ultimately what caused us to quit and keeps me from reattaching to the game for any length of time.  However that said the ride is well worth it, and the game has some of the more interesting dungeons in MMOdom…  until you reach nightmare levels where everything sort of falls apart.  I am really looking forward to the re-release of the game under the Secret World Legends name… and hoping beyond hope that they can give me an experience to latch onto with both hands.

2013:  Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn

ffxiv_dx11-2017-02-13-20-15-18-82

The impact this game has had on me and my friends is immeasurable.  Largely because it gave us a common ground in the form of an MMO experience that we all care about.  More than anything however it knows how to tell story in and interesting and serialized fashion, where the story arc from one expansion sets up the key players for the next.  This is also the only MMO that has ever sufficiently pulled off a surprise plot twist, and has done so many times…. and been willing to assault structures that I assumed were fixed and sacred to the game itself.  From August onwards in 2013…  my life pretty much belonged to Final Fantasy XIV until we slowly petered out when we ran out of things we were capable of doing.  However we came back and had a renaissance with the game that has continued to the present times with this still being the game we can all sort of agree on.

2014: Destiny

RemotePlay 2016-05-13 06-08-29-84

This is another game that realized its ultimate impact on me long after the year it actually released in.  Destiny is a really important game to me for a whole lot of reasons.  Firstly it has amazing moment to moment gameplay and it is hands down the best feeling shooter I have ever played.  From the moment I heard about the world and the setting I was completely sold… and in truth this is the game that pushed me to buy my way into the current console generation.  I got my PS4 console the week the first PlayStation exclusive alpha was happening, and the little I played of it hooked me extremely hard on the concept.  Year one had a lot of problems, and I sort of picked at it like you might pick at the remains of a meal you know you are done with…  but just keep nibbling on.  I did return to paying regularly towards the tail end of the first year, so that I was primed and ready for the launch of The Taken King.  From Year Two on however I have been a dedicated acolyte of the world, and own it for both PS4 and Xbox One…  and am contemplating making the leap to PC version with the launch of Destiny 2.  The game still has some narrative problems, but it does not stop me one bit from enjoying it.

2015: Fallout 4

Fallout4 2015-11-10 18-58-40-01

I love Fallout as a franchise.  I still remember saving up the cash to buy the first one when we were in college, and I was completely hooked.  I am not old school enough to remember Wasteland fondly, but I have always been a fan of the whole post apocalyptic nukepunk genre.  So while I am listing this as my game for 2015…  it is a hype cycle that began long before and continues long after.  This is still the game I boot up when I am in a specific mood.  Similarly I have played Fallout 3 and Fallout New Vegas countless times, and Fallout 4 simply replaces those in succession.  This game is proof to me at least that I care far more about systems, and gameplay…  than I really do about the main narrative in a game.  In fact the only reason why I probably beat this game is because we chose this as our November/December AggroChat game club game for the tail end of 2015.  I would probably still be avoiding the main story… and still off on my own having adventures in my head….  which is in truth my preferred method of playing a game.  Just talking about the game has given me this huge urge to boot it up…  right now…  which would be a horrible idea considering I have to go to work.

2016: World of Warcraft: Legion

wow-64-2017-01-18-06-25-49-07

I have to give a lot of credit here to World of Warcraft and the rebirth of the game that happened with the launch of the Legion expansion.  They took a game I thought I no longer really cared about, and was legitimately done caring about…. and turned it into an experience that I rabidly played.  I even managed to return to raiding and didn’t check out this time until we were a few bosses into Nighthold…  which is in truth way longer than I lasted in Draenor.  I’ve reached this point where I am not really playing the game or following it now… but the transformation that took place should nonetheless be honored.  They tried a whole bunch of new ideas that they admittedly borrowed from other games… but wove it together in a fashion that felt new and fresh.  Similarly I feel like it has to be said that they have done and continue to do a great job of managing patch cycles.  They finally broke the “three and done” mold that had happened with Pandaria and Draenor and by all accounts are still releasing interesting content.  I know at some point I will return and at the very least finish out the Legion flight meta achievement, but for the time being I am simply not forcing myself to play a game I am not super into.  Legion however is probably going to go down in history for me as their best expansion…  toppling what was previously my current favorite Wrath of the Lich King.

 

So now that I have given you mine… what are yours?  Feel free to post them in the comments section here… or join in the twitter poll.  I am curious to hear everyone’s thoughts.

 

 

 

 

Random Screenshots #3

wildstar64-2014-05-14-17-54-21-255

This is another one of those mornings when I feel like I don’t have much of anything to talk about.  Work encroached upon my gaming time, first with a meeting that I did not get out of until 6 pm…  when I normally get out of the office around 4/4:30.  Second when I did get home I had a bunch of things that I needed to look into given that we are still ironing out the issues with a brand new website launch.  As a result by the time I finished up I largely just crashed on the sofa and watched some Black Mirror as I had not touched season 3.  That show is extremely creepy, but also something that I cannot really stop watching.  It is a sort of technological tales of the crypt, and if you have never watched the show…  be prepared for some disturbing content.  That said it is still very much worth your time and the latest season has at least one gem scattered among the digital nightmares in the form of the San Junipero episode.  Anyways this morning is going to be a random screenshot post morning because I am not sure what else to really talk about.  I am still fairly groggy and probably shouldn’t have finished the 4th episode last night, and instead just headed on to bed.

wildstar64-2014-05-14-17-54-21-255

I am not entirely certain of the context, but this is of course a screenshot from Wildstar.  I believe it is from the moon mission where you have to figure out what happened to all of the miners.  Even though I have long struggled to really click with this game, I cannot deny how much of an interesting vision it really is.  The art direction was on point and everything feels like it exists in the same shared technicolor delusion.  For whatever reason I never really liked how spastic their flavor of hotbar combat felt.  Most recently I paid a little money to be able to create a Chua Warrior and I found it enjoyable…  but still not really clicking as hard as I would have liked.  Honestly this game and Guild Wars 2 sort of exist in the same space for me…  where they are equally interesting to visit but not exactly the same of place I want to call home.  I will say though that the people who do play the game regularly are amazing and I am super happy to have a whole bunch of them occupying my social media streams.  This is one of those games that I root hard for…  just from a distance.

swtor-2015-09-09-21-03-24-87

We go from a game that I don’t really get fully, to one that I absolutely do…  but still don’t end up playing that often.  I believe this screenshot is from one of the opening shots of Makeb which was the sequence of content I last played during a December 2015 binge of the game thanks to Force Awakens Star Wars hype.  I honestly thought I would similarly return during the Rogue One hype machine but it never actually materialized.  I realize I am missing so much great content, and I keep saying that one of these days when I hit a lull in whatever other games I happen to be playing that I will swoop back to Star Wars the Old Republic and gobble up all of the goodies I have missed.  I still have yet to start any of the Shadow of Revan content…  let alone Fallen Empire or Eternal Throne.  I did have an active sub, but I let that lapse at some point…  they keep roping me in with offers of “subs get X shiny bauble” and then I never actually end up playing.  I should in theory pop back in before this last bit of sub time lapses and I am stuck playing in freemium hell.

thesecretworlddx11-2012-05-11-12-18-50-01

On to yet another game that I have really fond memories of but never end up playing.  This is I believe a screenshot from one of the betas for The Secret World.  To the best of my knowledge this was me creating my very first character.  To be truthful I never was a huge fan of the character creation system in TSW, as it always felt like I never could create exactly the character that I wanted to create.  However on so many levels I loved this game, but the biggest problem is attempting to return to it.  Since you can repeat almost every quest it becomes extremely hard to see just what you have completed and what is new and something you should focus on.  When they release an issue I find it hard to actually track down all of the things that have been added and given that I last actively played during “Last Train to Cairo” which was issue number six… and they are currently on fifteen there is a ton of content I have missed.  I just find it extremely hard to get back into the game after being gone for so long…  and given all of the systems that they have seemingly loosely tacked onto the base experience.

fc3_blooddragon_d3d11-2014-02-23-10-55-33-41

I don’t have an awful lot to say about this screenshot other than I thought it looked cool, so I decided to post it.  This is of course from Farcry 3 Blood Dragon, which is this insane 80s movie romp.  If you took every 80s sci-fi film and distilled it to its campy roots, then dumped all of that pure essence in a blender…  you wind up with Blood Dragon.  If you have never checked it out, you probably really should given that it regularly dips down into the $5 territory.  It is a completely stand alone experience and does not require Farcry…  nor does it really have anything to do with the Farcry Franchinse at all other than modeling some of the open world roaming gameplay.

 

Social Structure and MMOs

ffxiv_dx11 2016-06-22 20-05-16-74

wow-64-2016-12-14-21-52-10-33

I’ve talked off and on about Imzy, and how it is filling a niche for me at least that Google+ used to in that it allows for a sort of long winded discussion that twitter just simply doesn’t.  Yesterday I read a post there that made me realize something I had been trying to sort out in my head for awhile.  The vast majority of my gaming time is spent playing MMOs and I tend to have several that I am in various states of active in at the same time.  However I rarely if ever gain any sort of permanent traction in them, and after a few weeks of play tend to fade away again until the whim hits me to fire it back up.  I go through a cycle of curiosity that leads to excitement…  that leads to confusion and disillusionment that ultimately ends with me leaving once more.  I will pick up a game and for a few days to weeks it is going to be the most interesting thing in the world as I get adjusted to the systems and mechanics again.  However I always reach this point where an overwhelming sense of “what now” hits me.  When that happens I wind out going right back to whatever it is happens to be my core game…  which if we are being honest with me is an alternation of World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV.  I have been working on my games played during 2016… and decided to extend that out to all of the games that are easy to track thanks to my blog.  There is a clear pattern of when I start getting super excited about WoW I shift away from FFXIV and versa vicea.  There is of course some overlap, but you can see a back and forth pattern that emerges.

ffxiv_dx11 2016-06-22 20-05-16-74

So the question is then…. what do these two games seem to have that so many others don’t.  The answer was sitting there waiting for me to notice. I often talk about games having great communities…  but generally speaking this is in broad terms and extremely non-specific.  Most games have some excellent niches in them, but in the grand scheme of things that doesn’t really do much to add core enjoyment for me.  I keep returning to World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV… because those are the games that I have established communities in.  There was a time when I was willing to branch out and meet new people…  plunk myself down in a brand new game and start growing an entirely different infrastructure.  The community that I have right now… is in large part the result of me doing this over and over.  Each new game I go into I meet a whole new cast of people…  but at some point that began to change.  As I gathered a larger and larger core of players… I stopped looking outside to the community nearly as much and instead looking to my guild.  While I am still meeting a lot of new people… they are coming with the pedigree of knowing someone I already know and am familiar with…  which of course speeds up the social footnotes that come from meeting anyone new.

rift 2016-06-20 19-04-36-08

Last night was a prime example of this happening, because we were raiding in World of Warcraft and had someone pop by and join….  that I had not personally played with in several years.  My personal community in House Stalwart within World of Warcraft seems to have this ability to stay evergreen… and always have a certain chunk of the population that is active and always happy to be there.  House Stalwart my guild has existed for twelve years…  in spite of my actions.  When I left WoW to start playing Rift I tried my best to burn down everything about the game… actively recruiting people away to play this new an exciting game.  I did the same thing for Final Fantasy XIV and Elder Scrolls Online… and countless other games.  However at its core… the guild still remains and not only that… but has remained viable for the purpose of doing interesting end game content the entire time. Similarly the Final Fantasy XIV guild… while considerably younger just seems to endure whatever boom and bust cycles we go through population wise, and in both cases….  I know that I can return at any point and will be welcomed back with open arms.  In truth I think pretty much everyone who has touched either guild feels the same way…  which is why folks are constantly showing up from out of the woodwork and reintegrating back into the core at least for a little while.

ArcheAge 2016-07-04 10-32-29-84

So the problem that exists with nearly every other game…  is I just don’t have anything close to this infrastructure…  nor do I really have the emotional or intellectual strength to try and forge it.  There have been House Stalwart offshoots in damned near every MMO that has existed… or at least as a guild community we have chosen a specific server and faction to all roll on.  However for most… these interludes serve as a vacation from the game they were already playing… and after a break most folks wind up going right back to the familiar.  In a traditional MMO I need to have something that I am building towards, and that object on the horizon is usually doing interesting things with my friends.  So while it is absolutely fun to pop in and play Rift or ArcheAge for a weekend…  I find hard keeping motivated when I know I have no real facilities to do any of the big interesting things… other than pugging.  I am spoiled to be honest, and so many years of not having to PUG has soured my experience as a whole.  Any random person I encounter is somehow tarnished by the memory of all of the good times I have had with my guild throughout the years.  After generations of MMOs… this has lead me to be rather insular in my gaming habits and tending to return to the folks I already know and respect rather than trying to create something new.

swtor 2015-10-11 16-26-29-92

So now days I tend to operate in two modes.  I have the games that I am active in and have deep social connections… and the games that I slink off to when I need to limit my social connectivity and turtle for awhile.  I tend to gobble up whatever new content is available, and then happy drop that game by the wayside as I return to active duty again.  Games like Star Wars the Old Republic, The Secret World and Elder Scrolls Online are great for this role, given that they all have deeply engaging stories that you can find yourself completely lost in…  so much so that you forget that you are essentially alone in a crowd of strangers.  There are a lot of games that I think I would enjoy… if I had a similar stable infrastructure.  However at this point… to be honest… folks are pretty stratified in their gaming habits.  I can no longer really make an impassioned argument as to why they should abandon X game that they know and love for Y game that is new and different.  I know this boom and bust cycle all too well at this point… and while it is a hell of a fun ride, to some extent I am getting that fix elsewhere.  For me personally… the Diablo 3 season mechanism perfectly emulates the feeling of “unwrapping” a brand new MMO and rushing with your friends to level as quickly as you can.  This time however we all know it is perfectly fine to fade away once you have achieved your  goals…  because its a game we will all return to again and again as new seasons happen.  I have been the cause of so much frustration and disappointment in my gaming career…  that I guess in some part I would rather slink off alone… than get folks excited about yet another game that I am sure we will all abandon within three months time.  However that same instinct…  is what keeps any of these games from actually gaining traction.  What I realized this week when reading the post on Imzy is just how desperately I need that social infrastructure for me to be able to enjoy a MMO.

Welcome Back System

TheSecretWorld 2016-02-10 21-38-42-80

Honey Coated Goodness

TheSecretWorld 2016-02-10 21-38-42-80

Yesterday the topic of Secret World came up on twitter, and as always I give my normal response of that I need to go back and play some more.  This will forever be one of those games that I remember very fondly…. so long as I don’t really focus on the end game content and frustrations we felt there.  As far as narrative storytelling… I have to say this game probably provided the best experiences I have ever seen in any MMO to date.  The mixture of real world and game world puzzles, that required me to look things up in the provided in game browser….  which often lead to “fake” websites about in game companies…  was just a level of integration I had not experienced and honestly have not since.  The storyline itself was this wonderful blending of so much real world lore, that quite honestly… it blends so well into almost any modern fantasy genre.  I remember thinking that this fertile ground should provide for plenty of additional adventures, and in truth it has.  Since June of 2012 the game has released 13 major content updates called “Issues” and a handful of smaller packs, which is a far cry from the original goal of “monthly” content releases… but not horrible by any stretch of the imagination.

The problem is… the game has struggled to find an audience that is also willing to pay for the game.  One of the best purchases I ever made was the original “Lifetime Subscription” that was available back at launch, that honestly was still available until recently.  According to MMOWatcher this officially went off the market on February 5th, meaning that there will be no more new Grandmasters.  The problem is…. the Grandmaster system is so amazingly good, that after my initial one time purchase…  I have never NEEDED to give them any more money.  I have this feeling that a lot of the folks who are actively playing are in this same boat.  Now they cranked up the benefits of a monthly membership, because quite honestly….  Funcom has been hurting for a long while.  Once again however as a Grandmaster I am “grandfathered” into this system… but the perks are pretty insane.

  • A 30% increase to all Experience earned.  (This replaces the Time Accelerator)
  • A 50% boost to all Black Bullions gained.
  • 20% extra capacity for Black Bullions and Marks of the Pantheon.
  • 8-hour Mission Cooldowns.
  • 18-hour Raid Lockout Timers.
  • 2 Lockout Timer Resets every 30 days.  This item resets all active Cooldowns (Missions/Raids/Scenarios).
  • A 10% storewide discount for everything in the item shop (20% for Grand Masters).
  • 1200 Bonus Points every 30 days.
  • Free Anima Leaps!

Then in addition to this there is a reward system that you get various really cool items available to you at fixed points in your subscription much like the Final Fantasy XIV or Everquest II veteran reward systems.  This is also on top of getting the monthly items, that have been acrueing on my account since launch.  Once again as a Grandmaster… I just get all of them unlocked at once.  Some of the rewards available are.

  • 30 Days: Anima effect on sprint and faction jackets
  • 60 Days: Hoverboard and Panoptic Core in faction colors
  • 90 Days: Ur-Draug pet and an additional Agartha Conduit
  • 180 Days: Portable bank and a baller costume
  • 360 Days: Weapon skins and a scooter mount

The Challenge

The problem with being away from a game like The Secret World this long however is that I quite honestly have no idea where to start.  I know I completed Issues 1-4, and 6…  but all of the ones I missed I have no idea where they even start.  Normally speaking in a traditional wow-style MMO you can simply run around until you see exclamations over the top of NPC heads.  However in TSW almost every quest can be repeated as many times as you like, so as a result you end up with a sea of possibilities, and several years later I have no clue where to even start.  I’ve talked about this before, but games really need a better “welcome back” system, that presents the players with a guess at what they were doing last, and also presents them with five or so items that they should consider doing.  Initially I had this idea of starting a new character, like I do in so many other games when trying to ease back into them.  The problem being…. that I am already capped on the number of characters I have access to.  During the 2014 Extra Life I created the horribly named “Belstream” to stream the Secret World newbie experience, and even then… I have no clue where I left off with him.

The challenge is that I don’t really WANT to play an Alt… I would prefer to just keep trucking along on my Templar main.  However the level of investment that I will have to make to get into the game… sort out what I did and where to start doing again…. is ultimately want keeps me logging in and then after futzing with my wardrobe a bit, logging right back out.  Similar to Everquest II, the other big challenge for me is sorting through my inventory… which is full of so much crap that I can no longer recognize if it is even useful.  All of these candy colored icons mean nothing to me right now, and the fact that I am wearing epic gear in most of my slots makes me doubt if they are even useful to upgrade anything with.  I would break stuff down… but honestly I would even have to look up how you did that again.  I have the desire to play, but right now there is entirely too much “friction” standing in the way of me doing that.  I realize Funcom more than likely lacks the funds to devote to new systems, but this at least is a huge challenge for me.  I guess I could simply start by looking up the patch notes for Issue 5 and then going forward from there, trying to go find the quest chain starter for each additional Issue that I missed.  But this is the point where I ask myself…. do I care enough to devote a few hours of research, or do I just want to spend my limited evening hours playing something else that I remember how to play?

 

 

 

MMOs Worth Playing: The Secret World

mmosworthplaying

The Games Pusher

One of my friends coined the term “Games Pusher” to represent the force I have when it comes to getting people to try a game.  She said she called me a drug dealer in the nicest possible way, but the term has stuck in my head.  It is true, I get super excited about games and enjoy trying to introduce people to ones they are not currently playing.  The thing is…  originally I thought this was just me vying to get more people to join me in the game I am currently playing.  However I feel like there are dozens of MMOs that are really good and that people should play all of them at least for a bit.  So we zoom to earlier this week when a friend of mine… one @zerena_hoofs made the innocuous comment that “I need a new mmo in my life”.  At which point I ended up flooding her with suggestions.  I jokingly said that I could keep it up for hours… and in truth I really could.  While I generally suck at sticking with “columns” I always have the desire to spawn them.  This time the idea is to do a short run of posts each Friday talking about the awesome things relating to one MMO that is “worth playing”.  Since it is October, I thought I would start things off with the most Halloweeny of all MMOs…  The Secret World.

The Plot

TheSecretWorld 2013-08-20 23-32-51-84

The game is set essentially in an alternate reality version of our own world, and with that comes a lot of pop culture references.  When your character is awoken to your own latent abilities by a mysterious bee flying into your mouth while you are sleeping, you are recruited by one of three different secret organizations.  It seems while the world “slept” there has been a secret cold war going on between three ancient powers:  The Knights Templar, The Illuminati and a mysterious and relatively unknown organization called Dragon.  Each organization has its own agendas…  for the Templar based in London it tends to be to keep the order.  For the Illuminati based in New York it is all about hoarding knowledge and making a profit.  For Dragon based on Seoul it is about sowing the seeds of chaos throughout the world.  This secret back and forth between these clandestine entities would have remained like this for continued centuries were it not for the fact that something is changing.  A darkness is bubbling up from the bowels of the earth in the form of “The Filth” which is this black ichor that infects anyone who touches it with a sort of deliberate madness.  Now each organization is trying to get to the bottom of what is going on, while at the same time protecting their own assets and vying for supremacy over the other orders.

The game relies upon urban legends and myths to weave a tapestry of strange happenings throughout the world.  One moment you are investigating a small town in New England overrun by Lovecraftian horrors and zombies, and the next you might be uncovering a lost city in the Egyptian desert forgotten to time and filled with its own unknown dangers.  All the while you are trying to sort out what is happening to the world and what you and your chosen order can do to fix it.   What makes all of this work is the fact that this game has some of the best writing I have seen in any game, MMO or not.  The quests are interesting and actually require some pretty damned devious puzzle to solve.  There was one quest in Egypt that I remember vividly that actually provided data that you had to decode that was included in a number of real world encoding mechanisms.  Only after decrypting all of them could you get the clue needed to solve the riddle.  To make life easier on you, the game provides an in game browser and Funcom operates a number of “fake” websites for people and corporations in game that contain clues that are needed to solve certain quests.

The Mechanics

TheSecretWorld 2013-08-20 23-58-27-40

The game claims to not have levels or classes but in truth… neither of these are absolutely correct.  What the game offers is a free form character creation system, but that freedom is actually fairly dangerous.  You can in theory build a character that is so screwed up that you cannot actually function in the game.  The game provides a few specific templates for each of the professions and earning all of the abilities for this template gets you a nifty costume.  These also serve as relatively functional builds for you to work towards, that will hopefully prevent the problems of absolute freedom.  The challenge here is the fact that there is no “respec” or skills reset system.  Doing things in the world gains you ability points and skill points, each with their own uses.  Ability points are spent learning new abilities in several different weapon based trees, and Skill points are used to level your ability to equip higher tiers of gear.  In its most basic form a “build” is a combination of up to seven active abilities on your hotbar, and up to seven passive abilities that hopefully interact with the actives you chose.  Later in the game they introduced new weapons that also take up space, but those won’t unlock until you have completed a quest.

The game itself feels almost like a card building game like Magic the Gathering or the Guild Wars 1 skill system… where you are trying to build a “deck” of abilities that interact in interesting ways together.  For example you might have a passive that does something really interesting when you push an enemy into a “hindered” state, and then you would want to use that with abilities on your hotbar that trigger that hindered state.  What makes this extremely interesting is the fact that you can swap your abilities at any time out in the world, and when we were running dungeons we often found ourselves swapping around what specifically we were using to better synergize with what other players were bringing to the table.  The biggest problem is that the game takes a lot of careful research to play well.  One of our challenges was the fact that we each had a specific idea of what we wanted our character to be… and some of those options simply were not viable when you got to the hardest content.  I have not played the game in some time, but one of the challenges was that there were certain required abilities and not every weapon tree could provide those.

The Style

TheSecretWorld 2012-08-07 20-41-26-17

One of the best aspects of the game for me personally, were the awesome cosmetic gear options.  I am a huge fan of  transmogging or whatever a given game calls it, and if my character looks awesome I feel awesome about playing it.  One of the coolest things that The Secret World has going for it, is that essentially all visible gear is cosmetic by nature, and you can swap between looks freely while you are out in the field.  All items you pick up go into a dressing room and you can swap bits whenever you feel like it.  The actually “gear” that gives you statistics are your weapons and a number of talismans… necklaces, bracelets, rings etc… that are other than your weapon non-visible gear.  To make weapons cosmetic as well, they give you the ability to create a weapon mold that can chance the appearance of an item.  Combined this gives players extreme freedom in expressing their characters…  but sadly that means that the majority of players are going to be women running around with as little clothing on as humanly possible.  The above screenshot is one of my favorites, because my friend Tam and I essentially both arrived at super similar looks while doing a mission completely accidentally.  We jokingly dubbed this our Blues Brothers pose.

Another great thing about the game is that it is truly a mega server experience.  There are “servers” but they really don’t actually matter.  All of the characters span all of the servers, and you can group freely  with anyone regardless of faction.  This means that there is never a situation where two friends playing this game won’t be able to play together.  The only negative is that Cabals themselves aka Guilds… don’t span multiple factions.  I’ve spent most of my time playing for the Templar, but I know just as many diehard Illuminati and Dragon players.  The only problem is with the Cabals not spanning factions, it made it mildly frustrating for the folks who didn’t want to play Templar, since the guild was in that faction.  The workaround is that the game supports social channels and we used them prolifically when we were playing actively.  Another really cool thing about the game is that it has an extremely devoted and active role-playing population.  If you wander around London you are going to find pockets of players acting out their characters, and that adds a certain depth to the environment.

Expansion

TheSecretWorld 2013-06-06 22-17-30-07

The growth of the game comes in the form of comic book like “Issues” where a batch of content is released with a common theme.  To date there have been twelve issues spanning from July 2012 to August 2015, each with their own themes and usually their own comic book cover to go along with it.

  • Issue 1: Carter Unleashed
  • Issue 2: Digging Deeper
  • Issue 3: The Cat God
  • Issue 4: Big Trouble in the Big Apple
  • Issue 5: The Vanishing of Tyler Freeborn
  • Issue 6: Last Train to Cairo
  • Issue 7: A Dream to Kill
  • Issue 8: The Venetian Agenda
  • Sidestories:  Further Analysis
  • Issue 9: The Black Signal
  • Sidestories:  Love & Loathing
  • Sidestories: The Last Pagan
  • Issue 10: Nightmares in the Dream Palace
  • Issue 11: Reaping the Wind
  • Issue 12: To the Dark Tower Below

Monetization for this game comes primarily in the form of purchasing these issues, and in the various cosmetic items that you can purchase only through the store.  They have a number of really cool themed outfits that you can pick up, and for subscribers they give you a unique batch of items each month.  I purchased a lifetime subscription when the game was released that converted when the game went free to play to one that gives me access to all the subscription content, and a stipend of cash shop currency each month to spend.  While we call this game “Free to Play” it is in truth “Buy to Play” meaning you have to purchase the base game in order to do anything.  From there to get these new stand alone issues you have to purchase them one by one.  Right now on Steam the game is running $29.99 but quite often it goes on sale for as little as $10.  Similarly there is an ultimate version available for $59.99 that includes all of the content as well as a custom costume and some other consumables.  I fully expect that as we get closer to Halloween we will see both of these versions get discounted heavily.  The long and short is.. this is one of the most enjoyable questing experiences I have ever had in any game.  The story content is amazingly well written and the quests themselves are extremely inventive.  That said occasionally the solutions are insanely difficult to figure out.  Thankfully there are plenty of awesome guide sides out there like Unfair.co for if you find yourself stuck.  This is one of those games that I think everyone should try, just be willing to devote some effort into sorting out just what kind of character you want to build.  Once you get into the game world however… it becomes extremely infectious…  just like the  Filth.

 

 

Breakup on Reentry

Returning Players

TheSecretWorldDX11 2012-07-22 23-05-10-74

If you have followed me for any length of time you realize I play an awful lot of games.  One of those traits also involves going back and re-exploring games that I have long consigned to the dust bin.  One of the challenges with this lifestyle however is trying to figure out what the hell you were doing some six months ago when you last touched a game.  This morning I want to talk about a problem that most games have.  As content is released there is often times no real thought about the folks that will come back to the game several patches behind.  While there is generally one game that I stay up to date with, and that game currently is Final Fantasy XIV…  the others sit in various states of completion with no real easy route back to where I last left off.  What ends up happening generally is that I start a brand new character, because it is simply easier to start fresh than try and sort out the options open to a formerly “level capped” character.  As a programmer it seems like it would be easy to create some sort of new features tool that lead you to what has been recently added to the game.  Various games have attempted this, and honestly Final Fantasy XIV has one of the better versions of this technology…  but it could still use a lot of work.

World of Warcraft has these quest boards in main cities that are supposed to lead you to the starting quests of new areas.  The problem being that you level so damned fast in that game that you always are well ahead of the quest completion curve.  The worst offender however has to be The Secret World.  In that game every single quest is essentially repeatable, so even if you are up to date… it can be a challenge to sort out what quests are new in a given region.  The last quest content I completed was the “Last Train to Cairo” from Issue 6, and even then I think I missed most of Issue 5 because I didn’t quite know where to start to find it.  Now we are sitting at Issue 12 and I know I have a ton of awesome content waiting on me.  As each has been released I have popped in to spend some of the lifetime membership currency that I gain each month.  The problem being… without significant research on my part I have no real idea where to start to even begin trying to sort these out.  I spend most of my free time consuming MMO content… and if this bothers me… it has to be an impassible wall to more casually interested players.

Content Advisement

EQ2_000001

With the launch of Cataclysm, the World of Warcraft attempted to solve this problem by creating a series of billboards spread throughout the major cities that are designed to give you the start of a quest chain leading into new zones.  The problem there is that you level too damned fast, and I constantly had a back log of these quests telling me to go to various zones that were less than optimal for my questing experience.  While I applaud their efforts… I think all of these MMOs need to do a much better job at giving players advisement as to what they should be doing.  What I envision is an optional box that says what zone you should be in based on your level and or gear, and provide a series of quest suggestions that you never completed.  If there is a holiday going on, it should prioritize this and if you are at the level cap it should guide you to the next patch worth of content that you had not experienced.  This would go a long way in making returning players feel welcome and relevant in the game experience.  Considering I have done this dozens of times…  I can tell you that returning to an MMO that you tucked neatly away into your past… is a completely overwhelming experience.

Firstly you have to sort out your  bags, because I have not left a single MMO in a state where I did not have hundreds of items in my inventory with no memory of what was actually useful and what was simply dross that I picked up while killing things.  Next you have to sort out your quest log, which also is never really left in a neat state.  If you are the level cap you generally have a mixture of quests that you never completed and quests from whatever happens to be the current “daily” hub.  Upon returning generally speaking neither of these is much use, but at the same time I find it just as hard to sort through my quest log as it was to sort through my bags.  What I really want is some intelligence guiding my decisions.  Present me with options of things that players in my level range are normally doing.  Help me get back into your game, and set down roots again.  It honestly shocks me that no game company seems to have thought this one through.  There are a fixed number of new players out there, so many times established games are just trading their populations over time.  Anything a game can do to make it more “sticky” for returning players has to ultimately help the bottom line.

Breakup on Reentry

swtor 2015-09-09 21-03-27-85

Like I said Final Fantasy XIV does a decent job at this, but their own advisement window is greatly limited based on several factors.  The biggest is that most of the items in the list are limited to the zone you are currently in.  In the case of a returning player, they may or may not know what zone they should even be in.  For years I have been trying to play Star Wars the Old Republic again.  The problem being that I always end up playing on an alt character because it is simply too confusing to try and sort out what I should be doing on any of my three previously max level characters.  My original instinct has always been to go to the space station hub for my faction.  Problem there is that there were no sign of new quests.  I have repeated this process dozens of times, until last night it finally dawned on me that I should maybe return to my starship.  Sure enough waiting there for me was a quest chain starter leading me to Makeb.   The problem being… that since it took me two years to finally find this quest it was anything but obvious, which tells me there is a problem with the way the systems are working.

What got me on this topic was yesterday some friends and I were listing off “must have” features for an MMO.  Which got me thinking… that this is the one feature that no MMO really does a decent job of.  Please someone out there… put some thought into the experience of returning players.  The answer is not to ignore all of the content that came before.  The answer is to help players go back and experience the things that they missed.  As a result some sort of intelligent system is well worth the time it takes to build.  All we are really talking is a handful of database queries based on a few parameters, and then returning the relevant items to a window.  This would go so far into making returning players feel like they matter and are welcome in the game.  I cannot count the number of games that I have reinstalled… only to leave after a single night of trying to sort out what it was that I was doing when I last played.  In each case I “wanted” to play the game, but the game required more out of me than I was willing to give it.  When this situation happens all I really needed was a breadcrumb to lead me to what I should be focusing on.  On the positive side I did finally start the post release content in Star Wars the Old Republic, which is a thing I have been passively trying to do since the free to play conversion.  I would really like to see where that story goes before the launch of Fallen Empire.

Games I’m Not Playing

Too Many Games

Skyforge 2015-07-17 06-26-06-26 Right now I am suffering from a problem, in that there are just too many games that I want to be playing and simply not enough time in any combination of lifetimes to actually play them.  Last night I downloaded and installed Skyforge, and gave it a quick spin this morning… and as interesting as it seems I just don’t know when exactly I am going to fit it in.  For the first time in years I have been relatively monogamistic in my gaming, and with the dropping of World of Warcraft I pretty much have all of my focus on Final Fantasy XIV.  Last night I ran dungeons with the guild and after doing my hunts managed to push my Dragoon to 56.  As a result the desire to get that job to 60 is real, because I desperately want to be able to fill more than one roll when it comes to grouping.

By the same token I really would like to give some time to Skyforge so that I can give it a shot for free, before plunking down any money on it.  I watched a bit of the MMO Show stream the other day as Jabberant played the game and I have to admit it peaked my interests.  Playing this morning it feels like a better version of Neverwinter, because the janky control scheme of that game was always a major detractor.  So now I get to juggle competing desires and figure out how to spend my weekend.  So this morning I thought I would write about the games that I am wanting to play but just can’t seem to find adequate time to devote to them.

Star Wars the Old Republic

swtor 2013-08-13 23-38-38-65 I have this strong desire to go back and experience the storyline that I have not yet.  Essentially I have not really played my main in this game, a Jedi Guardian… since launch.  Each time I go back I always end up playing alts because I am finding it really hard to get back into the swing of playing a level 50 character.  I know there have been numerous expansions since launch, each with their own storyline content… and I am struggling to get back into the swing of doing it.  Instead I mostly spend time playing my Light Side Sith Warrior, who has been stuck in the hell hole of Balmorra for at least two years.  So one of my gaming regrets is that I have not figured out how to make progress on my main and see the Makeb and beyond storyline.  Additionally I have this nasty habit of paying for a month, and then playing one day and never returning to it.  I’ve gone through this sequence at least a half dozen times since we left this game.  The draw of Final Fantasy XIV is always too strong to keep me playing there for long.

Wildstar

WildStar64 2015-06-06 17-47-43-40 On my second attempt at playing this game I reached a point where I really was enjoying what I was doing.  In fact there was a stretch prior to the launch of Heavensward where I was playing this one more than just about any other game.  I have an awesome group of friends in this game and I love the Black Dagger Society guild that I am in.  I had a blast roaming around the zones and taking down world bosses with them on a few occasions.  For whatever reason however I am just not logging in right now.  Once again the draw of Final Fantasy XIV is too strong, and maybe I just love our guild there too much.  This is on the list of games I absolutely want to keep returning to, but I doubt I will until a bit more of the shiny has warn off from Heavensward.  Right now I am in this push to reach a point where I have multiple useful jobs to help people with, and I think until I get there I won’t be happy playing much else.

The Secret World

TheSecretWorld 2012-08-07 20-41-26-17 I am woefully behind in my Secret World content, because the last update I think I played was the whole “Last Train to Cairo” sequence.  I know there have been multiple updates since then but I am just not logging in and playing them.  There are problems I have with this game that preclude me from really digging into the end game content.  However I have loved all of the story mission content that I have played and I keep meaning to poke my head in and do them.  I’m a life time subscriber, and I should have tons of goodies waiting on me… but generally speaking what happens is I log in and buy a nifty new outfit… then log right back out.  Of all of my gaming regrets this is one of the strongest because I really would like to find a way to play this game in addition to whatever game I am “maining”.

ArcheAge

ARCHEAGE 2015-06-14 14-36-32-10 Just prior to the launch of Heavensward there were several of us on the AggroChat cast that had a brief love affair with this game.  I want to find a way to return to playing this game on a regular basis because I don’t feel like I have consumed all of the good that I can get from it.  This is the game that I was told once I reached level 30 I would be in forced pvp areas.  While we are playing on Tahyang the supposed roleplaying server, I am 38 and have yet to encounter even another enemy player.  There is a lot of great PVE content in this game, and we found the dungeons to be among some of the rougher we had experienced since say Dark Age of Camelot.  I’ve logged in a few times since the launch of Heavensward, but never for terribly long because I keep feeling like I really should be in FFXIV gearing or helping other people gear.  I still have things I want to do here, so I need to figure out a way to play it as well.

Skyforge

Skyforge 2015-07-17 06-07-54-37 I talked about this as the start of the blog post, but I really do want to spend some time getting to know this game.  At face value it didn’t seem like it was going to be anything I would be interested in.  However after playing a brief few minutes this morning I think I might dig it.  It is action combat that still feels like an MMO.  Honestly I put Neverwinter in that same category, however there the combat just felt forced and janky.  The proof will be in the pudding as to how the Paladin feels once I progress it a bit further.  I admit the whole “switch roles at any time” thing is a huge draw for me, after getting used to that in Final Fantasy XIV.  I doubt this would ever be a primary MMO for me, but it might be a fun weekend diversion.  Ultimately I keep looking for a solid secondary game to have the duality that I did with Final  Fantasy XIV and World of Warcraft.  I have yet to find the game that seems like the perfect match, but who knows this might be it.

Elder Scrolls Online

eso 2015-03-16 23-59-44-25 The game that I least understand why I am not playing it… is The Elder Scrolls Online.  Everything about this game should be squarely in my wheelhouse considering the number of hours that I have spent playing games in the Elder Scrolls universe.  I have access to it both on PC and on PS4, and I had this idea that the console client would somehow revitalize my interest in the game.  The problem is… it hasn’t at all.  I feel like the problem I have with this game is that even though I have people moving around me… I feel like I am ultimately alone.  The other players are just a backdrop in part because I never see their names.  I think in part I am experiencing Beta regret, because after testing this game for a year there are previous incarnations of the game UI that I just enjoyed more.  If I could go back and play THOSE incarnations… I would probably be enjoying myself still.  When names over the top of mobs went away…  the world felt like it shrunk for me, and the game became more or less a single player experience.  I still would love to find a way to make this game that at one point I was so devoted to still feel enjoyable, but I just have not found it.

Developer Appreciation Week 2015 – Part 1

A few days ago my good friend Rowanblaze tagged me in his post about Developer Appreciation Week 2015.  To the best of my knowledge this event was actually started by Scarybooster, but I cannot for the life of me remember if I actually got a post in while it was going on.  If not then this is something I absolutely need to remedy.  This morning as a result my post is going to be a little contorted but I really enjoyed the format from Ravanel of Ravalation… so I am rolling with that.  Thus begins my super contorted and rambling Developer Appreciation Week post.

Funcom Games – The Secret World Team

TheSecretWorld 2013-06-04 06-15-22-12 This game is absolutely phenomenal.  I was lucky enough to get on board early and do one of the lifetime subscriptions and I have to say I have never once questioned that investment.  Knowing that it is always waiting there for me to return to the world of the Templars and the Illuminati…  makes me happy inside.  While there are a lot of interesting things about the game, the part that always floors me is just how well written the quests are in this game, and how well the whole cinematic feel of them works.  I greatly prefer silent protagonist games, because they allow me to substitute my own inner dialog into the scenes.  What is awesome about TSW is they manage to do this is a way so that the silence feels like an answer.  I desperately need to poke my head back in and try out the new combat changes, because the nightmare level content was ultimately what crushed the hopes of my group.  From what I hear a lot of these rough spots have been ironed out.

Square Enix – Final Fantasy XIV Team

ffxiv 2015-03-28 20-48-43-91 I am constantly amazed at just how damned good this game really is.  Every detail of the game has a loving care applied to it.  Once again it is the storyline that first sold me on the game.  It gave me a series of characters that felt like my party in a traditional Final Fantasy game… and then made me care about each and every one of them..  yes even Thancred.  What has kept me coming back however is just how good their content is, and how frequent their updates are.  I’ve heard that the team is only around fifteen people…  and that they are doing both the live patches and expansion development at the same time.  I am floored that they can manage to crank out a new patch every month, and major patch every few months…  all the while working on a brand new expansion?  The way they manage to make content remain relevant to the players is pure magic, because I really enjoy running low level content with friends… and making it feel like it matters again.  Last night they patched in the 2.55 content… and I am completely amped to log in and play it.

Turbine – Lord of the Rings Online Team

ScreenShot00004 If there was a list of games that I wish I played more of, Lord of the Rings Online would be near the top.  There is so much for me to enjoy in the game, even not factoring in the fact that I love the franchise behind it.  The gameplay is a bit of a throwback to an earlier era, and more than anything it has always reminded me a bit of a modern updated Dark Age of Camelot.  That said the part that has always stood out for me is just how well they have managed to create the world of Middle Earth…  everything is how I had imagined it while reading the novels.  There are so many moments like the above picture where I reach some fabled destination and I have to just stop and sit in awe that I am in this or that place.  Another strange thing that I love about this game are the horses.  They have the absolute best horse movement of any game.  As you are moving around the horse feels right, which adds so much to the feeling that you are in a living breathing world… and not just a themepark.

Trion Worlds – Rift Team

rift 2013-06-24 21-10-59-03 This was the game that finally came along and successfully dislodged me after playing seven years of World of Warcraft, and that in itself is no small feat.  What makes me love the game however is its class system.  I love being able to mix and match bits and pieces of class trees to make something unique that does exactly what I want it to do.  Especially from a tanking front, this game will always hold a special place in my heart because it was the first game to give me both charge and deathgrip in the same build.  The raid content was absolutely insane, and I greatly enjoyed the times I was able to experience it.  This is one of those games that I boot up every few weeks to poke my head in, especially now that it is free to play.  I’ve spent a lot of its four year history with an active subscription, and there is just something about the world that keeps me coming back.  With the impending release of the new Wardrobe system I am looking forward to popping back in and playing some more.  Trion was the first team to make me believe that a company could keep a monthly content release schedule, and through it all they have created some very impressive work.

SOE/Daybreak – Everquest II Team

EQ2_000009 Everquest II for me is a tale of the path not taken.  With EQ2 and WoW releasing at the same time, some of my friends went to EQ2, and I and the majority of my friends went to WoW.  That said this has been one of those games that I keep coming back to so that I can re-experience this ball of nostalgia that is Norrath.  This game has hands down the best world building of any game on the market.  I love the world of Norrath 2.0 with all its detail and quirkyness.  Sure it is not exactly how I remember it from the original Everquest, but that is part of the charm for me.  Every now and then you will be knee deep in a dungeon, and you will see some little call back that makes you realize “oh my god this is that place” that you recall from your memory, changed over time and presented in so much higher fidelity.  While I have issues with the combat system and likely always will… this is a game that I cannot seem to keep myself away from for long.  Even today EQ2 is a sort of comfort food for me… where I will hang out inside and vege out on the couch dusting off my Shadow Knight and exploring Norrath with new eyes.

To Be Continued…

I feel like I have so many developers that I want to show my appreciation for…  that I had to break these up into multiple posts.  Tune in tomorrow as I talk about several more developers.  Hopefully this will cause your own upwelling of nostalgia and end up with you posting your own thoughts in blog form.  If you don’t have a blog, feel free to use my comment space for that same mission.  There is so much negativity out there, that I believe completely in this notion of the Developer Appreciation Week.  Reach out and show your appreciation to those games you love.

Best Games I’m Not Playing

This mornings post is going to be a bit of a departure from my normal routine in that I am going to talk about some of the games that I really enjoy, but am not playing for one reason or another.  I guess with the recent news about Daybreak, it highlights the fact that there are so many games we hold dear…  but aren’t actually actively supporting by playing them.  As such here goes my attempt to write a post about the three best games I am not playing.

Everquest II

EQ2_000008 Like so many former Everquest junkies, I am in love with the  setting of Norrath.  I love its cities, and races and the aspect that I enjoyed the most playing EQ2 was how often times you would just see glimpses of the world that came before this one.  The folks behind the zones in Norrath 2.0 were exceptionally good at tugging on your nostalgia at just the right moment, while at the same time making something entirely new.  More than anything I think it was the scale of this game that made me fall in love with it.  I did not play it at launch, but a few months into World of Warcraft I took a break and joined my friends who did.  The world felt so much larger than anything I was seeing in Azeroth, and this sense of amazement through scale never really faded.  It felt so much more like a living breathing world.  This game also gave me one of my favorite playable races in any game… the Ratonga.  While often goofy comic relief I enjoyed roaming the world as my little rat shadow knight.

The problem is that each time I play Everquest II, I ultimately leave due to the same problem.  I absolutely hate the combat system with its largely unintelligible stat increases, alternative advancement point minutiae and what feels like three hundred different attack buttons…  that are largely indistinguishable.  The funny thing is playing my Shadow Knight was a key sequence of about twenty five attacks… and still to this day I can reinstall the game and play it entirely through muscle memory.  For me it is the gaming equivalent of chicken fried steak… that comfort food you return to over and over even though it is largely uninspired.  The problem is…  I will always return to it eventually.  It has my favorite world in any game, so full of life and mystery.  I just wish I could transplant that world into a game I enjoy on a technical level.

Rift

riftvolcano Rift was the game that pulled me away from World of Warcraft by giving me every single thing I ever said I wanted in a video game.  I spent a good amount of time playing Rift at launch and since release it is a rarity that I do not have an active account.  The problem is… I am not playing it.  This game is one that I want to love so badly, and I wished and tried so many times to transplant my WoW family into.  Rift is a game made up of extremely well crafted systems that are honed to lightning precision…  but have been assembled in the wrong order.  That is the best possible analogy that I can give you.  Have you ever walked into a house and felt that something was just off, and then spent the rest of your time in it trying to figure out exactly what it was?  There is something wrong with Rift, and I cannot figure out what is missing.

I have heard the complaint that “Rift has no soul” and as much as I have rebelled against that notion…  maybe that statement is right.  There is some spark that ties everything together that is missing in this game.  I will always keep returning to it, because there are lots of well crafted components that make up this game, but the overarching game itself lacks something.  With the Nightmare Tides expansion I came back and started playing more regularly, but it was not long before I realized that all I had been actually doing was logging in to play the minions mini-game.  Even now talking about this game I am getting the desire to pop my head back in, because it is like this puzzle I cannot quite solve.  I want to know why it doesn’t work, but never actually find the answer.  What I do know however is it is a game supported by a lot of awesome people, and while I am trying to figure it out… I absolutely do not mind funding their efforts.

The Secret World

TheSecretWorld 2012-08-07 20-41-26-17 When The Secret World was released, I thought that it was absolutely going to be the game I could settle in for the long haul.  I believe it in so much that I spent the almost two hundred dollars to purchase a “Lifetime” membership, after having missed out on that same opportunity for Lord of the Rings Online.  The experience of leveling through this game and completing all of the content was absolutely amazing.  It still has some of the most thoughtful and interesting quest lines I have experienced in any game.  The thing that broke myself and the rest of the AggroChat crew was the fact that behind the Gatekeeper encounter there loomed a giant wall.  When we began nightmare content, we came to the realization quickly that we were essentially “playing the game wrong”.  The answer to beating the content was for us to change our specs to something that the content wanted us to be.  Doing this would have destroyed the magic of the game, the fact that we could craft the characters we always wanted to play.

All of this said, it is still a game I think upon fondly, and still consider the lifetime membership some of the best money I have ever spent.  Content is released in “Issues” and while purchasing one of these gives you the main story quest… there is also a substantial amount of minor content that goes in with each of them.  Games are notoriously bad about pointing out things that have changed in the world, and The Secret World is no exception.  I find it a mentally daunting task to not only try and remember how to play my character each time I return, but also try and figure out what is actually new.  The fact that you can repeat almost every quest in the game only serves to make this more maddening.  The answer of course is to claw your way through copious patch notes to figure out what new elements were added, but instead…  I simply don’t play apart from logging in every now and then to buy a cool new outfit with my monthly allotment of in game store currency.

Fondly Remembered Loves

There you go, this morning in honor of Valentines Day I give you the games I love but am not actually playing.  I feel like all gamers have these games in their history.  I am curious what some of yours are.  Leave me a comment letting me know what game or games out there are you still smitten by but just not playing anymore.