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.


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.

Flourishing Communites

No Longer Mainstream

This morning I am struggling more than a bit to find a topic to write about.  I keep coming back to a conversation last night on teamspeak regarding our identification or lack thereof with the term “gamer”.  One of my friends talked about how he has slowly distanced himself from the title because it no longer really offered anything in way of meaning for him.  It no longer really clearly identified his interests.  I guess to some extent I am no longer a mainstream gamer either if you really think about it.  When there is a big show like E3 It is evident that I no longer care about the games that seem to get the most press like the Call of Duty or Battlefield franchises.  Granted there was a time where I was happy to throw money at both of these, but that time has passed.

Instead I tend to focus on the games that give me the most freedom to inhabit the worlds.  The narrative game play experience is still fun on occasion but the games I tend to play every night offer some way for me to inhabit them.  The top franchises seem to be mostly about fighting against other players, whereas I want to cooperate and collaborate with them in creating social environments.  The thing that keeps me tied to Final Fantasy XIV right now is just how vibrant and alive the community is, and how easy it has been to find the social strata I have craved.  It is something that has just been lacking from other games I have played in the last few years, and I am not really sure why exactly it is lacking.

Flourishing Communities

I wish I knew why that sense of community flourishes in some games but not others.  I think in part it is due to isolation from the more negative forces of the internet.  The games that have had some of the best environments, have also been games that I felt where under appreciated.  In Everquest II the Antonia Bayle server community is amazing, and has a thriving role-playing and community event presence.  Similarly in Lord of the Rings Online the Landroval community is equally amazing, and offers everything from casual concerts at the Prancing Pony to intricate community events.  In both cases these are games that are not pulling in the big attention and I think the end result causes a much more tight knit and insular community.  Similarly Final Fantasy XIV has been somewhat isolated from the mainstream and developed a community that flourishes around a love of the game.

So I guess my pondering is, do these communities thrive because the mainstream gamer has shunned them?  I’ve literally seen some of my more mainstream friends turn their noses up visibly when I have mentioned I was playing Everquest 2, or Lord of the Rings Online…  and I am sure the same would be the case with Final Fantasy XIV.  In the case Final Fantasy XIV there is still a lot of bad blood out there surrounding the failure that was 1.0.  In the case of the others, I think it is mostly because they were “not WoW”.  I am beginning to be of the opinion that playing a second or third tier MMO is the best experience, pending you find a server that still has a thriving and active population.  The people that have stuck around there, do so for various reasons… but it often means that the community is well established and stable… and with a little effort welcoming to new comers.

Gamer Lacks Meaning

Now to drift back to the original discussion from last night about whether or not gamer is a meaningful term.  There was a time where that term meant something, a shared experience that became immediately relatable.   Now gaming in general has become so fragmented that just because someone self identifies as a gamer, doesn’t meant at all that you have any shared experiences.  I ran into this Wednesday at the funeral with my cousins.  There were four of us nephews… of us at one time or another have self identified as gamers.  However as we started to talk about them two of them immediately started talking about their latest call of duty exploits, and another pair of us started talking role playing games.  So when the term gaming was summoned it meant two vastly different things.  I still find myself unwilling to fully abandon the title of Gamer, even though most of the images that currently evokes no longer really represent me.

Maybe I have shifted my focus in the way my friend Tam has shifted to “Game Designer”.  Maybe the fact that I am now a “Game Blogger” better denotes my interest in gaming and my point of view on it all.  Even “MMO Gamer” probably does a far better job of representing my interests than “Gamer” does.  I think some of the discussion is about whether or not labels are important at all, and I think they are mostly.  Labels, especially one ones someone self identifies with are a kind of social shorthand.  It is like a sketch of the person that they want the world to see them as, and is meaningful in trying to align interests but not much more than that.  Once you get to know someone you learn their hopes, fears and aspirations… the labels stop being meaningful at all.  Prior to that however they act as a way to grease the wheels of interaction.  The problem with this however is that gamer is coming to represent something I do not support and do not want to be part of.  I would love to think that I could reform the title and bring it back to something just, pure and true…  but I think we have long crossed the point of no return and are now seeing the last death throes of “Gamer”.