Fixing Everquest 2

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Tale of Two Games

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Last week we had the somewhat bittersweet news that Everquest Next was officially being cancelled.  For those who were utterly confused about what Landmark,  Next and the rest of the EQ games actually are… here is a quick rundown.  Everquest of course is the granddaddy of the big hit MMOs.  Then mere days before the launch of World of Warcraft…. Everquest II came out as an attempt at rebooting the world.  Everything in that setting happened after a huge calamity that saw Luclin the moon shattering and sending shards to earth.  The world was changed, the land fractured, and in many ways it allowed for a much larger scale game world than the original.  Everquest Next was the concept for what was ultimately going to be the third Everquest MMO… so in truth you can just think of it as Everquest III.  Landmark on the other hand is ultimately the tool that they were using to build the world of Everquest Next.  After playing around with it the folks decided that this was actually a really fun thing to play with in itself, in the Minecraft style.  Landmark was really never a fully fleshed out game, but more of a sandbox toy that players could fiddle with.  Since its launch they have made it more “game-like” but it still is missing a lot of the core features folks expect in an MMO.

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Now in the above paragraph I mentioned a key fact… that Everquest II launched on November 8th of 2004… and then was completely overshadowed by the launch of World of Warcraft on November 24th of that same year.  The two games took significantly different paths, and produced really different results.  Everquest II was this rich tapestry of cultures and game systems that provided a really deep game play experience that worked on so many levels.  World of Warcraft was a much more streamlined experience that asked less of the player, but ultimately became easier to pick up and play without an excessive amount of research.  We all know how the tales goes… that WoW becomes the juggernaut of MMO gaming and EQ2 becomes this sheltered garden with an excellent community and lots of great content…  but always treated as a second tier experience.  Right now Everquest II feels extremely dated, like an artifact of a different era whereas World of Warcraft feels somewhat evergreen.  The major difference there is that each time WoW releases an expansion they do significant systems overhauls that cause some sweeping changes to not only the fidelity of the game client itself, but also the back end systems.  Everquest II on the other hand has been this “Weasley House” of MMOs with content constantly being tacked on top of the older foundation.  The new content feels like modern content, but you experience a sort of whiplash as you shift between the different layers of the content and see just how drastic and inequitable the improvements have been.

Renovation Is Due

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The above image has been floating around for a few weeks now and represents some work that the Everquest II team is doing to update the orc model.  It seems that the newest expansion content that they are working on heavily focus on orcs, and as a result they are just updating the base model to bring them up to modern standards.  Seeing this however made me realize just how bad the old models look.  I mean it has always been one of those things in the back of my mind, but when you see what the team is capable of producing today… placed against something that has existed since 2004 it is staggering.  Now that Everquest Next is no longer a thing… I would love to see them pour some of those resources into producing a graphical upgrade to Everquest II.  The big problem with the game are just how dated the models and the animations look, and going back there is always an adjustment period and largely just hand waving off a bunch of details that get under my skin because the content itself is so amazingly rich.  I realize this is a massive undertaking, and it is the sort of thing that could be rolled in over time.  If you remember the original Everquest went through the same problems and with the release of Luclin they released new and updated character models.  Unfortunately in the case of EQ2… we need a lot more than just characters.  I would love to see this great game get a second life, because for so many of my friends that I have tried to get to play this game…  the ugliness of the assets was a barrier they simply could not get past.

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Now fixing the graphics isn’t going to fix the game entirely… but it would go a long way into making it feel more playable.  Next up however we really need to talk about the user interface, that has always felt a bit cludgy.  I’ve not played the game in the last decade without first installing some sort of third party addon user interface.  For years I played with Fetish Nightfall, and within the last six years or so I switched over to being a Drums UI guy.  With these UI extensions the game becomes rather good, but the whole process of acquiring a UI and keeping it updated… feels needlessly arcane in a manner I have not experience in any other game save for maybe Dark Age of Camelot where they had no official support for addons.  So the entire User Interface could use a bit of a facelift.  Finally we have to talk about the way combat works in this game.  I feel like this is the step that would actually cause rioting in the streets by diehard Everquest II fans…  but I also feel like it is the point that is the most needed.  The game really really needs to simplify combat in a way that does not require me to use 30+ abilities in a combat rotation.  The above picture is of my Shadowknight, and at least 30 of this abilities are ones that I pretty much used in every single round of combat.  It was even worse on my Dirge and I had these super complex patterns memorized… that even today I can sit down at the keyboard and automatically cycle through them.

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The problem is…  it doesn’t really feel fun.  I feel like I am playing some sort of a musical instrument instead of actually experience reactive combat in a video game.  Now I am not saying water it down to the level that single hotbar games have done… or simplify it to the point of an action MMO.  I just would love to be able to have one primary hotbar of abilities that get used every round… and then a bunch of optional abilities that throw in for flavor or when special conditions are met.  The cooldown of EQ2 abilities is so long that you need something… anything… to fill in the gaps so you quite often are simply mashing the next button that is off cool down.  Please understand that I am a huge fan of Everquest II… but every time I leave it is the cludgy combat system that eventually drives me away.  For several months I can overlook it and just blend back into the rich and vast game world… but I always reach this point where I need to play combat that simply “works better”.  I think maybe this is a ship that has already sailed, and after doing several combat passes early in the game…  I am not sure if they have the intestinal fortitude to attempt another.  All of this aid… simply making the game look better would go a long way into making this a more attractive experience to new players, but in doing this post I am talking about all of the things that I wish were different.  Combat will always be a huge part of that.

MMOs Worth Playing – Everquest II

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Perforated Week

mmosworthplayingThis week was a strange one, because it essentially consisted of two Mondays and two Fridays since I was off Wednesday due to Veterans day.  This week also pretty much was completely lost to Fallout 4.  So I contemplated just doing another post about that and skipping the MWP feature for a week.  That said I decided to fall back on an “oldie but goodie” that I could write about without much prep work.  Once again the MMOs Worth Playing section by intent is to highlight some of the awesome games out there, that maybe don’t get as much love as I feel they should.  This has been the pattern other than last week when I did a special BlizzCon edition, and this week we are continuing that pattern with some talk about Everquest 2.

Launching Against a Juggernaut

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When it comes to underdog games… it would be near impossible to find one that more fits that title than Everquest II.  Back in 2004 there were two games vying for everyone’s attention… the sequel of sorts to the wildly popular Everquest and the newcomer with a strong pedigree World of Warcraft.  By the time we got to November of that year… there was quite literally one game on everyone’s minds…  and it wasn’t the return to a calamity stricken Norrath.  EQ2 had the misfortunate of launching sixteen days before the game that would for the most part change the landscape of MMOs.  I was pretty torn as to which game I would end up playing, and I even pre-ordered Everquest II and spent a good deal of time in the alpha and beta processes.  However when it came time to launch…  there were a few people from my EQ1 days that were going to be playing… but the vast majority of my friends were simply waiting for World of Warcraft.  So since money was very much a thing back then… I simply didn’t pick up my EQ2 pre-order and waited for the coming of Azeroth.

Roughly six months into that experience however I got a patch of wanderlust like I always do and drug a group of friends over into Norrath and found that I really liked the game.  Just as I know eventually I will be playing World of Warcraft again, I will also be doing the same for Everquest II.  The sort of experience it provides is just different than you would find in most games.  For me at least the magic is the setting.  Norrath is world I am deeply nostalgic of, and with it comes little references to the good times I had in Everquest.  I realize for many at launch this was a huge problem… because instead of continuing where Everquest left off they chose to reboot the world of sorts and bringing the players in after the moon Luclin had exploded raining down shards around the world.  This event sundered the world causing it to break apart into small islands, and much of the theme of Everquest 2 has been one of exploration and rediscovery.

Unearthing Greatness

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The players are helping to recover the lost grandeur of the past, and with that we are uncovering locations that I remember extremely well in the original Everquest.  The big thing that spoke to me about the game however was the epic scale.  These zones are huge… so huge that often times they are made up of several distinct sub zones that all exist together in one seamless area.  What makes them work so well is the fact that they are really content dense, with all sorts of hidden treasures and events stowed in between what would normally be something you simply rode past.  One of the things that made EQ interesting was their construct called a “Ring Event”, which involved fighting certain mobs… which would spawn other mobs… which would ultimately culminate in a boss.  So as you wander the world, you never quite know what thing you are killing might lead to something far more interesting spawning.  I remember one of these particular in Nektulos Forest, that ultimately lead to a rare named boss that was used for a quest.

Another aspect of the game that I have always loved that follows this exploration and recovery feeling, is the Heritage quest.  These are truly epic quest chains that tend to require twenty or so discreet steps to complete and often involve you spending a considerably about of time crawling through dungeons and catacombs to find bits.  Each of them represents the attempt to uncover an item of fabled power from the old world, and as a former Everquest player…  I know almost every single item referenced by heart.  What makes them even cooler is that they function dual fold when you complete one.  For starters you get a really nice piece of gear that at the level you can get it serves to be some of quite literally the best gear you can get.  However when you out level it, you can turn it into a trophy item that you can then put in your player housing to remember your journey.  So it feels really cool to walk into your house and see all of these past accomplishments displayed in physical form.  Each item you hang on your wall or stash on a shelf is a memory of an event that you did in game, which makes the whole thing feel more important than simply earning points or titles.

Rich Systems

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Everquest II is this impossible game, because quite literally I don’t think it could have ever been created in today’s climate.  So much time was spent on systems that feel casual and exploratory gameplay, that enrich the player…  but don’t really make up much of an “endgame” in the traditional sense.  I just mentioned housing and that is absolutely a crucial one.  Dark Age of Camelot was the first time I had experienced player housing, and I knew that I was absolutely hooked.  The problem there is it took up large tracts of physical real estate in the world.  That meant a limited number of players could ever have housing, because there were a limited number of deeds available.  EQ2 went in a completely different direction, and at first I was not terribly certain of it…  and later I have come to realize it was a stroke of genius.  Instead of making housing exclusive… they simply made it part of the base gameplay experience by giving you an Inn Room that serves as your first house while going through the early levels.  From there the player gets used to the notion of checking into their room periodically and quests giving them items that they might want to display there.

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As you progress you can keep getting cooler homes with significantly more expensive weekly upkeep costs.  While player housing is awesome… where the game really shines is the introduction of Guild Housing.  In each guild I have been in, the house became a hub of activity for its members.  Due to the ability to place crafting machines, bankers and brokers all in the hall… it means that there will be a constant flow of players coming in and out as they do their business around the game world.  While it might seem silly… because we already have an always on guild chat… but seeing players in their physical avatar form just feels different and almost magical.  There are tons of people in the game world that I might talk to on a nightly basis… but it could be weeks before I actually cross paths with their characters in game.  Having this nexus meant that the guilds were actually more communicative that they might have been were it just left to text only conversation.  There was also always the added benefit of having some shared goal that the guild as a whole could work towards.  I remember doing all sorts of things that could grant “status” in the guild, which then could be spent as a currency to help pay the expenses of owning the guild hall.  Contributing status made it feel like I was helping… even though what I was actually earning was just a drip in the bucket comparatively.

Overwhelming Content

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I could literally write one of these posts a week, for the next few months and not have scratched the surface of talking about everything in this game.  The game is nearing the launch of expansion number Twelve Terrors of Thalumbra.   In the same time World of Warcraft has had six expansions, and this is not counting the mini adventure packs, which I believe there have been four or five of at this point.  The amount of content of all types that is available is just completely mind boggling, and at any given level you usually have multiple paths that you can take to get to your goal.  My favorite part about the game is that they still have public dungeons.  This is the aspect that made the original Everquest feel so vibrant to me, was that you could go into these super dangerous areas with your friends… that were huge NPC warrens that felt like working areas.  If you went into the kitchen, then you found a chef… if you went into the dungeon… then you found a jailer or a warden.  It felt like we were actually raiding bases, rather than taking a theme park ride where at the end we got loot for our trouble.

These big public dungeons were places you could just go and hang out with your friends… where the difficulty level was enough to make bringing friends along for the fun worth while.  All of which made it all the more enjoyable when you finally reached a level of gear where you could actually go into these places and survive by yourself.  I remember the amazement the first time I saw a friend soloing Sebilis for example in Everquest… and then was shocked when I reached the point where I could solo tough mobs like the Sand Giants in the Oasis of Marr.  Everquest even in its more modern version is really good at setting up these goals that you want to go back and achieve later.  If you can’t take on this monster now… then you will likely go back later and get revenge on it when you can.  I’ve talked before about how fear is missing from games… and wandering these public dungeons brought it back.  That if you were able to keep up with the spawn rate, you could stay in there in a tentative state of safety… however if one thing went wrong…  you were running back in after a death.  That era in games seems to be all but extinct at this point.

Dated But Good

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At this point Everquest 2 is feeling its age, and with recent Daybreak mess… it is unlikely that this is going to change at any point in the near future.  The engine is old, and has not had the benefit of having frequent face lifts in the same fashion that World of Warcraft has.  As a result the model detail is a little off, and the world building itself can feel a little cludgy in the early zones.  There however is an amazing artistry as each time they release an expansion they push this old engine beyond its limits and find new ways to keep this game interesting.  This is absolutely a game that I would suggest everyone play at least once, but in doing so you have to go into it knowing that you are essentially playing an artifact of a bygone era.  They simply do not make games like this one any more, and to some extent I am regretful of this fact.  The amount of detail that can be found between its cracks is enough to drive you completely mad if you try and assimilate it all.  If you do start an new character I highly suggest you either roll in the Neriak/Darklight Woods starting zone or Kelethin/Greater Faydark… because as the game went on they got significantly better at doing the starter experience.  If you do end up trying the game, I would love to hear your own impressions.

 

Better Faction Systems

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Loss of Nuance

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I had this topic that I wanted to talk about this morning, and jotted it down so that I would not forget.  Then last night I suffered from a bout of insomnia.  So my hope is that even without much sleep I can still make this topic work, and devote the amount of attention it deserves.  For years I have talked about my dislike of the faction wall system that was first popularized by Dark Age of Camelot, and then carried forth into the modern genre of MMOs thanks to World of Warcraft adopting it.  For many players they know nothing different than picking a red versus blue faction and living their entire gaming life’s within the confines of it.  I think I struggle against this concept because I remember a time when this wasn’t necessarily the case.  Lately I have been spending a lot of time playing my smuggler in Star Wars the Old Republic, and yes I realize that game is a very faction locked experience.  However if you think of the Smuggler itself in the Star Wars mythos, it has always been a character that skirted the lines trying to exist in Republic, Imperial and Hutt space at the same time, carving their own path balancing between them all.

The problem is, other than the original Everquest no game really supports this notion.  You cannot live between the faction lines making your own choices, instead you are asked to choose an allegiance that is about the most impersonal experience imaginable.  The problem is that I feel no personal responsibility for choosing Horde or Alliance or in many cases Red or Blue.  They don’t represent me as a person, and as such I have no real loyalty tied to them.  However in Everquest you were assigned essentially a default template of allegiances based on your racial choice… but from that point on you could blur the lines at will.  I remember spending copious amounts of time hunting Kobolds in the Warrens off of Toxxulia Forest, for the purpose of gaining faction in the otherwise aggressive city of Paineel.  Why did I do this? Honestly for no real reason other than I could, and that I thought the city of Paineel was extremely cool in its layout.  Sure I could have simply banked and quested at the far end of Toxxulia Forest in the already friendly city of Erudin, but instead I made the conscious choice to hang out with the Necromancers.

Sapping Creative Expression

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The problem with the faction wall system is that it forces all of the players to essentially be the same person.  Later games started throwing in optional faction grinds, but those grinds are always connected to “things”.  Gain this much reputation with this faction and you will get a nifty sword, or a pretty mount…  but otherwise once the current expansion is over they will be utterly meaningless from that point on.  The problem here is that these tertiary faction choices don’t actually effect the players game experience.  They don’t unlock new areas of the world, or more so close off other areas that the player did have access to.  Granted in the early days of World of Warcraft they did manage to create a few of these Factions that did actually do interesting things.  Namely I am talking about the back and forth seesaw of the Bloodsail Buccaneers and the assorted Goblin factions.  If you were truly insane you could skirt a thin line between gaining faction with the Bloodsails but also doing faction repair work with the Goblins to make sure you were not ever hitting “Kill On Sight” status.

The problem here is… this was an isolated example that granted players access to a handful of boats in the ass end of the world.  This area was made immediately irrelevant as soon as the Burning Crusade and subsequent expansions released.  Instead as an Alliance player I always wanted to figure out a way to gain factions with the Tauren.  They were the only Horde race that seemed to cling to any ideals I could get behind, and I thought it would have been so interesting to be able to gain faction in a way that would allow you to enter the town and do commerce there.  Things are never completely black and white, and even in the lore there are characters that skirt the lines managing to be friendly to two different groups at the same time.  The entire World of Warcraft experience would have been so much richer if it allowed players through sheer will to grind out their own niche that lay somewhere between the predetermined choices.  I think it would have been interesting to allow players to create the ultimate “diplomat” that was friendly to essentially ALL of the races.

Fear for the Future

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The problem with games being iterative is that once a feature set becomes common, it essentially stays there forever.  This past weekend when we talked about Tron 2.0 in our AggroChat Game Club show, one of the lines of discussion was how the cultural norms for shooters have changed over the years.  What used to be representative of most of the shooters that were out in 2003, is no longer recognizable through the lens of the basic feature set that we now have come to expect.  World of Warcraft borrowed heavily from the games that came before it, and since it chose to go with a walled off faction system, games that have borrowed from it have essentially followed that mold.  Red and Blue factions with their own walled off areas of play have become the template for how to build a game, and right now the only real evolution has been a return to three factions instead of just two.  Sure games like Rift have torn down the wall and made faction into “fiction” but they have not really gone anywhere in the struggle of making faction a personal choice.

Now going back to the original thing that spurred this topic, Star Wars the Old Republic.  How much more rich would the smuggler have been if you quite literally could have been a freelancer in action and not just name.  The game does a decent job of making you feel like you live somewhere between the red and blue lines, and then when the second chapter happens it essentially rips all of that forcing you to align to the Republic faction.  Sure you can still play a dark side Smuggler, but these aren’t “real” decisions with any sense of “real” lasting consequences.  You can’t decide to say screw the republic and opt to live entirely in Hutt space or Imperial space.  You can’t decide to say on Alderaan or Balmorra and improve your faction with one of the leaders, opening up new questing opportunities that are unavailable to the average player.  Everquest is a game that I could never really play again, because I just can’t handle the essentially “primative” game client.  There however are still things that the game got right, that no other game that I have played have really tried to copy.  The problem is… right now I cannot see a game adopting a more real world faction system, without somehow turning it into a marketing focus and losing sight of all of the other things that have to be in place to make a game enjoyable.  Essentially I want real factions… but still be able to keep all of the things that I have come to expect from an MMO to this point.  Unfortunately I fear that the era of MMO experimental-ism is over… and at this point our feature set is locked in place just like the feature set of shooter is locked as well.  In the meantime however… I will still carry a rose colored torch for this features that I wish I could have in modern games.

 

Blaugust Games of Week – Week 2

Another Week Down

EverQuest2 2015-08-07 06-27-43-01 One of the things that I find easiest to blog about is when I am experiencing a new game, or re-experiencing a game after some time has passed.  As a result last week I started doing the Blaugust Games of the Week thing, and for the first week I posted  three vastly different titles.  While Marvel Heroes 2015 has been in my gaming rotation for some time now, Everquest II and Dirty Bomb were not and as such I spent a bit of time this past week playing both.  While I didn’t really talk much about any of the games this week, I hope some of you out there at least gave them a shot.  I spent the most time playing Everquest II on the Stormhold Time Locked Server.  It has been so strange starting from scratch without having some of my favorite leveling spots.  The later leveling zones like Darklight Wood and Iceclad Ocean are just better designed than the original Everquest 2 leveling process was, and as a result you could tear through them so much more quickly.

As of last night I hit level 10 on my Iksar Shadowknight, and in part I think I was doing things the hard way because I stormed right out into the Commonlands and attempted to start leveling off the mobs out there that tend to be significantly higher than my level.  One of the things that I had forgotten about the Commonlands were all of the Small Chests that drop additional quests.  At this point my quest log is full of level 15-20 Far Seas supplier quests that essentially ask you to kill X of a thing and then turn in the end result at an NPC.  I remember these being the bread and butter of early leveling, but I have to say the thing I miss is all of the individual neighborhoods of Freeport.  I think it was a huge disservice to the game when the revamp of Freeport got rid of these completely.  They are now instanced zones that you can only enter on specific quests, but I have to say these zones made up a lot of the feel of both Freeport and Qeynos and did a good job of explaining why the cities were the way that they were.  Of the three titles from this week, this is the one that I am most likely to keep playing because I am finding an odd enjoyment out of retracing my EQ2 roots.

Trion Theme

Since it is once again Friday it is time for me to pick another three games to talk about and suggest.  This time around I decided to go with a theme and as a result I am picking three games from Trion.  Again I am limiting my selections to games that you can download and start playing immediately without having to purchase a game client or pay a subscription fee.  My goal is to make it so folks who are stuck and in need of inspiration can pop into one of these games and get instant “blog fodder”.

Rift

rift 2012-05-31 20-38-58-07 Considering the announcement of the World of Warcraft expansion yesterday, I thought it was fitting to lead off this morning talking about Rift as it was the first game to actually pry me away from the WoW Juggernaut.  The game is designed in such a way so that in theory you can play one character and provide every possible role in the game.  This was not necessarily the case at launch but over time they have provided additional talent trees or “Souls” to help flesh out the missing abilities.  So now you can absolutely be a healing warrior or a tanking mage.  This game has an absolutely phenomenal early leveling game, and the first fifty levels are an absolute joy to level through.  The expansions however are a completely different thing.  I personally found both leveling in Storm Legion and Nightmare Tides to be extremely tedious, and found myself wishing they had not abandoned the early game that I enjoyed so much.

The core of the game though is great, but there are various things you are going to have to content with especially along the lines of ability bloat.  One of my key complaints about Rift has been that you end up with a lot of abilities where ability 2 and 3 are absolutely better than 1… but have long cool downs.  The end result is that you usually end up macroing all three together, which can lead to some fairly uninteresting game play.  That said the game excels at letting you literally branch out in any possible direction and build a character out however you want to.  There are some less than optimal options, but in theory any combination of three Souls will make a potentially viable character, which gives you a lot of freedom to customize things as you see fit.  Fortunately the game has an excellent set of prebuilt specs to at least get you going in the right direction.  As far as the free to play goes… it is among the least restrictive and there are not really any pay walls standing in your way.

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Trove

Trove 2014-09-25 19-18-33-410 I was lucky enough to get in on the first wave of Alpha invites for Trove and having played it that long… has been an interesting experience.  The game has changed massively in that time, and the key elements have shifted and morphed but the basic game is still the same.  I tend to think of Trove as Minecraft meets Diablo, and my recent Bel’s Big Adventure series of Minecraft videos has made me appreciate how important this really is.  Minecraft has a fairly horrible combat system, that is passible but frustratingly bad if you are going to spend much time fighting anything.  Trove on the other stand decided to go in a direction that allows you to pick one of several classes that each have their own built in abilities and a MOBA style character design.  I tend to have a natural synergy with the base Knight class, but have spent significant amounts of time playing the Gunslinger and Neon Ninja as well… and they are all extremely well built.  The core gameplay loop in Trove centers around going out into the world and fighting baddies to find interesting stuff in level ranged based worlds that steadily increase the challenge.

On top of this however there is a very awesome building system where you can build extremely complex custom worlds for your “Club”, or you can build out your cornerstone which is a traveling spawn point that you can move with you as you go out exploring the world.  I love this aspect of the game because it feels like I am able to take all of my most important resources and keep moving my base of operations as I go exploring.  The other thing that makes this game amazing is the community support, and the vast majority of the weapons that you will get were created by fans just like you.  The game has a silliness to it that is contagious, and I will forever cherish my Dapper Raptor mount that you can see above.  Another favorite of mine is the ability to collect item appearances and then make ANY piece of gear that you get look like that, so as you keep exploring you just keep opening more and more unique looks for your character. If you have never played Trove I highly suggest you download it and give it a shot.

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ArcheAge

ARCHEAGE 2015-06-18 11-13-03-53 ArcheAge and I have an extremely checkered past.  I was in the early Alpha process of this game and found the community to be among the most toxic I have ever experienced in any game genre.  As a result I pretty much actively ignored the game for some time.  However with some of the AggroChat folks started testing the waters and playing it… I decided to give it another shot.  The end result has been a pretty enjoyable leveling experience and allowed me to see just how subtle and nuanced the game really is.  I am not a fan of open world ganker style pvp… and early in the game that seemed to be extremely prevalent.  More so than that, the players seemed to revel in griefing others in non-combat ways as well.  If you AFK’d in town, someone might come along with a tractor and push you out into the middle of a dangerous area just to watch you die.  However all of those elements seem to have gotten bored and moved on, and what is left seems to be a bunch of generally nice folks.

The game play itself is also rather good, and while the quests are pretty basic the world is gorgeous and huge, and the class designs are really interesting.  While Rift has an issue with duplication of abilities, ArcheAge seems to be designed in a way so that there is natural synergy between talent trees without giving you a bunch of abilities that you will never actually use.  I have gone full circle on my opinion of this game and you can track the progress if you flip through some of my blog entries.  The game is absolutely playable on the free to play model, but there are some serious constraints.  Namely it is very difficult to do more than just one thing as a “free” player because every action is throttled by your abysmal labour points.  As a Patron player your labour regenerates when you are offline… as a free player you have to be logged into the game waiting on your points to come back.  The other huge constraint is that free players cannot own land, which means if you get very serious about this game you are likely going to end up subscribing.  However in the meantime the free model does allow you to get your feet wet.

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69 Challengers

The Anook Thing

Blaugust is officially upon us, and with it comes a deluge of people posting to the Nook.  I just wanted to take a few moments to highlight a few things as far as that goes.  First off Lonrem made an awesome post on how to get the most out of posting on Anook.  Also of note the very awesome Green Mushroom aka Void has been creating forum posts each day to collect the various daily posts.  This is a pretty great idea as it makes it easy to read everything that has been happening for that day in one place.  While this is amazing idea I also highly suggest that you advertise your post separate from this forum thread.  The Anook Community prize is going to be solely based on how many hearts various posts get from the Anook Community as a whole.  Our forum is a great place for collaboration and communication with other Blaugustians, but the only people that will actually see it are people who are following the nook.

Basically you have two options to make a post see larger circulation.  You can either create a blog post on your profile page, which will allow you to attach images and keywords as well as associating it with a game.  This however takes some time, and feels a little repetitive when you are already writing a separate blog post.  What I tend to do however is to click through to the Blaugust Nook, and at the top of the screen is a box that says “Share What’s on Your Mind”.  Generally speaking I open this box, link to my blog post… write a quick blurb about the post and then associate it with a game.  This will create a post automagically shared with the Blaugust nook and also associated with the individual game nook.  From there if you so choose you can click the Megaphone icon to share it with any other nooks that you might think would be interesting.  My key problem generally is that I tend to write posts that cover multiple games… which makes it really hard to determine which to associate it with.

69 Challengers

At the time I am writing this Saturday morning… we currently have 69 Challengers.  As we went on through the month last year we picked up steam, so that at the end of the proceedings we had fifty people who had either participated or won the challenge.  I am completely blown away by the support I have seen thus far, and I am amped to see what the end of the month will see our numbers at.  I have to admit there was a period of time when I didn’t think I would do Blaugust again.  For some people it was this amazing experience, and others… it ended up causing them to take several month lags in their posting.  The last thing I wanted to do was contribute to bloggers…  not blogging.  However as we got closer to August this year more and more people asked me if I was running it again because they were really getting excited.  At this point… I am absolutely happy that I did because apparently this challenge strikes a primal chord with folks.  The happiest moment however is that I am watching it branch out of my little circle of blogger friends and helping to discover brand new circles that I didn’t even know about.  I think we are going to have really great things happen this month.  Now…  for the updated list of participants as of Day One.

Returning to Norrath

EverQuest2 2015-07-31 18-21-14-24 As I mentioned during the Games of the Week post, I plan on diving back into some of the games I am linking to as well.  I am mostly focusing on free to play games, that have no barrier of entry for folks to pop in.  That said however… as I delved back into Everquest II last night…  I had a barrier of entry.  It turns out that the time locked progression server Stormhold is for subscribers only, so for the moment… I am once again subscribing to EQ2.  This has always been one of those games that I have had rose colored lenses for, because I have this deep connection to Norrath.  In many ways it was my first MMO World, because in truth… Phantasy Star Online doesn’t really count when it comes to the whole “rich lore driven world” aspect.  It had been since March 2014 that I had poked my head into Everquest II, which is a bit of a long absence for me.  This is one of those games that I have tended to play every few months, and in spite of having it installed I really have not given it much loving.  I have to say…  maybe that was for a reason.

In many ways this game is a time capsule locked in a different graphical era.  I’ve never been a fan of the “new” models that they released in an attempt to sell the game in Asian markets, but I have to say the original models look extremely dated at this point.  It isn’t so much the models as the fact that they are animated so poorly as compared to modern titles.  I guess in the time I have been away I have gotten accustomed to the way the other worlds looked.  In truth this game ties back to a time when the fact that we were playing online at all… was miraculous and as a result we simply accepted that a lot of things didn’t look nearly as clean as the console counter parts because we were getting huge worlds to explore.  Another thing that nostalgia does is makes you look back upon experiences as better than they actually were.  I remember having all of these fond memories on the Isle of Refuge…  but unfortunately the act of playing through it again is something entirely different.  The later start zone experiences work so much better than the Isle, and I found the whole experience of leveling through it again to be cludgy and annoying.  Even worse was the transition to Freeport, because quite honestly I am not a big fan of the redone versions of Freeport and Qeynos.  I miss the small dungeon zones attached to Freeport as way of leveling through to 10 and being able to survive the commonlands.

For the time being I am running my Iksar Shadowknight just outside the gates of Freeport in the Commonlands, and I am able to take down level 9 and 10 mobs at level 6.  My working plan is to grind my way to 10 and then start questing in the commonlands proper again.  The problem being…  I just ran out of drive to make this happen last night.  I finally logged into Final Fantasy XIV and worked on my hunts there instead of continuing the leveling process.  Another thing I had forgotten, is just how slow the leveling curve in EQ2 used to be.  Getting to 10 is going to feel like a significant accomplishment, since I am not dual boxing this game the way many other people are.  Basically this time locked server experience is reminding me that you can never actually go back home.  You change and your home changes… and things are never quite the same.  I still had some fun poking my head into Norrath again, and if I can get over this hump I think I will enjoy myself again as an “off night” game when I am not feeling like much human interaction.  I have definitely been going through one of those slumps lately, where I am perfectly fine to chat with people over twitter but somehow grouping up and doing content together just seems to taxing.  I need to get past this however because I need desperately to cap Esoterics this week.

Blaugust Games of Week – Week 1

Pre-emptive Thank You

Yesterday I freaked a lot of people out by calling it the Blaugust Eve.  As I have explained on twitter, I was accounting for my amazing time travelling Aussie and Kiwi friends for whom… right now IS the start of Blaugust.  For the rest of us at the time of posting this we have a little more wiggle room before the festivities kick off.  I have to say last year was an insane ride for me, as much as it was for the contestants.  The intent was to run everything through the Blaugust Nook but that didn’t exactly happen, and it quite literally made my life hell.  I ended up spending a couple of hours a day trying to sort out who posted what when and in what time zone they were posting from…  and then the people who posted after midnight in their own time zone…  only served to add to the complication.  There were numerous times I tried to track down people on twitter or IM to ask if they meant X post to be on Y day or not.

This year it seems like most everyone has registered on the Nook which is going to help, but what is going to be even more important is advertising your daily posts there with the day number you are intending it to be.  On your side that is a small amount of work, but on my side that is saving me literally hours of scouring… and is hopefully going to allow me to actually read blogs during the course of the event.  As soon as things start I have to flip into book keeper mode, and while I might be “reading” posts I was not necessarily enjoying them last year because of all of the technical foibles.  So I am thanking you ahead of time for complying with the list of rules, because it is going to make my life not horrible over the next thirty one days.  I’ve been a fan of Anook for awhile, so much so apparently that yesterday someone thought I worked for them.  I just think they do a great job of giving me guild forum like functionality but also giving the ability to interact with other gamers.  I am amped this year about them sponsoring the Community Award, and we will ultimately sort out the specifics of that as the event goes on.

Games of the Week – Week 1

Yesterday we launched the writing prompts forum, and I thought it was pretty amazing that Void spent a good chunk of the day yesterday populating it with a bunch of ideas.  I plan on adding a new writing prompt to this post every day during the course of this event, but I wanted to go a little bit further.  Nothing makes more interesting posts than exploring a new game, or revisiting one that you have been fond of in the past.  As such I plan on highlighting three free to play games a week, with an attempt to mix up the styles a bit.  My hope is that if you are lacking inspiration, you can download and install one of these games and find plenty of things to write about.  Lets get on with the games!

Dirty Bomb – Nexon/Splash Damage

dirtybomb This is a game I played a bit in beta but have not really played much after it officially launched, and I am actually looking forward to playing it some more.  I have long been a huge fan of games by Splash Damage, and I spent many an hour playing Wolfenstein Enemy Territory.  Hell I even joined a competitive clan while playing it, but never really did much more than scrimmage other teams.  Splash Damage creates a shooter quite unlike anyone else makes, and they tend to focus on these complex objectives that require multiple classes of players to complete them.  I always focused on the “Engineer” archetype because it made the game play more enjoyable for me as it gave me a higher purpose.  I am not big into “death matching” but I loved rushing headlong into a firefight trying to stay alive long enough to build a bridge or repair a tank.  This game is the logical extension of Wolfenstein Enemy Territory, Quake Wars Enemy Territory and even to some extent the critical failure Brink.  I think I am one of the few people out there that wholeheartedly enjoyed Brink, and lately I have been feeling the itch to play some FPS action… and Dirty Bomb seems like it is going to fit that bill perfectly.

Download From SteamDownload From Nexon

Everquest II – Daybreak Games

EQ2_000008 I will always hold a special place in my heart for Norrath, the setting of the Everquest universe.  When World of Warcraft launched I was torn because part of me wanted to be playing Everquest II.  Instead I went where the bulk of my friends went, but continued to periodically visit the setting of EQ2 throughout the years.  It has some of the best world building I have seen in any game, and the scope of the zones just feel so massive compared to almost anything else on the market.  They innovated in so many ways, and had so many rich systems like one of the best Mentoring systems out there for the time.  As the years have ticked by the game has felt more and more like a dated relic, however there is a simple nostalgic charm to it that I still find appealing.  They seem to be banking on taking this nostalgia to market, as they have opened a time locked progression server allowing players to go back and experience the world as it was during the early days.  This is making me seriously consider re-rolling and starting fresh on this new server, but I have had so many other competing goals that I just have not done it yet.  My goal is this week to roll a character and check it out, but unfortunately that means I am going to have to buy a new character slot on my already loaded account.  If you are looking for a world loaded with inspiration… this is a good place to start.

Download From SteamDownload from Daybreak

Marvel Heroes 2015 – Gazillion

MH_SCREEN_042314_013 Another game that I really enjoy but find myself not playing a lot of right now is Marvel Heroes.  This game provides Diablo II style game play, with a rich class based system in the form of all of the different heroes that you can play.  One of the coolest features of this game is the way that the you pick your first hero to level.  The game allows you to play a long list of champions to level 10, and then you get to unlock one of them and take it all the way to level 60.  This gives you plenty of time to get a feel for how they each play and their different abilities.  I personally tend to be a Captain America player, but there are heroes that fit just about any imagined play style.  The other thing that I really appreciate is the way that for the most part, the game gives me a pathway to unlock the things that I might want without hiding it behind an overly painful grind.  Champions are purchased with Eternity Splinters which drop fairly frequently while doing content in the world.  One of the complaints I have seen from friends is that the game play is extremely easy, and this is absolutely the case while you are playing on normal mode.  However after defeating the main storyline you can ratchet up the difficulty  much in the same way as you can in Diablo 3.  This is absolutely a really fun game and the freemium nature is not egregious in any fashion, so if you want some old school Diablo game play with MOBA inspired style character design…  you might check this one out.

Download From SteamDownload From Gazillion

Daily Prompt

Since I more or less posted a series of games that I have some connection to, or would like to have a better connection with.  The writing prompt for the day is somewhat connected to that.

What game that you are not playing, do you still have a deeply nostalgic connection to and why?

Let us hear what game you keep returning to even if you aren’t really actively playing it… or likely will never play it with quite the same fervor.  For me personally that game is absolutely Everquest II, and I still hold a torch for it even though at this moment I have not really played it over the course of the last two years.

Flight is a Double Edged Sword

Skipping Content

WoWScrnShot_061712_000053 Over the last few weeks a topic has sprung back up that I thought was long put to bed.  I guess the lack of flight in World of Warcraft for the Warlords of Draenor expansion is still a divisive topic.  I’ve said before that I support their decision to keep flight out of the expansion.  My current malaise with Warcraft has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not I can fly.  So this morning I thought I would talk for a bit about the inclusion of flight in games and the strange ramifications it has on game play.  Ultimately when you include flight players skip your content as simple as that.  I can say this coming from a perspective of someone who has played several games with and without flight.  Ultimately the first game I played with flight was City of Heroes, and it was both the most powerful “travel power” and also the most frustrating.  Sure you could soar above the battlefield and move around relatively unscathed, but you did so at often times half the speed of any other travel power.  The players that could fly however were able to terrain hack content, and often times find ways to level with absolutely impunity, but they did so giving up the ability to move about “quickly”.

When World of Warcraft first introduced flight it felt very similar.  While you were technically going at 150% speed it felt like you were moving more slowly because in the air you lost your point of reference for how fast you were going.  Additionally the flight masters still moved significantly faster than you were able to go.  Even with the introduction of artisan flying at 280% flight speed you were still slightly slower than a flight master which I believe is roughly 300% speed.  The problem is in both cases it changed the way I played the game.  While I struggled to make the money to fly in  Burning Crusade, by the time Wrath of the Lich King rolled around I had enough cash to spare to be able to outfit all of my alts with even Cold Weather Flying giving me the ability to fly while leveling.  I found myself using the same sort of terrain hacking tricks that players did in City of Heroes.  Instead of fighting my way to the entrance of something I simply swooped down from above and quickly poked into entrance tunnels to avoid fighting any adds.  If I needed to kill a single quest mob, I would zoom straight into the hut they were located in with surgical precision avoiding the experience of clearing my way through a camp.

Flight is a Double Edged Sword

EQ2_000043 While you might be fine with this style of play it does not change the fact that you are ultimately playing the game in a way that was not intended by the developers.  Someone spent a serious amount of time and resources designing the layout of the content you just leapt over the top of with your trust flying mount.  Sure there are ways for developers to put counter measures in place that block you from terrain hacking the content using a flying mount, but that just adds to the problem.  Instead of making new areas of the game they would be reworking areas to make sure that you cannot skip the important bits.  This also destroys the ability to add content along the way like side quests and collectibles because if you are skipping directly to the end you will never actually see it.  By having flight you are really handcuffing the tools that the content providers have to add to the mix, and changing the way they have to approach the content.  The end result is likely a far less vibrant world.

If it were just Worlds of Warcraft I would think that maybe they simply integrated flight in a bad way.  The problem being that I went through the same experience with Everquest II.  Once I got the ability to fly I stopped experiencing content “as intended”.  I started flying up to exactly the spot on my mini-map I needed to be at in order to complete the quests as quick as humanly possible.  I pulled myself out of the game experience and essentially was robbed of the living and breathing world around me.  With flight questing becomes about clearing dots off of your map as quickly as possible without spending any time really engaged in the content itself.  I think in many ways this was why I enjoyed the questing experience of Warlords of Draenor so much more than I did the previous expansions.  It actually forced me to spend time getting to know the layout of the zones, rather than zipping over the top of them.  It is better to see the crags and crevices of the world…  than a monstrosity of super pixilated trees that never quite mesh correctly.

Heavensward and Flight

final_fantasy_14_heavensward_dragon.0 As I look forwards at Heavensward I have to admit I am more than a little concerned that we are seeing the introduction of flying into Final Fantasy XIV.  Firstly I hope they stand firm on the statement that there will be no flight in the original areas of the game.  Secondly I hope they have thought through all of the ramifications that come with introducing a system that lets you skip over content.  There has been a lot of talk about having to explore a region and learn how to harness the winds in that area before being able to fly there, and I am hoping this is actually a fairly drawn out process.  This would mean that the player would need to have spent a significant amount of time in a given region before learning how to fly there.  At one point Yoshi P in an earlier statement said something to the effect of having to completely explore an area before being able to learn flight.  In both cases this sounds like maybe they understand the danger that integrating this system really is to a game.  The problem is that flight is a Pandora’s box that cannot be easily shut after it has been opened.

Blizzard has learned this lesson and is trying to hold shut that lid with all their might.  Other games like Rift have been carefully guarding their own box to make sure that no one opens it.  It is with great reservation that I watch as Square Enix prepares to open their own box and see what happens.  I say reservation, because this is the same development group that has managed to outthink its player base on a regular basis.  They have essentially social engineered a community into treating each other with a modicum of civil decency rather than a race to the bottom to see who can behave the most horrifically.  I have hope that they will be able to solve the problems that no company has to date with flight.  I have hope that they will figure out a way to keep it from cheapening their content experiences.  My hope is that they will make it so we are not completely alone in the sky.  This is an expansion about doing battle with dragons…  and dragons notoriously can fly.  Maybe we will have to avoid encounters in the air just like we try and avoid encounters on the land  as we traverse the world.  We have roughly twenty four days before we find out, but I still stand by my stance that I am fine playing games without flying.  I am even fine when a game decides that flight was a mistake and claws it back out of our grips.

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.

Doubling Down

Still Frustrated

EQ2_000006 Yesterday I broke my self appointed rules and made two posts because I felt the news warranted it.  I said my peace but the problem is… I am still frustrated this morning.  At the time of posting yesterdays blog piece I really only knew about a few of the people who were let go.  As last night wound its way onwards, more names trickled out and at this point I am absolutely shocked by the scope.  While I am not sure about the numbers, it feels like roughly half of the folks I was aware of over there were let go.  Granted the actual numbers could be anywhere, but I am basing it simply on the faces that have shown up on twitter saying they were no longer Daybreak employees, versus the ones that have said they still are.  In any case this will be a massive blow to Everquest, Everquest II, Everquest Landmark and whether or not we will ever actually get Everquest Next.  For awhile on Aggrochat we have joked about Next being vaporware, and that we would only ever get Landmark…  but now I am starting to really wonder if that is closer to the truth.

Everquest will always hold a special place in my heart because it was my first footsteps into the MMO world.  Similarly I am drawn to Everquest II in ways that I cannot quite understand, and while I go for large swaths of time without playing, I often return to it was the gaming equivalent of “comfort food”.  It is this strange mix of a world that I am absolutely in love with, and a combat system that I hate beyond words.  If I had to create a list of “favorite games that I am not playing” I would put Everquest II at the top of that list…  so I guess I ultimately am part of the problem.  I love this world but I am not inhabiting it on a nightly basis, and as such not giving it money to grow.  I’ve bought into Landmark and H1Z1 but I am not really playing those either.  I remember feeling the same way when City of Heroes closed its doors, that I had so many fond memories… but that I had also ultimately moved past that game as well.  I guess we want the things we once loved and enjoyed to stay protected in a bubble forever, never to change…  but when we move on are we not also ultimately to blame?

Doubling Down

Gw2 2015-02-05 19-08-06-25 Before the events of yesterday I had a topic kicking around in my head about the worlds that we play.  I am not sure how the events of yesterday feed into the narrative, but I am going with it in any case.  I feel as though the era of the “new mmorpg” is all but over.  There will of course be new games that identify with the “mmo” ideals, but they won’t be quite the same as the worlds we have had had in the past.  I feel like we are going to see a lot more games like Destiny, that is “mmo-lite” or another genre with mmo features.  I feel like the worlds that were crafted during the golden age of massively multiplayer online role-playing game launches, are the worlds we will have to live with for better or worse.  When Blizzard cancelled Project Titan, we can look at that in so many different ways.  We could say that it was a sign that MMOs were dying, and that they no longer believed in the genre.  We could however take that as a sign that they believed that the worlds we had already were worth saving.

So many of the games that we love are not broken toys, at least not yet.  Each of them if given the devotion and the development resources could be transformed into a truly magical place.  I am looking at the transformation of Final Fantasy XIV from 1.0 awkwardness to 2.0 and beyond splendor as proof that a game can change for the better.  I’ve played each of the major MMOs for some length of time, and have experienced that each have exactly the same problem.  How do they keep the player engaged on a daily basis, rather than in bursts of activity each time new content is released?  I feel the problem is that games right now are mired in the construct of expansion releases, pooling up major features until they can sell another box of the game.  This means the best features tend to either get bottled up for years time, or never actually make it into the game at all.

The episodic construct is a bit better, but you have to be careful that you are not adding “expiring” content into your game, making players feel rushed to somehow grind through it all before the next patch hits.  The problem I had with the Living Story in Guild Wars 2 was that when I fell behind, I didn’t feel like there was a point to actually try and catch up… since I had missed so much already.  The fact that the content was expiring made it feel less “real” to me… that they weren’t permanently improving the game, but instead running a series of limited time events.  I feel like the shift needs to be moved away from both of these constructs and instead the focus placed on fleshing out the world.  Do you know how frustrating it is to me in World of Warcraft that there are five portals below Wyrmrest Temple but only two of them go anywhere?  Each world we play is littered with these forgotten expansion ideas, and all I really want is for a game world to quit teasing us and start living up to its full potential.  Now is the time for these companies to double down on the content they have, fix the issues with their game systems… and try and make their games worth our copious time and devotion.

A Simple Night

ffxiv 2015-02-11 19-54-39-33 Because of the news yesterday, and because of other events leading me to question myself and my connection to other people… I was not in the best of places emotionally last night when I got home.  I have to say my mood was improved by hanging out with my extremely awesome free company in Final Fantasy XIV.  For a few nights I had promised to help my friend Solaria work on knocking out some stuff, since she was fairly new to 50 and in doing so also spent a good deal of time running dungeons with Thalen and Asha.  I have not had a night where we tore through multiple dungeons in a night, and I have to say it was good for the soul.  Granted I felt a bit wobbly, since I have not really tanked much of anything other than our raids, and dungeon tanking ends up so drastically different.  That said we managed to unlock a few dungeons for both Thalen and Solaria, and in the process get some Tomestones of Soldiery and Poetics.

I’ve missed logging in, getting pulled into a group and then spending the rest of the night tromping through dungeons.  It is like connecting with my most basic instincts of trying to make sure everything in the dungeon hates me equally.  I really enjoy the pace of Final Fantasy XIV, and its particular brand of tanking.  The Warrior just “feels” right, and I am hoping I will be equally at home with the Dark Knight.  If nothing else I will always have the Warrior to fall back on if the Dark Knight ends up not being the class I have wanted all along.  I know Thalen has several more dungeons yet to unlock to qualify for high level roulette, so I am going to try and force myself to build groups more often.  I get stuck in my own little world, and spend most of my time soloing… but I know when I do group content I feel so much better at the end of the night.  While last night did not cure me completely… it did make me feel significantly better.

Night Falls

Unfortunate Bonus Round

This is going to be a bit of an oddity for me, I am breaking my normal one post per day rule.  I feel like the gravity of the situation warrants it, because right now I am feeling so many different emotions at the same time.  By now most of you will have heard the news that I believe first broke over on the newly erected Massively OP website.  Today Daybreak Games, formerly Sony Online Entertainment has chosen to make some sweeping cuts to staff.  Among the individuals caught in this madness were none other than Dave “Smokejumper” Georgeson and and Linda “Brasse” Carlson.  I cannot fathom a chain of consequences that would lead to this happening, but I will get into that later.  For me and many others these two individuals along with Scott Hartsman before he left to join Trion…  were the face of the Everquest franchise.  They were the spirit of the game, and the lifeblood that kept the player base constantly engaged, because never once did you question their sincerity or devotion to making the game world awesome.

Last Tuesday when the news broke that SOE was to be no more, and they would be taking up the new name of Daybreak Game Studio I tried to keep things in stride.  After all I had gotten used to Everquest transitioning from Verant to being called Sony Online Entertainment hadn’t I?  When I found out they had been purchased by what seemed to be a cold and faceless financial holdings company, I tried to keep a positive tone in that it seemed that they were holding most of the companies rather than chopping them up into pieces.  I held in the back of my mind the possibility that the future was in fact going to be positive, that maybe out from under Sony they could reach previously locked off markets like the Xbox One.  After all this same company owned both Rhapsody and Fiverr, surely they knew what they were doing right?

Night Falls

Today it seems that my worst fears have been realized, and that things really can’t stay the same.  As online gamers we get lost in the worlds created by the games that we love to play.  Part of that world are the names and faces of the individuals who act as the conduit between our normal mundane lives, and the magical realms we spent our free time in.  At least in a small part they act as civil servants to the virtual cities we inhabit.  As we watch public presentations and read patch notes and press releases, it is amazing just how quickly we can rattle off the names of the key players that are relaying the information to us.  Even though we may never know them, we develop an almost personal relationship as they take the stage to give us tidbits of information about the future state of “our” game.

The problem is…  we get extremely close to these personalities, so that when one leaves either by their own hand, or by circumstances the shock waves reverberate through the community.  Today a mighty shock wave happened, and I am still not quite sure how to talk about it with any intelligence.  For many years, Brasse has been the public face of the Everquest community team, and Smokejumper the face of the future of that franchise.  It was impossible to watch either of them and not see just how excited they were to be representing this game that they too loved.  I find it exceptionally hard to try and imagine a future that does not involve them, and I have to say a lot of my faith that there will even be an Everquest going forward is more than a little tarnished.

The Survivors

This has been the month of senseless corporate action.  First with AOL killing off their blogs, and now the selling of of Sony Online Entertainment.  I am deeply concerned about the future of these games, in part because the gravitas of Sony…  allowed for SOE to be a little “funky”.  They devoted time to building a lot of unique and quirky features that we were not likely to see come out of any other company.  Do you think that any other company would have given us something truly strange like SOEmote?  Sure I never used it, but I thought the tech was extremely cool especially for the roleplaying community.  The tools that I did love, like the robust housing system and the dungeon builder…  likely would not have come to fruition in a company not quite so willing to chase rabbit trails.

All of this said… I think it is important to also think about the people who were left behind.  They are reeling from the layoffs, and seeing their friends gone.  Having been through more than one layoff, it completely changes the feel of the office.  Every action becomes questioned, and every motive suspicious, making it almost impossible to focus on doing the excellent job that the “citizens” are expecting you to do.  It is easy to say you are done with the Everquest franchise, because of these rather rash actions…  but in truth you are just going to punish the people who are still there, still trying to create the game worlds you love.  Hopefully we can all take a deep breath, grieve the loss, and try and figure out how to move on without being bitter.  I really hope this next week gives us some really good news, because this month so far has turned out to be a fairly tragic one.