A little while ago I got the early dungeon wall that I heard people grumbling about back in the day: a point near level 20 where the Story quest gets gated around running three dungeons in a row. I spent an entire day’s session pushing through it like a particularly difficult bowel movement, with very similar end results.
The first two dungeons were not actually that bad. Long, boring slogs through story-less gameplay, but whatever; I’m not sure Wailing Caverns performed much better when I played it six years ago. Then came Copperbell Mines. If I continue playing FFXIV, it will be in spite of my experience in this dungeon.
To be clear, it is not necessarily the dungeon’s fault. I assume Copperbell Mines is just as bland and flavorless as any other dungeon in this game. But within the first two pulls, I realized we were in trouble. The only non-new player was the healer, and it became very clear that 1) the tank had no clue how to hold aggro, and 2) the lancer had no concept of how dungeons or the holy trinity works at all. The lancer spent the entire dungeon running ahead, grabbing aggro, then running away once his HP hit 25%. While no one can expect a tank to completely take control of that, one can reasonably expect the tank to at least have higher aggro than the healer. Which he could not, to literally save his (and everyone else’s) life.
FFXIV has this reputation as a nice, friendly environment for noobs and such, but I feel that it let us down in this case. Friendly suggestions to not be fucking stupid (paraphrasing) did not reach the lancer, who might have been illiterate for all we know. Had this been WoW, either the lancer or tank or both would have been straight-up kicked (assuming no 4-hour timers) for not doing the goddamn jobs they signed up to do, but no no. It is our responsibility – nay, privilege! – to repeatably wipe with the classical stoic grace of British aristocracy. I summoned my tanking pet to at least give the healer an extra 15 seconds of life and largely went down with the ship with a stiff upper lip.
At the end of it, several things were very clear to me then:
- There was zero reason why those dungeons were mandatory for the story.
- There wasn’t any story to those dungeons at all. No background material, no Dead Mines-esque buildup.
- It was yet another “travel across the world three times sequentially” time-sink, after literally just finishing a similar one.
- I’m done waiting 15-20 minutes to play a game.
- I’m done waiting to play with bad players.
This attitude will, of course, put me at odds with the standard MMO appointment-gaming zeitgeist.
I was also struck with the realization of what FFXIV’s combat reminded me of: Aion. As in, a pretty world with great animation and bizarre old-school throwbacks combined with an awfully boring combat system. Again, I’m an Arcanist, so I’m sure that has something to do with it – Thaumaturge felt more exciting for the little I played of it. At the same time, I view FFXIV allowing me to pick a boring-ass class more of FFXIV’s problem, than my own.
In any case, my free month is up next week, so FFXIV has until then to convince me it has any redeeming factors at all. People keep going on about the story, but I can no longer tell if they mean an actual good story, or a good story in comparison to other MMOs. Either way, it has the aforementioned amount of time to get down to business if Square Enix wants to continue getting my own.
FFXIV has one of the worst-feeling combat systems I have ever played.
It is not just the 2.5 second global cooldown, although that is a significant factor; it is the entire early game experience. I started with Arcanist, which is probably something I shouldn’t have done to begin with, and here are the levels in which I get buttons I can use:
- Level 1: 2.5-second generic nuke.
- Level 2: instant-cast DoT
- Level 4: Summon and forget a pet
- Level 6/8: 60-second cooldown gives a buff that let’s you press a button once.
- Level 10: 2.5 second cast DoT
- Level 26: 2.5 second cast DoT
So, from levels 1-9, you press 1-1-2-1-1-1, then from levels 10-26, you can press 3-2-1-1-1-1.
I thought that melee had it better, but when I rolled a Marauder, I saw that the level 2 ability was a 2-minute defensive cooldown and I instantly deleted the character. Now that I look at the rest of the Marauder ability list, I do see quite a few extra buttons to push, but I was pretty exacerbated at the time.
I did manage to get a Lancer up to level 8, and I will say that melee definitely feels better than Arcanist at least, but my Lancer was a Miqo’te so… yeah.
Now, I have heard all the arguments already – something something console gamers, something something players new to MMOs. But, Christ, this is vanilla WoW paladin-level nonsense in 2016 (or 2013, whatever). Regardless of whether it ramps up to having too many buttons to push at max level, the era in which a game gets away with having a boring start is basically over.
…or not, considering how FFXIV is clearly the #2 MMORPG on the market at the moment. But still! In terms of combat, Guild Wars 2 beats FFXIV hard enough that even FFXI gets bruises, let alone in comparison to WoW. The moves look fancy, but that’s just because you have to look at something while you wait one extra second * a million goddamn times.
[Fake Edit:] After writing the above, I realized that I hadn’t actually seen the WoW beginning experience sans Heirlooms in like three expansions. So I went ahead and created a “F2P” Starter account and rolled up a Warlock, Mage, and Paladin. Conclusion? As it turns out, WoW doesn’t really give you many abilities either:
Paladin in particular looked pretty heinous, with Crusader Strike having a 4.5 second cooldown and Judgment not coming until level 5. If I’m looking at Wowhead correctly, it seems like Paladin is Crusader Strike, Judgment, Templar’s Verdict until… level 38, when Hammer of Wrath unlocks? Can that be correct? Holy fuck. I haven’t leveled a Paladin since TBC, but I’m pretty sure that was my rotation throughout all of vanilla content. At least back in the day, we had to recast Seals every time we hit Judgment!
In any case, one of the differences I noticed right away on all the WoW characters though was how utterly satisfying it was to kill mobs. The Warlock had 2.5-second Shadowbolts just like the Arcanist, but the Warlock was 1-2 shotting all the creatures in the opening areas. Hell, Corruption at level 3 was more than enough to kill them in seconds too. Try that with Bio and let me know how it goes.
So, basically, I’m sticking with what I said earlier: FFXIV has one of the worst-feeling combat systems I have ever played. And that negative feeling apparently has everything to do with the longer GCD and longer Time-to-Kill, rather than lack of abilities. Although more buttons to push would help a lot in making the combat feel less like a slog.
Amazing opening cinematic? Check. Playing for two hours without entering combat once? Check. Playing a Final Fantasy game: confirmed.
I had bought FFXIV ages ago for $15 in some sale or another, and had ostensibly been waiting for a good time for me and a friend to jump in together. The GTA 5 brouhaha, however, gave me an impetus to clear hard drive space and I didn’t want to redownload FFXIV again. So I channeled my inner Shia LaBeouf and just did it.
The first thing I encountered (after the lovely character generation screen) was the inability to create a character on Hyperion. Apparently when there are a lot of people logged onto a given server, Square Enix just shuts down character generation for a while. There are websites to keep track of this sort of thing, but they are only updated every couple of hours. In digging around, it appears this issue is related to the fact that FFXIV does not boot you for being AFK. Like ever, apparently. Leave the game running for 10 hours while AFK? You keep your spot. Game has been out for three years, right? Don’t know if this is a Japanese thing or what.
[Fake edit:] Apparently they finally added an auto-AFK logout in the recent expansion.
Characters with fully-rendered panties seen through basic armor, though? Definitely a Japanese thing. And technically Korean too, but who’s counting.
I ended up creating two four characters, as given how every character can be every class, the most important decision you can make is deciding on a look. And, bizarrely, this made character creation almost more difficult for me. If you don’t like playing a Druid in WoW, create a new toon. If you don’t like playing a cat-person in FFXIV though… good luck, as you’d need to do everything all over again.
I’m assuming there is a way to pay money to change it.
In any case, I stuck with human, because as nice as the Miqo’te look, I’m not terribly convinced that the tails won’t look goofy in endgame gear. Or any gear, really. Still kinda gun-shy with tails after sticking with my namesake draenei in WoW for nearly a decade and basically having 100% of all cloaks look dumb. Plus, apparently the Miqo’te are the spiritual Blood Elf equivalent in FFXIV, so there’s that. I almost stuck with Lalafell for the lol’s, but it was actually the running animation that nixed it for me. Playing a gigantic Roegadyn healer briefly crossed my mind as amusing, but my human (or “Hyur”) was already an Arcanist, and that seemed silly.
Further impressions to come.
Breaking news: Blizzard finally did it. They really did it.
In traditional Hearthstone fashion, the news of Blizzard splitting the Play format baby into Standard and “Wild” seemed to randomly come out of nowhere. In the scheme of things though, such a move is all but inevitable in CCGs, as it is the only legitimate tool to combat power creep. Magic: the Gathering has had different play formats for decades now, and has survived and thrived since then.
But I must admit it still feels a bit different here.
That could very well be because Blizzard is doing it differently. You can read the rundown on Hearthpwn, but the big takeaway for me was how they are up and removing Adventures and expansions from the store when they cycle out of Standard. As pointed out in one of the million Reddit threads streaming through /r/Hearthstone at the moment, this could very well doom the Wild format before it even begins. If you’re a veteran who already has Boom & co crafted? Go compete in Wild. If you’re a new player? You have zero recourse in breaking into this legacy format other than squeezing thousands of Dust from Standard packs.
…hmm. That’s actually not all that different than how Legacy goes in MtG currently. And considering Hearthstone’s Dust system allows you to craft any card you want, you aren’t actually limited to spending $500+ for a single card; technically the Dust can be accumulated over time from wherever.
Regardless, the actual earth-shattering effect of the format split are all the cards cycling out of Standard. Dr Boom has been such an iconic representation of all the idiocy in how the devs balance Hearthstone, but this almost feels… too abrupt. Paladin loses Shielded Minibot and Muster for Battle and Piloted Shredder. Belcher? Gone. Zombie Chow? Gone. Everything? Gone. This is more than metagame shifting, this is game-game shifting.
And let me just say how brilliant this move is from a business perspective too. Blizzard just wiped out half of everyone’s collection, and most of the people still playing won’t actually mind all that much. “You can just play Wild.” Yeah, until you realize that a year or two from now it will be a cesspit of broken synergies which will make you pine for the halcyon days of Secret Paladin. To compete in Standard, you’ll have to have the latest sets, which means purchasing more packs and Adventures on the regular, when your old staples like Belcher and crew sufficed as stopgap measures up till now.
To be clear, I’m excited about these changes. For one thing, it’s an re-dedication to actually balancing their game. Before, Blizzard’s “policy” was hoping that broken cards were replaced by newer, more broken cards in the next set. Or that a particular deck would just naturally fall out of favor. But now? As noted in their announcement:
The arrival of Standard format will also be an excellent time for us to take stock of Hearthstone. While normally we’re quite conservative about making balance changes to Hearthstone cards (and we’ll continue to be in the future), we’re planning to take the new Hearthstone year as a golden opportunity to re-evaluate a number of cards in the Basic and Classic card sets, including class cards, and make some long-considered adjustments.
Everyone is pretty much taking this to mean a nerf to Druid combo. Indeed, PCGamer said as much:
On the subject of balancing, Blizzard will be addressing some of the more problematic basic and classic cards to ensure they don’t have a negative impact on the Standard metagame. Again, there are no details on which cards are being looked at, but I was told that less than 20 will be nerfed and none will be buffed. Perhaps we’re about to see the end of the Druid combo after all.
Point being: Standard is going to have to be balanced. It probably won’t be, but there’s going to be no excuse for it not to be under this paradigm. Calling it now, though: there will be a series of months in which Wild will be more balanced in the aggregate than Standard. And that will be both hilarious and sad.
In any case, I’m looking forward to seeing how all this plays out.
Since reinstalling the client a little over a week ago, I think I have spent more time reading about GW2 than I have playing.
The initial issue was as I described: picking a class that I wanted to play. I’m not sure how normal people do this sort of thing, but my standard operating procedure is a combination of getting hands-on while also reading the latest news about said class. Nobody wants to play a class about to be nerfed. The other issue is that you can read about how powerful a given class can be, but if the button combinations required to get there aren’t fun to push, then it doesn’t matter.
My original thought was Thief or Mesmer, so I started there. Then after playing a while, I realized something: if you aren’t playing GW2 for the WvW gameplay, why were you even playing? The game’s narrative is background noise, endgame progression is wardrobe-based, dungeons are about speed running exploits, and world PvE content consists of Champion trains and dragon zergs. You don’t even really have anything to look forward to while leveling either, as you can generally unlock every ability you are ever going to use by level 31, even under the revamped system. The only really redeeming feature seems to be WvW.
Or is it?
I’m still conflicted myself. I ended up going Necromancer as a class, which I had avoided at the time because of all the bugs and other issues. As it turns out, Necros are pretty damn powerful if you just ignore pets. Between that and the ability to really annoy zergs of any variety (PvE or PvP) from the relative safety of range, I felt like I had found a better home, class-wise.
Issues remain, however. It’s been three years, but I still remember all these level 30 zones I am going through, and the non-existence of their narratives. Combat feels floaty and insubstantial. The economy has inflated massively, and yet there really doesn’t feel like there is anything of value I can do/gather/create for cash. The more events I go though, the more it feels like I’m just mindlessly grinding for no reason. There might not be a mechanical difference between this approach and grinding out quests in WoW, but it emotionally feels different.
I was about to pack it up for good (again) when, in the course of doing an easy achievement daily to satisfy the 3 achievement daily daily, I just… sort of looked around.
Those are trees. Duh, right? But looking at them, I began to really (re-)appreciate the sense of space that GW2 manages to generate. Each of those are an individual tree that you can walk around, get stuck on, and use to block projectiles coming at you. Other games might have a higher graphics fidelity than GW2, but I haven’t played one that quite felt the same walking around inside. There is almost a Skyrim-esque feeling to the terrain, insofar as you can reasonably look at an area and decide “hey, I want to climb that mountain over there” and be able to do so. This really comes through in the jumping puzzles, but those are just a byproduct of the underlying design allowing you to play in a remarkably detailed 3D space.
The only skyboxes in GW2 appear to be just the sky.
So, I feel like I “get” GW2 now – it is the best exploration MMO I have ever played. It’s just too bad that exploration isn’t enough for me as a player. I either need a reason to explore, or the ability to do something interesting once I arrive. I’m just not getting that feeling from GW2, and I’m not sure that I ever will. But if I ever get the desire to really walk around in a fantastical fantascape, I know which game to boot up.
It has been quite some time since I’ve had to bother with the issue of PvP servers, but Shintar’s latest experience with a “classic WoW” server really sums up my thinking after the years:
The truth is, I’ve never had the urge to initiate combat with the opposite faction, so if I’m being honest I’m just making myself a punching bag for other players by going along with it. All that ever happens is that I get attacked by people who are several levels above me, in twink gear, or in a group. Sometimes things get turned around and they are the ones who end up with egg on their face, but that’s a cold comfort when compared to the amount of my time that ends up getting wasted by corpse-running and having to re-do quests. I’ve put up with it because there were no other options at the time, but weekends like these really make me wonder whether it’s worth it when I could be having fun with something else where other players aren’t able to ruin my enjoyment every step of the way. My free time is really too precious to me these days to waste it on nonsense like that.
Is there excitement on PvP servers? Sure. Although I would more describe that as anxiety, considering I’ve only ever gone on ganking sprees after being ganked myself. So, really, that would be what I say to anyone asking if they should pick a PvP server: “Do you want to spend your time ganking mostly helpless players over and over? If not, then don’t go to a PvP server.” Those rare moment of cooperation and peaceful coexistence do not make up for the time you spend getting killed in the middle of a quest. They really, really don’t.
While Syncaine laments that the MMO genre hasn’t gone anywhere in 12 years, I was left pondering a different question: can the MMO genre go anywhere? Can there be another breakout success?
I would suggest the question is less straightforward than it might seem, for a few reasons.
The first reason is due to the nature of the genre itself. Even if you are a super-fan of Half-Life 2 and believe it to be the best game ever invented… you still likely bought and paid for other FPS titles in the past 12 years. The same is not necessarily true of MMOs. I’d wager that most people that stick with the MMO genre long-term generally find one game and settle in. And why wouldn’t you? Someone would move on from Half-Life 2 because eventually you would run out of content to explore. That is much less likely in MMOs, because they are updated regularly, expansions are released, other players generate content, and so on.
The above generates the curious (and fairly unique) phenomenon that a lot of MMO players – possibly even a majority – are still actually playing the most influential MMOs (Ultima Online 1997; EverQuest 1999; EVE Online 2003; Second Life 2003; World of Warcraft 2004). If the market for FPS titles is 40 million people, each new FPS has 40 million potential customers. Meanwhile, the market for MMOs is X – Y, where Y is the number of people currently satisfied with their present virtual home.
The second issue is one of definitions. While it might not seem so at first, “MMO” as traditionally defined is rather restrictive. For example, most people would suggest that Crowfall is a MMO, despite its “persistent” worlds having an expiration date. That sounds more like a long-lasting lobby to me. But why is Crowfall an MMO and Destiny not? Or PlanetSide 2, which is arguably more persistent than either? A game like Fallout 3 can be said to move both the FPS and RPG genres forward in specific ways, but MMO-ish games often fall outside the standard MMO purview, thus limiting potential genre-changing titles. In other words, experimental MMOs can innovate themselves right out of the genre.
Third, a given game can only really be considered influential if it, or its derivatives, are a success. Consider the glaring omission from the Top 50 list: Star Wars Galaxies. I would have thought that with the amount of name-drops SWG receives in just about every MMO dev design sheet, it would be a shoo-in contender for sure. But if you think about it, not only has SWG shut down, but I don’t even know if any other game claiming its mantle has survived or even been released yet. Anyone know of any? Regardless, this means a given game must both shake up the genre and be successful in a general sense to count – just the first is not enough. Which leads me to the next point.
Fourth, not to be alarmist or anything, but… I’m pretty sure the MMO genre as we know it has peaked. As recently as 3-4 years ago, over half the MMO market was just WoW, and WoW has lost half of said playerbase since then, and is still top dog by a factor of 3-4, minimum. Where did all the bodies go? Not to other MMOs, for sure.
This leads me to the question in the title: CAN there by another MMO success? FF14 has come the closest, but is there anyone out there that seriously believes we will see a second WoW-like coming ever again? I personally doubt it. There was always an element of “right time, right place” to WoW’s meteoric rise, and not only has that time passed, but there is pressure coming in from other genres co-opting the traditional MMO strengths, in the same way we see “RPG elements” everywhere today.
So, basically, I do not see that list of late 90s/early 00s-only influential titles as a deficiency of development testicular fortitude, but rather a simple systemic and semantic issue. Other genres can take greater risks because they need only make one sale, not twelve per year in a F2P environment, while also maintaining a healthy population. Even if smaller MMOs were released and did innovate, chances are they remain too small to be “Massive” or just shut down after a few years and thus no longer be influential.
It is lose-lose-lose for everyone, but there it is.
I have tentatively begun playing GW2 again. After three years. Here are my (re-)impressions.
Getting back into the game, I am finally beginning to appreciate the concern designers have over the returning-player experience. Remember when Ghostcrawler and friends talked about not wanting to change too many things mid-patch? When I loaded into GW2 on even a low-level character, looking at the Skills page caused a moment of existential panic in which I desired to turn off the game immediately.
Granted, I feel like the GW2 Skill system has always been convoluted nonsense, but it is especially weird now. Weapon skills are now tied to levels instead of weapon use – no more equipping a new sword and having to wail on easy mobs for 20 minutes to unlock everything, ala old-school WoW. So, that’s good. Less good is how the Skill system used to allow you to purchase skills from tier lists, but now they are unlocked in sequential groups. In other words, you usually have to unlock a bunch of crap to reach the skill you want, instead of picking it right away and then not having a use for skill points later. Then there are Specialization paths or whatever. Pick three of six specializations, each of which has three sets of three choices.
No doubt the system makes perfect sense for long-term players, but as someone logging back onto a level 80 character after three years… well, let’s just say that I fully understand why WoW was “dumbed down” the way it was.
Things are now a lot more account-based, which is also interesting. You still have to unlock bag slots per character because $$$, but now even things like gold are shared across all characters. Hell, the shop is even selling additional Crafting slots, so you can have more than the industry-standard two.
Magic Find was also turned into an account-wide deal instead of stats on gear. In a rather brilliant economic move, the only way to increase this stat is to destroy magic gear and consume the possibly resulting Essences of Luck in ever-increasing amounts. This neatly solves the Vendor+1c economic disaster GW2 had originally, all while providing an insatiable lust for dropped/crafted gear. Amusingly, it also squares the circle of the increasing amounts of Magic Find generating more magic items, as you simply destroy those too.
Actually, I feel like there is a entire post that could be devoted to this sort of design solution. Not necessarily the elegance of the Magic Find situation, but rather the kind of design which involves every player having a stake in consuming resources. I mean, look at WoW with all the junk greens and blues that drop. People vendor those all day, or possibly get them disenchanted and sell the resulting dust to either Enchanters or people trying to get cheaper prices from Enchanters. It’s easy to flood the market in those situations, because the demand is concentrated in just a small portion of the entire audience. And then, perversely, it’s nearly impossible to find usable gear at any given level because it’s never worth it to list on the AH due to low demand (and high fees). Lose-lose.
Meanwhile, the market for magic items in GW2 is effectively infinite – everyone has an incentive to get more Magic Find. And that’s a trick, because the majority of players will quit playing, never reach the cap, or whatever, but they have nevertheless drained the economy of those goods. It is the difference between everyone learning every crafting recipe drop they come across versus immediately putting it on the AH to be consumed by a much smaller fraction of players. The latter is the status quo, but the former neatly solves most of the issues that crop up in MMO economies without overt gear destruction.
In my brilliant foresight, I apparently cashed out all my gold before I stopped playing three years ago, so I have 1300 gems and like 8g. This is enough to apparently “purchase” Season 2 of the Living Story, which… makes very little sense to me. Did everyone have to purchase the second Living Story when it came out? Is it necessary to play? I’m assuming not, but who the hell knows in this weird-ass F2P Wild West. Given the horizontal progression touted by GW2, I’m not sure of the benefits. Skins, surely. Plus, you know, plot. But anything else?
It is actually kind of amusing, in a way. People gripe about all the planned obsolescence in MMOs like WoW, but GW2 seems to be the ultimate offender here. Lion’s Arch got destroyed or something, right? I’ve read about it, but I don’t think there is ever a way to see it. Unless it is in the Living Story bundle, perhaps. Someone might be able to breeze through the entire Mists expansion in WoW without leaving Jade Forest these days, but at least all that content still exists. In GW2’s sake, it is straight-up gone like a fart in the breeze.
The likelihood that I play GW2 long-term is effectively zero, as it is with any MMO I fear, but for now, it is something I’m playing. Luckily, I received something silly like twelve level 20 boosters and six level 30 ones, so I’ll be able to get a better feel for the classes without having to suffer through the painful low-level nonsense another half-dozen times.
And, hey, even if I stop playing, the game never had a subscription, so I could just revisit in 2019 and see (or not see, as the case may be) what’s new.