Blog Archives

Or Maybe We Won’t See

Once again, Blizzard has buckled under the weight of people giving them money:

#ZerothWorldProblems

#ZerothWorldProblems

I would call something like this unprecedented, but I suppose I have experienced something similar firsthand back when Guild Wars 2 came out (Jesus, was it really 2.5 years ago?). I mean, it’s one thing to take people’s money and then not let them play because the servers are on fire; it’s something else entirely to not take the money in the first place.

In related news, someone on Reddit provided the following Twitch screenshot:

Rather unprecedented.

Rather unprecedented, I think.

In case that’s hard to see, it says Hearthstone had 190,704 viewers on Twitch.tv – higher than the next two games combined, which were… League of Legends and WoW. At the time I’m writing this post, it has decreased to ~86k viewers, but it’s still beating out LoL by a few thousand. New expansion and all, sure, but that’s still not a bad performance for a “casual app with a PC port.”

New MMO Players Are Old Noobs

In doing the research for the last article, I came across this interesting August interview with Tom Chilton. It is a sort of “past 10 years, next 10 years” sort of interview, but here were the quotes I want to draw attention to:

Q. Each expansion clearly serves the game’s existing audience first, but there always appears to be a secondary goal of either driving new player sign-ups, or winning back lapsed accounts. Warlords of Draenor looks like it’s especially designed to win back lapsed players. Would you say that’s a fair assessment?

A. […] We are also trying to make things easier for new players. We have an improved tutorial. We’ve definitely found over time that the players we’re getting now are far less familiar with the standard MMO-slash-RPG mechanics than the players we got years ago were.

Frankly, that’s the biggest difference in terms of our subscribership. It’s harder to keep the funnel of people coming in to offset, inevitably, people not playing anymore.

So we’re making a lot of improvements there, teaching people how to move their characters, how to look around, and how to turn their first quest in, because we’re seeing that’s where huge amounts of people drop out.

Back in September, I posted a similar Q&A session with Ghostcrawler who basically said the exact same thing:

I’d like to know what Blizzard considers to be the big barriers.
Well *I* consider the biggest barrier being it’s a 3D WASD game with a movable camera. (Bashiok)
I agree. So does a lot of data. (Source)

Back to the Chilton interview though, he makes a point about how… well, let me just post it:

Q. Going back to the subject of 10 years, and talking about changes in the subscribership, different playstyles and different expectations, have you seen a shift in your demographics?

Chilton: We certainly have. Our demographic has gotten a lot older over time. A lot of that is because we have a lot of players who’ve been with us for 10 years, and now they’re 10 years older than when they first started playing. Our age has shifted up over the last 10 years.

That has interesting implications in that essentially the playerbase becomes more casual over time. As people get older and have kids and careers, they have less time to spend on playing the MMO.

It definitely influences how we evolve the content and trying to make sure that there are good ways to engage with the game that aren’t massively time-consuming.

Now, it is a pretty well-tread argument that players get more casual over time, for exactly the reasons mentioned: you got older, out of college, kids, more obligations, and so on. But I find it a little weird when combined with the prior quote from Chilton insofar as most of the new players coming into WoW are having issues with camera movement and turning in quests. I mean, unless WoW is literally your first RPG, you would think that most everyone coming in would have experience with similar mechanics from literally any other RPG in the last 10 years.

All of which is leading me to believe that, perhaps, most of the new players coming into WoW are precisely older people who haven’t played many (or any) RPGs prior to this. It could almost be poetic, if the players who started playing 10 years ago (and kept going) are recruiting their now-older non-gamer peers into the game because those are the only people they know. Hell, you can almost imagine this as a geologic strata forming: the MMO layer being compressed by the MOBA layer of slightly younger players, followed by the Minecraft generation.

None of that really describes what’s going on with the FPS genre or console games, but it’s a convenient narrative I’m rolling with.

What Are Those Titan Devs Doing Now?

Adam of Noisy Rogue brought up an interesting point recently regarding the cancellation of Titan:

Nobody outside the Blizzard bubble knows what Jeff Kaplan is doing right now. Apart from him there are over a hundred other developers and designers that have been working on Titan for almost seven years. It’s a lot of talent. […]

Hey, yeah, what are they going to do with all the people who were working on Titan?

So what we know is that Titan had 100 developers working on it last August, until it was slashed down to 30 when it “went back to the drawing board.” Mike Morhaime said they moved the slashed devs over to Diablo and the Blizzard MOBA. But then I got to thinking: wasn’t the dev count on WoW beefed up recently? Indeed it was, as reported on 8/25/13:

The team size has increased 40% and another 40% increase is planned, which will hopefully allow for a new content patch every month, a new raid tier every three to five months, and an annual expansion.

So the timeline makes sense that a lot of those Titan devs were moved over into WoW in addition to Diablo and the MOBA. But then I came across this Icy Veins interview with Tom Chilton from August 2014 (emphasis mine):

Q. You announced repeatedly that you would release content faster: “every 6 months”, “no more ICC”. Obviously, that did not really work out, so we were just wondering what caused it.

A. That is definitely fair criticism. We did a good job earlier in Mists of Pandaria, having the content come at a more frequent intervals, and certainly we had hoped to have Warlords of Draenor out a couple of months ago. The reality is that scaling up the number of people that we have, to work on multiple projects at once has slowed us down. Honestly, it should have not come as a surprise to us. We increased the size of the team by 50% and the majority of those people had never worked on World of Warcraft before or any other MMO, so it is really difficult for them to create content right away, without getting up to speed. So we ended up redoing a lot of the content that we were doing for Warlords to make sure that we would get it at the quality level that we would expect.

Now I’m not sure what to think. Did Blizzard hire a whole bunch of brand new developers for the WoW team? Were the 30 core devs left behind on Titan the only ones with WoW experience, e.g. Kaplan, etc? We do know that Blizzard is already designing the expansion after Warlords right now, so perhaps the new guys got relegated to Warlords and the core-crew is working on whatever Orcish masturbation fantasy is undoubtedly next (“Thrall’s child is all grown up and mad with power!”). I mean, Jesus, it’s been World of Hordecraft aside from that one brief period of time in Wrath. And it’s arguable that the Taunka and Horde Death Knight quests were far superior to what the Alliance got.

I’m not bitter or anything.

By the way, while I was Googling researching this post, I came across this rather interesting picture:

The jokes almost write themselves.

The jokes almost write themselves.

This slide came from the Hearthstone fireside chat back in November 2013, with those numbers representing the team sizes of those three games at release. In other words, vanilla WoW had 60 people, Diablo 3 had 75, and Hearthstone 15. Supposedly Diablo 3 is in a better place these days, but it kinda tells you a lot about the relative worth of even Blizzard developers when you have 75 people collectively cranking out the clusterfuck of Diablo 3 on release. More is less, it would seem.

Subscriptions Are Dead; Long Live Subscriptions

Tobold has a post up talking about the fate of the subscription model. Namely, that while TESO and Wildstar devs are heroically trying to swim against the F2P current, the hard numbers and future MMO releases paint a different, more bleak picture. As somewhat hilariously pointed out by commenter Mike Andrade in that post, this sort of subscription analysis appears to be a Tobold yearly August tradition, but nevermind.

Both Gevlon in the comments and SynCaine in a post come out of the gate with a rather blistering one-two retort: 1) maybe recent sub games are floundering because the games themselves are bad, and 2) where are all the F2P successes then?

Granted, SynCaine moved the goal-posts a bit by specifying “day-1 F2P,” when the facts of the matter are (likely) that subscription games that have made the F2P transition are only still online because of said transition. In other words, SWTOR and LOTRO and Aion and DDO and STO and TSW (etc) are perfectly valid examples of F2P success stories by virtue of those games still being online and profitable. That all of them would prefer the giant piles of initial subscriber cash isn’t really saying anything about the long-term sustainability of the model itself. Why would any of them start off F2P if it’s possible to not leave that money on the table?

But if we’re looking ahead, I suppose ArchAge and SOE’s flagship EverQuest Next being F2P might be potential candidates day-1 F2P success (however that ends up being defined).

The subscription counter-example a lot of people have been using is FF14, which frankly shocked me in terms of subscriber numbers. Apparently there are 2 million of them? If legitimate, that would rocket it past all non-WoW MMOs to be one of the most successful subscription games of all time. Of course, it sells for $15 on Steam every three weeks, there’s a sizable console market for the game (something not many MMOs can achieve), and it technically got a do-over that allowed it to “launch” with years of content instead of the normal zero. But still! That’s impressive.

Okay, actually FF14 has two million “registered accounts,” which is sort of like subscribers in the same way F2P games are “free to play.” Still, subscriptions! 500,000 people log on at least once per day! For now, anyway.

Ultimately, I think a lot of the subscription game musing is sort of missing the point. While there are subtle pressures involved when you look at a subscription game – worrying about getting your money’s worth even if $15/month is pocket change normally – I agree with people like SynCaine that say if a game is worth it, you’ll pay the money… to a point. Because when you are talking about MMOs, the quality of the content itself is almost a tertiary concern to retention. Don’t believe me? Then tell me how a game like WoW can get away with having zero new content from September 2013 to today and “only” lose around ~10.5% of its population. It’s the people, stupid. Yeah, there’s an underlying game space that needs to be entertaining enough to collect everyone in one spot and having fun during downtime, but how long is anyone really subscribing to a single-player game? You can have the most entertaining base game in the world, but if nobody is making those sticky social connections – perhaps because they already have social networks elsewhere – then they are just going to leave in three months anyway.

Frankly, the biggest issue with subscriptions are companies whom vastly overestimate their own popularity, and otherwise set themselves up for failure. If you budget your MMO such that you need 500,000 people paying $15/month just to survive, you’re going to have a bad time. The lower that floor is, the more space you will have to grow the audience later. Or, hell, just maintain the people you have currently.

So while I do not believe the subscription model itself is going anywhere, I do think that it’s only going to be particularly sustainable to those games which have tightly-wounded social pockets. Creating said pockets out of thin air is incredibly tough, but that’s not going to stop games like TESO and Wildstar from at least capitalizing on 6-12 months of bonus revenue they would not have otherwise had if they went with B2P and/or F2P.

Where Are All the Bodies?, pt 2

Almost exactly two years ago, I asked “Where are all the bodies?” in terms of a trend of flight from MMOs. Last week, Wilhelm presented the SuperData Research group’s June report. The two slides of note are below:

Hmm.

Hmm.

Research2

HMM.

As pointed out in the comments over on TAGN, the accuracy of numbers and legitimacy of the research company itself might be in question. For one thing, neither FFXI nor FFXIV are even on that list. The absence of Guild Wars 2 makes a little sense given the criteria for inclusion (subscription option), but the others? I dunno. Perhaps they are being implied in the missing 26% of market share. Which, incidentally, covers $756 million of the total revenue on the chart.

In an attempt to compare the subscription revenue graph to the last update from MMOData.net, I got the following result:

Extremely scientific, I assure you.

Extremely scientific, I assure you.

My methodology was to squish the one graph until the years lined up. Regardless, I have a hard time imagining the precipitous drop in subscription revenue on their chart is correlated in reality. There is a very real decline in overall MMO population – we have reached the same population levels from mid-2008 at this point – but revenue can’t be that bad. Can it?

What is sorta interesting though is in the small text below the graph, which states the data was pulled from “36.9 million digital gamers.” If you take that figure and multiply it by the market share, you get 13,284,000 as the WoW population. Of course, WoW did not have 13+ million subscribers in 2013. Discrepancy! Or is it? If you assume a 5% churn rate each month, at the end of the year you are left with 7,178,143. That is somewhat close to the estimated 7.6 million from this year. In other words, it’s entirely possible that 13+ million players played WoW at some point during the year and 6 million of them cycled out.

On the other hand, when you plug EVE into that same equation, you get 1,107,000 players throughout 2013. So… maybe it’s all bullshit.

Accuracy aside, I think the takeaway from all this is twofold. First, the MMO market has clearly peaked and we are transitioning into a much lower (presumed) equilibrium. Second, it’s still surprising how money there is in the genre. I mean, look at SWTOR there. $165 million in revenue last year? It actually took this Forbes article to kind of shock me into the realization (emphasis added):

And what may be a surprise to many is that Star Wars: The Old Republic is actually #4 on the list, bringing in $165M in revenue last year. While much of the game went free-to-play after a disappointing debut, there’s still a subscription model that has made the MMO profitable for EA. Often SWTOR is regarded as a cautionary tale in the industry in terms of bloated budgets, over-ambition and emulating competitors, but looking at the numbers, the game has evolved into a profitable enterprise for EA, and has made even its massive budget back at this point.

I don’t even know if that is true for sure, but remember, SWTOR budget was somewhere in the neighborhood of $200 million. So… are we still allowed to call the game a “failure?” The criteria gets a little goofy when you are making ~44% more than the paragon of subscription growth¹, EVE. We can maybe say that it could/should have earned more, but (presumably) profitable businesses really speak for themselves.

As always, I believe key to success is keeping realistic expectations and budgeting around that. If you need 500,000 or 1 million subscriptions to stay afloat, maybe you should calm your shit, Icarus. The entire market is like 18 million subs, and more than a third of those are locked down in Blizzard HQ. If you can get by with 50k or 100k, you should have no problems capturing a least a portion of the 500k+ people that seem to appear on MMO release days and leave a month later. Now more than any other time, you need to start small and work your way up.

¹ Which is more historical fact than current event. As far as I’m aware, EVE has lost subs at this point like all mortal MMO endeavors.

Player Churn

It’s been about two weeks since this Gamasutra interview with Jeremy Gaffney, but I think it’s still worth a read. Or just have your mind blown with this thought experiment:

“Even a good game churns 5 percent of its users out every month,” says Gaffney. “That means every 20 months you’ve churned out your whole user base.” If you have one friend who still plays an MMO, that means you might have 10 friends who used to play that MMO.

That 5% monthly figure has been pretty consistent over the years, as WoW had an apparent 4-5% churn rate even during the heights of vanilla/TBC. That means each expansion could basically have an entirely new playerbase. Obviously, some stick around for the long-haul, so there’s some continuity.

Nevertheless, I feel like this more succinctly highlights the design pressures on MMO developers. Does an MMO ever get more hardcore over time? It’s hard to see how it could, given how one needs to entertain an entirely new audience every (at best!) two years.

Wildstar AMA

There was an AMA by Jeremy Gaffney (Executive Producer) regarding Wildstar on Friday. Here were some of the interesting notes:

As someone who has left the MMO scene for quite some time now, do you think WildStar could pull me back in? (ex WoW player)

Our #1 market is probably ex-MMO players, truth be told. That’s many of us as well :) (source)

Subtle and straight-forward. I like it.

Your stand on “catch-up gear” content? Like if I want to get into raiding say about year after release and I of course need to get proper gear to get into raiding. So are you planning to do 5man dungeons with some godly gear or other catch-up mechanics?

We’ll want some catch-up mechanics that are also fair to the long-term raiders; I know the econ guys have thought but thank heavens that’s a ways out yet. (source)

Given the Wildstar team’s commitment to to anachronisms like attunements, I have to wonder about how exactly “catch-up gear mechanics” would even work. Blizzard is heading towards making all of Warlord’s LFR gear be non-tier, so I could see “ghetto-tier” gear as a means to help newer players catch up… but what about those attunements? Is it “fair to long-term raiders” for attunements to be relaxed after the content is no longer current? How is that any different than the traditional cry that content is being obsoleted?

By the way, attunements were dumb, are dumb, and will always be dumb.

Will it be possible to purchase high end gear or tier equivalent gear via the Auction House? In other words, given the existence of the CREDD system, will it be possible to buy power in this game with cash?

In general, nope. In practice, there may be a few BOE pieces of appropriate rarity/difficulty to acquire that spice up the mix, but buying power is a dangerous thing to systemize. (source)

 Fair enough.

The questing experience levels 1-6 is terrible (especially on Dominion side), why do your tutorials areas have so many quests that are not interactive for the player?

Mostly through focus testing with players of a variety of experience levels; you’ve probably played too many MMOs to want your hand held for long and don’t value the world and character introductions we do there (and why should you? You don’t know if those will pay off later and just want to check out the gameplay, which is rational).

We will likely add an option down the road for you to opt out. (source)

This is a subject that could almost be an entire series of blog posts by itself. Namely, the tension between clearly going after competitor’s subscribers (e.g. “Not in Azeroth anymore!”) and needing to be accessible for first-time MMO players. Because let’s be honest, the only real way you’re going to build word-of-mouth is by exciting the already-existing base, unless your base is already established via IP. Quite frankly, I’m a bit surprised that we haven’t seen more MMO companies come out with mid-range or even end-game gameplay in their beta right from the start. I mean, I guess even veterans will need a little bit of time to acclimate to the new environment, but you need them to be excited about the long-term future, not forcing them to spam-run tutorials every beta weekend.

Many people have had a really bad first impression of the game (usually first few hours of play), what would you say to these people to sway them into trying the game again?

Getting people back into the game is tricky (you form an impression and stick with it) – we change so much month to month that I don’t expect to re-earn the eyeballs of many folks who played in the past and left (even if we fixed some of what bothered them).

My plan personally is that you play what your friends are playing; the one thing more than any other email/ad/PR campaign we can do is get people liking the game itself and convincing their friends to come back in – thus Friend Passes, etc. (source)

That… is astonishingly honest and straight-forward. I have a few friends that pre-ordered Wildstar already, and they will pretty much be the only reason I purchase the game given my previous beta impressions.

Class balance is on going but their seems to be a mostly agreed tier list, with Spellslingers and Medics at the bottom in terms of DPS, and by a fair margin. What approach are you taking to get classes more in line with each other? Nerfing the top classes, or buffing the lower ones?

We err on the side of buffing rather than nerfing, but not to the point of insane mudflation. We’ll pretty regularly rebalance classes so that none is too gimped or OP (some drops are slated around this directly, while some will happen in each drop for higher priority stuff). (source)

I would say that erring on the side of buffing is the opposite of the WoW approach, but I don’t think classes ever got OP when someone else got nerfed, so… yeah.

Currently WildStars PVE Group Content ins linear, like in vanilla wow or tbc (the good times). With Wotlk and multilayer-content, problems like content skipping occured. Are you aware of that and are your gonna stick with the linear system? How will you ensure, that the linear system will work successfull on longterm for all different kind of raidguilds (casual, average, hardcore).

Adventures are intended to be heavily NON-linear, and raids are intended to have a fair amount of weekly variation (room ordering, sub-bosses, etc.) for just such reasons – if what we have is well received at launch, we’ll add more. (source)

I’m pretty sure they were talking about two different things here. I’m not sure about anyone else’s guild, but I absolutely hated the random variables in boss ordering (e.g. which drakes were in the cage, which bosses activated first, etc) as it required explaining the entire fight and every variation every time to everyone.

Q: In most MMO’s the crafted gear/items don’t have any real impact on endgame… What’s WildStar’s stance on this?

Our goal is that crafted items are competitive with the best items, but usually need to be earned through those same activities (either by the wearer or by the crafter) to keep things balanced. (source)

I have a difficult time trying to determine if this sort of thing would work for me. If I can’t craft the epic sword before being able to kill the guy who drops an epic sword, there doesn’t seem to be much of a point to crafting (beyond playing the AH). On the other hand, I could sorta see this working if the raid boss had a much higher chance to drop the crafting component necessary to craft the epic sword, such that my profession had value in reducing the randomness of drops. This would require the crafting component to be personal loot though, I think.

I currently play GW2. what’s one good reason I should stop and start playing your game?

Don’t! Guild Wars 2 is an excellent game as well; respect to MO and the other arena.net devs. (source)

If I was less of a cynical bastard, I would be pretty impressed with this response. Alas, both MMOs are from NCSoft, so…

Anti-Patch Notes

I didn’t think it was possible to get excited for an expansion of a game I haven’t played in over a year, but damn. I got to about here:

Druid

  • Innervate has been removed. Mana costs for Druids have been adjusted accordingly.

…before I realized the devs were serious about the pruning of cooldowns thing. I mean, Jesus, they even removed Mana Gem.

Blink and you'd miss it. Wait... Blink is still around, right?

Blink and you’d miss it. Wait… Blink is still around, right?

Paladins were about the one class that seemed to come out ahead after the ability decimation; losing Wings on non-Ret specs makes me shed a nostalgic tear, but in return no more Divine Plea or Inquisition? That’s practically a bonus! Plus, Lay on Hands and Divine Shield survived. Blinding Light didn’t, but we only had that for what, one expansion? It looks like Seal Twisting is making a come-back, but hopefully it won’t be powerful enough to be mandatory.

Man, look at this:

Priest

  •     Binding Heal is no longer available to Shadow Priests.
  •     Hymn of Hope has been removed.
  •     Heal has been removed.
  •     Greater Heal has been renamed Heal.
  •     Inner Focus no longer provides any mana cost reduction.
  •     Rapture has been removed.
  •     Renew is now available only to Holy Priests.
  •     Shadow Word: Death is now available only to Shadow Priests.
  •     Void Shift has been removed.
  •     Inner Fire has been removed.
  •     Inner Will has been removed.

That’s all of the Priest notes. Well, more or less, there’s some additional explanation at the bottom. Still, there is 109 instances of the word “removed” across 34 pages of notes. The end result will likely be a tighter game experience, but damn, all these simultaneous band-aid removals took some hair with them.

As for the new level 100 Talents, some of them are jokes that won’t pass the AV test. What’s that? It’s simple: just imagine someone (or 40 someones) using the ability in an AV match. Seriously, they’re giving Death Knights Defile. Defile. I hope your CPU is water-cooled next time you’re slumming it up in Drek/Vann’s room because otherwise your machine might well burst into flame. Necrotic Plague alone will pad all the meters, and combined with Chilblains? You can single-handedly stop an entire mounted charge.

That’s basically what I’ll be doing in BGs all expansion long: being annoying. Did it when Death Knights first came out with Death Grip and/or Chains of Ice; did it when Paladins could Seal of Justice mounted players from 40 yards away; did it with portal shenanigans via the Warlock; did it old-school just Sapping people and watching their reactions from stealth as the Rogue. If your goal is to be annoying, it’s damn hard to lose in WoW. And now it’ll be 100% easier in the next expansion!

Them Blizzard April Fools

I despise April Fools, but I will admit that a surprising number of chuckles (and groans) were had over the fake WoW patch notes posted on Tuesday. Some of the highlights:

  • Dogecoin is now accepted as a form of payment, but no one really knows how it works.
  • [Hunter]: For safety, all Hunters must now wear bright orange vests at all times.
  • [Monk]: Blackout Kick now causes the victim to wake up the next day and question their life choices.
  • [Paladin]: New Ability: Renounce. When cast, Renounce permanently changes the Paladin into a Warrior.
  • [Shaman]: Rockbiter Totem now transforms the Shaman into a large stone elemental that cannot save their friends, despite having such big, strong hands.
  • [Warlock]: All spells and abilities have been significantly revamped. Again. You’ll figure it out.
  • [Warlock]: Warlocks are now overpowered. This will be addressed in a future expansion.
  • [Warrior]: Warriors have been nerfed because reasons.
  • [Raids, Dungeons, Scenarios]: Due to recent acquisitions, The Oculus is temporarily inaccessible.

You should probably just give the whole thing a once-over. The Warrior one concerning Charge in particular was extra amusing if you have been following patch notes for the last, oh, several years.

I’m pretty far removed from the game at this point, but I’ll also admit that my eye started twitching a bit at the female draenei joke revamp.

Wut

Wut

“What have they done… oh, right. Ha. Ha.” Some might say that it was too obvious, but after seeing what Michael Bay is doing in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot, I don’t know what to believe anymore. I mean, have you seen this:

I need an adult.

I need an adult.

While pretty much everyone else have been riding the nostalgia train with reboots this past decade, TMNT is pretty much my only non-Toonami stop. Well, them and ExoSquad. And maybe Gargoyles.

Beta Impressions: Wildstar, Part 1

So I have been “in” the Wildstar beta for a while now. My motivation to play it has been pretty low though, for a few reasons. First, the strong NDA meant that really even hinting that I was playing it could revoke not only my own beta pass, but also that of the person who gifted a pass to me. Second, I find myself growing increasingly stubborn when it comes to overcoming (or even learning) game mechanics/designs that I find annoying.

Almost like Wind Waker...

Almost like Wind Waker…

Before I get into that though, let me frame my experiences. On the whole, I fully expect Wildstar to be a great themepark MMO. The art style is bold and gamey, but also fun in a well-made way. Wildstar sort of doubled-down on the whole “floor AoE effects,” but it works on an intuitive level pretty quickly. Games like The Secret World and Guild Wars 2 had the same floor effects thing, but the relative rarity meant it always felt gimmicky rather than integrated. When you’re applying Expose Weakness from Stealth to every enemy in a long column and your other three attacks all have cone targeting however, you get into the positional mindset pretty quickly.

Speaking of stealth, I picked the Stalker, aka Rogue, as my first class because stealth mechanics are one of those things that can inadvertently break games or otherwise indicate how serious the designers take mechanics. I can’t say much about long-term viability since I never got past level 10, but I can tell you that Stealth lasts indefinitely and has no cooldown outside of combat. Compare that to the Thief in GW2 and draw your own conclusions.

Overall, combat is fun and visceral in that ineffable WoW-like way. Attacks have punch. The world is pretty populated with things to click on and interact with. I chose the Scientist “path,” which means I need to have a camera bot go scan stuff in the environment occasionally. Worlds look like worlds, with hills, mountains, and secret paths. The general game attitude is WoW meets Borderlands, especially when it comes to the Level Up prompt. You can double-jump. And so on.

Good job on further minimizing quest text, Carbine UI Dept.

Good job on further minimizing quest text, Carbine UI Dept.

It’s the little things though, you know? It’s one thing to have a Twitter-length quest text, but it’s another to have that and make it hard to read the dialog boxes. Who the shit thought it’d be a good idea to put most of them at the top of the screen? Then, you’ll get ambushed with Challenges out questing, which have universally been “kill X mobs in Y amount of time.” Every time it has happened, I stopped looking around at anything else and tunneled my way to the finish line, only to forget what I was doing afterwards. Which isn’t a big loss given the lack of quest text, I suppose, but I sorta felt like the content was on a conveyer belt and I had to act on consuming it immediately. The fact that you can click on your quest list and get a directional arrow plus rangefinder means you don’t really need to even understand where you are or what you’re doing anyway.

Then I leveled up, unlocked a slew of new Skills, and have since leveled up twice more without having encountered a Skill Trainer to actually unlock said Skills. “Ah. This is still a thing, then?” Hell, I don’t even know how I would go about looking for a Skill Trainer. My Stalker is currently logged off in what I assume to be a quest-hub city, and my cursory tour of the place has not revealed a Skill Trainer. Do I spend 30% of my meager wealth taking a taxi to the capital (last known location of a trainer)? Or do I continue leveling and hope that I’ll eventually run across a trainer in the next half-dozen levels? And who the hell thought this arbitrary bullshit was worth fishing out of the garbage can of bad MMO design?

Seriously, if your Trainers are glorified Skill vendors, it’s not worth implementing them. Maybe if each Skill required you to practice on a training dummy or otherwise integrated into your game’s fiction somehow, then it would be worth it.

I understand such complaints might seem pretty weak and hyper-specific, but that’s where my head is when it comes to MMOs these days. I have abandoned all pretenses that any specific MMO is ever going to be the MMO, or that I even want one to be, so it’s getting difficult to muster up enough cares to dance around their various idiosyncrasies. Given how the beta is getting turned off this week though, I’ll put some more time into it and see what develops.