Why I’m excited for WildStar

WildStar MMO

Over the past few days I’ve had this horrible pit in my stomach caused by an acute lack of MMOs to play.  Looking around to remedy my situation, realizing nothing will currently cure me, and hoping there was something in the future, I turned to a game that I’ve only had slightly visible on my radar: WildStar.

wildstar epic content

WildStar will have episodic, phased, open-world, and undoubtedly instanced PvE.

WildStar isn’t trying to be the next best thing. I don’t get this feeling that the developers are trying to overly-innovate or convince people that WildStar is creating some new reason to enjoy MMOs.  I see a zany unique IP with which the developers are having fun.  All of the videos are just cool — that’s deep, I know.  But seriously, there’s a significant amount of ‘different’ stuff in a ‘cool’ way without really being technically ‘new’.

WildStar will have episodic story content, typical questing, battlegrounds, raids (I read there will be 40-man raids), and supposedly open-world leveling on top of customized content that I think is being handled with phasing. All of these can be fun if done right, but what I’m truly excited for are the Warplots and housing.  Build up a base then taking it into a battle against another guild that has built up a base sounds really fun.  Customizing a house to the level of what’s been shown in WildStar is something I have always loved.

wildstar housing

Amazing housing and base building are the driving force behind my excitement.

I don’t need every MMO to reinvent the wheel, but I demand that every MMO at least try to do something better and different than their competition/predecessors.  With a zany new IP being really driven home by over-the-top stylized gameplay, and what appears to be a team embracing the themepark mechanics in their own way, I think WildStar shows great promise.

To sum it all up, we can analyze what WildStar does right, and what it gets wrong, later.  For now, it just looks fun.

Leveling Isn’t Necessary

Just like PvP, leveling isn’t necessary. In fact, I think leveling and designing leveling is not only a waste of time for developers, and as a result a direct waste of money, but its also detrimental to game design when it isn’t necessary but included anyway.

In World of Warcraft, I find most  of my enjoyment comes from lowbie/newbie quests, exploring new areas, and occasionally some dungeons. Almost every time I play I come to the conclusion that the leveling just gets in the way and stands between me and what I’d rather be doing.  I’m positive that the arena junkies want to be max level immediately, and the raiders probably don’t care one bit about leveling.  In fact, I know for a fact that most of these two groups (who account for a huge portion of the long-term players) find every way possible to blow through leveling.

This evening I logged about four hours in Neverwinter.  My cleric is growing on me, and a friend of mine jumped in to join me which makes playing about 2x more fun.  We both came to the conclusion that we want to do the dungeons and PvP, but we need to be higher level to enjoy them most.  The quest grind is so dull that we’re doing Foundry quests designed to make leveling quicker.  Some of them are blatant EXP grind boxes where players stand on top of a box with spikes in it and AoE down ogres.  We’d rather look awesome, have lots of fun abilities, and do the content than be stuck as boring newbies facing a quest grind between us and the real fun.  Leveling isn’t necessary in Neverwinter.

If something stands between players and the fun, don’t include it.  Nothing these days should be immune to that philosophy. Even if its leveling; just remove it.  Let players be ‘max level’ (so to speak) and simply have a form of progression which allows characters to develop in some way once doing the fun stuff from the start.  There are too many others things to worry about, especially in a game like Neverwinter which doesn’t need leveling to keep people playing.

Vertical vs. Horizontal Progression: Can one ever really exist without the other?

Horizontal vs vertical progressionI was thinking tonight about what to write tonight (I’m suffering from some massive writer’s block) when I decided to catch up on the Camelot Unchained videos that released while I was moving; Mark did like 5 of them in one day.  I watched the video where Mark talked about character progression and how he wants Camelot Unchained be a game all about horizontal progression with very little, if any, vertical progression.

The knee-jerk reaction these days is to immediately think that horizontal progression is the way to go.  So many people are tired of the gear grinds and this constant desire to chase the carrot upward.  Vertical progression is this horrible monster that makes characters stronger the older they get, and lets them one shot new or ‘less vertical’ characters.  While true, that depiction chooses to demonize the worst aspects of vertical progression while ignoring the upside.  Horizontal progression isn’t perfect.  I get really bored when I feel like my character isn’t progressing in strength.  Being able to do things ‘differently’ isn’t always as satisfying to me as being able to do something better.  Achievements are boring.  Relying entirely on the skill of the player and teamwork can only take me so far before I feel like I’m playing an arcade game or Counter Strike.  Sometimes I don’t want the playing field to be perfectly equal.  Sometimes its not enough that my fireballs are green and yours are red.

Dark Age of Camelot had vertical progression.  Realm Ranks were almost like an experience system for max level players killing others in RvR.  You kill a player, you gain some realm points. Those realm points earn realm ranks, and with those realm ranks you can unlock abilities to make your character stronger.  That is vertical progression.  A RR8 character had abilities that a RR2 did not have, and as a result that RR8 had an advantage.  Was the advantage huge? No, in fact a bad RR8 player would still be killed by a good RR2, but the RR8 was technically elevated above the RR2.

Emphasizing horizontal progression, or making your character different from others, is fine if you can truly create a game where players can be different without gaining power, all the while not creating a completely boring experience.  I have never played a MMO offering me the ability to truly seek after ways to make myself different from others in such a way that I feel like I have truly PROGRESSED horizontally. Choosing a different starting configuration is not progressing horizontally.  Dying my armor another color isn’t progressing horizontally.

I’d say I want to expand the breadth of my abilities, but can that really be done without it being at some inching towards moving vertical?  If I unlock more abilities that others won’t have if they haven’t unlocked them, isn’t that vertical progression?  If I have more tools in my tool belt than you, with everything else held equal don’t those abilities become an advantage that an older character will have over a new one?

No one should be quick to dismiss vertical progression. I truly believe a game relying solely on horizontal progression is destined to lack depth and become boring.  At the same time, if vertical progression is emphasized at the expense of horizontal, then an equally boring game about nothing more than chasing the next tier with absolutely zero depth will be the result.

In the end, it appears that what I’m really saying is horizontal progression should be more vertical, and vertical progression should be more horizontal.  Maybe, in an ideal state, they should be the same line, minimizing the power gap while still creating some room for growth.

Defiance PC and Console Beta Impressions

Trion’s Defiance beta weekend for PC and Console began today, and with it the NDA dropped.  Graev and I have been playing on the PC and Console versions all day to get a feel for the game and decide if Defiance is a game we want to pick up when it launches in just a few short weeks.

Defiance Mount Tam

Defiance is a very pretty game.

Since this is a beta test, and we do not have a finalized copy of the game, we can’t really give Defiance a fair review yet.  I know I’ve formed some definite first impressions, though, and I want to share what Graev and I have begun to think overall about the game.

Defiance handles beautifully on the PC.  My very first reaction was in response to the controls and the fluidity of movement.  Nothing’s better than a game that just ‘feels good’.  On the PC, the graphics are really, really good.  I remarked immediately to Graev and my friends that I wish games like Planetside 2, Battlefield 3, and even Borderlands handled this well.  My PC sustained exactly 60 FPS with no drops on what I assume are the max settings.   I was also unaware of any latency lag in the PC version.

Defiance Shadow War

The Shadow War region of the map. When a match begins, you can enter a phased or instanced version of the region to frag each other.

The Xbox 360 console version is slightly different.  I feel like the graphics aren’t quiet as good as the PC, and I was having some frame rate issues.  I also noticed a fair bit of screen tearing and slowdown with menus.  At one point Graev asked me to go watch the videos we saw last week of the console version because the console beta we have now doesn’t look quite as good.   Also, the console version might be a different build since feedback popups appear after finishing missions.

Graev and I are also a little disappointed by the latency issues plaguing the console version. At one point it was so unplayable that we just logged off.  Trion announced via Twitter that they are working hard to resolve those latency issues. Worth noting about the console version  is how few people I saw playing compared to the PC version.  PC version had people everywhere, but the console version felt like a ghost town.  There are a number of reasons why that could be the case, though.

Gameplay has been very, very mission-centric so far.  Lots of ‘go to this location and kill’, ‘defend x’, ‘find and retrieve’, and ‘interact with an objective’ missions.  At times I felt like I was being lead around around a bit too much.  I would really like to just find a nice area of the map and kill difficult mobs like the good old days of EverQuest pulling.  The closest thing I found  to staying in one spot and killing bugs was this mini-event I stumbled upon to protect some kind of objective or something.  I liked having to fight waves of bugs.

Defiance Shadow War Objectives

Sniping enemies who try to take one of our objectives during a 48v48 Shadow War match. It’s like Battlefield.

To best classify what Defiance gameplay is like, I’d have to say it most resembles Borderlands 2 if you could have a ton of players doing the missions and all playing together at once in that game.  Playing really does feel like coop on a massive scale.  Lots of people running around making the game feel busy and ‘online’.   Defiance uses lots of instancing and phasing to accommodate all the player, which is a little disappointing.  I like games where I know there’s one version of the world.  If my friend is on Tranquility Path and I go to meet him, I don’t want to get there just to realize he’s in another instance of the area.

My biggest disappointment is with the PvP because I am not a fan of matchmaking and queuing for instanced battles.  If you like battlegrounds and instanced objective-based PvP, especially with shooting mechanics, then Defiance has the PvP for you.  I prefer more of a connection to the world.  The Shadow War, which I thought would be true open-world, is really just a big instanced battleground.  I participated in a couple 48 vs. 48 objective taking battles that felt a little fraggy for my liking.  Basically you queue up for a Shadow War, and when it ‘pops’ you get teleported to the match.  The match takes place in a real region of the world, but it’s an instanced/phased versed. Teams are randomly assigned since there are no real factions in teh game, so you’re just fighting the sake of shooting each other and winning points.

Overall, I think the game has potential as an action shooter with RPG elements.  Some of the missions/quests are fun, and others are typical themepark, but I think the real fun will be had with a group of people clearing out a dungeon (whatever they are called).  I want to somehow get into one before I pass judgment on the game’s PvE coop content.  The PvP is a letdown for me in terms of style, but for the type of gameplay it provides, it pulls it off well.

Graev and I really want to explore the console version more when it is working properly, and get to do more of the content.  We’ll bring you more of our Defiance impressions soon.

How to Ruin 3 Faction MMO PvP

TESO Cyrodiil Instances

I can see it now…

If you ever have the desire for a guide on how to instantly ruin 3 faction MMO PvP, and guarantee no chance of it ever recovering from a shallow and meaningless themepark experience,  The Elder Scrolls Online appears to be writing the book. Yeah, that’s harsh, but I’m shocked more people aren’t saying something.  Here’s what I’ve learned from various media who were able to see the game in action.  Personally, I hope they have it all wrong, and if they do someone speak up.

Since there is only one “mega server”, Cyrodiil (the PvP zone) will be split into multiple instances to accommodate population. Players are assigned a campaign when they create their character (or reach level 10 or something). The campaigns are apparently NOT integrated in any way (I thought they were). There’s really no way you can spin that to sound good to anyone who knows something about open-world persistent RvR.

Problem: There’s no true sense of permanence or achieving a victory when you duplicate a zone.  Even if you call them “permanent instances,” even if they are technically open all the time and mimic servers, nothing is ultimately hinging on your campaign.  “How’s Ebonheart Pact doing in your campaign? We’re losing.  Oh you should transfer over to campaign B since we’re totally dominating here!”

If a certain campaign is struggling, the devs will funnel new players to that instance/campaign.

Problem: Developers getting involved in who is winning?  HANDS OFF the battlefield!  That’s the entire point of having three factions: let the battlefield balance itself.  So not only are there population caps on the battlefield and multiple instances, but the developers can choose to, at their discretion, help the people losing side by giving them more players.

When you hit level 50, you can go to the other faction’s PvE areas.  At that point you’ll be able to communicate with the other factions, and even make friends and run dungeons/play with the other factions. [Source]

Problem: They are supposed to be your enemy!  You wake up each morning with a burning hatred and passion to wipe them off the map, not plan to raid with them.  From a PvP perspective, this is a mistake.

So let’s sum up what we have so far:

  • Multiple instances of the Alliance War zone creating no continuity between Cyradiil and the rest of the world.
  • Funneling population where it’s needed to alter balance by automatically assigning players a campaign.
  • Grouping up and PvEing with your opponents

In short, how do you ruin 3 faction MMO PvP?  You instance it on a mega-server.

I’m curious to learn how I’ll be able to meet up with friends in campaigns.  According to what I’ve read, new players are assigned a campaign to participate in.  What if we get assigned different campaigns?  What if my guild of 20 wants to go play together?  How do we get into the same campaign?  Can we transfer campaigns instantly? All I’ve read is that transferring is “limited”.   Why are these even questions I have to ask?

Remind me why this system exists?  Remind me why the alliances exist, and why they are fighting on instanced battlefields but chummy in dungeons?  The Elder Scrolls Online should just drop this PvP charade altogether and go straight PvE; clearly their PvP is a tack-on.  I can’t understand why anyone would ever think these are good PvP design principles.  If I can see the huge problems this far away, why can’t the people in charge?  Who is deciding to forgo servers, one static battlefield, and a real sense of faction-based fighting in favor of this shallow disconnected and seemingly meaningless themepark nonsense? [Read more…]