Fashionably Late to the Diablo III Party

First off, sorry that it’s been so long since I posted. I feel like I should just declare December a no-blog month from now on, because it seems like I always think I’m going to get lots of time for gaming, but then it doesn’t end up happening. And when gaming doesn’t happen, I don’t have much to blog about, and even less time to write about it.

Anyways, what little gaming I did do in December was unexpectedly dominated by Diablo III. I know, it’s over five years old, but I gave up on being cutting edge a long time ago. I really like the Diablo-like gameplay style, but I’ve never been very attracted to the grimdark, apocalyptic, demon-themed setting of actual Diablo games. I’d rather play lighter derivatives like, say, Marvel Heroes. Except that I can’t play that anymore, can I? (Yes, I’m still bitter) I recently saw the base Diablo III box on clearance for $5 at my local Walmart, so I thought I’d give it a shot, and hopefully ease the sting of Marvel Heroes’ passing.

I have to say, the gameplay is really addicting. It’s one of those games that doesn’t involve a ton of thought, but provides an experience that’s best described as “satisfying.” I have heard it compared, on more than one occasion, to popping bubble wrap. My first character was a monk, and I’ve been really surprised by how much fun he is. I figured he’d be a boring, single-target melee class that I could learn the ropes with, then move on to more interesting things (after all, as I’ve mentioned before, my fist MMO character is almost always doomed to be abandoned as the urge to alt sets in). I bought the necromancer DLC while it was on sale because I love summoners in any RPG, but I’ve barely touched it because the monk has been so much fun. He has a surprising amount of AoE, with spinning kicks and exploding bleeds and all. I’m sure I’ll go back and try the other classes–I played Torchlight II at least most of the way through on two of the original classes and a few fan-made mod classes–but I think I’m going to try to finish with my monk first.

As for the story it’s… meh. But that’s just what I’ve come to expect from ARPGs. Marvel Heroes’ story felt like a weak excuse to send you from zone to zone (I don’t think I ever even finished the post-Doom stories). Torchlight and Torchlight II… probably had stories, but I really don’t remember them. Diablo III at least has some good voice-over work, but it still seems like it can be summed up as “demons are bad and want to kill everybody, and you should probably stop them. Oh, and angels are basically Diablo elves who are super powerful but don’t care about the plight of humans.”

If I had to pick between Diablo III and Torchlight II, I’d probably go with Torchlight II. Honestly, they’re both great, solid games, but they’re basically the same game. The things that sway me in Torchlight’s direction are that the graphics are more appealing to me (sort of WoW-ish colorful and cartoony stylization), and, given that Diablo III is always online, it can’t support mods or player created maps, which really extended the life of Torchlight II for me.

I’m about half way through Act III of Diablo III, and I’m hoping to finish before the end of January so I can try that retro Diablo anniversary event.


Farewell Marvel Heroes, Hello Warframe

It’s been a while since I was so immersed in a game that it caused me to lose all track of time. And yet Warframe, a story-light shooter of all things, sucked me in over the weekend and, before I knew it, I had been playing for over four hours.

Oddly enough, the reason why I gave Warframe another try was because of Marvel Heroes. I was reading some forum and comment threads about what people were replacing the game with. Of course, there were a lot of people saying that there’s nothing out there to replace it, because a lot of the charm of Marvel Heroes was wrapped up in the Marvel name. I expected to see a lot of Path of Exile–both games are shameless, online Diablo clones, after all–but I was surprised to see Warframe popping up just as often, if not more so. Warframe is obviously a who different genre than Marvel Heroes, so at first it feels kind of strange, but beyond that, it actually has a lot of similarities. Both games are sort-of-but-not-quite MMORPGs with a lot of mindless action. They’re both heavily instanced, with random group matching, or not if you like playing solo. They both have a ton of “classes”–52 Warframes to Marvel Heroes’ 63 heroes–and both games have excellent free to play models, with all of those classes being earned in game or bought with money. And, as I thought about it, I realized that that was one of my favorite things about Marvel Heroes; it fed into my altaholism in the same way that Warframe had the potential to do. Another thing that both games have in common is that they’re both kind of hard to get into, so it took a couple of attempts, but now I think it’s safe to say that I’m hooked.

I’m still mourning the untimely loss of Marvel Heroes, but at least some good came out of it. I had dabbled in Warframe before, but I wouldn’t have given it as serious a look if I hadn’t read so many glowing reviews of it from ex Marvel Heroes players.

Alas, Poor Marvel Heroes! I Knew Him

Well, it’s official. Marvel Heroes is dead, or at least it soon will be. Of all the MMOs I have played over the years, I never would have guessed this would be the first to go. It’s never been one of my main games, but it’s always been something I come back to from time to time. It’s the perfect game to pick up a new character, blow some stuff up, and move on. No big time commitment, not a lot to think about, just punching bad guys. There aren’t many MMOs that do that well. Back in 2013, I wasn’t a big Marvel fan (I hadn’t even seen most of the movies at that point), but I was fresh off of an obsession with Torchlight II, and was just thinking how cool a Torchlight MMO would be when I saw an announcement for Marvel Heroes. I was initially excited about it because of the kind of game it was, but later I recognized what a perfect game it was for the IP, and I can honestly say that I don’t think I would have been as interested in the Marvelverse as I am if it hadn’t been for this game. Marvel Heroes educated me about a lot of Marvel characters–Rocket Raccoon, Deadpool, Captain Marvel, and, most importantly, Squirrel Girl–long before they showed up in movies or TV shows. Translating comic book characters to ARPG power sets sounds almost as fun to design as it is to play. There will never be another game quite like it.

I was sick yesterday morning when the news hit Massively Overpowered, so I immediately logged in, and there were a lot of mixed reactions. At that time, the official forum announcement hadn’t yet been made, so a lot of people were in denial about it, even coming from legitimate sources like MassivelyOP and Kotaku. Most were stunned or sad. Some people were angry, perhaps rightfully so for those who had just dropped money into the game with little hope of a refund. I feel worst for the console players, who had already been a bit price gouged, and now won’t even get to enjoy their purchase for a whole year before it’s unceremoniously ripped away from them.

I’ll keep the game installed, but I don’t know how much I’ll play before the lights go out December 31st. I’d like to get a couple characters to cap, just to say I did it. I was never good at sticking with a character, especially once I had most or all of my skills unlocked. The whole thing is really sad. We aren’t even clear at this time on why it’s happening; some say it’s because of harassment accusations leveled at the CEO, some say it’s due to lack of money. Maybe a bit of both. I don’t really care what the reason is, I just know I’m going to really miss this game.

You know, in hindsight, we really should have seen this coming. I’m not talking about the lack of communication or legal allegations, I’m not even talking about what a terrible track record superhero MMOs have, I’m talking about back in Spring when they changed the game’s name to “Marvel Heroes: Omega,” and then announced that Ragnarök would be coming. Clear signs of the end times for this game.
…too soon?

How To Ensure I Never Come Back To Your MMO

Ever feel like it’s too much work to go back to a game you used to enjoy? Like games have put up as many road blocks as they can to prevent you from coming back and possibly giving them money? I feel like I’ve been running into that a lot lately in some of my favorite games. Here are a few of the biggest ways to ensure that I won’t be coming back to your MMO any time soon.

Merge Your Servers and Don’t Give Me Slots
Let’s start with the bantha in the room. I logged into Star Wars The Old Republic the night after the server mergers and was greeted with the above. All thirty eight of my characters merged down to one server, with only nineteen character slots. Guess I’m not going to be making any new characters on that game ever again. On top of that, maybe a third of my characters had name conflicts. Granted, some of those were “vanity” names I’ve had since launch that I knew I was going to lose, but some of them are randomly generated names that just happen to collide with someone, somewhere. Now I have to come up with new names that still fit the character that I’ve grown attached to with a name that I can no longer have. The really crazy thing is that, for a couple of my oldest characters, this will be the third time I’ve had to rename them due to server mergers. I ended up just logging out without even activating any of them, and I don’t feel particularly motivated to try again.

Nerf Your Free to Play Model
While I’m ranting about SWTOR, let’s talk about their free-to-play model. When they went free-to-play, they didn’t have the best model, but it was passable. The purple gear restriction was annoying, but at least there’s an account wide unlock. The dungeon and raid restrictions were dumb, but at least there were weekly passes that could be bought from the cash shop or other players. The credit cap was harsh, and to this day it doesn’t really do anything to stop bots, as is its (supposed) purpose. I was hoping that one day they might dial all of it back some, especially that last one, given that their business model is now primarily build around lockboxes (which isn’t on this list, but really could be), but I was sadly disappointed. With Knights of the Eternal Throne, they unified everything in this Command XP thing that’s only available to subscribers. The idea is good–you can get endgame gear by filling a Command XP bar, and there are a variety of different endgame activities that give Command XP, so you can pick and choose what game type you enjoy most–except that it tells free-to-play players that they might as well not waste their time playing this game, pretty much guaranteeing that I won’t ever be back seriously.

Go Radio Silent
When all lines of communication out of your studio suddenly go dark, you lose a lot of consumer confidence. This is what’s currently going on over at Marvel Heroes. It doesn’t matter what the reason is, your players are over here assuming the worst. And, given the track record of superhero MMOs being shut down or shelved with no warning, players probably have a right to panic.

Never Add Solo PvE Content
Ah, WildStar, how I miss thee. But there’s only so much time I can spend doing dailies in Arcterra before I get bored. There are only so many times that I have fun can rolling new characters. Yes, WildStar has added new group content, but group content is something that I can only do at specific times, and only when I feel like interacting with my guild. Solo content is something that I can do at any time, which is a lot more likely to keep me interested in the game.

Add Content That Leaves Me Behind
This is a weird one, and it doesn’t happen often, but sometimes I come back to a game and just so much has changed that it takes a lot to get me back into it. Usually games are smart about just tacking things onto the end of the game–level cap bumps and such–but I can think of two instances when this has kept me out of games. One is RuneScape, and that was a matter of years of updates under new leadership. In the time that I was away from that game, there was a combat overhaul, a graphics overhaul, and several new skills introduced, not to mention the massive economic changes. The other is Marvel Heroes, with their “biggest update ever.” Every single character had their skills completely redone, meaning that players basically had to relearn how to play each character. To make matters worse, they also handed out a lot of compensation boxes, meaning that it was a few hours before I was able to dig out my inventory and bank and actually get to the point where I could play those freshly reworked characters.

5 MMOs I Wish I Was Playing

Free time is a limited resource, and I can usually only budget my time into two, maybe three, games, MMO or not, before one or more of them get pushed out. Don’t get me wrong, I feel like I get plenty of gaming time in, but there are a lot of games out there that I’d love to be playing right now that I simply haven’t had time to get to, or haven’t gotten to in a while. Here are my top five right now.

Destiny 2
This is, of course, the big new game in the genre. Yes, it’s an MMO-shooter hybrid, and I’m not really into shooters, but I loved the Mass Effect games, and couldn’t stop thinking how great those games would be as an MMO. Destiny 2 isn’t Mass Effect, but I think it could give a similar feel.
I played the PC beta, and, to be honest, I wasn’t terribly impressed by the story presentation. It wasn’t awful, but they did a very poor job explaining who these people are and why I should care about anything that’s happening. Maybe there are some things in the live game that I didn’t get in the beta?

Speaking of MMO-shooter hybrids, there’s also Warframe. I gave this game a try a while back when Twitch Prime gave away a free ‘frame (promos work!), and was surprised by how much fun I had. I was especially impressed smoothness of the gameplay (running into a room, sliding, and headshotting a bunch of enemies with my bow before I stop is oddly satisfying). After the initial story arc I was a little lost as to what I was doing, ended up getting destroyed by some missions that were likely too high for me, and never got back around to it.

I wrote a whole post on this not long ago, so I won’t rehash it here. Suffice it to say that I’ve been thinking about this game a lot lately, and I think I might just have to go back before the excellent Halloween event is over.

Guild Wars 1
I never played the original Guild Wars when it was in its heyday, but since I’ve been into Guild Wars 2, I picked this game up as well. I’d like to play through the Nightfall campaign, as it shares a location (and, apparently, some themes) with Guild Wars 2’s new Path of Fire expansion. Guild Wars is one of those games that seems fun, but I’ve always had trouble finding a class that I can get into. Hopefully one of these times I’ll go back and find one that clicks.

Star Trek Online
I used to make at least an annual pilgrimage back to this game, but I haven’t really played seriously since I played through the Legacy of Romulus expansion. I love Star Trek, but was really disappointed by Discovery. I’m not sure if that makes me want to come back for a dose of “good” Star Trek (not that STO is always high quality or canonically consistent by any stretch of the imagination), or stay away from it because inevitably there will be ST:D (seriously, CBS, you really need to think about your acronyms. There are five other space shuttles you could name your show after, you know) crossover content.

Lockboxes Suck, So How Should MMOs Monetize?

I don’t write a lot about bad monetization, because honestly, I mostly just shake my head and try to ignore it. As MMO players get more and more spread out across more games than I can count, populations of individual games keep declining. Unfortunately, in reaction to this, studios seem to have shifted focus from trying to bring in as many players as possible and keep them there to simply trying to milk the loyal players for more and more money, and the cash extraction method of choice in recent years has been lockboxes. And it’s not just an MMO problem. Physical TCGs have been doing this forever, and digital ones are no different. Pretty much every mobile game I’ve ever played has some kind of gacha mechanic. And now it’s starting to show up in mainstream AAA games like the new Star Wars Battlefront II (the 2017 one by DICE, of course… I really wish they had given the new series a different name or subtitle or something from the ones from the twenty-oughts, but that’s a whole other rant).

Then Massively Overpowered posted an article entitled “But seriously, lockboxes suck, even if the ESRB doesn’t think they’re gambling. Stop buying lockboxes.” (I love that title, by the way), and it got me thinking about how, yes, lockboxes suck, but what model should MMOs be using? Monetization is a necessary evil in MMOs. Yes, it’s an evil that keeps getting eviler, but game developers are not charities; they do this to make money. I hear people talking about what monetization scheme is “ideal,” but the problem is that the player’s “ideal” and the developer’s “ideal” are in opposition; the player’s ideal is that they get everything for free forever, and the developer’s ideal is that players throw unlimited money at them for doing nothing. Neither situation is remotely possible, so the question, then, becomes what monetization method is best for both parties? Below are a few options, ranked roughly from worst to best.

You get a lockbox! And you get a lockbox! EVERYBODY GETS A LOCKBOX!!!
…that’ll be $5 a pop for a key to open them. Seriously, this is debatably the worst case scenario. Perfect World’s Neverwinter and Star Trek Online are kind of the worst offenders for this one. Yes, their games are free-to-play, but you’re constantly reminded that you should be giving them money by them filling up your inventory with lockboxes you can’t open and on-screen announcements when someone else out there opened a lockbox and got a ship that’s cooler than yours (you can technically turn those off, but you have to do it in a bunch of different places that aren’t very obvious). But even Guild Wars 2, who I think of as having one of the most generous models in the industry, does this to a certain extent. Enemies occasionally drop lockboxes–not anywhere near as often as STO, but often enough–and a simple double click will show you all of the treasures that might be contained within. What’s the point of dropping a lockbox if I have to pay for the keys? Especially when you hand them out like Halloween candy so they’re absurdly cheap on the auction house. The answer is that they need a way to remind people with more money than sense that it’s time to feed their gambling addiction, but in a way that doesn’t feel like a popup ad. And make no mistake, lockboxes are literally gambling, and if you believe anything else, you’re not paying attention (despite whatever the ESRB says). The aforementioned Massively OP article has some links to some great articles discussing this far better than I could.

I put this term in scare quotes because everyone has a different definition of “pay-to-win,” in one of the few genres where there is literally no set win condition. Is Star Trek Online pay-to-win because the highest tier ships–with stat bonuses a few percent above their lower tier counterparts–are cash shop only? Is Guild Wars 2 pay-to-win because you can buy gold with money, buy crafting materials, then craft gear with the best stats in the game? Is World of Warcraft pay-to-win because you can buy a level boost token? Is Elder Scrolls Online pay-to-win because one of the classes, which happens to be considered to have the best group healing, is only accessible to players who have the expansion? I’ve heard all of these arguments and more.
Personally, I don’t consider a game pay-to-win unless the best gear in the game only comes from the cash shop (or if there is a cruel and unusual amount of grind for gear that is bypassed by paying money). These games exist, especially in the mobile realm, but most of them chase away their players, so I wouldn’t consider this a viable long term solution for any game.

Pure Subscription
I don’t like this kind of model because I have so many options for MMOs, and I would really rather not be tied down to any one at any given time. But if you’re not into multi-gaming, this is actually not a bad model for you. Developers get a steady, fairly predictable stream of money, and can, in turn, crank out consistent content for players. World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV are really the only major games that survive on this model anymore, and that’s only because they both of large, devoted player bases. Smaller games simply can’t compete this way.

Pure Buy-to-Play
This is my personal favorite monetization scheme. You had to at least pay the price of entry to play the game, so the developers at least have some revenue from every player. Developers are incentivized to keep cranking out expansion/DLC content, because otherwise players aren’t going to be giving you money. This can be good or bad, since one bad release that no one buys can set a game on a downward spiral in that vicious cycle of not enough content to keep players paying, not enough money to create content players want to buy.

Buy-to-Play with Optional Sub
…but seriously, if you want to play the game a lot just go ahead and sub because it’s not worth it otherwise. I think Elder Scrolls Online is the best example of this. I can play all I want for free, but I’m going to have to resist the urge to pick up crafting materials or I’ll be running out of bag space every hour. If I’m really serious about playing this month, I can shell out my $15. I’ve met players all over the spectrum; from those who bought the box when the game went buy-to-play and haven’t given ZeniMax a dime since, to those who buy each DLC outright but don’t subscribe, to players who haven’t stopped subbing since the game launched. I put this at the top, not because it’s my favorite, but because it’s probably the best compromise for the good of the game. I can play for free, but it’s clear that the developers really want me to sub so they get that constant, predictable revenue stream we talked about in the Pure Subscription section. This can go wrong, as it has, in my opinion, in Star Wars the Old Republic, which is basically trying to be a Pure Subscription game while still keeping its free-to-play players, but I think it’s the most ideal situation.

If there was a perfect monetization model, everyone would be doing it, but there isn’t. Some models are worse than others, but it’s a very subjective matter. Different players would put these models in a different order. Everyone has different preferences. I feel like my preferences have changed over the years as well, because of fluctuating time constraints and financial situations. But some of them, I think we can all agree, do suck. Let’s all vote with our wallets and our playtime, and encourage developers who have good business models to keep doing what they do best.

(Spoiler-Free) Path of Fire Launch Impressions

It’s finally here! Guild Wars 2’s second expansion is finally live! I’ve had so much more anticipation for this expansion than last expansion, despite the fact that the time between its announcement and release was really short. I think that’s due in large part to the change of scenery. While jungles like that of Heart of Thorns always feel cramped and frustrating to navigate, deserts are wide open and interesting to explore. Also I’ve been excited to play the new elite specializations. When we only had one choice of elite spec, you were pretty much always limiting your character’s potential if you didn’t use it in some fashion. Now that we have a couple of different elite specs to choose from, we start to get some real choices. Some of my characters are definitely staying in their current spec for now (revenant, warrior) and some will be switching ASAP (engineer, thief), and for some the jury is still out (elementalist, ranger). So far most of my time has been spent on my engineer with the new holosmith elite spec. The vanilla engineer ended up being a bit of a disappointment for me by endgame, and the scrapper spec didn’t do much to help. The holosmith’s lightsaber sword proficiency and holoforge mode gives the engineer a fun, in-your-face type of gameplay that really resonates with me a lot more than swinging a giant wrench or lobbing grenades ever did.

It occurs to me that this expansion offers a lot of returns to the old, pre-HoT Guild Wars 2 formula. The map is so much easier to navigate (again, open, flat desert vs. layered, convoluted jungle), and the mob density/difficulty is a lot more similar to that of Central Tyria than that of the Heart of Maguuma. Similarly, hero challenges seem to be mostly designed such that an average solo player can complete them instead of most of them requiring two or more skilled players. In short, it feels like an expansion to the Guild Wars 2 from 2012, not the one from 2015. And I’m quite happy about that.

While I’m glad that the gameplay structure of pre-HoT Guild Wars 2 is back, I’m a little frustrated that some annoyances are not fixed yet. In typical ArenaNet fashion, characters are repeatedly introduced as if we should already know who they are. I really don’t get how this keeps being a problem. I can’t go into more detail because I marked this as spoiler-free, but maybe I’ll write up a little rant about it in a few weeks when the people who care about spoilers have seen everything. Also, mandatory reminder that people want new dungeons. Raids are fine, but we still want dungeons.

I also wanted to mention how impressed I am once again with ArenaNet’s management of the game. To my knowledge, the servers went down for a total of maybe half an hour over the course of the launch week. That’s really impressive for an MMO of Guild Wars 2’s size. There were some problems with individual maps, but they were limited in scope and even those didn’t last terribly long. There were a few patches from time to time, but Guild Wars 2 servers can run two versions simultaneously, meaning that it notifies you that a new version is available and gives you two hours to finish what you’re doing and log out to receive the patch. I was also amazed at the seeming lack of lag I experienced. The only reason I could even tell that the servers were under heavy load at all was the fact that it took a long time to log into the game a few times (I’m guessing I was in some kind of queue, because switching maps or instances didn’t take a long time, just the initial login). Launch wasn’t 100% perfect, but it has gone better than some games with much bigger budgets than Guild Wars, and I really appreciate it.
EDIT: Apparently there were some problems affecting Europe, but this launch still went smoother than many I’ve seen in the past.

Overall, I would say that Path of Fire has been the most fun I’ve had in Guild Wars 2 to date, which is saying a lot. Great job, ArenaNet!