Is World of Warcraft Worth Starting In 2018?

I’ve played just about every major MMO you can name, but I’ve never seriously played World of Warcraft. While I’ve watched it from the outside for years, the extent of my first hand experience is that I did the free trial for a couple of nights when one of my friends was thinking of going back, but he didn’t end up sticking around and neither did I. Now several of my other friends have jumped on the Battle for Azeroth bandwagon, and I’m starting to toy with the idea again.

Part of my hesitation is that I also recently went back to Old School RuneScape. It’s pretty ironic, because that was the MMO that we all used to play together, and one by one they all left me to play WoW, while I stayed behind on (the much cheaper) RuneScape. I’m really enjoying my time in RuneScape, but as I walk around, I can’t help but think about how awful this game would be for a newcomer. There are so many archaic systems that just aren’t well thought out or are intentionally designed to slow down progress or are just plain hard to understand, I can’t imagine playing this for more than a few hours before giving up, logging out, and never coming back. I enjoy this game more because of nostalgia, and less for the game itself. (To be completely fair to RuneScape, there are some really great things to do buried in there, but there’s a crap ton of grinding before you get to that, and past that is basically just more grinding)
How does all of this relate to WoW? I’m wondering how much my friends who make their periodical return to Azeroth are also riding on nostalgia, and how much the game experience really is superior. I know RuneScape and WoW are two very different games, but the juxtaposition of my friends’ nostalgia and my own is difficult to ignore.

My other concern is that I’m already so far behind, will I catch up and be able to play with them by the time they get bored and move on to something else? Because if I’m not going to play with them, I might as well keep playing other games that I know I’ll like. 120 is a lot of levels, and they actually somewhat know what they’re doing and where they’re going. I guess I could buy a booster, but that’s more money to spend. Maybe the new and controversial level scaling would make playing with them actually viable? I’ll have to look into that.

Finally, I’ve already touched on this, but is the game really worth subscribing to? They’ve gotten rid of the initial box fee, so there’s that barrier gone (not that it was much of a barrier anyway; I used to see it go on sale all the time for less than the cost of the first month sub it came with). I’ve heard the argument that, if it’s got so many players and it’s basically the only game to still have a mandatory sub then it must be worth it, but personally I’ve always thought that WoW has survived the way it has because of pure momentum. It was in the right place at the right time; it took the EverQuest model and made it more accessible and polished, and it got tons of players who never quite went away. But hey, I haven’t played it extensively, so what do I know.

So I’m throwing the question out to the Internets: Is it worth my time to start World of Warcraft as a brand new player in 2018?


MMO Living Conditions, Ranked Worst To Best

A while back, my wife and I got into this anime called Log Horizon that involves thousands players getting trapped in an MMO world. Not in a virtual reality way, but actually physically there, having to work out how to navigate the intricacies and politics of a world where former players are apparently immortal. Since then, we’ve often joked about what it would be like to wake up one day in the various games that we play. Here are a few of the games that I play or have played over the years, ranked based on how much I would or would not want to live in them.

Tamriel (Elder Scrolls Online)
This game has finally clicked with me and I’ve been enjoying playing it a lot lately, but there’s no way I’d want to live here. There’s a three-faction war on, yes, but that’s the least of our worries in this world. Crime is rampant, everyone is racist, and daedra are constantly causing terrible things to happen all over the place. At least two thirds of quest stories end depressingly, usually involving people ending up dead. And can you imagine living in Vulkhel Guard with dark anchors dropping from the sky every five minutes about a hundred yards from the city gate? Sure, adventurers love killing the daedra there for the experience, but what happens if they don’t show up one day?

The Star Wars Galaxy (Star Wars The Old Republic)
There are a lot of cool places to live in the Star Wars ‘verse, there’s a hyperdrive-equipped spaceship in every driveway, and the prospect of having force powers is tempting, but in the time of the old republic, you’ve got about a 50/50 shot of living in the not-so-bad Republic, or on a world dominated by the Sith, or, perhaps worse, some Hutt gang. And then there’s the whole thing with the Eternal Empire coming through and wiping everyone out with superweapons. Given the choice, I’ll pass on this one.

Gielinor (RuneScape)
Life in RuneScape is pretty simple. For the most part, catastrophically bad things tend to only happen when you go looking for trouble, and there’s no shortage of ways to earn gold for those willing to do a little menial labor. Even basic housing is pretty cheap! The only reason it doesn’t rank higher is because, quite frankly, it’s one of the least exciting MMOs I’ve ever played. It’s about as safe as real life because it feels a lot like real life, just with the occasional fireball thrown in.

Tyria (Guild Wars (2))
All things considered, life isn’t too bad in Tyria. Sure, there’s the threat of elder dragon attack, but cities (other than poor Lion’s Arch) seem relatively safe, and travel is fast and easy (and cheap!). Also, anything you need help with, from your livestock getting loose to a bandit raid to a mordrem invasion, you can pretty much just yell and adventurers will wander by and help you.

Nexus (WildStar)
Aside from the fact that this world is about to cease to exist, Nexus seems like a pretty cool place to live. Sure, there’s the constant threat of random faction violence, becoming a Strain mutant, and danger from all manor of weird alien life forms. I’m not saying it’s safer than any of the other worlds on this list. But there are hoverboards. And space ships. And giant plots of land in the sky that you can get for free! What more could you ask for?

Middle-Earth (Lord of the Rings Online)
Middle-Earth has its fair share of places that would be terrible to live (forget orcs, I can think of way too many places infested by giant spiders), but for every one of those, there’s a place like the Shire, or Bree-town, or Rivendell (which, while beautiful, is infested by elves, who are almost as bad as the spiders). Pretty much everywhere is beautiful, apart from Mordor and Angmar and maybe a few other places, and most of the free peoples are pretty friendly and helpful.

WildStar and the Futility of Online Gaming

Well, it’s not a surprise. I honestly expected it a long time ago. But there it is. WildStar is officially sunsetting. I adored this game. I loved the colorfulness, the characters, the story, the world, the freedom of movement, the classes. It had the best housing. It had the amazing combat. It had an incredible soundtrack. It had the my favorite mounts (I’ll miss you most of all, DeLorean hoverboard). But the game launched far too focused on ultra hardcore endgame raiding, and, while it had so much else going for it, it couldn’t turn the Titanic away from that iceberg. I think they tried, but the damage was done, both because they had built a team of people who didn’t know how to do anything else, and because their public perception was irreparably damaged. I want so badly for this game to get saved and rebooted by a different team, but I know it’s not going to happen.

At least we saw this one coming a little more than Marvel Heroes. But losing the two of them within a year of each other has had me thinking a lot of depressing, “all is vanity” type thoughts about playing MMOs.
XKCD 1136
All MMOs will shut down. It’s hard to imagine popular games like Elder Scrolls Online or the unstoppable juggernaut that is World of Warcraft suffering the same fate as WildStar, but realistically, this will happen sooner or later. It’s ironic, because one of the reasons why I like MMOs is because I feel like my achievements mean something. In a normal RPG, I get to the end and that’s it. Your character lives happily ever after and has no more adventures for the rest of their days (unless they show up in a sequel having inexplicably leveled back down to 1 from level atrophy or something). In an MMO, my character lives on indefinitely and continues doing bigger and better things. Until the game goes dark. I can always dust off the SNES and go for a Hyrule nostalgia tour around Zelda: Link to the Past (or, better yet, play it in one of the numerous more modern formats it has been released on), but how many 27-year-old MMOs will we be able to pull off the shelf and play again? The answer is we don’t know yet because the genre isn’t that old, but I doubt it will be many. How many more decades can Ultima Online have left in it? Or Everquest? Or Eve? In some ways, as long as people keep showing up with money, you might as well continue development, or at least keep the servers on, but on the other hand, from a business standpoint, it’s an opportunity cost. If they’re investing X dollars over here and getting a 10% return and X dollars over there and getting a 200% return, they’re both making money, but which one do you think they’re going to invest more in? That’s what happened to City of Heroes (which, ironically, many people believe was killed to fund WildStar). Sooner or later it’s going to happen to every online game.

But, you know what? Gaming ultimately isn’t about permanence or achievement for me. It’s about having fun. I had a ton of fun in WildStar, throwing psi-blades at alien robots, stealthing around and slicing up strain-infected wildlife with Wolverine claws, and putting on laser light shows that heal my friends. I met some cool people, none of whom I talk to anymore, sure, but I still remember their names and their characters and their voices. I built cool houses (nowhere near as cool as some people’s, but I enjoyed them). I spent a lot of time zooming around Nexus on hoverboards just for the fun of it (have I mentioned how much I love hoverboards?). I took a lot of screenshots.
I got a lot of memories out of it.
So in a way, even when they shut down, MMOs are still permanent in the ways that matter.

Old School RuneScape Mobile

I’ve been playing RuneScape on a device that fits in my pocket. We are officially in the future.

As you may remember from past posts on the subject, RuneScape was my first MMO back in 2005. I played it for about five or six years, subscribing for most of that time. I was lured away by various other, newer MMOs and when I returned, the game was so different that it just wan’t appealing to me. So when they announced Old School, I was interested, and I would dabble in it from time to time. Since Old School characters are separate from those in the main game, I had to start all over, which is fun, but loses some of its charm when you’re remembering all the things you used to be able to do, and realize that it will probably take you years to get back to that point. Then they announced Old School for Mobile, and I was very interested. I’ve been thinking for years that RuneScape would be great on mobile with only minimal tweaking. It’s already point-and-click, with low-end graphics that theoretically shouldn’t burden even a relatively cheaper a phone.

Old School RuneScape Mobile recently went into beta/early access/soft launch/whatever we’re calling it these days. Currently it’s only available to subscribers on Android, though it’s supposed to be available to everyone October 30th. Fortunately, Twitch Prime offered a free month of subscription (plus purple skin, just in case you want to look like Thanos’s blockier little brother). I’ve been impressed with how well it plays on my phone. I don’t have an Android tablet (yet? This might finally convince me I need one), and sometimes games are a little cramped on a smaller screen. RuneScape, however, was originally designed to be played in a browser on a 1024×768 monitor, so it’s no stranger to small screen spaces. Also, the UI has been redesigned to collapse into the edges of the screen, so you don’t have to try to navigate around the inventory and chat box if you’re not using them. The game’s overall slow pace helps a lot as well. Inventory management is a little hard, since fingers are imprecise, but it’s far from the worst mobile user experience I’ve had.

My only complaint is battery consumption. I generally burn through at least 50% of my battery just playing on my lunch hour. This isn’t really surprising–most 3D games, especially online ones, are about the same–but it’s something I’d like to see them work on if possible. It has been pretty kind to my data plan, though, which surprised me (I don’t have access to reliable wifi at my desk).

It has been fun getting to know this game again on mobile. While I’m at my PC, I want a full PC experience, but this is something I can do in my down time while I’m at work or out and about. Between this, Maplestory, and Final Fantasy XI (that’s still supposedly coming to mobile, right?), it makes me wonder what other older MMOs would work on mobile. I’d love to give Guild Wars 1 a try on mobile!

Elder Scrolls: Legends is Better Than Hearthstone

I don’t always play CCGs, but when I do, I play Elder Scrolls: Legends.

I recently got a new job (that I like a lot!) that’s far enough away that I can no longer run home for lunch and maybe a little gaming, as I’ve been doing for years now, so I’ve started playing phone games a lot on my lunch breaks. I wanted something I could play in a short time, but something more stimulating than the fluff I normally associate with phone games. Collectible card games seemed to fit the bill. The collectible/trading card game genre isn’t my favorite, but I don’t hate it either. I never got into physical card games, but when they first started coming to PC and mobile I dabbled in them a little. I’ve put the most time into Hearthstone, Blizzard’s Warcraft-themed entry. I enjoyed it for a while (though at first I wasn’t sure) for an occasional game here and there. Then I quit playing because–and this is a dumb reason, I admit–the release cadence was too fast. I know anyone who plays a lot probably loves the constant stream of updates and new cards to mess around with, but I just found it annoying that my cards were being invalidated three or four times a year, either because they weren’t “in season” or because of power creep. Plus I felt like the good cards I was getting were always spread out over multiple classes, so I only ever had one or two good really cards for each, with no good “main” deck. I’m not sure if they do that on purpose to encourage playing a variety of decks or if it was just bad RNG. Either way, I didn’t stick around long.

Then I tried Elder Scrolls: Legends. It was the same concept as Hearthstone, some would say a blatant ripoff (Bethesda claims that they started work on the game before Hearthstone was even announced, so there’s that, but I’d bet that it at least had some influence on later development), but it’s got its own unique twists. The CCG genre is one that I think has plenty of potential for unique iteration, unlike other games whose wannabe competitors pop up like weeds and then shut down a few months later because there’s nothing unique about them, like MOBAs and Battle Royales. Legends’ most obvious difference is that it has two “lanes,” and cards can’t attack across lanes. All cards played in the right lane start out stealthed, so they generally can’t be attacked until a turn later, but cards in the left lane do not. This alone adds a layer of strategy that makes it more fun and interesting than Hearthstone.

Also interesting is that you can create decks from two different “classes,” or stats (three with certain cards from the Morrowind expansion). This allows for much more deck variety, and mitigates the disappointment when you get a good card that’s locked behind a class you don’t like or have nothing else good in. It’s also not as overwhelming as games that have no classes and just dump all of the cards on you with no indication as to which ones synergize well.

Finally, as I talked about earlier, I never liked Hearthstone’s revolving door of deprecated cards. It just feels like they’re trying to get you to constantly buy card packs. In Legends, I’m far from having every card, but I feel like I have plenty of good cards to choose from, but there are enough that I still enjoy getting new ones from doing daily quests and such. So far they haven’t removed any cards from ranked play, though I recognize that that can only last so long.

I wouldn’t say that the game is perfect, however. Probably my biggest annoyance is that arenas cost gold to enter. I played this mode a lot in Hearthstone, because I didn’t need to have good cards, I just had to be lucky enough to pick good random ones. You can win your 150 gold back (and more) fairly quickly, but that’s basically gambling, and I’m sure I’ve lost more gold that way than I’ve won. I also feel like the Warcraft ‘verse makes for a more interesting TCG than Elder Scrolls, even if I’m a little less familiar with it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like either game is reaching for ideas to make cards out of, but the colorful, sometimes goofy characters of Azeroth just feel better to me as cards. Maybe that’s just me.

Bethesda recently announced that they would be switching developers for Elder Scrolls: Legends from Dire Wolf Digital to Sparkypants Studios (with a name like that, you know they’re professionals). It could be great, but will likely mean some kind of a shift in the way the game works, which is always a little worrying. But Bethesda generally knows what they’re doing, so we’ll see. The game definitely has plenty of room for improvement; I’m a pretty casual player, so I can’t speak to balance, but the game takes forever to load, be that on PC or mobile, and if you disconnect for even a moment you have to reload the whole game before you get back into your match, which means you basically lose a whole turn and a lot of time. So if they can fix things like that, I’ll be happy.

So there you have it, that’s why I prefer Elder Scrolls: Legends over Hearthstone. Feel free to tell me why I’m wrong in the comments!

Things I Want From A Torchlight MMO

This past week Perfect World Entertainment announced Torchlight Frontiers, an MMO based on the “it’s like Diablo but with color” Torchlight franchise, and I can’t wait to try it. I really miss Marvel Heroes, which you’re probably tired of hearing about by now (and if not, you’re in luck, because I’m going to talk about it some more today!), and there isn’t really anything to fill that gap. It seems like Torchlight Frontiers will be exactly that thing. After all, when it first came out, I was excited about Marvel Heroes less because of the Marvel license (I credit that game with making me care about that particular franchise, because prior to playing it I had seen maybe half of the MCU movies, if that) and more because it looked like an online version of Torchlight II. Since the announcement, I’ve been daydreaming about what I want to see from this title. Here’s my list:

Both Premade and Procedural Content
One of the great things about Torchlight and Torchlight II is the fact that, every time you play, it’s a different experience because of the randomly generated levels. I’ve always thought procedural generation would make leveling multiple characters in an MMO a lot more interesting, so I’d love to see that integrated into Torchlight Frontiers. That said, it’s a lot easier to tell a story in premade locations, so I hope they go for a mix of the two.

Something To Do With All That Loot
The joy and the curse of ARPGs is loot. It’s a great feeling when you finish off a boss and it explodes in a shower of armor, weapons, and coins all over your screen, but, sadly, most of that loot isn’t going to be useful to anyone. Torchlight has a nice system for dumping useless junk into your pet’s inventory and sending them off to town to vendor it, but it would be cool if there was something more we could do with it. Deconstructing for crafting materials is the first thing that comes to mind, but Torchlight doesn’t traditionally have crafting, so we’re not sure what form, if any, that will take in Frontiers. Maybe donating it to vendors for upgraded stock or fusing it into socketable ember pieces?

One of the things I miss the most about Marvel Heroes is the summoner playstyle. It’s not something you see in a lot of MMOs, probably due to system resources, for both players and the server, but OARPGs seem to be able to pull this off. I loved controlling an army of squirrels as Squirrel Girl, building turrets everywhere as Rocket Raccoon, or beaming in hordes of robots as Ultron. There’s something satisfying about overwhelming your opponent with superior numbers. Torchlight’s Alchemist had this in the form of Nether Imps and alchemical golems, and there were various spells that any class could buy to summon zombies and skeletons. I’d love to see this playstyle return for Torchlight Frontiers.

Class Variety
Not to keep bringing up Marvel Heroes, but one of the best things about that game was that there were so many characters to play. I don’t expect there to be fifty-something classes in Torchlight Frontiers like in Marvel Heroes, but I’d like to see more than three or four, if not at launch then a couple years down the road. Gameplay variety is the thing that keeps me coming back to games like this.

A Decent Business Model
Read the comments on any article on the announcement of this game, and you’ll mostly see varying degrees of skepticism (if not outright hatred) of Torchlight’s owner/publisher Perfect World Entertainment. PWE is known in the MMO community for being the king of lockboxes. If you’ve ever played Neverwinter or Star Trek Online you know what I’m talking about. Every other drop gives you a lockbox to clog up your inventory, with keys to open them only available in the cash shop. It’s a really annoying business tactic, the video game equivalent of popup ads, but one that I guess I could put up with if the game was good enough. After all, if you want to draw a hard line against playing games with gambleboxes, your options are sadly few and far between these days. That said, I’d really rather they went with more of a buy-to-play model with microtransactions for actual content.

Even though we don’t have a whole lot of information right now, I’m really excited for this game. I had given up hope of ever seeing this when Torchlight’s studio Runic announced they were closing, but in retrospect, that was just making way for this (probably to give PWE more direct input on the game, for better or for worse). I’m especially excited that it’s slated to come to mobile, as I’ve always thought Diablo-like games could be really fun on mobile, but most of the ones I’ve found are poorly translated Korean grinders. I have high hopes for this game, hopefully I’m not disappointed!

My Essential ESO Addons and Settings

I recently got my wife and some friends into Elder Scrolls Online, and was struck by just how much work it is to get the game to play the way I feel it should as a long-time MMO player. Here’s a list of addons I install and settings I set for every new computer/character, roughly in order of importance to me. Hopefully it will help some other players get into the game more easily.

Ok, this isn’t a addon, it’s a addon manager from Let’s face it, as great as they are, keeping track of mods and addons is a pain, especially in a game that updates every few weeks. Minion makes getting and updating addons easy. You don’t have to hunt around for your addon folder or fiddle with unzipping addons in just the right place. Just open Minion, search for what you want, and click Install. If the game is open, just type /reloadui and your shiny new addon will show up instantly. All of the links I’ve provided below can also be downloaded through Minion.

In my opinion, every MMORPG, if not every open world RPG online or not, needs a minimap. I understand the arguments against it–it’s screen clutter, immersion breaking, just use the compass, etc.–but it just makes navigating so much easier. If I don’t have a minimap, I’m going to find a way to get one modded in. I’m still amazed there’s no official option for this.
My wife tried ESO several times before it clicked with her, and she just told me the other day that she thinks the main reason it worked out this time was that she installed the minimap addon.

Quest Tracker
It’s a minor annoyance when Lord of the Rings Online only allows five quests on its tracker, but it’s understandable. It’s a holdover from a bygone era when screens were smaller with a lot fewer pixels. But when a game launches in 2014 with only the ability to track one quest a time? That’s just unacceptable. It’s made even worse by the fact that the compass icon for an untracked quest is the same as that of a quest you haven’t picked up.

Show Buffs & Debuffs
Settings>Combat>Buffs & Debuffs
This should have been in there at launch, but at least we finally have it now, even if it is off by default. I think they thought they could get by without it, putting indicators on character models to show that they have buffs or debuffs, but when you’re running around in a dungeon there’s too much visual clutter to see if an enemy has bleed particles or if your character is glowing in all the right ways.

Another feature that was finally added officially (again, defaulting to off) that I’ve never understood how they launched without. It’s usually easy enough to tell which characters are NPCs and which are players (just look for the ones trying to jump their way over a fence, and failing), but I like to know who characters are without having to point at them. Plus I like to see the clever character names that people come up with.

Show Ability Bar
Settings>Combat>Heads-Up Display
I’m an altaholic, so when I log into a character I don’t always remember where all of my skills are. Some people prefer to remove the screen clutter when not in combat, but I like the comfort of being able to see my skills at any time.

Prevent Attacking Innocents
So, on my very first character, I was doing to main quest in Vulkhel Guard, running errands for some evil elves who were trying to be subtle about their evilness (and failing). One part of the quest involves searching a warehouse and being jumped by a random assassin (I still don’t quite get why, but whatever). The assassin died from a DoT, right as I was about to release a fully charged bow attack. The arrow fired just as the guy died, and because video game physics are weird, the arrow flew right through his collapsing corpse and hit some unsuspecting dock worker right behind him, one-shotting him. And, because video game ethics are also weird, while everyone would have been totally fine with my killing the assassin in the street in broad daylight, and wouldn’t have intervened to help me, killing the random dock worker caused me to get zerg rushed by every guard in the town.
And that was the day that I discovered the Prevent Attacking Innocents option.

So, there’s a whole category of items that are just vendor trash. There’s a way to mark items as junk and hide them from your normal inventory. Why not automatically mark junk items as junk, and sell them automatically when you visit a vendor? Dustman does just that. It also has a lot of settings to fiddle with, so if you want to to automatically trash ornate or white items, you can have it do that too.

One of my favorite things about ESO is that it encourages exploration through meaningful rewards. One of the most useful rewards, at least while you’re leveling, is skyshards. Collect three and you get a skillpoint for relatively little effort. But sometimes you’ve had enough exploring for the time being and just want to take the quickest leveling path possible. That’s what the Skyshards addon is for.
The same goes for lorebooks and the Mage’s Guild line. I actually usually disable lorebooks just because there are so many of them it makes the map cluttered and hard to navigate, but I leave it installed in case I want to powerlevel Mage’s Guild. Also, as any Elder Scrolls lore fan will tell you, all of the lore books are very well written, so if you like to take reading breaks between monster killings, this addon is for you.

Remap Dodge
Controls>Standard Keybinds>General>Roll Dodge
Double tap to dodge is fine, but sometimes the extra few milliseconds it takes to press a key a second time is the difference between dodging out of the red and being a daedra snack. I usually bind this to middle click, since it’s easy to access.

I have a few other addons installed, like a addon to gridify my inventory, add a GW2-style /wiki command, or prevent accidental stealing, but those are more about preference and I wouldn’t call them “essential.” I’m sure there are lots of other cool addons out there I haven’t discovered. Let me know in the comments what your favorite addons are!