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.

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ESO’s Lack of Stickiness

I’ve owned The Elder Scrolls Online for about two years now. It’s a really great game; its business model is one of my personal favorites–buy-to-play with an optional subscription that actually feels both worth it and truly optional at the same time–its graphics are beautiful, and, while I still prefer tab target MMOs, the gameplay has really grown on me. I recently decided to pass on the Summerset expansion (there’s plenty of this game I haven’t seen, and jewelry crafting and a new magic skill line aren’t enough to entice me), but I’ve had the itch to play again anyway. So why is it that, every time I try to come back, I never seem to stick around for more than a few weeks?

Depressingness
The first reason is one that I talked about recently: the game is super depressing. In pretty much every quest line, someone ends up dead and everyone is sad. In most MMOs when you hear “My husband is missing! Please find him!” he’s probably just been taken captive by brigands or something. Sure, every once in a while they’re dead, but in ESO you hear a quest like that and you just want to say “Sorry, but he’s probably been fed to demons or something. It’s probably for the best that you just forget about him,” and keep walking. It sounds heartless, but if you pursue the quest, the guy’s wife or kid or someone will probably end up getting themselves killed in a mad quest for vengeance. It’s a world I very much don’t want to live in, which doesn’t make me want to spend my free time there.

Nobody To Play With
I don’t have many friends who play MMOs right now (I had a few for a while, but between Fortnite: BR and real life stressors, not so much anymore), but none of them are in ESO right now. This game’s group content looks really fun to me, but with no friends to play with and really bad luck finding guilds that don’t fall apart within months, I haven’t gotten to see much of it. Also, with level scaling, at what level are you even useful in dungeons?

Lack of an Auction House
I’d really like to mess with this game’s housing and furniture crafting, but unless I want to decorate a hotel room (or at best a one bedroom apartment), I need a decent amount of gold to buy a house. And it’s really hard to make gold when you can’t sell to other players without joining a trade guild that has a vendor in a good city. And to get into one of those guilds, you have to pay a monthly tax or get booted. Given that I’m already not very consistent in playing, I doubt I’d last very long in one of those. I’m sure there are some out there without a tax, but, as I said before, I’ve had a hard enough time finding guilds that last that just to PvE content, let alone ones rich enough to have a trader.

The Usual Suspects
Then, of course, there are the usual reasons why I don’t last in an MMO: Things like all of the classes (and different ways to play those clsases) look fun, and I can’t get one leveled before getting distracted by something shinier. Also demotivating is inventory management. This game throws a lot of crafting materials and deconstructible gear at you, and bigger bags get expensive after a while (see above rant about money). Logging into a character with a full inventory and no quick way to dig it out is a sure way to get me to log out and play something else. And, of course, there are so many other things to play.

One of these days I’m hoping this game will click with me. It’s certainly been clicking for a the last few days, so hopefully that means something. If anyone knows of a good guild (preferably with a trader), let me know! That would definitely go a long way toward making this game stick.

Why Are Games So Depressing Lately?

The other day I was feeling kind of down–nothing major, just normal stressful life stuff–so I thought I’d jump on a few MMOs to escape reality for a bit. First I got on LotRO. I’m in Mordor and, well, it’s not exactly a cheery place, so that didn’t last long. So I logged off of that and thought I’d try Guild Wars 2. The character I’ve been running through the story on is just starting Orr… land of zombies, ruins, and undead dragon corruption. Not much better. The Elder Scrolls Online offered me a quest that involved a daughter murdering her father because he betrayed and murdered his son. Diablo III… well, everything’s depressing in Diablo, isn’t it?

I’m not looking for Rainbow Puppy Fun Times Online, but why does everything have to be so dark? There are even some games, like Secret World or Path of Exile, that I avoid completely because, while the gameplay sounds fun, one look at a screenshot or video is enough to tell me that I won’t last long because of the setting. So why do games get so depressing? I know I’m not the only one who has gotten burnt out on a game because they went from a starting zone that was colorful and cheery to one that was Fifty Shades of Brown. I think the idea is for the location to create a sense of desperate struggle against evil, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Guild Wars 2’s Path of Fire expansion has done a great job of telling a story of a desperate struggle in a place that is absolutely freaking beautiful. I used to log into Marvel Heroes at times like this. It was light and fun without involving much thought. But now that that’s gone I haven’t found anything else to fill that gap.

So what gives, game devs? Life is depressing enough as it is! Why do games have to bring me down too?

Do MMO Control Schemes Discourage Player Interaction?


It is widely agreed that MMO players are less social than they used to be. This is a very complicated issue, and people have suggested a lot of reasons. A common scapegoat is the advent of dungeon/raid finders, which disincentivize players from forming long term relationships in guilds and such. Some blame the casualization of the genre, with players pushing for systems that allow for fast and furious consumption of content, with no reason to slow down and talk to the other players around them. Most importantly, in my opinion, is that Internet culture has simply changed. It’s no longer novel to be talking to someone in another city, another state, or even another country while playing a video game like it was when I started playing MMOs in 2005. Of course, there are always those ever-present rose tinted glasses that players tend to wear when looking back on their early days in gaming.

Then a tweet from blogger (or, sadly, ex-blogger) Braxwolf, got me thinking:

My immediate reaction was that, while I think he’s correct in saying that this is a general trend in MMOs these days, I’ve had that same experience of people snubbing me in chat in Elder Scrolls Online more than in any other game I play. I think that this is, in part, due to the minimalistic UI that the Elder Scrolls series employs. It wasn’t too long ago that we didn’t even have nameplates above characters’ heads, and chat bubbles still don’t usually seem to work for me. It might also be that the players have hidden chat, either to increase immersion or block out whatever political flame war is going on at the moment. But for me, I think the biggest discouragement to interaction when playing ESO versus other MMOs is the control scheme, which is something I had never really thought about.

Back in 2005 and for many years thereafter, I played RuneScape extensively. For those not familiar with the game, it’s an oldschool style game that involves a lot of grinding out levels by clicking on stuff and watching while your character does some action repeatedly–chop a tree, harpoon for sharks, swing a sword, whatever–until the thing you were doing got used up/moved/died. I know that sounds terribly boring, and… well, quite honestly, it kind of was most of the time, but that’s what we did for fun back in my day and we liked it, dangit. But all of this waiting around while your character did stuff allowed for random conversations to pop up. Yes, the average age of the playerbase was probably barely in the teens at the time, so half the time you didn’t want to hear what was being said, but every so often you found someone really cool, added them to your friends list, and talked to them whenever you were bored with no one around. I made some of the best Internet friends this way, and I’m still really sad that I lost touch with some of them.

Later, games moved away from point-and-click controls to more WoW-style controls, and now we’re seeing more and more games (like ESO) with shooter-style action combat controls. In these games you can’t really type without bringing your gameplay to a grinding halt, or at best running the risk of autorunning off of a cliff. ESO takes this a step further, by enabling gamepad support. I’m not sure how many players use gamepads, but I know that if I was, there would have to be something really important to say to get me to put down my gamepad, reach over to my keyboard, type out my message, and then pick up my gamepad again. I’m certainly not going to hold a conversation going back and forth this way.

There are, of course, methods of interaction other than typing. Most notable is voice chat, which has become more accessible than ever with the advent of free platforms like Skype and Discord. But these communication methods are limited to persistent groups like guilds, not organically formed parties or random passersby, and they can be very finicky to set up. Honestly, I think it would be a huge turnoff to have voice chat enabled for just anyone, partly because I hate the sound of my own voice and want random Internet strangers to hear it as little as possible, but mainly because that would make the random obscenities and vitriol that so often crop up in zone chat all the more intrusive and draining.

I don’t really have a good solution for this problem. I don’t really want to go back to point-and-click games, but I think that modern controls schemes, along with all of the other factors mentioned at the opening of this post, have increasingly dragged down social interaction in MMOs. Is there a middle ground? A solution that wouldn’t just be annoying and inconvenient and simply push players away? Probably not. We’ll probably never be as social as we were back in the olden days, and that’s a reality that we’re just going to have to live with.

August in Screenshots

Sorry for being mostly absent during August. This was partly due to the fact that I was very restless in my MMO gaming time which meant that I messed around in a lot of games and didn’t get anything interesting or blogworthy accomplished, and partly due to the fact that I’ve been having that writer’s block/self confidence problem that I know writers much better than I struggle with as well. Anyways, I thought I’d catch you up on what I’ve been doing this month with a few screenshots.

The Elder Scrolls Online

I rolled a new warden. I’m not proud of it, but I did it. It’s mainly because I’m an altaholic, but also because I read about this cool ice-based magicka tank, and I wanted to try that out without respecing my stamina healing warden. Yes, I realize that I’m playing both of those roles with the stat opposite of what you would expect, but maybe that’s why the warden has clicked with me so much more than other classes in ESO.
Screenshot_20170803_233216While my first warden started out doing the Morrowind story, this one went through the main vanilla story. Because levels don’t really matter anymore, you can pretty much do it all as soon as you get to your faction’s first city where The Prophet is. I got all the way to the penultimate chapter by the time I was level 15 (apparently, even though it ignores level for the entire rest of the story, you can’t do the final chapter until you’re actually level capped), and I spent a few days doing that and a few other quests that interested me around Stonefalls, but, when it quickly became clear that my new tank warden was my new main, I decided it was time to start on Morrowind again. Some day I’ll go back and see all that the vanilla game has to offer, but right now I feel like I should experience the shiny new expansion zones while they’re still somewhat populated.

Guild Wars 2

Probably the most interesting thing about my August in Guild Wars 2 was also a new character. I, of course, preordered Guild Wars 2: Path of Fire. This time around, the more deluxier packages are actually really nice. I bought the cheapest Heart of Thorns package because nothing in the nicer packages were really that exciting (a mini, a PvP finisher, a guild hall decoration, and a lame glider skin… meh), but this time around, ArenaNet actually talked me into buying the deluxe package (Sunspear outfit, a character slot, a makeover kit, and one of those passes to one of those premium crafting area things they’ve been doing recently), and, of course, if you’re buying the deluxe package, you might as well drop the extra $25 to get $50 worth of gems in the ultimate package. I was planning on making a new mesmer anyway, because I really like the Heart of Thorns elite spec as well as what I’ve seen of the Path of Fire one. Couldn’t I have just switched back and forth for free? Absolutely, but I never turn down an excuse to make a new character, and if I didn’t make a new character, that level 80 boost would go to waste, so my new mesmer was born. His name is Random Axes Memory, which celebrates both my love of computers and my love of puns. The new Path of Fire elite spec, of course, gives mesmers access to axes, so I’m really banking on the fact that I’m going to like it, or this play on words would make no sense.
While Guild Wars 2 is in that pre-expansion holding pattern, I’m trying to turn some of that anticipation and impatience for expansion day (less than three weeks!) into motivation to finish finish up some things. First, I finally, for the first time, actually finished the Trahearne personal story chapters in Orr. That’s right, with all of my hundreds of hours in Guild Wars 2, I had never personally done the part of the story where you defeat your first elder dragon. And sure enough, it’s just as anticlimactic as everyone said it is. You don’t so much slay the dragon yourself as ride along while the airship does all the work. I’ve also put a lot of time in the Heart of Thorns zones getting hero points so I can hit the ground running in Path of Fire’s new elite specs. I’m getting really sick of these jungle zones, and I’m so ready for a big, new, wide-open desert to explore. I also put some time into the various betas that they’ve been doing recently, and I’m really excited to play the new story and elite specs. Mounts are going to be fun too! I’m probably looking forward to this expansion more than any other expansion I’ve played to date, and I’m sure I’ll have a lot to say come September 22nd.

Sonic Mania

Anyone who has known me for a long time knows that I’m a huge Sonic the Hedgehog fan. Modern Sonic games, however, have been hit-or-miss (mostly miss) and have generally failed to recapture the magic of the originals. I had a big post written up on how big game companies so often fail to realize what made their older games great, and how fans so often recognize it much more readily than the people who get paid the big bucks to design games, but it was really too big of an issue to tackle in a blog post, so I scrapped it (see opening paragraph). Anyways, along came a team of fans–headed by Christian “Taxman” Whitehead, whose claim to fame is that he wrote a a perfect, ground-up remake of the first level of Sonic CD in 60fps and widescreen for iOS, then got a cease and desist order from Sega, who then subsequently hired him to finish it. After doing a couple more iOS/Android remakes, they were then given the green light to make a (mostly) original Sonic game in the style of the classic Genesis games, called Sonic Mania. And the results are absolutely incredible. I haven’t been this excited for a Sonic game since I was a kid. I actually canceled my PC preorder because it got delayed and bought it on Nintendo Switch instead (honestly, though, the portability of the Switch is nice, and I can probably pick up the Steam version on sale a few years from now). The graphics are beautiful, the physics are perfect, and I couldn’t ask for a better soundtrack. I could probably gush about its perfection for a whole post, but no one is interested in reading it. Except for the Oil Ocean octopus boss, which is absolutely awful.

I also puttered around LotRO–my rune-keeper is still in Moria, and I’ve been tempted to bring my low level lore-master out of retirement, but I’m trying to resist that temptation–as well as Guild Wars 1–working on a Paragon to catch up on area lore for Path of Fire. I also gave Destiny 2 a try, and can’t say that I overly thrilled by it, but the beta was pretty limited. I might buy it on sale eventually, but it’s certainly not my next big thing. It did, however, remind me that I bought Mass Effect Andromeda at launch and barely played it due to some technical issues that are now fixed, so I’m back to playing that as well.

Anyways, here’s hoping that September brings lots of interesting new gaming experiences, and hopefully more frequent blog posts.

ESO: Morrowind First Impressions

I’ve never been a huge Elder Scrolls fan. I like in theory–huge, open world RPG, deep customization, great story, and an incredible soundtrack–but its setting is just such generic fantasy (Nordic people running around mountains shouting and slaying dragons… how original) with uninteresting combat, and perhaps a bit too much freedom to the point where you can really mess your character up if you don’t know what you’re doing. I thought Elder Scrolls Online was going to finally be my gateway to Nirn, but, while the gameplay was more to my liking, a few things never quite clicked for me.

Morrowind was marketed as a chance at a fresh start for the game; a new tutorial experience, a new class, and a new part of the world to explore. Any normal MMO would have called that an expansion, but apparently that’s not cool enough, so they’re calling this a new “chapter.” Whatever, everyone’s still going to think of it as an expansion, myself included. Anyways, a fresh start sounded like exactly what I needed in ESO, so I jumped in.

I really like the new warden class. The classes in ESO have never quite clicked for me, but the warden has a lot going for it. The bear pet has gotten a lot of attention, and that’s a great addition. The game sort of had a pet class in the sorcerer, but their pets were kind of underpowered, and, given the tiny hotbar ESO gives you, you were better off putting points into something else. The warden does pets much better, with the bear summon skill being slotted to the Ultimate slot, with a free, no cooldown, short cast time summon skill, which turns into a nice execute command for the bear once your ultimate meter is full. I also have access to a nice mix of DoTs, direct damage, heals, and crowd control, even from a low level. The warden is truly the jack-of-all-trades class they promised.

The story of Morrowind has really impressed me as well. Not that the base game’s story was bad by any means, but the expansion story has been more engaging so far. I’m usually not a big fan of elves, especially in the Elder Scrolls-verse, but the contrast of the Dark Elves’ Ashlander outcasts and various noble houses (I was super confused for a second when one of the Ashlanders referred to “House Elves” and my mind went instantly to Harry Potter) and their very different, but equally complex cultures. There was a quest in/around Balmora (the town in Morrowind, not that awful planet in SWTOR) that was quite the rollercoaster: family drama, betrayal, noble house strife, politics, and a lot of exposition of the Morag Tong, a group of honorable assassins (because nothing says “honorable” like a license to legally break in and murder someone without trial because somebody told you they were bad). I was half way through the quest line before I realized that this isn’t the main quest, it’s a random sidequest line. It has actually made leveling really slow, because I’ve spent so much time reading/listening to all of the quest text, and I’m totally ok with that.

I’ve always known that The Elder Scrolls Online would one day click with me, and finally, thanks to Morrowind, I think it finally is. I’m not sure it’s ever going to be my main MMO, but it certainly has me more excited to play than anything else I’ve done in the game up to this point. Next I’d really like to find a good guild and give some dungeon healing a shot, so if you know of any, let me know!

Looking Back At April, Ahead To May

April turned out to be a busy and stressful month for me, with a lot of short gaming sessions and not much worth writing about. Still, I covered a lot of ground, so I thought I’d check in with what I’ve been doing.

Master X Master
So this one was a surprise. I’m not really into MOBAs at all, and when I saw this title announced, I pretty much ignored it. It’s just NCsoft jumping on the bandwagon, right? Yawn. But, to prove the old adage that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, in the midst of the announcement of Statesman as a playable character, and the (predictable and wholly understandable) outrage that followed, I heard some people talking about how great its PvE game is. Bite-sized PvE dungeon runs with a wide variety of characters/classes? That I can get excited about. I felt a little bad for supporting a game that stomped all over what little hope there was for a City of Heroes revival (not that there was much hope to stomp on at this point), but I’m really glad I tried it. My favorite moment was running the Ascalonian Catacombs Dimensional Rift, which is surprisingly accurate to the Guild Wars 2 dungeon. I’ve never played any of NCsoft’s other games, so I can’t speak to the accuracy of the dungeons from their games, but this one really impressed me. I’m considering buying a founder’s pack, but we’ll see.

The Elder Scrolls Online
Apparently controversy has been following me around the MMOverse this month, because I managed to get back into ESO right as a big kerfuffle erupted involving a bunch of nerfs coming with the expansion, which many players believe are simply to prop up the new Warden class. I’m a super casual ESO player, so maybe I’d be more bothered by this if it was one of my main games, but it seems to me that this is mostly just MMO players complaining about MMO class balance. Nothing new to see here. Honestly, I’m not too worried about it; MMO class balance is always in flux. What’s good this month won’t be next month and vice versa. That’s the great thing about MMOs; there’s always a chance for studios to fix their mistakes (and make new ones). What is different about it is that, back in my day, players would go to the forums and throw a temper tantrum until they hit the post size limit, and the average person didn’t really notice unless they went to the forums looking for it. Nowadays, with the popularity and accessibility of streaming and YouTube videos, certain players have been given much higher visibility than they used to have (some of them were even promoted by Zenimax, according to someone in zone chat), and when those players ragequit, people notice.
Ironically, the classes getting hit hardest with the nerfbat are the healer templar and the stamina DPS nightblade, which are my two main characters, but I’m not worried because the Warden looks super fun and I would probably be dropping my current characters in favor of the Warden even if it was garbage. At the rate I progress through ESO content, there will probably be two or three balance patches before I get half way through the expansion anyway.

Lord of the Rings Online
I started out strong with LotRO in April, but ended up tapering off in favor of Elder Scrolls later in the month. Man, I forgot how clunky the Legendary Item system is. It’s a cool idea, but it doesn’t seem very well designed. I did make it back for some of the anniversary festivities. I’m too low level for most of the 10th year scavenger hunt stuff, but I did the usual firework launching and pub brawling activities. I’m excited that this year’s mount selection included a fast goat. I’m all set for Moria now!

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
I’ve been playing Zelda a lot lately, more than I expected. I “beat” the game (that is, finished the final boss), more because I didn’t want to go into it super overpowered than for the actual feeling of completion. I’ve continued to put a decent amount of time into it, and I’m still discovering new things. I know I’ve said it before, but I’m pretty sure this is my new favorite single player game from Nintendo. Yes, I think I even prefer it to Metroid Prime, which is saying something (though Metroid can feel free to take that title back any time now…).

Mass Effect Andromeda
I became a big Mass Effect fan fairly recently, and binged through the trilogy. I was pretty excited when Andromeda was announced, with its return to its RPG roots and more open, explorable maps, but it really hasn’t drawn me in. I like the game, but it just doesn’t grab me the way I thought it would. I don’t know if it’s the writing, or the design, or even just the awkward interface and longish load screens, but something about it just feels less engaging than the other games in the series. Granted, it took me a while to warm up to the beginning of some of the other games as well, so maybe I just need to push through, but so far I’ve put way less time in this game than I expected.

Plans for May
So that’s what I did in April. In May, I’d like to get more time in Elder Scrolls Online, hopefully getting a character to cap by the time Morrowind comes out. I’d also like to get some more time in LotRO, hopefully digging a little deeper into Moria (pun intended). Guild Wars 2 will certainly get some time as well, with the new Living World episode and accompanying zone to explore. Star Wars the Old Republic has been calling to me, as it often does when I play another BioWare game, but I’m more interested in playing through the story and then leaving than actually doing anything MMOish. I also just recently found out that OldSchool RuneScape is available to free players (it probably has been for a while, but when it launched it was originally going to be for subscribers only and didn’t realize that had changed), so I’ve been toying with the idea of giving that a try. Trying to go back to the live game is, for whatever reason, completely uninteresting to me, but going back to the game I knew and loved more than ten (!) years ago sounds appealing. I don’t know if I’ll ever sub up, but it would be fun to roam the world and noob it up for a while.