Three Features Every MMO Should Have: Guild Wars 2

Fear not, I haven’t forgotten my Three Features Every MMO Should Have series! I still have a few more games on my list. Here’s my current go-to, Guild Wars 2.

Weapons determine skills
So I’m supposed to believe that a warrior who has fought with a giant two handed sword his whole career will be able to pick up two hand axes and fight just as effectively with them? With the exact same techniques? Of course not. Every weapon your character picks up should make them fight differently. I wasn’t sure how to feel about this when I first played Guild Wars 2, but I’ve really come to like it. It doesn’t necessarily completely transform my character every time I switch weapons, but it lets me tailor my playstyle a little. For instance, I can decide if I want my necromancer to be more DoT focused or more AoE focused for a given situation by choosing Scepter/Dagger or Staff, respectively.
Lately a lot of MMOs have been taking the easy way out by allowing each class to use only one type of weapon, but that seems a little restrictive, especially since it means you can’t choose, for instance, between sword-and-board and a high DPS weapon.

Accessible quick travel
It has been said that the easiest way to tell if a game was designed around a subscription or a free-to-play/buy-to-play model is its travel. Sub games want to waste your time as much as possible to keep you subscribing as long as possible, whereas free to play games prefer that you connect for as short as possible to keep you coming back. Yes, subscription proponents will tell you it’s so you get a feel for the size of the world or something, but, sorry, I really don’t buy that. Quick travel has become increasingly common in our post-subscription genre, but not all quick travel systems are created equal. Guild Wars 2 has really nailed it with waypoints. There’s no cooldown (seriously, SWTOR? What’s the point of a 6 minute cooldown on quick travel? That’s an annoyance, not a design choice) and the cost to travel is quite reasonable, scaling with your level, and only about 2-3 silver to travel across most of the map at 80. Better yet, waypoints are free within cities. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in WildStar’s hub city Thayd and opened the map and tried to waypoint to another part of the city, only to realize I’m in the wrong game. Not only are waypoints incredibly convenient, but they’ve kept unlocking them from seeming like a chore by making them part of the leveling/mapping process.

Trading post anywhere
Guild Wars 2 is the only MMO I’ve played where I never run out of inventory space, and I’ve never even bothered to upgrade to the bags with the largest number of slots, or bought the cash shop extra bag unlock. Between deposit all materials and the ability to list stuff on the trading post from anywhere, I’ve never even been tempted to. The bank is another story, but they’ve got to make money somehow I guess. I’ve really been spoiled by this; in other MMOs I often end up just deconstructing or selling gear that I probably could have auctioned because I’m too lazy to haul it all the way back to the hub to sell it. Also nice is that sales never expire in Guild Wars 2, so you don’t have to relist items every forty eight hours like in a lot of games. This has the unfortunate side effect of burying your sale indefinitely if a bunch of people start selling the item cheaper than you, but it’s a lot more convenient to relist items when you think of it at a black lion trader instead of every time your auction timer expires.


Three Features Every MMO Should Have: Star Trek Online

This is a part of my Three Features Every MMO Should Have series.

Unique space combat
STO Space CombatI know, I know, every game can’t have space combat. What I mean here is that, in a genre where the best way to say what’s unique about a given MMO is to describe how its combat differs slightly from WoW, STO has come up with a completely different (if sometimes a little frustrating) combat system, that is, ship-to-ship space combat. It doesn’t mean you have to throw out traditional MMO combat, but it would be nice to have something different to break things up when combat gets monotonous. The only game I can think of off the top of my head that has done something like this is Star Wars: The Old Republic, albeit a little halfheartedly, with its starfighter combat. I say halfheartedly because SWTOR’s space combat is basically a minigame, but minigames with reasonable rewards are a welcome distraction in my book.

Character creator
Character CreatorI can safely say that Star Trek Online is the only MMO I’ve played where I’ve spent more time in the character creator than in PvE. With enough fiddling on the ridiculous number of face and body sliders, you can make your character look like just about anything you want, especially the design-your-own alien species. I’ve seen some really convincing characters, from various Doctors from Doctor Who to an excellent Na’vi from Avatar to a variety of recreated Star Trek characters, both human and alien. It’s unfortunate that there is a general lack of clothing options for the game. Yes, I get it, Starfleet et. al. are supposed to be military organizations, so realistically there should be one uniform for everyone, the only variance from person to person being maybe a recolor to identify your section, but that wouldn’t go down well in a video game. STO’s sister MMO, the now all-but-dead Champions Online, has a great variety of costume pieces for your superhero (most of the more interesting ones are, of course, locked in the cash shop), but, ironically, I’ve always felt like it could use a little more customization of your actual character. I guess they’re trying to limit your superheroes to human mutants only, but I’d love to play a more exotic-looking hero. Maybe their secret future project will be somewhere in between?

Optional shooter mode
STO ShooterTab target? Action Combat? Why not both? At launch, Star Trek Online’s ground combat was slow, boring, and a bit flaky, especially compared to space combat. Well, it’s still flaky, but when Cryptic overhauled the combat and added shooter mode in 2011 (was it really that long ago? I’m old), it made ground missions a lot more bearable. Since you really only have three weapon skills and a handfull of cooldowns anyway, shooter mode really doesn’t feel like a disadvantage most of the time. The best part is that it’s completely optional, and can be toggled on and off with a single keystroke. There’s even a small damage buff for using shooter mode versus tab targeting, since there’s a chance you can miss targets. I tend to do a lot of combat in shooter mode, then switch to MMO mode when I’m out of combat. It was a little weird when I briefly gave Cryptic’s other MMO, Neverwinter, a try and it was permanently locked in shooter mode. It was kind of a turnoff for me to be honest, but I’m sure there are lots of people who prefer it, and I imagine it makes things easier to develop with one combat mode instead of two.

Side note here: I picked the features I planned on talking about for each game before I even started this series, and, as if they read my mind (or at least my blog notes), Guild Wars 2 has recently announced a system very similar to this one that will be added as part of their Heart of Thorns expansion. I’m excited, because Guild Wars 2 has always seemed like the perfect game for this, since it’s always had something of an action combat flavor to it. Can’t wait to try it out this Friday!

Three Features Every MMO Should Have: Star Wars: The Old Republic

This is a part of my Three Features Every MMO Should Have series.
Well, that’s possibly the longest post title I’ve ever done. In keeping with my SWTOR post from yesterday, here’s three features from my latest obsession that every MMO should have.

Let’s be honest here; the lightsaber is the coolest weapon known to man. Followed closely by the double bladed lightsaber. What game wouldn’t be improved by a few glowstick swords? Search your feelings, you know it to be true.

Bounty Hunters
Because Boba Fett didn’t get enough screen time in the movies. Spamming missiles and flamethrowers FTW!

Ok I’m being a bit silly with this list. But let’s face it, the IP and storytelling are the only things that make SWTOR really stand out. Its combat is ripped straight out of WoW, and many of its other systems–player housing, PvP, group content, quest structure, even its F2P model–are just imitations of those of other games, ranging from passable to mediocre. I’m convinced that, if BioWare had decided to make a Dragon Age MMO instead of a Star Wars one, by now it would have been branded as a white noise, generic fantasy MMO with a some ambitious storytelling and character development ideas, and slowly slipped into obscurity. As a whole, it’s actually pretty fun, but if it weren’t Star Wars I’m sure I would have never played it.
So here’s my real three features from SWTOR that every MMO should have, all based around its story.

Class story
As I talked about last time, I recently subscribed to SWTOR for the class story XP boost, and playing them as a more cohesive whole has reinforced how well written the class stories in this game really are. Giving each class its own story was the best decision BioWare ever made when it comes to making SWTOR. Games like Guild Wars 2 do unique stories based on your race, which is the next best thing, and works for that world, but I prefer class stories and they definitely fit the Star Wars universe much better. SWTOR’s classes all represent people from very different walks of life whose archetypes are ripped straight out of the movies themselves. I’ve always felt like games like LotRO have had to water down their stories because every character plays the same story; the Lore Master never helps anyone out by sending a bird messenger to Gandalf, the Captain can rally exactly one soldier to help the Fellowship’s cause, and the Burglar does surprisingly little burgling. Every player just follows the same path with no mention of their individual talents. Not only does it make more story sense to personalize your story to your story to your particular character, it also makes me a lot more likely to roll a new character (not that I particularly need a good reason, but you get the idea). For instance, the Bounty Hunter class isn’t even that exciting to me at this point, but I’ve been enjoying playing mine because the story is good. I understand that a lot of games don’t have the budget to come up with class stories of the scope that SWTOR has, but if at all possible, it would make alt-lovers like me a lot happier.

Granted, the companions in SWTOR are not as developed as those of other BioWare games–I’ve recently been binge-playing the Mass Effect series and dabbling in Dragon Age Inquisition, and now I understand why people were so disappointed with SWTOR’s companions–but they sure beat anything I’ve found in any other MMO. It’s always fun when companions interject in conversations, either to affirm or admonish you for your chosen actions, or just to make a smart aleck remark on the side. Even more interesting are the companion missions. They range from a short conversation to a full-on quest chain. Gain enough affection points, and you can even get married to some of them. Obviously not every game has or should have companion characters, but this kind of supporting cast of recurring NPC characters goes a long way toward making me feel like the players’ characters aren’t the only sentient beings in the universe.

Forced roleplay
I’m not really in to RP. I know people who live for it, but I’m just not interested in playing a character in most game worlds. I’m not against it–it is called a Roleplaying Game after all, you should be free to roleplay as long as you don’t disrupt people’s gameplay–I’m just not generally into it. But somehow SWTOR, and BioWare games in general, have really gotten me sucked into getting inside my character’s head. BioWare’s genius is that they force you to decide as you go who your character is in every conversation. Is Shepherd a renegade or a paragon? Is the Inquisitor a Chantry loyalist? How far will your smuggler go to make a few extra credits? A lot of SWTOR players just play in such a way to get the maximum light/dark points, or maximum affection with their companion, but I’ve found it’s a lot more fun to pick one option or the other based on what I feel my character would do, regardless of the alignment gain. Besides, light side and dark side gear isn’t generally that exciting, and affection can usually be gained more efficiently through companion gifts.

Three Features Every MMO Should Have: Rift

This is a part of my Three Features Every MMO Should Have series.

Class customization, with premade classes
Rift, despite trying desperately to appeal to the ex-WoW crowd, doesn’t have traditional WoW-like classes, but instead has four (soon to be five) “callings,” and each of those callings has a number of different “souls” that determine your skill trees. In essence this allows you to make up your own class by choosing which trees you pick. This complexity would be a huge turnoff to me–after all, if there’s anything you shouldn’t overcomplicate, it’s the character creation process–except that Trion has taken the time to hand out a selection of premade classes, with a few even created by players. If you’re happy with your premade class, you can just keep hitting the auto-level button and it’ll put points where they matter most. Then, later, when you have a little more experience with the game, you can start tweaking. I think it’s a great idea; I can’t tell you how many classes I’ve played that have been almost perfect, but were missing that certain something. In Rift, you can simply swap out one of your souls until you find that something. It also happens to be a great cure for altaholism, as you can simply respec and get a fresh play style without having to reroll.

Instant Adventures
I didn’t play Rift for very long (as I recall my highest character is maybe level 25 at best), but when I did I played a lot in Instant Action, probably much to the dismay of my much higher level teammates. For those who haven’t played Rift, Instant Action is a system where the game throws you into a group with a bunch of people, dumps you into some random place, adjusts your level accordingly, and gives you a series of mini quests to do for rewards. The objectives are pretty simple–mostly kill 10 rats type quests–so it’s not like you need much coordination in your group. You can do this for as long or as short as you want, which is great since the game in general tends to be unfriendly to short play sessions.

Most MMOs these days have either a wardrobe feature or the ability to transmute/transmog gear to look how you want it to, but few of them do it as well as Rift. Every piece of gear you’ve equipped on any of your characters is automatically unlocked in the wardrobe. Simply choose your look from the list, dye it, and keep on questing. The best part is, there’s no fee for doing this, and dyes are one time buys for unlimited uses. Also nice is the fact that the armor class for the gear you’re showing doesn’t have to be the one for your class, so your mage can run around in full plate armor if you’d like. I’ve always wondered how much this is used in PvP to confuse people as to what calling you are, but with the game’s aforementioned customizable classes I’m not sure it mattered much what calling you were fighting anyway. Sadly, one of the reasons why Rift never stuck with me is because I didn’t care for the overall graphic aesthetic (especially the character models), and most of the gear I got looked really boring. To be fair, though, I was pretty low level when I got bored with the game, and all low level gear looks bad, right? It’s unfortunate to have a great wardrobe system trapped in a game that doesn’t deserve it, but at least if you do manage to find a piece of gear you like you can keep it.

Three Features Every MMO Should Have: WildStar

Today I’m starting a new series: Three Features Every MMO Should Have. It’s pretty self-explanatory; I take the top three unique features from each MMO I play (or have played in the past) that I wish would follow me to every game. For some games, it’s been hard to pick only three, and for others… well, you’ll know when I get there. I thought I’d kick things off with my latest obsession, the soon-to-be-F2P WildStar.

If you know anyone who plays WildStar, you probably knew this was coming. Given that this is a game that tried really hard to bill itself as the savior of hardcore raiding crowd, it’s a little odd to find that their housing system is perhaps the best casual, out of combat feature of any game on the market. There are other games that have housing, but I know of no other game that combines so much creative freedom with the wide variety of whimsical housing objects that WildStar has. Sometimes I log on just to visit random other peoples’ public houses and see what creative things they’ve done with their housing plots. Thus far my favorite is an Aurin who turned their “house” into a giant aquarium (underwater theme, a large glass pane in front of the door, aquitic-looking plants, and I think some kind of fish?) and had built a giant tree house in the forest of glowing trees outside. I know there are more elaborate houses out there, but for some reason it struck me as somewhere I would actually like to live, something that doesn’t happen for me in just any video game location. I wish I could say my housing plot was super awesome, but so far I don’t have tons of money to throw at housing, and the character that ended up being my main character (a human medic) isn’t an Architect by trade. I can’t wait to see what people with the significantly increased number of housing item slots coming with the massive patch accompanying the F2P transition.

Ronen_Zell.150806.230349This is an odd one, and it took me a while to put my finger on it. One of the things that makes WildStar feel so good is its sense of mobility. I’m not just talking about hoverboard mounts, though those are a joy to ride as well. I mean that, in general, moving my character around the world feels very fluid and natural. This is surprisingly hard to get right in an MMO, especially with varying character model sizes that all need to run at the same speed, but it’s absolutely crucial in a game with very active, mobile combat like WildStar. It’s also not just about running around; it’s surprising how much the double jump adds to the game. Seriously, Guild Wars 2, you need to get on that. It would make your all-too-frequent jumping puzzles much more enjoyable. And then there’s sections of the game with low gravity. Forget flying mounts; I’d rather jump a hundred feet in the air between floating bits of rock.

Nameplate icons for kill quests
nameplate iconsFile this one under “why the heck didn’t someone do this sooner?” WildStar puts an icon next to the names of enemies you need to kill for quests. No more guessing if this is the particular brand of rat you’re supposed to kill for your “kill 5 rats” quest. There’s even another icon for things you need to kill for challenges. It seems like a really small quality of life thing, but it’s the one I would gladly take with me to other games over the other two on this list, possibly more than any other feature in subsequent lists. If clicking quests in the quest log didn’t put an arrow over your head that points you in the direction of the quest (feature every MMO should have number four, but that’s cheating), I probably wouldn’t ever need the quest log, because my targets are obvious just from looking at them.