I Miss WildStar

I’ve never missed a game so much as WildStar. I’ve never experienced the shutdown of one of my MMOs, as players of Star Wars Galaxies, City of Heroes, and others have, but WildStar is probably the closest thing. It still runs, but the population is severely declined, and updates have slowed to a snoglug’s pace. Worse than that, my guild disbanded, and there isn’t a lot to do at endgame without a group. I’m tempted to go back for the new Homecoming patch that updates housing and adds group plots (a feature that I thought was supposed to launch with the F2P transition two years ago?), but I doubt that alone will keep me in the game. There really isn’t a whole lot out there that captures WildStar’s combat, visual style, or housing system, and I really wish it was found in a game with more active development and community.

The game isn’t without hope, though. Bree pointed out in last week’s MassivelyOP Podcast that everyone knows at this point that this game is a lot smaller than it was originally designed to be, and if NCSoft was going to pull the plug on it based on that, they would have done it by now. It makes sense to me; as long as the game is staying in the black, it’s not like it’s costing them anything to keep the game running and staffed with a skeleton crew. There are probably a lot of MMOs out there surviving on smaller communities than WildStar’s; it’s all a matter of how niche you want to be. But, this is NCSoft we’re talking about, the company that killed City of Heroes for less, so some fears were reasonable, but I think NCSoft learned their lesson from that incident. Americans want their MMOs, even niche MMOs, to be more or less permanent, and if you take them away prematurely, they will not simply move on to one of your other games as they seemed to expect. Many players would rather boycott your company rather than get attached to one of your other games only to have it pulled out from under them, as many have done. Better to keep the game plodding along than take the PR hit of shutting it down.

Sadly, this pang of nostalgia for WildStar comes right before the launch of Guild Wars 2: Path of Fire, and I know that I’m going to be playing that pretty much non-stop for at least the next couple of weeks. Still, I keep WildStar installed on my computer, and I hope to come back and visit soon. I just joined a new multi-game guild that apparently has a WildStar chapter, so hopefully when I’m past my 30 day trial period and can join multiple chapters, I can get back into it.

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WildStar: Where It All Went Wrong For Me


I count WildStar among my favorite MMOs. The combat is fun, the housing is great, the setting and lore are original and different, I run around in a Samus costume on a DeLorean hoverboard, what’s not to love? And yet I haven’t played regularly for months, and that really saddens me. I recently went back for the free level 50 character, and it got me thinking about just where it all went wrong.

The biggest reason why I quit playing was that my guild broke up. There was no drama, we just had trouble getting critical mass for raids, and the two main leaders really wanted to raid, so they left, and from there it just kind of fell apart. While I’m glad it didn’t go up in smoke and petty bickering, it was no less sad, since I really liked a lot of the people in the guild, who have now gone in a bunch of different directions. This isn’t the game’s fault, but it was probably the biggest reason why I left.

Closely related to that is the fact that there isn’t a whole lot to do after you reach endgame if you don’t have a guild. This problem isn’t unique to WildStar–some might say that it’s inherent to all MMOs to some degree–but even most of the dailies require some sort of group content (dungeons, adventures, shiphands, etc.). Arcterra requires only small groups of people, so at least you can usually do the easy dailies there with only a few random people you bump into during peak hours. Even housing is easier if you have a guild, since a lot of the nicer stuff costs prestige (which can be obtained from a variety of sources, but group content dispenses it the fastest), and raid gear is where the real money is in the game. I’m sure I’ll find a new guild sooner or later, but I’ve always hated guild shopping.

Massively OP’s Eliot recently visited WildStar for the site’s Choose My Adventure series. In his wrap-up post, he made the comment that, “in many ways, when I write about WildStar now, I’m still writing about the launch version of the game.” While he goes on to say some things I don’t agree with, this line really struck me as exactly the problem. There are a lot of little annoyances and bugs that have been in the game since I played it in beta and are still there almost three years later. Sometimes I can’t right-click on a quest on my tracker, and I have to click a bunch of other things to get away from it. Sometimes tooltips get stuck on. Certain mobs reset if you pull them a few feet away from where they spawn. That dumb DDR minigame in Thayd that you can only complete once and it will never let you back on. None of these are big issues–if I had to choose one or the other, I’d rather have more content than have these small annoyances fixed–but it still hurts the overall experience.

Overall, I think WildStar is a great game that started out with some missteps that could have been corrected, but sadly Carbine never managed to turn the Titanic. A lot of that had to do with lack of funding, some of it seems to have been the fault of a studio that was not designed to be agile and responsive to change. I don’t want the negative tone of this post to come across the wrong way. I think the negativity surrounding the game also plays a large part in my lack of attention to it. I love WildStar. If it wasn’t such an incredibly fun game, this post wouldn’t exist; the answer for where it all went wrong would be that the game was lame, and that’s not worth writing about. I really want to go back to WildStar and see it succeed and keep cranking out content for years to come. I don’t know if that will happen, but hopefully my boosted level 50 warrior will be the incentive I need to get back into the game.

An Ode to High Skill Ceilings

areluin-48I miss the days when MMOs created classes that had high skill ceilings. By that I mean classes where your success or failure actually hinges on how well you can play your class. This is why I love my rune-keeper in Lord of the Rings Online; depending on how well I’m playing that day, I can take on four or five things my level at once, or die after a single one-to-one fight. Like in chess, I have to think several moves ahead, about how long I can keep throwing DoTs before I switch to putting bubbles and HoTs on myself before switching back to damage. When it works out, it’s the best feeling on Middle-Earth. When it doesn’t, I have no one to blame but myself, and I’m ok with that. Somehow the knowledge that I couldn’t have possibly beaten an encounter because of my class and level makes the game feel scripted and robs it of some of its fun. Both rune-keepers and wardens are looked down upon by some players as “bad” classes, but I’ve seen people do some amazing things with both. It’s not the class that’s bad, it’s that it’s less forgiving to bad players. Sure, we need both–everyone has to start somewhere–but I love when I find a class that allows me to solo group quests, but doesn’t feel overpowered because I had to work for that win.

The worst case is when the skill required to do well is high, but the game doesn’t reward players for it. For instance, I remember when Star Wars the Old Republic’s Shadow/Assassin class could out-tank any other class if the player knew what they were doing. Their rotation was complex, with a lot of defensive cooldowns to make up for their light armor, but it was totally worth it to learn. Sadly, from what I’ve heard from current players, they’re only a shadow of their former selves (pun totally intended) in that respect. They can still tank, but at the end of the day they don’t make better tanks than the Knight or Vanguard, who have to do only a fraction of the work to accomplish the same thing.

Sadly, it seems like many newer games tend to have lower and lower skill ceilings. Some would say it’s because the genre is being slowly dumbed down and casual-ified, and, while there’s some truth to that, I would argue that it has more to do with balance. It’s much easier to balance classes that have a pretty low skill ceiling, because you’re fairly safe in assuming that everyone is going to be playing at or near that ceiling. Also, your testers don’t have to be experts in every class to get an accurate picture of how it will play in the hands of players, just average. I really like WildStar’s solution to this. In WildStar, classes are fairly simple, but player skill is still a huge part of doing well, because you’re constantly moving and dodging red telegraphs while making sure you’re pointed at whatever you’re currently attacking/healing.

2017 Predictions, Hopes, and Resolutions

Well, here we are, another trip around the sun and the world hasn’t exploded, civilization as we know it hasn’t come to an end, and the MMO industry hasn’t completely evaporated. I know 2016 was getting a lot of hate, but as for me, I had a pretty good year. And I think the gaming industry–especially the MMO industry–had a pretty good year as well. I thought I’d use the first post of the year to talk about what my predictions and hopes are for next year, and what would a New Year’s post be without resolutions?

Predictions

A New Guild Wars 2 Expansion
This isn’t much of a prediction; we’ve heard very strong rumblings of a new expansion to Guild Wars 2 set in an area from Guild Wars 1. Sadly, I haven’t played much of the original Guild Wars, so I have no specific predictions there, but it seems reasonable given the direction the living world story is going. I predict that it will include a new class, probably something revived from Guild Wars 1, and a new zone that’s less vertical/gliding-focused (and, by extension, hopefully less awful to navigate). As much as I’d like to see a new race, I don’t think that will ever happen; it would be a lot of work to fit them into the existing storyline. I don’t think raids are going away, but I think we’ll also see a couple of new dungeons in 2017. I could be totally wrong on this one, but I think the community hasn’t been as thrilled about raids as ArenaNet thought, and I think they’ll finally break down and give us some new dungeons.

WildStar Sunsets Near the End of the Year
It really saddens me to make this prediction because I love Wildstar, I love its combat, I love its setting, and I love its housing, but I just don’t see WildStar lasting much longer. What’s worse is that it becomes kind of a self fulfilling prophecy; everyone keeps saying it’s dying, and nobody want to get invested in a game that’s going to shut down in six months, so no new players come in, and the game shuts down. But hey, it’s possible that it’ll just downsize and put content out more slowly than before and keep on keeping on for years to come. I really hope so. Only time will tell.

LotRO and DDO Flourish Under New Management
Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons & Dragons Online recently went indie with developer Standing Stone studios. While the fact that they’re being published by Daybreak isn’t exactly comforting, as Daybreak has been making some weird decisions ever since it changed hands from SOE, not the least of which was the media silence and eventual demise of EverQuest Next, I think the fact that Standing Stone was willing to pick up development of the games says a lot about its future. I’ve popped my head into LotRO a few times over the last few days, and the community seems cautiously optimistic. I’ve talked to a few long-time players that say that the game was better when Turbine was indie, and hope that this is a return to that standard. It seems like the excitement is even bringing some past players back, which is always a good sign.

Kickstarter Falls Out of Favor
To say that 2016 was not kind to kickstarters would be like saying that a few celebrities died in 2016. Mighty No. 9 was a colossal failure, VR was (predictably) not as game-changing as Oculus et al. claimed it would be, the Pebble smartwatch sold out to Fitbit and canceled most of its Pebble 2 preorders, John Smedley’s Hero’s Song failed it meet its Kickstarter goal and then closed its doors just after Christmas, a variety of kickstarted MMOs suffered from setbacks, delays, and disillusioned backers, and that’s just to name the ones I was following. I think people are starting to realize that making a video game is a very expensive endeavor, and that maybe paying for it before it’s even produced isn’t the best way to motivate inexperienced developers to release a quality product. I really like the idea of crowdfunding, but I’m going to need a lot of convincing before I back anything else.

Hopes

A Strong, Traditional, Western MMORPG Appears
It doesn’t have to come out in 2017, but we really need an announcement of something to fill the void that EverQuest Next left. I’ve played EQ2 for maybe a couple hours total, and even I was extremely disappointed in EQN’s cancellation. I’m not saying that if one of these games doesn’t materialize in 2017 the entire MMO industry will be doomed to stagnation and death, I’m just hoping for this because I enjoy playing new and different MMORPGs. All of the scrappy Kickstarted indie MMOs floating around out there are nice, but I don’t know if they’re going to have the presence, impact, and drawing power that EQN would have had. I think we need a big AAA studio to come out and make a statement that, scoff all you want, but there’s still lots of money to be made in MMOs, and plenty of life left in the formula.

SWTOR’s F2P Gets Better
Star Wars the Old Republic has always had one of the most restrictive free-to-play options. I know of no other game where you have to pay to hide your head slot or have enough hotbars just to have access to all of your skills. But with the addition of the Galactic Command and the removal of weekly content passes, they’re basically telling free players not to plan on doing any endgame without subscribing. I was really hoping that SWTOR’s business model would get less restrictive over time, not more. I’m really hoping that there’s enough negative feedback that at least some of it gets reevaluated, but I’m not holding my breath.

Resolutions

Play More Mobile Games… While Exercising!
I have a desk job, and my MMO hobby isn’t exactly the most active one, so my wife and I have been looking at putting our Christmas money toward an elliptical, and I really like the idea of motivating myself to exercise by finding a game that I only play while I work out. I’ll probably be looking for something turn-based like Hearthstone or the various Final Fantasy games available on Android, so if you have any suggestions, let me know.

Spend Less On Steam, More On MMOs
I have over 350 games on Steam right now, and I’ve only finished a handful of them. Generally, the average Steam game I buy gets played for a couple of hours at most, yet I’ve spent countless hours this year playing MMOs. Why, then, do I tend to spend way more money on single-player games than on MMOs? I want to make a conscious effort to spend less on Steam and more on the MMOs I play. I just wish MMO cash shops had as many sales as Steam does.

I’ll pull this post back out a year from now and see how I did on everything. Happy new year, everyone!

My End Goals in Various MMOs

I’ve been playing a good amount of Star Wars the Old Republic lately. I’ve been meaning to get back in and see the last couple of expansions’ stories if nothing else, and Dark vs. Light gave me incentive to do that. Then recent announcements about changes to endgame that basically say that they don’t want my money unless I subscribe (cliffnotes version: no engame gear for F2P players, F2P players can no longer buy weekly passes for dungeons, raids, PvP, etc.) had me ready to ragequit, but, when I thought about it, I realized that I have literally never done a raid in SWTOR, and it’s been years since I did a dungeon with anything other than a PUG. Sure, this means that I will never expand beyond this kind of occasional, casual play that means I will give them little to no money, but still, it doesn’t mean much for the way I play right now. This got me thinking about what I really want out of my MMOs. The answer I came up with was that every game’s end goal was unique. Here are a few, in no particular order.

Star Wars the Old Republic
Since we’re on the subject of SWTOR, let’s start here. Since BioWare has basically told me the only thing I can do as a free to play player is story, that’s all I’m likely to be playing. After all, it’s what BioWare is best at, and what their focus has been on for a while now. If I skipped this expansion it wouldn’t be the first, but Knights of the Fallen Empire has me interested, so I’ll probably stick around at least enough to see the story once. I bought a couple of character slots while they were on sale, so I’ve been playing some vanilla content I’ve never seen before along with the newer stuff, which has been fun. It’s not likely to keep me in the game for long, but it’s fun for now.

Guild Wars 2
I created a new guild with some friends, and, in the first couple of weeks, the eight of us have done more as a guild than I (and several others) had done with their much larger guilds. This, combined with running the Halloween event (I finally got the Hexed outfit!), has, strangely enough, renewed my interest in the game. I’m looking to get enough hero points to finish off my elite spec on a couple of my favorite characters (necro is mostly done, working on my revenant now, as well as my healing ranger a little) and I’ve been running dungeons with friends more often. I’ve somehow never done fractals, so I’m looking to do that soon. Maybe even get into some raids eventually?

Rift
I like Rift, and I finally have a couple of characters that I like, but I’m still not sure what my goals are for this game. I’m certainly not playing it for the story, and I’m not sure I’m dedicated enough to want to get into endgame dungeons or raiding. I guess I’m just playing for the sake of a new game to level in? Nothing wrong with that, I guess.

WildStar
I actually have a decently geared Esper healer, and I was signed up to go raiding with my guild shortly before they fell apart. Finding a new guild has severely decreased my interest in playing, which is sad because WildStar remains one of my favorite MMOs, and it needs all the players it can get right now. The death of my guild has, however, freed me up to finally check out the opposite faction. I’ve been slowly but surely leveling a Dominion engineer, which has been a fun experience. I may have to level one on the Exile side when I’m done. I like the Exile faction a lot better in general, but man, their capital city is a dump. The one for the Dominion is so much prettier.

Elder Scrolls Online
This one is almost the same story as Rift. The story is a little more interesting, but I don’t have any clear goals, and the angst that comes with building a new character is paralyzing. I decided to put this one on the shelf until One Tamriel came out, but now that’s here and I haven’t decided on a character to play.

Lord of the Rings Online
Really, all I want is to simply walk into Mordor.
Seriously, though, my only goal is to see all of the world/story content in this game. I keep getting right up to the gates of Moria and stalling out. The rune-keeper class really clicked with me, and I want to get back to this one as soon as possible.

Is It Possible To Balance Melee and Ranged Classes?

It’s a perennial problem for MMOs: either melee classes have the advantage or ranged ones do. In WildStar, the constant moving and dodging out of red means ranged classes have an advantage simply because they can keep attacking while they move. In older MMOs like Lord of the Rings Online, where most of the ranged classes are rooted casters and most of the melee classes have a lot of instant casts, melee classes have the edge. From what I’ve heard about SWTOR, it seems that they’ve recently swung the pendulum; melee classes have always had more DPS/tanking potential, but many of the recent dungeon and raid bosses have included mechanics that require melee classes to move back to avoid massive damage, thus limiting their output. Maybe it’s just me, but I find that I do better with melee classes in games with action combat like Elder Scrolls Online because I’m more likely to miss with ranged attacks. Sure, this isn’t really a balance issue so much as a “stop failing” issue, and probably less of an issue in dungeons where, if it’s anything like every other MMO I’ve played, most bosses are the size of a small house, but still, this is a genre where people create massive spreadsheets of damage output to determine the META, and I’ve seen people literally complaining that one race or faction has an “advantage” over the others because their casting animation is a little more subtle.

The best solution I’ve seen to this problem is in Guild Wars 2’s, where most classes can be either melee or ranged depending on what weapon you’re holding. This allows the developers a lot of freedom when designing fights because everyone should be able to step back and hit things from range at least sometimes. Unfortunately, it also means that you really have to have at least one ranged weapon set to be viable most of the time, which is annoying because there are many classes that have two melee sets that I like (for instance, Revenant’s Mace/Axe and Sword/Shield). Couldn’t I have a whole bunch of weapon sets like Guild Wars 1?

So what do you think? Is it possible to truly balance these two class styles? Have you played any MMOs with any clever ways of bringing these two class types into balance?

WildStar: The Joy of Esping

Coming soon to theaters: Disney and Wildstar’s new movie, Occasional Hero 6

Ever pick up a class in an MMO and it instantly just feels right for you? That was how it was when I played the medic for the first time. Nice big AoEDOTs, responsive attacks, and good burst healing for when things get rough. Then there are other classes that you hate at first, but then you give them another chance and fall in love. That’s how the esper has been. Espers have a combo mechanic similar to the medic’s (except that the medic’s actuators reset to full while out of combat and not zero like the esper’s psi points), but the main combo point builder for esper is a smallish line attack that doesn’t do much damage and takes about half a second to cast, meaning you spend 2.5 seconds building a full combo before you can do one big numbers hit. That is, at least, until you unlock a few more skills. As I did, I realized that there are a few cooldowns that build combo points more quickly, and from there things started to fall into place. I’ve also come to find the cast time on the main combo builder to be a blessing, because, being a line AoE, position is everything if you want to hit more than one target, and it gives me a half a second of telegraph visibility to move into place. It also helps me make sure I’m lined up for a couple of instant cast skills (reap and mind burst) that have similar hitboxes. I’m pretty happy with my hotbar loadout as well, with a nice mix of cooldowns and sustained DPS abilities.

One of the things I’m always surprised about is just how much survivability healers have in WildStar. As someone who prefers playing healers, I’m used to being at best a glass cannon and at worst a cloth-clad squishy rooted to one spot that practically needs a tank just to level. In WildStar, however, I feel like, between the mobility of casters and accessibility of self-heals, healers can really hold their own in solo combat. On my esper, I have two HoTs slotted, one that’s just a simple cast-it-and-forget-it, and one that’s an AoE that I can put around a target that damages enemies and heals allies, which is a really neat ability, especially for a game with a limited hotbar.

Overall, my esper is shaping up to be a lot of fun. Leveling is going a lot faster this time around–as it usually does the second time around–and I’m over 30 after just a couple weeks. I’m hoping to cobble together a set of support gear and try healing some dungeons soon, so wish me luck!

While we’re on the subject of WildStar, I wanted to say that I’m deeply saddened by the news of massive layoffs at WildStar’s studio Carbine this weekend. I hope that these talented people can land somewhere else quickly. I usually try to be optimistic about this kind of thing, but I can’t imagine how this can realistically signal anything better than maintenance mode going forward. It really is a tragedy, for my fellow players who love this amazing game, yes, but even more so for all of the people involved in its production.