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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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.

How To Ensure I Never Come Back To Your MMO

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 MMOs I Wish I Was Playing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.