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!

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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.

December Adventures

To no one’s surprise, my December ended up being busy, and, while I got a respectable amount of gaming time in, I never got the time and/or inspiration to write about any of it before the new year, so I’ll dive right in and catch you up on what I’ve been up to.

House 2The biggest news from WildStar is that I finally hit 50 with my medic. I really love the way the medic plays as a DPS, and I’m in the process of piecing together the beginnings of a healing set. I’m hoping to start running veteran shiphands and dungeons with my guild soon, but I’m not promising I won’t get distracted by something else. I like the fact that, when you reach the cap, your XP doesn’t just disappear, giving you no reason to continue with content after hitting 50, but goes toward earning Elder Gems. I guess Guild Wars 2 has a similar system in Soul Shards, but the rewards for Elder Gems seem more worth my time.
I also took a little time out to get a couple of characters up to 14 so I can have some extra housing plots to mess around with, as well as scouting out a potential alt (Spellslinger? Engineer? Warrior? None of them are jumping out at me yet, which bodes well for my medic). My main character’s housing plot (pictured above) is desert themed, featuring scattered scrubby plants, a rowsdower farm (filled with plushie rowsdowers and rowsdower statues, since I don’t think you can get real ones), and even a crashed UFO. While I really like my house, it kind of rules out a lot of decor options. The first of my two new plots is going to be winter/ice themed. I say “going to be” because so far all it has is a few snow-covered rocks and the wintersday sky from the cash shop (which is beautiful, by the way). I’m holding off on dropping the 2 plat (ugh) for the snow-covered ground until my medic is a little more financially stable, and without that it loses a lot of its effect. The other plot is a bit of a hodgepodge at the moment. It’s where I dumped all of my space ship parts from the event they ran a while back, and I’m hoping to take that theme and run with it. It’s my engineer’s plot, so I’m hoping to make a kind of garage for ship building and repairs, which also happens to make it a great place to put all of my crafting and gathering stations. I’ll be sure to post some screenshots if/when they are a little more interesting.

HoT JungleI’ve been making my way through the jungles of Heart of Thorns with my revenant, slowly but surely. I won’t spoil anything, but the story is starting to take some interesting turns. My wife is working on a revenant of her own now, and I’m a bit torn as to which class to work on with her. The druid elite spec looks really fun, but I’m a little burnt out on the vanilla ranger. The thief’s daredevil elite spec also looks fun, but I’m not really sure if it’s my style. Then there’s my warrior, who I really like, but the Berserker elite spec doesn’t really interested me, though to be honest I haven’t seen many (any?) in action and never messed with one in the beta, so maybe it’s better than I think. I could, of course, also bring along one of my 80s for the sake of masteries and some much-needed hero points. So far I’ve spent a lot of time jumping around between all of the above, not making any significant progress on any of them.

One day I got a random craving for a superhero MMO. Marvel Heroes satisfies this craving most of the time, but I like the creative aspect of inventing my own hero instead of playing one Stan Lee invented fifty-some years ago. I never got to play the much-loved City of Heroes for more than an hour or two at a friend’s house, and every once in a while I get vicarious nostalgia for it just from reading fans’ reminiscences. So I loaded up both Champions Online and DC Universe Online and played both for about half an hour before remembering why I never played much of both and uninstalling them. It’s really too bad, because I really like the idea of a game where everyone can run around (or fly around, as the case may be) in tights and capes with campy names flinging all manner of superpowered attacks around. How is it that City of Heroes was so well loved, yet no one has really filled its void? I know there is a variety of revivals and spiritual successors in the works, but all of them still seem quite a ways from completion despite being in production for some time.

As far as non-MMOs go, I picked up Shovel Knight on the Wii U eShop. Normally I prefer PC versions of games, but it seemed wrong to buy a game like this that’s a love letter to Mega Man and Zelda 2 on anything other than a Nintendo console. Also the Wii U’s touch screen allows you to switch magic weapons without pausing, which is as close to a good a use for the tablet as any. It’s wonderfully weird and the levels are beautifully crafted; I highly recommend it.
I picked up Ark: Survival Evolved on the Steam Christmas sale. I think I’ll save this one for its own post, but for now I’ll say that I haven’t punched this many trees since the first time I played Minecraft.

So that’s what I’ve been up to for the last few weeks. With the Holidays over with my life should be a little more normal, so I should be back to more frequent updates soon. Happy new year everyone!

WildStar Events

Hoverboard RaceAs if to make up for the fact that WildStar hasn’t had a single holiday event in its nearly one and a half years of existence, WildStar is currently running not only its Shade’s Eve Halloween event, but also a Back to the Future themed hoverboard racing event.

I’ll start with the Halloween event. I guess I’m not really that big into Halloween. I mean, I’m looking forward to dressing up in my new Jedi robe and custom lightsaber (both of which I spent way too much money on), but other than that the whole thing is not that exciting to me. So when a game like WildStar gives me outfits out housing decorations that I can really only use in October without them looking out of place, I’m not as thrilled as other times. Christmas stuff I can at least put up in a winter/arctic themed house, or costumes on a character who’s supposed to be in or from a cold place, but I’ve never been tempted to make my character live in a haunted house or a graveyard. That would be depressing, and I don’t think of any of my characters as moping around in a ruined gothic cathedral when I’m logged out. It makes me appreciate games like LOTRO, who comes up with items that don’t look obviously halloween-ish. For instance, my theif wore that Mask of the Raven forever, and I loved the Cloak of Falling Leaves and used it on several characters. I’m sure there are plenty of people that are excited about WildStar’s Halloween giveaways, I’m just not one of them.

Uninviting rewards aside, I did enjoy the holiday dungeon. The maze section was a little bit frustrating, especially the first time, but fortunately they eventually just show you the way out if it takes you too long (and yes, I know from experience). The whole thing has a uniquely WildStar feel to it; the maze and its flickering flashlight and the insane cultists were both very mature horror themes, but Jack Shade and the shadelings that pop up everywhere were so goofy and over-the-top it dispelled any real fear. It was a good call to not only make it an Adventure instance (formerly known as shiphands) that scales to fit parties of one to five players, but also bump all players to 50. I hate it when events like this end up either being something that has no actual combat, which makes them seem disconnected from the rest of the game, or has combat that higher level players just roflstomp all over, while us mid level players have to slog our way through.

Apart from the dungeon is a variety of dailies that take place around your capital city, which hit a good middle ground between giving you something to do and just being a chore. My favorite is one that has you collecting floating plant fibers that turn you temporarily translucent.

WARNING NO ROADSAs for the hoverboard races, I really like what they’ve done with them. Games like LOTRO and Guild Wars 2 have done races before, but usually end up feeling a lot more awkward and gimmicky than what WildStar has put together. And the “WARNING: NO ROADS” notification that pops up when you hit a big jump is just awesome. I love the Back to the Future cosmetics and housing decor; you will definitely be seeing burning tire tracks if you visit my housing plot. It’s surprising how many games did homages to the Back to the Future hoverboard on October 21st. WildStar was unsurprising (they gave away a McFly-style hoverboard as a beta test reward, so we knew they were fans), and I guess Secret World isn’t terribly surprising given its modern setting and its recent inclusion of other, similar mounts, but Star Trek Online came as a surprise (a shame you can only use them on Risa).

DeLorean Hoverboard
I snapped up the limited edition DeLorean hoverboard from the cash shop as soon as it was released. It’s pretty disappointing that, given its $15 price tag, it’s not an account wide unlock, especially since they’re saying they have no plans to ever bring it back. I actually thought maybe it was a typo, but alas it was not. I don’t feel bad about it, though, because I’ve had a lot more fun in WildStar’s free to play in the last few weeks than in a lot of games I’ve sunk a lot more money into, so it’s worth splurging on a cool cosmetic, especially one as awesome as a DeLorean hoverboard.

Subscription Guilt

I’ve just remembered why I don’t subscribe to MMOs anymore. I feel a sense of guilt for not playing Star Wars: The Old Republic, which I am currently subscribed to (technically my subscription is canceled, but I have the better part of a month left). I haven’t played Marvel Heroes as much as I’d like to lately, and my Guild Wars 2 guild probably thinks I’ve fallen off the face of Tyria. There are also, of course, a number of non-MMO games that I’ve wanted to play, like last weekend’s beta of Star Wars Battlefront (not to be confused with the 2004 game Star Wars: Battlefront), which, incidentally may break my general apathy toward shooters. Playing those games isn’t as fun right now because I have the swiftly approaching deadline of Knights of the Fallen Empire hanging over my head, and with it the end of the 12x XP bonus that I subscribed for. I’m really in love with the newly-F2P WildStar right now, so I’ve actually been playing that a lot, but every time I launch the game, the SWTOR icon right next to it calls out reminding me that I have less than a week to get my characters to 50, or they’ll have to go back to the normal leveling slog that I’ve had to do in the past. I keep consoling myself with the fact that I’ll be getting a free insta-60 token at the expansion launch, but I really want to wrap up a couple of the class stories before the deadline.

My normal philosophy when it comes to games is that you should play the thing you get the most fun out of at the moment. It’s a game. If it’s not fun, it has no purpose. There’s a certain amount of deferring fun for the promise of future fun that I can stand, but I have a lot less patience for that in a game than, I don’t know, real life. But on the other hand, I paid $15 for a month of SWTOR game time, and if I don’t play during that time, I’m essentially throwing away a chunk of my limited gaming budget for the month. WildStar isn’t going anywhere any time soon. In fact, if I wait a couple weeks there will probably be less random lag.

And the thing is, it’s not that I’m not having fun when I log into SWTOR. I still want to play it, it’s just that WildStar is more shiny right now. And in a few weeks, Guild Wars 2’s expansion will be more interesting than that. That’s just the way things work, and it’s frustrating that, so often, they all hit at the same time. There just aren’t enough hours in the day for gaming.