September Gaming Goal: Chasing the Doomboard

The Secret World, Hell

Hell has such a fascinating story in TSW. Demons are misunderstood, and Angels are far from heavenly.

Do we really *want* the items that are proferred to us in MMOs? Or just the ability to pursue them?

The thought struck me as I finished up yet another losing El Dorado PvP match in The Secret World. I haven’t won a single match playing El Dorado yet. It’s a faction based, collect and hold items sort of PvP match. In all the matches I’ve played so far, the Illuminati haven’t won a single one. But at least I was able to check off another daily challenge. And that’s all that matters in the special item-of-the-month chase this time around.

That item is the Doomboard, a Hell-themed hoverboard mount. Is my character really that “Hell” themed? Not really. I don’t even think it looks that great. But… it’s an item to chase, and I do love The Secret World. So why not chase it? The chance to chase limited-time items isn’t one that comes around often in TSW, and any reason to play TSW is a good reason.

Secret World, Illuminati, Fusang Projects

Illuminati defending the Center Facility in Fusang Projects

The worst part is, though, I don’t even *like* PvP. I’m not a competitive person and beating my fellow players isn’t something I would actively seek out. But then again, grouping up with them isn’t something I’ve necessarily enjoyed, either. I’ll do it periodically, just to check out some content I’ve never seen, but grouping for dungeons in MMOs I’ve found is just as competitive as PvP, if not more so. Sure, you’re all after the same target and same goal, but gear discrepancies, different builds, or experience will still separate you into the gaming haves and have-nots. And some players will go out of their way to tell you how much they think you’re a “have-not”. Social PvP, if you will.

To get the Doomboard, though, PvP and Dungeon running are a must. So I’m heading outside my comfort zone and trying new modes of play, just as the developers intended. I’m all up for trying new things, and now I have some nice self-made-builds for when I head down into PvP or dungeons, so there is that. And I’m getting nice chunks of reward to keep making gear progress, so there is that as well.

Secret World, Shambala, PvP

Tried out Shambala for the first time, too. With a win, no less.

The next-to-worst part, though, is that I may not even get it. Because of my reluctance and inexperience in the highest levels of running dungeons and content, I can still only complete just a few challenges a day, which puts me at an uncomfortable amount of playtime to get the remaining challenges completed. But dang it if I still won’t try, comfort zones be damned.

If we all stayed inside our comfort zones, how would we ever grow?

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ArcheAge Noob Closed Beta Impressions

ArcheAge, Firran

Recently I have found myself quite interested in the upcoming Trion title ArcheAge. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why. ArcheAge is an Asian-inspired fantasy sandbox title where player vs player combat is the norm coupled with a full player-driven crafting economy. MMO purists should be rejoicing, for those that constantly complain about the “downfall” of MMOs and the “dirty casuals” that infect the genre, this is a title that actively promotes their preferred style of play.

Believe it or not, I don’t subscribe to that ancient style of thinking. I take no joy in slaying other live players, or the imaginary competition of loot races, I’m not a fan of PvP. I’m also not a fan of crafting, either, as most crafting systems entail as much entertainment as watching grass grow. I get more enjoyment standing in front of my sink, instead of a crafting station, cleaning dishes for 20 minutes. That at least nets me clean dishes, something a lot more valuable to me than digital ingots.

Yet it’s the pureness of the concept, the overwhelming statement of “this is not the game for you” that is quite tempting. It’s a challenge and feels like the perfect chance to test whether this MMO style really is for me or not. Plus, it’s always good to try new things. So, ArcheAge beckons.

I didn’t pay for it, though. Despite the overwhelming prevalence these days of paid alphas and betas and the ridiculous prices thereof, there were plenty of free beta keys to go around. With that in hand I set the 20+ GB download to start and promptly went and played Marvel Heroes for a while. Don’t look at me like that. Marvel Heroes has come a long way since it started and is really a fun dungeon brawler! Nightcrawler is a freaking blast to play. About 2 hours of downloading ArcheAge later, though, I was able to get in.

ArcheAge, Firran

Sure, this is a “water buffalo”… I guess…

Why is it in Beta, anyway?

First, I get it. This game doesn’t actually need testing. It’s been released in Japan for the past year, and Korea for the past year and a half. So this whole beta is nothing more than a sales ploy. At most, Trion is testing for translation accuracy and different cultural metrics so they can accurately determine prices for cash-shop items for the NA/European audience. That’s cool, though, and they’d be fools to not take advantage of the hype and make boatloads of money while they’re testing. In that effect, charging for alpha/beta makes sense. At least the game is polished and playable, which is a lot more than I can say for most paid betas.

Logging in, I created my first character, a Charr Caitian Firran. As in most fantasy, the choice was elves, humans, other humans, and cat people. Throw in a short race, and you could have the lineup for every other fantasy game. Oh, wait… that’s being planned. I opted for the non-boring race that wasn’t aligned with those dirty elves. Some pretty great cutscenes followed, describing how the Firran were a nomadic race, how they were at war with the “other humans” and beat them but then became lazy and then got beat themselves, and how they were once more on the cultural upswing. Sweet. In fact, all the cutscenes were pretty sweet. Nice art style and good exposition that wasn’t useless or felt out-of-place.

ArcheAge, Firran

Now THAT’s a moon.

We Heard You Liked Punctuation…

I approached my first NPC, I saw it, and I sighed heavily: A giant yellow exclamation point. This again? Could be me, could be that I’m getting old, but the yellow exclamation point has been done to death. They told me some short statement and sent me along the road to the next hub. Here, same, and they sent me to the next hub, and to the next hub, and to the next hub. Go kill 10 rats, then come back here so I can send you to the next hub. This is one of the many reasons I don’t play World of Warcraft anymore. This style of gameplay was popular and novel over a decade ago. It’s lame. We haven’t grown out of it yet? At least cover it up better to make it not FEEL like hub-jumping.

I know, though, that the whole point of ArcheAge isn’t the story. So these hubs just give brief exposition, a little cultural identity and send you forward, ever forward, sometimes without much sense, and very quickly. At the end of my session I was already level 10, and had been through 6 different quest hubs.

This is by far not the meat of ArcheAge. Sad thing was, though, this wasn’t even a real taste. If you want your whole game to be based around crafting, trade and PvP, then, I don’t know, why not have that from the very beginning? Why start with Game A and then slowly merge into Game B? If people are coming for Game B, then give them Game B! Why have them slog through Game A first, especially a really terrible, half-assed Game A?

ArcheAge, Firran

So. Darn. Cute.

But, Wait! It’s not All Question Marks! 

There were some really great novel concepts, though, that were shown in the introductory zone. Use of supplies to help build structures. Nice graphics. Musical instruments used by anybody to give bonuses and help in healing. Getting your first mount and raising it from a cub (alright, it took about a minute to fully grow, but it showed the promise of more). Having your mount fight by your side (couldn’t get this to work initially, my mount wouldn’t get out of follow, but the commands were there, so it’s coming), putting armor on your mount. Housing. Working with a farm.

The jewel, though, is the class system. Fully switchable and seems so deep it makes TESO’s look like child’s play.

I started with an offense “occult” as my first specialization. Next, I chose a physical “defense” style. Not sure if I can make those work, but who knows. Could be fun. Last, I picked a “music” style, because why not? The combination, as random as it is, is called a “Dark Aegis”.

A dark magic slinging, shield bearing, music blasting cat-man riding a huge fanged white lion. I can totally dig it.

ArcheAge, Fiiran

A Dark Aegis and his snowlion, ready to… do something in the next zone, I guess.

More, Please

If I’m allowed in future betas without paying, I’ll definitely keep it up. So far I feel like I truly haven’t experienced ArcheAge. I want to taste more and start getting to the real game before I make any lasting impressions or commitments. The game feels really solid and true to their intent, even if the starting zones may not fully reflect it. From watching ArcheAge streamers on Twitch like Pookahontus, even the PvP looks like a blast to play. Maybe I’ve just taken PvP a little too serious all this time.

But who knows if it will catch on. I’m an anti-social MMO gamer at heart and this is a cooperative game. But even in my casual style, if I can still feel like I make a contribution it may make it into my rotation.

My suggestion to you, dear reader, is that if you can snag a beta key you should at least give the game a shot. Like anything else, you never know if you’ll like it until you try it.

// Ocho

Master of Orion and Syp: A Tale of Humanity

“While I prepare for the usual Ysharros defense, Ocho is destroyed.  Again.  Seriously, Ocho?  Can’t you go a day without getting blow’d up?” – Syp from Bio Break

This is quite possibly the best quote ever. And to be fair, being blow’d up is what I do best.

To all of those who haven’t seen yet, a war of epic proportions is being waged over on Bio Break, a war deciding who, truly, is the Master of Orion. And the blow by blow details is surprisingly intense. I mean, we’ve all played them, those faction, strategy based games like Civilization, Sins of a Solar Empire, Heroes of Might and Magic, etc., but Syp is showing us tangentially WHY we find these games so fascinating…

We can create our own stories.

Isn’t that a big component of why we love MMO’s as well? I mean, most of the ones we see today are heavily story based, but yet within these worlds, we create our own narratives. MMO’s without the emphasis on story, like EvE Online, do a tremendous job of creating their own intrigue. EvE‘s recent War in Fountain is one of those stories, culminating in the largest online battle between digital spaceships in history. Even some of the bigger news outlets got in on the fun. But who hasn’t had guild or server stories? I’ll tell you a quick one…

The Red Shirts raid Stormwind and hold the Deeprun Tram tunnels.

My very first World of Warcraft character (and really, my only one), was an Undead Warrior by the name of Ocholivis… hence… Ocho. Anyway, one day early on in my leveling, I joined up with a guild of fantastic people called The Red Shirts. To show our solidarity, we all wore red shirts under our red tabard. This one single thing joined us together in one of the most tightly knit guilds I’ve ever been in. In fact, I still remember the names of some of my closest guildmates, despite it being almost a decade ago. Kant, Kalli, Krem, Thrym, Grimfear, Shugorei, Aiyanna, Thax, Dimensia… the list goes on. These names still mean a lot to me. As a guild, we ran dungeons, we invaded Stormwind, we partook in the endless PvP at Southshore/Tarren Mill, and we just had fun. As Horde, we were outnumbered about 5:1 on our server, but we didn’t care. Our guild was tight. Then… we all hit level 60 around the same time, and things changed.

There was a faction of the guild that wanted to raid and wanted the so called “phat lootz”. However, those of us who didn’t have the time to keep to a set raiding schedule due to real life wanted to keep the guild a casual, fun place. This caused a schism. A subset of the guild decided to break off and form their own guild, The Yellow Jackets, and they wore yellow shirts. Gang warfare ensued. A smear campaign against The Red Shirts was waged, infighting ensued. As more Red Shirts hit level 60 and felt the raiding bug, they left to join the Yellow Jackets. Some wanted to still remain friends and periodically join forces, but not all, and there was a lot of bad blood. I stayed faithful to The Red Shirts, but eventually the guild collapsed into a former shell of itself. For a time, I stopped playing WoW. The game simply stopped being fun for me.

The neverending Tarren Mill / Southshore PvP. Yes, back in 2005, before Battlegrounds and tokens and everything, THIS is where the Warcraft PvP happened.

Since then, I’m still not the raiding type, but the “story”, our own story, that that drama created is something I’ll never forget. What Syp is creating is not the same as an MMO’s drama, but it’s a microcosm of why we love the genre, and I highly suggest you head on over to give it a read.

Among the digital, among the 1’s and 0’s, we are drawn to the humanity.

// Ocho

P.S. – I don’t know if the Red Shirts are still around in any capacity as I’ve stopped playing WoW and switched servers ages ago, but if any of the old Red Shirt clan someday happen upon this post, drop me a line. It’d be great to hear from you guys again. 🙂

P.P.S. – Kinda sorta maybe related, but I wanted to share this as well. It’s the song “Come to Your Senses” from the musical ‘Tick,Tick…Boom!’ by Jonathan Larson. You might remember Larson from his most popular musical ‘Rent’. Well, Larson’s first endeavor, which won him a ton of Awards but was ultimately rejected by the Orwell estate, was a musical called ‘Superbia’, based on the book ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’. This was the big number of ‘Superbia’, in which a woman feels she has lost her friend, whom she communicated with remotely through her headset and video. In the song, she reveals her love to the static-filled screen. … Through technology, humanity.

MOBAs out the A

The wheel of online Player vs Player gaming started turning when dedicated online connections started to become mainstream. Instead of huddling around your friends old basement CRT, eyes focused on your quarter of Goldeneye’s screen, you could finally start competing against random strangers without leaving your house or making sure you had enough Cheetos and Jolt to share.

Player vs Player has quickly evolved since then. Starting with quarter-screen, then to LAN connected tournaments, to college shooter-game networks, to full internet shooters. Shooter titles like the Call of Duty and Halo franchises became synonymous with Multiplayer PvP. I’m sure those games have a storyline in them somewhere… but who the heck cares about it?

I read an article not long ago (I’m sorry it’s not linked. I can’t find it again. If I do, I’ll re-link.) all about how shooters in the past were competitive because everyone started on the exact same footing. You could find weapons on the map levels, but everyone already knew those map levels, and so even the weapon spawns were all about resource control. Through this, you could know and track your enemy. And then shooters changed.

Now, I’m not a fan of playing shooters against others, with the headset and smacktalk and what-have-you, so take what I say with a grain of salt, but I hear it’s not like that anymore. Now there’s character progression. Random weapon spawns. Starting on an equal footing wasn’t rewarding to those who played more than others. They wanted tangible rewards and a system to progress through. I don’t blame them, as that’s what I go for, that sense of permanence in the games that I play, but I don’t play player vs player titles. However, if making a true competitive game is your focus, starting players at different power levels ruins the entire effect.

The wheel of online Player vs Player has stopped turning and has landed on the iteration that, I believe, will become the true standard of competitive team online player vs player: The MOBA. The popularity of League of Legends initially blew me away. How could a game, that was essentially a copy of the gameplay of Warcraft’s RTS games, become this wildly successful?

Strategy and equal footing.

Online shooters are losing these traits to the monetization of the genre, but that leaves a whole subset of gamers without a home, and MOBAs have picked up the slack. A MOBA is a “Massively Online Battle Arena”, a real-time strategy game with competitive elements, designed specifically for player vs player gaming. Just to solidify the fact that the MOBA is here to stay, two more have entered the fray today: Magicka: Wizard Wars by Paradox and Infinite Crisis by, of all companies, Turbine.

Personally, I love Magicka. It’s an action title using the top-down approach already found in MOBAs, but also uses an ingenious magic system. Spells in the game are cast using rapid-succession typing. For example: Thunderbolt: QFASA ; Tornado: DQFQQF ; Conflagrate: FQFFQFFQ ; Thunderstorm: QFQFASA where Q, F, A, S, and D all represent different elements with the spells a mixture of those elements. Magicka as a MOBA is a no-brainer and I’m glad to see Paradox make the move.

Turbine making Infinite Crisis is a little more confusing. Yes, Turbine is a subsidiary of Warner Bros and Warner owns the rights to the DC Universe. Having superheroes fight each other is also pretty standard and yet… I wonder what new things they might bring to the table. It feels like they’re jumping in while the water is still profitable, but the pool is getting really crowded.

You probably won’t be seeing me try either title anytime soon. Beating on other gamers and getting beat myself is just not how I roll. However, competitive strategy on equal footing is very respectable and I can appreciate gamers who are into that.

The smacktalk I can still do without, though.

// Ocho

There and Back Again: The Future of PvP

When I was younger I remember sitting around my friends basement, eyes glued to my friend’s huge cathode-ray tube television set, controller in hand, staring intently into the upper right hand corner of the screen. Periodically, I’d glance to one of the other corners, though this tactic was frowned down upon as you would be able to discern your enemy’s location. The trash talk was thrown like candy from an Independence Day float, and the pizza and Mountain Dew seemed to never end.

Goldeneye.

This was my first foray into the world of PvP gaming, and man was it sweet. The feeling of trouncing your best friends into a James Bond-approved submission, showing almost superhuman reflexes and coordination necessary to end up on the top of the PvP rankings.

Compared to today and the plethora of MMOs I play, I could really care less about PvP. What the heck changed?!

It all comes down to gear. Equipment. Virtual swords and armor.

When I first started playing World of Warcraft, I remember when they first introduced the battlegrounds. Areas set aside with objectives to capture or defend, with or against your fellow man. Finally, in a setting that wasn’t Terran Mill and Southshore we could show up those Alliance kiddies in proper Horde fashion! I was excited the first time I jumped into a PvP game… and I was dead in seconds. Huh? It ended up being that I was too low level. So, looking at the way PvP was set up, I needed to come back when my level ended in a “9” in order to really compete. Level 19, 29, 39, etc. In the level 20 – 29 range, if you weren’t level 29, you were useless. It wasn’t even worth trying as the chances of making a contribution were slim to none.

At level cap, it was slightly different. Everyone was the same level and had the same advantage… but not quite. Those who had the time to raid three or four nights a week would be wearing armor that was nigh impenetrable, or wielding weapons that would stop you in your tracks. Those who played PvP more got better and better gear. It got to such a point that it seemed entirely futile. If you weren’t the right level, you were at a disadvantage. If you were at the right level, but didn’t have the gear, you were at a disadvantage. So, then, what is the point of even playing PvP if you have to be beaten down for 200 matches just to finally get the tokens needed to compete?

That sounds… fun?

The level of time and punishment needed to obtain even a semblance of equal footing just looked more and more insurmountable. So in today’s MMOs, I don’t even bother. I’m not a raider, so I’ll probably never see the best items needed, and I’m not willing to be teabagged over and over again just to finally be on the same level. So for this reason PvP, for me and a lot of other gamers, is pointless.

However, the times are changing…

On the Rift forums, it was announced that Trion is testing the waters of more competitive PvP that is based on equal stats. You want to win? There are no advantages. You need to outperform your opponents with skill and tactics. Their motive for switching to such a format could be the pending release of Guild Wars 2. PvP in the original Guild Wars was very skill based. Teams, with coordinated skill combinations, would compete with the same resources. If you went into PvP at level 2, you were bumped up to the max level. Those who acquired more skills obviously performed better, but that’s just because their toolset  was more diverse. The number of skills you could use were still equal. PvP in Guild Wars 2 will be a very similar style.

So if you take away that grinding of gear or tokens needed to PvP in the first place and put everyone on equal footing, just like in the style of Goldeneye, PvP becomes a lot more fun. It feels like Guild Wars 2, and now Rift trying it out, are showing they don’t just want PvP to be something for the small population elite. They’re taking a page from the shooter genre and showing that they want it to be enjoyed by everyone.

Those who are organized and good at PvP will still dominate and those who were just relying on overpowering gear will be humbled. This may be the change needed to bring MMO PvP back to being a fun part of gameplay for many. I know I’ll be giving it another shot.

\\ Ocho