Thursday, July 9, 2015

Me and MMOs

I just went through a gigantic MMO bender, followed by some Life Changes, which is why I have been totally inactive on this blog.

I never considered myself an MMO person. I played Runescape briefly. It was unfriendly and grindy. I was never tempted to play World of Warcraft or EVE in college. I played Guild Wars 1 at launch, maybe for about a month. Star Wars Online: The Old Republic held me for a month and a half before I realized I spent more time worrying about the subscription fee than I did playing the game.

Guild Wars 2 really broke the mold for me. The combat was actually active and engaging. The world was beautiful. The player races were unique, and there was a heavy emphasis on cooperation and storytelling over competition and grinding. Around my fourth Guild Wars 2 character, though, I started looking for other games to scratch the same itch.

First I tried The Secret World. I was tantalized by the bizarre puzzle structure and the flexible yet overly-complex combat trees. That was all good fun until I got stuck in a gear grind just after getting out of the first map.

Then, I tried Neverwinter. That was a decent enough trip. I don’t actually remember much about it. I quit that after hitting max level and realizing everything was gated on how good my gear was. I had never encountered a game telling me “You can’t even try to participate in the rest of the game until your stats exceed this limit” until that point. That was pretty demoralizing.

Eventually, I remembered I bought some promotional Steam package that included Rift for about $1. Rift’s distinguishing attribute at launch was the “dynamic” events where rifts would suddenly open and monsters would come pouring out. Other than that, it’s a bog-standard WoW clone. Rift has the usual quests, 5-man dungeons, 20-man raids, PvP, and two factions with faction zones, etc.

The first 20 levels of any WoW clone feel fantastic. Quest turn-ins are clustered together, level-ups are frequent, and learning a new character is a lot of fun. The problem is that later levels (especially those added in expansions) are a grind. Combat doesn’t change much and isn’t particularly engaging. The dynamic events are mostly just enemy spawns and boss fights. You can sleep through most routine activity like farming and questing. Difficulty primarily comes from “mechanics” (AKA boss-specific knowledge of attack patterns) and enemies with more HP dealing larger amounts of damage (“DPS”). Players learn mechanics by asking others, or watching a YouTube video, or suffering through extremely slow trial and error to learn what implications a boss attack has. DPS is mitigated by grinding for better gear.

The world you inhabit starts off as Generic Fantasy World, pretty much. The first enemies I fought were skeletons and zombies. There was some sort of plot, where my character was… re-animated in the future and sent back in time? Whatever. Once I got into the content added in via expansion, there seemed to be more intentional and unique designs. I came across gigantic water creatures who towered over me and plots about collecting the different personas of an AI that scattered itself to escape dragon worshippers.

I did find an active, supportive guild who helped me hit max level and get past the first gear cap. And now… Well, all that’s left is getting better gear to see higher-level dungeons. That doesn’t motivate me. Now I find myself tempted to just say, “So long and thanks for all the fish.”

I tried picking up Final Fantasy XIV to heal the wounds. It has a free trial for 14 days and a level cap of 20. I’m just on the edge of the level cap. It is gorgeous and inventive, like anything you would expect out of a Final Fantasy game. It’s also grindy, slow, and repetitive, like anything you would expect out of a Final Fantasy game. I see a lot of people having fun with it, which makes me want to get back into it. However, it’s one of the few games that still has a subscription fee, which makes me want to ignore it.