Massively Overthinking: The best and worst MMOs of 2017’s PAX West
PAX West 2017 has come and gone, and though MJ is still feverishly working on her last few articles, we wanted to pause a moment to reflect on everything we’ve seen and read and recapped so far. So for today’s Massively Overthinking, I asked our writers to tackle three topics from an MMO player’s perspective: the biggest surprise of the show, the most disappointing bit, and the games that grabbed them and won’t let go.
Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): I’ve never been to a PAX convention (I always do E3 instead!), but this year it seemed muted from my corner of the internet. Maybe it’s because companies were announcing their big titles before the actual show, or the demos certain devs teased me about haven’t been good enough to make headlines, but I won’t lie: I Googled this one and don’t feel like I missed any big announcements. Oh, Dual Universe having a new demo is nice, especially compared to what I originally saw, and it’s nice to see MJ got hands-on with something from Amazon, but for a convention certain devs scorned E3 for, I was completely underwhelmed with their performance (or lack thereof). It certainly felt overshadowed by Gamescom, and even that felt a bit anti-climatic.
I guess my favorite part of PAX this year was some of Monster Hunter World news. So much had already been show previously, though. The only thing that stuck with me was people talking about voice chat. I just watched Dad of Light on Netflix and one thing that kept sticking in my mind was how MMOs feel MMOy when the primary form of communication is text. I understand that for “serious” gameplay we tend to use voice chat, or when we’re close to our guild, but I hate when games throw me into voice chat with complete strangers. The anonymity brings out the worst in people, and while it’s there in text, it’s much easier to ignore that than screaming 13-year-olds (or adults who’ve forgotten how to grow up). I’ve played Monster Hunter with a keyboard and in real life, and both have their pros and cons, but a voice chat experience, especially with western players, isn’t something I look forward to.
The only surprise I got was hearing about hands-on experience with Secret of Mana’s remake. It’s a game that’s close to my heart, but hearing that the demo has character mouths not moving with voice acting (if at all) is really concerning, especially as I was hoping this might pave the way for a Chrono Trigger revolution (now that is a game universe that’d make sense for an MMO!). Oh, and I guess the way the indies felt like they stood out more than a lot of the normal AAA games.
Beyond the show’s disappointment, I guess not hearing anything new about Amazon’s New World. I’m not even looking forward to it, but I keep expecting to hear something. That and Game of Thrones from Turbine. Yee-gods, how the mighty have fallen. Disupter Beam’s Game of Thrones: Ascent did so much right, so you’d think Turbine might, I don’t know, have some ideas on creating something more gamey and innovative. I could write a whole article on its badness, but instead, let me end it here and give Turbine-of-old a moment of silence (and Standing Stone Games room for a sigh of relief).
Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I was surprised, as I put together the schedule of appointments and demos for MJ, just how many MMORPG studios showed up. The last few years, MMO attendance at cons has been on a sharp downslide, especially the true MMORPGs, to the point that we decided not to spend money to go to PAX West last year. But we saw quite a few MMORPGs and several MMOs this year, including several larger-scale indies (like Ashes of Creation, which isn’t being cheap with its marketing and PR, in spite of the awful hats). It wasn’t huge, but it was bigger than the past couple of years, and I’m hoping it’s a sign of a resurgence on the whole.
My disappointment would be Guild Wars 2, which didn’t put on a show and turned away even brief interviews. Given that ArenaNet is local to the convention, I thought it was a big mistake to not show up with a booth at all, even if it couldn’t do so in force, and drive expansion sales. I don’t think the fan event really had the same effect since it focuses only on existing fans, and that approach worries me.
My MMORPG of the show? Ship of Heroes. It looks way more solid at this point that I expected. Heroic Games came to the show clearly prepared, and while it’s not got photorealistic, bleeding-edge graphics, I get the distinct impression that the team has made the best of its funding and scope to get a real game in the hands of ex-City of Heroes players much sooner than I had imagined, and if that encourages its worthy rivals to move faster too, all the better for everyone. More importantly, SoH’s focus on the community — a cultivated, welcoming community of friendly gamers, not a “community” of trashtalkers and unpaid viral marketers — as a core feature of the game is a huge draw for me. I hope they succeed! Runner-up to Dual Universe, which looks to have a lot of the potential of Star Citizen without all the baggage.
Joking (and half-joking) aside, my favorite part was obviously the sheer amount of screen time going over to the City of Heroes revival projects. It might sound odd, given that I know a lot of the people involved with at least one of them and my own status as having been involved in the CoH community for years, but the fact of the matter is that this is the first time they’ve felt really real to me. We’ve had these projects being worked on for so long that to discuss things like alpha tests and access feels like… turning a corner. Like some of this could actually happen. It sounds crazy, but so do lots of things until they happen.
Honorable mention goes to Final Fantasy XIV for covering a whole lot of lore, but that’s less about them having done something shocking and good and more about me just liking the game and its lore. So thanks for appealing directly to me, folks! I suspect I am hardly the only target audience, but it’s nice to be targeted.
“Disappointing,” though, is sort of the name of the game for PAX offerings, and it feels like this year just reinforced that; the convention has never been quite sure of whether it’s a big event for companies to reveal new things or a big social gathering of people who enjoy video games, and while for several years it leaned heavily on the former while letting the latter happen naturally (sort of like E3 without E3’s media-only rule), as times have gone on it’s become far more muddled. At this point it feels more like a big celebration of a lot of games existing more than anything else. If I had to pick one thing, it’d probably be the amount of time given over to e-sports, but if you want me to pick on a game instead of railing on an old concept, it’d probably be Ashes of Creation. This title has gone from being a surprising announcement to sending up more and more red flags over time in my mind, and considering how much money and effort seemed to go into making a splash at this convention… it just turned my carefully-honed danger sensors on. What can I say?
Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): My favorite thing was seeing Ashes of Creation go really big with its large exhibit, the hands-on demo, and the panel. It’s been too long since we’ve seen a bonafide MMORPG stage a strong PAX presence like that, and witnessing this year, it made me recall grander days of yore of the convention. But seriously, what was with those hats?
Surprising thing? Having City of Titans, Valiance Online, and Ship of Heroes show up to do a panel together. They’re competitors in a very real sense, all with unproven, unlaunched games vying for the City of Heroes throne, but still it was cool that they got together to celebrate what they shared and their common inspiration. Kind of wish one would establish itself as a frontrunner so I could get excited, however.
Disappointing thing? Lately it’s been the same refrain: not enough MMOs. Guild Wars 2 — a Seattle studio — didn’t have a show presence (just a party), Camelot Unchained didn’t open up its Seattle studio, and so many MMO studios didn’t show up at all. I get the money and effort issue, but it would’ve been nice to see more from Blizzard, Cryptic, Daybreak, Standing Stone, and the like. I also felt like Ship of Heroes and Chronicles of Elyria, two MMOs that did show up, were a little weak in their presentation and failed to generate some real buzz.
My favorite part of PAX West is two fold. One, meeting the devs and people that I correspond with so much over email and in comments. Putting a face to a name is pretty neat, and I love seeing their energy for their games up close. Two, I have to say that The Amazing Eternals booth was an all-time favorite. It was so very cool; just hanging out there was fun, nevermind playing the game (though playing it was fun too). I totally want to decorate my office space with that theme, right down to the orange shag carpet and TV consoles! And forget T-shirt: I totally want one of those bowling shirts! (Also, the devs and I were talking other merchandise, and I want to add a bowling bag backpack with The Amazing Eternals logo on it to one of those shirts!) Honorable mention goes to blowing the circuits at Amazon HQ.
Since it takes a lot to surprise me (I was a social worker, after all!), I don’t think anything truly did. I could say the fact that I enjoyed playing on a controller was pretty surprising given my ineptitude with one. Having a real Fortnite llama piñata that someone got to bash open every hour was also unexpected. Oh, I could say I was surprised by how little cosplaying there was compared to what I expected. Maybe DragonCon spoiled me there. Also, I was really surprised to win a drawing for a free mouse!
For me, the most disappointing thing was not getting to see everything I would have liked. Heck, I didn’t even make it to The Elder Scrolls Online, and I didn’t even realize it until I had already left and it was too late to go back! I wish I’d had more time to go back and mess around with the building tools in Dual Universe; I’m looking forward to that. I was also disappointed that Valiance Online and City of Titans didn’t have more to show at the super heroes panel (CoT chose to stream it for folks at home); I want all the games to succeed, but I felt having nothing hurt their chance to excite people and garner more support.