Columns Category

Enjoy a run-down of our recent long-form pieces, both game-specific and more general. You might also be interested in our list of all of our columns and recurring articles. [Follow this category’s RSS feed]

The Survivalist: How procedurally generated maps stretch the life of survival MMOs

It’s no secret that I love to explore. And exploring the dangerous new worlds of survival games has been something I have really been enjoying this past couple of years. But there is dark cloud looming over each of these experiences: They end too quickly. These games, most of which are still in early access, have a very finite map. Once I’ve poked my head into every nook and cranny, once I’ve built what I wanted, and once I have completed the game tasks, there’s nothing left for me to do. I am not one who likes the whole wipe-and-start-over idea, precisely because there is nothing left to explore for me. And the PvP scene is no long-term draw either. Sure, maybe the studio was happy to have folks for just those few months, but wouldn’t retaining players be better? So how do you keep things fresh and keep players playing?

Different games are exploring different approaches. Currently, Conan Exiles is releasing new areas and expanding its map, offering plenty of new spaces to survey. ARK: Survival Evolved releases expansions that are completely new worlds. But to explore those new areas, you have to buy them. It’s actually a different strategy that ARK employs that I think solves the problem best, especially for games with a smaller map-type. Three words: procedurally generated maps.

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Choose My Adventure: Into the desert of Guild Wars 2

My first week of playing Guild Wars 2 again was interesting, in no small part because it’s rare for my playtime to be so devoted to being able to play what the vote indicates. Yes, it’s true, I did not actually get much playtime in for Holosmith with this first week, simply because… well, how could I? I had to unlock the elite spec first, and that requires a fair bit of doing, enough that it inspired a completely different article.

So that was some frustration, and it leads to more polls this week, but I don’t want people to come away thinking that I’m already not having fun with the game. Quite the opposite, in fact; while there are frustrations in how things are designed for unlocking elite specializations, there’s enough to like about the game on a whole that I can’t complain too much. But let’s start at the very beginning, which I’ve heard is a very good place to start.

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The Daily Grind: What would an old MMO have to do to win you back?

Something odd hit me recently. As I was sitting and planning my MMO play schedules, I realized that whatever announcements about expansions we get from World of Warcraft, I’m really not sure if I’ll go back. I only went back for Legion for very specific reasons after Warlords of Draenor really failed to impress, and looking at it now… boy, I don’t know what the developers could do to win me over.

Well, no, that’s not true; I know exactly what they could do. A full housing system in multiple locations, better character customization, no level cap bump, continued artifact weapons, reintroducing more esoteric systems… I’ve got a whole list. So the problem is less that I don’t know what could win me back and more that I don’t expect it will actually happen.

This is not, in and of itself, unique. I think we’ve all got a game or two on our lists that we still have fond memories of, but we’re not going to play it again unless something happens which, let’s face it, isn’t going to happen. So do share, dear readers. What would an old MMO have to do to win you back, and are you pretty certain that’s never going to happen?

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Hyperspace Beacon: Outside-the-box features to look for in a SWTOR guild (or any MMO guild)

On my server in Star Wars: The Old Republic, there are more guild advertisements than chatter in the general channel on the starter planets and fleet. This can quickly become overwhelming to those who don’t know what to look for. I have actually seen these advertisements turn people away from joining a guild altogether. The SWTOR population has also fluctuated quite a bit, so it’s difficult to find a guild that is active and has been in the game for an extended period of time. In other words, general chat is flooded with advertisements for guilds that aren’t very old. In fact, there are many who advertise needing a person or two to help start a guild.

If you are returning to SWTOR or maybe jumping in for the very first time, you are going to want to find a good guild. It’s possible to play the game without interaction with other people, but you will not really get the full experience until you join up to play the game with like-minded individuals.

My advice on finding a guild will avoid some of the obvious questions: Are they friendly, do they have regular events, and do they fit your playstyle? Instead, I would like to focus on the questions that are a little outside-the-box but are just as important if you want to find a guild that actually makes you want to stay in the game instead of flee it.

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Perfect Ten: How MMORPGs become so darn complicated

MMOs are complicated. This seems like a fairly non-controversial statement; there are more or less complicated games, but they all tend to be complex as heck. I frequently cite Star Trek Online as an example of complexity run amok, where the game is significantly more complicated than it even appears to the point where the game has reworked its skill system some three separate times and it’s still difficult to understand, but even World of Warcraft has plenty of bits of complexity that aren’t really explained to new players.

Of course, it’s also been significantly simplified from its early days; who remembers Crushing Blows and 102.4% defense? Most tanks, I’d imagine.

But even seemingly straightforward systems like dungeon rewards tend to increasing complexity over time. Heck, I’ve been dealing with Guild Wars 2’s boost system with Path of Fire and found that hosting some complexity and weird exceptions when it comes to hero points and unlocking Elite Specializations. So why do MMOs tend to be so complicated, even when dealing with simple stuff? I think that’s a fun topic that I can explain in, oh, let’s say ten bullet points.

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Wisdom of Nym: Deep-diving Final Fantasy XIV’s leveling structure

I do a lot of leveling in Final Fantasy XIV. This is, in part, because I am stupid; for several dumb reasons I have my main character and six alts, which is not seven only because Balmung is currently locked. (As soon as that changes? Seven.) I also have a spreadsheet tracking my progress across every character that currently has me finishing up – as in, bringing a single job for each alt and every class for my main – in early November. So I spend a lot of time thinking about leveling. And I think the game is better than it’s ever been in Stormblood, in leveling as well as other departments.

Of course, there are people who aren’t as happy about it, for understandable reasons. There are dead spaces for every job in the current leveling setup, levels where you get either nothing or no impactful additions. (A trait boosting your primary stat is definitely important, but it doesn’t really change what you’re doing.) It’s even prompted some people complaining about how late certain jobs get their core mechanics and how the level sync works.

So let’s talk about all of this. And more to the point, let’s start by explaining why a lot of the staggering of abilities amounts to, in fact, a good thing.

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MMO Mechanics: Material storage and the Guild Wars 2 economy

Guild Wars 2 launched its second expansion, Path of Fire, a few days ago, and as you might expect, a new expansion means some immediate priority shifts will deeply affect the game’s economy. New materials are added, which are required by the newest recipes and are thus highly sought after, and other materials will fluctuate in value depending on their usefulness within the new content’s scope. Players typically react to this short period of market turbulence by keeping the materials that they farm until they are absolutely sure of their uses and worth: There’s nothing worse than selling a big pile of a rare material you thought you didn’t need only to realise your error later.

However, ArenaNet decided to temporarily keep a “handful of items” off the list for the game’s material storage system in an attempt to force players’ hands: The company is attempting to combat the shockingly high prices seen for expansion materials back at Heart of Thorns’ launch by discouraging player warehousing of valuable yet abundant materials. The news has caused quite a splash in the game community and it’s exceptionally interesting mechanically speaking, so I just had to dedicate an edition of MMO Mechanics to the topic.

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One Shots: Drop. Your. Sword.

“It’s possible, pig, I might be bluffing. It’s conceivable, you miserable, vomitous mass, that I’m only lying here because I lack the strength to stand. But, then again… perhaps I have the strength after all. DROP… YOUR… SWORD!”

Can’t imagine why this screenshot of Secret World Legends from Winterskorn has me thinking of The Princess Bride. It’s inconceivable. Also, that sword doesn’t look like it can cut very well, just saying!

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The Daily Grind: What’s your favorite small act of kindness from a stranger in an MMO?

At one point in Final Fantasy XI, I was stuck in Ordelle’s Caves. A friend had been helping me get my RSE deep within the caves, and then he had to log off… and I was stuck without a map or any guidance, far too low-level to get out. But then a high-level Thief saw me, partied with me, and helped guide me out while I kept myself in Sneak and Invisible behind her.

I never saw her again, or if I did, I didn’t recognize her and she didn’t recognize me. But she still did something really kind for me, and I’ve never forgotten that.

Today, let’s be good about that. The best MMO experiences are built upon a thousand small acts of kindness. The Warrior in World of Warcraft who doesn’t roll on the armor piece you want because it’s a bigger upgrade for you. The Inquisitor who stops and helps you fight off a group of enemies in Star Wars: The Old Republic while you’re on your Trooper. Even just the nasty-looking cruiser in EVE Online that could demolish your mining ship but chooses to let you go by. So what’s your favorite small act of kindness from a stranger in an MMO?

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LOTRO Legendarium: Six places LOTRO could go after Mordor

It always seems a bit unfair, a bit impatient, and a bit premature to be asking that eternal question of an MMO: “What’s next?” This, perhaps, is doubly true when a recent meaty expansion is still providing an (exploded) mountain of content with an instance cluster on the way. You can almost hear the developers’ eyes roll and their exasperated sighs as they say, “Can’t you be content with where you are right now?”

No, not really. Speculating about the future is one of the exciting hallmarks of MMO fandom, and I feel it’s entirely possible to be both content with where you’re at while wondering what’s to come. So with that caveat out of the way… what’s next for Lord of the Rings Online when Mordor is said and done?

Before we dig into the possibilities (six of them, to be precise), we should acknowledge that Mordor itself will no doubt be the central focus of LOTRO through the end of this year and probably most of 2018 as well. There is a great deal of landscape left undeveloped and unexplored, and I have no doubt that the Black Book of Mordor could be expanded into a fat volume when all is said and done.

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Betawatch: Fortnite rolls out a free-for-all mode that’s free for all (September 22, 2017)

Remember when Fortnite’s whole thing was that it was going to be about co-op survival gameplay without any PvP aspects? That clearly didn’t last, as it turns out the game’s new Battle Royale mode is going to be free-to-play and seems to be getting an unexpected share of the game’s development. Oh, and the game accidentally turned on cross-platform play before turning it right back off, so that was great too.

In unrelated news, we bid farewell to Guardians of Ember as it has actually, like, launched now. It’s not in early access any more! It’s just access. Guild Wars 2 has also dropped its second expansion, and The Elder Scrolls Online has its latest DLC up on the test server.

More beta news? Yes indeed! Including titles you might not have seen this week otherwise.

  • All right, Pantropy, do you really think that the only thing you need to seduce someone into survival sandbox games is to include a bunch of stompy mechs? Because you are very possibly right.
  • The stress testing for MU Legend is running on September 23rd, which is the server equivalent of packing tons of college freshmen into a phone booth and daring them to fall out. Taking part will earn you 500 Bound Redzen for use in the future, so if the simple joy of stress testing isn’t enough, do it for the bribery.
  • You’ve missed the first alpha testing weekend for Closers, but there are several more weekends coming up, such as this weekend. Would you like a whole schedule for the next few weeks? You’ve got one.
  • The closed alpha weekends for Survived By are starting very soon, with several closed alpha weekends planned over the next several weeks. Exact dates aren’t given, unfortunately, but considering that there are only so many people being invited, that seems at least moderately sensible.
  • Around 350 players took place in the second OrbusVR closed beta, and you can catch up on the notes from that second beta right now. It’s a good chance to keep an eye on the game when you’re not keeping both eyes in the headset.

And as we always do, there’s a list of titles in testing and early access just below, because that’s how we operate. Did something hop to another phase of testing without letting us know? Fix that oversight in the comments. You can also use the comments for other comments, of course.

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EverQuesting: Is EverQuest II in a downward spiral?

Are we witnessing the death throes of EverQuest II? Of the whole EverQuest franchise? These questions have been at the forefront of my mind lately. Today’s EverQuesting started as a guide to EQII’s expansion prelude event, but I kept coming back to these questions. (The guide will come next week!)

Yes, I know that there are folks who have cried that EQ and EQII have been dying or all-but dead for years — and Next and Online Adventures are already deceased and buried. Yet during those years we’ve still seen some life in the first two games. They have persevered!

But now, I feel like I am witnessing the franchise’s final breaths. Me, the eternal optimist; me, who subsists on hope. And I started losing that hope because Daybreak’s actions lately appear to indicate that there’s no love left for one of my all-time favorite games, EQII. Between less dev interaction, less content, less communication, and just less enthusiasm for these two titles — yet a preponderance of attention on others — it’s hard to hold onto hope. At no other time has it felt as if Daybreak was turning its back on and all but abandoning the IP that gave it life more than it does right now. The IP that still has many fervent fans. My final two straws? The lack of any exposure at PAX West and the lack of enthusiasm for this year’s expansions.

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Tamriel Infinium: First impressions of Elder Scrolls Online’s Clockwork City DLC

It’s hard to know where to start with these impressions because the upcoming DLC for Elder Scrolls Online is significantly more complex, more extensive, and more fun than I originally anticipated. Clockwork City has surprised me on multiple levels. Those who were fans of the Tribunal expansion for Elder Scrolls III will find nostalgia everywhere, and those who are new to this part of the lore will find a world that is similar yet very different from the rest of ESO.

Over the last couple of days, I have been spending my time on the public test server for Elder Scrolls Online where ZeniMax Online Studios has dropped its latest DLC: Clockwork City. This isn’t the first time we’ve been to the Clockwork City, but this DLC will be the first time that we are allowed to freely explore this creation of the god Sotha Sil.

There is no way that I am going to be able to sum up the hours of gameplay that Clockwork City has to offer in just a few hundred words, but let me hit on a few things that were the most important to me: aesthetics, storytelling, exploration, and gameplay.

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