Opinion Category

Opinion pieces are by definition neither neutral nor subjective. Massively Overpowered’s writers’ editorials reflect their own opinions, not necessarily the opinions of the site or company. [Follow this category’s RSS feed]

Hyperspace Beacon: Truly immersing yourself in Star Wars: The Old Republic

I have long been a proponent of roleplaying in MMOs. I’ve often been the roleplayer’s spokesperson on different podcasts and new media broadcasts. I’ve always been steeped in a game’s lore, and I always attempt to learn as much as I can about a game’s in-game history and what lead to the events that happened up to that point. Most games have lore; I can’t think of an MMORPG that doesn’t. So why is it that lore is so often overlooked by much of the MMO community? I honestly don’t understand it.

A fellow Star Wars: The Old Republic personality and YouTuber SWTORista published a video on the basics of roleplay yesterday in her SWTOR Academy series of videos. As she does in all of the Academy videos, she outlines the basics of that aspect of the game. She explains how to makes a character, the differences between the types of venues, and how to go about roleplaying in the game itself. It’s a great video, but this critical question is beyond its scope: Why should you roleplay in the first place? I think I can answer it. Here’s why I think roleplay is important — for both the players and the developers.

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The Daily Grind: What do you think about NPC party members in MMORPGs?

I’ve been thinking a lot about classic Guild Wars lately — the anniversary always does this to me. And one of my favorite parts was the hero system, which allowed players to bring along NPC heroes with player-selected skills and gear to fill out a party.

At the time, some players threw absolute fits when heroes were introduced, and the skies were falling all over again when the rules changed to allow a single player to tote along seven heroes instead of just three. The complaint was that it disincentivized grouping, which relied on the idea that solo players weren’t already using henchies in the role as I was. From my perspective, heroes enabled me to do content that humans just didn’t want to do. No one wanted to do Eternal Grove for the hundredth time for a newbie, no one wanted to help you cap an elite at 1 a.m. when your guildies were all in bed, no one wanted to do the bonus in Dunes of Despair, and so on. I thought of heroes as a wonderful tool to scale party size, soloability, and even difficulty (since you had to control them plus your own character) in a way that added flavor and challenge to the game (but admittedly not necessarily sociability).

Guild Wars isn’t alone in allowing players to control NPCs to a degree, of course; Star Wars: The Old Republic, Star Trek Online, and even World of Warcraft (via garrisons) have whispers of this system. But Guild Wars was certainly among the boldest, allowing you a full party of NPCs. Do you want to see NPC party members make a comeback in other MMOs?

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Wisdom of Nym: Final Fantasy XIV could use some Merit Points

The cross-class system in Final Fantasy XIV is not good. It functions, yes, but the mixing and matching of abilities from other classes is basically dead in the water. The only classes with abilities that can be mixed and matched are the original nine classes, and those abilities are a short list of expected additions to a given job’s toolset. The result is a game that feels very light on customization, and that’s a problem the game would do well to address.

There’s also a leveling problem in the game insofar as there’s a level sync system to allow higher-level players to interact with lower-level content… but not to give much motivation for doing so. Doing a random low-level FATE on a maxed job offers me virtually nothing; I get a pittance of gil and seals I could earn more easily doing almost anything. Once you have everything maxed out, content worth experience feels actively counterproductive, because you can’t earn it and can’t get any real benefits from it.

Isn’t it nice when one system suggests a solution to multiple problems at the same time?

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The Daily Grind: What’s your favorite type of grind in an MMORPG?

Grind is not a thing people generally love in MMORPGs, but what’s actually considered to be grind varies wildly from player to player. You might be OK with leveling that takes months but find wandering around harvesting flowers and ore too grindy. You might not mind working your way up a PvP ladder but draw the line at running the same raid every week on a gear treadmill. Some people don’t want to grind mobs; other people see quests, even quests that aren’t dailies, as a unforgivable rote thing that they will avoid at all costs.

I tend to be better at handling grinds when they aren’t so opaque that I can’t help but see and ponder them. World of Warcraft’s questing grind, for example, didn’t bother me much because the leveling was so quick. The same was true of Star Wars Galaxies’ grindy missions, especially post-NGE, because they were so lucrative in terms of experience and resources. I find myself getting into comfortable grinds in clickers like Diablo III and Marvel Heroes because they keep me moving from place to place.

I think it’s the “hell levels” of grinds that can make me give up, not the grind itself; my favorite type of grind is a grind that’s repetitive with rewards — be they in-game or mental — that aren’t. How about you? What’s your favorite type of grind in an MMORPG?

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Guild Chat: How to reacclimate when coming back to EVE Online

Welcome along to another edition of Guild Chat, the space in which I get together with the MOP commenters to help a reader in need with his or her guild-related query. This time, an EVE Online player — who wishes to remain anonymous to prevent potential in-game grief — has asked for our help to determine how best to return to the game when the corp he previously enjoyed is now defunct. Unsure of where to place his loyalties and how best to carve out a new adventure, our reader in need is wondering how best to survive in what can be quite an inhospitable environment for lone players. Check out the full submission and my advice below, and don’t forget to put your thoughts in the comments below.

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The Daily Grind: Do you prefer smaller or larger servers?

I have joked, not entirely without seriousness, that part of what I like about being on an underpopulated server in Final Fantasy XI is the simple fact that it destroys any temptation I might have to get involved in the serious endgame. There’s no doubt that I do not need to get involved with it, obviously, but it’s very easy to get my attention by waving a pretty piece of armor or two in front of me. But without the crucial number of people around to make getting into it easy, I lose momentum and go back to focusing on other things. A bullet dodged, there.

Of course, the other side of things is that a smaller server can feel more empty, more barren, and generally lacking in several of the aspects which make a massively multiplayer game… both of those things. I play on one of the largest North American servers for Final Fantasy XIV, so I get all of those advantages there… along with server queues, crowding, and all of the downsides of having tons of people in a contained space. Both variants have positives and negatives, in other words. Which strikes you as better, dear readers? Do you prefer smaller or larger servers, and why? (If your answer is “I prefer no servers,” that counts as a vote for larger servers, since you can’t get much bigger than 100% of the game’s population.)

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The Game Archaeologist: Myst Online Uru Live

The impact of Myst’s launch in 1993 was akin to an atomic bomb going off in the PC gaming world. The leap forward in graphical fidelity (aided by the large storage capacity of a CD-ROM and all of the full-motion video and gorgeous images tucked into it) captured gamers’ imaginations and made this adventure title the best-selling PC game of all time, at least for several years. Brothers Robyn and Rand Miller’s story about a stranger who had to solve puzzles through a good-looking (if deserted) landscape was devilishly difficult, yet that challenge kept players coming back for months and even years.

The Myst franchise surged forward at that point, with several sequels, remakes, and ports selling like hotcakes through the final game’s release in 2005. Yet something interesting happened along the way when an offshoot of the series — Uru: Ages Beyond Myst — evolved into an MMO. With a focus on multiplayer exploration and puzzle-solving instead of non-stop combat, it may be one of the very few MMOs out there that eschews fighting for brainpower.

It’s an oddity, no doubt, and despite it being an incredibly niche title, it has fascinated me enough to pull me into a research rabbit hole. So let’s take a look at Myst Online: Uru Live!

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The Daily Grind: Is change in MMOs a blessing or a curse?

Lately I’ve been dwelling on the topic of change in MMORPGs. It’s one of the foundational principles of the genre, that these titles aren’t fixed in stone but change and evolve over time. The game you play today might be incredibly different than the MMO you played three years previous, even though they have the same title.

Depending on my perspective, this could be a blessing or a curse. I mean, I love that MMOs keep adding new content, are constantly refined by developers, and hold the promise of more adventures in the future. It definitely keeps the games from getting stale and too predictable. Yet change can also be scary, with patches and expansions that can fundamentally alter what you used to like about a game, break classes, or otherwise rob an MMO of the identity and personality it used to have.

Maybe it’s just like life, in that you can’t ever keep things stuck in time at an exact point but have to roll with the changes and learn to appreciate the new while holding on to the good of the old that still exists. What do you think?

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WoW Factor: Content gaps, polish, and the Legion release date

The past few weeks have been pretty well packed, both in a personal and in a professional sense, so it’s easy to sort of overlook the fact that Legion finally has an official launch date. Which also means that we’re looking at around a 14-month content gap for World of Warcraft this time around, and a content gap which is going to continue for at least the next few months. So much for faster releases, then, although we’ve all more or less burned that bridge of our expectations, I imagine.

I’ve been doing my best to stay relatively pure during the lengthy test cycle; I’ve been playing enough to get a sense of the game, but I don’t like playing until my eyes bleed on a beta when I’m going to need to do the whole thing over again when the expansion actually launches. So let’s take a look at the state of the beta, the launch date, and what we can expect for the game as we move forward from here.

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The Daily Grind: Should MMO studios be involved in modding their games’ subreddits?

Reddit is a complicated place with more than its fair share of drama, and that drama spills over into the gaming space from time to time. This week, a regular Massively OP tipster, Cramit, pointed us to a now-deleted Reddit thread accusing an MMO studio of abusing Reddit by setting up its own employees as moderators who then allegedly used their new powers to moderate and ban malcontents.

I’m not going to link to it because frankly, I can’t substantiate it, and I also know how sour grapes on Reddit work. This isn’t the first time that a company running a game has been accused of overstepping its bounds on Reddit anyway. You might recall that accusations of overt Reddit corruption swirled in the WildStar and ArcheAge communities last year too, and we got a similar unsubstantiated complaint about yet another big gaming sub supposedly being in cahoots with the game studio just last week.

Where do you think Reddit should stand on the issue? Should gaming companies be involved in the moderation of subs about their games?

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Massively Overthinking: The sandbox MMORPG disconnect

This week’s Massively Overthinking was inspired by a reader who decided to go by Sandboxless in Seattle when he penned this note of frustration to us.

I have been playing MMOs for more than half a decade now, and in that time, I’ve tried numerous MMOs — old and new, Western and Eastern — and developed what I would like to think is a very broad understanding and appreciation of the genre. However, I will confess to a blindspot. I have next to no experience with sandboxes. Most of them are just fundamentally unappealing to me — usually due to non-consensual PvP — but thanks to MassivelyOP’s trial key giveaway, I’m now giving Black Desert a try. And I just don’t get it.

The general consensus among the MMO community seems to be that sandboxes are the superior breed of MMO. I’ve spent years seeing praise heaped upon the virtual world as the pinnacle of MMO design. I’ve yet to encounter a themepark that did not have a large and vocal group of players wishing it was more of a sandbox, but I have never once heard anyone (other than myself) wish a sandbox was more of a themepark.

Yet when I play Black Desert, I’m not feeling the magic. I see nothing special about the experience. Intellectually I understand the appeal of sandboxes. It’s usually something about player freedom and greater immersion. But I don’t feel any freer in Black Desert than in any other game (in fact I felt much more freedom to go and do as I wish in Guild Wars 2 and The Elder Scrolls Online). Nor do sandboxes seem any more immersive to me. Indeed, focusing on (often very complex) systems ahead of structured content is quite unimmersive to me. In a themepark, I can lose myself in the story and adventure and learn the game systems at my own pace along the way.

Yet clearly I am alone in feeling this way, so I throw myself upon the mercy of the Massively team: What’s wrong with me, and how do I fix it?

This is gonna be a fun one to unpack. Let’s talk sandboxes! Is Sandboxless broken beyond repair, or are sandboxes the problem?

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Waxing philosophical about SWTOR companions with BioWare’s Charles Boyd

Just in time for this week’s May the Fourth festivities, I spoke to Star Wars: The Old Republic’s Charles Boyd. He currently holds the title of Lead Designer — Creative, but he likes to refer to it as Creative Lead. It makes it easier to remember and say in front of his name. Essentially, he has creative control over the story and the direction of the game, specifically the narrative of the game. “I have unlimited power!” he exclaimed in his Emperor Palpatine impression. This only makes sense that a writer would hold this position given that it’s a BioWare game and he was big part of the development of Knights of the Fallen Empire back when he bore the title Lead Writer.

As I spoke to him about his job and the stories that he’s written over his almost 10 years at BioWare, the conversation took a philosophical turn toward the game’s companions, especially in how they reflect on the player and the characters that the players are puppeting.

There will be some minor spoilers about previous Knights of the Fallen Empire chapters, but I’ve tried to keep them to a minimum. But if you like to talk about storytelling in BioWare games or games in general, read on regardless of spoilers.

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EverQuesting: The gaffe of gating EverQuest II’s content behind a sub

With last week’s release of GU100 in EverQuest II, an interesting conversation reared its head again — a not necessarily flattering one for Daybreak. While I am as excited as the next person for new content, I have reservations about this delivery this time around. That’s because this recent game update’s content is gated behind a subscription wall, which leads me to ask: Are non-subscribing players second-class citizens? Specifically, are those who choose not to buy into membership considered inherently substandard in the eyes of developers, regardless of how much money they put into the game?

I’ve made pitches more than once for people to pony up and pay for games they like. Nothing says that has to come in the form of a subscription, though. Game models today provide various ways to pay and play, so I wonder why devs figuratively spit in the face of those who want to give them money in one of those other ways. Is sub money somehow superior to non-sub money? While I personally have kept my All-Access going basically from the beginning, why is a friend who prefers to use the offered a la carte method not worthy of obtaining the same content? I’m not talking about folks who are fully free-to-play and never invest a single dime into the game; I referring to players who opt out of subs but still fork over up to hundreds of dollars between the Marketplace and expansions (versus my measly $15 a month). Why is there content these folks can’t purchase, even if they want to? This really does not make sense to me.

I’ve come to think that how the goodies of GU100 were made available was wrong, and it worries me about content distribution going forward. Slighting paying customers is sure to drive away business. How much, I can’t say, but I have friends who refuse to spend in games they actually planned to when learning no matter how much they spend, it will never be “enough” to access content. Special perks for subscribers is all well and good, but content should be accessible to anyone willing to pay for it, whatever their method of doing so.

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