Choose My Adventure tours a new MMO every month — with you, the reader, as the co-pilot, voting for how the writer plays from week to week. Our current captain is Eliot Lefebvre. [Follow this column’s RSS feed]
There are times when I've been away from a game for a while that I'm honestly not sure if I remember something correctly. I like to think that I have a pretty good memory, and years of evidence tends to bear that out, but it is by no means a perfect memory. I forget things like anyone else. It's always possible for me to forget one or two things as time goes by.
But then I run into something like WildStar's starting tutorial, and there's no ambiguity whatsoever. I definitely would have remembered this; this is downright different. This is a very new experience compared to how the starting experience on a new character used to run.
That's not an entirely bad thing; while I liked the old starting experience, it wasn't exactly great, and it was a lot of time spent farting about on a ship instead of actually, like, playing the game. So I think it's worth examining on its own merits and deciding whether or not the game successfully introduces its core concepts with this version.
In order to talk about WildStar, we kind of have to talk about Firefly. And no, not in the obvious way where we talk about how dearly the game wants to be able to claim the heritage of Firefly for its own.
There's a thing dubbed the Firefly Effect (I'm not linking TV Tropes here; y'all know where it is, look it up if you want to) that describes a kind of vicious cycle. You see something new and interesting previewed. However, you also see that it's on a network that is unlikely to allow that interesting thing enough run time to really finish working itself out. So, to spare yourself any heartache when it gets cancelled, you don't watch it. Later, it gets cancelled... because no one was watching it because everyone expected it would be cancelled.
The reason I bring that up is that WildStar is currently waist-deep in the Firefly Effect. Sure, it's not a show, but the same operating principles are at work. People are afraid to commit for fear that it'll be canned, and that makes any forward momentum for the game incredibly difficult.
Writing about Lord of the Rings Online
is an odd experience for me because the reality is pretty simple: I don't like the game very much. But it's not really the fault of the game itself.
There are, to be fair, a lot of games that I play without liking too much. That's actually not too unusual, even. But there are also a lot of games I play that I am no longer playing but still have something I point to and say, "Yes, this right here, this makes it worth it." The Secret World's ability building and setting are juxtaposed against awkward missions and lackluster combat. The Elder Scrolls Online has a mixture of open and linear elements and a greatly improved combat engine. Star Trek Online has plenty of open stuff in the endgame that almost justifies its incredibly complex opening moments. You get the idea.
But when I look at LOTRO, I see a game that more or less perfectly does what it wants to be doing with only a handful of exceptions. It just doesn't ever make a connection with me whatsoever.
What is with
me and ending this feature in slightly snowy pine-forested woodlands? That doesn't make a whole lot of sense to happen twice in a row. Someone who isn't me should speculate about that.
At any rate, this is my final installment for Lord of the Rings Online, and it wraps up with... a remarkably short list of choices actually made. I've been informed reliably by you lovely people that it was entirely possible for me to jaunt over to one of the other starting zones, and that may have ultimately made a difference, but by the time I knew that I was already invested in helping out a bunch of elves. And I did just that, right up until it was time to wave farewell.
But talking about the larger context is something for next week. For now, let's talk a bit about moving out of the very Elf-focused areas and into more common spaces.
The thing about the level of Lord of the Rings Online
that I'm playing at is that they are not exactly replete with choices. I am reliably informed (by you lovely readers, no less) that you can pretty easily dart between starter areas if you so desire, but that's about it; the lower levels are a fairly linear experience. It kind of makes sense, seeing as how it's a game with a pretty straightforward narrative and drive, but it also means that the whole process is a bit straightforward.
However, last week I feel like I did a fair bit of grousing about the game, which isn't entirely fair. Another week of pointing out the same things wouldn't really accomplish much of use, would it? Instead, I want to talk today about all of the stuff I'm liking about the game. I can't promise that one or two minor complaints might work their way in there, but that's not my focus for the day.
You know, if my first exposure to Elves had been in Lord of the Rings Online
, I would probably think that they were the most depressing species in existence because they're basically prepping for the most depressing road trip ever. Maybe for all of the right reasons, but still
For those of you who are even less aware of Middle-Earth as a setting than I, the gist of things is that the time of the Elves is nearly done, and they are soon to journey to the West. This is kind of a natural side-effect of the whole to-do about the eponymous Rings, where the Elves can't stick around without them; I'm not entirely clear on the details, there, but the short version is that this is the close of a cycle for the entirety of the race.
So most of your early stuff is based around the fact that the Elves are not, in fact, going out to party and enjoy themselves while Sauron is on the march. Instead, it's all about preparing for the most depressing road trip of all time.
If I had to guess which tabletop roleplaying game I was going to associate with Lord of the Rings Online
, I really wouldn't have guessed Call of Cthulhu
. There have been actual
tabletop games associated with this setting, after all. But no, it's that classic that's been in the back of my mind the whole time, which is something of a compliment.
To my surprise, the CE code that I had for the game from back forever ago did, in fact, work just fine, which meant that I started out with a fresh VIP subscription, a mess of coins, and all of the benefits that I otherwise would have unlock directly. Like the class which got selected for me, for example. After a bit of clicking through options, I created my newest incarnation of Ceilarene because why not her and got thrown into the game's opening sequence.
Which all happens a very, very long time ago, but the game doesn't communicate that terribly well. But that's not entirely its fault.
The votes are in, and the next four weeks will be spent in Lord of the Rings Online
! This one quite genuinely surprised me, not because I think the game lacks fans (I know it's got a lot of those) but because I really didn't think it would get such a groundswell of support. But it did, and so we're heading to Middle-Earth for a few weeks.
Middle-Earth and I have a rather different relationship than the one I have with Tamriel, even though it kind of averages out to about the same thing. I also, ironically, have a LOTRO collector's edition in my house, despite having never played the game for more than a couple of days. They were giving them out at PAX East the first year; it's still not redeemed. I don't actually know if it's still any good, for that matter.
Unlike the previous game I've covered in this column, LOTRO has not recently had an enormous update that renovates the entire way the game works. It does, however, have a devoted fanbase that is understandably a bit worried about the game's long-term health at the moment, since we just recently learned that everything about the game's management is changing. That's a big deal.
Back when I played through The Elder Scrolls Online's beta, I said that it was another generic fantasy MMO in a field already choked with them. The latter part has not changed. The question, then, is whether the former part has changed, whether the game has truly risen from its somewhat inauspicious beginnings to really carve out its own identity as a game, independent of simply relying upon the franchise name.
The answer... is complex. It has, but it also hasn't, but it also doesn't need to, but it also does need to. So let's start going through this point by point.
I certainly have warmer feelings toward the game now than I did when I played through the beta. The game's combat has undoubtedly been improved, and it cannot be overstated how much One Tamriel helps the game as a whole. Without feeling like I have to stick to a very narrow range of things to be done if I want to level, I always felt as if I really could head off in a direction and find what interested me, which is a good thing. The problem, of course, is that "interest" often requires investment in a setting, and that is... troublesome.
All good things must come to an end, and in this case, my adventures in The Elder Scrolls Online are ending in Orsinium. I've done some stealing, I've done some murdering, and now it's time for me to do some dealing with the dark and sinister work involved in building a nation out of nothing. Or close to nothing, anyhow. Hammering separate tribes together is never easy work.
It only gets harder when it turns out that the person responsible for hammering those tribes together may, in fact, be an ego-tripping maniac who shouldn't be given authority over anyone.
Of course, there's more to see in Orsinium than I could get to in a week, even if I wasn't in the middle of the holiday time crunch and so forth. But I did manage to at least get a high-level tour of what the region is all about, and I do agree with people who said that this was definitely the sort of thing that should be seen before leaving the game.
The Thieves' Guild might have a somewhat generic name for what it's doing, but I find it makes far more sense in any world than a guild of assassins. It's the organized crime syndicate, and while it plays nicer than most organized crime, at the end of the day it's the sort of group that makes logical sense. They keep tabs on one another, they work together, they try to avoid kicking up too much of a fuss to the point where law enforcement has to get involved.
Last week's vote for my destination in The Elder Scrolls Online very narrowly favored the Thieves' Guild over the murderhappy Dark Brotherhood, so I happily said farewell to the Dark Brotherhood while thanking them for the knife and went on my merry way to a long, long route toward my next destination. Seriously, I had to traverse quite a bit of land to meet up with Quen and get in on the theft of the MacGuffin. This time, it was a skull.
It's weird how attitudes towards death vary depending on the video game and the structure set up. In Saints Row the Third, a friend and I played a madcap duo named Morgan and Ryoko, and I have never once given a second thought to Ryoko's habit of flinging grenades into the other lane of traffic for no reason outside of the fact that she could. The consequences of her actions would fall under the header of war crimes in any sensible world. Yet it wasn't really the sort of world where that mattered.
What I'm getting at is that The Elder Scrolls Online made me kind of uncomfortable when it told me that the quest to get into the Dark Brotherhood would start when I killed someone. Just... someone. It didn't really matter whom, so long as the person I killed was an innocent, arbitrary victim. That seemed wrong somehow.
Still, this was how the vote went, and thus I was off to the Gold Coast. Unfortunately, I didn't get nearly as much time to play this week as I would have liked, but I made the best use of the time I did have to get in and start doing stuff for the Dark Brotherhood.
Despite the fact that for this round of Choose My Adventure, I am jumping into The Elder Scrolls Online in an era of doing whatever I want at any level I choose, it still makes sense to just go through the starting experience in a rather straightforward fashion. Obviously, the starter experience points you in a pretty obvious direction right away, but once you're past the starter experience it still makes a certain amount of sense to keep rolling along with the storyline. You're surrounded by quests and stuff to harvest right away; it's pretty straightforward.
A lot of things, however, haven't changed since I played the game in the beta forever ago. The story is, in many ways, in the same space it was back then. I wasn't terribly enamored of the experience then, and so I will admit right off of the bat that I didn't have high hopes this time. I mean, it was the same story, same overall experience -- so how different could it really be once I started moving beyond the earliest parts of the story and into adventuring within the frozen lands of the Pact?
The answer, it turns out, is pretty darn different -- for a variety of reasons.