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]
Writing about WildStar at this point feels weird.
Obviously, I just finished up playing the game for this feature for four weeks. It feels fresh in my mind. And in many ways, it really has changed quite a bit from launch to its credit. In many other ways, it hasn’t changed much at all. And the ways in which it has changed would make a much bigger difference if those changes affected things that initially drove me away from the game.
So in many ways, when I write about WildStar now, I’m still writing about the launch version of the game. It’s just that we’re now several years out from that launch, and its potential to really be something no longer has the time to turn into reality. It’s still just a hope for what it could be, and there’s not much more to the game beyond what we see right now. So it’s the same state of the game, but it’s gone from promising opportunities to unrealized potential.
First and foremost, before I start talking about my last week of adventures in WildStar, I'd like to thank the developers for giving me an opportunity I rarely have in this column. Nine times out of ten the reality of the column means I don't get to actually see high-level play at all; I don't know that I'd classify this week's adventure as being indicative of the whole level cap experience, but it gives me a better picture of it than just sitting down at level 10 or whatever.
I'd also like to thank a friend for accompanying me up to the high-level portion of the game, since she was curious about it as well. Teamwork, people, that's what MMOs are all about.
When I originally played WildStar, I had in fact reached level cap and done a fair number of the initial crop of dailies during one of the earlier patches. Thus, my friend and I decided to unlock the Primal Matrix and head out to Arcterra, which was added too recently for either of us to have seen it in the past. Yes, that meant I wasn't going to be in an area going "oh, I remember this," but it meant that I'd have a good idea about that part of the endgame.
It's amazing how some things stick in your mind while others don't. I honestly had forgotten about the whole questline in WildStar that involves showing off just how awful the Dominion can be until I was knee-deep in it, but as soon as I was in there, I remembered being impressed with it. There's a lot to like: subtle worldbuilding and careful production that really sends a message and forces you to think about what you're doing and why. I like that and appreciate it immensely.
That makes it a good companion piece to dungeon queues just not happening. And it also lines up nicely with the fact that this week's CMA provides us with a heretofore unprecedented opportunity, one that I am very curious to see about the response to. It wasn't really an option in the last installment, and it wasn't necessary in the prior one anyhow... but now, it's a choice. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.
Playing WildStar for this week's session was the first time I really felt old.
I had failed to account for two things when I got started last week. The first was that I had played this particular opening experience a few times before, so I was fairly familiar with the progression. (I forget, honestly, if the other starting area drops you off in a different region.) The second, however, was how the opening experience past the first zone doesn't leave you many opportunities to... well, breathe.
Lightreach Mission in Ellevar nicely avoids the usual problem of starting towns in MMOs feeling very much like they're just there to provide you with an immediate and largely disposable quest hub, so I appreciate that. The problem was, well... the sheer density of the place. You land, you pick up the first few quests, you start doing things and bam, welcome to in-your-face everything-is-happening land! It's enough to make a guy feel old (even if I'm not).
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.