Mighty and majestic, scaly in hide and shrewd of mind, smoking with fury unabated… these are the Battle Bards! Also, dragons. Yes, in today’s episode, the Bards tackle the soundtracks to one of the most iconic fantasy creatures of all time. So call over your good luck dragon and get your best Sean Connery voice on as we loot the musical hoard of these beasts.
Battle Bards is a bi-weekly podcast that alternates between examining a single MMO’s soundtrack and exploring music tracks revolving around a theme. MOP’s Justin co-hosts with bloggers Steff and Syl. The cast is available on iTunes, Google Play, TuneIn, Pocket Casts, Stitcher, and Player.FM.
Although the Asheron’s Call series has now been dead for exactly one year today, it’s far from forgotten by fans. It was admittedly a cult classic, and as the youngest of the “Big Three” graphical MMOs, it was the easiest to ignore, especially as it used an original sci-fi/fantasy setting rather than, well, something with elves.
MMO AC converts I’ve met regularly said the game was more solo-friendly and more story-driven than Ultima Online and EverQuest, receiving monthly updates that felt like downloadable content before DLC was a common industry term. These weren’t simply automated addons but events that were often curated in a fashion that is similar to Game Masters in tabletop RPGs, meaning that those who built the scenario sometimes participated as their own lore characters, placing themselves at the mercy of their own game and community. While several events in both AC1 and AC2 made use of this kind of interactive story-telling style, none is better recalled than the first event: The Shard of the Herald.
A comment on Reddit about the current size and viability of Kritika Online got me thinking about MMO playerbases in general lately. We all know that there’s a stigma attached to little games; the big games with big servers and millions of players feel safer, and nowadays people just assume a small MMO has one foot in the grave. But it isn’t always true. We could also rattle off some smaller MMOs that seem to be moving along just fine, with bills paid. Sure, they’d like to be bigger, but they’re holding steady and know how to work the playerbase they do have rather than constantly alienate their current customers in search of new customers. And some MMO gamers actually prefer those sorts of titles. After all, if the game has just a few thousand people, it’s much easier to get to know a large slice of them, plus have your voice heard by the developers and actually influence the gameworld.
For this week’s Massively Overthinking, I’ve asked the writers to reflect on the smallest MMOs they have played, and then consider how big an MMO has to be in terms of playerbase that they’d consider playing it now. What’s the smallest MMO you’re willing to play, and why?
Massively OP’s Justin Olivetti has a provocative article on his personal gaming blog, Bio Break, this week on MMORPG housing.
“I once again wonder why open world housing is this holy grail that some players and developers seem hellbent on chasing,” he writes. “It’s an ideal, a beautiful mirage couched in the notion of players inhabiting the very world they play, allowing them to stroll through neighborhoods of fellow adventurer’s homes and basking in the connectivity of it all. Yet it’s a failed experiment, one that is proven time and again to have far more drawbacks than benefits.” After listing off his complaints with the mechanic, he ultimately concludes that “we simply don’t need fixed open world housing, even in sandboxes.”
But being Justin, he also asked for feedback on why the joys are worth the drawbacks – and how to fix the system so it works instead of running off the rails. That’s just what we’ll do in this week’s Overthinking. Is he right about not needing this type of housing? And if not, how would you fix open world housing?
Probably my greatest and most constant gripe about fantasy MMORPGs is that for all of the freedom and imagination that this genre supposedly boasts, game designers keep going to the same boring well of tropes and limit themselves instead of exploring possibilities.
Nowhere do you see this more than in races. Dwarves and Elves? We’ve got bushels and barrels of them, all on sale at discount prices. There are regular humans, of course, and Slightly Bigger Humans, and Half-Sized Humans, and Blue Humans. But what about getting outside of this been-there-played-that cookie cutter design to offer some interesting playable choices?
Like fairies, perhaps?
I could never understand why we don’t see fairies more in MMOs. They are widely recognized in the fantasy genre, they seem to have popularity, and they even share some cross-over with Elves. But the poor fae have been unrepresented, so much so that it took a lot of digging to come up with a mere 10 MMOs that allow you to play as one, whether it be as a race or class. Let’s take a look!
Names and titles fascinate me. While sometimes they have no deeper meaning than to sound pleasant and be memorable, a label can indicate purpose, history, and connection. MMORPG names are, of course, as varied as the stars in the sky, with many of them slapping “online” or “age of” somewhere in there to designate their category. But every so often, we witness a game that changes its name as part of its development and business evolution.
Today I wanted to run down 10 MMOs (well, nine MMOs and one expansion) that received notable name changes over the years. I’m not going to talk about games that created a weird rebrand for a business model shift but mostly stuck with the original title afterward (such as DDO Unlimited or WildStar Reloaded), but instead games that had vastly different names than what they ended up using.
It makes sense, sort of, that in an MMO where you can dress up as a dragon year-round that Halloween might be a favored holiday. In any case, Istaria is certainly getting the jump on the ghosts and ghouls of the fall holiday by staging a fall festival contest right now.
Players are being encouraged to put their artistic skills to work with the theme of “things that go bump in the night.” Short stories, mural designs, and mask paintings are all needed, and it sounds like the team might incorporate the best of these into the fall festival itself. The winners will get a special title and perhaps something more.
The contest will run through September 16th, with the winners declared on September 30th. Curious what this MMO’s been up to over the past year? We recently investigated what’s been happening with Istaria and found out a few interesting results.
Ever pause during your day and find yourself wondering, “What ever happened to that game?” With hundreds upon hundreds of online titles these days, it’s surprisingly easy for MMOs to fall through the cracks and become buried as more aggressive or active games take the spotlight.
Well, every so often we here at Massively Overpowered find ourselves curious what has transpired with certain MMOs that we haven’t heard from in quite a while. Have we missed the action and notices? Has the game gone into stealth maintenance mode? What’s the deal? What has it been up to lately?
That’s when we put on our detective hats and go sleuthing. Today we look at whatever happened to PlanetSide 2, A Tale in the Desert, and Istaria (witness protection program name: Horizons).
Ever since the tone-deaf SOE proclamation that nobody wanted to play Uncle Owen in an MMORPG, contrary me has consciously fought that very stupid idea. A whole lot of people wanted to play Uncle Owen, then and now, there and elsewhere. Star Wars Galaxies was a game half full of Uncle Owens. I spent a lot of time literally becoming a moisture farmer as my own form of rebellion. And yet, as I realized while debating with my husband a few weeks ago, the person I really wanted to be was freakin’ Lando. And most MMORPGs don’t allow that either — it’s Luke or GTFO.
Such is the argument made by a recent PC Gamer article, which in its own precious mainstream way argues that “MMOs need to let you be an average Joe” to get out of the clear “creative slump” they’re in.
“With their scale and permanence, MMOs give us the chance to be citizens in a make-believe world we create with the help of our fellow players. When it’s left up to us what kind of role we want to fill in that world, everybody’s immersion benefits from being surrounded by all types of characters with vastly different stories.”
For this week’s Overthinking, I asked the staff to chime in on the concept of Uncle Owen in MMORPGs. Do you play this way? Do you wish you could? And is it the way forward?
During last week’s podcast, Justin and I bumped into a tangential topic about competitive PvE and how relatively rare it is in MMORPGs, which seems weird, right? It was once the nature of MMOs to make us scuffle with other guilds in open-world dungeons, but with the dawn of instanced PvE content, devs didn’t replace that type of content the same way they’ve embraced raiding and PvP. You’ve got achievements, sure, and gear show-offs, but outside of Guild Wars-esque challenge missions and WildStar PvE leaderboards, it’s just not something most MMOs bother with.
Why is that? Should they? And how do you want to see it done? I posed all these questions to the Massively OP team this week for Massively Overthinking!
Istaria, which you might remember as Horizons way back in the day, has this week released Niesa’s Fate, the 16.1 update for the dragon-encrusted MMORPG. Cue lore!
“Niesa was a well-known and brilliant alchemist who was also in love with Giltekh Framtor, her one-time apprentice, but now a Master Alchemist in his own right. Ten years ago she vanished in the Eastern Deadlands while searching for components to a potion she claimed ‘would change everything’ about the war. Begin your quest in Aradoth, and solve what happened Niesa.”
Players of this classic MMO can also expect epic boss and item changes, a huge icon art revamp, new decorations in a number of buildings, a new combat dummy, new epic allies, and sweet dryad wings.
Istaria (formerly Horizons) is attempting to make good on its former promise of shoring up the game this year, as it’s just released a summer update with a slew of small but important bug fixes and changes. Of particular note are improvements to resource nodes on the Abandoned Isle, new tier 4 and 5 crafting boons, and fixes to bird tweets.
“While these sorts of updates are not as exciting as new content, they are important and why the developers have committed a block of time for this work,” the team posted. “The next set of updates and fixes are just around the corner, and the devs are already moving forward with the next portion of work, so stay tuned!”
Not every MMO patch has to be a field of explorable content through which adventurers romp barefoot and fancy-free. Sometimes the unglamorous work of bug fixes and tech upgrades need to take priority with the dev team.
Such is the case with Istaria (formerly Horizons), which posted a preview of what’s coming for the game. The team says that the early 2015 City Under Siege patch was the big content release of the year, as the devs are moving on to shore up the tech, improve art assets, and polish the content for the rest of the year.
Through these, Istaria players should experience better game performance while saying goodbye to frustrating issues, such as “the monster moonwalk.” The team also has long-term plans to upgrade the title’s client and server technology.