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.
In the comments of a Daily Grind last week, a few commenters tangeted into debate about The Elder Scrolls Online: Morrowind pricing.
See, the original "ESO Plus" deal for ESO subscription holders granted them full access to all future downloadable content (DLC) forever and ever, as long as they were subscribed to the game. Morrowind, however, has been marketed not as DLC but as a "chapter," meaning it will not be subject to the Plus promises, and so everyone will have to pay for it. Grumbling ensued.
"Suppose I paid BMW a monthly fee to drive [BMW] cars," commenter Odin wrote. "I could drive whatever I want as long as I paid. They announce a great new car I want to drive. I cant wait, but they tell me, "This isnt a car; it's an automobile. You have to pay extra.'"
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.
Eyebrows flew up earlier this week when Carbine announced it would be granting free max-level WildStar characters to players who log into the game with the patch launch today.
In way, the decision makes sense, since the game has long touted its endgame and Power of the Primal Matrix introduces horizontal advancement best explored at the level cap.
On the other hand, MOP's Justin and I have a longstanding debate on whether advanced characters are a boon to MMOs -- do they crush your fun or just help you skip unrelated grind? Are they a net positive for a game or just a Hail Mary?
For today's impromptu Leaderboard, let's see how the free toon is working out for you.
Last week, the MMO world was startled to learn that instead of getting an expansion, The Secret World is getting a complete relaunch as part of a big Funcom push of the game. At this point, there's been plenty of time to speculate (and not a lot of info from the studio forthcoming, and yes, we've asked!). From the investor call, we know that the game is due for a newbie experience overhaul, a combat overhaul, daily login rewards, and a new business model that makes story content freely accessible, which suggests a lean away from buy-to-play.
So do you think we are looking at a game-crushing NGE -- or a Final Fantasy XIV-style GOTY-quality do-over? And more importantly, do these sound like the kinds of adjustments that might entice you to return to The Secret World or play for the first time? Let's find out in this week's Leaderboard.
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.
Solo players in MMORPGs are a strange case, chiefly because they are treated like an outlier when they aren't. The fact is that almost everyone solos at one time or another -- yes, even in classic MMORPGs -- and the vast majority of people apparently prefer to solo more than not solo, even if they also want to group. Or at least one might draw that conclusion from the last dozen years of MMOs!
I thought for today's Leaderboard, we could drill down some of the reasons people solo. Pick as many as apply!
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.