Choose My Adventure: Three games enter, one game leaves

Hello again, friends, and welcome to a new cycle of Choose My Adventure. You may remember that last time around, I bypassed the whole game-voting process and jumped straight into Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward, but this time around, I figured I’d take a step back and give you folks a bit more say in the matter.

Mind you, I’m not quite so masochistic as to give y’all complete free rein over the game selection; I’m sure you’re kind, caring, lovely people, but I’m not so sure that you’d be able to resist the opportunity to force me into the most mind-numbingly terrible game you could find just so that you could watch my slow-but-inevitable spiral into insanity. So with that in mind, I’ve created a little round-up of games that are currently topical in one way or another, and it’s up to y’all to choose my destiny. I’ve done my best to pick out a diverse group of titles that I hope will offer a little something for fans of all tastes and preferences, so without further preamble, allow me to introduce the contenders.

Our first candidate is Skyforge, the latest entry into the MMO arena from Allods Team, creator of — you guessed it — Allods Online. Like Allods, Skyforge is a bit of a genre mash-up, crossing high-tech sci-fi with magical fantasy. The game puts a strong focus on frenetic, fast-paced combat and is billed as being “inspired by the best action-combat console games,” allowing players to actively block, dodge, and combo their way to victory. It also places significant emphasis on granting players a great degree of freedom-of-choice by allowing them to change classes on a whim and providing a wide range of activities — “PvP, PvE, group or solo, open world play, short instance or large raid,” touts the official site — to satisfy fans of any playstyle.

On the lore side of things, Skyforge casts players in the role of “immortal warriors” who are tasked with the literally deific duty of protecting the mortal inhabitants of the world of Aelion. Throughout their journeys, players accumulate power and amass followers in the hopes of ascending to godhood and perhaps even earning the title of Elder God. “The best of the best,” says the game’s official site, “will join the Order of Keepers and shape the fate of the world.” As if wielding the supreme power of divine judgment and retribution with extreme prejudice is a big deal or something. Psh.

Skyforge officially launched only about a month ago, but the devs have already released the game’s first major patch, adding a number of features including level scaling, more robust PvP options, and a variety of high-level content to the game. As an added bonus, Skyforge is one of the two titles on this list that is free-to-play, meaning that if any of you lovely readers wanted to join me on my adventures for some ungodly (ha) reason — or if you’d just like the opportunity to punish me for that pun by bludgeoning my face in some PvP — it’s just a download away.

The premiere project of new game development studio Goblinworks, Pathfinder Online is based on the beloved Pathfinder tabletop roleplaying game. The title looks to remain close to its origins by attempting to translate the mechanics and overall atmosphere of its PnP predecessor to a virtual space as faithfully as is possible without resorting to having players roll digital d20s every five seconds while occasionally being asked, “Are you sure you want to do that?”

A major part of that atmospheric translation also relies on the fact that PFO falls soundly on the sandbox end of the MMO spectrum. Rather than guiding players from point A to point B by way of quest hubs and bread-crumb trails, the game plops them down in an expansive world, provides them with a big box of tools, and lets them make their own adventures and set their own goals. Would-be conquerors can attempt to make names for themselves on the battlefield through the game’s territorial control system, while more industrious (or cowardly, depending on your perspective) players can put the hammer to the anvil and peddle their wares on the open market, and that’s just a couple of the myriad paths the game provides.

Players are also given a great deal of control over character development in keeping with the spirit of the tabletop game, although PFO’s system does deviate somewhat from the source material. Rather than utilizing the traditional class system of the PnP game, PFO instead puts the focus of character development on roles, which the devs hope will “capture the flavor of the class system while still allowing characters to pursue many different ability specializations.”

In essence, the system works by organizing the various skills into groups, or “collections,” each of which roughly mirrors the abilities of a specific class in the tabletop game, though the selection is currently limited to the four “traditional” base classes of Fighter, Wizard, Rogue, and Cleric. Though players can choose to mix-and-match a character’s skills from multiple collections, they can also specialize in a particular collection, thereby granting that character a dedication bonus when using skills from that collection. This seems to roughly parallel one of the core decisions of character development in the tabletop game: Do you stick with a single class, building a character especially adept in a narrow domain of skills, or do you choose to multiclass, sacrificing some of that proficiency for versatility?

It should be noted that the game is still in a state of ongoing development, though Goblinworks recently announced the release of early enrollment version 10.1, which most notably added the holding and outpost warfare systems to the game, allowing players to vie for control of outposts and settlements.

One of the most recent additions to Trion Worlds‘s stable of games, Trove is a bit of an odd duck compared to the other two titles on this list, as it combines more “traditional” MMORPG elements — earning experience, gaining levels, acquiring new and more powerful equipment, and so on — with a procedurally generated, destructible (and constructible!), voxel-based world à la Minecraft and its countless progeny.

On the “traditional RPG” side of the spectrum, Trove provides players with an array of character classes to play and level up, ranging from the mundane, such as the Knight and the Gunslinger, to the decidedly eccentric, such as the Neon Ninja, the Boomeranger, and — I’m completely serious — the Candy Barbarian, which is exactly what it sounds like. It also, I feel I should note, features quite possibly the greatest ability names I’ve ever seen, including an AoE attack called “Vanilla Swirlwind,” and the class’s ultimate attack that calls upon the power of the Candy Barbarian deity Eis-Crom, known as the “Eis-Crom Cone.” I’d normally say something like, “You can’t make this stuff up,” but someone did, and I hate that person because he or she is clearly more clever than I.

In addition to delving into dangerous dungeons in search of valuable loot and experience, players can reshape the world around them in a number of ways. Each player has a personal “home away from home” known as a cornerstone, which is simply a small plot of land on which players can construct a home-base of sorts, designing it as they so desire. There are also Club Worlds which, as the name implies, are worlds where members of a Club (Trove‘s version of a guild) can freely build as they see fit.

But the game’s customization capabilities aren’t limited to the world itself; players can also use voxels to modify the appearance of their equipment and can even submit their creations for consideration to become permanent additions to the game. And if that’s not enough to scratch your creative itch, the most ambitious of architects can design and construct entire dungeons that, should the devs deem them fit, will be implemented into the game for all players to explore.

Like SkyforgeTrove is free-to-play, so if you’d like to keep me company on my journey, it won’t cost you a penny, and I’d be glad for the companions. If you wanna delve dungeons, beat baddies, and help my architecturally incompetent self try to build something more advanced than a little cube hut that even the most minimalist of minimalists would call bland, Trove probably deserves your vote.

Now that y’all are acquainted with this round’s contestants, my fate is in your hands: Will I walk the path to godhood in Skyforge, set forth on a fantastic sandbox adventure in Pathfinder Online, or shape the voxelated (Wiktionary says it’s a word, just roll with it) realms of Trove? The decision, as always, is yours. Cast your votes before the polls close on Friday, August 14th, at 11:59 p.m. EDT, and then be sure to join me next week when I announce the winner and take the first step of my latest odyssey. Until then, friends!

CMA: Ladies and gentlemen, place your bets! Or cast your votes. Whichever, really.

  • Skyforge (29%, 386 Votes)
  • Pathfinder Online (24%, 312 Votes)
  • Trove (47%, 619 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,317

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Welcome to Choose My Adventure, the column in which you join Matt each week as he journeys through mystical lands on fantastic adventures — and you get to decide his fate. Be gentle (or not)!
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droguul
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droguul

pfoprophet I agree. Would be epic.   Looks like they lose the vote though.  Guess we just have to laugh at them on the forums and hope that someday someone we get a second chance to vote!

breetoplay
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breetoplay

Grimmtooth Yep, that was Mike, a long time back now — good memory. He didn’t have a great experience in Allods.

MVOP_Matt
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MVOP_Matt

pfoprophet MVOP_Matt vinicitur Fair point :P

Wakkander
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Wakkander

MVOP_Matt Wakkander
I appreciate the thoughtful response, I kinda was just venting into the ether and didn’t honestly expect any.

That said, I would have to respectfully disagree on a few points. I would defy you to find me a single example of any group that plays Pathfinder as a PvP game, except maybe as a one off joke session. The game itself is not in any way, shape, or form designed for PvP. The cornerstone of the game and the d20 systems it is based on going all the way back to OD&D has been of a cooperative experience. If you ask one of the best ways to ruin a PnP campaign, PvP will be on that list, it just is not that kind of game. Even the GM, who controls the monsters, isn’t intended to be antagonistic to the players so much as a storyteller and narrator. Meanwhile PFO is designed primarily around that activity.
The other aspect touted as a core feature of PFO is crafting, and while crafting has existed in every d20 system I have played, the PFO take on it is quite different. PFO doesn’t offer the same kind of loot as in the tabletop game, it is less magical and far more mundane, which might be great in a setting like Game of Thrones, but Golarion is a high magic fantasy world, and this section of the River Kingdoms borders a region called Numeria that has androids and lasers.
I say this not as just a random internet commentator, but as someone who has been playing PnP games of all stripes for over a decade, someone who actually backed the kickstarter, and who has played everything from 2nd edition AD&D up to Pathfinder and D&D Next, and more and stranger PnP games besides.

Roleplaying, dungeon crawls, tactical combat, storytelling, these are all valid ways to play the game, PFO arguably does none of it. Roleplaying is an option, but the same is true on wow, planetside 2, or League of Legends, none of them prohibit it, but that hardly makes them faithful recreations of a PnP experience. Dungeon Crawls are at the heart of most classic modules, from the Tomb of Horrors, to the more recently seen in video game form, the Temple of Elemental Evil. The only MMO that has actually gotten close to this experience has been DDO, which while having its own quirks and flaws, has some very well done dungeons. PFO may possess tactical combat, to be fair I did not get into any high level play my last go round with it and my time in it was short, but I didn’t see it when I was last playing it. Storytelling exists only in as far as players make their own stories, and are limited in that to the template presented by PFO of conflicts between settlements.
But in the immortal words of LeVar Burton ‘don’t take my word for it’, here is an excerpt from my copy of the Pathfinder Core Rulebook:
“The Pathfinder Roleplaying Game is a tabletop fantasy game in which the players take on the roles of heroes who form a group (or party) to set out on dangerous adventures. Helping them tell this story is the Game Master (or GM), who decides what threats the player characters (or PCs) face and what sorts of rewards they earn for succeeding at their quest. Think of it as a cooperative storytelling game, where the players play the protagonists and the Game Master acts as the narrator, controlling the rest of the world.”

Cooperative storytelling game.

So if it isn’t a cooperative storytelling game, if it doesn’t feature dungeon crawls, if it doesn’t feature memorable stories or villains, etc, etc, surely it must have some similarity in the ruleset?

Magic, martial combat, health, armor, combat as a whole really. Nope, none of it is like the PnP game. In as far as I can tell it also didn’t offer anything in the way of the non-combat systems either, except very loosely some similar themes to the Kingmaker adventure path where the party could grow and develop a kingdom.

I am not saying it isn’t a faithful translation, I am not saying it is a really poor translation, what I am saying is they never even tried from the start to translate it. They wanted a license that held some name recognition to produce EVE in Fantasyland, Pathfinder worked because it was an untapped brand in videogames that at the time (and may still be) the most popular and highest selling rpg in the tabletop market. From that they were able to garner far more interest to back 2 successful kickstarters that would have been exponentially more difficult without the branding and name recognition it garnered.

I am sorry, but it is Pathfinder in name only, and while you can argue otherwise I think that if you experienced a real PnP game, you would find how wrong you are. In fact, let me help with that.
1: http://geekandsundry.com/ They have 2 shows, Critical Role, and Titansgrave. Both of these follow a actual tabletop game, I would recommend Critical Role more as while it doesn’t have as fancy a presentation, it does use a d20 system and I think is just more fun in general.
2: http://friendsatthetable.net/ This is a podcast series of PnP rpgs, not d20 based but still a interesting listen.
3: http://dnd.wizards.com/articles/livestream-games#submenu-page from the home of D&D itself, both podcasts and videos of d20 games in action.
Anyways, if you make it this far, thanks for reading, and best of luck in whatever game you end up playing. (I voted Pathfinder Online actually myself, just so you could delve into it and perhaps see the differences from it to any potential PnP experience you might have had.)

pfoprophet
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pfoprophet

I voted for PFO because a train wreck like this is a priceless source of fun!

pfoprophet
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pfoprophet

MVOP_Matt vinicitur They sell the game, charge a sub and have a cash shop.  If you feel guilt about judging a product like that then perhaps you should rethink this whole process :)

MVOP_Matt
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MVOP_Matt

Wakkander I’ll admit that when I wrote that line, it was based purely on the parallel that Pathfinder — like most other tabletop RPGs — give players a great deal of freedom in regard to what they’re allowed to do, how they can build their characters, and so on, and Pathfinder Online likewise seems to be attempting to grant players a similar degree of agency over how they choose to play the game.

I think your criticisms are completely valid, but also, I feel, rather subjective. Some, like you, may see the Pathfinder tabletop game as “a highly customizable class based co-operative game typically revolving around plots and stories carefully crafted by the game master,” wherein the focus is “adventuring together, doing a dungeon crawl, fending off evil plots by epic villains, all with the expectation of interesting and unique loot.” However, of all the details you listed, the only one that is objectively, undeniably true is the fact that Pathfinder is a class-based game. The notions that it is inherently co-operative and that it inherently revolves around carefully-woven plots, dungeon crawling, and battling epic villains are all a matter of opinion.

If you asked another group of players what Pathfinder is, they might give a completely different response. Some might emphasize the ability to whole-heartedly roleplay an interesting character and adopt a new persona, while others might focus on the combat and may even prefer going toe-to-toe with their fellow players over dungeon crawls. Some may not give two shakes of a lamb’s tail about a carefully crafted plot — hell, I’m sure most DMs discover quickly enough that there are plenty of players who actually take pleasure in going out of their way to steer those carefully crafted plots in the only direction for which the DM has no fallback plan.

Don’t get me wrong; I am not trying to argue that Pathfinder Online is a 100% faithful translation of the tabletop game, mostly because I don’t think I can adequately quantify what such a perfectly faithful translation would entail. After all, as I said above, I think many Pathfinder players would disagree on what is or is not the “essence” of the RPG. The only claim I was making in the bit of the column you quoted — and I apologize if I failed to make this evident — is that, based on what I have heard and seen so far, Pathfinder Online seems to be attempting to provide the same degree of freedom and player agency as its tabletop namesake.

Sorry for the wall of text, hope that clears things up a bit!

Nordavind
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Nordavind

Skyforge o/

MVOP_Matt
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MVOP_Matt

Bionicall MVOP_Matt BalsBigBrother Praise the Sun! [T]/

Wakkander
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Wakkander

Ok, incoming rant, sorry but I couldn’t resist when I saw this description:
 “The title looks to remain close to its origins by attempting to translate the mechanics and overall atmosphere of its PnP predecessor to a virtual space as faithfully as is possible”
Er, have you played both games before, surely you cannot believe that if you are familiar with the table top game or its setting?

Pathfinder Online wildly diverges from the tabletop game in many, if not most, ways, almost all of them towards an effort to be more like EVE than like, y;know, Pathfinder. Without foreknowledge that it was based on Pathfinder, I highly doubt any player of the table top game would recognize any part of it except for some of the names and monster designs.

Here on one hand you have a highly customizable class based co-operative game typically revolving around plots and stories carefully crafted by the game master, and on the other an open world pvp sandbox game with skill based advancement and a focus on crafting and pvp warfare. It would be difficult to be anymore different without changing the setting genre. One of the mainstays of Pathfinder is adventuring together, doing a dungeon crawl, fending off evil plots by epic villains, all with the expectation of interesting and unique loot, this is not something you do in PFO. There are no deep and complex dungeons, there is no magical loot, and those other adventurers may well just shank you instead.

I wish Goblinworks the best and hope they are able to deliver an experience that their backers will enjoy, but calling their game an adaptation of the table top game borders on fraudulent and definitely false advertising. To anyone looking to get into it because they like the world of Golarion: I hope seeing a few of the deities names and place names being referenced is enough for you because that is about as deep a connection as it gets to the setting. To anyone looking to it because they like the pathfinder system, turn around, fans of the rpg need not apply. That said, if you are looking for a fantasy version of Eve, this may be for you.

Sorry, but the assertion Goblinworks is, or ever has, tried to be faithful to the game it gets its name from has no evidence to support it, and much to show quite the contrary.

/end rant.