With Pokemon Go trying to avoid explicitly calling itself an MMO, Massively OP once again has room for a top contender in the realm of mobile MMOs. There’s just one problem: We’ve got mostly Western readers for a genre that seems to appeal much more to the East. I was given the opportunity to see top global mobile MMO Lineage 2 Revolution and up and coming dino-sandbox Durango at E3 2017. I can see the appeal of both games, but also some limitations. Let’s dig into both.
Lost in translation
After having lived in both the US and Japan for extended periods of time and participating heavily in both PC and mobile culture, I think it’s fair to say I know a bit about both gaming cultures. I know Western players are often confused by why mobile does so well abroad. There are two huge factors at play here: population density and public transportation. My Japanese colleagues sometimes joked that the only privacy they could get in their daily lives would be in their own bathrooms, and it felt true. Despite people claiming we were in the countryside, you could rarely leave your home without seeing one of your students or co-workers. Friends I visited in South Korea said the same.
Public transportation is often looked down upon by Americans, probably because it kind of sucks here in a lot of cities. However, when it does well, it’s an amazing thing. Think about your daily commute. Statistically, it’s probably around 26 minutes, but that varies depending on where you live. In Southern California, most of my friends and I are used to driving for 40 minutes or longer. While it might be fun to listen to a podcast, imagine for a moment that during your commute, you didn’t have to drive.
Your mind and hands are free. You could take a nap, read the newspaper, or maybe even play a game. However, also add in the social factor. You’re able to ride home with co-workers or friends now. Maybe there’s a mall or a bar at the train station. Instead of going home right after school or work, you could get in an hour or more of gaming with your friends, or maybe train battle against students, team up with friends for a quick crafting run, or just visit their virtual home and talk to their virtual neighbors. Mobile gaming, in a way, makes the world an internet cafe if you’ve got the right culture and social network, and I’d wager that many Americans don’t. This is what mobile games, especially MMOs, are struggling with.
Lineage 2 Revolution
I polled press and consumers informally during E3 this year, including fellow MOP writers, and mobile gaming is still seen as snack gaming at best, even if designers think they’re going to get us to invest in deep gameplay. We’re more about short bursts and more interactive, so cutting back on auto-complete features, complex features, simplifying stat enhancement systems/crafting, trying to cut back on the severity of pay-to-win make a game feel more like pay-to-save-time.
And Lineage 2 Revolution is doing a lot of that for its western localization. Auto questing is still in for your grinding needs, but dungeons and some boss battles don’t have it. The non-automated combat seems mostly about timers and positioning, being actiony enough that I got a little carried away but light enough that Netmarble’s Lydia Heitman, a card-carrying gamer and PR Manager, could kick her boyfriend’s butt in PvP before getting to the front of the line at the grocery store.
In theory, gamers want deeper gameplay, but in practice, when it comes to mobile, they gravitate toward something simple. Mobile games, especially graphically gorgeous ones, kill batteries, requiring you to either have multiple phones, carry a large secondary battery, or to plug in to play. As L2R is super pretty on the graphics front, you can guess why I’m concerned about how successful the game may be in terms of combat.
However, Netmarble isn’t going into this blind. Research shows that people play mobile games in the US for 30-40 minutes, so the team’s localized the game so the dailies to take roughly the same amount of time. Currently, these same quests take about 2.5 hours in Korea, which gives me some confidence.
While it may come at the cost of customization, L2R’s various ways to upgrade and modify gear is also being simplified for Western gamers. The game has deep stat and crafting systems in Korea but is halving those stats to about 4 or 5 for Western players.
The game’s also ruthlessly pay-to-win in Korea. New players can get best-in-slot items right from the start, and this is important because the game has free-for-all PvP. While buying stuff from the cash shop will still give you a bit of an advantage, awesomely powerful items will be reserved for high levels in the Western version of the game.
Now, I know PvP is a turn off for many MOP readers. In fact, people on the showroom floor continually asked me if the game would still have item drop on death at release (it won’t!). Lineage 2 is known for its hardcore, siege type end game, and that’s still what draws people to the game, even if it’s now a bit more forgiving. However, random PvP hits you with a stat penalty that requires you to kill 300 mobs to relieve yourself of a single point. In addition, the game will have a bounty system called the “Revenge System.” What caught my attention is that it will be limited to only your guildmates. For example, Bree and Eliot are guildmates, and you and MJ are in your own guild. If Bree kills you with her Uncle Owen ways, and you post cash for revenge, Eliot can’t simply ask Bree to let him kill you so they can split the bounty. He would have to join MJ’s guild first to get the bounty offer, and MJ isn’t going to do that (probably).
Speaking of friends, the game will include social media integration. While the Japanese version of the game allows LINE users to add each other, the Western release will focus on Facebook and What’s App, tying to popular local apps. As someone who’s gotten into some mobile games, I really appreciate additions like this.
In a lot of ways, the game sounds like a slightly more accessible (and modern) version of L2. However, I’m going to let you guys in on a little secret: I play some of my mobile games on PC. Mobile emulators like Andy (no relation), Bluestacks, and Nox help make mobile titles a bit more palatable for me, allowing me to experience a game’s deep gameplay on a device I still think is superior for gaming, but lets me do the snacky stuff when I’m outside. Netmarble knows about these emulators but isn’t going to do anything to specifically prevent people from using them.
No, this dinosaur survival sandbox isn’t going to be the next ARK, but it does have its own appeal. As you might expect from a sandbox game, Durango isn’t holding its audience’s hand as much as L2R is. There are no explicit quests or dailies after your tutorial, which is almost misleading: You create a character from a pretty diverse character creator (old and young, blond and blue hair…), and even a class, but the latter at least doesn’t count.
After you experience the opening of how you got to a time/place/dimension where dinosaurs once again rule (and rightfully so!), your tutorial class disappears and you’re once again able to freely choose your skill like you would in a normal sandbox game. During my time, I saw cooking, tailoring, building, and some combaty type stuff you usually expect from these titles.
For those of you who like fighting, though, the controls were similar to L2R. Combat is rather fluid and action-touch based, emphasizing proper placement but also giving you a chance to run and gun. I’m not really a click-to-move player, so even though both companies allow mobile emulators, I’d probably stick with touch screens or controller support.
What is interesting is that the zones differentiate between PvE and PvP. As the game is hosted on server clusters of procedurally generated islands, it’s easy to not only join your international friends but skip worrying about their playstyle. That being said, the game’s also not being localized. The server clusters are there so that, preferentially speaking, Western players, with their casual mobile culture, won’t have to worry so much about hardcore Korean players absorbing all of their islands’ resources. They potentially could anyway, should they become attracted to the Western market’s slower moving mobile culture, but that remains to be seen.
Durango is similar to L2R in its large scope for a mobile game, but it’s less automated. There is some automated aspects of the game like auto-attacking you experience in most tab-target MMOs, but the game’s more about choosing your own thing. Rather than focusing on bite-sized dailies, the idea is that sandbox gameplay gives players a chance to move at their own pace. You can log in for ten minutes to gather wood or ten hours to grind raptor claws.
The dinosaurs are interesting too, because they don’t just sit around but interact with each other and the environment, even going to sleep and hunting together. The later means that, yeah, you may have a Jurassic Park situation on your hands, but playing these kinds of games, you’re probably hoping for that, right?
Meeting in between
I didn’t come away from either of my demos feeling like these titles would be the next World of Warcraft, but I did feel like the developers are listening more to their localization teams. There’s a lot mobile gaming can do socially that, lately, I feel like I miss locked in my house as a PC/console gamer. It’s weird feeling like a snacky game genre might at least be catching up in social power compared to the potential that drew me to MMOs in the first place, but I don’t feel the games yet match our culture to properly pull this off.