Choose My Adventure Year in Review: Elder Scrolls Online, LOTRO, WildStar, Black Desert, and Neverwinter
So I’ve been writing this column for a year now. A little more than a year, as it happens, but last year there was no point in doing a whole-column recap because… well, it would be one game long and it had just happened. So I’m doing that now, with a trip back through the last year of Choose My Adventure (plus one month because I would rather not leave out The Elder Scrolls Online). We all make compromises.
There’s a lot to be said about this particular set of games, but to be fair, a lot of it was already said in a series of weekly columns about the games because that’s… well, how the column works. Still, the benefit of hindsight does mean that some things I have seen since have produced a different picture for some of these titles. So as we move into the holidays and the new year, let’s hit some high marks, remember the past, and consider the future.
The Elder Scrolls Online
This one was a very nice surprise to start things off. There are still a lot of things I’m not super-fond of when it comes to The Elder Scrolls Online, starting with the fact that it has lore that feels somewhat like memorizing pi out to a hundred places. It’s more information, but it doesn’t make the whole thing feel any more real or interesting. Of course, you could use that to tell some compelling stories along the way, but sadly the game is kind of hit or miss on that, too. (Some bits have decent storytelling, some do not.)
And yet none of that changes the fact that the actual gameplay is fun, and the game features the admirable and desirable quality of letting you do more or less whatever you want at this point. Do you have no interest in the launch storyline? That’s fine; jump ship and go explore some DLC. So while there are still some problems shot through the game, there’s enough stuff in here that’s just plain worthy that I was overall very impressed. Orsinium in particular is good, solid fun. It’s a game that has improved a lot from launch, and it just seems to be getting better.
If I could do it all over? I would have waited until housing because I like housing. But maybe that would have distracted me more from the heart of the game.
Lord of the Rings Online
By contrast, I was not terribly impressed by this title… but that’s not really a mark against it. (All of the marks against it came up after I had finished playing, like when the game took gear from its players and then refused any refunds.) It’s a title that has identified what it’s trying to do and what it wants to emulate, and it does a very good job at being that in such a distinct fashion that it’s sort of impossible to criticize. I mean, if you want a Tolkien MMO, this is really it and it delivers exactly what it promises. Fair journeys and so forth.
I am not personally in the market for a Tolkien MMO, so it never really hit me well. But in this case, it’s a matter of not getting a personal connection to me because it was not something I personally had much interest in. That balances well, on a whole.
If you’ve never read the comic series Preacher, you should probably do that anyway. (It’s a good ‘un.) But there’s a sequence of panels that always pops to mind with certain things, with the main character beating the snot out of his best friend while begging to understand why his friend let him down so badly. Disappointed, but the sort of disappointment that feels like a personal expression of disrespect.
Anyhow, that’s how I feel about WildStar. It’s not that the game is bad (it has its positives and minuses, but on the balance I think it’s a good one), it’s that the game disappointed me in a real way for basically no reason other than high-end design that did not need to be the way it was. With all the choices in the world, with tons of feedback explaining why something was such a bad idea, the designers persisted in archaic designs that wound up sinking the game prematurely.
Seriously, WildStar. Why the hell did you let me down so bad.
There’s some fundamental problems I have with Black Desert on a base level, like the whole gender-locked classes thing. It really needed to work overtime to justify that decision, and it failed at that. (I struggle to think of how it could possibly have justified that decision, but the point remains that it did not.) It’s one of several things that I kept hoping the game would justify without ever actually managing to, stuff that wasn’t terrible but did kind of yank me out of the game and made the whole experience less pleasant.
That’s not to say it was bad; there’s a lot to recommend the title and lots of good ideas at work here, the sort of thing that I could see being a good foundation. But it didn’t really sell me on those ideas. Unlike Lord of the Rings Online, it’s less “this is a great game for someone who wants a specific thing” and more “this game does some things pretty well, although I don’t know if that makes up for the things it does badly.”
Still, it’s not in what I think of as my trifecta of disappointments, so that’s all right.
As games go, there’s every reason for me to like Neverwinter. I rather like Cryptic games, which all more or less play as close cousins of one another; I also like tieflings, which are here. (That might seem like a pointless distinction to make, but there it is just the same.) Objectively speaking, there’s nothing here that doesn’t work or sent up red flags for me. That’s a good thing. And yet despite all of that…
Neverwinter falls into that unhappy category of games that I don’t dislike, but also ones that never really connected with me in any way. It wasn’t that the game was awful or anything, but it honestly didn’t seem to have that delicious coating that usually makes me enjoy Cryptic’s titles so much. And I think that might be it in a nutshell; while Cryptic’s titles usually err a wee bit on the side of formula, they also usually have some element of the presentation that appeals, and one or two mechanics that’s just plain brilliant.
So Neverwinter never quite hits those spots for me. But that’s all right, it entertains and it all works. Shame about its business model with lockboxes, although I suppose it’s still doing better than some titles.
Yes, we’ve covered just about half of the year. There’s more, but we have to save something for next week, don’t we? (The answer is yes. It was a rhetorical question.) And if you missed some of this along the way, well, you’ve got plenty of back-reading to do.
Feedback, like always, is welcome in the comments below or via mail to email@example.com. Next week, we’ll be recapping the back end of the year, talking about next destinations, and possibly doing elaborate song-and-dance routines. (Probably not, but the possibility is always there.) We also will definitely get to the trifecta of disappointments, which is an unofficial title but still feels appropriate.