All right. Strap yourselves in, folks, because this is when we have to start talking about narratives and story and intended emotional reactions. In short, this is where World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth becomes a seriously messy piece of work, because this is an expansion in which the game posits that maybe colonialism is super great and native peoples are evil villains in league with dark powers.
Yes, that’s a thing that happens. No, we’re not going to leave it there, but I’m trying to minimize spoilers before the cut.
I’ve said on Twitter before today that the game feels like a $500 million movie with $50 spent on the script, and that still rings true. A ton of effort has been put into the presentation of this expansion, and there’s nothing to do but praise all of that; there’s honestly very little to fault in any part of the presentation of the story. The faults all arrive once you start examining the actual text of that story. And boy-howdy, that’s a mess.
Fair warning, people, there will be spoilers below.
The first part of this first impressions series yesterday was all about the mechanical changes made for this expansion. This time, I don’t want to talk about the mechanics of World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth; I want to talk about the actual content. Not the narrative text, but just the actual moment-to-moment stuff you’re doing in the game. Which, I think, is what this expansion is going to be judged on at this stage by a lot of people.
Put simply, the game could have the best combat it has ever had with the best gear enhancement system conceivable, but if the actual things you had to fight were a boring slog, no one would like it anyway. Solid content covers a multitude of sins.
There are several people who would likely argue that Legion had some of the best content we’ve ever seen in WoW, and while there’s room to debate that, I think it’s definitely worth considering. So BfA started off on something of the back foot, and that was exacerbated by the fact that it has not one but two continents to fill out almost entirely separate.
MMOs are big. Really big. You wouldn’t believe just how mind-bogglingly big they really are. Although you probably would, since you’re here reading about them. And the sheer facet of scale means that it can be really difficult to establish a point when you’ve seen enough to have a good sense of the game.
Obviously, five minutes logged into an official World of Warcraft server won’t give you any idea about the game as a whole; pretty much anyone could agree on that. And at the other extreme, it’s unlikely anyone would expect you to play every piece of content in Star Wars: The Old Republic before you can decide on whether or not the game delivers on what you’re looking for.
Realistically, every game offers you a different amount of things in different combinations and in such arrangements that every game will require different amounts of time to evaluate. You could argue that a few matches in World of Tanks tell the whole story about the game’s mechanics, after all. But then, just playing and leaving means you miss out on the meta and the overall sense of what the game is like over the longer term, which can often be a pretty important element. So what do you think, readers? How much of an MMO do you have to play before you feel you’ve got a handle on it?
Hey, there’s a new World of Warcraft expansion, right? When did that happen?
There’s a bit of snark there, but perhaps less than you might think. The weird thing is that Battle for Azeroth kind of does feel as if it just dropped without warning; it was outside of the usual release schedule for expansions, with a long lead-in, as if the final product just showed up on our collective doorsteps one day. Assuming you were already logged on and had your pre-orders set, you could just jump right in and start the expansion, which hearkened back to the days of midnight releases after a fashion.
Needless to say, there’s a lot to talk about with the expansion so far. Now that it’s actually live we can see the mechanics and the story with all the polish that’s intended, with nothing left behind a curtain (other than Warfronts, anyhow). Coming off the well-received Legion, this expansion has some pretty big foot gear to fill, and it’s fair to wonder if any expansion wouldn’t feel like a bit of a downturn… but let’s not start there. Let’s just start in on one aspect of the game and go from there.
Taugrim raises a very interesting question this week on his blog. Namely, is it really worth your time to alpha test MMOs these days? For him, at least, fickle players and unresponsive developers don’t make it a beneficial activity.
“A decade ago, I used to get super excited about upcoming MMORPGs,” he said. “And then I experienced those games losing their playerbase in droves while the developers/publishers failed to meaningfully address the concerns of the community.”
If you’ve been burned one too many times by alpha, beta, and early access testing, perhaps you can relate. Read on for more essays from the MMO blogosphere, and don’t forget to check out this month’s exciting Blaugust Reborn event that’s raging across blogs!
So you’ve probably heard some news about the Monster Hunter World port. PC performance issues, keyboard and mouse issues, random crashing. I wish I could tell you differently, but I can’t. No joke, MHW is one of those games I really wanted to see do well on PC and wanted to tell you all to go out and buy. I still argue the series is MMO action raiding boiled down into a tight, fun, formula filled with the treasure hunting you like and less of the downtime and dice rolls you hate, without so much of the synchronized combat dancing we see in the genre, but I have some serious reservations about this port.
Granted, Capcom has already made improvements during the media testing phase I participated in. It seems like the bug that caused the game to hard crash has been fixed in single player experiences, but the game’s somehow carried over some console oddities, and as PC media doesn’t seem as hyped as the console media was (I never found people to group with because so few were playing), I can’t talk about multiplayer.
I can, however, make some comparisons to the PS4 version I reviewed earlier this year.
I know I took more than a moment to explain why I liked the new Rishi stronghold
coming to Star Wars: The Old Republic
in the next big update. It seems that the development team has a little more freedom to really listen to its fans and add items to this stronghold to move it from being a good stronghold to a great one.
I’ve clearly been critical of many of the things SWTOR has done over the year, and I rarely give it amazing scores on my yearly reviews. But I’m still a fan, and it’s improvements like the Rishi stronghold that help keep me interested in what BioWare developers are doing. On a scale that includes jumping the timeline forward 5 years and killing off major characters, creating a PvP stronghold ranks rather low, but I’m surprised at how much it actually helps to create an enjoyable game.
The final round of PTS changes hit this past weekend, and I spent some time goofing around and diving into these additions. Let me highlight some of the changes.
Geode expansion has been a game-changer – and I mean it in more ways than one.
The latest update/expansion to the colorful voxel-based game did indeed offer a major big change to the game as players knew it. Launched a month ago, Geode introduced not just a new zone but a whole new world filled with new NPC for Trovians to visit and work with. More than that, the entirety of the activities offered there are non-combat! That is quite a departure from how the game worked before (and how it still works in Trovian lands).
But that is only half the story: Geode is a game-changer for me personally. It drew me into the game. Despite all of the neat and fun things Trove had and did prior to this, I never felt a hook. Previously, I’d hop in to peek at new content or play through an event just to get a mount or ally, but that was it; once I had my new little friend, I’d leave. With Geode, however, I have been logging in regularly every week. Now I am a player, not just a visitor. Here’s how it hooked me.
One of the great benefits of reading the wealth of MMO blogs out there is that you can touch base on a huge variety of games that you might not have time to play. Haven’t gotten around to checking in with the indie sandbox Legends of Aria? The blogosphere has you covered!
While Superior Realities thinks that there’s a “skeleton of a good game” in Aria, he wasn’t won over by the closed beta: “After about thirty minutes of dealing with bugs, spectacularly tedious and old school gameplay, and generally terrible design, I decided life was too short.”
Inventory Full felt that the game had featureless maps but probably deserved a longer look, and Levelcapped said that Aria is “so damn close to being an Ultima Online sequel that it’s both wonderful and blasphemous at the same time.”
It’s been nearly a year since I met with Frostkeep Studios at PAX West and got an early first-hand look at Rend, the three-faction fantasy survival sandbox with a timer. And I’ve been waiting since then to be able to play for myself; I saw the housing and learned about pet taming, and knew I wanted in. Even though I don’t play PvP for PvP’s sake, I liked the sounds of its implementation in Rend. And the whole thing about the temporary lifespan of the server? Newer information (namely that I can use ascension points to keep my favorite pets with me!) has helped alleviate that trepidation.
And now, finally, I’m in! The question is, what do I think about it? It is still in development — it is only closed alpha at the moment — and it shows. But there is also promise. I already know I am going to be playing it more. Here are my first impressions of surviving in Rend.
Early access for Rend is just around the corner, which means hype for the game is picking up. Frostkeep recently invited us to check out its studio and dive back into the alpha and see how the game’s been unfolding. While there’s an embargo preventing us from taking pictures or videos, we’re allowed to talk about our experiences, and talk we shall! We should first note that the game isn’t a traditional MMORPG, but even in its alpha state, it seems to be doing more right than most other games firmly entrenched in the genre. And that was before a recent patch that finally fixed a bug that threatened the game’s early access reception.
To prepare for my studio tour, I hit the alpha servers over the weekend, going through the newbie experience a few times on two different servers. Alpha is the key word here, as the game really was in a rough state at the time. Nodes being unharvestable, factions largely being glowing tattoos attached to a two-sentence description, almost no visual customization… things that sound terrible for a game but are normal for an alpha. Even the game’s basic tutorial wasn’t always working properly.
Many fans, including me, are talking about still riding high after Warframe’s
amazing TennoCon 2018 announcements this past weekend. That was some pretty epic stuff (I have to admit I wonder how on earth they will manage to top themselves next year!). I was excited to share the news about Fortuna and Railjack
with you as fast as I could; the only downside of that was it was too brief to add in many of the deeper details. I couldn’t include the insights and commentary that Game Director Steve Sinclair
and Live Operations and Community Producer Rebecca Ford offered when I chatted with them. If only there were a way to impart that extra goodness to you and add in my own impressions. Oh wait!
While there’s certainly more to learn about the upcoming expansion/updates, here’s a bit more information about the underground all that cool stuff we can’t wait to experience for ourselves.
Oh right, Monster Hunter World hasn’t launched on PC yet. But that’s changing soon, as Capcom just announced it’s coming not in fall, but earlier than expected, on August 9th. Well, that never happens! We’ll take it!
“The title that released for consoles earlier this year has since gone on to become Capcom’s best-selling game in company history with over 8 million units shipped globally. In this entry, players take on larger than life monsters in a variety of vast, living, breathing ecosystems either solo or with up to three other hunters via online co-op, complete with drop-in functionality, a first for the series.”
You betcha there’s a new trailer, and if you’ve forgotten what the game’s all about, we’ve got you covered there too, as we did some extensive guides and impressions pieces on the game when it hit PS4 earlier this year!