Character engagement with the virtual world

I’m playing several story-focused MMORPGs at the moment and they have notably different approaches to how your character, the protagonist, engages with the characters and virtual world around them.

SWTOR – fully voiced and with a personality

In Star Wars your character is well defined. You choose a class, gender and outward appearence but your character’s place in the world is defined by the class story. As you level that character you have some choices to make that affect the ending of the story at level 50 (well until recently).

Your choices, scripted responses

Your choices, scripted responses

With the two characters that I have played more extensively, the Jedi Sage and now the Commando, I’ve enjoyed the characterisation of the voice actor and the scripted dialogue and responses used when I make dialogue choices. I identify with those characters even though Bioware only gives three options at a time during dialogues.

TSW – the silent type

In The Secret World your character is always a mute-observer of what’s happening in the cut-scenes. This is consistent throughout, sometimes characters will rail at your character for not responding (beyond a minimalist facial expression or shrug), othertimes a joke is made about your silence. It can work well, although having now played through to Issue 10’s content (the penultimate release), I’m starting to feel like it was just a cop out.

Oh for my SWTOR Bounty Hunter's sarcasm at a moment like this...

Oh for my SWTOR Bounty Hunter’s sarcasm at a moment like this…

My character remains divorced from the world somehow because of the lack of meaningful interaction with all these wonderfully fleshed-out characters that we meet. I can understand why they chose this. There may even be a deeper story reason for it – I read once it could be because our character swallowed that bee at the start (it was on a Massively column, but I can’t find the reference now the old site is gone). But in any case I find the lack of character engagement in some cases very jarring – I miss the sense of my character having agency in the world other than “fighting the bad guys”.

FFXIV – silent yet implied voice

Final Fantasy 14 has a lot of cut-scenes as well and your character never talks out loud. However Square Enix gets around providing voiced dialogue in a number of simple ways – your character is seen to be mouthing something but you don’t hear, he or she emotes in various ways (far too often by nodding!) or occasionally there’ll be a “fade to black” scene change while you explain something.

In Eorzea, Formation nodding is a sport

In Eorzea, Formation nodding is a sport

Despite the lack of voice I do feel like my character is engaged in the world and that he has some meaningful interactions with the enormous cast of NPCs you meet as you progress through the main scenario quests. You become fairly well known by people through your daring exploits and your character reacts to this in a believable manner.

From this perspective, that of your character’s engagement in the world and how that is presented, I feel that SWTOR is a winner. Final Fantasy does a fair job for the most part, although some more imagination of emotes to use could be good. The Secret World could try harder despite the occasional moment of brilliance it’s cops out completely far too often!

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FFXIV: cutscenes and group content

This week we got back to leveling our characters in Final Fantasy 14, dinging 50 and cracking on with the main storyline that was stuck behind a level 50 barrier.

Only characters of level 50 may ride this quest...

Only characters of level 50 may ride this quest…

A chunk of FATEs later and we were level 50 heroes ready to challenge the might of the Garlean Empire. This was a pretty exciting moment as the main storyline had built up to this moment over quite a long time.

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Without delving into spoilers (not that there are many players who wouldn’t know them by now) what followed were two “full party” raids (8 player). The experience highlights a number of issues with Final Fantasy 14, although such issues might also apply to any MMORPG that attempts to tell story through large group content.

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The actual dungeon experience was  interesting from the perspectives of mechanics and dungeon designs. However it was the usual super-efficient sprint from boss fight to boss fight avoiding as much ‘trash’ as possible. In both groups our two characters were the only ones not level-sync’ed down to 50. This made the fights very easy compared to how they probably were meant to be. I suspect in some boss fights the groups were able to ignore certain mechanics or tactics but then this was our first time so it’s hard to be sure.

Stack and AoE!

Stack and AoE!

Unlike in the leveling dungeons there were scant explanations of anything by group members. We had to remind the tanks/defacto leaders that we didn’t know the fights or the shortcuts. It wasn’t exactly an unpleasant experience but it certainly wasn’t as welcoming as the earlier dungeons.

What just happened?

What just happened?

The biggest downside of the session was the terrible design of the two raids from a story-telling perspective. You’re in a group with seven (well six in my case) random players and both instances feature extensive and lengthy cut-scenes – even in-between major fights! So the efficiency-oriented vets have started the next fight before you can even click to skip the next animation. Watching videos after the fact in my inn room isn’t exactly how I like to fill in all the details of a story after I’ve seen the ending. With hindsight I’d possibly have preferred to watch the complete playthrough video on Youtube before doing the run as that would have filled in the story so I could understand what I was playing through as I played it.

FFXIV isn’t the only game to mix story with group content badly of course, but given the huge volume of cut-scene based storytelling in the game I do wish they’d thought this through a lot better. It really spoiled my experience of what, before the recent launch of Heavensward, was the culmination of the game’s leveling story line.

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LoTRO to close servers later this year

MMO news that just grabbed my attention is the planned closure of some of the LoTRO servers later this year as part of planned server-merges. No specific servers have been named yet, more details will follow on August 3rd. I’ll be watching closely for the fate of Laurelin – the EU-RP server all my characters are hosted on. Affected servers will be shutdown by January 2016 according to this Massively article.

As I recently posted, I haven’t had much interest in logging into the game of late but the thought of losing my main character (a Champion) if I weren’t to transfer him would be motivation for sure!

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SWTOR: Togruta time!

Patch 3.3 for Star Wars the Old Republic did kind of sneak up on me. I’d not been following the game particularly for a while, until the big news of the Fallen Empire expansion just over a month ago rekindled my interest. In the shadow of that news, the arrival of a new species in patch 3.3 almost slipped by me completely.

Time for a new Knight

Time for a new Knight

I am certainly interested in new playable race (I use the fantasy rpg trope of race = species here) being added to an established MMORPG, although I count it as less of a ‘content’ addition than a new class since it offers less of a different playing experience. When World of Warcraft added new classes it was usually enough to inspire some of my regular group to roll a new alt and often would even inspire a new leveling group for a time. Beyond any new racial starter zones (which SWTOR doesn’t have anyway), the main interest in any new race option is more of a roleplay or aesthetical desire to have a new race/class combination for a character.

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Togruta racial emote is fire-side storytelling

It helps that this time, unlike with the Cathar back in May 2013, the new race is the better-known and rather striking Togruta (Wookiepedia info). I really like the Togruta race and was always happy to see a Togruta NPC pop-up on occasion. I’ve created a new Jedi Knight to lock in my choice of name for a Togruta character, but I won’t be playing him just yet – I’m too busy leveling my Trooper for that. I do look forward to leveling him next though as a second, more melee-oriented Jedi character. I think I’ll wait for the “Togruta invasion” to die down a little – I happened to logon during the first day of the patch going live and Tython was heaving with new Togruta Jedi characters, easily 95%+ of the zone’s characters were of the new race.

M1 is the *only* companion for this Trooper

M1 is the *only* companion for this Trooper

Thinking about race unlocks and what might come next reminded me that I even voted for Togruta as my number one choice in a forum poll on new races back in 2012. To be honest I’d completely forgotten that I’d even chosen a Togruta thumbnail picture as my forum avatar back then! My next favourite, the Ithorians, got a paltry 83 compared to a winning 533 votes for Togruta so I won’t hold out any hopes for Ithorians being added any time soon. The only other new race to be added so far was the Cathar back in May 2013 (Patch 2.1 info courtesy of SWTOR Commando), I wonder what will be next?

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Does the setting matter in MMORPGs?

At the moment I’m feeling most drawn to MMORPGs with a familiar setting, that is to say an imagined world with which I have some history or familiarity. It didn’t take much to recently drag me back into SWTOR and the galaxy far, far away – I’ve always been a fan of the movies.

The neon glory of Nar Shaddaa

The neon glory of Nar Shaddaa

Shadowrun Chronicles has its hooks in me as well it seems; the game neatly fills an opening for a duo game that’s opened up in my gaming schedule. It’s also very different to the MMORPGs that I mainly play so for now I’m happily playing a Troll Shaman in the Boston Lockdown campaign. The friend and I played the Shadowrun RPG together years ago so the game’s setting and tone are familiar to us both.

The grim streets of Shadowrun's Boston

The grimy streets of Shadowrun’s Boston

Setting isn’t always the main reason I play a game though; I played Neverwinter extensively last year but it was more for the fast-paced combat and the strong group-play content than for the D&D/Forgotten Realms setting in this Perfect World MMO. Setting cannot always keep me playing a game either – Lord of the Rings Online hasn’t managed to drag me back in since early 2014 for any length of time and that is despite Turbine’s very rich, story-filled world-building efforts. Something about the game’s combat and mechanics never really sat that well with me and I’ve reached the point where the excellence of the setting isn’t enough to overcome that barrier.

So having a familiar setting isn’t absolutely necessary to me but I do think it helps to maintain my interest in a game. How much does the setting of your chosen MMORPG(s) matter to you – does it figure in your choice of game(s)?

Posted in Gaming, LotRO, Neverwinter, SWTOR | 6 Comments

TSW: elemental hack

While running a mission last night in Tokyo we came across another mission requiring some emote-movement skills. That’s a little too soon after the ‘delights’ of the bank heist I think…

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On a positive note our dps player discovered that the Elemental skill Flicker allows you to bypass the marble traps completely! Elemental was the only segment of the skill wheel I’d not started unlocking, during play I gained enough skill points (SP) to unlock the inner segements and start towards Flicker. Clearly I need an Elemental build for this type of mission to offer a shortcut!

I wonder if this is working as intended, my Sword dash-forward skill (Surging Blades) does not work for instance. It’ll certainly be interesting to test this skill out on the more annoying pressure-plate trap next time we encounter those.

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TSW: a bank heist

We spent the over two hours on a particular, infamous it seems, sabotage mission in Tokyo last night – The Bank Heist (wiki guide here). The mission highlights the best and worst of The Secret World’s gameplay I think. Since I’ll be discussing some of the details of the mission, some light spoilers will follow…

Continue reading

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