Wildstar free to play this Autumn; time for a second look?

So the announcement has come out that Wildstar will be going free to play (F2P) this Autumn (no specific date yet). There’s been a couple of articles already addressing this on Massively OP and lots of forum discussion also.

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I’ve been watching the speculation over a probable free-to-play conversion for some months; we’ve had the news of the boxed game’s withdrawal from stores in Australia and the poor financials in NCSoft’s quarterly results to point the way to this probable course of action.

Carbine emailed me back last October with two free trial codes – a “bring a friend back with you” offer for an ex-beta player. Back then I had no extra time or real interest in jumping back into the game. Now my gaming mix has changed and my desire for something to slot in alongside Final Fantasy 14 (my current ‘main’ MMO) has me ready to give the game a second go. It so happens I’m unlikely to get any game time in The Secret World for the next couple of weeks so Wildstar it is!

As with previous recent free to play conversions (e.g. Tera), the developers are looking to reward those who have played or subscribed in the past. If you buy the game and sub for the remaining months before F2P conversion there’ll be some material benefits in-game upon conversion (this Carbine news article mentions a housing item and a non-combat pet plus some months of subscriber benefits). Until we know when the game is actually converting this leaves a bit of a question over whether and when in particular to jump on board. Looking at the comparison table between F2P and subscriber accounts (called Signature – see the above linked Carbine page) there’s nothing particularly onerous about the F2P experience, they seem to have gone for the “positive benefits to subscribing” route, like Tera did, rather than “hamstring the freeloaders” route that other earlier games went.

I’m tempted to buy the digital edition of the game regardless of my experience of trying the game again as that’ll give me the extra thirty days to get further than before and to see later content and the housing system. Free trials for MMOs are generally too short to give me a good impression – especially since I’m normally playing the game alongside other games. I’ll be revisiting my beta impressions posts once I’ve played a couple of sessions on the free trial to consider whether the game has addressed the issues I felt it had prior to launch.

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“Modern MMO” characteristics

There’s a wave of nostalgia going on in the MMO blogosphere at the moment with a new Everquest progression server (or even two) taking people back to that game’s early days. I tried logging into Everquest 2 and Dungeons and Dragons Online recently for a quick play session and both didn’t inspire me to play for very long, the graphics are dated but more importantly there are features missing that I expect to see in more modern MMOs that I miss when they’re not there. They are certainly characteristics that I have appreciated greatly so far while playing Final Fantasy 14, in no particular order:

1) Public quests/content

FFXIV’s Fate system of public quests is a real bonus while leveling. They reward experience, money and grand company seals (used to buy new gear and other items). I do not use them to level exclusively as some have but rather as an additional fun side-activity to questing. The large-scale ones have the same ‘shared experience’ feeling that I enjoyed so much in Rift and in Guild Wars 2’s early months.

FATE boss fight

FATE boss fight

2) A predictable XP curve

Admittedly I’m only level 40 in FFXIV, but so far the leveling speed started fast and then got gradually slower, as I would expect in any MMORPG. I’ve not hit massive speed bumps as in EQ2 at arbitrary levels. Nor is the leveling speed so fast that I feel like I’m being pushed into the current end-game (a la World of Warcraft). FFXIV also offers a good variety of one-time and repeatable content to allow you to level all those other classes on one character if you so desire.

The slow, slow grind to level in EQ2

The slow, slow grind to level in EQ2

3) Encourage grouping/downplay competition

This could be my favourite actually. I really dislike the excessive emphasis on competing with other players in open world normal leveling content in so many older MMORPGs. Quest mobs, quest items, mining nodes, you name it your heart sinks when you see that other player racing past your current fight to ‘ninja’ the thing you’ve been working towards. In some more modern MMOs the designers actually thought we should encourage a different playstyle – one where players cooperate more willingly. Guild Wars 2 arguably started this but FFXIV does a very good job of it too. From what I’ve seen all monsters do not tap; if you hit something a few times it’ll count for any quests, hunting logs or other purposes you might require a kill. Likewise in the duty finder dungeons you have a commendation to award at the end for good play, regardless of the potential politics of such a system, it’s nice that the emphasis built-in is on playing well together. Gathering also is entirely non-competitive since the nodes you are gathering are only visible to you.

Everyone can gather nodes in GW2

Everyone can gather nodes in GW2

4) A variety of travel options

There’s plenty of controversy at the moment about Blizzard’s apparent decision to not enable flying in the newish Draenor zones of the game. FFXIV has had teleport since the start as well as the chocobo porter routes (if you want to see the world as you travel around). The expansion Heavensward will add flying to the new zones as another travel mode.  The Secret World has recently added Anima porting as a way to move inside zones at a faster pace and will shortly be adding mounts for the first time. I know there are very strong opinions for and against travelling around the world as ‘content’. Personally I like a variety of options in the games I play. We spend a fair amount of time riding around Eorzea in FFXIV since you get to do FATEs and other content as part of that travel. Yes we do use teleports as well but usually as a fast way to hand in quests or to literally cross the game world when some crazy NPC sends us back to the place we just left!

FFXIV does mounts with style

FFXIV does mounts with style

That’s the four main characteristics that I currently appreciate most about the more modern games I have played or am playing. Maybe you can think of other things you like about these games that I haven’t mentioned?

Posted in DDO, EQ2, FFXIV, Gaming, Guild Wars, Rift, WoW | 4 Comments

Random interactions

I had a long weekend of pen and paper gaming, cards (Munchkin!) and not much computer time although we did play a quick session of The Secret World. There wasn’t time for much but it was enough time to do some more of the Carpathian Fangs zone. Ebrayn-2015-05-13-22-38-32

As we prepared to do some of the missions centred around the Emma storyline a random player came up to us and asked if he could group up – I guess it’s pretty easy for players to see we’re grouped from our movement and coordination in fights. We proceeded to run through two or three missions as a group of four, it added an interesting dynamic to have a different player with us for a while. We didn’t have time to do anything more involved such as a dungeon or lair.

I wonder how often this kind of random interaction between strangers occurs in MMORPGs these days. I’ve posted recently about design issues with COOP gaming and with the solo-oriented nature of many of the games in the genre. Do people still like to group up with random players to get quests done easier/faster?

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Repetition in an online game world

Shintar of Going Commando has an interesting blog post about ‘clones’ in Star Wars the Old Republic, meaning here NPCs that are copies with the same look and name. It’s a common enough problem in MMORPGs, once you get used to moving around a given area you may start to notice similarities between the faces, clothing or even entire look of different characters. Some modern MMORPGs have moved beyond the very limited character model choices of earlier games but the developers still face the same pressures of rapid content development and the copy-paste model of NPC creation must save a lot of time.

I’ve noticed a number of characters in Final Fantasy with an almost identical face to my own character and in a game with such a powerful character creation system I do find this noticeable and somewhat disturbing.

The topic can extend beyond the repetition of character models however as Final Fantasy 14 was justifiably criticised before its relaunch as having “copy-paste” landscapes. I remember the old version of La Noscea and it wasn’t very varied compared to the current version. World of Warcraft had a fair amount of repetition in world if you cared to look, for example the same small cave system was re-used many times for different areas. The same “clone” issue applies even more for combat encounters in SWTOR and many other MMORPGs I have played. Shintar talks about this in her post, in the Heroics missions you might find multiple groups of identical make-up. Not only the design of individual NPCs has been copy-pasted but even the combinations of those NPCs has been copy-pasted also. Having used the Neverwinter Foundry I can see why a developer might do this to save time, it’s much quicker placing a group all as one than positioning and linking individual characters. As a player though, how many times in the open world or in a dungeon have you thought “please not another group just like the last one!”?

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FFXIV: summoner, archer – bard?

I’ve been holding off on progression of my main class/job in FFXIV (Summoner) to allow my husband to catchup level-wise and main scenario quest-wise. So all my FFXIV time has been spent doing alt classes, mostly Archer for the cross-class synergy with Summoner.

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That said I’ve gotten so used to playing the mobile artillery class that I may end up wanting to main that in future! I’ve just done the level 30 Archer quest, see below, but need to level Pugilist to 15 if I want to unlock the Bard job.

Almost no-one plays base classes after level 30, so playing Archer instead of Bard would be a good way to get hard stares from the veterans in any dungeons.

ffxiv_20052015_213353

I think I’ll stick to playing Summoner through to 50 as Azendro is very close to my level now – level 34 and my job is at 39. He needs to do a chunk more main scenario questing, which is a mostly solo task as none of it is repeatable, so perhaps I’ll have unlocked Bard by that point.

I’ve given crafting a brief glimpse, and immediately started down the dark path of wanting to make all the required materials using all the different crafting jobs. That would quickly become overwhelming. I think I’ll save my gaming time and gil for now and just leave crafting as a future side-activity.

It’s looking less likely we’ll be ready for the expansion in time, I’m sure we’ll make level 50, but I hear there are a ton of level 50 main scenario quests to get through before we’ve unlocked the prerequisites for Heavensward. It’s not a big issue, I’m very used to being behind the curve in games and their expansions.

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Story and coop gameplay

The only downside I’m finding to playing FFXIV at the moment is the volume of solo-only instanced content in the main scenario quests. It’s a very common problem in MMORPGs, developers seem to think we should be forced to do story-heavy missions on our own. To be honest if I want to play with friends why should it matter if it’s a bit easier?

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Time to stand and wait…

It’s particularly irksome that this includes not using your Chocobo companion and that the game punishes you for having one out if you are running main scenario quests – any remaining minutes on the food buff used to summon it are lost if you put it away to do such a quest!

Not every main scenario quest is solo though, there are ‘purple area’ quests which summon the encounter in the open world, albeit locked to your group. This uses the same tech as the Guildleve system – you can only attack leve-spawned monsters if you are grouped with the initiator. So if the tech exists why do so many missions as solo instances?

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Lending some muscle on a scenario quest

 

It’s the inconsistency that really irks me; not that some things are solo in the game. I have exactly the same problem with mission design in The Secret World since the game does small group play very well in most cases, but then has pure-solo missions that break that flow. Star Wars the Old Republic was possibly the best supporter of group play, even in the class story missions, although I’ve read recent blog entries by Shintar that seem to hint that the newer content is not so supportive of coop gameplay.

I just wish MMORPG developers would put more thought into letting people play with their friends as a priority, it’s the obvious social mode to include!

Posted in FFXIV, Gaming, SWTOR, TSW | 2 Comments

MMOs and exploring

Massively OP had a post recently to ask about what MMO gets you exploring. I have written posts on exploration in MMORPGs before but nothing touching that topic recently, that got me thinking. It appears I’ve shifted towards the ‘achiever’ end of the spectrum quite a lot at some point since I was playing Rift and Vanguard.

Exploration as a playstyle tends, in my mind, to be a solo activity – think of the fantasy stereotype of the wilderness ranger blazing new trails or watching the forests for new threats. In older games that I mostly played solo I would often allow myself to get distracted, if I saw an unusual tower on the horizon I’d put questing on pause and go find the entrance!

I used to play Everquest 2 in this manner to an extent, I’d start a zone and then just wander around finding quests, gathering materials and doing other activities as I came across them. The knock-on effect of having a heroic character and wanting to reach the cap has been a much stronger focus on level progression, which ultimately turned me off the game somewhat as it seemed to actively resist me levelling at a decent pace without following some narrow, prescribed path such as chrono-mentored dungeon-grinding.

I was playing FFXIV this way, following the main scenario quests sure but also doing a lot of wandering around following FATEs or looking at zone features – several times I’ve had to binge on main scenario quests to catch them up with my character level because I was too busy doing other random stuff. We’re focused now in this game on leveling to the cap because of the expansion so I’m not likely to do as much exploring for a while. But the game seems to offer plenty for level capped characters to do in old zones (hunts and FATEs offer something for level 50s too) so there’ll be time enough to revisit what I’ve missed.

As for solo gaming sessions I’ll need to rethink what I’m doing. I don’t want to be solely focused on progression in two MMOs in parallel, that’s a recipe for burn-out. So I may have to go back to EQ2 with a different view on why I’m playing that game, just getting to cap ASAP to join the masses is less important to me in that game. If I’m going to do endgame in any game, it might as well be in FFXIV with my husband’s character beside me. So hopefully I’ll find my ‘exploration’ groove again in Norrath, it’s certainly a big enough world to get lost in and that’s a good thing!

Posted in EQ2, FFXIV, Gaming | 2 Comments