Making it easier to return to a MMORPG

As someone who plays a variety of MMORPGs, I do face the problem of returning to a game and not finding the return a very easy or pleasant experience. The feeling of confusion as you stare at rows of forgotten abilities, or the blank look as you re-read quests and cannot remember the names or places referenced. I wonder whether some games do a better job of easing multi-MMO gamers, or those who have taken a substantial break, back into playing.

Giving a player a clear idea of what they can do next is one aspect to this broad issue. Some games do a much better job of providing hints of what to do next, and details of what the player has done last as well. Final Fantasy 14 actually scores high here, as whenever you log on you get a neat window displaying some suggestions of what to do now. World of Warcraft has long had the sign-posts in the capital cities giving quests to direct you to new zones or quest chains. If you are coming back from a multi-month (or even year!) break from a game having these kinds of pointers can be a real boon.

Black Desert Online goes ones step further and tells you what you did last session, plus you have the ever nagging Black Spirit to tell you what it wants you to do next.

In contrast other MMOs take a rather hands-off approach. Everquest 2 has next to no guidance for how to progress through the game, something that other players enjoy no doubt, but something that has me reaching for the forums or wiki on a regular basis. Clarity of information is key here, this isn’t just a matter of listing all the options, the earlier quoted games make a good attempt at providing suggestions that make sense for character progression. I recently logged into Star Trek Online for the first time in over a year (thanks to getting Netflix and watching some Discovery). I had no clue what to do in what order, my mission log didn’t help either as it didn’t provide clear indications as to which season (expansion) it belongs. The game does suggest some content on login, but that’s just the very latest content, not necessarily something that’ll ease me back in.

Sorting by NPC mission-giver isn’t helpful to me

A second issue that I find often deters my return to a MMORPG is the sudden spike in difficulty some games have – this could be at the start of an expansion’s content, or towards the end of one. In the former case the devs base the difficulty of new content, perhaps too much, around the average gear level of veteran/regular players who have probably languished at end-game for some time before the new content launches. Rift’s expansions follow this model sadly and have consistently deterred me from playing the game more long-term – each expansion sees massive stat-inflation and tough outdoor mobs, if you’re in last tier raid gear I imagine it’s easy but in last-expansion quest gear it’s a painful slog to even get started each time.

Exploration beckons but my main is *so* not prepared gear-wise

Interesting for the current expansion in Everquest 2, Planes of Prophecy, the devs decided to provide free content-appropriate gear at the zone-in point. That may have upset some that relatively good gear was so easily obtained, but it sure makes it easier to just get on and play the expansion.

In the latter case above, there’s the tendency in some games to suddenly bump up the difficulty of content without any warning – the obvious example is Everquest 2’s regular inclusion of heroic (solo) instances. Please devs, avoid sudden difficulty spikes in mandatory story content! I’m certainly not against devs creating content for veterans to challenge their characters and builds. What annoys me, and is a sure-fire way to deter me from playing more consistently, is the sudden shift from super-easy outdoor content to solo-raid-style instanced content – especially where I have to do that content to finish the main storyline.

My character seems to be magnetic to over-pulls in here

I have a problem with MMORPGs locking story behind raids or sudden-difficulty solo content. I’ve gotten stuck in The Secret World and Everquest 2 because I wasn’t enjoying the grind to gear a character or the theory-crafting needed to make a build viable for the step-up in challenge. Likewise Final Fantasy 14’s obsession with forced-pug dungeons in its main scenario quests drove my husband and I from the game years ago and we’ve only returned once since.

There are some important caveats to these issues however. Knowing how to play the game to a basic level is up to the player of course. While I complain about the more difficult content above, I am aware that my own fuzzy memory on returning to a game might be partially to blame. So what are the steps I take to mitigate this?

Firstly, if I come across difficulties getting back into a game my go-to solution is to do easy, repeatable content until I start to feel comfortable with my ability rotations. Elder Scrolls Online provides a good example here, I enjoy running Dark Anchor events anyway, but whenever I return to the game I focus on those as a daily task on first login to get back into the flow of combat in a public-group setting.

In Star Trek Online equally there are public queue events, group fights against the Borg and the Tholians, that offer a chance to practice shooting stuff in your starship. The Borg event provides an easier warm-up exercise, I’ve found the Tholian event can be a lot tougher.

The alternative approach is to create a new alt, to get warmed up in general on the game, or as a temporary character until I feel ready to swap back to a higher level main. I know some bloggers regularly create new alts to return to a game, I tend to want to keep crafting and content progression intact on my characters, so I would normally avoid doing this. When I create an alt it’s to try a new class or play style, rather than as a re-introduction to a game. I can see the value of this, however, especially for group/pug content if its done to practice trinity-role style play at a lower level – e.g. practicing dungeon healing on a new low-level alt before then going back to trying healer on a main.

Do you have any particular issues or tactics for returning to a MMORPG?

 

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8 Responses to Making it easier to return to a MMORPG

  1. Isey says:

    Interesting enough EQ1 DOES have a feature in their menu (and it reminded me about it) last time I logged in. Curious why EQ2 didn’t bother.

    I am a serial MMO leaver / returner. I dabble in all the old ones off and on (Right now I am back in EQ2 and LOTRO, for example. I have an itching to play Wildstar again (for some reason) and I have never, ever played STO, and haven’t progressed passed the character startup stage in DCUO (even though I spent some bucks there to get the power ring set as a big Green Lantern fan). I also reinstalled DDO recently.

    So yeah, I am the king of entering/returning to MMOs in the market. And normally, I just jump in and see what I don’t know before defaulting to google, and that tends to work. I also have decades of experience doing so =)

  2. bhagpuss says:

    Excellent post. I agree with virtually everything you say. I was also going to mention EQ’s pop-up guidance window but Isey beat me to it.

    I think many of these problems are intractable, unfortunately. They’re a subset of the largely unresolved issues created by a genre where the product remains on sale and in use for years – even decades – while being continually modified. While developers can try to smooth the way for returning players who’ve been away for months or years there is always going to be a significant degree of culture shock.

    I agree that the best way to re-acclimatize is to go do some basic, unchallenging bread-and-butter content, either easy/under-level stuff with the higher level character you mean to play, or low-level stuff on an alt or new character. A few sessions of that and both your old knowledge and your confidence should return – then you can start digging into all the stuff that’s happened since you last played.

  3. bhagpuss says:

    I just popped back to say something about the EQ2 “solo” dungeon issues you’ve been having. When you were posting about it a while back I was a bit surprised because I hadn’t really had any problems going through the Sig Line instances on my Berserker. Yes, they are Heroic, but the gear I was getting from the quest rewards plus the buff from Fount of Power seemed to render the “Heroic” label meaningless. The mobs seemed to be about the same difficulty as those in previous expansions, despite the different labelling.

    That completely changed when I took my Level 106 Inquisitor into the first Plane of Innovation instance yesterday. Where my Berserker at the same stage had been able to pull two or three mobs at once and AE them with reasonable safety, the Inquisitor died on the first pull after just a couple of hits. I tried a couple of times and the result was the same – almost instant death.

    I then spent quite a long time researching the issue online. I found that it had been a common issue last year although i saw few recent posts about it. I tried a number of suggested solutions, including resetting my AA Profile, toggling the Fount of Power buff on and off manually and making sure I had all my buffs. Nothing made any difference.

    The key issue seemed to be the Fount not applying itself properly. I read that with it working I should have at least 100k Potency and 20 million HPs. I had the Potency, which jumped from 30k to over 100k with the buff, but my HPs stayed unchanged at around 3m.

    I upgraded some gear from 100 to 103 with some pieces I had in the bank and that pushed my HPs up a little but not a lot. I still had less than 4m and couldn’t get it to shift. Then I read this thread https://forums.daybreakgames.com/eq2/index.php?threads/in-pop-how-are-players-getting-this-health.583613/ and particularly the 11th post, which nails the exact problem I was having.

    The absolute key issue, which I had missed in every examination of my build, turned out to be “Enhanced Vigor” which you can find under the Class tab of the Prestige section in AAs. Far from having all eight ranks allocated, which it turns out is essential, I had no points spent in that tab at all. When I took all 8 ranks my hitpoints went from around 4m to over 8m.

    That would have made a difference in itself but the really important effect was that, with that extra Stamina in place from the AA, the Fount of Power buff immediately began to have a huge effect. Whereas previously it hadn’t changed my HPs whatsoever, now it more than doubled them to over 20m. This radically changed my ability to handle the Heroic mobs. I tested it on a few pulls and while my Inquisitor doesn’t have the DPS of my Berserker, she can now comfortably, quickly and safely chew through the mobs in just the same way she can kill the regular mobs outdoors.

    There’s still a problem in that nothing has changed for my Merc, who still drops in a couple of hits. I’m looking into that but thinking about it, I had a Healer merc on my Berserker and she probably never got hit, whereas my Inq uses a Paladin to tank. I think I’ll just swap to an Inq Merc and tank the mobs myself, in which case the Merc’s lack of HP shouldn’t be a problem.

    Anyway, hope this helps. They’ve gone for an odd system for solo instances this expansion and it’s counter-intuitive but it IS entirely soloable once you figure it out. Shame it takes hours of internet research to do that but there you go…

    • Telwyn says:

      Oh thanks for this, I’ll check it out – I had noticed the HP weren’t going up to 20m but at some point forgot about that. I hadn’t found anyone talking about Inq’s having problems in this content so thought it was just me being a forever-newb in the game as usual 🙂

    • Telwyn says:

      Just to add to this for the record, in case someone finds this via search, changing my AAs to the Vigor (Health?) line did massively increase my Inq’s health pool in-line with the expected buff levels. It went from just short of 4 million to 18 million! That has made progress so much easier.

  4. bhagpuss says:

    Grr… that should read 12th post, not 11th in the fifth paragraph!

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