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.
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.
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.
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?