RIFT Prime is an interesting idea, but will it get me back?

I wasn’t anticipating thinking about or even playing RIFT right now (I always am in a process of drifting away or toward the game, and right now am probably somewhere in the middle of that), but yesterday’s announcement of a new RIFT Prime server for this spring kind of caught my attention.

If you didn’t see it, the idea is to create a new type of subscription-only server that won’t have most of the F2P elements (like lockboxes) but will feature special achievements and rewards, accelerated progression, monthly milestones, zones scaling to characters’ level, level-appropriate loot in all dungeons, a cap on professions, and a trip back through the game — with a server conclusion at some point.

It’s not quite a vanilla server, but it is a definite change from the current server status quo: “We plan to present RIFT at its roots as much as is possible to do, and look forward to sharing details over the coming weeks. The Prime server will progress at a faster pace than the original launch and will eventually come to an end in spectacular fashion.”

So as a former RIFT player, the question in front of me is, “Is this something that raises my interest and will it be compelling enough to call me back to the game?” I would say that “yes” and “maybe” are my answers.

I think we’re seeing a small but noticeable revolution among MMOs to present classic, legacy, progression, and other alternate ruleset servers. The EverQuest games have been doing this for years, of course, but now we’ve seen how popular Old School RuneScape is and are drooling for World of Warcraft Classic. It’s a good idea for RIFT to look into this, because the general perception of this MMO is that it was incredibly fun in vanilla, suffered over the rollout of expansions, and was dragged down by the overly aggressive F2P business model practices. Now Trion can offer two versions of the game to players and see which appeals more.

I have reservations. I have questions. We obviously need a lot more specific details here, and I am wondering the most about the pace of progression (will it be a stressful race?) and the decision to give the Prime server a definite conclusion. Even with rewards porting over (to characters I don’t play at the moment), having a looming end date does sap enthusiasm. And housing! Why would I engage in dimensions if it is all going to end, unless I can take that dimension with me? Housing is one of the best parts of RIFT and it would be a shame not to partake in that because I was afraid of assured demolition.

But will there be a restart of a second prime server? That was the idea with the challenge servers that Trion presented last year, and if the studio can come up with a format that encourages subscribing players to reroll while keeping the interim experience fun and enjoyable, it could go a long way to taking the stale feeling out of the endgame.

I’m going to think on it, especially as more info comes in. I could very well see myself subbing up for a month to see how this goes, especially if there is a groundswell of community excitement over it. There are so many things that I love about RIFT, and I do miss it a lot sometimes — especially how it used to be in those first couple of years. What about you? Did this announcement have you mulling over a return to the game? Is this a good move to offer a lockbox-free, sub-only solution?

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DDO: Adventures are better with friends

Don’t look now, but Syp is creepin’ and peepin’ at you from the rushes in Dungeons and Dragons Online. It’s just where I hang out most days. Probably why the hair on the back of your neck sticks up more often than not.

Last week’s theme in the game was “actually being social,” which is somewhat of a novelty for me. Actually, it didn’t used to be, especially in DDO. Back in the early days of the game, you HAD to group up pretty much all of the time. The whole game was built for it, which had its pluses and minuses. I loved having that social component and exploring dungeons with friends, but it could be very frustrating to try to arrange runs for specific instances you need. I found myself having to be more loosey-goosey, go-with-the-flow instead of goal-oriented.

I got a good taste of the old life — the classic DDO experience — this past week with a couple of runs with friends. Matt from DDOCentral took some time on Monday night to give me a tour around some interesting spots in the game and then fight with me through a minotaur-laden arena. If you have a highly knowledgeable DDO friend, I recommend toting one along as kind of a running commentary of Things You Don’t Know But Should.

Run #2 was televised to a worldwide audience. Sort of. OK, it was streamed on Twitch, as Massively OP’s MJ, a friend, and I teamed up to go through a pair of missions. If you’re really bored, you can watch the whole thing on MOP TV. We started out with a pretty uneventful graverobbing mission, but it was fun to have a party in which we all took roles. As an Artificer, I took up the duties of a rogue, scouting ahead for traps and then backwheeling mightily when bad guys poured out of the woodwork.

As an aside, I truly enjoyed driving everyone nuts with the pfft-pfft-pfft of my repeating crossbow.

Our second mission was much more challenging, probably because its design documents simply included the words “FIRE. FIRE EVERYWHERE. ALSO, LAVA.”

It was like descending into a little pocket of hell and trying to figure out what we should be doing while enemies kept respawning left and right. At one point, both of my teammates bit the dust, so on the fly I picked up their soul stones and then courageously ran away. I do running away very, very good. The good news is that we did survive and beat the dungeon without a full wipe, and I was left with the increasing desire to do more group activities in the future.

Project Gorgon: Coming soon?

One of the smaller resolutions that I have this year for Bio Break is to work on my posting balance a bit. I enjoy delivering “experience reports” of games that I’m currently playing, but I also want to get back to doing more topical posts on MMOs and posts on games I’m looking forward to playing. I used to do a lot of forward-looking posts back in the day, but then I started to tamp that down along the line, and now I feel like I am breaking some sort of weird oath to do it. Never mind that; talking about such things can be a joy in and of themselves.

So in that spirit, let’s talk Project Gorgon. The good news that we got last week from the creators is that this indie MMO is coming to Steam early access soon — within a month or so. And that is a Big Deal for me, since I’ve restrained myself for years from seriously playing this title until it got to this point. I’m a little leery on wipes and whatnot, even with some assurances to the contrary, but I think I heard it said that early access will mark the beginning of Gorgon’s next phase and a more stable run. Kind of like an early launch.

I’m going to wait and see what early access here entails, particularly if more details are going to be given about this build, the state of the game, and future plans. Project Gorgon is the type of game that I don’t want to have to restart over and over again — I just want to dive into it and explore it once without worrying about doing everything again. I’m also hoping to hear if playable fairies are coming soon. If they are, I’m willing to wait past early access to main one of those, but if not, well then, I think it’s high time to just game up and play already.

I’m totally going to be nerdy about it, too. I envision keeping a notepad file or a written notebook with clues and notes, and I’m trying not to spoil myself with the in-game hints or the out-of-game wiki for the first few weeks or months. PG is all about discovery, and since it’s an MMO, there’s always a way to circle back and get what you’ve missed. Probably going to play as an animal for a while too, because Death Armor Bovine was written on my birth certificate well before the doctors ever knew what it meant.

I hope that Gorgon is getting some more funds and will find this with early access. I worry about the financial state of this game, especially since it’s not really taking in any cash flow that I see and can only skate by on the rather meagre Kickstarter funds for so long. How the lead devs manage to eat and keep a house is beyond me. Maybe they moonlight on the Star Citizen team and come home with pockets full of cash. Who knows.

So Gorgon in a month… who’s with me? Anyone excited about this?

Battle Bards Episode 113: Anarchy Online

Alien, quiet, and weird — that’s the Anarchy Online soundtrack for you in a nutshell. For the first episode of 2018, the ever-contentious Battle Bards are back to quibble about, gush over, and nitpick the score to one of the older sci-fi MMOs on the market today.

Episode 113 show notes (show pagedirect download)

  • Intro (feat. “Seascape,” “Spiritual Elysium,” and “The Cup”)
  • “Main Theme”
  • “Majestic Omni”
  • “Omni-Tek Theme”
  • “Ancient Civilizations”
  • “Dungeon Dub”
  • “Shadowlands Battle Music”
  • “Amongst the Trees”
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Listener notes: Friendly Necromancer, Katriana, and Rafael
  • Jukebox picks: “Simmering Steeps” from Portal Knights, “I Am Justice” from Diablo III, and “First Light” from Aion
  • Outro (feat. “Open Plains”)

Try-It Tuesday: Tacoma

Every so often, I break out of my gaming routine to try something new and different. These turn into my Try-It Tuesday sessions, and they are a mixed bag indeed!

After devouring What Remains of Edith Finch the other week, I needed another injection of interactive “walking simulator” storytelling… which led me to Tacoma. Created by the Gone Home team, Tacoma doesn’t stray far from the template from the aforementioned games. You’re a female arriving in a deserted location who investigates her surroundings and pieces together a narrative of what happened prior to her arrival.

In this case, it’s a space station instead of a family house, but the concept doesn’t stray too far from the path. Something Has Happened to the station Tacoma and its six occupants (who are no longer aboard), and it’s up to you to find out what while recovering as much of the recorded data as possible.

The twist here is that in certain areas you can recover all or part of audio and video recordings of the crew in the past — sometimes hours, sometimes weeks, sometimes even months ago — and then play them back as they move about. You can’t see their actual bodies and faces, but rather color-coded humanoid blobs, but you can peek into their HUD computer displays and follow them as they go about various tasks and discussions. The only real choice you actually have in the game, in fact, is who to follow when, which only determines what order you get all of the story beats.

Between the crew logs, their computer messages (emails, texts, letters), and some minor environmental observation, the narrative gradually comes together. The game starts promisingly pretty much at the point of the crisis, and then delivers logs that go back and forward from that point to give you ever-widening context. And even though the people are blobs, you get to know them a bit and find out a few details about their backstories and relationships.

While I ended up not liking Gone Home very much, Tacoma was better — but only a little bit more. I loved the setting and the mechanics, but it is way, way too short of a game. It’s like a short story instead of a novella, and I ended up feeling robbed that we didn’t get more sections with more conversations and details. The characters don’t get as much time to be fleshed out, the mystery, so to speak, gets rushed in the end, and the sparse environmental details didn’t live up to Gone Home or Edith Finch.

It’s what I would consider a $5 game, max, for what you get. Definitely worth a quick two-hour playthrough, but once you’re done, there’s no reason to ever revisit it.

It’s time we heard about the next phase of Secret World Legends already

Last fall, I found myself pushing hard through Transylvania and Tokyo because I was worried that I wouldn’t be “done” and caught up in time for the wave of promised new content that was due to start arriving in late 2017. Well, I fulfilled my end of the bargain; I’m finally caught up at the end of the main storyline and have a halfway-decent character who is ready to go on.

Funcom? It’s a whole heap of quiet over there. And no new content yet, I might add.

I think I’m disappointed in two things. On a small level, that the new stuff hasn’t happened yet. We know we’re due for three things: a “Dark Agartha” scenario, an agent system, and the start of season two in a new zone. At least some of this was supposed to happen last month and didn’t.

But the greater disappointment isn’t any delay, it’s that Funcom just isn’t talking with us. Aside from running the winter event last month, the studio’s been really quiet concerning SWL. It seems to be dealing with this game in spurts, giving it some attention before wandering away, and that’s a sign of a poor community management team (or a poor CM, period).

There just isn’t any info or talk coming out of the studio for fans. There aren’t any official forums, so Funcom primarily uses Reddit and Discord. I don’t hang out in Discord these days, but you’d think that a CM who has repeatedly promised WEEKLY communication updates and has delivered maybe three of them would pop over to the Reddit once in a while. About the only hope we have right now is the fact that some of the in-character NPCs are now talking once again on Twitter after a long silence.

Anyway, I’m sure there’s a delay and I’m sure we’re still due for more good stuff, but I’m tired of treading water in Tokyo. I can’t really bring myself to run the same Tokyo missions I’ve already done for no new story or better rewards, so other than logging in once a day to get my free key, I’m just not going to play until or unless Funcom pops out some new content. I am shaking my head here, because Secret World Legends had some good momentum last summer, but it feels like the studio has squandered that and once again turned its back on this game.

Let’s sincerely hope not.

For more thoughts on this, check out GRM Adrian’s video on the subject where he voices many of the same frustrations that I’m feeling.

Revisiting Champions Online

So here we go with one of my 2018 resolutions, which is to “revisit and review” one old MMO and one new one (to me) each month. I’m kicking off this series with a brief look at Champions Online, because a Massively OP Podcast listener brought it up last month and got me thinking about this game — and why we City of Heroes vets aren’t necessarily shoo-ins to play it.

Oh, I’m sure some are. But the superhero diaspora didn’t result in everyone going to the same MMO, even if the logical choice was another comic book MMO developed by Cryptic. Champions Online always struggled in the shadow of City of Heroes, and while it did develop its own identity, the core gameplay and neglected development worked against it in the long run. Champs failed to gather and sustain a healthy playerbase, instead settling somewhere on the fringe for years now.

I’ve always felt that one of the biggest mistakes that Champs made was not fully embracing free-to-play. It tried for a halfway measure, taking away one of its core strengths — allowing players to mix-and-match powers to make their own unique build, instead giving free users prebuilt templates that weren’t as personal. As such, trial players didn’t feel like they had such a strong personal investment in the game and didn’t stick around for long. Just my perspective.

That isn’t to say that the game is a wasteland. I found many wonderfully weird superheroes wandering around when I logged in with my new character, Goober. Since I had a single freeform character slot (the $50 alternative to a subscription if you wanted to make your own unique build), I spent 45 minutes or so creating a bizarre tragedy of a hero. Goober is some sort of lizard-fish thing, with fins everywhere, too-long arms, and green skin. Yet I found myself warming up to the weirdness before long, especially since I typically create as attractive and cool-looking of characters that I can in games like these.

It should be said that Champions Online’s character builder is still as robust and addicting to use as ever. Probably more so, with all of the options that have been tossed in since last I played. I’ve always been partial to Champions’ visuals over City of Heroes, and the cel-shaded style still holds up. It does look a little artificial in the faces, but the bold colors distract from that detail. I was also impressed by how many powers there are from which to choose. Travel powers alone number into the dozens, although many are locked behind store purchases and who knows what. I wouldn’t mind trying “inky ooze tunneling,” though.

In the end, Goober became a boomerang-using, chain-flinging vigilante for justice. Nothing fancy, but fun even so. I don’t often get boomerangs in MMOs or other video games.

Pretty!

As a Detroit resident, I always get a kick out of this futuristic revamp of the city. And the mountains in the background across the Detroit River, because I guess Canada has a landfill problem or something.

Going back to Champions for a night was worth it for superjump alone. There is no travel power that ever pleased me more in any superhero game than this. Flight might offer more freedom, but there’s something thrilling about literally jumping over buildings and slamming down to make craters in the sidewalk. It’s a plus if you’re doing this as some sort of mutant fish monster.

As much as I liked the travel and the visuals, Champions fell short in other areas that I am only all-to-familiar with from previous sessions. The controls and combat continues to feel… off. A little sluggish. It’s just not as tight as it should be, and that held me back from really getting into the quests. While I did appreciate the auto-attack for the basic builder, the whole builder/spender mechanic was just as much of a dud as it ever was. City of Heroes’ time-recharging powers were much more enjoyable to use, in comparison.

I ran through a half-dozen missions and a story instance, and it was generally pretty basic and straight-forward. I appreciated the effort of using cutscenes, but the voice acting, lip synching, and animation were all lacking. And the whole deal was just kill, kill, kill. At least the screen gave me a handy navigation arrow that always pointed to the next objective.

Oddly enough, the most fun I had was the ability to pick up and throw environmental objects, like chairs, cars, and parking meters. Kind of feel like the city would frown on me tearing up public property for an attack that didn’t do much damage, but sometimes you just have to do something simply for its own sake.

I do want to say that in this series where I look at other MMOs, I’m leaving it very open-ended as to how long I want to play and if further sessions are warranted. Revisiting Champions brought back a lot of memories but didn’t really reel me in or introduce any new fun surprises since last I played, so I think this’ll be it. At least for now.