Syp’s gaming goals for September 2021

August 2021 in review

  • The August that I was hoping to have earlier this summer didn’t end up materializing. We didn’t get either New World or Book of Travels, both of which got delayed. So it didn’t become that “new MMO” month that I was anticipating.
  • Yet it was a satisfying month overall. I did enjoy a couple of days of questing in Ship of Heroes’ mission beta. It still needs a lot more work, but I kind of really liked it and am looking forward to when this becomes a finished product.
  • Lord of the Rings Online got a whole lot of time from me. I bounced around hard between characters trying to figure out on a direction before settling on focusing my efforts on my Captain. I started getting her through Mordor while doing the summer festival and missions to get some levels under her belt.
  • I definitely hit my goal of finishing Stormblood 4.0 in Final Fantasy XIV, as well as maxing out my Vanu Vanu beast tribe rep (the latter which wasn’t really worth it). I also swapped my race from Lalafell to Au Ra.
  • I did log in to Guild Wars 2 to clean up my inventory and prep my Mesmer for adventuring.

September 2021’s gaming goals

  • At a minimum, I want to get through all of FFXIV: Stormblood’s 4.X patch quests, but honestly, I’ll probably get that done in the first week. After that? Shadowbringers. I want to wrap up that expansion and all of the patch stuff by the end of October.
  • As for my LOTRO Cappy, I will do all I can to power her through the epic books and getting her to level 130. She’s got a ways to go, but I think I can make really good progress there. Probably won’t get her fully caught up, but even if I just get Minas Morgul done, I’ll be happy.
  • New World is currently scheduled for the end of the month, so yeah, I’ll be there for that. No idea on goals, other than to figure out the game itself.
  • I may fiddle with my Guild Wars 2 Mesmer, do some light mapping, see if I can find a guild, that sort of thing.
  • I’ve had a standing appointment on Saturdays to try out new games from my backlog and do posts on them, so I really want to actually get back to doing that. So I’m aiming for two to four new game posts this month!
  • I also have an inkling of an idea to cover some other MMOs in a different format than I’ve done previously, so look forward to that.

FFXIV: Stormblood finished!

My ongoing goal for FFXIV this year has been to finish one significant section of the main story quest every month — either the core expansion quests or the collective patch quests. July was all of Heavensward patches while August was all of Stormblood 4.0. And with over a week before the end of the month, I finished that latest milestone. There’s still a good long way to go before I’m caught up with the front-runners, but I’m on track to do so by the time Endwalker releases.

I was hoping that by the time I wrote my final thoughts on Stormblood 4.0, I would have to eat my former words of being somewhat underwhelmed with the storyline, but… nope. It was ultimately fine. Honestly, kind of tedious in parts as you slogged through liberating two separate countries. I just wanted it over, if nothing else than I never wanted to see Zenos again. He made my skin crawl, not as a character but as an existence. I know that we should hate bosses and all that, but this was hate coming from outside of the story itself and more from how the artists portrayed this sleazy uncanny valley weirdo.

One bright spot of Stormblood was Lyse, who really developed well as a character. You see her going from headstrong impulsive fighter to wise leader in a measured journey that felt believable. I ended up liking her a lot as a leader, far more than I ever did Minfilia, and her voice work was rather well-done.

And I’ll give FFXIV this: When you finish an expansion, the game makes a big, big deal out of it. The above screencap crammed almost every single character together for one big selfie, and while it was eyerollingly overdone, it was also kind of a fun moment of celebration as well.

I did like the final scenes that teased further development. It made me look forward to the future storyline rather than dread it.

How LOTRO visualizes evil in its landscape

Bears aside, I’ve been putting in some journeys with my Captain as she makes her way into the Mordor expansion. I’ve made no effort to hide the fact that I greatly dislike this expansion for many reasons. Considering that Minas Morgul — set in the same realm — ended up being pretty great, I can’t say that it’s solely because of the land and theming.

However, these steps into Mordor did get me thinking about how much LOTRO plays upon our sensibilities of beauty and good — and ugliness and evil. It’s not always that simple and clear-cut, of course (Sauron was originally a fair Maia and seen as such in one flashback quest). But the good vs. evil struggle of the game is often echoed in the lands that we explore. Evil people and intents seem to poison and corrupt the very realms they inhabit, and so places like Angmar and Mordor and Isengard become steeped in ash, smoke, decay, and even broken skies.

As a player, you definitely feel this when you go through the gauntlet of Mordor. There’s simply no beauty nor goodness there. What trees there are have been wrapped up in spider’s webs, and what water remains is stained blood red. Everything else is cracked earth, red skies, and lava flows. If you’re especially prone to being affected by your environments, as I am, it’s grueling after a while.

It’s why the game goes out of its way to sandwich Mordor with beautiful zones. North Ithilien is one of the most gorgeous regions of the game, and Northern Mirkwood and Dale-lands contain quite a bit of eye candy. And it’s here that there is still good among the people, imperfect though they may be. It’s a subtle visual reminder of what we’re fighting for — and a stark reminder of what the world could become if evil had its way.

LOTRO: Blobby bear butts

Stupid bear butt, why can’t I quit you?

You were supposed to be an experiment. An exercise for a few days that would result in a column or two on a progression server that I had no intention on seeing through.

Every day, I argue with myself that it’s dumb to do all of this content all over again when I have five perfectly fine alts sitting on regular servers at much higher levels. I do the math and see that it’ll literally be *years* before your bear butt will catch up with the latest content.

And yet I can’t stop playing you.

Is it the fact that I never played a Beorning before and had a chance to fall in love with the Ursine way of life? Or the adorable hound pet that I got for free from a disposable lockbox key? Or the simple joy of going back through the early zones and absolutely dominating everything with some claws to the face?

It certainly doesn’t hurt that I really like how the bear handles. It’s like a perfect package — not too complicated while containing everything that I like. It’s durable, has a self-heal, can instantly lurch into mount speed, and throws out some good AOE DPS.

I swear, I keep saying that I’m going to be done with this silly fantasy and get back to “real” leveling, but then I keep logging back in on my bear butt anyway. As of writing this, I’ve chewed through all of the intro zones and most of Lone-lands while doing all of the deeds. I estimate that if I did one zone every two weeks — an extremely laid-back pace at this rate — I’d be more than caught up and ready for Moria come December or January. Maybe I could even do some dungeon running.

There’s that tug-o-war in MMOs between what you’re enjoying in the moment and what your long-term goals are. If they align, you’re set. If there’s conflict, it can be tough to choose. Right now I feel that friction — enjoying the moment of play while not having made any long-term goals with this character. If I’m to stick with her, I need to commit to keeping up with this progression server. If not, it’s probably best I abandon her now and use that time elsewhere.

And yet… yet I can’t stop playing this stupid bear butt.

Guild Wars 2: The echo of a dawn

There’s certainly been an upswing in interest in Guild Wars 2 lately — and that’s no surprise, as ArenaNet recently unveiled details on the first expansion since 2017’s Path of Fire. With MMORPGs, it always, always matters if the community sees a game as being actively developed or dead in the water, because far fewer people are going to invest time in the latter. So after some dormancy there, GW2 appears on the upswing again, and that’s good for all interested parties.

Am I an interested party? Perhaps. I’m at this stage where I’m willing to be convinced. As I said, the End of Dragons reveal didn’t exactly bowl me over (nor did it many other people I talked with). It was “fine” but not must-have-this-NOW exciting. But it’s usually a good time to get back into an MMO when it’s ramping up to an expansion, because you know that there’s going to be a lot of chatter, focus, and returning involvement with the game.

I figured that it couldn’t hurt to dust off an old character and poke back in now and then. The really nice thing about GW2 is that it never feels like a huge time commitment to me. I’m most interested in mapping anyway, so that can be done at my leisure with no rush.

For a character, I decided to go with one of my more underutilized members of my roster, Eoan Echo, a Mesmer. I like her look and theming, and figure that I’ve already played the Necro and Engie to death at this point. Pink butterflies it is.

But before getting her going, there was a whole lot of maintenance that had to be done. My account’s been accumulating scads of stuff thanks to daily logins that haven’t been sorted. No lie, it took me two hours to get inventory issues straightened out, stuff sold, relevant stuff (like free dyes or skins) used, items transferred over, and so on. My bank was a hideous mess, and I got ruthless with chucking stuff that didn’t need to be there.

For a hot minute there, I felt a desire to completely start over with a new account, like I did with WoW a few years back. I know, it would be idiotic to do so — the price tag is not going to make this a possibility — but there’s something appealing about getting all of those unlocks again and building up from scratch.

Instead, I’ll be continuing my mapping journey while building up my bank account, buying gems, and amusing myself with whatever short session plays I give this.

Why WildStar failed

This month, former WildStar lead Stephan Frost posted an epically long Twitter thread about what he saw as a sad and frustrating “flat circle” of MMO development. It certainly was an interesting behind-the-scenes read about the struggle and race to get a functioning MMO out the door while building up (and keeping) a critical mass of players. He doesn’t seem very optimistic it can be done.

It doesn’t take much reading between the lines here that he’s primarily speaking of WildStar as the inspiration for this post. I think what rankles me — and others who read this — is that while many of his points are true, Frost was leaving out a whole lot of personal and studio blame for why MMOs (again, primarily WildStar) fail. He makes it sound like it was out of his hands, just a tragedy of a lack of funds and time.

But that’s certainly not the full story of the late Carbine’s MMORPG. WildStar is beloved to this day because it did a whole lot amazingly well — housing, animations, outfits, choice, races, vivid NPCs, marketing, holidays, and so on. However, all of this was severely hamstrung by issues that went far above and beyond what he talked about in his pity party post.

If I had to sum up, here’s what I see what helped WildStar to fail:

  1. It was clearly marketed and angled to the casual set — until you got to “elder game” when it switched up to be a brutal, take-no-prisoners romp. Even your standard dungeons were too tough and too frustrating for many players. Nobody appreciated this switcharoo.
  2. In fact, too many Carbine devs had it in their heads that we all WANTED hardcore design. Which wasn’t the scene then nor the scene now. So the raids and PvP warzones ended up appealing to very few people despite lots of resources going into them.
  3. It launched without a free-to-play or buy-to-play option and switched to F2P far too late. I remember interviewing Frost at PAX one year, incredulously asking why Carbine was pushing out a subscription-only MMO in this market. Carbine wasn’t worried, he said. Until Carbine wasn’t Carbine.
  4. There was a serious lack of cooperation and cohesion between WildStar dev teams, resulting in half-baked systems (i.e., Paths) that seemed more designed by committee than the result of a focused vision. Too much of the game was all over the place.
  5. For a story-driven experience, the standard method of quest delivery — the “Tweet-sized” quest chat — was terrible to relay narrative. Again, here’s a great example of how the studio was all over the place. It wanted to tell this amazing mystery with all of these woven threads… and it hamstrung itself from being able to effectively do so.

We could also argue that scifi is simply harder to market in this genre, although that wasn’t Carbine’s fault past choosing to go that route in the first place.

Frost made it sound like WildStar and other MMOs are simply doomed by the complexity of design and the difficulty of their construction, but we know from actual MMO history that isn’t true. Plenty made it out of the gate and continue to run profitably to this day. So perhaps it’s not a circle at all. Perhaps it was a bad trip with a lot of critical miscalculations along the way.

Six MMOs that want my attention in 2021

Boy do I feel like I’m in a weird place with MMO gaming right now. Call it a summer malaise or what have you, but it’s that mixture of guilt, restlessness, and a hunger for fresh blogging material that keeps turning my mind to MMOs I’m not playing — but kind of feel that I should. Or might. Perhaps. Maybe at some point later this year.

The delay of New World really threw my summer plans into disarray. Now I’ve got over a month before gearing up for that, so I have some extra time that I could be using elsewhere. Not that LOTRO or FFXIV doesn’t offer enough content to fill those hours, but… restlessness. Freshness. I don’t like getting too stale.

In any case, here are six MMOs that I’ve been contemplating as titles that I want to get to sooner or later:

No Man’s Sky

The recent fifth anniversary thrust this title back in front of my eyes. It always seems like a game that I should like and stick with more than I have in the past, and so it’s always on the docket for another go. I think this might actually be a really fun blog series if I wanted to do a journal run of it.

Fallout 76

It’s been a while since I’ve done any serious F76 play, and this is a good contender for bite-sized explorative play. I’ve never hit level 50 on a character, and I would like to see how the level scaling works from the start. I’m still kind of holding out for a guild and chat system, but that’s not on the immediate horizon, so my feelings are more lukewarm than “MUST PLAY NOW.”

Star Trek Online

My daughter and I have been watching through some Star Trek: The Next Generation — she’s kind of interested in Trek, so I’m low-key encouraging it — and it’s certainly having the result of making me want to head back into the MMO… at some point. Probably in about six episodes, if my track record is a witness.

Project Gorgon

Label this one under a big, all-caps “GUILT,” because boy do I feel guilty that I’m not actually playing this. Allegedly, I’m waiting for a bonafide launch, but that’s just an excuse. The truth is that I know I’m going to have to learn a whole bunch of new systems and figure out what to do, and that takes mental energy I’m not super-willing to expend. Right now. But I should.

Star Wars: The Old Republic

New expansion will come with new hype. But the appeal for me, right now, would be that SWTOR is a good MMO substitute for when I’m craving WoW again. I’m not quite at that point — LOTRO is probably helping, here — but it’s quite possible that I’ll be blasting my way through this during the holiday season.

Guild Wars 2

Another case of “new expansion news brings actual hope that this game has a future instead of stagnation.” I genuinely hope it does. I don’t really care for GW2’s story, but I love so much about this game and want to see it pull out of this nose-dive it’s been in the past few years. Considering that I’m reinstalling it as I’m typing this, there’s a better-than-average chance I’ll be puttering around doing map completion before too long.

FFXIV: Mess with the Aura, get the horns

When I’m in the thick of a FFXIV expansion, it can kind of feel like it’s going on forever. Story beats — which are more interesting than they were back in ARR, I’ll grant that — still are slow to develop. Sometimes you see where the game is going for the next eight or nine missions and you sigh because you kind of want it done already.

Stormblood continues to be fine, just fine, but never much more than that. The whole thing feels like a two-pronged quest — free Doma, free Ala Mhigo — that’s supported by a branching nest of objectives leading back up to those two main points. I understand that the writers are trying to get us players to understand these lands and care about their liberation (while also making some ham-handed points about the duties and obligations of oppressed people to revolt), but it’s not connecting as strong as I would hope.

Ultimately, it doesn’t feel like I’m off on a grand adventure or uncovering a gripping story. It feels like I’m George Washington single-handedly fighting the British, one encounter at a time. Maybe there’s some big twists or really great moments ahead — this game CAN be surprising in that — but it’s not doing much of that so far. And if I have to do another round of “arrive in a village, everyone mistrusts you, do some nice stuff for them, now they trust you!” routines (in this or other MMOs), I may have to go scream into a pillow for a while.

I am happy to report that I’ve finally finished my first beast tribe rep grind. After about a month of faithfully doing dailies, I maxed out the Vanu Vanu and went on with my life. I was hoping for better rewards or resolution, but it kind of limped across the finish line to sit there. I did get a couple decorations and cosmetics, although the gil cost of the mount (200k) is higher than I’m going to spend right now, especially since I don’t even have my first million.

I am not that inclined to do another beast tribe, at least for the time being. It was a bit of a hassle every day to do those, and I’d rather free up that time for pursuits elsewhere.