Why is it hard playing new MMOs?

collectionDespite my rather untrue reputation of playing dozens of MMOs all of the time — and somehow writing, working, and helping to raise a family even so — the truth is that I tend to have a couple comfort MMOs that I dive into on a regular basis and then a scattering of other titles that go from one-shot curiosities to every-so-often loads.

But for a while now I’ve been struggling with a frustration over why it’s hard for me to, say, just load up an MMO I haven’t played before (or in a long while, or much at all) and go for it. Because I can’t. I try, I stretch myself, I make vows to expand my boundaries, and then I inevitably go back to the handful of titles that I’ve played for a while yet. It’s frustrating because I know that there’s a lot of good stuff out there that I really haven’t experienced, and I would always like to have a broader base of experience. But there’s a block in there, maybe a few of them, and this post is my effort to try to put a finger on why it’s harder to swap between MMOs than it was playing console games.

I guess for starters there’s the fact that every MMO has its own control scheme and UI setup, and no two are exactly alike. Oh, there are plenty that are similar, but the same? I haven’t seen it. This one game has double-jumping and the other game barely allows your feet to clear the ground. One game allows rebinding your keys while the other doesn’t. One has a less responsive chat window than the other. One has the dorky running animations, one has the combat lag, and one has the instant mount summons. One is tab-target combat and the other is all about twitch action.

Differences are fine, but when you’re bouncing between games, you have to mentally shift between what they are and attempt to get your finger memory to where it needs to be. That’s not a problem when you’re primarily playing one MMO. It starts to stack up when you add more games to the mix. MMOs are too complex sometimes with all of these nuances and features when you’re trying to shift between them.

Speaking of remembering, does anyone else have a good system for keeping track of dozens of logins and passwords? That’s a factor, too.

There’s the financial barrier as well. If it’s a sub-only game, well, I have to make a rather big call as to whether or not I’m going to tack on another bill to my card every month. If it’s F2P, I have to figure out how much I’ll be penalized for playing without paying and see if it’ll cross the threshold of unbearable or not.

When I play more than one MMO during an evening, I notice that it takes me a few minutes of in-game play to make the psychological transition between the previous game and the new. During that time, I’m resenting the new game because my “feel factor” is still on the one I just came from.

Jumping into new MMOs also requires a lot of learning, more so if the game has significantly different systems than other titles. If an MMO has been out for years and years, then you’re playing catch-up with a mountain of combat that vets have long since become accustomed to.

I also have a hard time playing a game in the moment — playing it for its own sake right then and there. If it’s an MMO, I can’t help but think about my future in the game and if I’m going to actually be spending more time here. And if my internal answer is, “I can’t see going the full distance” then my mind starts throwing up roadblocks to letting me enjoy even a partial distance.

This all isn’t a problem that I can see MMO studios wanting to solve, by the way. Studios would vastly prefer that I make their game a permanent home and welcome any obstacles from jumping ship — however temporarily — to other games. There’s always an ongoing effort to establish brand loyalty and get players to plant roots.

Don’t mind me and all of my brain-flotsam today. Just thinking out loud here. Wishing that it was easier to game hop than it is. Maybe realizing that this is just how I’m wired and to enjoy what I enjoy without feeling like I’m being left out of the fun of othe games I’m not playing.

WildStar: Syp’s party of five

party1Probably one of the things that I enjoy most when I solo is to be running around as a pack. In Marvel Heroes, Squirrel Girl is constantly surrounded by squirrels, team-ups, and other summons. In WoW, I loved having a warlock/hunter pet out as well as a vanity pet. In Guild Wars 2, my Necro would often have several pets out at a time. And in WildStar, I’m all set up with a party of five.

It is a shame that I can only have out two bots at a time as an Engineer, because be assured that I would have them ALL out if given half the chance. Even so, I usually am running with my assault bot and my repair bot. The latter is just so dang helpful with constant shield regeneration and a touch of additional DPS. Then as a scientist, I usually have my scanbot out as well. Add on a vanity pet — right now my cowboy Lopp — and I’m a full party of five tearing up the landscape.

Why do I like this? What’s the appeal of running around as a pack?

It’s a different feel than when there’s only a single other NPC companion on the field. Controlling an entire group as a soloer makes me feel like I’m part of a task force, a danger squad. I mean, look at all of the cartoons we watched when we were kids: Ghostbusters, TMNT, Voltron, Jayce, MASK, GI Joe. They all worked as packs, and there was something thrilling about seeing a whole group like that head out into the mission zone together. That’s a bit of the same vibe that I get here. We’re like some weird rag-tag assembly on a mission to save the world.

And as an Engineer, it fits quite well to be surrounded by all of these robot companions (and a Lopp, but I can pretend he’s actually an android or somesuch).

Anyway, last night we ripped up more of Malgrave. Nothing special, just mopping up a few quests, including killing cattle so that vultures would come down and we could kill those. Poor cows — a sacrifice for the greater good. THE GREATER GOOD.

I’ve been reading about this fall’s patch with growing excitement. Neighborhoods sound completely awesome (who will be my neighbor? Taking applications!) and I really like the idea of simplifying the stats so that they actually make sense. Now can we do something about the mess that is the AMP panel? I mean, I’m glad all of them will be unlocked, but dang if that’s not a headache to page through.

Anarchy Online: Wherefor art thou, screenshots?

Believe me, I was diligent. I looked up the screenshots key. I took many pictures. And yet this morning, I cannot for the life of me find the Anarchy Online screenshot folder. Maybe I confused the game with all of my hard drives. But you have to trust me that I took them and that they would have blown your mind.




OK, probably not so much. It’s Anarchy Online, a 2001-era game with a 2005-era paint job. But I did want to poke my head in and say hi, mostly to satisfy my curiosity over the graphics upgrade and the new beginner experience.

I think — think — I installed the new graphics engine right, but without having been in the game recently, I had a hard time figuring out whether or not I had launched it or was looking at the old engine. It looked fine, I guess… Anarchy Onlineish. My character still had a body that was made of about 12 polygons, the world done up in that blocky but futuristic style that I used to love.

As per long-standing Syp tradition, I rolled up a new character, the same character I always do: a Solitus female adventurer. Having a self-heal plus dual pistols plus the ability to morph into creatures is too appealing to look elsewhere. Right off the bat I got a leet morph, because how awesome is it to skitter around as a tiny leet?

Oh, and I had a great screenshot of that. It would have brought tears to your eyes, truly.

I’m of mixed feelings of the new beginner experience. The old one took place on this tropical beach (n00b isle or somesuch), but the new one is a series of industrial platforms. It’s definitely uglier than the previous setting, although it was far more linear and easier to track.

I spent some time trying to beat up malfunctioning droids with my fists before I realized that my inventory had a ton of gear that I should, y’know, probably equip. It took an embarassing death before I discovered that. Oh yes, I screenshotted the death too. You would have written poetry if you’d seen it.

Every time I return to Anarchy Online, I have to fiddle around with the UI to make it look like a more contemporary setup. That takes several minutes of adjusting the settings and turning off some of the more screen-hogging elements. No, I don’t want a GIANT CHAT BOX right in the lower center. Who does that? I mean, post-2002?

The quests were pretty rote, an endless series of “kill a bunch o’ stuff and occasionally use this special item” tasks. That didn’t matter so much, because I was rolling in the nostalgic hay — the familiar music, the sound and backflip of a level ding, the slow-paced combat, the AO art style.

But man, I wish I had those screenshots. It would have brought this entire blog post together in a way that would have left you standing and applauding wildly at your screen. As it is, it’s probably going to leave you depressed and pondering the meaning of life to any and all who wander into earshot. My apologies.

Retro Gaming: Planetfall part 3

(This is part of my journey going checking out Planetfall. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

Back when I was a kid, I used to create games all of the time in BASIC on my family’s PC. Because graphics were tough to do (outside of basic ANSII mockups), most everything I did was text, and thus I loved whipping up text adventures and text RPGs. If nothing else, it gave me a deep appreciation for how tricky and complex text adventure design is, because you have to have a parser that understands a wide range of commands, you have to figure out how to deal with inventory (both on the character and in the game), and you have to deal with issues like the passage of time and events that fundamentally change a room or character.

So I am pretty impressed with what Planetfall’s doing here, even though I’m more than a little annoyed at the inventory limit and the need to constantly eat and drink. On one hand, it delivers a feeling of immediacy and urgency, but on the other hand, in adventure games all you want to do is explore and experiment at your leisure, not under a gun. I guess the limitations upped the replay value somewhat, because you could be looking to do better the next time around.

Anyway. Where were we? Oh yeah, we just encountered Floyd the robot.

f1True love is always painful. And always worth the risk of electrocution.

f2Who didn’t want a robot pet in the ’80s? I don’t think you could legally be a cartoon kid without one as a sidekick.

Floyd comes across as a hyper child, which is better than complete silence and isolation. I’ll take it. Plus, his comments and actions are somewhat entertaining as you go around doing normal adventure game stuff.

f3Floyd is a little put out that I deactivated him to find this card, but dude, you’re in an adventure game. You know what you signed up for. I’d loot the sun if I could.

f4Now it’s getting interesting. In the comm room, the game gives me a few narrative tidbits. The first is a distress call from the ship I was on before it mysteriously blew up (don’t know why that happened either). The second is an outgoing call in that badly spelled English asking for help due to a planetwide plague. The weird spelling — phoenetically correct but just barely — indicates that the people’s facilties were going. Or they were just idiots, which might be the case because all of the signs in this place are spelled like this too.

f5I spend a good amount of time getting the proper liquid to repair the comm system, because all high technology can be fixed the same way that you fill up your car. By the way, have I said how much this game’s parser irks me? Pouring the flask isn’t allowed but emptying it is. They couldn’t have anticipated pouring?

Oh well. At least the distress message has gone out, and here’s hoping that someone will come to answer it and help me out!

f6Well this was… random. Floyd is extremely emotional — y’know, for a robot — and he’s mentioned Lazarus before. Guess it was his friend? Mentor?

f7You would think that getting into a bed in an infirmary would be safe. You would think. And you would be wrong, because you’re playing this game.

f8The infirmary has a computer spool (very, very old tech from a 2015 perspective) that ends up telling me the dire news, which I’ll sum up here to save you the headache of reading the above: I have less than ten days for the unnamed disease to get me. The first symptom is a high fever, followed by the increasing need for sleep. That is not going to help me.

What might help me is some experimental medicine that’s nearby. What the heck, bottom’s up!

Pinpointing where Guild Wars 2 lost me

gw018Yesterday during the poll I put up, Wollydub asked me, “I’d be really interested in a blog or column about why GW2 fell completely out of favor with you. Not even a mention here. I am in the same boat. I can’t put my finger on it to put it into words though like maybe you can.”

Following a post I made a couple of weeks ago about parting ways with Guild Wars 2, I had very little intention of writing about the game unless I returned to it. I don’t want to get into that state where you’re a bit burned out and negative about a game and having nothing upbeat to say at all. I’d rather step away and see if the feeling comes back, allowing for a potential re-entry that rekindles better emotions.

But hey, since Woolly asked and I’m a little starved for post ideas today, why not?

Here’s the weird thing about this topic: I have extraordinarily positive things to say about Guild Wars 2. I can’t deny that I really enjoyed my time playing it, that it has a very casual-friendly approach, that it’s beautiful or has a stellar soundtrack, that the classes and combat drew me in, and that there’s always something to do. After all, I played for almost two years, so there must have been some pull going on. I’m not that much of a masochist.

So where did it lose me? As with many trends in life, it wasn’t one thing but a death from a thousand cuts.

First of all, there’s the spectre of burnout that looms larger the longer one plays an MMO. It doesn’t always happen and doesn’t always stick to a timetable, but I’d easily say that every successive year in a game, the chances of having my interest plummet increases unless the game does something to replenish that interest.

And that’s maybe where Guild Wars 2 failed for me. Even with all of its feature packs and living world updates, so little of that got me personally excited. The story very rarely engaged me, which was always frustrating because I could see that it was extensively written and there was tons of lore, etc. But the characters were largely a snoozefest and as season two went on, it felt like a trudge through setpieces that looked pretty and were as annoying as possible to finish.

That’s another thing: the tougher fights started to get to me. There are fun challenging fights and then there are fights were plants are vomiting red circles everywhere, knocking me down, and rendering melee all but useless. Remember that missions where you were Caithe fighting those centaurs? That took me so dang long with numerous deaths that I started to wonder if I’d ever see the end of the mission. When at least two-thirds of your game is combat, then that combat better hold up. I felt it starting to crumble.

I guess the final straw — again, for now — of my interest is that Heart of Thorns is heading off in a direction that quite frankly bores me. The new class is not a huge draw and I haven’t seen any “must have” elite specialization reveals yet. Guild halls? Wake me up when there’s real personal housing, thanks. Guild housing has never, ever gotten me excited about playing MMOs, especially when it comes instead of individual houses (City of Heroes, Neverwinter).

But seriously, the devs could not have turned me off more when they announced that we were getting even more of the jungle motif (I’ve yet to see bloggers rave about the decision to go with this) and even more platforming and even more grinding. Platforming in Guild Wars 2 is not the game’s strength, but ArenaNet obviously believes in it, because the studio has crammed it in everywhere, increasing it in frequency with the more recent zones.

I guess that’s about it. I don’t care what’s coming next in the story. I’m not enjoying the current design direction of the game. And there’s no “must do” goals that I want to keep pursuing. So I’ll be content to let the game be and see if my interest ever returns. Heaven knows that there are enough other games right now that are yammering for my attention, so I don’t feel a great void from putting this MMO down.

Battle Bards Episode 54: Winter is coming

winteriscomingIt might be the middle of the summer in the northern hemisphere, but it’s never too early to start getting ready for the cold! On this episode of Battle Bards, the crew takes on the theme of bitter, desolate, and beautiful winter soundscapes from a wide range of MMO scores. Winter is, after all, coming. Let’s prepare!

Episode 54 show notes

  • Intro (featuring “Snowcloak” from Final Fantasy XIV and “Winter Theme” from Allods Online)
  • “Sillus Mountains” from Aion
  • “Wintertusk Hrundle Fjord” from Wizard101
  • “Iron Pine Peak” from RIFT
  • “Winterspring (Cataclysm)” from World of Warcraft
  • “Iceclad Ocean” from EverQuest 2
  • “Hoth, the Frozen Wastes” from Star Wars: The Old Republic
  • “The Shiverpeaks” from Guild Wars 2
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Outro (featuring “Dazzling Snow” from Ragnarok Online)

Listen to episode 54 now!

Going forward with gaming plans for 2015

With the standard disclaimer that plans are made to be broken and Syp’s whims are often prone to change depending on the day, here are some of my plans and thoughts about what I’m gaming now and what I’d like to be gaming for the rest of the year.


I’m still working my way up to level 50 and the final batch of zones, but at my pace it will take me most of the summer to get there. I anticipate dropping my subscription when free-to-play happens, but not my interest. Still having a great time with this second go-round and there are so many things I want to do with my housing plot.

Marvel Heroes

I have tons of goals in this game but no overarching goal, if that makes sense. Squirrel Girl is the character I’ve chosen to gear out as good as I can get her, but everyone else is just there to enjoy. I picked up Emma Frost last night and am looking forward to trying her out tonight (Big 10 + Midtown Monday = hopefully crazy fast leveling).

The Secret World

Right now my lowbie project is on the backburner (ready to be picked up at any time, of course) while my main character is simply redoing Orochi Tower floors once or twice a week to see if she can catch ’em all eventually. I don’t anticipate massive play time in TSW until the next issue comes out, but it’s nice that it’s still there.

Lord of the Rings Online

Haven’t re-installed this on my new computer. Became so burned out on it that I knew I needed some serious distance, even with the new summer patch coming along soon.

Villagers and Heroes

Would like to dip into this every week or so, to at least get a better feel for it and start crafting my way through it. It’s there as a sample title at least for when my appetite demands it.

Star Wars: The Old Republic

It’s weird — the announcement of the fall’s expansion has me incredibly excited, yet I do not really want to play the game until it lands. I don’t have any goals or levels or solo content left for my Operative and I don’t want to speed-level a new character up. So I’ll wait for Fallen Empire and concentrate on other titles in the meantime.


Yeah, I guess I’ll load this up when it goes live. It was fun enough in a mindless Neverwinter action combat sort of way. Not sure if I’ll be bugged by its apparent narrative weakness or it’s weird character models.

Shroud of the Avatar

After spending a couple of days with it, I felt that it was best to just wait until episode 1 launches this year and then giving it a full go. Active community or no right now, it bugs me to play beta.

Anarchy Online

I really, really need to load the new graphics engine and see what there is to see here. I anticipate a day or two of tourism followed by my usual drop-off in interest, but I owe AO enough to at least see what it’s been doing.

Other games, other possibilities

It’s great to see everyone so thrilled about Final Fantasy XIV’s expansion, but I really don’t ever think I’ll be able to get over my apathy toward the franchise and the style to play it. ArcheAge… well, it’s on my computer whenever I feel like trying it. Neverwinter might be a “come back someday” title, especially since I didn’t get much into playing the warlock class. World of Warcraft always beckons, but just when I think nostalgia is going to get me to sub up, I look at garrisons, blanch, and go do something else.