An MMO thanksgiving

Since it’s Thanksgiving today, I always find it appropriate to take time to assess the blessings in my life and give sincere thanks for them. In the interest of this blog, here are 10 things I’m thankful for when it comes to MMOs:

  1. I’m thankful that I’m still working with the excellent people over at Massively OP (and that the site is still alive and flying after all these years)!
  2. I’m thankful for the wonderful guildies that I have across my MMOs who keep me connected to the human element and entertained with good conversation and activities.
  3. I’m thankful that I’m this excited about and having fun with Lord of the Rings Online, thanks to a return to the game and the new progression servers.
  4. I’m thankful that there are upcoming MMOs, such as Torchlight Frontiers and Ashes of Creation, that have me hopeful about the future of the genre.
  5. I’m thankful for MMO bloggers who share their own perspectives and thoughts ever day and give me something new to think about.
  6. I’m thankful for a Fallout online game, imperfect as it may be. It’s still more than I could have hoped for after so long.
  7. I’m thankful for my Dungeons and Dragons Online weekly group that’s taken me on a whirlwind tour of this unique MMO’s instances.
  8. I’m thankful for awesome MMO music and the crew at Battle Bards that talks about it with me every other week.
  9. I’m thankful for player housing. I just really like player housing. Have I expressed that enough lately?
  10. I’m thankful for a diverse playing field that offers so many interesting choices and options that burnout is a thing of the past for me.

What are you thankful for today when it comes to MMOs?

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LOTRO: The first step into a legendary server

It has been a long, long time since I’ve been this absurdly excited about Lord of the Rings Online. I know that for some people, there’s no appeal or sense in the idea of a legendary server, but it’s something I’ve been wanting for years and a perfect excuse to roll up a new alt and experience the game all over with a whole bunch of people on a fresh shard.

I even (sort of) took the day off of work. Well, I moved my day off around. Don’t judge me.

The initial rush to get in was met with a horrendous queue that never counted down, requiring us to continually reload the launcher to see if we’d moved in line. About 30 minutes or so after the server went live, I got in and made my new Hobbit Minstrel, Syp, on Anor.

As fleeting as all this may be, it was a heady experience to see literal crowds of people flocking into the tutorial zone. I already knew that I wasn’t going to be one of those players who were trying to rush through all of this and get to level 50 as fast as possible — LOTRO is, in my eyes, a game that is more enjoyable when you take it at a relaxed pace.

So for probably the first ten minutes I arranged inventory, set up UI, and got my bearings. Then came the typical Archet experience that I’ve done dozens of times over the years.

But it wasn’t all exactly the same as it would be on, say, Landroval. For one thing, the experience modifier was set to reduce our XP gain by 40%. So far, it’s been a great adjustment, neither too slow nor as blindingly fast as it was before. They’ll probably reduce this in future updates to allow players to catch up to the crowd, but I think it’s well chosen.

For another thing, mobs were hitting harder and throwing bleeds at us like crazy. This became a point of contention and debate in the community, with some loving the added challenge and others resenting being killed by a level 3 boar. I’ll admit that I met my end a few times due to these, but they weren’t that overpowering.

And then SSG surprised all of us by restoring tiny bits of classic content in the tutorial, including a couple of quests. Once again, I was killing the Marsh-fly Queen and feeling mighty about my place in the world.

Past the tutorial was a Whole Lotta Questing in the Shire. I cranked up the sound and enjoyed the ambiance and music as I puttered around doing silly Hobbit things. I knew that there was a mountain of things to do for a new character on a new server, like get virtues, unlock stable masters, set up outfits, unlock deeds, save up money, buy a house, level up, grind out LP, and so on. But one thing at a time, and the Shire offered a good start to most all of this.

I did spend a few LP that I’d been saving on the store, getting my riding skill, a second milestone, 50 mithril coins for emergency travel, and the first milestone cooldown reduction. Right now I’m saving up LP for that second cooldown reduction so that I can use a milestone every five minutes if need be.

Of course I ran mail, bees, eggs, and — yes — pies. It’s a weird rite of passage in this game for every new character to do the pie run, and I spent an hour traversing the Shire on foot while delivering spoiled pies that could have just gone into the trash.

Even though I had carefully thought out the decision to roll a Minstrel, I’ll admit that I had panicked second thoughts by the weekend. I was worried I was pouring time and effort into a class I wouldn’t ultimately like, and I kept side-eyeing the Captain as a reliable backup. Should I jump over and restart now? Should I stick it out?

Ultimately, the fact that I had divested time and LP into the Minstrel kept me from going all alt crazy. It also helped that some kinmates encouraged me that the Minnie gets really good in her 20s. And hey, yelling people to death is kind of fun. Besides, I always have regretted never having a Hobbit main.

Yes, I did play as a chicken. Why do you ask?

It was also great fun listening to the community gush over this server and romp around like children at recess. It all does feel new and fresh, and there’s this energy that you get from being in lowbie zones with tons of people around that you can’t get on the other servers right now.

I am mentally steeling myself for future areas that I know I hate, but at least I know that no matter how fast the crowd moves, they all have to stop at level 50 before the four months are up. I’m hoping to get in some group content and even try my hand at healing, if time permits.

DDO: Halloween wrap-up

Halloween. Halloween never ends. Especially in DDO, where it feels as though it’s been running for the length of the current presidential term. I haven’t been chasing any of the gear or cosmetics from the event, although I did appreciate some extra chests here and there. In any case, our weekly group assembled last Friday to do one last hurrah for Night Revels before it all got shut down.

I think we did about four or five quick dungeons in a row. An unlimited supply of pumpkin decorations awaited us — far, far too many to be anything other than tacky — as we blitzed our way through the instances.

It was pointed out to me that not only were all of these repurposed instances but that one of them had us running it in the opposite direction (end to beginning) than we would encounter in the regular game. Intriguing!

Scary vampire guy, meet my dog Goober. Head butt that creature of the night, Goober!

There was very little challenge and (I think) no actual deaths for once. Only a few times was my healing really called into play, so it was more of a relaxed evening for yours truly.

I did feel that this was a little unsporting, that we would climb up on these bookshelves and rain down fire and acid on the heads of zombies that couldn’t reach us at all. Oh well, games are often unfair in the opposite direction, so why not work in our favor this one time?

We do have a slightly unorthodox team. I’m the healer as a Druid and we do have a straight-up Rogue who runs trap interference, but everyone else is either a Wizard or a Warlock and is slinging spells all over the place. Hey, it works!

Would I be playing Star Wars Galaxies, City of Heroes, Vanguard, and Warhammer Online if they were alive today?

The oncoming shutdown of WildStar isn’t the first time that I’ve heard some low-level snark slung against bloggers and players from various quarters to the effect of “You’re not playing it right now, so why are you mourning this? That’s some weird hypocrisy right there!”

To me, that ignores a few factors, such as:

  • You can’t always be playing all the MMOs all the time, even the ones you like
  • If you’ve spent significant time with a game in the past and have a connection to it, that doesn’t fade to nothing when you’ve taken a break or left it. Plus, I’ve done my time, so that gives me the right to pine over its loss. Tell me you haven’t felt sad over the death of some musician or celeb that you haven’t spent time enjoying in the past year. When things are taken away that we loved in the past, that can hurt us in the now.
  • You can love a game and not be playing it for understandable reasons, such as a broken state, an obvious impending shutdown, or a lack of developer involvement

Anyway, this all got me thinking about whether or not I’d be playing certain shutdown MMOs if, for whatever reason, they were legitimately started back up and running today. We’re talking fresh starts, new servers, the works. And while I would be ecstatic to see any MMO revived, I can’t say that I would play all of them past perhaps a night of curious tourism.

Star Wars Galaxies is a strange case. It never grabbed me when it was running, but the more I learn about it now, the more I think that I could have really warmed up to this game — or at least some aspects of it. It certainly would provide a nice alternative to SWTOR for those who want a Star Wars MMO fix but are done with BioWare’s business model and approach.

I can say that, in regards to City of Heroes, the answer there would be an emphatic “you betcha!” I’ve been absolutely craving a good superhero MMO the way that City of Heroes once provided, and that was the perfect game to return to. I’ve really regretted not having spent more time playing it past 2006 or so.

Vanguard is a different story. It’s a game that I sincerely admired for a lot of reasons, yet it kind of is lumped in the same pool of fantasy MMOs with solid feature sets yet don’t grab me all the time as EverQuest II or TERA. I guess it would really depend if there was a movement among the MMO community to be engaged in that game that would pull me along for the ride.

And as for Warhammer Online… the answer would be “no.” I put in my time there, got out of it as full of an experience as I wanted, and ultimately felt as though the game wasn’t quite all there and wasn’t the approach that appealed to me.

That’s just a few of the bigger ones, but I know that WildStar will soon join the list of games that I’ll feel occasional twinges of sorrow that I won’t be able to log into when I want to see that beautiful, vibrant world.

Nostalgia Lane: Dogz

Back in the mid-1990s, the internet was only really starting to take hold in homes, and on our college campus, it had finally arrived in the fall of 1995. We endured all kinds of long website loading times on very slow modems to see the glory of the world wide web, and it was both strange and glorious.

One of the effects of the internet invasion was that software was easier than ever to share and download, especially with all of the different trial programs out there. So when I went to work in the computer center help room on our college campus, I found out that everyone had been bowled over by this program called Dogz for Windows 95.

Dogz wasn’t a game, not really. It belonged to the virtual pet craze of the 1990s, but also to the “things doing unproductive stuff on your desktop” craze that was infecting a lot of Windows machines. We were kind of nuts for overloading our computers with all sorts of gimmicky programs that would slow everything down to a crawl. Today it seems like the opposite — we’re all about streamlining and simplifying our workspace. I guess it was the novelty of it all.

Anyway! Dogz! So the idea here is that you would adopt one of five highly animated dogs and then raise and train them. Each dog had a specific personality, so generally you’d pick the one that was suited to your own. Personally, I liked Jowls because he had a sweater, but your mileage may vary.

I thought it was a nice touch that the pet would then break out of the window and romp all over your desktop (if you had the window reduced in size instead of fullscreen). You could then train the dog with spritzes of water and snacks, feed and water them, pet them, and play with them using a variety of objects from the screen. Throwing the ball around to see the dog chase it or playing tug of war was pretty entertaining, at least for a while.

I guess the idea here was similar to vanity pets in MMOs — to give you that feeling of virtual companionship, even if you were so desperately alone. So alone. Why? Why wouldn’t anyone date me? Why was I destined to be alone each and every Friday evening? WHYYYYYY HUG ME DOG AND LICK AWAY MY TEARZ

Ahem.

Anyway, while we spent a good amount of time fiddling with Dogz at our job, it was mostly because it wasn’t seen as a game and playing games there was frowned upon. I never took Dogz with me on my laptop or fell in love with it — it was more of a temporary fascination that became dull once you’d seen all that it had to show you. I know that the series kept on going for a good long while on many platforms, but right there in 1995 was where Dogz and I crossed paths and then parted for good.

Fornite and the freedom of gaming silly

My relationship with the uber-popular, can’t-escape-it Fortnite has been one of an educated outsider. I’ve covered it for news and have listened to my teens talk about it endlessly, but it’s not a game experience that I’m eager to have myself. Kind of like how I feel about MOBAs. I can acknowledge that it’s hot, I can understand why it appeals, but it’s just not for me.

That said, in attempting to dissect the Fortnite phenomenon, there’s an element here that I think a lot of the battle royale copycats have overlooked, which is the spirit of humor in the game. DayZ, H1Z1, PUBG — all, by and large, skew more toward gritty and realistic (not entirely, but by and large). Fortnite, on the other hand, has been a goofball since the very beginning. And that definitely has played to its favor. There’s a particular joy that can be found in games that free themselves up to be silly.

I’m not talking about nonsensical lunacy but rather “Weird Al” and “Simpsons” kind of silly. The type of silliness that isn’t afraid to go for the cheap visual gag, the doofy outfits, or the bizarre juxtapositions of a fight-to-the-death arena and players wooshing around in golf carts and shopping carts. This whole approach gives Fortnite some key advantages in drawing in large crowds, including:

1. There’s that attractive, colorful art style and palette that softens the PvP nature and is visually inviting (see: League of Legends).

2. Humor takes the edge off of winning or losing — because as long as we’re entertained and having fun, winning and losing don’t matter as much as they did before.

3. Being silly opens a game up to creative approaches that aren’t always grounded in reality. Look at the old Duke Nukem 3D. There were tons of 3D shooters at that time, but DN3D distinguished itself with an “anything goes” tongue-in-cheek approach that wasn’t afraid to push aside realism to have goofy, pointless fun at times.

4. It also allows over-the-top combat without anyone complaining that it is “immersion breaking.” Those fights become the game standard and everyone is OK with that.

If you were to chart MMOs on the spectrum of silly to serious, you’d probably get a good range… but would also see more titles lean toward the latter. Get humor wrong, and you alienate players. Include too much silliness, and you might be communicating that your game is just a joke.

Titles like World of Warcraft, WildStar, Fallen Earth, and TERA, in varying degrees, embrace their silly side. You get a lot of this from eastern titles, too, that have that anime bizarre wackadoodle attitude to them, although that’s not always appealing. Usually I don’t mind a game having fun in this way, but it does have to be incorporated into the game’s base design and personality — and not just appear out of nowhere as a non-sequitur.

I definitely enjoy when a game can cut loose a bit and have fun. As kids, teens, or adults, sometimes we need that, especially in our relaxation. There’s a value to going goofy, and it doesn’t exclude adults by default when that happens. Some of the silliest people I know are as old or older than I, because they know that it’s important to laugh and play as well as the other parts of life.

Perhaps it’s time to break down and take the easy mode

Back in the 80s and 90s, I don’t remember computer RPGs offering difficulty modes — although first-person shooters sure as heck did. In fact, I vividly recall how Wolfenstein 3-D would outright taunt the player with difficulty levels ranging from “Can I play, Daddy?” to “I am Death Incarnate.” The easiest of those, I should mention, was illustrated by your hero’s portrait wearing a baby’s bonnet and sucking on a pacifier.

This got the point across to the player fairly well: If you go the easy route, you’re a baby. Even though it wasn’t a multiplayer game and no one else would ever know, the player would — and so the player’s pride and honor were attacked.

In me, at least, this cultivated a long-standing tradition when it came to any game that offered difficulty levels: Never, ever, ever take the easiest one. In fact, never go below “normal” in any circumstance. To do so would be to admit defeat, and that was unacceptable.

I know I’m not alone in feeling like this, because I’ve seen other players mention as such. Easy mode doesn’t exist for us, because even though we’re not Ironmen or Vikings, we have some standard of toughness.

But…

But maybe I’m starting to relent on this, especially when it comes to RPGs.

The thing is, RPGs these days take an insanely long amount of time to complete. Less, of course, than the eternal treadmill of MMOs, but still, you plop Fallout 4 or Witcher 3 in my lap, and you’re asking for a time commitment from start to end that is pretty staggering. These aren’t walking simulators done in two hours or action games done in 20. We’re talking 80, 100, 150+ hours to finish. And that number tends to skew on the high side if the game’s combat is difficult or impedes progress.

Divinity: Original Sin 2 recently put out a definitive edition or somesuch, and as part of that, it offers a new “story mode” that is easier than the easiest mode that it originally launched with. From what I understand, the story mode doesn’t eliminate combat, but it does make it far less punishing and reduces fights as an obstacle to progression.

That actually has some appeal to me. Not every RPG is created equal — nor are their combat systems. Some games have combat systems that aren’t as much fun to me as others, and I’m not the type to relish an encounter that takes 10 minutes to resolve these days. So a more streamlined approach actually sounds appealing, especially if it would let me see more of the game world and experience the story.

Then again, there’s always my pride. And that baby bonnet. And this very public admission that I might be losing my edge in my middle age.