6 MMOs that shaped my gaming in 2017

2017 was an interesting year for my MMO gaming career. It wasn’t really marked by any super-huge new releases; in fact, the year was pretty anemic for new MMOs, period. We’re still seeing lots in development, but only a handful of big budget, big studio projects, and most of those are for the future. Instead, this year was mostly about returning to old favorites and continuing on in my adventures.

I am really glad that I’ve been doing a monthly “gaming goals” article, because it helps me track what I was playing over the course of the year. This was the first year where I fully did that, and it is neat to look back at my aspirations vs. realities while also following the threads of my gaming life. So with that in mind, here are the six MMOs that dominated my gaming time this year:

1. World of Warcraft

This past spring, I felt the need for a break following a nearly two-year run in the game. I was feeling listless and in need of variety and direction, and I am glad I took the time off. But sandwiched around that break were my continuing journeys in Legion, my endless experimentation with alts, my progress as an Undead Warlock (the highest I’ve ever leveled one to date!), and some excitement over Battle for Azeroth and Classic. I’m ending this year mostly focusing on bringing my Gnome Hunter up to speed while giving equal time to other titles.

2. Dungeons and Dragons Online

DDO was really the surprise experience this year for me. When I went back to dabble a little bit in it, little did I know that the DDO bug would bite me hard once more. I should have remembered how much I was in love with this game back in the day, and it’s only grown since then. I’ve had some amazing quests so far with my Gnome Artificer, although I still haven’t really found a guild that’s very active or involved. Hoping to change that in the new year, and also to see the game’s expansions as I start to get up into the double digits.

3. Lord of the Rings Online

This was pretty much a steadfast experience, taking my Lore-master through the remainder of Gondor and then finally into Mordor with the fall’s expansion. While I did try out some alts (Minstrel, Hunter), most all of my time was given to the LM. Mordor proved to be a tough slog with only a handful of interesting and engaging moments, and my enthusiasm for playing started to sap away by the end of the year. Still, I’m excited about Northern Mirkwood for 2018, so there’s hope left!

4. Secret World Legends

I had to say farewell to The Secret World and my character of five years this spring, and while that definitely was a hard blow, at least Legends injected some new life into this faltering title. Taking a new character through the game and getting her back up to where I had left off pretty much consumed my attention for the remainder of 2017, and hopefully by the time the new year clicks over, I’ll be ready for season two.

5. Star Trek Online

I think I had about a two- or three-month run back in STO, doing some of the newer content while dusting off my carrier and fleshing out missions I hadn’t run yet. It was… fine, I guess, but definitely not as memorable as I was hoping nor as long-lasting as trips back to the game in the past.

6. Guild Wars 2

Guild Wars 2 edges out FFXIV on this list by virtue of time, if nothing else. I put in about two months in this game vs. one in FFXIV, but both ultimately conveyed to me that I just wasn’t in the mindset to come back to either. There are so many things that I enjoy about GW2 but also so many things that really drive me nuts about this game that I can’t settle back into what used to be an MMO gaming mainstay for me.

Honorable mention: Elder Scrolls Online

Tossing this into this list because I should mention ESO for a few reasons. I really did want to get more into this game than I did, at one point vowing to make this my main summer title (which worked out as well as my plans usually do). But the allure of housing and the new expansion did get me to put in a few sessions, and it remains very, very high on my list of games to come back to soon.

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Secret World Legends: Come on in

I stopped being as afraid or respectful of “John” when it turned out that he was an insecure ex-cultist who lives in mortal terror of an endgame boss that I’ve already faced. At least I get respect for having my legs lasered off by a near-immortal being.

The race to finish Tokyo by the end of December — the main storyline, at least — is definitely on. As of this past week, I finally got the “come on in” from John and raced inside to start working my way up the tower.

Hey Lilith? You’re kind of a jerk, do you know that? I don’t care how many names you have, taking someone’s legs is Not Okay.

So I was pretty keen to see what Funcom did with the structure of Orochi tower. Back in The Secret World, it was kind of designed to be a repeatable, semi-randomized experience that players could run over and over again as we waited for the team to put the final touches on the conclusion of the area. I don’t think a lot of people really liked the randomization, especially when you were trying to access certain floors for achievement, but I kind of gave up on it after a half-dozen runs or so.

Now? Now it looks like we progress through Orochi Tower in a much more linear and methodical fashion. To “climb the tower,” you have to do a handful of floors from each of the eight sub-companies. While this will be quite lengthy, I really do like this idea. There was a lot of work and a lot of environmental storytelling going on with these floors, and I’d like to experience them.

“Tastes like despair” — tell me that’s a Better Off Ted reference! Because that show deserves to be referenced by an evil science company like Orochi.

You really never know what you’re going to get with these floors, either. Some are much more combat oriented, while others have very little other than cubicles and boardrooms. Yet there are a lot of these weird stories going on, like how this one scientist is attacking an ever-growing piece of meat with a chainsaw while her friend looks on from behind safety glass. I like how nobody seems perturbed in the least that I, a stranger with a shotgun and superpowers, am roaming about the place.

My climb has started, but it’s got a ways to go. Since we’re in mid-December and we haven’t heard about when the new batch of content is coming, I’m going to assume that it’s not going to happen until the new year. I guess there’s the Christmas event, but Secret World always underwhelmed me with this holiday. It’s Halloween or bust, in this game.

Secret World Legends: Knock knock

Knock knock!

You never know what can be behind a door in Secret World. Could be a sugar-crazed hacker who is more than willing to fight on your side, could be a group of ambushing filth monsters. Doesn’t stop me from knocking and opening, though.

The whirlwind tour through Tokyo’s main storyline continues. I don’t remember it being this long, but then again, last time I only encountered it in segments as it was released. This time I’m being treated to the whole saga of Orochi, Fear Nothing, Gozen, and Killer Bunnies in sequence. It continues to be both fascinating, disturbing, and infuriating.

Infuriating because I had to go through that apartment of booby traps again. That’s a whole lot of work to keep some bunnies out, man.

I think every Secret World player has his or her favorite NPCs, but we also have those that get discarded as not being truly worth our attention. Jake Hama is that for me. Never connected with his character or what he was about, possibly because he is drunk and speaks in Japanese the whole time, but that’s how it goes. A weird costume does not a captivating character make.

Soon after the underground garage and the Fear Nothing Foundation headquarters, I’m sent into the next part of this horror trifecta: the Clubhouse.

This is one of the longer missions and a truly momentous setpiece. It begins in a youth clubhouse where everyone’s been slaughtered (or, like the picture above suggests, committed suicide with doll promptings). It was supposed to be a bunker of sorts against outside incursion, but the Filth got in and turned the place into a charnel house.

The “cocoon room” never ceases to give me the willies. You really have to hear all of the sound effects of these gestating eggs to get the full effect. Just never go in the water — trust me.

Then after the youth clubhouse part is this massive temple room that just so happens to play host to a grumpy Filth creature. Oh, and there’s a kitchen with ghosts and really sad journal entries all around spelling out the final moments of these poor kids — cast-offs of the Virgula Divina program.

Just when you think that mission is going on forever, there’s a final part of the Clubhouse in the basement office that’s somehow more disturbing than everything else that came before it. Could be the supernaturally quick killer bunny, or perhaps the emergency lighting.

Listening to the drunken speech of this Morninglight scum gave me chills this time, especially as I was thinking about season two. The Dark Days are coming, but they aren’t quite here yet. The world is ending, but hasn’t quite gotten as bad as it could. All I keep asking myself is… what is Exodus? And does it mean that there is some possibility of saving this world or at least some of its people?

Secret World Legends: The only thing we have to fear is Fear Nothing Foundation

Every Secret World player has his or her opinion on which zone of the game is the most creepy, and while I would put Savage Coast right up there at number two, Tokyo has to take the cake for me. It’s full of ghosts and creepy girl-things and midnight slaughters and evil cults and the apocalypse to boot. I was forcefully reminded of what this area is capable of when I hit the one-two main storyline punch of Contract Killers and The Pachinko Model.

Seriously, in a row are two of the most creeptastic quests this game has ever produced, and even having done them before, I was incredibly reluctant to man up and do them again. But as main quests, I had no choice. Time to roll up my sleeves, grit my teeth, and wait until it was broad daylight at home and my wife was sitting in the room 10 feet from me.

As I said on Twitter, any time that Secret World asks you to go into an underground parking garage, you slap that game right across its face and say “No THANK you, sir!” and storm out of the room. Nothing good ever happens in underground parking garages here.

At least I knew what was going to happen, and so to help take the edge off my fright, I made it a mission to try to screenshot some of the more intense moments. You know, like the “red room” section with the ghost girl on the ceiling who is draining your life force. Fun times.

And then there was this. It’s just such a terrifying mission where you go down, down into the dark and only when you get to the bottom does the real horror begin. Can you make it back out? The trick here is to think of the little girls as the Weeping Angels from Doctor Who — never turn your back on one. Never blink.

Then right after that I’m sent right into the headquarters of the Fear Nothing Foundation (AKA Japanese Morninglight). It seems that there’s a helpful kid ghost in this one, although I don’t know what’s their story. Could have done with a friendly wave or a Casper-esque appearance rather than being a black shape from across the room staring at me. I get enough of that in real life.

I have a weird weakness for always taking my character’s picture whenever there’s an in-game mirror. At least you all know that I washed my hands after I looted.

Tried to get a good shot of this bloody white ghost girl, but the camera wasn’t always on my side. Plus, there’s that whole “get near her and she one-shots you” thing, so I had to keep my distance.

I was pretty proud that after doing FNF three times previous, I was able to zip through this one in record time.

“Stay with us.”

Um, thanks but no thanks. I’ve had enough with the apocalypse cults. They never make good on their promise of happiness and power.

Making headway on Tokyo… but still not to the end just yet. It’s going to feel so great when I finally reach the point where I left off with my old TSW character. Some days I really can’t believe that I did all of this all over again.

Secret World Legends: It’s a filthy sort of hell

Am I over Tokyo? I’m starting to suspect that I am.

Don’t get me wrong, Tokyo is an amazing zone. It took forever to be fully built, this is true, but the final result is an incredibly detailed metropolis slathered with a post-apocalyptic feel. It’s got some highly memorable NPCs and quests, that whole Fear Nothing Foundation quest that’s one of the most terrifying things this game has ever cooked up, and a terrific storytelling climax in the Orochi Tower. It’s the end of the first season of the game’s mythos, bringing us to Ground Zero of the filth bomb and exploring what really happened to trigger the end of days.

But… I’m kind of done with it. It hit me this past week as I was dutifully going through these quests and not feeling particularly excited about them. That seemed weird to me, since I have only really done most of these missions once on my old TSW character, but when I started to think about it, it made sense. Tokyo has been out in the game for literally years at this point. It’s been the “endgame” of the story for a long time now, and I’m probably not alone in being ready to move on from it. It’s kind of like when you outgrow a place — say, a school or your childhood home — and you’re just ready to go to the next step. We’ve been spinning our wheels in Tokyo for too long now, and instead of being a captivating part of the adventure, it feels like a delaying tactic (much like how Venice felt like an extended intermission between Transylvania and Tokyo).

I can’t help it. I keep thinking “what’s next” and am starting to get a little concerned that I won’t have all of this wrapped up in time for whatever Funcom is planning with Dark Agartha, the agent system, and season two. We might still have a while yet, but I wouldn’t mind having the main storyline all done.

So after a week of going clockwise around the map, I put that on hold to follow the blue missions to their conclusion.

I’m also vowing to pay a little more attention to the story. I have a feeling that I’ve missed some of it or have forgotten what I did learn a while back, leaving a question mark why I’m diving into a Japanese hell to chase a demon for reasons unknown. Probably to get flattened by these giant boulders, which must be a PAIN in the rear for the bad guys to roll back up and reset for the next traveler. I’d feel sorrier for them if I wasn’t ground into paste.

At least I can continue to thank my lucky stars that I’m not fiddling around with AEGIS. I keep finding myself flinching when a mob attacks because I’ve been conditioned to look for a shield type and try to quickly swap what I have. But no, now I can simply attack. I appreciate that, I do.

Secret World Legends: The Swarm wants you

I’m getting into a pretty good stride with Secret World Legends progression in Tokyo. I know it doesn’t sound like a lot, but I make sure to log in every day to do at least one mission (if not two or three, depending on how quick they go). I definitely feel that I’m on track to finish up the whole zone by the end of December, and that’s a-ok with me. Not having to fiddle with AEGIS has made this whole place about 50% less annoying, although there still is a noticeable increase in difficulty in the types of quests and mob attacks. At least it’s pretty cool to explore.

This picture never fails to crack me up while still making me wonder what the what is going on with this demon’s obsession with the foul-mouthed Illuminati boss.

Anyway, last week we had a nice quality-of-life patch that honestly did improve the quality of life around SWL. I’m starting to feel better and better about the switch over to this new game, especially now that we’ve seen Funcom pick up the pace of support and development once again.

There was a lot of nice extras in the patch, although the primary feature was the new anima allocation system. This was nothing short of a major gear overhaul, taking the individual roles of different gear pieces away and giving control of their ratio to the players. On the fly, we can now adjust the healing, DPS, and tanking power of our gear — and for no cost to adjust. That is absolutely fantastic and relieves a lot of stress in collecting exactly the right type of gear. Now we just have to concentrate on pips and quality levels, as well as signets and glyphs.

I tinkered around with this, deciding on a 20/20/60 ratio of heal/tank/dps. I know it’s on the low side for damage, but I like to survive things, and after testing it out a bit, I’m killing fast enough to be acceptable.

I don’t think I ever noticed these creatures crawling all over the towers before. Guess I never looked up!

I had totally forgotten about the Hive quest. Yes, it’s another chain of text adventures, but those are kind of brilliant for this game and incredibly creepy to boot, so I don’t mind a redux. And the whole concept of the Swarm — a mysterious collection of bee-powered individuals who didn’t choose a faction and were imprisoned indefinitely in the Hive until they broke out — fascinates me. They’re downright unnerving and yet sympathetic. For the record, I didn’t turn the info for the quest into the Templars. I think I’ve decided that if I’m ever given a choice to break with my faction and go with the Swarm, I’ll do it. We bees have to stick together — that’s how the honey is made.

I sure hope we get more Hive/Swarm stories in season two! It’s definitely one of the more interesting loose ends that the story writers have set up.

Secret World Legends: Bye-bye, AEGIS, don’t let the door hit you on the way out!

Now that I’m back in Tokyo in Secret World Legends, it’s like I never left. Of course, the first time around I was experiencing the zone piecemeal as the devs slowly brought it online, whereas now I have the whole package waiting for a nonstop experience.

There’s certainly a whole lot to do, and I’m going to return to doing both main and secondary missions (I had abandoned side missions for a while in Transylvania there for the purpose of advancement). A good starting point is Gozen’s diner, so I waded back into the Tokyo pool with all of the enthusiasm I could muster.

Gozer… er, Gozen’s introductory quests are fine for what they are. She’s not my favorite NPC of the city, although her relationship with Richard is interesting. Would love to hear more of that backstory.

Definitely the best part of returning to Tokyo, other than feeling *less* behind than I was before, is that AEGIS isn’t being shoved down my throat. In fact, so far I haven’t seen it at all. Mobs are just mobs again without those annoying shields, and combat feels a lot like how it did in previous zones. That’s a GOOD thing, by the way. AEGIS was poison to this game, and I’ll never relent in saying so.

Probably the best quest that I (re)did was the one where I’m chasing an Oni spy in and out of the Hell dimension. Secret World’s Hell is a really fascinating place, kind of an overlay of the real world only more fiery, industrial, and demon-filled. Although the current state of Earth doesn’t put it far behind in the demon department.

I’ve also enjoyed returning to a more urban environment. The modernity of it lies in stark contrast to the “old world” setting in Transylvania and the desert landscape of Egypt. Sleek skyscrapers and modern trappings offer more of a stark contrast to the Filth everywhere and the constructed walls that attempted to keep the apocalypse at bay.

Oh hey, I’m totally sure this billboard has NOTHING to do with where we are heading after Tokyo. Foreshadowing? Nah. Couldn’t be. Not a chance.

While we’re on the subject of the Congo, how do I feel about it as (probably) the next zone? I guess OK. I mean, I’m happy to get *any* new Secret World content at this point, but my feelings on jungle zones are pretty well-known here. Could be visually interesting, could also be a nightmare to navigate. As long as there are a lot of great stories, I’m in.

Is he… compensating for something? Kurt’s another Tokyo NPC that doesn’t exactly get my imagination revving, but at least his missions are straight-forward as can be.

Tokyo’s more complex investigation missions are pretty hit and miss, in my opinion. Some, like Wetwork, are devilishly clever, but the Love and Origami quest that I just did feels half-baked and in need of another pass. I think it’s a great idea to have the player actually do real origami as part of the quest, but it’s not explained or handled very well in execution.