6 things that bug me about MMOs that I like

bugmeI think we’re always loathe to outright criticize MMOs that we really like in fear that it will push players away from games that are otherwise terrific. But if you are too scared to do so, then you gain blinders and lose perspective.

Thus, this is my small Monday morning measure of attaining balance by admitting to six things that kind of really bug me about MMOs that I like.

WildStar: For a game that has made such a big, big deal about customization (and excels in this in many areas), the fact that classes can wield one and only one type of weapon (set) vastly annoys me. In most MMOs you can choose from different weapon types and experience different visual flair and animations, but here? What you got at level 1 is the same at level 50.

The Secret World: This game’s wonderful storytelling and nuanced body language is sometimes undercut by faces that are ugly and border on the uncanny valley. The facial art style doesn’t gel for me the way that it should and serves as an irritant when I’m trying to get into the tale.

Marvel Heroes: This game’s social tools are really lacking, I’ve found. There needs to be support to join multiple supergroups, better supergroup tools, and a proper LFG tool. Fast track these, Gazillion!

Star Wars: The Old Republic: I do love that the game has housing, but coming from other MMOs like RIFT and WildStar, it can’t help but fail to live up to the industry standard. I am not a fan of the clumsy hooks and placement interface that makes sorting through one’s decor far more tedious than it should be.

RIFT: Such ugly armor. Such ugly. It makes the awesome wardrobe system weep in frustration. What is up with the armor artists in this game? Why must we all look like first drafts of a ninth grader’s fantasy portfolio?

Neverwinter: Cryptic not only failed to live up to the insanely high standard it set for character creation in City of Heroes, but failed to live up to the industry medium in this respect. I am stunned how hard it is to make good or interesting-looking characters in this game with the sub-par customization options on display. Do they even know how hair looks?

WildStar: Political satire, stand, or story?

ecoI’ve always assumed that most game studios — like most of Silicon Valley and the entertainment sector — lean pretty heavy to the left politically. Usually it’s not an issue in-game (public statements on Twitter, in interviews, and elsewhere online is different), since I also get the feeling that most MMO devs aren’t out to stir up controversy by touching any sensitive topics as part of the game world and quests. I mean, you’ll always offend somehow, but no need to seek it out by grabbing hold of those political, social, or religious third rails.

I think that’s why MMO storylines and quests are fairly safe — and usually black (the mobs) and white (us). People of most walks of life can settle into gaming and agree to have fun together without dragging in the opinion section of a newspaper.

But once in a while I do see noteworthy quests and storylines that could be construed as a writer or studio pressing an agenda or viewpoint. Oddly enough, I am not opposed to these. I don’t need them all of the time, but I don’t want game designers flinching away from treating MMOs as they would “serious” video games, books, or other forms of literature. The RIFT: Storm Legion storyline that dealt with rape, animal abuse, murder, and willful ignorance of those in power stuck with me because while it was raw, it told an important story and allowed for some small measure of justice to be attained. Or back when an industry figure (I honestly forget who) was calling out a quest in World of Warcraft that had players needlessly torture a captive.

Anyway, the other night when I was playing WildStar I realized that the foes I had been attacking as part of challenges and quests were Aurin — and in fact eco-terrorists called the Thorns of Aboria or something. Considering that I was attacking them on behalf of the corporate Protostar, I found myself amused and curious as to whether any political statement was being made here. Making Captain Planet’s Planeteers the bad guys — even in a very light-hearted, run-of-the-mill sense — made me wonder if this was a sly conservative message, meta satire, or really just fluffy details that shouldn’t demand overthinking.

But at the least I like it when a game makes me notice the details and has me think. If you get past the stylized design and the goofy nature, WildStar is less afraid to weave a myriad of touchier topics into its world without grandstanding on any of them. I get the feeling that if you want to read into them, the devs wouldn’t mind, but they’re just as dismissable if you want to play the game. It’s an interesting approach.

WildStar: Protostar business tactics

Many of the quest hubs in WildStar are devoted to a single race or faction, offering us the opportunity to get to know those people more as we progress through the game. Probably one of my favorite types of hubs is any that features the clone-tastic Protostar corporation.

Protostar is the ethics-free, mercenary business outfit that’s there to make a profit at any cost without much of a thought to whether such actions are right or not. They stab each other in the back and offer up hilarious commentary on the nature of space bureaucracy. It kind of reminds me of Mom’s corporation from Futurama, the world in the movie Brazil, and SpaceQuest’s various corporate entities (such as ScumSoft). Having a faction that’s blindly capitalistic is a refreshing change of pace from high-minded ideals and goals.

proto2Thus I was pretty psyched to encounter another big Protostar hub in the middle of Malgrave. Psyched… and a little disturbed that there was a sentient Mechari head sitting on a table and being used as some sort of oracle attraction. There’s nothing Protostar wouldn’t stoop to for a buck.

I was instructed to take a safety test to see what I’d be qualified for, and I deliberately tried to fail it. No, I don’t know my favorite color. No, I can’t recognize the color red. But Protostar wants to use everyone, so I guess it really didn’t matter past my own amusement.

proto3I will say that one of the reasons that I’m progressing so slowly through Malgrave is that I will one day be loathe to leave this zone. It’s not the prettiest in the game, but it is so comfy to be in. It continues to feel like the better parts of the American southwest, including canyons cut with clear flowing streams. I am always willing to give a game a pat on the back when its higher-level zones aren’t oppressive-looking death traps.

I’m also not in a rush because I really don’t have an idea what I’ll be doing when I finish up the remaining zones. Contracts and dailies seem like obvious candidates, and perhaps veteran adventures or dungeons. I haven’t really gotten into the WildStar dungeon scene past a few forays, and I’m worried that I’ll be too undergeared and inexperienced to do so at 50. Maybe I’m thinking that if I drag my feet enough, Carbine will add more zones and solo content to the top so that when I get there, I’ll have even more to do.

WildStar: What my outfit says about my mood

Right now on my Engineer in WildStar, I have five costume slots (and that still isn’t enough!). I’ve been slowly working and refining several outfits, and today I wanted to show them off and talk about what each one says about my current mood when I’m playing the game and choose to wear it.

c1This is what I informally call my parkour outfit, with half-gloves and half-shoes thing leaving fingers and toes exposed. I really dig the shirt design and am glad that it gave me those patches of pure white on the sleeves, since I don’t have a white dye right now. Dark grey/dark red/white creates a medical motif (and the gun is grey/red/white too).

I choose this outfit when I’m into how my character moves and is doing a lot of hoverboarding or running around the landscape. It’s slim and trim, without shoulderpads or a helmet, and it’s definitely the most “athletic” of my closet.

c2This is my football padding outfit. Not sure I’ll keep it, to be honest. Slightly chunky, a bit like a winter outfit, especially with the ski goggles. I’m on the fence about the color scheme too, although it’s not terrible. If I’m wearing this, then it’s probably to rework it.

c3This is my “rag-tag” outfit. It’s weird and the shirt looks like it’s made of bandages, while the boots are the biggest, bulkiest I have. And then there’s the dome hat, which sets this apart in so many ways.

I’ll pick this outfit when I’m feeling a little exotic and on the fringe. I don’t need to look the shiniest; I just need to wear what works. She’s an engineer who jury-rigs things, after all.

c4This is my practical, everyday work outfit. I am very pleased with the color scheme and have always liked that half-jacket thing. I’ll wear this if I’m at a default, neutral state and want to feel like a normal adventurer.

c5I got this chest piece a few weeks ago and fell in love with it. This is my elegant outfit for when I’m feeling… I dunno, elegant, I guess. What? Guys can feel elegant.

It’s slightly fancy and feminine, but there’s something cool about watching her run around in this and still blasting the crap out of bad guys.

WildStar: Syp runs the Gauntlet

g1While on the whole I like shiphands, the one I did back in Wilderrun was so long and nauseating that I wasn’t particularly looking forward to going through whatever Malgrave had in store for me.

So imagine my pleasant surprise when The Gauntlet turned out to be a zippy, creative, and fairly hilarious adventure. Definitely the highlight of my evening.

Under false pretenses (answering a distress call), I’m knocked out and taken aboard an enemy ship where I’m forced to undergo a series of challenges while being televised. Yup, it’s pretty much SMASH TV, Running Man, and Hunger Games, just with more Chua. As I began to dodge electrical grids, cameras swooped all over me and I even had the option to click on some of them and strike poses for the crowd.

g2How perfect was the timing of this shot?

The shiphand wasn’t particularly difficult, either. After the electricity-dodging came a fight against swarms of mobs, then a room where I had to click on glowies and stay out of the way of moving, exploding robots. I actually died here because I wasn’t quite paying attention, but I guess the game was gracious because I didn’t have to do that part again.

Then — why not — I was asked to choose one of a handful of products to endorse. The camera gave a quick close-up of me chugging down whatever swill I clicked on, which I would have posted here except that I wasn’t fast enough and one of my bots was covering my face the whole time.

The rest was pretty much a few fights against quirky gladiators (a Chua pyromaniac, a voodoo doctor) and even some “behind the scenes” guards. I loved the guards’ dying quote of, “I only had one more episode until retirement!”

g3This cuddly guy is Showtime, and while he looked intimidating, he went down like all of the rest. Loved his intro with the pyrotechnics and all, though. You get style points, my friend.

Shiphands would be totally fun to design, I would think. This one had just the right amount of combat, platforming, humor, and atmosphere to really sell it. Not too short, not too long. And once again, WildStar goes for the “working space class” feel instead of high adventure. I don’t even think my character minded being kidnapped after she found out she was on TV.

WildStar: Do Karaoke 0/1

What do you expect to find when you’re fighting your way deep into an enemy camp in the wild desert? Probably not a karaoke stage, but here we are because we’re playing WildStar and this game can be pretty gonzo at times.

The mission? GET UP THERE AND SING, BABY.

kara1 kara2 kara3 kara4

This is always how my singing attempts end.

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.