MMOs need to be doing a better job at guiding us in the endgame

Runway-repairsI’m sure I told you all that a few weeks ago, my SWTOR Operative hit level 60 and finished up the final storyline from the latest expansion. At that point there was a great sense of accomplishment and elation as I announced it to my guild, which had to feign enthusiasm for someone doing something they had already done many, many months ago (but they’re awesome like that, so I got a few all-caps GRATS! and one muffin gift basket).

Then I sat back, and as the glow of the achievement started to fade, I felt the cold claws of anxiety scrabble at the back of my neck.

Now what?  Now what, mister gamer? You’re in my world now. You’re in the ENDGAME. MUAHAHAHAHA. You should shave the back of your neck, you know.

We often mention “the wall” that MMO gamers sometimes hit (depending on the game in question) when the level cap is reached, and I’ve lost count of similar anecdotes from other players who felt lost, disillusioned, and even depressed when they reach what is promised to be the meat of the game’s content. Instead, it ends up being like you’ve arrived at some large party where everyone’s been there for a lot longer than you have and understand all of the weird social mores that aren’t explained to you and the conversation has way, way too many acronyms referring to places and things that are outside of your sphere of knowledge.

That’s not fun. That makes me want to run screaming and jump back into the MMO womb to be reborn as an alt rather than suss out what I need to do at this new stage.

And as much as I am a smart person who can figure things out if time and effort is applied, I think we need to dispel the notion that it’s on us to figure out what to do and how to play in the endgame. MMOs have traditionally been lousy at providing direction, instructions, and tools for this portion of the game, and I think it’s because the devs assume that (a) players will have figured it out on their own and (b) players will come up with their own guides for other players. That feels lazy and irresponsible to me.

Here’s what I’d like to see happen more in MMOs:

1. Integrate “leveling” and “endgame” activities so that they aren’t separate, untouching spheres of gameplay, but naturally flow from one to the next. What I’ve been doing during the game so far should be what I continue doing at the cap, just perhaps on a deeper level or with a twist. There shouldn’t be a bait-and-switch at endgame.

2. Don’t introduce the EPIC WALL OF GRIND at endgame because you assume that endgamers have nothing better to do and all of the time in the world in which to do it. You know what? We do have a choice. We can reroll or quit your game. In fact, why not be OK with the idea of us rerolling and perhaps offer us added incentives or new ways to do it?

3. Provide a clear tutorial or guide with all of the endgame options and then keep that tutorial available for players. Why MMO studios think that we only need tutorial notices for the first ten levels and then never past that, I have no idea. I’ve only ever seen one endgame tutorial window — Marvel Heroes, in case you’re wondering — and that made me wonder why we aren’t getting more of them.

Tell us what there is to do. Show us where you go to do them. If there are new or more complex systems, then for the love of Pete, spell them out for us. We don’t all live on the forums or exist in pro-raider guilds that can pick up the slack for a lack of information on the studio’s behalf.

4. If there is — heaven forbid — some long, grindy progression system at the endgame, then the very least you could do is give players a checklist in the game to help us keep track of where we are and what needs to be done. After all, this is what the game has done consistently so far with the quest tracker, etc. You have the technology. Use it.

5. Create an officially supported newbie endgame channel. No, the burden of doing so shouldn’t have to fall on the playerbase to cover up for your oversight (TSW’s noobmares channel comes to mind). New endgamers come around all of the time; don’t assume that everyone at cap has been there for ages.

6. If you can’t get a regular pace of new content out to players who are sitting at the cap, then create and release PGC tools so that the community can do that.

Pillars of Eternity: The six musketeers

musketI continue to creep and crawl, Infinity Engine-style, through Pillars of Eternity. It’s still fun, although the story’s taking a bit of a hit and I’m a little peeved at how micro-managing fights can involve too many button clicks. But I do have a stronghold and a full team, and I’m quite enjoying turning that team into a hit squad of sorts.

As I mentioned previously, Pillars of Eternity is wonderfully flexible with its character system. There are classes, sure, but enough leeway and overlap between them that you can build a team the way you want. My grand vision is to mold my team into a musketeer squad — all ranged, no melee. I don’t care if it’s optimal or not; I want a wall of muskets and blunderbusses and pistols flaring at the encroaching enemies. Other than the chant buffs, summons, and heals, I’m not going to be investing into magic much at all (and this Elf wizard is going to be the first one gone as soon as I find another character with a backstory to fill his place).

I like how the game gives you weapon focus bundles as talent options. You don’t pick just one weapon, but a thematic grouping of them (which seems to mostly always contain a ranged weapon). My main character has the noble bundle, which was great for the rapier, but she can also use pistols quite well too.

I did try to storm the castle of the early game’s big bad guy, and although I did clear out the castle and dungeons, the throne room fight was far too tough for my current level. So I left it to return later, shaking my fist with promised vengeance.

Have I said how much I love the fact that there’s a slot on your character to equip a pet? Just a non-combat, follow-you-around-type pet. I have a few, including a zombie cat, which is the only type of cat I like.

WildStar Photo Phriday!

Ugh, I may have to hurt myself for that title. Anyway! Little time this morning, so here are a few photos and attached commentary from my return to WildStar:

w1This color palette is still ridiculously pretty. Such a treat after coming from more drab games like LOTRO.

w2I loved getting an old timey title card for the newest shiphand adventure. I’m pretty sure that’s the Indiana Jones font.

w3Wow, she really let herself go in her autumn years.

w4This guy’s gonna make me internet famous! He promised!

w5You ever have an out-of-body experience?

druDrusara sighting in Algaroc. She no want to talk to me.

taxiKicking it in a taxi cab. Wish there was a roof on this thing.

emoteI was having fun photographing all of the animated emotes.

larvaOne of my many Syp groupies.

metalIf I had a metal album, I would make this my cover.

velcroHis feet use new SnowVelcro(tm) technology.

The Secret Adventures: Singing the blues mountains (Blue Mountain #1)

(You can follow my complete playthrough of The Secret World on Bio Break’s projects page! WARNING: Spoilers and stories ahead!)

Crash (side mission)

  • Before embarking on Blue Mountain’s quests, I did a couple of character upgrades. I purchased the next level of sprint boost (yay, 75% faster!) and ran ahead to buy QL6 weapons from the CoV dealer.
  • Blue Mountain used to be a very divisive zone that represented a massive increase in difficulty. Even with the recent changes that help to smooth the difficulty curve, I’m sure that BM will remain the least-liked Solomon Island zone. It might just be that fatigue from being on this gloomy island sets in right about here too. I think that’s unfortunate, as there are several great spots and missions, particularly those dealing with Franklin Mansion.
  • Anyway, one of the first things you see when you come into the area is a crashed bus and a dead bus driver. If you juke around the bus you’ll see dead corpses all over the bridge. Many a player found themselves wandering down that bridge only to find all of the corpses rise up and dogpile on top of them. It’s a really cool feature.
  • Near the bus is a crashed truck, and the mission asks me to follow the blood trail to see what happened to the driver. This never, ever ends well.
  • The smart person will go down and around the bridge instead of through the zombies, but no one ever accused me of being smart!
  • Actually, the driver is — gasp — alive and recouperating at the small military camp nearby. A tip of my hat to the unexpected ending here.

Hunted (side mission)

  • Also near the bus are some arrows made out of rocks and paper plates. Following them does not net me survivors, but a bunch of too-clever-for-their-own-good Wendigos that are trapping people. Blam blam, you’re dead. Next!

sasqEnemy of My Enemy (action mission)

  • The Homeland Security coordinator, Karen, is a fast-talking, high-ego leader. I don’t really remember her from my previous run-through, but she’s amusing me here. Anyway, she basically says “stay out of our way” while the Sarge behind her is making mention of “dirty apes” that are helping the cause somehow. Hm.
  • Naturally, this means that there are — why not — sasquatches on the island and they’re actually good guys. They might not be big on the whole talking department, but they’re smart and have a crude level of civilization. The chief points me at a cave full of Ak’abs, and I sigh and head in because I obviously hate my life.
  • Inside the dark, hard-to-see cave are not only Ak’abs, but captive sasquatches. Ah, guess the chief is too lazy and/or drunk to go on a rescue mission himself, so why not send the petite fleshling that you outweigh by a scale of four?
  • And then the prisoners? After rescuing them, they thank me by sticking by my side and helping me lay down the smack on the… nah, I’m just kidding. They run away because sasquatches are nature’s quitters.  QUITTERS.

The Benevolent Conspiracies (action mission)

  • Sarge and Karen at the military camp have to different approaches to the struggle — Sarge is all about waging a conventional war against select targets, while Karen heavily implies that she’s prepared to nuke Solomon Island to stop the invasion. But instead of listening to her, I overhear that Sarge wants us to take out some ak’ab queens. Oh joy. Please. Let me come.
  • Small note: The bus crash survivor in the camp looks totally different — outfit and model — than the woman I saw when I ran the mission before.  Weird.
  • I head over to the abandoned asylum (of COURSE this island has an abandoned asylum. That’s the last square I needed for my horror movie cliche bingo card!) and pick up the gear from the now-deceased special ops team. At least they took out some ak’abs with them.
  • I’ve always thought that Blue Mountain’s abandoned asylum was one of the biggest wastes of the game. Not only is it, y’know, an abandoned asylum that’s ripe for potential stories and yet never utilized past this one mission, the mission that it does get is another annoying bug hunt.
  • Kill kill kill. Ak’abs, why you hate me so?

Room 502 (side mission)

  • At the top of the asylumn is a park bench with a sheet of burning — yet unburnt-up — paper talking about a subject with pyrokinetic abilities from 1904.
  • At Kraken’s Point, I beat up a hyper ghost to get yet another page, this one talking about cutting off the boy’s leg to see if it would burn apart from him (it did not). This is cheery stuff.
  • This fairly involved side mission reveals past experiments between Oliver Smith and various “talented” boys. In a really neat twist, the final stage has me joining up with the ghost I’ve been fighting (which was the boy) against the ghost of the psychiatrist.
  • Kirsten Geary lets me know that while Smith was definitely sadistic, he got results… and the Illuminati most definitely backed him. My team, everyone!

“Daddy, are you killing that guy?”

spaceWhile I generally don’t game while my kids are awake, once in a while I’ll catch a half-hour in the morning and then inevitably one of them will come sit on my lap and want to be in charge of jumping.  Jump away, I tell them.  (For the record, it’s never TSW or a bloody game; here we’re talking LOTRO or RIFT or the like).

But I’m finding that engaging in combat has brought up a moral quandry in their lives, since they ask me that question: “Daddy, are you killing that guy?”

Now, we have impressed upon them that not only is killing wrong, but using such talk when angry (“I’ll kill you!”  “I hope you die!”) is as hateful a thing as can be.  So understandably they’re curious that their kill-aversive father has a character he’s controlling that is swinging a sword and making other people fall down.  No blood, but it’s pretty obvious what’s going on.

How do you answer that honestly?  Young kids aren’t ignorant of fantasy; they play pretend all the live-long day.  Sometimes their play involves fights, battles, races, and other activities with a winner and loser.  I think that’s normal and healthy to an extent, but that question got me to look at MMOs through their eyes.  After all, these games are so combat-centric that we don’t think about it anymore.  We’re conditioned to consider fighting in game as a solution for everything, including bringing peace to the world.  Punch evil in its face, etc.

If they asked that, I responded by telling them that I was helping others, although that wasn’t much of a better response.  I don’t, after all, want them to think that “helping” equals “swordplay to the death in your honor.”  But they don’t and can’t really grasp even the flimsy in-game context given for these battles.

It was probably an easier issue a few decades ago when I was a kid, because our video games were mostly silly, abstract, and bloodless. Pac-Man eating a ghost or the little gun shooting down Space Invaders didn’t have a lot to do with our present reality and were easy to disassociate from real life. And even though many MMOs are usually pretty bloodless and non-graphic, there’s some stuff in there that is more hardcore than a Saturday morning cartoon (such as WildStar’s habit of occasionally blowing bad guys up into gibbets upon death).

Thus I’ve come to the conclusion that, at least for now, if my children see me in an MMO then I should be engaging in whatever non-combat activities there are.  The kids absolutely love checking out my houses (although hilariously they think that all MMOs are the same game and are disappointed when I can’t go into my WildStar house from RIFT) and making suggestions for placement.  Maybe me gaming responsibly as a parent to young kids is not being seen as the person controlling violence, but of building and exploring.

I’d love to hear from other gamer parents on this.  What conversations have you gotten into with your kids on combat scenes in MMOs and what do you say to them?