Posted in General

Sorting out four tiers of personal MMO engagement

Engagement, to me, isn’t just number of hours spent in a game but the attitude and feelings toward that game. I can spend a lot of time in games that I’m not hugely excited about that moment, after all. There’ve been times that I haven’t had a lot of space to game but I’ve been really revved up about a particular title.

So I was thinking about four tiers of gaming engagement that I’ve seen in myself and others — and how it relates to how we are sucked into the gravity well of a game and drift from it. These are all for titles you can play at present, not attitudes toward games-to-come.

Pumped Up

At the highest tier is when you’re absolutely excited about a particular MMO or game. It’s just clicking with you on every level. When you’re not playing it, you may be thinking about it or looking forward to getting some more time with it again. It’s at this level that you can envision yourself with the game for a long, long time. Often the words “addicted” or “hooked” come into play.

This may be one of the more ephemeral tiers, too. While we may find games that are exciting for a short duration, sustaining that is a rare trick indeed. This tier is most common in brand-new games to us, as the newness factors into the sense of discovery, but it can also happen when you come back to a game after a long break, have your perspective refreshed, or experience something new (patch, class, expansion) within the title. Sometimes you simply find yourself ascending to this tier for no discernable reason.

Chasing this feeling is why I often find myself jumping around to different MMOs, because at this tier I have the most fun, period.


You may not be totally on fire for a game, but you know what? You’re having a pretty good time, all around. You play regularly, you’re feel very comfortable, you have social connections, and you’re stuck on the game to a degree. It might well be a title that’s passed the test of examination and time to be a mainstay in your rotation. If you need to take a break, it’s no big deal, because you’re secure enough in your relationship with this game that you know you’ll be coming back before long.

A whole lot of MMOs that I’ve played over the years sit in this tier for me. They’re no longer a feast, but they’re a filling meal. When I’m content with a title, I’m in a groove with it and usually play them for lengthy stretches.


In this tier are all the games that you don’t necessarily mind playing — when you play them. There’s nothing that compels you to log in, nothing that has you buzzing with anticipation for your next session, and nothing that’s really “sticking” you to the game’s features, social scene, or progression. But you know what? It’s still a decent enough time when you do play it. You don’t regret spending an evening in its confines… you just wish that it would jive with you better, somehow.

There are plenty of games that hit this tier for me, and those are the ones I’ll play for a day, two days, a week… but rarely longer than that. I bounce right off of them with no hard feelings involved. Maybe the next time I come back, it’ll place higher.


Now when I used this word “repulsed,” I don’t mean that the game is abhorrent and gross. I simply mean that it’s a title you come to and it pushes you away. It’s not the right time for you to be playing it, because you’re burned out on it, you don’t see anything that’s really that engaging, or it doesn’t click with your playstyle. It is the title that you know, almost instantly, that it’s not for you. Not now, maybe not ever. It’s shoving you away, and you have no problems going elsewhere.

For me, games at this tier are the easiest to make a judgment call to leave in the dust and look elsewhere. If only all gaming decisions could be so clear-cut.

Posted in New World

New World: Pirate-buster extraordinaire

Weirdly enough, my biggest sticking point with New World last year was being unable to find a good guild community during the month I was playing — and rather enjoying — the game. So it’s been on my mind to try a different server to see if I could connect with some people there and settle in a bit more securely. Thus, I rerolled as the purple-haired Foxgloves.

Back to the start, I had to find my weapons again — rapier, hatchet — and start training up skills. I don’t think I’ll be doing any crafting this go-around, looking instead to loot, salvage, and sell as many mats as possible to finance my war chest. And hey, first night and I found a very welcoming company on this server, so I feel that’s a good sign.

I get excited to see a rickety mine, because you just know there will be amazing loot within. Or a rock that falls and crater’s your skull. Either or, it’ll be an interesting day!

You know what New World does exceptionally well? Immersing the player in the feel and scope of nature. It often has that wild, outdoorsy feeling that a lot of theme parks lack. Visuals and sound design come together wonderfully for this — jack up the ambient soundtrack and see for yourself. And a lot of the fauna is far more fearsome and threatening than your average MMO critters, too.

And can we give this game credit for actually making its female armor more realistic than ridiculous?

I clicked on a spyglass in a pirate camp and ended up triggering a short event that was pretty dang cool. I was informed that a pirate ship was incoming — and I could indeed see it on the way. When it arrived, I fought a few mobs, including the captain, then lit the nearby cannon to blow up the ship. Really neat scripting with this one.

Posted in Octopath Traveler

Octopath Traveler: Oh, bite me

With five characters collected, there’s three to go for my start at Octopath Traveler. Next up is Alfyn, a traveling apothecary. I like his affable good nature and all, but I’m not a fan of his fiddly potion brewing. I’ll add him, but I don’t think I’ll be including him in my main party even so. Really, his only contribution to date was making me miss Cyrus’ analyze ability when he was out of the group.

We picked up Primrose after that, a dark magic dancer who’s story involves emancipating herself from captivity and finding the bandits that murdered her father. She was my main character last time, and I know I really am interested in her tale probably more than the rest. Welcome to the party!

And what a party it is, too. I’ve got a guy who can analyze weakness, a healer, and four characters who can all pump out magical attacks that hit everyone. Oh, and two characters that can recruit villagers to serve as summons.

The more time I spend in Octopath Traveler, the more I keep coming to the same thought. This might well be the best Final Fantasy game I’ve ever played. I mean, it’s not FF of course… not in name. But it’s like Final Fantasy without all of the pomp and convoluted storylines and slavish commitment to franchise tropes. What we’re left with is something that’s very upbeat, streamlined to the individual stories, filled with great music and visuals, and centered around a really engaging turn-based battle system.

Look at that — I picked up the eighth and final company member, Olberic (and, incidentally, finished my loop around the newbie portions of the world). He’s a reluctant old warrior called back into service, yadda yada. I’m tempted to include him in my core team for his tankish nature, but that would mean I’d have to kick someone else out… and I don’t know who I could bear to part with.

So what now? I guess I need to pick a character’s storyline and pursue it. You’re up to bat, Tressa, so don’t mess up.

We start making the journey west to Quarrybrook, and it’s during this trek that I discover the battle music actually changes. It’s the first time I’ve heard something different, and I’m glad for the variety (even if I have liked the battle theme to date).

I guess that explains how the game handles its questing system. When you get to a town or area where a character or multiple characters have a storyline quest there, it gives you a choice which to activate for the time being. Pretty straight-forward. I like it.

Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO: From the dead city to the white city

I won’t lie — seeing Minas Morgul from the other side of the river reminded me just how long and far I have to go with this character. My Minstrel’s still in South Ithilien, heading Osgiliath and Minas Tirith way. The uglies of Mordor are still to come in my future.

There’s only so much stalling that LOTRO can do before it lets you go where you obviously need to be going — in my case, Osgiliath. Or “Oz,” as I feel like calling it.

I’ve greatly disliked Osgiliath in past adventures due to the fact that it combines hard-to-navigate dense urban jungle (in ruins, no less) with a super-high mob density. If you’re at-level with the mobs, it’s a total slog through a warzone that you can’t seem to escape.

But this time around, most of the mobs are grey to me, so I can move about a lot less impeded. And that means I have some extra time to appreciate the details and environmental storytelling at play.

Osgiliath came and went fast enough, for which I was happy, and I was off to Minas Tirith and the epic battle showdown. But before that could happen, Gandalf wanted to do a magic show for all of us.

I took a break from all of the doom and gloom to go hang out with my kin at an intimate concert in one of their houses. Great decorations, and it was really relaxing to just emote around the place while the featured band delivered a lot of uplifting tunes.

After wrapping up a few more deeds — and capping out all of my essential virtues — I started in on Minas Tirith in earnest. I’m hoping it won’t be a slog, either, but history says differently.

Posted in Music

Chilling in the dark with my iPod Classic

As part of my daily routine, I usually log off of my computer by 10:00 pm and spend the next hour getting ready for rest. This means reclining for a couple of end-of-day relaxing activities: checking into a couple of mobile games to get daily stuff, doing some light reading, and watching a 20-minute episode of whatever sitcom series I’m going through. And, as of late, some time huddled up in the dark listening to my playlists on my iPod.

I never really was one of “those people” who had to listen to music to fall asleep. But there is something very soothing about descending into a musical cocoon late at night where you stop thinking and simply absorb and experience. My core playlist is up to 6,200 songs — a list I’ve been curating since 1999 — and due to its size, I don’t hear some of these songs for months if not longer on shuffle. It’s always pleasant rediscoveries of tunes that I like or liked for various reasons, from the dorky to the head-banging hits to everything in-between.

There are a lot of ways that I experience music these days. Sometimes it’s from my computer speakers or CD player or Alexa or car stereo — filling up a room but not pressed against my ears. Sometimes I don headphones for computer-fed music, but even that is with open-backed headphones to keep me from getting headaches and feeling constricted. But there’s something different and intentional when I boot up my iPod for a listening session.

Usually when I do that, it is to block out the world. I only want to hear the music and nothing else. I need to get swept up in the emotional journey and perhaps siphon off some of my frustration, stress, or anxiety of a long day. There really isn’t much to fiddle with when you’re handling an older iPod, so it doesn’t become this multitasking distraction machine. Rather, it retrains me to simplify and focus. Try to find a song that fits my temperament.

It’s silly, but one of my wish list items for this year is to buy a second refurbished iPod Classic. The one I have has a new battery but the old physical hard drive, and I worry that it will one day fail. I’d like to get a redundancy that also has flash storage in it. Honestly, I miss my old 160 GB Classic that I donated to my mom when I decided that the iPhone was the ultimate replacement device. But this isn’t a pressing priority.

But I will say that any time I use my iPod or my CD stereo, I feel like I’m appreciating music on a level I hadn’t been for a while. I’m thinking more about music, learning more about particular bands, and spending the odd research session looking into trends and musical eras. Maybe this is my brand of midlife crisis?

Posted in Wayfinder

Pushing a bulk of my Hope chips into Wayfinder’s bucket

I don’t normally feel the impact of seasonal affective disorder, but for some reason, it’s hit me pretty hard this winter. Maybe it was the fact that almost all of January was overcast or the series of extreme weather events that have hit Buffalo or whatnot, but I’ve been struggling at times. The emotional fall-off after Christmas felt like a cliff this year followed by two months of very little in the way of excitement.

What helps when I’m feeling like this, at least in the short term, is to dive into a new project (gaming or otherwise) or to have something really thrilling on the near horizon. Here, I’ve been denied. MMO gaming is stable and satisfying these days, but in casting about for unexplored or long-neglected territories, I keep coming up empty. A new launch… progression server… expansion… it’s all denied because the first two months of any given year (heck, the first quarter) is usually a dead zone.

So this is perhaps why I’m more hyped than I should be for Wayfinder. On my calendar, it’s the next Big Thing, with ESO and LOTRO expansions, Diablo IV, and Blue Protocol all later in the year. And maybe I don’t have hands-on experience yet, but everything I’ve seen from this project makes me say, “Yes, gimme please.”

The good news, such as it is, is that Wayfinder’s sort-of launch is two to three months away. The team recently announced that in addition to going into closed beta testing, it’s scheduling a no-wipe early access launch in May. That’ll require a founder’s pack purchase, and those haven’t been revealed yet. I’m OK with that, as I am with some of the limitations of the game (not-quite-an-MMO, no free-form character creation). Because everything else I’m seeing here fills me with hope that this might be a great potential online home.

Guilds? Yup. WildStar vibe? Definitely. Housing? Trophies? Lots of character customization? Character swapping at will? Absolutely. It was kind of funny to see a couple of former WildStar devs getting stoked for this title as a “second coming” of sorts.

I’m not going to try for a closed beta key, but if there’s an open beta I may poke my head in to verify that this is worth a founder’s pack purchase. Until then, I’ll be eagerly waiting for more news and hands-on reports. It may not be coming very soon, but May isn’t THAT far away.

Posted in Elder Scrolls Online

Elder Scrolls Online: Going on a crash-course diet

Nothing like logging into Elder Scrolls Online to immediately encounter an Argonian suntanning underneath the stocks. Never stop being weird, ESO. It’s why I love ya.

Shadowfen is proving to have quite a few great quest chains. I had a great time kicking Dominion tushies on behalf of pirates (for once), and liberating villages never quite gets old.

I don’t know if I’d ever roll up another character after grooving in the Warden for so long. She’s got everything I want out of a class and combat rotation in this game, so I guess I hit a home run right from the start.

Some of the most fun I have during these gameplay sessions is tackling the world bosses that populate each zone. About half the time I can solo them, but the other half requires at least one or two others. Either way, they’re challenging fights for once. This particular one was a bear — no Warden pun intended — because it took place in a confined cave with a ton of fire fields. Three of us wiped three times before we took him down on the fourth go.

Liberating villages in ESO is so frequent that I should get a punch card going. At the least, the game could make these interesting. And so it was with one particular enslaved town, as it used to be presided over by a self-styled king. He’s so silvery and pompous that I kind of became his fan club. You get the option to mock and intimidate him in the quests he gives you, but I chose to play it straight and respectful. Guy’s a KING, after all. And his story, as it unfolds, is rather tragic and makes him very sympathetic.

And speaking of sympathetic, there’s a whole village full of nice skeletons who disguise themselves as (what else?) silver-skinned people. Naturally, they’re terrified of becoming enslaved to necromancers. Gee, wish I was one right about now!

Or I could get turned into a skeleton myself. I won’t lie — I’d totally play this as my race for the rest of the game if I had that option.

And as soon as I wished that, I finished the quest and got my very first polymorph, a skeleton disguise. Welp, wish come true!

Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO: Gondor, to arms!

It’s a great relief to be done with Ill Omens so that I can re-focus on Gondor questing without interruption. At this point I’m actually pretty over-leveled for the region, with grey mobs everywhere. That bugs some people but not me. I like roflstomping mobs left and right. Yes, I’m pretty much a Middle-earth bully, and I’m OK with that.

I really liked a quest series that deals with a river spirit that’s pretty much gone mad because of all of the war and death that’s occurred in her waters. Her river sisters rally around her and eventually she calms down, but it’s a nice reflection on how war hurts both land and people.

I got a new quest robe that I rather liked, so I worked up a new outfit to go with it. This may be the first time that I ever equipped the elegant backpack (dyed black), but it works well with the ensemble.

And then — I kid you not — I kept fiddling with that outfit until it completely morphed into a different one. This was my mood that night, the Avenging Angel of Musical Death. Woe to those who hear my chorus three times.

It’s kind of hard to take a BAD picture in Gondor, as so much of this land is incredibly photogenic. Fountains, statues, flowers, and mountains in the same shot? Why not!

Sometimes it’s downright relaxing to be given a handful of quests for an enemy camp, pointed at it, and then left to go to town on it. I never not get a smile when I run into these places, round up a bunch of mobs, and then blast them to death with a string of AOE cries. Fear my temper tantrum.

Sometimes running is the absolute best option in a hazardous situation. No shame in it.

But this guy? This guy is going down. He looks like he’s seen too much anyway.