Wildstar – I Goes Squish

I was pretty gassed out yesterday.  My eldest was in the same boat, taking a solid 12 hour snooze.  My wife is on a kick to redecorate the house, which is ok by me, but my ability to appreciate her efforts isn’t exactly stellar.  She spent a bit at the store, came back with bags and bags of knickknacks that seemed neat but I was just too out of it to really pay enough attention.  To bed I went and was out for 10 hours.

This weekend, I’ll make sure to spend the time focused on this redecorating.  It’ll be a nice change to the house and really allow us to put more of our own touch to what’s around us.

Wildstar

I mentioned yesterday that my power output had increased.  I ran a couple more tests and this is still accurate, for the most part.  Regular enemies die slightly faster than I recall, so it makes clearing some quests and expeditions all that easier.  Mind you, some are long as all heck.  Deep Space Exploration is nearly 40 minutes long, solo.  I enjoy it and the story but wowza, it takes forever.  I could clear all of Star Basin in that time, twice.

Where the power output has not increased is in elite enemies.  I clearly do not have enough strikethrough, as enemy armor is huge.  In the previous fight length, say 2 minutes or so, I could clear these guys, self-heal and allow my mini-pet to tank.  Today in the same time frame, I can barely get them down by 10%.

Which brings me to the next topic, crafting.  Top-level crafting was rejigged.  Instead of existing on its own, there’s a penultimate level which is a good level 50 entry point.  Then the top level has 3 specific tiers, one for dungeons, and then for the 2 raids – each recipe uses crafting vouchers to unlock.  Vouchers are acquired through crafting quests – not terribly hard to do.  Crafting the first item set requires some ingredients that are somewhat hard to acquire on your own (in that you can’t farm them, you need to open bags) but they have a decent power level.  The last 2 can be crafted but only unlock fully if you’ve cleared parts of the actual raids… so not much worth on the market.

I bought a few recipes, put in some buy order for the material (which is 50% less than the Buy Now option) and logged off for the night.  If things go well, I’ll have a few new pieces to craft tonight, focused nearly entirely on Strikethrough, to make those elites a whole lot easier to run.

And that’s just my DPS set…

Of note, I’ve updated both Esper guides – DPS and Healing.

Wildstar – Returning to Nexus

I was finally able to really log in to Wildstar and see a bit about what had changed.  Yay!  The good/bad news is that it’s mostly quality of life stuff.

The downside is the sheer expansion of consumables related to the item store.  I need to do more looking at that aspect.  Filling up a rested experience bar with a potion is a weird thing, but it’s just a time saver really.  I never found the leveling portion to be boring but I’m guessing I’m in the minority on that.

Stats have been renamed but function nearly the same as before.  Runes have been overhauled and while the interface is slightly different and the balance between them better, it’s not like the entire system was redone.  Crafting at the top level has changed a lot.  The activity of crafting is the same but the recipes are all different.

And that was the largest change for me.  My Esper had a decent amount of crafter gear equipped as I had not raided or run any dungeons in a long while.  I logged on to a full mailbox and an nearly naked character.  Since the items no longer exist, I was provided a crafting token to make a new one.  This part was neat.  Items have a sliding bar between DPS and support mode.  Instead of a random set of stats to select while crafting, you can now manually select what stats show up.  What this means is that there is a whole lot less RNG involved, which is a great quality of life improvement.  Crafting top tier items was crazy expensive, and replaced in short order, making crafting more or less useless outside of runes.

Combat is the same as before, though the power curve seems to have shifted a bit.  Maybe it’s that the gear has more power now… I’m not quite sure.  I ran a shiphand mission (called expedition now) and it was much easier than the previous runs.  I need to try some 5+ bosses to really get a verdict though, as those were usually tight affairs to solo on the Esper.

My housing plot seems to have exploded in size, near 4x what it was.  That is going to take quite a few hours to decorate.  I really liked the previous size, as the limitation meant that you had to be creative.  At this size, I’m a little perplexed why they didn’t make it account bound instead of per character.  I know I can teleport between them – which I do – but it’s still awkward.

Skill unlocks seem to be gone, which is awesome.  That was always an annoying part of the game that didn’t make a whole lot of sense.  Our guild bank was littered with skills that no one needed because they dropped 100x more than the ones that did.  AMP/ skill point unlocks are still there, as a goal for the elder gem (EG) folk.  This of it as an AA system really, that only truly takes effect at max level. There are a few spots to unlock these points, so it’s not like you’re forced to do it one way.  Maybe the drops on this have been fixed, I’ll have to check.

There’s no new content per se, so if you’re looking for more dungeons or adventures you’ll have to wait.  My guess would be not too long mind you, given that the people playing are not terribly likely to be new players as much as returning players.  They have 5 drops of content to get through, which is good for sure, but it would be hard to argue that the staff working on the F2P swap had anything to do with the content group (art, design, combat design).  Fingers crossed on that one.

Next up will be an adventure run, maybe a vet dungeon too.  I think I’ll level another alt too (I have an Engineer at max already) to see if the power/skill curve while leveling has been fixed.  I was kinda hoping that NCSoft would have put in a dungeon system like FF14 but I guess that’s for another post.

Please, Take My Money

Fall is finally here, what with the cold weather in like a beast.  I was thinking we might get a little longer of those super hot days, but hey, it was good while it lasted. This weekend was a fishing weekend with some hockey buddies.  Water was a little cold but there’s nothing like a canoe in a lake, surrounded by fall colours.

It was a nice mental break from work, though the overcast sun and about 10 hours of paddling did drain the batteries a fair bit.  Still, a lot of laughs, some amazing food and great company.  That’s the way it should be.  I’ve had my share of the awkward times with folk you really don’t need to be around.  Those days be done.  A cigar, a beer, and a big campfire.  That’s the life.

Wildstar

6 days after the relaunch and I can’t get past the character selection screen.  Either the login queue is hours long, or it fails to load the world afterwards. How very interesting.  I can only imagine how frustrating it is over with Carbine.  Too many people want to give them money (or at least look at their product) and they aren’t able to get them through the door.  Makes for bad conversion rates.  Good news is that it’s a quality product, and maybe with a better price point, it can have some “stickyness” to it.

There’s bound to be a point where I’ll be able to play again.  And hopefully this influx of new players will fill the coffers enough to get some new content in the game in short order.

Diablo 3

I fooled around with the Witch Doctor a bit more, filled out a few more pieces.  I think the power curve in this game is solid, in that the jumps don’t feel absolutely insane.  There’s a clear progression, with T6 being the “sweet spot” for most casual players.  The amount of time between those spots is where patch 2.3 has had the largest impact.  Item acquisition is twice as fast as before, what with the Cube as a viable option.  Mind you, on my WD, Kadala has been the lucky one for me, with the cube really only decent for set swaps.  Guess that’s what happens when there are so many items available for a class.

I’ve tweaked the play a bit as well, learning how to weave specific spells in the rotation.  Wall of Death and Zombie Bears have an interesting dynamic.  The former causes you to run when casting, the latter has clipping issues if you’re not positioned correctly.  Getting both to work in a given spot is some fancy footwork.

I also tried a chicken build, where you run at near 150% movement speed for 15s at a time, with next to no cooldown.  It makes speed clears something impressive, slightly ahead of the Monk when taking down groups.

I was able to get a few legendary gems leveled up, enough to give me enough juice to do T8 reliably well.  It’s really telling how those gems drastically impact the power curve.  I could feel the progress in each greater rift I did along the line, making clears that much easier.

As for the Monk, I tried fishing  a few rifts to clear a GR60 but never got anything decent enough.  Caves and ghosts have my number I guess.

Bears, Bears, Bears

It feels like a bus ran over me, stopped to pick up some fares, left and then realized he missed someone and drove back over me.  So you know, good.

Witch Doctor

In between fits of sleep, I was able to get a Witch Doctor off the ground in D3.  I had 1000 bloodshards and over 1000 death’s breath going in, so I knew I had a decent shot.  What I didn’t account for what the MUCH slower levelling speed of a WD, given that it’s so heavily pet based.  I died less often than my Barb but it took nearly double the time due to slow kill speeds.  Anyhoot, once I dinged 70, I started to gamble and gamble.

I was able to get a full set of Helltooth, a Belt of Transcendence, Thing of the Deep, and a Scrimshaw without too much hassle.  Plenty of Zuni’s as well, though that set takes a bit more work to build through.  I went from level 70 to T6 in about 15 minutes.  That’s 15 minutes of gambling as the result of rewards over X hours on the monk mind you.  This became abundantly clear when I played in T6, as most people didn’t have Paragon 100 and I was sitting over 500 (which due to scaling is about 10x more).

T6 works.  I’m continuing to gamble to fill in a few more slots but the amount of rerolls needed on the gear is quite a bit different than on other classes.  Most other classes focus on a single skill, stacking it upright.  Barb is either WW or HotA, Monk is EP.  WD are different, in that they have quite a few options available at the same time.  Wall of Death, Acid Cloud, Zombie Bears have 2 of the 3 in use.  Then there’s the weird synergy with gold pickup range increases, which through passives, provides a significant buff to output.  It’s a hot mess, with very specific “perfect rolls” that seem to be of a higher difficulty to achieve.  But that’s me, after a couple hours on the WD.

I will say that the playstyle is quite a bit different.  Having a screen filled with pets and fire and bears (oh my!) is an eye assault.  Throw in another WD (or 2) and then you really have no idea what’s going on.  There’s a level of hectic present here that isn’t found in other classes, a sort of puppeteer without strings if you will.  Where the barb just blindly swings through the mess and the monk zip-zips through, the WD has a stutter to combat.  It’s certainly more deliberate, requiring use of all the buttons to be clicked.

Anyhoot, it’s an interesting run.  I think I’ll encounter a skill wall before a stat wall, which is different than the barb I have.  Also trying to fish a decent GR60 as well on my monk.  Ghosts and caves can take a hike.

Wildstar

I guess more good news/bad news.  Outside of perhaps SWTOR, I’m struggling to think of an MMO that did the F2P swap and wasn’t able to take the load of returning/new players.  SWTOR’s issues were rather minor, as their instancing/super server technology was “fixable” with some additions to the hardware.  Wildstar’s mega-servers are just face paint, they need to actually add entirely new servers to the fold, and that’s usually not an overnight fix.  So good news in that there are lots of people at your door, bad news in that they are having a heck of a time getting into your game – which can quickly snowball into a lost opportunity.

The extra good news is that there is zero MMO newness for a while.  People are dumping WoW in droves, FF14 is in the content lull before 3.1, SWTOR is a month+ out from their 2nd relaunch.  Even the F2P games out there aren’t showing a whole lot at this time (TSW feels “done” after Tokyo).  At least, not enough for me to pay attention.  Who knows, maybe they all expected this to happen.

Once I’m able to actually log in and play, I’ll have some updates to show for it.  In the meantime, my only reliable source of info is Syp.  And to be honest, his posts are giving me the Wildstar itch something fierce!

The Bench is Getting Full

The worst part of back to school is the infectious disease ward.  Kids are remarkably strong against this sort of stuff, basically ending up with coughs and sniffles.  Adults, or maybe just me, it’s like being under attack for a few weeks.

These past few days have been rough.  It’s not man-cold level, but it’s quite uncomfortable and makes it hard to concentrate.  I’d much prefer to just be in bed but there’s some work I can’t get out of. Sleep…

Barb is Benched

Seasons are an interesting breed, in particular season 4.  Once you have a character that can reliably complete TX difficulty, getting the next character up to speed is a much faster process.

I made a Barbarian the other day, got him to 70 rather quickly.  Then I used a combination of Bloodshards and Cube crafting to slot him in some decent gear.  It didn’t take long, maybe a couple hours, and he was in the full Wastes gear for a Whirlwind setup.  T6 was easy enough and I was able to get him some level 25 gems to make the process go even easier.  Finally I had enough upgrades to try TX, and damage-wise, it was ok.  Survival though?  That was a joke.

Barbs have a limited set of skills to prevent damage, chiefly through Ignore Pain.  When it’s up, things are decent enough.  When it’s down, you’re a tissue paper.  After about 30 minutes of tweaking, and constant deaths, I decided to sit the barb down and go back to the monk.

My monk can stand in the middle of crap and due to his very high dodge rating (compounded by high Dex), it takes a fair bit to knock him down.  The difference in power output between both is pretty close, but the survival aspect seems miles apart.  So the barb is sitting, maybe used for a bit of farming here and there, while the monk is pushing GR59/60.

I guess that’s the downside of melee players.

Which leaves me with one of the 3 ranged classes as an option.  Wizards have a weird stacking jumble playstyle linked to Archon mode.  Witch Doctors I don’t have a clue anymore, though they seem quite popular.  And Demon Hunters seem to be worse than Barbs.  I think once I clear a GR60 on the monk, I’ll swap to another class for kicks.

Wildstar

It’s Free to Play!  The servers are overloaded with people!  I don’t get how a 2,000 player queue is 25 hours exactly, nor do I get how megaservers are supposed to work (not the way they are now at least), but this does bode well for the game.

My gripe in my last run through the game was the lack of people for instanced content.  I could wait hours without anything happening, so I fell into mods to find a community.  Hopefully this F2P switch adds enough players to hit that critical mass point, where there’s enough people to keep the people interested.

(Interesting note, Wildstar going F2P caused a massive spike in views here.  Good things I guess.)

#Wildstar – Free for All

Interestingly enough, two of my most popular posts are my Wildstar Esper guides, which still get daily hits.  And, for good or bad, they don’t require much in terms of an update.

So good news (finally), Wildstar is going Free to Play.  And the GW2 free to play model minus the box price – I guess just like Rift.  Apparently, in the 24 hours since the announcement was made, it was the highest uptick in the Reddit sub-site in nearly a year, which is great news.

I will be honest here, the $15 fee wasn’t a dealbreaker for me.  I was going to re-sub next month when I got the new laptop anyways.  I had left the game due to rather significant balance issues around the elder game (max level content).  I really enjoyed nearly everything about the leveling game, including the dungeons.  When I hit 50 though… that was bad.  Gold medal runs were the only type of dungeon run, so 90% of them failed after the first death.  World bosses took forever to kill/spawn.  Raids were 40 people and if 2 people messed up, it was a wipe.  It was like a gentle curve from 1-50, then a massive gap until you were raid running and spending a dozen hours a week doing so.

Since then, there have been about a half dozen content patches.  More zones, more dungeons, a “fill” of that content gap, 20 man raids, pets, costumes and a crafting reset.  The majority of the folk leading the game for all those years in dev have moved on, and the folks who are there now are drinking a whole different type of kool-aid.  Heck the F2P conversion is going to add even more wanted features, like a full AMP unlock for everyone (no more farming dozens of hours).

That said those who are playing now are going to be in for an interesting ride.  Where SWTOR’s swap put a rather massive gate on top end dungeons/raids, this is not the case for Wildstar.  It’s more like TERA, Aion and Rift.  I wouldn’t say it’s a drastic shift, given that the past 4 patches have been all about making the game more accessible and less HARCORDE!!1!  If that’s the reason people are playing today, get ready for a rather large resource shift from super elite raids to a more simplified version.  Dollars to donuts, they put in a 2 tier raiding system.

There are quite a few posts on the matter…with all sorts of opinions on this value of this message.  Most though agree that this is a good step, even if they don’t plan on taking advantage of it.  I know I am and my gut tells me this is going to be good news long term for the game.

Changes are a Comin’

The first bit of news relates to Wildstar.  Megaservers are coming next week, so you’ll be able to find people to play with again.  Yay!  Also, Drop 3 & 4 are being combined and targeted for November.  It’s making it hard to figure out what is in and what is out of scope of that change.  The Reddit feeds are good enough to try and keep track but there’s still some mystery to be had.  Of interesting note, January is Carbine’s timeframe for “solo friendly” content.  I could write for miles about that topic.  MILES I say.  But in short, delaying all your content until after WoW and SWTOR have launched their expansions is an odd play of hands.

WoW is dropping patch 6 today, which is the precursor to the actual expansion.  This includes all the system changes but not the actual new content (zones, dungeons, level increase, garrisons, etc…).  So you get to see item squish, removal of guild levels (yay!), removal of reforging, changes to glyphs (you now get a bunch at default), removal of some difficulty achievements, a new group finder (not LFG/LFR), the new Flex raid model, massive class balances, new stats, new character models and just plain cleanup.  Though they are removing one type of Anti-Aliasing that was a GPU hog, in order to accommodate the players with scientific calculators.  It’s a rather significant downgrade to fidelity, if that means anything to you.

You can read the link for all the notes and there are plenty but the core of the matter is that this is the stage-setting patch for the expansion – where Blizz applies the final tweaks to the system to make sure that the swap from Beta makes sense.  I fully expect the raid scene to take a dive for 2 weeks, a few emergency patches and a trainwreck of “I can’t faceroll anymore” posts to result from the squish change.

What I find odd as lacking, is a revamp of the heirloom items or experience normalization that typically happens near expansion time.  Where 1-85 is pretty quick (you can do 80-85 in 2 zones), the experience from 85-90 isn’t up for debate.  It’s arguably a fun experience, at least compared to the junk of Cata (thank goodness for flying) but if they are selling level 90 characters… then you’d think there’d be some QoL changes to this experience as well.  I am expecting some post soon that changes that to everything working until at least 90, at least by 6.1.

Quick math… level 25 guild + heirlooms until 80 = 60% increase to experience from quests and kills.  Which also combines with rested experience.  And these items are fairly easy to acquire (except the ring…damn that fishing derby).

I am quite curious to see how all these changes play out.

EDIT: I am putting dollars to donuts that Blizz implements a system similar to SWTOR’s Legacy framework, or Marvel Heroes’ Synergy section.  And therefore completely removes the existing Heirloom function.  And for 6.1.  Any takers?

Raiding – Who’s It For?

I used to raid back in the day.  You know, when we trash meant something and you stayed logged on to farm mats.  Oh, what glorious days it was to raid 5 hours a day, 5 days a week and then farm the other 2 days!  Kids today have it much to easy.  What with the CoD, Destiny, D3 pop-in and play gamestyle.  Where’s the challenge of getting 20-40 cavedwellers to wake up from their late nap to log in? And then proceed to ignore all instructions for the first 45 minutes?  Oh, too easy I tell you, much too easy!

Some odd Wildstar numbers for you here.  So from the horses’ mouth, 120-150 20 man raids, 7 40 man raids that have cleared 3 of the 9 bosses.  The math comes to around 4000 raiders.

Let’s look at WoW for a second, where Raiding is arguably, no longer the top-tier end game activity (pet battles!).  Here’s the link and it accounts for data ~6 months after the raid released.  7.3 million character, 2.3 million accounts, looking at the final tier of raiding, SoO.  70% completed the first boss on LFR, 40% flex, 20% normal, 10% heroic.  50% completed the last boss on LFR, 18% flex, 13% normal, 0.8% heroic.  Assuming the “accounts number”, WoW’s hard mode attracted ~1% of the playerbase.  I’ve mentioned before that WoW’s heroic is pretty close in difficulty to Wildstar’s default raid level.

Back to Wildstar.  Assuming the same 1% ratio (and that’s a very large assumption) they are sitting at around 400k subs, which I think is a pretty decent number.  Of course, it takes magic math to get there.

But the crux of the argument is that their design vision, hardcore 40 man raids, are being consumed by a tiny, tiny fraction of the playerbase.  You’re leaving 99% of the rest of playerbase with next to nothing to do as end-game currently consists of either daily grinds, or getting into the raiding sphere.  Hate on WoW’s LFR as much as you want, they’ve found a way to get 50-70% of their playerbase to USE the material they’ve built.

Now you’re going to LFR for 1 of 2 reasons.  First, and I’m going to assume this is the minority here, to see the story/content through.  Raids, since BWL at least, have had pretty decent narratives.  If you didn’t raid Icecrown, then you’re probably wondering what ever happened to the Lich King after having seen him every 15 minutes while leveling.  Second, they do it for gear.  Gear for gear’s sake, or to get into the real “raiding” that starts at Flex.

Flex for a minute. This to me is the smartest move WoW ever made when it comes to raiding.  There were many months of tweaking, in order to avoid breakpoints but today’s implementation is near perfect.  Solid enough challenge, built for social guilds and allows you to take a night off with the missus.

Back on point, raids are by their very nature exclusive.  They require not only a decent amount of RPG-savvy (stats through gear + good build + good tactics) but also coordination of multiple people over long periods of time (3+ hours).  Sometimes the latter is the hardest part and calling a raid off because you only have 32 people instead of 40 happened often in vanilla.

So while Wildstar has it’s own little problem in that they need something for people to do other than raid, they also need to look at how they can make raiding more accessible so that they aren’t spending millions on content that only 4000 people get to see.

#Wildstar – What Works and What Doesn’t

Editorial alert!  Editorial Alert!  Bring out the pitchforks!

With Wasteland 2 out the door shortly, followed by Civ:BE a month after, I’ve come to the conclusion that Wildstar time is taking a backseat.  I like the game, certainly.  There’s just nothing left for me to do that I think is worth investing my time in.  Sort of.

What works

Good news to start.  The stuff that works, works really well.  The LAS and action combat is amazing.  I’ve only have this level of fun in Neverwinter but Wildstar takes it to a new level.  Picking and choosing skills between battles, applying strategy to it all, paying attention to what’s on screen.  All that works.  It’s a major skill gap for a lot of people but it’s great once you get the hang of it.

Raids.  Now this is taken from the subset of raiders who are actually raiding and the videos produced.  I’ve raided in most MMOs that have the option.  From EQ’s zerg-fest, to Vanilla’s healer rotation and Rift’s sparkle-fest.  There’s the right level of challenge and skill needed to beat Wildstar raids and the general consensus from raiders is that it’s worth the effort to get there.

Housing.  Outside of EQ2, and maybe some UO, I don’t think I’ve seen a better housing system.  And it’s getting better next patch.  This is really a super tool.

What doesn’t

Class balance and stats.  Bluntly, the system as it stands today needs some re-work.  At max level there are only a few useful skills, per role.  Esper DPS are using a healing skill for some reason, that’s a problem.  Stats are undergoing an overhaul right now, where melee and ranged attackers are getting normalized.  This isn’t as bad as SWTOR’s haste issue (where it was something you actively removed from gear) but the core stats is miles more important than anything else today.  There needs to be more softcaps and cross values from skills.  It sort of reminds me of the Diablo3 v.1, stack primary, issue.

Crafting.  Crafting has a great theory in the system.  There’s some randomness, which can be mitigated with a few things but the crafted gear today is better than raiding gear.  And that’s the level 49 gear, not 50.  There’s a ton of potential and the plans from Carbine on rebalancing drops makes sense.  At the least, it needs a use for low level items, otherwise it’s just a grind to max level with vendored results.

Attunement.  It currently prevents access to the best part of the game and the general cause of people leaving over time.

Stuff to do at 50.  Right now it’s just dailies.  Shiphands don’t scale to 50.  Housing instances don’t scale to 50.  Dungeons have no purpose other than attunement.  Adventures have no purpose other than attunement.  It’s like a giant funnel rather than an open field.  Dailies that take 30 days to max out…

The rewards at 50.  There aren’t any really.  See the crafting point above.  From 50 until you complete a raid and get a drop, there’s no real incentive.  Housing is the same at 40 as it is at 50.  Crafting can be maxed out at 30.

End Statement

There’s a ton of potential here.  The story is solid.  The combat mechanics are super solid.  The housing is solid.  The math needs some rework.  The “what the hell do I do at 50?” issue needs some massive investigation and likely a re-shifting in priorities.  The updates we get from Carbine indicate that’s underway.  Though turning a ship of this size takes time… time I’ll be using playing some other games in the pipe.

Skill vs Time – A Visual Aid

After reading Isey’s post on How to Lose an MMO Gamer in 10 Ways, and after pondering a bit more my previous post on Wildstar, I decided to draw out what I think is one of the larger hurdles for games to succeed – at least on a “massive” scale.  And that’s player skill.

Good game design is a series of meaningful choices.  I don’t think there’s any debate on that.  Where I think the kink in that comes from is in the ability for a person to have a an actual choice and appreciate the results (i.e. the ability to apply a skill and learn a new one).  I’ll go back in time a bit to vanilla Naxx and Heigan the Unclean.  This is the famous “avoid the fire spouts and you can solo me” boss – a dance really.  This was a massive twist in the traditional RPG space, where you just stood there pressing buttons.  Now you actually had to pay attention to the play space and move.  You couldn’t just absorb the damage.  I do know that many guilds at the time used it as a triage for recruits (combined with Thaddius) and it formed a massive skill wall for it’s day.   You either performed it perfectly, or you died.  That model, tried with a slight twist in BC, got the Ol’ Yeller treatment.  For good reason too, it wasn’t a meaningful choice and other than memorization and “no keyboard turners” there was little skill exploited.  WoW since then (with a blip in Cataclysm that they want to forget) has been more and more accessible at the lower end, with harder content for those who want the option.

To me, player progress is important.  Not only improvement itself but the opportunity for improvement and the evidence of improvement.  Huge spikes in difficulty is bad.  Difficult just to be difficult is bad.  No difficulty is bad.  A gradual increase in difficulty, where your progress is both evident and rewarded is the optimal solution.

On to the visual aid I promised!

skillvstime

What I did here was map the player skill required to complete tasks, assuming a time investment.  The skill portion is relative between games, where EvE is certainly the most challenging.  The remaining themeparks are ranked in difficulty, based on my play.  Over each in particular now.

EvE

Everyone has seen the EvE difficulty curve.  The game is rather simple to start, assuming you stay in high-sec and follow the themepark crumbs.  Try to move off that path, either through null-sec or mastering a trade and boom, welcome to excel online.  If you make the transition, you’re gold.  If you don’t, then you’re dead.  EvE has been able to succeed with a supremely polished game after the transition.

Wildstar

No game starts off harder than Wildstar.  Then you start dungeons and the difficulty starts to climb.  Reach max level and the attunement begins, with a massive climb in difficulty. There’s no help to transition between the stages, the difficult is very binary (you die in 1 shot or you take no damage) and the climb at the end is like no other themepark.

FF14

A game with a very gradual increase in difficulty due to skill unlocks being limited and the presence of force grouping at an early stage to progress on the solo train.  You learn to tank, heal, pull, DPS, stun, craft… everything.  And the change at max level is more along the lines of perfecting skills you’ve already acquired.  It’s a very good experience.

ESO

This one is a little odd, in that challenge as you level has no training and very little feedback but the skill level required is pretty low.  Given that there are actual “bad choices” the game design allows you to have a couple and still succeed.  If you make good decisions, then it’s like cutting Jell-O.  That said, at launch the game had a veteran system at level 50 that was significantly harder than the first portion of the game and accounted for 60% of the content.  Bad choices meant you were going to do.  Good choices gave you a 25% chance to die.  That system was drastically changed after 3 months to a more similar difficulty curve.

WoW

I could have drawn 1 line per expansion here but the power curve line is pretty close to this.  Today’s experience from 1 to 89.9 is a joke.  I leveled a Monk to 90 in a week and only died from falling damage.  Dungeons & LFR can be AFKed by 20% of the group and you’re still going to win.  Normal raids have some challenge but the real difficulty is in the heroic raids.  And not heroic raids because of the mechanics but because of the stats the players have on the content.  Remember that power curve line?  The difference in power between expansion launch and 2 months is nearly 25%.  People were clearing MoP raids in Cataclysm raid gear.

Others

I could have added other games, like LoTRO, STO, DCUO, Rift, Neverwinter and DDO where I’ve done the high level stuff.  They are all pretty similar to WoW, with the final spike happening earlier.  I can’t think of one that plateaus before max level – though TSW might be a candidate as it doesn’t really have a max level, just limited action sets.

Summary

I think the comparison between all the games is important for discussion.  Certainly each has their own variables but of you were to look at where players quit the game, I’d bet dollars to donuts it’s where you see a shift in the curve (assuming they get past a trial phase).  Difficulty is good.  Shifts in difficulty must be moderate.  The benefit of that difficulty increase must be evident.  All of the games listed have made changes since launch to their curves (yes, even EvE) except for Wildstar – but it’s also the youngest.  Here’s hoping they get the hint.