MMOs – Where are they now?

Nosy Gamer’s recent MMO roundup from XFire shows some interesting developments when looking at Wildstar and ESO.  Wildstar launched at the start of June while ESO was start of April, so 2 months and 4 months respectively at this point.  They are slotted at 8 and 12 on the list.  WoW rounds out the top, even though it lost 800,000 players.  EvE and FF14 are the other 2 subscription-based games on the list.  Everything else is FTP, which makes for some interesting metrics.

I do agree that the sample is flawed and isn’t a direct representation of the population.  I mean, I can’t think of anyone who actively installs XFIRE today, so newer games are at a distinct disadvantage.  Heck, Raptr only shows WoW, WS, FF14 and ESO in their top 20. That said, XFIRE does a great job at showing patterns over time and for that I think the discussion is very relevant in that both WS and ESO are down.

While I can attribute a fair amount of that to the 60 day drop (people play box + 1 month), rather than the 3-monther Keen professes, there are certainly some additional factors at play.  We can’t just assume that the summer provides a dip here, because it should affect all the games rather equally.  The factors have to be game-specific.

ESO first.  The VR wall was my “I win” bucket.  The fact that the game was anti-social certainly didn’t help.  Mind you, recent reports say they are trying to fix both issues, among a pile of kitchen sink additions.  I do think that once VRs are gone, the game will be in “ready to launch” state, some 5 months after actual launch.  I think of this compared to Marvel Heroes, or Neverwinter’s “beta phase” but both of those had no price point for entry.  It will have cost box + $60 to get to launch with ESO and that’s a price point people can find more value elsewhere.  In particular GW2 from a FTP perspective or FF14 from a subscription perspective. There’s certainly a chance it comes back up to the top, what with WoW likely not launching ‘til December.

Wildstar next.  While I am still enjoying my stay, I do know a lot of people who have left due to lack of progress past 50 – or heck, even mid-game.  Wildstar’s approach to combat is extremely divisive, and scales at an inappropriate pace.  There’s very little transition for people entering group content, just a wall of bodies at 20.  There are very few reports of successful PUGs anywhere, to the point where Carbine had to make change to the rewards system, in order to avoid group crumbling after 5 minutes.  And this doesn’t even get into the craziness of level 50 and raiding.  Sure, you could do the attunement and farm gear in dungeons/adventures but there ain’t no way you’re going to raid.  Everything up until that point can either be accomplished solo, with 5 people or with random PUGs in a zone.  The dungeon medal requirement is crazy, to boot.  But the cherry is getting 40 people to do it and then getting them to raid with you.  Bluntly put, the investment requirement for raiding has either been accomplished already by those with a want to invest or never will be.  That means two distinct parts at issue.  First, you need to accept the combat structure (difficulty + pacing) which is not going to change, outside of adding some “learning” zones.  Second, you need to accept that you’re likely never going to raid.  This part has been beaten to death on many blogs and I would like to think that Carbine, like Bethesda, is actually paying attention.

I do have to say that I’m less surprised with ESO’s tumble than Wildstar’s.  The ESO beta was not kind, and there were significant rumblings before launch about readiness.  It’s clearly still popular if it’s on lists though, so that’s good.  And there is active development, also very good.  Wildstar’s issues seem to be more condemning.  It had a relatively clean beta and had significant groundswell at launch.  Many people have issues finding a flaw with the game outside of the inability to find attachment to justify investment.  That is a massive problem for MMOs in general and one that doesn’t bode well for the future.

Combat and Art Styles

Pegging off Tobold’s post on appropriate art style, I think it bears mention more than just a couple games.  And I won’t really go into what looks better because that’s a very subjective argument.  This is really about the practicalities.

We have WoW art style, with distinct character outlines since the start. However it’s moved away from tab target to smart target, and red/blue markers on the ground. WoD will finally have target outlines as well. It’s evolved.

Neverwinter, a LAS/action game, uses outlines and AE effects given the mouselook aiming features. It’s a more realistic art style, making it damn near impossible to find someone in the thick of things. BUT, since it’s soft lock and AE for nearly everything (including healing), it works.

SWTOR uses cartoon style graphics for a seemingly endless supply of humanoids. I found it a mess in regular PvE but the group instances aren’t too bad as the character types are often different. Plus tab targeting helps drastically.

FF14 uses tab targets and a full skill bar, though in reality few skills. The art style is VERY unique and it’s fairly easy to spot individual players, let alone NPCs in combat. In fact, you rarely have more than 2-3 enemies at once. Of course, with a requirement for focused combat and targeted attacks, this is vital for success

FF14 - Ifrit

ESO is LAS + mouselook. Many attacks are AE or smart target. Every frigging enemy is the same though. PvP turned into meat walls of AE spam because you can’t focus target effectively. It also means many skills lose all value if they aren’t multi-target. Plus everyone blends in together and the background. So it’s less about aiming and responsiveness as it is about mashing AE attacks and hoping the numbers are in your favor.

Big Boy

Big Boy

Wildstar is LAS but tab/free target combat. Everything has an AE target as well, making aiming very important. Plus the character diversity helps you quickly ID the players in the field. The more quickly you can make an assessment, the better your odds.

That's a big gun

That’s a big gun

I guess it boils down to offense vs defense. A more realistic game favors defensive style of play and 2 types of skills. Either you spam and get lucky or you cross that skill gap to “elite” and run amok. FPS shooters I think show that well.

A more cartoon, or rather distinct character set, provides more offensive options as you can’t really hide. Everyone knows who you are and you have more information to make the right decision. It removes the skill gap and includes progression.

I wouldn’t be able to say which has the higher skill ceiling as that is more game-specific. It’s certainly an interesting topic.

ESO – Veteran Levels

It’s a simple fact that all games that want to have retention need re-useable content.  Sandboxes have a distinct advantage here as the content is generally created by the players and not the developers.  EvE, UO, ATitD are examples of user-generated worlds.  Themeparks have contained experiences that, by and large, are the same for all players.  The “ride” is balanced against other rides and provides a more uniform experience.  UO, until the shard split, was  near death-trap for any new players venturing outside, with a completely different experience depending on time spent in-game.  Themeparks are the same formula from 1-max level, with a few variations at the top (raiding, achievements, PvP, collecting, etc…)

While I have posted a bit about Wildstar and its approach for end-game activities (there are many), ESO has taken a slightly different approach.  First though, some quick context.

ESO has 3 main “phases” compared to the typical 2 in other themeparks.  There’s the 1-50 phase, following a central quest structure through a half-dozen zones for your faction.  As you level, you have full access to PvP and level appropriate dungeons, across all factions.  Once you hit 50, then you reach the veteran levels, of which there are currently 10.  That’s phase 2.  This phase encompasses a central quest structure for the other 2 factions, split between the levels, with a bit more challenge.  Phase 2 is therefore twice as long to get through as Phase 1.  You still have PvP access and you now have access to veteran-ranked dungeons, which are rather unforgiving in terms of tactics compared to their regular variants.  Phase 3 is what happens at veteran rank 10, and this is where the new Craglorn content comes in to play.  Group-based open world objectives, is the main gist of it. That said, there are dozens of quality of life changes in the pipes (fixing many grouping issues).

J3w3l goes into it from her personal experience.  Phase 1 is simple, phase 2 is significantly more complex and unforgiving and then phase 3 has no relation to either previous phase.  Due to the odd grouping mechanics, where it’s rather difficult to find someone to play with during Phase 1-2 (phasing, quest progress, etc…) you’re in a solo-only world for about 400+ hours.  I am curious how Phase 3, with a heavy if not singular focus on group content will work with the player base.

On top of that, given that 99% of the content is consumed by phases 1 and 2 (all quests across all factions) and that you have enough skill points to fill out 80% of all skills (which works out to more than 100% of the useful ones) there’s no replayability, outside of the 3 class-specific skill lines.  There’s a difference between a Dragonknight and a Mage but not enough to fill out 400+ hours.

Finally, as current metrics seem to indicate that the wide majority of players are in the mid-30s at the end of the first month, or somewhere around 60 hours in, and that the new content requires 400+ hours to even access – you need to wonder about the design direction.  I give a lot of flak to Wildstar for their 20-40 person raid commitment as end-game content (it’s just stupid to do in 2014) but ESO deserves a fair amount of head scratching too.  If you want to retain people, there’s only so many turns on the Magical Tea Cups that people can stomach before heading to the door.

ESO – First Month Review

A month after launch, ESO is at a spot where I consider it “review ready”.  From a feature/bug perspective, the kitchen sink patches have been applied, servers are stable and the initial floodgates are closed.  While I stated that my trip down this path is at a close, I still think it merits an overview of what went well and what needs some work.

What Works

If you like Elder Scrolls (Morrowind, Oblivion and Skyrim in particular) then the mechanics will be very familiar.  First or 3rd person view (no one should play 1st person), mouse to target, mouse buttons for main attacks, inventory control, organic skill progression based on use, focus on discovery, quick travel, customization, and non-linear quests with multiple steps.  All that is there.  There are a few tweaks that can be irksome, such as if you take any crafting skill your bags will be 90% of that material and perennially full.  More or less, if you like the single player experience from before, it’s very well replicated in ESO.

There are hundreds of quests and when you’ve completed your faction, you simply start doing the other 2 factions.  This drastically reduces any replay value outside of 4 alts, given there are currently only 4 classes but the amount of time required to consume everything is likely around 3-4 months.  Fully voice acted too, and the lore makes sense.  Some quests are mirror copies of others (so much Worm Cult) but the paces within are decent enough.

There’s a ton of build variety and you can swap between without too much hassle. Skill point distribution makes sense, though I’d prefer to know the morphed abilities first.  Easy enough to wiki-it though.  Raising skills is intuitive and the power curve, generally works.  Instead of fixed level ranges, ESO uses a scaling system for power.  You could be killed by a bunch of level 1s at max level and you can take on an enemy 20 levels higher than you, which is very different from the standard.

PvP, in my limited experience, is fun.  It’s massive, there are goals, factions are “balanced” enough that no one group can completely dominate the entire map forever.

Dungeons are fun when they work.  It’s a middle ground between GW2 run everywhere and the traditional trinity of tank taking all the damage.  You’re basically mitigating problems and saving the healer with the tank taking on the big guy in the room.  More like FF14 if you’ve played that.

The art is impressive.  The initial player customization has a ton of sliders but only 3 races – humans, cats and lizards.  Enemy variety is also very limited – 80% humans, 10% skeletons, 10% bears/cats/fauna.   That’s a lore limitation though, one that SWTOR had to live with too (which uses the same engine co-incidentally).  Often times I found myself stopping to just look around.  The atmosphere is really well done and while a lot of the set pieces are reused, their combinations are often unique.  Maybe it gets better at higher levels but you generally have no idea what class anyone is until they use a class skill and telling two players apart (assuming same race) is pretty hard.  But they do look good, which is a plus.

What Needs Work

This one is basic enough but there are still dozens of game breaking bugs.  The forums are full of them.  Designer hat for a second but it’s clear they needed another 2 months or so to clean that up.  The first 2 weeks of launch and entire faction couldn’t progress to veteran content.  They are being fixed slowly but I found at least one bug every 20 minutes that either required a /reloadui or a relog.

The combat itself, I have a lot of trouble with.  Aiming doesn’t use a soft lock system (Neverwinter does) so if things are moving, you’re missing.  There’s little feedback outside of knockdowns.  Class skills are unique but the weapon skills aren’t (except for the blingbling of destruction).  I am not a fan of the flow nor the combination of resource management and basic attacks.  A standard fight is 2-3 attacks but a big enemy or a boss is all auto-attacks after 10 seconds.  Pretty boring.

Social structures currently don’t make much sense.  In an MMO you want to see other people.  In ESO that just doesn’t seem the case, outside of PvP.  Quests are phased, which means it’s hard to team up with people or friends.  You’re 5 quests ahead?  Can’t do them again or see any of the targets.  Public events do not scale.  So a “rare” dark anchor event balanced for 4-5 people usually has 20-30 and everything dies before it actually spawns.  Public dungeons are worse.  Open tagging helps but you still need a hit or 2.  Guilds serve next to no purpose other than to have auction houses (which I think is a smart move with a mega-server) and a shared bank.

Crafting needs some work.  You can make something for every other level of progress, which is a great thing.  The days of 5 levels between tiers is gone.  However, there’s no real variety outside of enchantments and the process for increasing skill is pretty boring.  The unique crafting stations, that make item sets, don’t really seem to have much purpose since you need to have a ton of pre-requisite steps complete before.  Just doesn’t seem balanced.  The only good thing I see about crafting right now is that repair costs are so prohibitive, that crafting is a free alternative.  A full repair at level 35 costs about 2,000 gold which takes about 3 levels to actually fund.  By crafting, I’ve easily saved about 30,000 gold.  It’s odd that this is the first game where crafting is not a money maker but a massive money saver.  Does raise concerns around high level repair where you might not be able to re-craft….

Balance is sorely needed.  Many skills don’t work as described, or don’t scale or just don’t work.  Maybe the tooltips need to be changed.  I do know that AE skills are currently uncapped, which makes coordinated PvP efforts essentially an AE spam-fest.  AE stacking of 5 attacks can kill 1 person like it can kill 20.  It makes bottlenecks that much deadlier (or zergs).  Stat scaling and enemy scaling also need tweaking.  1 hand and shield does ~50% of the damage of all other attacks.  Assuming they are using a tank build, they also take ~20% less damage (armor is not linear).  That math doesn’t work.  Some enemies appear to be scaled incorrectly, or designed for multiple people.  The main quests in particular are unforgiving.

Summary

ESO is a decent game and scratches quite a few itches.  If you enjoy the single player aspect of the ES franchise and like the massive PvP then you’re in a good spot.  I think $15 is a bit much for that but that’s my opinion.  The MMORPG stuff, that still needs a lot of work.  If you’re on the fence for trying it, I’d suggest coming back after the summer.

ESO – Level 36

So it’s been a few days with me running around ESO.  Well to be honest, the weekend was a WildStar beta and I tried a few more classes out.  Other than being themeparks, I can’t stress enough how dissimilar these games are from each other.  They are not aiming for the same market.

So, Molabal Tor is the zone for 30-37 I hear.  At least the enemies are that level.  I must have messed up somewhere because I’ve been at least 2 levels under since the early 20s.  I explore every nook, find every part of the map.  I don’t avoid combat but I’m not grinding either.  I’m just “playing”.  Still enough experience though.  At least to keep pace with the content.  There is some debate about level balance in that you aren’t penalized for level differences, so I can take on enemies 4-5-10 levels above me.  They hit harder and have more hit points but it isn’t like I miss every attack.

While some bloggers have found the difficulty to go down as they level I have found the complete opposite.  I will admit, I am a massive MMO meta fan.  I play them for the numbers and the tactics.  The numbers in ESO make no sense to me.

A solid 20% of my skills don’t appear to be working, or the wording is simply wrong.  This applies largely to morphed skills.  I have a charge that should stun for longer the larger the distance.  It doesn’t.  I have a blade attack that hits 6 times, 4% chance to disorient.  Now, you’d think that would be 4% per hit but it’s 4% for the entire skill…completely negating the point since I can just slot a stun attack instead.  Attack numbers are just not intuitive.

Defensive skills are also simply broken, there’s just no other explanation that I can come to.  I have a full tank build.  All heavy armor, shield, skills that increase my armor and decrease enemy attack power.  I still die at the same rate as if I was in medium armor.

Valley of Blades

This is the level 35 main quest.  I’m 36, so should be ok.  I enter the zone, nothing much going on.  I do have 3 DPS companions though, so I figure this should be fun.  Complete some basic tasks and then this dragon shows up.  Who proceeds to kill me in a few shots, including some stuns that I can’t avoid.  Fun times.  I do manage to take him down eventually.

Big Boy

Big Boy

The next part is just a walk down a tomb to get a ring.  Simple.  Turn around and I have to “protect the tomb”.  So, ya, fun times right?  Not so much.  What occurs now is what I consider “tested but unbalanced” content.  I get to attack a few undead.  First a knight who, even though I’m in full tank gear after 1 death on the dragon, proceeds to kill me in 4 hits.  Ok.  That’s not right.  I try again.  Dead.  4 times.  Dead.  I then decide to cheap it and stack stamina regen and just chain stun him and run away.  He dies.

Great, fight done!  Nope.  Next is another undead knight.  Cheap him out.  Then a knight and a mage.  I die twice avoiding the magic and then just hide in a corner and wait 5 minutes for the companions to kill him.  Next is either a bug or something, because the original knight is back.  I run like mad.  Thinking I’m clear, I walk a bit and end up with 2 mages and another knight.  I mean really?!

Hide to live another day!

Hide to live another day!

Screw that.  10 minutes go by for the companions to kill them while I hide.  Finally done.

So grand total is over an hour for a quest where I spent ~45 minutes just standing there watching because the content was so overtuned there was no real possibility of success.

Grouping

I wanted to add this previously but here it is.  I have never played an MMO where grouping is a bad thing.  Outside of AvA, grouping is a massive negative in ESO.  There is not a single item in the game that scales to the players around the content.  If you do not have a ranged attack, then you should avoid other people as much as possible.  Now, I’m not saying they are being malicious but if you have 20 people attacking a creature with 500hp, good luck seeing him run a single animation.  Dark Anchors are a joke.  It looks like they were designed for 3-5 people.  Instead because they open so rarely, you’re going to have 20-30 people around.  Public dungeons are the same.  Quests aren’t so bad as it’s rare enough to have more than 2-3 people around you due to the massive phasing for quests.  So even if I try to play with friends, I really can’t for half of the content.

I just don’t see how that makes sense.

Conclusion

I think I’ve reached the end of this road.  There is a lot to enjoy but it has absolutely nothing to do with being an MMO.  AvA is the exception but if the PTS patch notes come through, I think that’s done too.  I’ve cancelled my subscription and have 7 days to go.  I am honestly disappointed. There was/is a lot of potential here but it just feels wasted.  I do hope that the rest of the players still logging in are having fun and that ZOS can tweak it enough to keep the player happy.

PS.  Interesting note.  ESO doesn’t have a feedback form for cancelled subscriptions.

ESO – Bug Report

I know I mention the bugs in ESO and I’m guessing a few people think I’m exaggerating.  ES games have been known to be buggy, what with the open-ness of it all.  I never really minded that part, as you could save/reload and try some wacky things out.

MMOs though, I am less used to buggy launches.  I mean, really less used to it.  The last one that launched with this many bugs was Star Trek Online, at least in recent memory.  FF14 aside.  ESO is getting buggier the farther along I get.

Is this a multi-verse?

Is this a multi-verse?

The one above happens every so often, especially when the particular NPC follows you around.

What book?

What book?

This one happens way too often.  The little lights mean there’s a book, or a note or something to interact with.  /reloadui doesn’t work, so that means that  the item is just below the world line.  I’ve seen this a few times in other games with resource nodes, specially mining nodes.  Those I sort of understand, what with the randomness and the fact that they are used when collected.  These though, these are manually placed.  I don’t get why the person who placed them didn’t put them at the right spot.  Maybe on a server reset they come back?

There are plenty of dungeon bugs too, some that prevent you from completing them.  Frustrating.

This Weekend’s Gaming

While I didn’t get much in, I did get enough to quench the thirst.  Seems a cold is going around town and we were not immune to the effects.  That and a long weekend, plus finally nice weather after what seems 6 months of winter, we were outside a lot and around the city.  Fresh air!

Wildstar

This was weekend #3 of the pre-order open(?) beta for Wildstar.  It had been 2 weeks since the last and that one was pre-empted by ESO for the most part, so I’m a little rusty.  The good news is that they put in a kitchen sink patch which means beta is going well as nearly everything is tuning.  Sure they added a few more body types (which is actually kind of neat) but the biggest change for me was the UI.  It is a whole lot smoother now.  It looks a ton like some of the WoW mods I used for my UI.  Clear icons on the bottom, wide open screen on top.  I think it looks great.

Anyhoot, back into the game I played my Esper again.  Saturday was lag day, so no gaming then.  There are surprisingly very few bugs in this game.  I’ve played from 1-18 and haven’t found a single one related to content.  I’ve seen plenty of UI bugs with this patch.  Consistent ones too, but the the actual game has been super smooth.  I’ll get back to this in a minute.

I mentioned the patch applied some balance changes.  My esper does a bit less damage but now the skills are actual choices.  Previous to this, there were 2 or 3 skills that simply outshone every other one and now they are all pretty even, if situational.  I’ll use a pet tank for boss work.  I’ll use an AE attack for when I need to move and damage since my regular builder needs me to be standing still.  I like what I see.  Hopefully the next beta weekend I can hit 20 and run some dungeons.  Group content so far is open-ended.  Who knows what will happen when the live gates open though.  Side note, the server I picked randomly is apparently the French server.  Good thing I can speak it.

Elder Scrolls Online

I put in some time here too, though a bit less than Wildstar.  I hit level 27, found another dozen bugs and realized that Greenshade (the AD’s 3 zone) has a rather large memory leak issue.  Zoning into it from any dungeon has a 25% of permanently hanging or crashing my game.  It’s weird too, since it’s so consistently a problem in this zone but not any other.

As per previous posts, I am getting seriously annoyed at the inventory issues.  There are way too many glyphs that serve absolutely zero purpose.  Research of armor pieces is needed for 2 things.  First, the opportunity to slot a benefit to the item (like more armor or immunity to resists) but of the 10 or so “types” of benefits, only 3 are worth anything.  Who needs more “exploration experience”?  Second, you need to research X amount of benefits on a single piece of gear to craft set gear.  So, let’s say you need 4 types of benefits on a girdle before you can craft a “night watch” girdle.  Since sets require 3-5 pieces to gain the set bonus, you’re looking at ~12-20 different research combos needed.   Each research takes 6 hours to start and doubles from there (12-24-48, etc..)  You can do 1 at a time to start, but after level 8 (I think it was) I could do 2 at a time.  Suffice it to say, I have very little researched.  My bags are full of crap that I’m starting to wonder if it has any use at all.

Second, repair costs.  Death is ok.  In fact I like dying in games, it shows there’s a skill level required.  The rate of death in ESO is pretty solid.  The repair costs are high though.  It costs me about 1000g to get a full repair.  Quests give me ~200g per and I’m sitting on 22,000g right now.  That’s a fairly steep penalty.  I am going to be ultra curious as to what the money sink will be in this game once there are no quests left to run and the repair costs are 5000 per shot.  This is something I find good by the way.

I’ve followed J3w3l‘s advice and better slotted my skills upon quest turn in to get a larger boost to experience.  I’m down to my last skill line to pump, which is pretty neat.  I still only deal half the damage of any other non-tank and seem to take 25% less damage in return.  Not the biggest fan, let me tell you.  On the flip side, all these skill lines allow me to make some smart choices about attack patterns.  It’s getting better.  I do wish they let you  know the morph options in-game before you actually level the skill.  Ah well, wikis have all the data anyway.

Still fun, if a bit less everytime I have to use the dame /reloadui command.