Friday, October 4, 2013

Back To The Future

I don't know what it is, exactly. Maybe it's that Star Trek Online is set in the Star Trek universe, which is a place I feel very comfortable in. Maybe it's all the new content we've seen in the game recently. Maybe it's the fact that I long ago became a lifer in this game and so I get all the perks paid players do. I don't know. All I know is that it's good to be back.

I've been a Star Trek addict since I can remember so when it was announced that Cryptic Studios would be doing a game called Star Trek Online, needless to say I was excited. There's so much fodder for great stories yet to be told in this universe that when lifetime subscriptions for this game became available it didn't take me long to sign up for one.

The first months of STO post-launch were great. There was plenty of content to play...until there wasn't. Soon after launch, the content updates just stopped. Players who'd been with the game since the beginning like me suddenly found themselves with nothing to do. After a while, I just gave up. As much as I enjoyed the game and the universe it was set in, Star Trek Online had become repetitive and boring for me. I sailed on for other shores.

Oh, I checked in now and then to see how the game was doing but the result was always the same, nothing new or interesting aside from a very few exceptions. Then, the kiss of impending death when STO was sold to Chinese game developer Perfect World Entertainment and went free-to-play.

Really, I thought that was it, that it was only a matter of time before the servers closed and the dev team moved on to other things. Still, as a lifer I just had to keep logging in and now and then, to see if maybe, just maybe...

I've never been happier to be proven wrong. It seems that STO being bought by Perfect World was perhaps the best thing that ever happened to it. It's like the old fire is back, the kind of creative and thoughtful writing and mission design that got me excited about this game when it was still in beta. Anyone playing this game who hasn't yet played through the Romulan storyline must stop whatever they're doing in-game and play it immediately. Yes, it's that good.

STO has gone through some major growing pains, but it's matured into something very worthwhile. Cryptic is finding that right balance between the deep lore every Trekkie craves and the action and adventure every gamer wants. It's a game that's become more than the sum of its parts, and that's a very good thing.

STO has something very few other MMO's do: A universe that even people who don't normally play MMO's want to visit. I've always wondered about the gamer/Trekkie breakdown on this game, but if you read the STO forums you know there has to be a lot of overlap.

I'd like to see STO more directly compete with SWTOR. I like both games, but SWTOR wins the production values war hands down. I'd love to see more invested in the aesthetics of STO, especially in terms of more voice acting and cutscenes. Appearances by Leonard Nimoy, Denise Crosby, and Zachary Quinto have been terrific, but it would be great to have more, especially considering that having the original actors voice their roles in STO is one area where SWTOR does not, cannot, compete (ok, who thinks Bioware's going to be willing to shell out what it would take to get Harrison Ford or Carrie Fisher to do an expansion in SWTOR?).

The great thing about Star Trek is that while official Star Wars canon is made up of just what's in those six movies, Star Trek has all the movies, all the series, most of the novels, and even all the cartoons to draw from. Plenty of stars and guest stars equals plenty of guest voice acting opportunities. There are rumors flying that Dwight Schultz, who played Barclay on "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and "Star Trek: Voyager" is slated to appear in the major content update but so far there's no official confirmation on that.

Personally, I'm loving STO right now. This is the game I thought I was signing up for when I plunked down a pile of money for a lifetime membership and a Collector's Edition. This is the game that made me want that lifetime membership in the first place.

It's good to be back. More soon.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Meanwhile, Back At My PC...

Yeah, so it's been a while. Remember, an ADD-addled gamer is writing this thing, so that's gonna happen. If you've read my previous posts, you know that you were warned. What makes me different from most of the blogs where the writer stops posting after a while, is that sooner or later I usually come back to it. Like now.

Sometimes, it seems, I just lose interest in what I'm playing. In fact, forget sometimes, it's most of the time. Just about any piece of crap game can get me to take a look, but that game has be pretty damned entertaining to hold my interest long-term. SWTOR kept me interested for a few weeks, but that hasn't lasted. I went back for Aion for a little while when they added the new classes with 4.0, but in the last several days my interest in that is waning as well. The nice thing about Aion as opposed to something like SWTOR is that with Aion I can leave it alone for months then come back and pick up exactly where I left off. With SWTOR that's a bit tougher if your sub runs out while you're away.

Lately (meaning over the last week or so), I've been playing Defiance. I'd been in the beta several months ago, and frankly I wasn't all that impressed at the time, but when my best friend came home for a visit a couple of weeks ago, she and I watched the entire first season of the TV show. That got me interested enough in the storyline to give the game another shot.

I signed up for one of those three day free trials they're offering now, and decided that while it certainly wasn't worth the sixty bucks they were originally asking for it, when the price dropped to under ten it was worth it in terms of the entertainment value, especially since Defiance doesn't require a subscription.

So here's my admittedly only-somewhat-experienced initial review:

Basically, Defiance is a third-person shooter MMO that does a few things really well and others maybe not as well as should be. The graphics are good, though a lot of the voice acting is a bit lackluster. Overall production values are high, but the execution leaves a bit to be desired.

So far, the connection between the show and the game seems tenuous at best. I've only seen Nolan and Irisa once, and while I know there's a mission arc involving them, I've yet to find it. The game is very sandboxy, and while there is an overall storyline, it's very easy to get sidetracked away from it with other missions and things to do because there's no clear and easy to follow path telling the player where she should be going next.

One of the attractive parts of this game for me is that it's an MMO that doesn't require me to socialize more than I feel I want or need to. You can enter a battle cooperatively with other players just by going there and jumping in gun blazing, there's no formal grouping required to share in the benefits of success. I like that. I like it a lot.

If you, like me, are one of those players who just likes blowing shit up now and then, you're going to find a lot to like in Defiance. Also, if you're a player, like me, with very limited funds to spend on MMO's and entertainment in general, you'll definitely get your money's worth here. The world is vast, the missions and other activities are plentiful, and the battles are a hell of a lot of fun. If you like this kind of game, this is the best deal you're gonna get for under ten bucks. There's a cash shop, but you can buy most of what you really need with in-game scrip.

As far as the rest of it goes, I'm hopeful. The game has only been out of beta since April, so there's plenty of reason to hope for improvements and refinements going forward. Still, the fact that they dropped the price on the game so much after just a few months doesn't bode well for it's continued existence. We know the show will be back next July so I'm hoping we at least have until the end of next season before we have to worry about the game's continued existence.

All in all, I'm having a pretty time with Defiance right now, but I can't help feeling  that this is probably a game with a limited life span, that it probably won't survive long past the end of the show it's based on, if it even makes it that far. Maybe it's because the game itself is so big, but most of the areas I've been in so far seem pretty empty. And yet, when there's an arkfall I've seen well over a dozen players suddenly appear out of nowhere to help fight it.

Another thing I like is the dynamic events, like arkfalls, and the lack (at least so far) of classic dungeons. It's really a completely different way of MMO combat with a boss and I like it a lot. It seems a lot more like how it would happen in real life.

In some ways, this game reminds me of Crimecraft. Defiance is, in a lot of ways, what Crimecraft should have been. If you liked that game, you seriously need to check out Defiance.

Ok, I think that's enough for now.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Content Overload

In all the MMOs I've played over the years, this is one of those things that usually determines for me how long I'm going to be spending with a given game.

Eve-Online was a special case as the "content" I was playing, especially after about two years in, was almost entirely created and driven by the players. That's really more about the nature of Eve itself than the quality of any overarching storyline.

Other games have to do more to earn my continued attention. Few can keep it up for more than a few months, and so that's a big reason why I find myself moving on to other games as often as I do. When you're an ADD gamer, the moment you become bored is the moment you start thinking about moving on.

SWTOR is, for me at least, the answer to those kinds of games. I'm now up to level 27 with my Jedi Sentinel and there's still plenty to do before I worry about getting near the end of her story, especially once I pick up the "Rise of the Hutt Cartel" expansion. Once I run the full storyline with her, though, there's still plenty more to enjoy. Next time out, I think I'm going to create a Smuggler, then maybe a Sith something or other.

The thing is, at the rate I'm going through SWTOR, I can see myself taking at minimum several months to get through the storylines that are already out there, and who knows how much more might be available by the time I'm done there.

In short, I don't see myself getting bored with this game anytime soon. That gives me confidence, that is to say that I'm not worried about investing money in this game that eventually proves to be wasted when I run out of interesting content and stop playing, essentially throwing away weeks or even months of paid playing time in favor or something newer and more interesting.

For me, SWTOR makes sense. If I'm going to spend on a game I want to get the maximum value for my gaming dollar. Right now, I'm getting that from SWTOR, even more than I have with TSW. Sure I love TSW and I still play but over the last few weeks I've logged in maybe two or three times, even though I've just barely started on the Issue 6 missions.

The truth is that I've just been busy with SWTOR, and what's more because I've already bought and paid for the content in Issue 6, I can play it whenever I want without having to be a subscriber, unlike TSW's sister Funcom game, Age of Conan. The bloom came off the rose for me with AOC when I realized that the only way I could play the "Rise of the Godslayer" expansion is if I also subscribed. While at this point I plan to keep up my SWTOR sub as consistently as I can, it's also comforting to know that when I invest the ten bucks on a SWTOR expansion it'll be mine to play regardless.

That's just another reason for someone with an inconsistent and unreliable income like me to want to keep playing SWTOR, just as AOC's model is a reason for me to avoid getting that fully involved with that game. The idea that in order to play content I've already bought and paid for requires that I also pay for an ongoing subscription just doesn't sit well with me. To be blunt, it feels like a ripoff, and I don't like feeling ripped off.

With SWTOR (at least so far in my experience), I get what I pay for. I buy it, it's mine, at least within the confines of whatever kind of account I happen to have at the moment. I like the benefits of being a SWTOR subscriber, and so I'll do my best to keep it up, but knowing that my ability to play that content won't go away if I lapse for a while is important to me.

Like a lot of sci-fi/fantasy fans, I'm a bit neurotic when it comes to having everything there is to have. I don't want just the first few chapters, I want the whole series and the spinoffs. Maybe it's a holdover from my comic book collecting days, but I like knowing that I have access to the entire story with nothing missing. SWTOR gives me that, as long as I keep buying new chapters as they come out. AOC, on the other hand, forces me to keep up that subscription or they take away my ability to access and enjoy the complete story I've already paid for.

Maybe I'm just old school, but I can't help thinking that's just fundamentally wrong and unfair. It feels like it would if DC or Marvel Comics told me that unless I subscribe to a certain comic in perpetuity, they'll come to my home and take away portions of my comic collection or lock it away where I can't get to it until I start subscribing again. It just feels wrong, and it's not a sales tactic I'm comfortable validating and supporting with my limited gaming dollars.

In the end, like movies, like television, like single-player games, MMO's are (usually) story-driven entertainment. I want my MMO to tell me a story, preferably a good one. Action and adventure are important, but I want to know why I'm doing what I'm doing, and I want it to make a difference, even if it's a relatively small one.

For me, that's what having fun with an MMO is really all about.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Jedi Knighted

Yeah, so I'm up to level 18 in SWTOR now, and I just got through my first space battle. I'll admit  that space battles seem more arcade-like than most of the game but it's also damn fun. I've got my own ship now and so I can zip around the galaxy at will.

The more I play SWTOR, the more I get into it. Now, that's pretty common for me with a new game. I don't bother getting into a game, and certainly I don't bother spending actual money on it unless I'm really motivated. So far, I'm totally into it, in a way that I generally don't get into most games. SWTOR is still most definitely a candidate for a long-haul game for me.

AOC, for example, is a great game but I never became so involved in it that I felt the need (key word) to go the paid route. STO had me hooked on the original set of content, but the minute I got a lifetime sub the content updates just stopped for 2 years and I ended up feeling cheated. SWTOR, on the other, just seems to compel me. The more I play, the more I want. I have to force myself to take breaks so I don't lose my entire day in-game. Seriously.

I feel like I don't have to worry about content droughts and such with SWTOR like I do with other games. Of course, I read the same declarations of impending doom in the gaming press everyone does, but knowing (now) that even now, after a significant chunk of the game's player base has already left and the game has gone FTP, SWTOR is still the number two MMO behind WoW gives me much more confidence in the continuing quality of the game going forward. That'll likely be key in deciding whether or not to invest in this game long-term. So far, so good.

The last game to involve me that completely was Eve, and I lasted with that for about 3 years. It'll be interesting to see if I can go that long with SWTOR. Right now, most of the game in still in front of me and I'm looking forward to more.

It's also interesting to see how much of the gamer common wisdom about SWTOR is just plain wrong. Sure there's plenty of reasons to spend money on this game, but there's also a lot you can still do as a free player without spending a dime. The great thing about this game, at least for me, is it's less about forcing you to spend as much as making you WANT to spend. Sure there are some cases, such as with inventory space, the new expansion, and some other stuff, that basically require you to spend a bit if you want to have the most fun and if you want to progress past a certain point in the game, but in most cases it's about spending on things that are wants, not needs, in terms of having a great time in SWTOR.

I hope they keep it this way.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

When Bad Is Good

So I worked my original toon up to close to level 11 in SWTOR, then earlier I went to apply the game time card I bought on my account. This I managed without a problem, but when I started the game there was no upgrade, it was still a free account. I log out and back in, nothing. I'm getting ready to write a petition when it suddenly hits me.

I log out and check the username on the launcher. Then I call up my browser and go to the SWTOR login screen. The usernames don't match. I'd been logging into the site on one account and logging into the game on a completely different one. Not only did I have no idea, I didn't even realize I'd apparently set up two separate accounts.

I start up the launcher, put in the credentials from the other account and there it is, my subscriber account, untouched and unused. In other words, time to start from the beginning again. At first I was really annoyed, but then after thinking about it a little I realized that I was probably better off starting from scratch as a subscriber anyway.

So I just hit level 5 a little bit ago. Here we go again.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Well, That Was Quick

I just got back from Target a little while ago, where I picked up a 60-day time card for SWTOR. Yeah, seriously. This is rare for me. I usually don't fall in love with an MMO this quickly. Generally it takes at minimum a few weeks as a free player in an FTP game before I'm willing to spend any money on it. SWTOR, though, that's different.

There's a lot about the game to like, especially if you're a grizzled veteran like me. I've always been a fan of the high-tech futuristic MMO's as opposed to the one that are set in the 13th century of some planet/dimension/whatever. I've always enjoyed Bioware games too, if not their marketing. I still haven't played ME3 and I probably won't until the GOTA version comes out. I'm cool with that. Yet, at the same time, I couldn't help but want to spend at least a couple of months in SWTOR getting the first class experience.

I like the fact that I can go to Target and buy a time card for this game. I like that a lot. It's a pain in the ass for me to deal with online payments and I always prefer to pay in cash if I can. It's a small thing, of course, but not entirely insignificant.

I spent three years in Eve-Online, another super-high-tech setting, and I really enjoyed it. I could see myself spending a similar amount of time or even longer with this game if the content keeps up, because while they're both set in sci-fi universes they entertain me as a player in completely different ways.

Could this be my new Eve? I don't know, but I do know that I like it, a lot, more than just about anything I've played recently, and I've come to that determination in just three days as a player. For me, that's unprecedented.

And now, I'll have 60 days to figure it all out...starting tomorrow.

Suddenly, Long, Long Ago, In A Galaxy Far, Far Away...

Yeah ok, so I did it. I broke one of my own rules for playing MMOs...again.

I tend to make it a policy (and I'm not really sure if it's by design or just unconscious personal preference) to avoid the big-name MMOs like Everquest, WoW, and SWTOR in favor of stuff more off the beaten path. That's not to say I won't go for a game that boasts a big-name brand like Star Trek Online or Age of Conan, but the more it seems like any game happens to be "what everyone's playing these days", the less likely it is that I'm going to consider giving it a shot.

Maybe it's because I've been burned before. I invested in a lifetime sub for STO a few years ago, just in time to see the game enter a two-year content drought. I'm still liking Age of Conan, but I'm also just beginning to bump up against the limitations of a free player in that game. Maybe it's got something to do with the fact that I'm starting to hit my wall with much of what I've been playing recently, TSW, AOC, TERA, STO, Aion, and I haven't really comfortably settled into any particular MMO in the last several months.

The signs that it's time for a change, at least for a while, are all there. I get easily frustrated with challenging missions, much more easily that when I'm focused and willing to put in the time and effort to beat them. I find myself bored with the storylines and looking for an excuse to go play something else for a while. I'll dig up an old single-player game and replay it, just to give myself a break from MMOs.

So, I decided it was finally time to try SWTOR now that it's free-to-play. Maybe that'll prove to be a mistake, maybe not, but here's the semi-scary part: I like it...what's more, I'm having a shitload of fun with it right now.

Yeah seriously...even as a severely-deprived free player. Hard to believe, I know, but it's true.

One thing's for sure, I've never seen a game as intentionally crippled for free players as SWTOR. In addition, I've never been much of a Star Wars fan. In fact, I've never seen the last three movies. I've just never been all that interested.

Yet, SWTOR has held my attention for almost an entire weekend. The story is good, the graphics are great, and the game has a high level of quality of presentation I've come to expect in single player games but that never seems to be duplicated in MMOs, not even by the ones that come close to that ideal like TSW.

And yet, I must hesitate. Playing SWTOR is like buying a first-class seat on an airline: You know that by paying extra you're going to get a top-rate experience, but you also know that in the end you'll end up at the same destination as if you travel economy class. The question you have to answer is how much is it worth to you to travel first class and is it worth as much to you as much as the asking price of the ticket.

It seems that for a lot of people, that answer is no. The early areas of the game seem fairly deserted and everything seems geared toward getting you to spend more money. On the one hand, I resent the focus on money constantly intruding on my game in ways both large and small, and yet on the other hand, I find myself seriously considering if I'm enjoying myself in SWTOR enough to justify plunking down enough cash for some paid game time.

The truth is that I haven't yet made that determination yet. It's a moot point right now because I can't afford to start a subscription at the moment, but that will change in time.

I must admit it's an interesting albeit annoying way of marketing. It's also interesting how if you buy anything from their store you get certain benefits as well. While I do think the limitations on non-subscribers are a bit draconian and wider-ranging than in most games I've seen, they're also not quite as ridiculously unfair and arbitrary as AOC or Fallen Earth.

I've seen the complaints about SWTOR and I can understand why players abandoned this game en masse a while back because of the intense focus on maximizing profits that makes the concession counter at your local movie theater look like a discount snack store, but I can also see why this game can be a lot of fun to play if you're willing to invest a little money in it. What I haven't yet determined is if that kind of investment would be worthwhile for me personally.

In SWTOR I see a lot of MMO elements I enjoy in other games, deep sci-fi storyline, quality voice acting, interesting combat, fast travel, great graphics, and much more, but I also see a greater need to keep pumping money into the game if I'm going to get serious about it as a player. I wonder how much of a future this game has, and I wonder if that future is worth investing in.

I just hit level 10 today. I suspect I'll give it at least another few levels before I make any decisions. After that, I suppose we'll see.

It's nice to fly first class if you can afford it. The question is whether the journey is important as the destination. I'll let ya know.