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.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

What Do You Play When You're Fucked Up?

No, seriously.

It's times like these, when I've had a little too much or even just enough, when I find myself being extra-careful about which games I play when I'm in this state.

Have you ever done this?

"Ok, let's see I'm not going to be able to deal with Max Payne 3 right now, The Secret World requires a bit more analytical thinking that I think I can muster at the moment, and I'm too high a level in TERA to do anything but get my ass kicked in this state. Age of Conan might be interesting to try, though..."

I'm going through this right now and I thought maybe putting it into a blog post might help me think it though. And perhaps it has.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Why The Age Of Conan "FTP" Business Model Not Only Sucks, But Should Be Illegal

 Let's say you're in the market to buy a new car. You've been pretty happy with the cars you've bought in the past from a certain dealer, let's call it Funcom Motors. You head down to Funcom Motors and talk to one of their sales people. You tell the salesman that you're pretty happy with the last car you bought from them, let's call it a Turan XL, but hey, that one's getting a bit old. You've got a little money to spend and you're looking to move up to something a little newer and nicer this time.

The salesman directs you over to one of the newer models, let's call this one the Godslayer 5000. It's got more features, a nicer paint job, and it's a bit more expensive than what you paid for your Turan XL a while back. You like the Godslayer and you decide you want one. You tell the salesman you're ready to buy, but he tells you that before you buy a Godslayer 5000, there's something you should know.

He tells you that unlike the Turan XL, each Godslayer 5000 comes with a special built-in device that's controlled by Funcom Motors. Once you buy the Godslayer, it's yours, you own it, but unless you keep paying Funcom Motors a certain amount of money every month over and above the purchase price, they'll activate that device and render the car undrivable until you start paying again.

You protest, but the salesman tells you that that's the deal. If you want a Godslayer 5000, not only do you have to pay the entire purchase price of the car up front but you have to keep paying this monthly fee or they'll press the button and make it useless.

Do you:

A) buy the car and accept the conditions.

B) leave and go to another dealership looking for a better deal.

C) head to the nearest police station and file an extortion and racketeering complaint against Funcom Motors.

If this actually happened in the offline world, chances are most people would head right to the police station and Funcom Motors would be in big trouble. Yet somehow, in the online world, this is considered not only legal but effective marketing...and then they wonder why so much of Age of Conan is now an unpopulated wasteland.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A Glimmer Of Hope For AOC But TSW's Issue #6 Is Totally Pissing Me Off

Age of Conan has definitely taken over the title of my Game of the Moment. I've leveled my Conqueror up to 41 and she's still going strong. The vast majority of my issues with this game are outside of the game itself and mainly concern Funcom's self-defeating, involvement-discouraging free-to-play business model.

Funcom Grand High Mystic MMO Poobah Joel Bylos did an interview with PC Gamer that was released today, and in it he said something that really got my attention:

"Age of Conan is free-to-play, which means there obviously is content gating which can only be removed via a subscription. Currently the Age of Conan model causes a division between paying players and free players—too much of a division, in my opinion. We are discussing ways to broaden the experience in Age of Conan for free players. That’s a priority for me."

 I was very glad to read this, but until it's made clear what it means in a practical sense I'm reserving final judgment, What I'm hoping it means, at minimum, is that Funcom is going to unlock the gates of the AOC FTP forum ghetto and let non-subscribers mingle freely with subscribers, as well as  removing the utterly ridiculous and ill-conceived block on playing Rise of the Godslayer for non-subbers regardless of whether they've already bought the expansion or not. Beyond that, I'd like to see at least some new content made available to non-subbing players, and basically have Funcom give us more reasons to decide AOC is worth spending our hard-earned money on, not less, they way it is now.


I've started playing the "Last Train to Cairo" expansion in TSW. It was thoroughly annoying at the beginning until I figured out how to deal with a certain mob the right way. Now that I've gotten past that, I'm taking my time with it. After all, this "monthly" update took Funcom two and a half months to release so who knows how long it'll be before we see Issue #7? At this rate, I'm betting mid-summer.

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of Age of Conan

I have to admit I'm really liking Age of Conan these days. When I first tried it, right after it started offering a free trial, I just didn't get into it enough to stay with it after a couple of weeks. I levelled a Barbarian up to 23 and then just lost interest.

Part of the reason was my own fault. I was playing several games at that point and just didn't put in the time and effort to really learn the game and get good at it. I spent most of my time in AOC running around feeling confused about what I should be doing and how I should be doing it, and so after a while I just gave up and spent my time with other games I was more involved with and felt more capable as a player in.

Recently, while still waiting for TSW to update and having reached level 60 in TERA and wanting a break from that game, I decided to re-download AOC and give it another try. What I've discovered in doing so is that AOC is really a great game if you develop some confidence that you have some idea that you know what you're doing as a player. AOC's frequent gore and unapologetic violence is something I like in my MMO's and I really enjoy the combat style. In short there's not much about the actual game I'm not having fun with. It's issues outside of the actual game itself that are causing me to be somewhat cautious about getting fully involved with AOC and carefully consider just how much of an investment I want to make in it.

As I usually do when researching a new game I'm considering playing, or returning to an old one, as in this case, the first thing I do is check out the forums in that game to see what players are talking about, both the good and the bad. Better to know what you're getting into and what you can expect as a player before you start investing lots of money. It's a way of kicking the tires, so to speak, before you make a monetary or time commitment.

What I've discovered is that there's at least one thing most AOC forum participants seem to agree on: Funcom's free-to-play business model for AOC really sucks.

From my own perspective, I have to agree. The game has been around since 2008, but has had very limited content updates over those five years, and the two biggest ones cost extra to buy and play. In addition, simply buying the biggest one, "Rise of the Godslayer", isn't enough if you actually want to play it, you also must have an active Premium subscription to get past the first part, "Gateway to Khatai".

This makes no sense to me. If you're being asked to buy something in order to use it, that's not unreasonable. It's the way commerce works: I have something you want. You pay me for it, I give it to you, and then basically it's yours to do with as you please. If copyright law is relevant, you may not have the right to resell that item to someone else, but it's yours to personally use as you please. Essentially, what you're really buying is a license to use that media as you see fit for your own purposes. That's the way it works in every single free-to-play MMO that sells content packs I've ever played...except for AOC.

In AOC, simply buying the "Rise of the Godslayer" content pack isn't good enough if you actually want to play the content. You also have to have a Premium subscription to the game if you want to get past "Gateway to Khatai". So, in other words, Funcom requires that in order to actually enjoy the product they're selling you, you have to pay not once but twice for the privilege of doing so.

From my perspective, as a new player with limited funds, this kind of setup is a disincentive to invest in the game. What if I decide that I can afford to pick up RotG, but I really can't afford an ongoing subscription right now? What if I'm capable of starting an AOC subscription and buying the content pack, but I'm not sure how long I'm going to able to afford paying those subscription fees?

I'd have to consider if it's worth investing all that money in AOC now only to risk losing access to my purchase later if I can't afford to keep up the subscription. If I'm a new free-to-play AOC player who knows it'll likely be difficult to justify keeping an AOC subscription going a few months down the road, chances are I'm going to think twice before investing in RotG, not knowing if I'd get through the content before I'd have to cancel my sub.

Another thing Funcom has done that makes no sense to me at all is when they implemented a new forum structure for the game, they decided to ban free-to-play players from posting in the general forums and limited us to just a small subsection. We can still read the general forums, we just can't post there. How this helps the game, the forums, or encourages new players like me to get more involved with AOC is completely beyond me.

It's like free-to-play players are being "ghettoized", confined to a limited area of the forums and forbidden to mingle with the upper class (Premium subscribers) unless they deign to come to our ghetto and mingle with us of their own accord. Not exactly the best way to foster a sense of community, which should be one of the primary goals of any good discussion forum and is an essential part of any good MMO.

I realize that the launch of The Secret World didn't generate the level of profit Funcom hoped it would, and it's understandable that they'd look to make up for that loss in other ways. What's not understandable is doing so by restricting the freedom of their players and requiring us to pay extra to use content that's already been bought and paid for.

There are many examples of successful free-to-play business models that don't impose such draconian restrictions on their players and still generate plenty of profit. TERA's free-to-play relaunch leaps immediately to mind. It boggles the mind that Funcom thinks this is the way to go in order to generate more profit from AOC. In my opinion, it does exactly the opposite.

Instead of giving AOC free players more reason to invest their hard-earned money in the game, what the current model gives those players more reason to think twice before investing, forcing them to consider whether buying content they can only play if they're paying even more for a subscription is really worth it. In today's economy, with entertainment budgets being as tight as they are, it's hard to see how this business model is going to help AOC survive and succeed, and that's really a pity because it's a great game and deserves better.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

ADD Strikes...

If you've been keeping up since I started writing this blog in earnest, you know that I tend to flit from game to game like a deranged hummingbird, and yes, it's happened again...sort of.

I hit level 60 in TERA a few days ago and decided it was time for a break. I've still got plenty to do in that game and I know I'll get back into it at some point, but I've decided to revisit Age of Conan. I opened a trial account a long time ago, just after it went free-to-play, when free accounts were limited to the opening area and not much more beyond that, but I never actually subscribed to the game.

When I revisit a game I haven't played in a while, I'll often start new character, like I did in TERA. I find this helps me remember the game's back story and relearn how to play. In the case of AOC, not only were both of those things true, but because there's so much to do in the opening area of Tortage, I've actually found myself doing missions I'd never done before, and I always enjoy that. It doesn't have to be actually new as long as it's new to me.

So, why AOC? Well, I like the Conan storyline, but it's really more than that. As with TERA, one of the things that attracts me to a game is a unique combat system. As much as I love the flipping around, zap-and-dodge, free-flowing combat style of TERA, there's just something viscerally satisfying about bashing an enemy over the head with a big club. The graphics, while not quite up to the level of TSW or TERA (at least in Tortage), are still quite pretty and I find myself getting lost in this game in a way that I have in very few others.

The real question will be how much time and money I'll invest in AOC going forward, but if I end up having as good a time with AOC as I have with TSW, I expect I'll be buying Funcom points with regularity for use in both games, something which has now been made much easier by Funcom's excellent Customer Service Department.

After spending about a week in AOC, I decided that I liked it enough to keep going, at least for a while. I soon realized that the Funcom points I bought for use with TSW weren't usable with my AOC account. I got in touch with Funcom's customer service department and asked if I could use the points in both games. I got an initial response that told me that because I had two different Funcom master accounts the answer was no. I replied, asking if there was any way to link the two accounts, and offering to prove my ownership of both accounts. I got a response very quickly from one of their GM's who told me he linked the two accounts for me, but that the bonus points I'd earned in TSW were not transferable between the games, though the Funcom points are.

That's a minor disappointment for me because right now there's a lot more I'd be interested in buying in AOC's cash shop than in TSW's (I've already spent a bit there but until TSW gets better stuff in their cash shop, there's not really much that interests me there), but I guess I can live with it. Still, the fact that I can buy Funcom points and use them in both games without having to fund two separate accounts or create a new AOC account and start from scratch is a major convenience, and so overall I'm very happy with the result.

So, I'm a pretty happy camper as a Funcom customer these days, both in terms of being an actual paying customer and in terms of being a player. Both TSW and AOC are keeping my attention right now, and I'm anxiously awaiting the drop of TSW's Issue #6. I expect I'll be hopping between both games for the nonce, and that's probably the best way to keep an ADD gamer like me happy.

Keep it up, this rate, you'll end up on the receiving end of most, if not all, of the disposable income I spend on least for a while, anyway.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

TERA Lag Update

One of the things that annoys me a bit about the game design of TERA is that a lot of the story missions are level-dependent, that is, besides getting though the preceding story missions you need to qualify for the next one, you also have to hit a certain level in order to get the next mission and move on to the next area of the game. If you do all the BAM missions that probably wouldn't be an issue, but if you solo a lot like I do, you'll often find yourself done with the prerequisite story missions but not yet at the level you need to be at in order to get the next one.

When I find myself in this situation, I'll often go back to an area where I left some missions unfinished and do some of those to get the EXP I need to ding the next level and start the next story mission. That's what put me on Serpentis Isle fighting Malagash yesterday. Generally speaking, I try to go back to an area anywhere from 5-8 levels below where I currently am because that's usually where I find that the BAM missions become soloable, winnable but still challenging, and with EXP and drop rewards that are still worth the effort.

Because of the extreme lag I encountered while revisiting Serpentis Isle, I was forced to stick to lower-level mobs for the most part in that area, but I did manage to gain enough EXP to hit the next level and start the next story mission which took me to a new town, Habere. Here I experienced little of the intense lag I had to deal with on Serpentis Isle, and so the game once again became playable (at least so far), although most of the BAMs in the area are far too strong for me to attempt to solo.

For me, this is a big issue. I enjoy teaming up with other players to take on dungeons and BAMs, but I also enjoy solo play, and I like being able to try soloing a BAM that would have been impossible to take on alone when I was at the level where I originally encountered it in the course of normal questing.

So it seems that the intense lag I've been experiencing is directly related to what particular area of the game I happen to be playing through at the time. This makes sense give that free-to-play opened just two weeks ago and it's likely that most of the new players are still making their way through the lower and middle levels of the game. At the same time, it also points up another problem: As these players continue to level up, it seems likely that the higher levels will become as lag-ridden as the lower and middle levels already are. Not good...not good at all.

The analogy that keeps coming to mind is a tsunami. You can see the disaster coming in the distance, making its way toward the shore you're standing on. You know it's coming, that it will eventually reach you and that it will wreak havok on you and everything around you when it gets there. In this case, however, it seems that EME has to know its coming too, and what's more, they're the only ones who can stop it, or at least limit the damage it does when it arrives.

I hope EME does what it has to in order to prevent the "lag tsunami" from basically destroying upper level gameplay and eventually the endgame as well. If upper level players start deciding in droves that TERA is no longer playable for them and a mass exodus starts, it will be, at best, very bad for the game, and at worst, a potentially fatal blow. I hope we're going to see backbone infrastructure upgrades that can handle the load and quickly, because at the rate many players progress through this game if they wait another week or two, it's probably going to be too late.

Monday, February 18, 2013

No Action Combat

For a while I was able to deal with it, but now it's really getting ridiculous. The lag in TERA is now so horrifically bad that it's actually becoming unplayable.

Just a little while ago, I was fighting Malagash, the Naga boss on Sepentis Isle. I'd experienced some slight lag previously, but nothing really game-breaking. Then while I'm in the middle of fighting this thing, the frame rate suddenly drops to next to nothing and actually freezes completely for several seconds. Needless to say, with this kind of lag it's actually impossible to defeat a decent level BAM. In other words, the game is unplayable in this state, unless you want to ignore all the BAMs in the game and only fight low-level monsters, which is basically impossible if you want to do the story missions and progress through the game.

It's very frustrating for me. I really enjoy the game, but I don't see how I can keep playing when high-level combat is currently all but impossible. The thing that makes TERA great is the fluid, complex style of combat in the game, but when the frame rate drops like a stone and freezes the screen right in the middle of a fight that kind of combat isn't possible, so what's the point of playing?

I know it's not my computer. It's well above the minimum specs for TERA, and I never had this problem during the weeks I played before the official free-to-play conversion.

It seems clear to me that EME seriously underestimated the influx of new players they'd get when the game went free-to-play and thus failed to upgrade the tech backbone to handle it. In all honesty, I've never seen lag this bad in any MMO I've ever played, and I'm starting to question how or if I can continue with TERA if something isn't done about it and quickly.

For myself, I'm not quite sure what the answer is. I suppose I'll keep trying for a while because I really do enjoy the game and want to keep playing, but sooner or later if nothing changes I suppose I'll have to give up and move on.

After all, what's the point of a game that touts True Action Combat with action that plays like an old celluloid movie projector running a broken film that keeps jumping off the guide reels? As far as I can see, not very much of a point at all.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Another Day Spent In TERA

Yeah, pretty much all day today. I made it as far as Akasha's Hideout, where I made the mistake of trying it solo and getting obliterated pretty quickly. I did the whole Core series of missions and just about all the side missions along the way.

I also tried instance matching for the first time today. That was actually a lot of fun. I haven't done a lot of grouping in this game so far but I must admit I was having some big fun with it today. Nothing like teaming up with a bunch of people you just met to go take on some BAMs. It took us the better part of three hours to get through the Golden Labyrinth, but we did have a lot of fun doing it.

I also made it up to level 49 in the process and got some pretty nice gear too, most of which I'll be able to use once I ding 50, most likely sometime tomorrow. It is just me, or does it seem that the higher level the armor female toons wear, the tinier those outfits become? Right now, my toon is wearing an outfit that not only seems to defy the laws of physics in terms of being able to stay on her body, but would also probably get any woman arrested who tried to wear it in the real world outside of a strip club. Oh, those nutty Koreans. I can't wait to see what the outfit I picked up today in the dungeon looks like when I hit 50 and can put it on. Shit, she's practically naked already!

I'm still really looking forward to Issue #6 of TSW, but that's not expected to drop until the end of the month, which I think really sucks. Basically that means it'll have been almost a month and a half between issues, and having a bought a six-month membership that doesn't thrill me. At least I have TERA to keep me busy in the meantime.

I'm playing a Slayer and I'm having a lot of fun with her. I'm planning to level her up to 60, maybe do some endgame with her, but next time around I think I'm going to try a Warrior. I generally go for the DPS classes in these kinds of games, but just playing one class can get boring after a while. I suppose we'll see. As a Founder, I get eight character slots and so far I've only used three so there's plenty of room to experiment.

I've also started crafting my own healing potions. This can get a bit expensive, but nothing compared to how expensive it is in Aion. It's also a hell of a lot faster than in Aion as well. The more I play TERA, the less motivated I am to return to Aion. I've popped in now and then, but the truth is that I'm just having a lot more fun with TERA right now.

The story in TERA is getting better as well. I wasn't too impressed early on, but there have been some decent twists and turns recently. I'm well past where I took my first two toons now, so it's all new. It's still nowhere near as deep as TSW, but I am looking forward to seeing what happens next.

Alright, that's enough for now...til next time.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

TERA Fall Down, Go Crash

Jeez, it was fine this afternoon. I go get dinner with friends, come back, and it looks like no one can log into the game. It's definitely a server-side issue, according to EnMasse. Well that's fine for now as far as I'm concerned. It gives me a little time to blog.

Y'know, one thing I didn't mention in my last post that has really had an impact on my game since the FTP launch yesterday is those egg thieves. So far out of those eggs they drop I've got some regular Alkahest, a nice amount of Refined Alkahest, and a bunch of other assorted goodies from cracking those suckers open. Very nice...and it would be even better if I were actually wearing anything enchantable at the moment. Doesn't really matter though...I'm sure I'll find a use for it sooner or later.

Right now, I can't even get a login screen, which kinds sucks. I wonder...could the servers be massively overloaded from bazillions of people want to check out the game now that it's free?  That's my bet.

It seems that no matter what MMO I'm playing at any given moment, there's always one guaranteed commonality among them all: When the servers go down unexpectedly, someone will post on the game's forums that the publishers/devs/mods/whatevers are idiots and launch into an apocalyptic rant in which said and game and company will go under soon, never to be heard from again. We were not disappointed today.

Having been a forum mod several times and having even been a forum owner once or twice, I know that no matter how good a forum you start with, sooner or later the trolls are going to show. It's simply the nature of the Internet and a function of the anonymity and safety of physical distance has on a certain type of person.

Personally, I've learned to deal with it, and in fact even have had fun with it. Of course there are limits and I've whipped out the ol' ban stick on several occasions and I've seen it used by others on many more. The trick is to keep out the true jerks without coming across as a complete asshole. Forums run by assholes don't get a lot of traffic. On the other hand, forums inundated with trollish drama don't get much traffic either, at least not good traffic anyway.

TERA's  forums have good moderators, that is, simply put, they're not assholes. This has not always been the case in some of the games I've played.

In one game, Crimecraft,, a fellow player and I started a blog for the game and invited players to post. The Community Relations (or whatever) head decided that he didn't like that we had some negative things to say about the game and the way it was run and banned us from promoting it on the official forums. It got so annoying that I actually left the game. It's a pity too. We probably could have had a good thing going there if that guy hadn't been such an asshole. As it was, I just decided that I didn't really care enough about that game to deal with the bullshit so I sailed off toward sunnier shores.

TERA's forums are about average in my experience in terms of traffic and temperament, and the mods do a pretty good job in terms of not being too heavy-handed while at the same time knowing when a topic has run its course and it's time to lock the thread.

This matters. MMO's are social games, and those social connections can and do spill over into the forums. A shitty social experience can make the difference between a great MMO experience and a mediocre one.  Crimecraft was like that for me. I was at one point into it enough that I co-created a blog for the game, but all the negativity and drama that ensued as a result inspired me to move on.

Alright that's enough for now. I wrote this over the course of the entire day in-between server failings. Here's hoping they've got it together tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Aaaaand, We're In!

So I woke up this morning and patched TERA to the FTP model. So far, so good. As far as I can tell, aside from a few new perks it plays exactly as it did before, but I've also only played for about a few hours so far. I've acquired a some strongboxes but no keys so far. The new Founders mount is indeed the one I linked in a previous post and it's pretty cool. Founders also get a title, but I've already acquired so many different titles that that's pretty superfluous for me.

TERA: Rising has only been active for less than a day and already they've had one server restart to correct some minor issues in lower level areas. Hey, no complaints. I've seen far worse in games I was paying subscription time for.

The one still unknown factor is the store which hasn't been brought up yet and that's interesting to me, for this reason: Right now, until they bring the store up, TERA is literally completely free to play. That is, you actually can't buy anything from them right now but they prioritized bringing the servers up so people could play as soon as possible rather than waiting until the store was ready as well. It's a small thing to be sure, but it's nice to see them prioritizing their players over their bottom line, at least in this small way. Sure, the store will be open for business soon enough, but they could have chosen to just make everyone wait until they were ready to launch the store as well and they didn't. That says something to me.

In any case, in case you couldn't tell, I'm already back into this game as if I'd never left. I got a few missions done in the Citadel of Torment before they announced the server restart and I bailed to write this post.

Now, it's after dinner as I finish this up and get ready to get back into it. I'm having a good time with it, but I'm also anxiously awaiting the next TSW update. It seems that at least for now I've got two favorite games that I'm comfortable switching between, but also no shortage of gap-fillers for when needed. Not too shabby.

Monday, February 4, 2013

I Ain't Playin' Nothin' Today

It's true. The reason, though, isn't because I'm in mourning for the "Day of No TERA for Anyone" or anything silly like that. It's because I'm brewing either a whopper of a cold or the flu. I feel like crap, and I have the mother of all headaches, so anything that involves loud noises just isn't on the agenda today.

I'm sitting here wrapped in a flannel blanket, with a big can of Campbell's Chunky Chicken soup and every anti-cold and flu medication I could find in the house (which ain't much...this doesn't happen to me very often) coursing my system without much effect.

I spent the weekend replaying most of the single-player campaign in Max Payne 3, but even the thought of playing something with that much loud violence in it today makes my head throb. I can barely tolerate the television at normal volume, forget about endless gunfire and explosions.

So, as an ADD Gamer I guess if I were able to schedule a day when I wouldn't be able to deal with actually doing any gaming and I were looking to ensure that my interest level in the currently completely offline TERA were maintained (at least as well as any game an ADD Gamer like me plays) this would probably be the day I'd pick.

One thing that's nice is that the TERA producers are doing an hour-long intro of all the new features of the Rising update at 2 pm Pacific (5pm Eastern for right-coasters like me). I'll definitely watch that and that's about as active a gamer as I plan to be today. Tomorrow, though, assuming I've kicked this bug, I suspect I'll be firing up TERA along with everyone else.

In the meantime, I think it's time for another sickie rest period before showtime.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Am I The Only One Who Thinks This Is Just Astoundingly Dumb Marketing Strategy?

Was it only a couple of days ago when I said that TERA's free-to-play conversion was the way to do it? Um yeah, it was. And yet, leave it to the gaming industry to find a way to screw up an otherwise great marketing effort.

In order to bring lapsed players back into the fold, TERA publisher EnMasse Entertainment offered former players like myself a free week of play time to inspire us to return to the game. Many players, like myself, took advantage of that offer. Even better, when that week ended we got another free week of the grace time EME offers as a matter of course to allow players to renew their subscriptions without losing access to the game. Pretty great, right?

So how come after all that effort to recapture these players as customers they then do a complete 180 and risk all that marketing effort and all that free access by enforcing a gap of several days in-between the end of that free time and the beginning of free-to-play on February 5th?

Every MMO gamer knows well that generally speaking we're a pretty fickle and disloyal lot. We're constantly looking for the next big thing, and a new big shiny on the horizon can and often does cause players to quickly abandon one game for another they find more attractive for whatever reason.

By creating a totally unnecessary and artificial gap in access between the free time that attracted these players back into the fold and the time when the game actually goes free-to-play, EME risks losing a significant portion of those players to the other games they'll seek out during this period when the doors have suddenly slammed shut in our faces again, and just before the start of a weekend no less, which of course is MMO gaming prime time.

Of course, some players will wait patiently during this time and then return to TERA once the free-to-play gates open in the middle of next week. Others will not be content to twiddle their thumbs (and other digits) for the better part of a week and will seek out something else to play while they're locked out. Some will abandon the games they get involved with to return to TERA on the 5th, but others will not.

I don't have a marketing degree, but I do have a lot of experience in retail sales, and I think it's more than reasonable to ask: Why is EME investing all this time and effort to bring former players back into TERA if they're just going to cut us off again right when we're getting back into the game? It makes no sense whatsoever to me.

Personally, I'm not going to be spending my weekend twiddling anything. I've got plenty of other good games I can play and I'm going to do just that. I'll return to TERA at some point because I enjoy the game, but I'm not in love with it enough to limit myself to not playing anything while I wait. If I'm so inclined, I'll be back on the 5th. If I get involved with something else in the meantime, it may be a while before I get back to it. No promises. no commitments. This is about my own entertainment, not about loyalty to any particular game or company. Since TERA isn't entertaining me anymore, I'll find something else to do the job. If I'm having fun with whatever I'm playing next week, I'll probably keep playing it until that's no longer the case.

The truth is that EnMasse entertainment gave me two free weeks of game time and they owe me nothing. However, the reverse is equally true as well. If EME is unwilling to keep me interested and entertained until free-to-play starts, that's fine. It's their right to make that decision. But then they shouldn't expect my loyalty and interest in TERA to continue indefinitely regardless.

Maybe I'll be there on the 5th, maybe I won't, because while the decision to cut off access to players like me is entirely within EME's rights, so too is the decision not to wait around and be bored for the better part of a week entirely within mine.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Still Playing TERA...

...and it definitely qualifies as my "Game of the Moment".

I've pretty much worked my way through "The Secret World", and I'm waiting for the next update, but in the meantime I've been playing the crap out of TERA. The graphics are amazing, as good or better than literally anything out there right now. The combat is great, challenging to be sure but also not so hard it becomes impossible to progress.

The story...well, TSW it ain't, that's for sure, but it's entertaining enough. The community is great and that's always a plus for me in any MMO. In addition, EnMasse just announced that TERA will be going free-to-play on February 5th, so it fits right into my budget.

Even better, because I bought the game back when, I'll have Founder status when free-to-play launches in a week. That's cool, because not only am I riding around on my nifty Regal Frostlion mount right now which I got as a pre-order promo when I bought the game early this year, but as a Founder I'll get a new one called a Terminus mount, which is believed to be this one (although there's no firm confirmation I'm aware of). On top of that, Founders get 8 character slots, a maxed-out 288 slot inventory (this is HUGE, running out of inventory slots has always been problem for me in this game) and other nice perks.

This is the way to do a free-to-play conversion, folks.

I can say this because I've been through it before. Fallen Earth's FTP conversion was so bad I've pretty much stopped playing the game. Star Trek Online's conversion failed to impress as well and I have a lifetime sub to that game. I'll log into both of these every now and then when the mood strikes me (i.e. when I'm bored with what I've been playing or just need a change of scenery), but the truth is that for the most part I've just lost interest in these games, at least in part because as free-to-play games they're a pale shade of what they once were.

The one part of TERA's FTP conversion the jury is still out on for me is the cash shop. Right now, it's pretty lame. There's just not much to buy and what is there isn't especially attractive to me. I'll be interested to see what EnMasse offers for sale when the FTP doors open.

As a player, I want to have fun and I want to be entertained. As long as that continues to be the case, I'll generally continue to play a game. The moment I don't feel I'm getting that from a game, for whatever reason, I move on. It's rare that I give up on a game that pulls me back in later. Aside from Eve-Online, which I left the first time for strictly financial reasons (read: I lost my job and couldn't afford the $15 a month anymore) and returned to later with no prodding from CCP, so far only two games have done that for me: TSW and TERA, both of which I'm active in right now and which I expect to continue to be playing at least for the foreseeable future...that is, assuming they both keep me as entertained as I have been.

After all, that's really what it's all about, having fun. As an ADD gamer, an MMO has to be pretty special to hold my interest long term. There have been many MMOs which have managed that feat short term, six months or less, but only five that have held my interest longer than that: Eve (which I'm no longer playing), Star Trek Online (which I'm barely playing), Fallen Earth (which I'm barely playing), TSW (which I'm not actively playing right at this moment, but will be again once the next content update drops), and TERA (which I'm actively playing right now and logging in almost daily). Considering how much time I spend gaming, that's a pretty short list.

Oh yeah and there's Aion, which is kind of in limbo for me right now. I haven't logged into it in a while, but I expect I'll get back to it one of these days. The truth is that for me TERA is in a lot of ways like an improved Aion, without all the gold spammers and rift-ganking. Truth is, I don't dislike Aion, I just like TERA better.

Ok, that's enough for now. I think I'm going to jump into TERA for while.

Til next time...

Friday, January 11, 2013

Revisiting TERA

One of the most basic realities of being an ADD gamer is that there's no game, no matter how good it is or how much I enjoy it, that's going to hold my attention in perpetuity. Even with games I'm as into as The Secret World, there eventually reaches a point where I've just gotta play something else for a while, before I become completely bored with what I've been playing and end up ignoring it for months on end, as I did with TSW the first time around. In that case, the decision was made for me by the fact that I just couldn't justify the $15 a month when there are so many free alternatives available. It had absolutely nothing at all to do with the quality of the game itself, but everything to do with the amount of money I had available to spend on entertainment. It was also hardly the first time I'd stopped playing an MMO because of financial issues. In fact, I'd just left another game for exactly the same reason just a month or so before TSW launched: TERA.

I'd followed the last several months of the TERA's development in the gaming press, participated in the beta and pre-ordered the game. The game time that came with my purchase gave me 30 days to decide whether or not I felt it was worth blowing $15 a month on. I played and enjoyed my time in TERA, but when it was time to pay or bail I came to the same conclusion I would come to a few months later with TSW that while I was enjoying my time playing the game, I just wasn't enraptured enough with TERA to be worth what for me is a significant chunk of my rather small monthly entertainment budget. The difference with TSW was that I was into it enough that I was motivated to get a quarterly sub to give myself a little more time to decide, but in the end I came to basically the same conclusion: Yes, I'm having fun, but no, I can't justify the expense, not with my finances being as tight as they are. Just as I had felt forced to choose not to start a paid sub in TERA, it was with a somewhat heavy heart that I cancelled my TSW sub at the end of those three months and moved on to other games.

Fast forward to a few days ago. An email arrives telling me that TERA is going free to play in February. While checking out my old account at the EnMasse website, I log in and run across a  page that tells me that my account has been reactivated and credited with a free week's game time. Since I know I'm getting to the point where I need at least a little break from TSW, which I'd been playing again since the game went buy-to-play, I re-downloaded TERA to my new 2 TB drive and logged in the next day.

I logged into one of my old toons and quickly realized that I had basically forgotten how to play this game, that there was no way in hell I was going to be any good at playing one of my old characters unless and until I got some refresher practice. To that end, I created a new Slayer very similar to one of my favorite old toons and headed out to the Isle of Dawn, the first part of the game which serves as TERA's extended tutorial.

My intent in doing this was mainly to re-familiarize myself with TERA enough to go back and play one of my old toons at a much higher level, but as I've made my way through the Isle of Dawn, I'm finding that I'm having just as much fun levelling up this toon as I did with my old ones and I'm seriously considering just continuing the process of levelling her up.

The combat in TERA is unique and challenging, but it doesn't have much of a story and large parts of the game are very grindy. Personally, I don't mind a little grinding especially if the combat is as much fun as it is in TERA, but I also want a good storyline to connect it all together, something this game really doesn't offer.

Aside from cosmetic things like the setting and overall tone and style, that's the big difference for me between TERA and TSW. TERA gives me great combat with a rather dull and simplistic storyline, while TSW gives me an engaging and intricate storyline paired with a rather average combat system. In both cases, I can have one but not the other at any one time, and yet I enjoy both.

This is actually a good thing for a gamer like me. With these games not requiring a subscription going forward, I expect I'll end up continuing to play both, switching between them as I decide I need a change of scenery for a while. And oh yeah, I'm still playing Aion too, though I haven't logged into that game in a couple of weeks now. As with TSW and TERA, though, sooner or later I know I'll get back to it.

For me, just liking a game isn't enough to keep me playing it, it has to earn my continuing interest and keep giving me reasons to play on. Even if it's successful in that, sooner or later I'm going to be taking a break for a while. When you're an ADD gamer, it's less about what you specifically find appealing in terms of overall game design and more about keeping yourself from becoming bored from playing the same game too long.

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Problem WIth TSW PvP

I finished the main storyline mission a couple of nights ago. Good stuff. No spoilers here, but I will say that the ending is very satisfying and has me looking forward to future updates. Beyond that, well you'll just have to discover it for yourself when you get there.

After that, I went back to find missions I'd missed or paused on my way. I've found several so far, not only missions from main characters but also side missions I'd ignored or failed to find previously. Some I'm still having trouble with, others I breezed through because I'm much better geared now than I was the first time I tried them. I've got plenty to keep me busy right now, but I can see a point in the not-too-distant future where I'll start running out of stuff to do (or CAN do) in this game.

With that reality in mind, I checked out PvP for the first time yesterday. I entered the Fusang Projects zone, mainly just to check it out and see how this game's PvP plays. Frankly, I was not impressed.

I'm currently geared in level 10 blues and greens, but I didn't survive very long in Fusang. It seems that TSW's PvP zones are mainly intended only for those sporting the very best purple gear. In other words, unless you've been running dungeons and raids pretty consistently and are fully outfitted in 10+ purples, TSW's PvP zones are a complete waste of time as you'll be overwhelmed by better geared players virtually from the moment you enter. How this is supposed to be fun for any player who's not among the most committed and connected in the game is completely beyond me.

Personally, I'd like to see Funcom offer PvP events by gear level. By that I mean that you have events that are open only to those who are geared within certain ranges, say 1-3, 4-6, 7-10, 10+. That would make TSW PvP more of a game about skill and less about who's got the best gear. The way it is now, I can't see a point to anyone who's not already fully outfitted in the very best purple gear available in the game to get involved with PvP.

I really enjoy the PvE in this game. It's why I'm still playing, and even left for a while and came back. At the same time, however, I think it really sucks that what passes for PvP in TSW is really only of value to the tiny minority of players who have managed to acquire a full set of the best gear in the game.

In my opinion, PvP should be fun for everyone who wants to give it a try, not the exclusive province of a tiny segment of the most elite players. What do you think? Do you believe, as I do, that TSW PvP needs a complete overhaul to make it more accessible to lower-geared players or are you ok with it as it is now? What, if any, changes would you like to see?

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Enough With The Mayans Already!

Note: This post contains minor spoilers about the "They Mostly Come Out At Night"mission.

So yesterday I'm doing this mission and I'm on the third Revenant, the last one before I get the portal to the next part of the mission. I'm finally within a few good hits of banishing the thing, the furthest I've gotten with this one so far without dying. Just as I fire off an incendiary grenade AoE, a Mayan zombie rises out of the ground right in-between my toon and the Revenent, gets hit by the blast and charges. Within a few seconds, I go from just about to finally defeat this section of the mission to resurrecting in anima form.


When the Mayan event started it was an interesting idea and fun, but the longer this event wears on, the less fun and the more annoying it becomes. That's one thing I hope the devs will consider going forward: That a TSW in-game event should be continue to be as much fun toward the end as it is at the beginning. For me, at least, this event has failed that test.

For me, and I'd expect for you as well, the ultimate goal of any game, be it something as complex as TSW or as simple as a hand of gin rummy, is to have fun. Frustration isn't fun. When that frustration is the direct result of something that you have no ability to predict and defend against as a player, it's even more annoying, particularly when it hampers your ability to progress through the game. 

If Funcom decides to do a similar event in the future, I hope they'll prevent mobs from spawning in the middle of combat. When they spawn around you and you're not already fighting something else, you have the option of attacking the mob and participating in the event or simply ignoring it and moving on. When mobs spawn nearby when a player is already engaged in combat, that choice and sometimes the ability to defeat a tough enemy, is taken away from player and turned in a game of chance. Suddenly, you may have a much tougher battle on your hands and far less chance of succeeding than you planned for when you prepared for combat. Sure, you may get lucky and win anyway sometimes, but other times you'll find yourself in the kind of situation I found myself in last night.

In the end, it's all about having fun. If it isn't fun, where's the incentive to press on and keep trying? Unrestricted mob spawning with no rhyme or reason may seem like an interesting and fun idea on paper and on a test server, but for the average TSW player who's just trying to get through missions and progress through the game, it can often prove to be no fun at all.