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Craving More Guild Wars 2

If you bought into the hype of a wholly re-imagined MMO, Guild Wars 2 will likely spark a tinge of disappointment, but it’s a temporary affliction. MMO-players have certain expectations, and some staples of the genre work just as they are, so trashing all of that ‘just because’ would probably amount to video game suicide.

While most MMO developers focus on giving familiar features a unique spin, ArenaNet is re-examining the core purposes and implementations of those features. It’s a subtle, but very important difference.

A prominent example of this reworking in Guild Wars 2 can be seen when numerous players converge upon the same quest-goal. In TERA, which I recently wrote about, I was tasked with defeating a minor boss, as were a dozen other players. Since no one was willing to group together and simultaneously complete the quest, we all waited in a circle in hopes of landing the first blow when the boss respawned.

In Guild Wars 2, every player who participates in a portion of a battle can walk away with a completed quest, XP based on the level of contribution, and a potential reward. I don’t ‘think’ that the presence of additional players reduces the rewards given to others, nor does it matter. A minute shaved off one fight is a minute to jump into another battle. Plus, the lack of competition to snag a kill first imbues every encounter with a sense of camaraderie. I have never seen players so willing and eager to lend helping hands and revive downed players.

Opinions regarding the Dynamic Events have been mixed, with many people comparing them to the Public Quests of games such as Warhammer Online. The key difference is variety. There are some events that continuously cycle, but there are also events that appear sporadically for players in the right place at the right time, and ArenaNet has been vocal about the desire to constantly inject Guild Wars 2 with new events at every level. The overarching feeling is that you can entertain yourself for hours on end, and be rewarded, without officially accepting a single quest.

While roaming the countryside and partaking in battles as I saw fit, I became acutely aware of just how much padding is in a typical MMO – time spent traveling, waiting for quests, crafting materials, etc. With multiple fast-travel options in every zone (no cooldowns required) and the ability to use the auction house from any location (pickup still requires a vendor), it’s clear that boredom is one emotion that ArenaNet wants to eradicate.

This anti-timesink mentality is extremely evident in the crafting system. If you’re a crafter, you undoubtedly know the pain of realizing that someone beat you to punch by a few minutes and is systematically sucking every node dry of materials. In Guild Wars 2, nodes not only respawn faster, but players who simultaneously interact with a node both receive materials. When it comes time to craft a large number of identical items, they are created in bulk; no lunch breaks while waiting for 50 individual timers to count down.

I’ve been trying to find an MMO, new or old, to fill the void until Guild Wars 2’s unannounced release date, but I already feel spoiled. Fallen Earth? Way too much traveling. TERA? Too much quest-grinding. EVE Online? I better concentrate on my real-life financials first. While Guild Wars 2 may not spark a revolution, it is incredibly high on action and low on time-sucking filler, and that is exactly what I’m craving in an MMO.

No More TERA for Me

PC MMO En Masse Entertainment

I can pinpoint the exact moment that I seriously considered hanging up my boots of adventuring and leaving the land of TERA. It happened during an escort-quest starring Seravy, the infamously invalid and directionally-challenged unicorn. There were no enemies to thwart or obstacles to navigate, unless you count grass, and it still took four minutes of intolerably slow meandering to reach our destination across the path.

Dungeons and boss-fights are the obvious highlights of MMOs, but the moments in-between those climaxes can still be engaging. In contrast, every single quest I experienced in TERA was a blatant time-killer with no sense of challenge. I have not yet delved into high-level content, but I have zero faith that TERA has anything more to offer, nor do I care to invest my time hoping that it does.

PC MMO En Masse Entertainment

Look at the image above. The fellow on the right was the destination for my quest. See the guy on the left? That was the quest-giver. What you need to understand is that this is actually a very typical scenario. It’s not uncommon for a quest-chain to ping-pong between NPCs standing a few steps apart, or to span entire zones and back again for conversations with pointless characters.

So, when not traveling the globe for useless chitchat, what types of awesome quests do you get to embark upon? Well, you get to mindlessly hack your way through ten creatures, pick up your next quest and kill the same ten creatures, and set out to kill those same ten creatures for the third time. For the finale, you’ll get to experience the joy of camping at a spawn point in hopes of snagging a vital creature from the mob of other players with the same goal.

PC MMO En Masse Entertainment

TERA’s combat has garnered ample attention, but calling something “new” doesn’t make it true. Fallen Earth and Darkfall excluded auto-targeting back in 2009, while MMOs such as Conan and Champions Online also incorporated some twitchy elements. Don’t go into TERA expecting the MMO equivalent of Bayonetta or Devil May Cry, as you’ll spend the majority of your time holding the general attack button. In fact, a pre-launch patch allows that single button to automatically activate your skills in sequence. How fun.

At one point, I entered combat and removed my hands from the controls as my opponent furiously thrashed at me with the might of a one-legged hamster. I sat back to enjoy a few minutes of snacking and conversation, and still my character stood strong against the onslaught, despite his pitifully light armor. That won’t work in PvP or dungeons, but it shouldn’t work in general PvE either.

I am a little intrigued by the potential of the political system, but I want no part of it in its current state. Through voting and PvP, players can become rulers capable of affecting the prices and availability of goods and services. I am typically a lone adventurer who occasionally teams up with a friend or a tiny guild. That another player can so dramatically impact my game due to differences in play-styles and time commitments is a huge turnoff.

PC MMO En Masse Entertainment

I love the added danger of open-PvP and I always play on PvP servers when given the opportunity. In TERA, I wish I hadn’t. The penalty for killing a player more than five levels below you is added infamy, which keeps you flagged for PvP longer. On a PvP server, that’s like punishing a kid for stealing a cookie by giving him the rest of the jar. With the absence of any risk, every low- to mid-level zone is a griefer’s paradise. After an hour of repeatedly dying at the hands of someone 15 levels higher, I turned off TERA for good.

I’ve heard the arguments already, including “It really starts after level 20,” “That class is broken,”, or “It’s all about the dungeons.” The fact that people need to fortify TERA with such hefty defenses is a mighty big indicator that problems are afoot. With so many similar options on the table, including free-to-play titles, I can’t fathom why anyone would be willing to pay a monthly subscription for a game that requires so many concessions.

The Elder Scrolls Online Revealed

Game Informer has the goods on the next Elder Scrolls game, which is teased online but will be revealed more in depth in the June issue.

It’s a MMO for PC and Mac and will ship in 2013.

An in-depth look at everything from solo questing to public dungeons awaits in our enormous June cover story – as well as a peek at the player-driven PvP conflict that pits the three player factions against each other in open-world warfare over the province of Cyrodiil and the Emperor’s throne itself.

“It will be extremely rewarding finally to unveil what we have been developing the last several years,” said game director and MMO veteran Matt Firor, whose previous work includes Mythic’s well-received Dark Age of Camelot. “The entire team is committed to creating the best MMO ever made – and one that is worthy of The Elder Scrolls franchise.”

Not sure what to think of this as obviously details are few at the moment. Personally, I’m done with MMOs but your mileage may vary. I see ‘three player factions’ and that sounds like a Realm Vs Realm type of deal which would jive with the Dark Age of Camelot design, one that was picked up in Warhammer Online.

The Lofty Goals of Embers of Caerus

Embers of Caerus is about as far under the radar as you can get. It’s an MMO that exists mainly as a collection of concepts and tech demos, and it has a (very loosely) estimated release of 2015-16. In fact, I’m not sure if anyone at Forsaken Studios has any professional development experience – if any experience at all. To be quite blunt, I have very little faith that Embers of Caerus will ever become a reality.

So, why bother even mentioning Embers of Caerus?

I tend to enjoy smaller MMOs. Without millions of players to analyze and perfect every possible approach to the game, there is a greater sense of personal discovery. Additionally, the bigger an MMO gets, the more it tends to get whitewashed and fall in line with everything else, and the less incentive I feel to play it. Forsaken Studios understands me and what I want in an MMO. Perhaps Forsaken Studios will succeed, but if not, my hope is that someone will be there to pick up the torch.

Embers of Caerus will feature aspects such as skill-based combat (opposed to purely stat-based) and fully lootable player-corpses, but don’t mistake this for another Darkfall or Mortal Online. The developers are keenly aware that many players looking for a hardcore MMO have zero interest in PVP. I actually love PVP, but exploration and crafting trump all, which is why I am especially excited about the prospect of some very ambitious features:
– a shifting array of artifacts and secret places to uncover.
– form a religion, call a deity into existence, and then work to appease it.
– mix spells or create your own.
– an actual player-driven economy (ie crafting is important to the world).

Read Rob Steele’s post, “The Vision”, for a more thorough idea of what Embers of Caerus is intended to become. Of course, there is no guarantee that any of this will happen. MMOs are among the most difficult projects for small development studios. I think it’s quite likely that we will see some of these ideas implemented, while others will prove too difficult.

The video below is the first developer diary from Forsaken Studios, in which Dave Belcher discusses possible plans for Kickstarter and Siege Warfare. The latter concept is certainly not original, but the team at Forsaken Studios is acutely aware of the many problems faced by games such as Conan and Darkfall.

YouTube video

P.S. Some of that Kickstarter money needs to pay for a proper website. It’s not that hard to get some $5 hosting and install wordpress. That forum setup is abysmal, and sorely needs an introduction, or at least some mention that Embers of Caerus is an MMO.