Saturday, 21 September 2013

Going On A Bear Hunt : GW2, FFXIV

Yak's Bend has downed Tequatl, which I know from reading the internet, not from being there when it happened. As more servers get their first kill, a certain amount of debate seems to be taking place around tactics, organization and competence. The wiki now boasts a very detailed walkthrough.

On a positive note, this event offers more strong evidence that server cultures are real and do matter. The OP in this thread exemplifies the degree to which a player's experience of an MMO can be defined by the server on which they chose to roll. As a very strong believer in multiple servers for MMOs I see this as immensely positive. I dread the day when megaserver technology allows MMOs to present themselves as bland, uniform, benevolently totalitarian paradises, crushing local idiom and practice with the oppressive, monolithic boot of efficiency.

On the other hand, there's the whole Guesting thing going on, complicated still more by the appearance of mercenary guilds offering their services to come show your feeble server how to Do It Properly. The fluidity of movement between servers plus the existence of unnamed, temporary Overflows, on some of which Tequatl has also been downed, blurs the lines more than somewhat.

It does seem that ANet are on to something here, even if the motivations behind all this activity are curious and unclear. In the mysterious, veiled world of MMO population figures anecdotal evidence acquires an unhealthy prominence but the near-constant generation of overflows throughout the Scarlet invasions and now for Tequatl Rising would seem to indicate that massive events generate massive interest. The exact nature of that interest is another matter.

Tequatl looks a bit dull, all those muted greens. Megadestroyer takes a much better picture.

There are the rewards, which include several things calculated to drive certain player personalities into a frenzy - mini pets, a title, new dyes. There are practical upgrades to gear - rare underwater breathers and ascended weapons. Then there's the more nebulous satisfaction of beating the Big Bad, both personally (if being a face in the crowd counts as personal) and collectively as a representative of your server. Lastly there's the fun of it all.

Playing FFXIV last night we fell into a discussion of the Brayflox's Longstop dungeon, Black Mages and pointy hats. I'd been grouped with a mage wearing a conical hat that reminded me strongly of Zippy the Pinhead (who, it turns out, doesn't wear a pointed hat at all - so much for memory), which in turn brought to mind Zippy's eternally unanswered and unanswerable question "Are we having fun yet?".

It strikes me that "Are we having fun yet?" would be the best possible name for an MMO guild. Or possibly for an MMO. I'm sure I don't know whether I am most of the time and from the comments and conversations around me I'm not sure how many other people know when fun's being had or even what having fun would feel like if they were to have it.

Brayflox's Longstop is aptly named. It's stopped both Mrs Bhagpuss and I dead in our tracks as far as the main storyline of FFXIV is concerned. It's not that its necessarily particularly difficult. It just has to be done if we want to see what happens next. How essential seeing what happens next is to continuing to play FFXIV is unclear at this stage.

Goblin village. Wasted in a dungeon.

S. Tolga Kirtiloglu posted a very handy list in the comments on an earlier post here of things one cannot do in FFXIV if one avoids the main storyline. The list and my own experience with it both stop around level thirty. Whether other aspects of gameplay and character development are gated beyond that I'm not sure. I can't immediately think of any that might be, other than access to some specific dungeons via the Duty Finder. I imagine that now I have gotten as far as Brayflox I could probably opt out of the storyline altogether and still progress at least as well as I progress in most MMOs.

Unlike deciding to drop the Personal Story in GW2, something I did almost from the beginning without a qualm or a second thought, dropping out of the main storyline in FFXIV doesn't sit comfortably. It will niggle at the back of the mind, something that should have been done but wasn't. It will fester. The corollary to which is that this particular dungeon now becomes something I have to do in order to go on playing the game with equanimity and satisfaction.

I have a very, very strong dislike of mechanics in MMOs that dictate my gameplay. Suggestion is fine. Encouragement is fine. Even bribery is fine. Telling me what to do is not fine, not at all. Revamping the Tequatl battle from an event I really liked to an event I'm not all that interested in might be a little irritating, but it doesn't tell me what to do with my time when I log in. It may change my options, but options they remain.

Everything's dead, time to explore.
MMOs are all grey areas when it comes to compulsion. The code can prevent activity but it can't control attitude. If you wanted to solo in Everquest you could. Just because everyone else raided didn't mean you had to join them. I'm sure there are players playing FFXIV and The Secret World right now who haven't read a word of the storyline or watched any of the cutscenes. There are probably characters being played every day who've never left their starting cities. "Play the game, don't let the game play you" is a very sound motto to have. It's been in my motto quiver for many years. Still, some roadblocks are easier to bypass than others.

There's every chance that in a day or three Brayflox and his annoying Longstop will be behind me. I will resent it, though. It will leave a taste and not a sweet one. Others felt the same about the sudden switch to a dungeon for the required Zhaitan fight to complete the Personal Story in GW2. Tequatl, assuming he's intended to stay as he is now, something I'm still not clear on, simply risks becoming a tick on a list of things I don't do. A neutral state. The difference is hard to define but unmistakeable when encountered.

On such design decisions player retention hangs.

3 comments:

  1. Yeah I've not felt any great rush to face Tequatl regardless of incarnation. I don't really hunt down the bosses but face them if they show up while I'm in the map which is how I bumped into him before.

    I did all the dragon tracking stuff with the latest release but only came across Jormag's little friend. Not really inspired to wait for the others to show up - better things to do elsewhere. :P

    Also that's a good point you make about being a face in the crowd. I don't mind having bosses that you can team up to beat. What irks me is bosses that NEED a team to beat. The way it is designed now, no soloer can defeat that dragon, from a time limit perspective alone.

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  2. Oh, just needed to add - Zhaitan was already the weakest of the dragons before. The latest release made him even more so. Maybe, Teakettle was the main bad the whole time? :P

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    1. The whole Elder Dragons thing was off-kilter from the start. They're supposed to provide this existential threat and yet other than the personal storyline, which is isolated almost completely from what you might call the "main" game, they may as well not exist. Apart from Zhaitan, who we glimpse only in the distance and interact with only through machinery, we never even see an Elder Dragon.

      As far as I can recall there have been no plot developments or game content related to any of the Elder Dragons since launch, until this Teq revamp. Compare that to the Molten Alliance/Scarlet storyline or even the Karka, both of which have had major and longstanding consequences. This happens in many MMOs - the Big Story that provided the direction for the game n pre-launch development gets shelved or allowed to fade into the background when the game goes Live.

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