Monday, May 5, 2014

Keeping Things Regular: GW2, Everquest

Keen has a post up in which he observes that in their slow and steady progress through The Elder Scrolls Online he and Graev "are what you might consider ‘regular’ players.  We put in 3-4 hours a week". This attracted some surprise, even disbelief, in the comments, not least from me. It also made me think.

On my desktop there are twenty-four icons that I could click to launch an MMO. That's not all the MMOs I have installed, merely the ones it's likely enough I might want to play that it's worth keeping them patched up and ready. In my head I think of myself as a current "regular" player of maybe half a dozen of them, an ex-regular, currently on hiatus, of half a dozen more and merely a curious observer and occasional visitor of the rest.

How many, though, am I really playing, even enough to meet Keen's liberal definition of "regular"? As of this last month or so: two. That's probably the smallest number of MMOs I've played concurrently since GW2 launched, a figure only ever normally reached when I'm in the throes of that passionate obsession that comes with a brand new world to explore.

If only I'd gotten that far...

It should have been three. I planned to spend a few hours looking a little deeper into the WildStar beta this weekend. That didn't happen. My key still worked, in that I was able to open the launcher and patch the game, but when I hit the big green PLAY button instead of spitting me out into the bubblegum-bright world of Nexus the screen greyed out and "No realms are available at this time" appeared stamped across the middle like a "Rejected" mark on an unsavory cut of meat. What's more, it left me hanging there and I had to open Task Manager to escape.

A little research informs me that WildStar is going to be one of those irritating "Region Locked" games that checks your IP address and blocks access if you smell funny have the temerity to try to play outside of your own backyard. It seems this is keeping some players out this weekend, me among them, although I didn't entirely follow the reasoning. Come open beta (supposedly there will be one, no dates or details yet) the key will work again. Whether I'll be interested enough to use it is another matter.

Fortunately for me I've no plans to play WildStar at launch so I can afford to just shake my head and move on. It's bad enough when a company like SOE decides to license out its properties to different publishers in various territories but at least there's some kind of commercial imperative there that can be understood if not accepted. When a company like NCSoft retains direct control and yet splits its customer base up along regional lines, enforcing strict isolation, it just mystifies me. Why would they even want to do that? Does it save money? Avoid legal issues? You'd think it would be more expensive and create more work.

So, anyway, not playing WildStar.

The walls....they're...breathing...

As usual the bulk of my playing time went on GW2, where the sheer pleasure of leveling my not-quite-so-new guardian continues unabated. She dinged 50 last night with 29% of the world "completed". That's exactly the same as my Asura Ranger, who dinged 80 months ago and who I've played quite a lot since.

I never really paid much (or any) attention to World Map Completion. My first, Charr, ranger, also my first and probably most-played character, sits at 69%, by far the highest of any of my nine (soon to be ten) max levels. I still think the gimmick detracts from involvement with the world as a world and actively mitigates against immersion but at this stage, coming up to two years in and with no new territory to explore, it feels like this might be the time to give it a go. We'll see how long I can keep it up...

Progress along the Trait trail is interesting. As anticipated it is incredibly slow. Nineteen levels after unlocking the tree my Guardian has four points. That said, I'm not finding it off-putting at all, indeed I quite like it. Yes, it's a long wait between points, and feels it, but the impact of each of those points is significant and I notice it in a way I rarely did under the previous system. Because opening each one is a relatively unusual event I look forward to it and pay it more attention when it happens.
I explored all of Blazeridge Steppes
and all I got was this lousy Trait

I suspect the new system will better suit people like me, who aren't especially interested in builds and min-maxing, than it will the substantial body of MMO players who dote on that kind of thing. I rather like having the opportunity to stop every few levels and re-assess my options, then close the window and forget about it. I'll reserve final judgment until I reach cap but so far I think it's an improvement.

The Megaserver effect seems to have calmed down somewhat. World Bosses are still crazed zergs, but then they often were under the old system. In maps with no World Boss or where no WB is due for a few hours, sometimes it seems almost as quiet as it used to be. Well, perhaps not that quiet but certainly not manic or overcrowded.

The Sorting Hat still resolutely fails to match me up with anyone I know, regardless of whether I am guilded, friended or even grouped with them. That needs fixing. Community remains fractured if not entirely broken. There may be no fix for that. And yet, as with almost every change that comes to an MMO, no matter how disruptive or ill-judged, those who don't leave get used to it and within a disturbingly short time everyone behaves as if things were always this way.

The Tourney rolls on. The Swiss System seems to have spun up a yoyo where Yak's Bend is concerned. We play Isles of Janthir and Northern Shiverpeaks one week and come top, then Henge of Denravi and Fort Aspenwood the week after and come last. Unless anything amazingly unusual happens that pattern looks set to hold for the remaining few weeks. It works well for me. We get lots of good fights, plenty of tower and keep defense and while the results may be predictable the margins aren't, which keeps things fresh. I think we'll place either third or fourth.

Some people are so easy to please.

That's GW2. It is what it is, as the mantra goes. The Living Story seems to have fallen off the table, taking its bi-weekly updates with it. Evidence for anyone missing it, in or out of game, seems hard to find. Looking back, it must seem like an awful lot of work was done to no real purpose. Much has been said and written about the endless stream of here-today, gone-in-two-weeks temporary content and how players do or don't take to it but I wonder just how the developers who have to produce it feel. Are they happy to see weeks of work so swiftly consumed and forgotten or would they rather be making something a little more substantial, something that might still be around, giving pleasure and generating feedback, in a year or several?

Speaking of things that have hung around for a while, when I'm not playing GW2 I'm over in Norrath, slowly chipping away at the mountain that makes up the 100 levels of a modern-day character in Everquest. Thanks to the Heroic leg-up that jumped my Magician from the 60s to the 80s, my highest level character is now only a baker's dozen away from that cap.

SOE finally hit "Go" on the long-discussed All Access changes with the predictable result: lots of unplanned downtime and a slew of messed-up accounts. Having been here before, many times, I chose not to log in until the worst of the debris had been cleared and (touch wood!) seem to have avoided any weird and unpleasant side effects. One account even got an unexpected benefit in the form of several extra Legends of Norrath packs.

Chop him up for kindling wood

In compensation for the inconvenience we got a Double XP weekend that I was frustratingly unable to take full advantage of due to work. In most MMOs these days I tend to try to slow my leveling down but EQ remains the exception, especially after about level seventy or so. There, any boost is more than welcome.

I managed to get in several hours, mostly in the level 75 and 80 Hot Zones, Oceangreen Hills and Hills of Shade. I keep trying the level 85 Hot Zone, Old Bloodfields, but it's more trouble than it's worth solo, even at my new exalted level of 87.

With the weekend's Double XP, plus Double XP from my veteran's Lesson, plus the unspecified but significant Hot Zone bonus, plus a 25% xp potion, all running together and stacking, and doing Franklin Teek's tasks for the large XP rewards, in one half-hour burn I managed almost 30% of level 86. I could actually see the xp, if not from individual kills then at least from runs of two or three! Unheard of in Everquest at that level.

It was a lot of fun and very satisfying, even more so because of the contrast with my normal, stately pace. Of course, the nominal XP rate is only one of many factors in how quickly you progress in Everquest. Of all the MMOs I have ever played it has by far the longest set-up times. Even with all the many enhancements and accelerations that have been added across the years it still takes a significant amount of time to buff, to travel, to get established at a safe spot and to recover after a fight.

If anything goes badly wrong then, particularly as a mage with a pet to re-equip, you're looking at 20-30 minutes just to get back to where you were. Although in these days of Mercenaries and corpse-summoning NPCs the actual loss of xp on a death is trivial, the much greater penalty comes from the half an hour it takes to get up and running again, half an hour with no XP coming in at all.

Even without a death there are significant gaps in the XP flow. In the zones I'm comfortable soloing a single add is fine and two perfectly manageable. With a very powerful pet and a Mercenary healing I've even had some great fights with half a dozen adds and managed to come out on top. Only, though, if I have room to maneuver. In confined surroundings like tunnels or buildings I'm constantly conscious of the consequences of a bad pull or a runner. I tend to keep my cursor hovering over Gate if there's any doubt as to the outcome.

Franklin Teek, curse him, set me the task of killing five Rotcaps in Hills of Shade yesterday and they only hang out in tunnels. I got a runner that took a left-turn round a corner, breaking line of sight so I couldn't burn him down fast enough and he found half a dozen friends and his courage with them and they all came barreling back around the turn, looking for revenge. That meant a hasty exit and five or ten minutes just to get back for round two.

In contrast, a death while leveling in GW2 might delay you by, oh, as much as five or ten seconds. Just one example of how the pacing between these games is so different. The ryhythms don't even begin to match. I love them both but it takes a big re-adjustment to move from one to another.

Perhaps it's not only a shortage of hours to play that limits the number of MMOs a person can realistically play "regularly". Maybe it's also the effort required to adjust and re-tune as you move between them. For all the complaints that MMOs are too samey, interchangeable even, it really isn't so. It takes a significant amount of time to pick up the "feel" of a game after even a few days of not playing and it just adds to the disconnect if you need to drop the "feel" of another MMO to make room.

Even so: two MMOs? Not good enough. Must try harder.


  1. Huh. It's interesting to hear how many hours different people put into a game and how our standards of comparison differ as a result.

    I tend to get at least 2-3 hours of game time in on weekdays and 3-8+ hours on weekends, and I thought that was average in terms of players actually online in MMOs (not just perpetually logged off), though since blogging, people tell me I'm apparently distinctly in the more hardcore, above-average set.

    Even with that amount of time, 2-3 concurrent MMOs is the most I've ever managed, with resultant dilution of focus and hardcoredness once that time is spread out among more games.

    If I want to 'keep up' with the player set that seems to spend half their life in a game, I have to narrow down focus to just one, at least for a time, until I get tired of the game and cycle around to another.

    Oh, and GW2-wise, chalk me up as one who IS missing the Living Story quite badly. I never quite realize how much I need a novelty hit until change doesn't come and I end up stagnating in place, casting about vainly for something new to learn and end up picking up a new game to feed the craving.

    1. I think you and I play about the same, then. I generally get on about an hour or two after I come in from work and play for three or four hours. It's the same time I used to spend watching TV. At the weekend (or on days off since I work some weekends) I usually play on and off across both days for maybe 12-16 hours in total. I'd say 25-35 hours most weeks, rising considerably when I get that New Game bug, although how much of that is tabbed out reading blogs and commenting I wouldn't care to say.

      Even with that much time it certainly is hard to do justice to more than two MMOs concurrently, but I used to manage to keep an eye on a lot more than that just by popping in for a half hour here and there. That's what I'd like to get back to doing.

  2. I find weird that people are having trouble getting at least in the same place as party members.

    My GF was on Tequatl, I log in, invite her to party and wp to sparkfly and I'm there no problem.

    1. Mrs Bhagpuss and I have never yet been put into the same instance when waypointing from one map to another. I always have to right-click and move to her. I put a bunch of familiar YB names on friends and so far I have seen one, once. these are people who could be relied on to be at The Maw about 50% of the times I was. Either they've changed their habits or the sorting process is flaky and I am betting on the latter. If they sort that out then I will agree that, while it has its faults, the Megaserver is a net positive.

    2. I'm consistently seeing guildies out in PVE, but I'm not recognizing any other names from my PVE haunts. I'm going to say world of origin and guild are weighted very high in the great mega server warp-to sorter.

      I miss the old shard specific world boss trains. So zergy now with such a miserable frame rate.

      Champ train is busted for now, as most servers had differing rotations. That may take a few more weeks to work out for most zones.

  3. I miss the living story, hope ANET starts season 2 soon.

    1. I can't say I miss it but I am very definitely curious to see what comes next and how ANet approach Season 2. And I'm quite surprised that hey have gone so quiet about it.

  4. And yet, as with almost every change that comes to an MMO, no matter how disruptive or ill-judged, those who don't leave get used to it and within a disturbingly short time everyone behaves as if things were always this way.

    I just wanted to say that's a great line. If I was prone to making "quote of the day" posts, I'd use it. It's certainly been a bit frightening to observe just how quickly people forget what things used to be like in any given MMO and how smoothly the past gets retconned. Makes you wonder about real life history too... then again, I already struggle to remember how I survived growing up with no mobile phones or internet myself, heh.


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