Monday, 13 February 2017

Backsliding : GW2, EQ2

Jeromai appears to be reaching the very limit of his patience with GW2 and the people running it and who can blame him? He makes some extremely apposite and valid observations, both on his own blog and in the comments to this one, about how a game one touted by its developers as a shining example of inclusivity caved on its principles to become the very opposite:

"Guild Wars 2, an egalitarian enjoyable game, bent over to cater to the strident demands of the "we need raids and like the exclusivity it brings because then I can feel better than others" subset and ripped apart the community in the process."

It's true. It's also utterly confounding. Over the lifespan of GW2 other MMOs, almost across the board, have progressively withdrawn from exclusivity in favor of a variety of mechanisms designed and intended to open up previously elite content to the widest possible audience.

WoW introduced "Looking For Raid" to facilitate pick-up raiding. Rift created Intrepid Adventures "to give all players a chance to experience some of the lore of the high level raids". LotRO redesigned Fellowship Quests so that they could be soloed rather than requiring a full group.


There are many similar examples of MMO developers re-tuning their games to reflect reality: players are less social than they were, they don't play as often or for as long as they did and they have a lot less patience for anything that they don't find fun. As Jeromai points out "Wildstar should have been an object lesson in catering to only one small subgroup and expecting the bills to be paid."

Of the MMOs I play the one that has benefited the most from this change of attitude is EQ2. It's a game that has always had a storyline but for many years it was a narrative largely recounted in raid instances. 

At some point when I wasn't paying close attention this began to change. When I returned after a break and played through the 2012 and 2013 expansions Chains of Eternity and Tears of Veeshan I was surprised to find the entire storyline laid out for me, not just in the open world zones but in specially-created Solo and Advanced Solo instances that mirrored those for groups and even raids.

By the time we got to last years Kunark Ascending the sales pitch made that realignment abundantly clear: "All new dungeons for Solo, Heroic, and Raid parties alike". Note that equivalence. It's important.

The move towards inclusivity extends to open world content as well as instancing. ESO recently flattened the level barrier with the "One Tamriel" initiative and EQ2 has long had the option to recalibrate your character's level to match the zone.


Then there are the open world, raid-like events that bypass traditional raid requirements. Generally considered to have originated in Warhammer Online's "Public Quests" before being refined and formulated by Rift with its "rifts" and "invasions", this kind of all-pile-on, zerg-friendly content perhaps reached its apotheosis of public acceptance in last year's pre-event for WoW's "Legion" expansion.

GW2 was an early adopter and something of a market leader for this kind of thing. The game has auto-leveling maps and well before launch ANet made a huge play of the "Dynamic Events" system. However original, let alone mold-breaking that may have been in 2012, nearly five years later it appears little different from the industry standard.

Rift certainly did much of what GW2 does back when GW2 wasn't even in beta and EQ2 has been dabbling with this kind of open-access, inclusive, large scale content since 2011's Destiny of Velious expansion, albeit with mixed success. The current iteration that came with Kunark Ascending, however, is proving extremely popular.

Four months after the expansion arrived, every day at the time I play, which isn't even during North American prime, there's a good chance there will be multiple instances running for Obolous Frontier, Jarsath Wastes and Fens of Nathsar. General chat pings constantly with calls for OF2 or JW3 and ad hoc pick-up raids form, although there's no requirement to be in a raid to participate. 


It's all remarkably good-humored. Other than the occasional request that someone drops a mercenary to make space for another player I have seen absolutely no histrionics, arguing, complaining or elitist jerkism. 

The events are fun although the aging EQ2 engine does make it hard to tell what's going on at times. They are popular primarily, though, not so much for the gameplay as because they are immediately accessible to anyone of the appropriate level and they offer a good chance of desirable rewards.

In this respect Blizzard and Daybreak, like Trion before them, seem to understand something that ANet have never acknowledged, namely that giving people what they want will get them to log in and play. In GW2 the expectation is always that you won't get anything you want from doing an event; in other MMOs you know it's not guaranteed but you feel you're in with a fighting chance.

Contrary to popular belief, GW2 mobs do have desirable drops. Every mob has an infinitesimal chance to drop a variety of "good" items, while "named" mobs such as World Bosses have specific items on their loot tables. The problem isn't what they can drop. It's what they do drop. GW2 has always been exceptionally ungenerous in its in-game rewards. Even though the frequency has been tweaked upwards over the years it remains far and away the most miserly of any major MMO I have played.

This ethos of scarcity (or should we call it meanness?) doesn't extend only to drops from mobs. It even includes holiday events. Compare the recent Lunar New Year event in GW2, in which about the only interesting item (and that's stretching a point) was to be found as a very rare drop from Lucky Envelopes, with the holiday running in EQ2 right now, Erollisi Day.

Erollisi Day is Norrath's analog of Valentine's. It's a relatively minor holiday in the Norrathian calendar. It brings with it nothing much more than ten repeatable quests, six one time only quests, ten achievements, nine books of crafting recipes, a collection, a race and two vendors selling holiday items of all kinds.

Every year the developers add something new and occasionally they retire something old from the line-up. This year they added a short quest called You Don't Bring Me Flowers, which I did with my Berserker on the Skyfire server. It was simple and straightforward and it netted me a pink, patchwork baby dragon for my house.

That was a reward worth considerably more to me than the small effort it required. I logged in my Shadowknight on the Time-Limited Expansion server, Stormhold with the intention of getting him a dragon too. I then found myself wrapped up in all the other entertainment on offer. I ended up taking him racing, doing the collect and completing several of the older holiday quests until eventually I ran out of time before I got around to the doing the thing I came for. I'll be going back again for the little pink dragon and I'll try to get it for several of my other characters as well.

Before that, while I was there on my Berserker I noticed some calls for a Public Quest in Kylong Plains. I didn't know there was a KQPQ. I traveled there by world bell, asked for a raid invite in chat, clicked on the window that popped up, flew to the spot on the map and joined in what turned out to be one of the best PQs I've seen in EQ2 and certainly the most visually appealing.

All of this I did instead of what I'd expected to be doing, namely the new GW2 stuff that came with last week's update. I did it because it was fun, it was easy and it was inclusive. It was, in fact, the very antithesis of  "preparing to have fun rather than just having fun".

Those, by the way, are the three words I used to associate quite specifically with Guild Wars 2: fun, easy, inclusive. The addition of instanced raiding (now with even more elite "Challenge" mode!) and the tuning of more and more content, including both open world and solo instances, towards players able to demonstrate skill sets honed in and for a raid environment, seems to me to mitigate strongly against all of them.

It's painfully ironic that it's GW2 that seems to be focused on adding elite content right at the time other MMOs are tearing it down. For a game that Mike O'Brien promised wasn't about to "fall into the traps of traditional MMORPGs" it seems to be making a pretty good fist right now of jumping feet first into the very same traps those traditional MMOs finally escaped.


15 comments:

  1. Public Quest type content is my absolute favorite type of MMO content ever. I remember the first time I saw something like this in Warhammer Online. I was in love. Here, I could be part of the community without having the stress of grouping -- I could help other people, get rewards, and have a fun time doing content all while playing solo. This meant a LOT to me.

    I spent hours running the same Public Quests in that game just because it was terribly fun to me. But then, I'm the type of player who likes being social in proximity with others with no strings attached. The fact that I'm there, playing with other people, and working together (that's important, the together part) to achieve something makes me a happy camper.

    I'm thrilled to know that EQ2 is adopting some of this for their content! FFXIV has FATES, which are similar to these kinds of events. I still enjoy running them, but sadly, that's not the case for everyone in the community.

    In contrast, GW2 used to be MMO heaven for me until their attention moved away from open world story to closed instanced stuff. The last major map I ran group events on was Dry Top, and the events were just too frustrating with mobs too dense and mechanically annoying to be fun.

    I'm locked out of even trying the new content since I choose not to spend money on HoT. They might have been able to sway me to try the game again, but not when open world content is locked behind the expansion price tag. So I'll continue to read what you and Jeromai write so I can keep up with what's going on in the game I used to love.

    You're right. Whereas most games are moving towards making things more inclusive, GW2 did the opposite. That's where they lost me.

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    1. FATES were one of the things I liked in FFXIV although they seemed fairly limited in scope. EQ2's PQ's are generally pretty good, with quite a lot going on and several stages - in theory. In practice most of them tend to come down to a very large number of people firing off every skill on their five or six hotbars in a vast explosion of sound and color. I love that sort of thing so it works for me. At the center I guess there are a few experienced raiders because somehow someone seems able to hold agro and someone seems to keep them alive - I know that if I ever get aggro I'll be flat on my back in a second which is why I do try and keep my merc around if I'm not told to put him away! I can't recall actually dying in one for a long time though - heals always turn up from somewhere.

      The problem with PQs in most games seems to be how they work when the crowds no longer turn up. Warhammer PQs didn't scale too well as I recall. Some rifts and invasions did - I soloed some - but others didn't. GW2 probably does the best job with scaling but even there some events don't really work if there isn't a crowd.

      The HoT think is a difficult one. Since they have decided never to have a level cap raise and since it takes about five minutes to get to 80, they pretty much have a game that's all at the cap. That means everything they add is for level 80s and they do assume that no-one is going to want to be 80 and NOT buy HoT, I think.

      I think the final proof of that was in the current update. The new map has no real reason to require HoT. It's physically right next to Divinity's Reach and the instances in the story all use DR or Caudecus Manor, a base game dungeon, as the setting. It could perfectly well have been available for everyone but you can't play the story unless your account is HoT-flagged and you can't enter the map unless at least one character on your account has done the first part of the story.

      That's also on message with the shift to exclusivity, I guess. I hadn't really thought of it that way or I'd have worked it into the post.

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  2. Same here. It is even more pronounced as GW and GW2 were the only 2 MMO i was able to play more than 2 weeks.
    Now the player base size is shrinking so it can be difficult, but wont you love some difficulty level choice as rhere is in single player game ? It coild be linked to server, there could be some restriction such as no achievment for the casual player and i am pretty sure the real player would be very happy to no linger have to work with random player like myself.

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    1. There are several ways they could implement variable difficulty, although, being ANet, even if they decided to do it they'd probably need six months to do it in such a way that there's a huge backlash so they have to do it all over again. They really need to do *something*, though.

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  3. "Contrary to popular belief, GW2 mobs do have desirable drops."

    Seriously? Wow. I already was in the open beta and play regularily (although not intensively) and not only have i not yet noticed any special drops, nobody yet even mentioned them.

    If they actually exist then you are right, they are so rare that they could as well be deleted to save harddisc space, nobody would ever notice...

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    1. All the world bosses have a couple of specific items they can drop, some of which are valuable/sought after, others not so much. I have been doing the Claw of Jormag event on and off for over four years - probably several hundred times in total by now - and I have had one of his "good" drops, once. I sold it because at the time it was worth almost as much gold as I had earned in total in the game but now I wish I'd kept it. I could, of course, just buy it from the Trading Post but somehow that's just not as appealing as getting it as a drop. It never is, at least for me.

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    2. Look up the Treasure Hunter collection. Things like Rhendak's signet, Pendant of Arah and Sam are pretty durned expensive because there's a demand and not enough supply as the event chains aren't popularly run.

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  4. I think I'm on Awyren's side of the attitude to PQ spectrum. I loved events in GW2 at launch, and continued to enjoy them up until their gradual morphing into organised multi-group outdoor raids during LS1. I don't mind that some of the world bosses required such coordination mind, some challenging content is great for those that want it, but locking main story behind such events annoys me.

    Coming back to Rift as I have recently I still get regularly distracted from levelling/questing by zone invasions, and despite being an expansion behind a group will usually form to combat them - I've completed quite a few successfully compared to only one or two that I've given up on.

    We never bought HoT since we weren't enjoying the pre-launch content (Dry Top etc) so we're kind of locked out of the game now by time and many zones - the perenniel problem of MMOs is being left behind enough for it to seem like too much to bother coming back is compounded in GW2 by a radical shift in game design that makes what was such a fun and casual game into something altogether too frantic/intense a gameplay experience for me to enjoy.

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    1. As you may know from reading the blog, I rather liked HoT. I found it a lot less challenging than some people seemed to and very much less formalized than the Dry Top/Silverwastes model on which it built. Granted there are always cycling zone-wide event chains but it's very easy to ignore that and just explore in the same way you might have done in the original game if you choose to.

      ANet seem completely locked into the concept of a regular, repeating event chain for every map now, though, which I think is a major mistake. It makes every map feel extremely similar. If they do it for the whole of the new expansion, which I am all but sure they will, it's going to be annoying. I'll probably just ignore it though. I'm getting in the habit of doing just that already.

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    2. It seems like the LS3 maps have been less regular repeating event chain than the HoT proper maps. Lake Doric felt structured more like the base game maps: you can do hearts and one-off events as they pop up, you can do some shorter event chains, you can go do minidungeon/JP stuff, or you can just farm centaurs. My hope is that expansion number two will have a mix of some of those maps and some more HoT-like maps.

      (On the other hand, some of the content of this update has been around unused since the base game. I think I remember people finding some stuff about a Lake Doric zone in the data files, and people who broke out of the map in Caudecus's Manor found the room with this episode's final boss fight a long time ago.)

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  5. SWTOR has easier instance options (Story Mode) now as well, I learned on my return. I 'fondly' remember struggling through the Esseles flashpoint a few years ago (first, getting a group and secondly, having it perform in such a way that we could both enjoy and complete it). On my return, I solo'd the story mode instance and had a grand time doing it. Someone used a concert analogy once for the new MMO style - you go to a concert alone, or in small groups, but the whole thing is often better just for being in the same crowd enjoying the same thing. You don't really need to like other people to be a part of that group. =P

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    1. That's a very good analogy. I might borrow that.

      It seems just about every MMO apart from GW2 has worked out how to offer some form of scaling difficulty for story instances. The mechanics vary but the result is much the same. Only ArenaNet seem oblivious to the new normal. I just read your post about SW:tOR and it made me ponder again whether I should download and try it while the extra xp is running. Still don't really have the time free to make it worthwhile - I haven't even logged back into Aion yet after that first brief session...

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  6. Hey bhagpuss, not sure how else to contact you, but this weekend I'm organising a Silkroad Online party. We're gonna download that game and grind it up to level 30 or 40. That game's levelling system is like a constant raid, so it will be great fun, and if you're looking for a new game to blog about it might be an opportunity! Well, it's an old game, but you get the point.

    I'm gathering 8 people for it. Some might know the game, others don't, so it's ok if you've never played it either. If you're interested send me an email (link is on my blog), or reply here or with a comment on my blog, either way works. Cheers!

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    1. Thanks for the invite - I appreciate it but I think I'll pass. I played Silkroad online when it was in beta (presumably the Western beta - it was so long ago I hardly remember anything about it other than that I didn't like it much). Mrs Bhagpuss seemed to enjoy it more than I did.

      I look forward to reading about how it all goes on your blog!

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    2. Alright, no problem! If you ever change your mind there's still room. It'll be a three to five hour run or so, so it won't be that long anyway.

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