Monday, May 21, 2018

This Used To Be The Future

I was looking through my back pages the other day, searching for anything I might already have said about Pirate 101, when I found something interesting. My first attempt, I think, to list all the upcoming MMORPGs and/or Expansions I was looking forward to playing in the near future.

For a long time posts like that were ten a penny in this corner of the blogosphere. There seemed to be more MMOs in development than most of us were ever likely to have time to play. Which to grab, which to dodge?

The post in question dates from October 2012. The games and expansions I was considering - all of which were yet to launch at the time of writing - were these:
  • Pirate 101
  • Marvel Heroes
  • City of Steam
  • FFXIV: A Realm Reborn
  • Rift: Storm Legion
  • EQ2: Chains of Eternity
  • Otherland
  • Neverwinter
  • Planetside 2
It's an interesting list in and of itself, if only because everything on there did, in fact, launch. I have other, later posts of this nature where that is very much not the case.

In 2012, F2P was still bedding in. The era of Early Access, Kickstarter and pay-to-play Alpha lay ahead of us. By and large, we still expected our MMOs to come from mainstream developers or at least indies with funding already secured. If a game was announced we expected it to launch - probably a little late but certainly not never.

Reading through my brief notes on what I was expecting back then, it's clear I never doubted that all these games would go Live. If I was posting something similar now - assuming I could even come up with nine titles I wanted to play - that certainly wouldn't be the case any more.

Let's look at each in turn, what I said I was going to do, what I actually did and how the game got along, with or without me:

Pirate 101 - " ...the KingsIsle style and try-before-you-buy model makes this a definite"

No, it doesn't. I played the Sneak Peak for about an hour and then waited six years to play the game proper. Turns out it was pretty good after all. It's still running successfully and likely to carry on doing so for a good while longer.

Marvel Heroes - "I really would like a super-hero MMO in my rotation... maybe this is the one."

It wasn't. After taking the trouble to sign up for beta and getting in I played Marvel heroes maybe four or five times. I didn't like it much. The character models were too small to see properly, the gameplay was repetitive and it didn't feel anything like a super-hero game.

MH trucked along very successfully for several years before crashing and burning in spectacular style for reasons that are still somewhat unexplained. An odd and unexpected ending. When it went I sort of wished I'd given it a better run but in the end it probably just wasn't my kind of thing.

City of Steam - "Absolutely love this game... I'll be playing and writing about it."

I did love it. I still do. I played and wrote about it plenty but still not enough. One of my favorite MMORPGs and definintely one that failed to live up to its full potential.

The original vision for the game was, as I wrote, "a real labor of love" but financial issues led to a very poor publishing deal from which the game never fully recovered. Now, sadly, sunset, although the possibility of some kind of revival or revisiting of the IP remains a tantalizing possibility.

FFXIV: A Realm Reborn - "I'll probably at least try it"

I did. For a month. When the came time to subscribe, I declined.

I had - still have - very mixed feelings about FFXIV. I like the world, the races, the classes, the look and feel. I even like the combat. Most of the gameplay, however, I despise. I find it coercive, restrictive and above all paternalistic. Pottering around at low levels is wonderful but any serious attempt at character progression leads immediately to boredom, swiftly followed by anger.

FFXIV is by far the closest anyone's come to remaking World of Warcraft but in doing so it seems to me to have doubled down on all the worst aspects of that game. Despite  - or more likely because of - that it's been a major success story for the genre, coming at a time when one was badly needed.

Rift: Storm Legion: "I will get this but again mid-November is probably too soon".

Yes I did and yes it was but Trion offered a very enticing 12 month sub with pre-purchase and I fell for it. Mrs Bhagpuss and I spent a desultory week there before returning to GW2. I hated Storm Legion itself; Mrs Bhagpuss barely even set foot in it. A few months later, Trion unexpectedly took Rift F2P, thereby overturning a number of Scott Hartsman's earlier statements and rendering most of our twelve-month sub worthless. We got a "refund" in Rift Funny Money and Mrs Bhagpuss came back long enough to spend it all on decorating Dimensions, after which we left for good.

Since then Rift has limped along, finally resorting this year to a rushed and misfiring attempt to farm a crop of nostalgia that seems barely to have had time to ripen. Storm Legion remains generally unpopular as far as I can tell while Trion itself has made a habit of annoying its own customers. I was merely an early adopter. I suspect Trove, the weird cartoon blockbuilding game, pays most of the bills these days.

EQ2: Chains of Eternity - "'s unthinkable that we won't eventually get this".

What do you mean, "we", Kemo Sabe? I don't believe Mrs Bhagpuss has set foot in EQ2 since GW2 launched. I do now own Chains of Eternity, mainly because it came free with a later expansion. I did eventually play all the way through the Signature quest line. It was okay but the more recent expansions have been better.

EQ2, like Rift, limps on, surviving but having seen better days. After the sale to...erm...I'll get back to you on that one... and the recent layoffs, I'm mostly just glad to see the servers are still up.

Otherland: "The IP has superb potential... going to give it a try. It's F2P so why wouldn't I?"

Why indeed? Perhaps because it was a buggy, unfinished mess that didn't so much fulfil that superb potential as trample it into the mud and jump up and down on it. And yet...I keep going back. I haven't not had a few good sessions there. I did get some blog posts out of it. The potential, trampled underfoot  as it may be, is still there, somewhere.

By far the most amazing thing about Otherland is that it's still up and running. It's been so close to being dead so many times and yet it plugs on. It's even getting new content in significant amounts and as a game it's far more stable and playable than it once was. Don't count it out just yet...

Neverwinter: "I'll be there day one when it goes Live, that's for sure."

I was but I didn't hang around long. Looking back at this list, it's my enthusiasm for Neverwinter that surprises me the most. I don't remember being so fired up for it. I think I must have imagined it as an updated version of NWN2 because I was clearly planning on writing scenarios for it. I never did. I never even opened the scenario tools.

Neverwinter doesn't seem to get a huge amount of press attention any more but as far as I know it remains a successful, well-populated MMORPG. It's certainly been well-reviewed and favorably written up by a number of bloggers I follow. I've dipped in a few times and I might take another look one day. No hurry. I imagine it'll be around for a good while longer.

Planetside 2 : "I've been in beta for a while but I haven't played much...I can use my existing SOE account so it's going to happen".

No it's not. I played maybe three or four short sessions in beta. I had next to no idea what I was doing and I didn't enjoy it much. I might have logged in once or twice since PS2 went Live but if so it would only have been to get a blog out of it.

As for how it's doing, messages seem to be mixed. It certainly has a following and I've read a few blogs and comments that suggest it can be good fun. Whether it makes any money for DBG, who knows? It's still there, though, which counts for something.

So there we have it. Nine hotly-anticipated slices of video game entertainment and I ended up enjoying precisely none of them with the intensity or investment I predicted. As I said, at least they all did materialize, most of them approximately when they were expected, but all of them either turned out to be somewhat underwhelming or just not for me.

Of the nine, the one I'd most like to play right now and the one I'd say I got the most pleasure from over the longest time was City of Steam. Sod's law that's one of the two that's already gone.

At least I've rediscovered Pirate 101 in time to give it a fair shake. Looking good so far...


  1. In going back and reviewing old posts, which I do monthly, I am always surprised/amused/annoyed by the seeming inverse relationship between how excited I am for some upcoming game/expansion and how much attention I paid it and how much I ended up liking or playing it. The "Ten Years Ago" section of my monthly review will soon be thick into Warhammer Online, one of the classic examples while "Five Years Ago" is on about Storm Legion and how little I liked it compared to original Rift. (But I was unenthusiastic about Rift when it was in beta, while I was hot to trot on Storm Legion, so the trend continues.)

    And then there was Star Trek Online. I was so hyped for that. It did not end well.

    1. I used to re-read my old stuff a lot but of late I've not had time - and there's so much more of it than there was. I don't know how you find time for the very detailed historical posts you do, given the immense archive you've created. It is fascinating to look back at our past selves and see how impassioned we were over things that, at least in my case, I can sometimes barely even remember existing.

      As for STO, there's another game I tried, liked, abandoned. I could do a whole series under that banner!

    2. Ideally I just have to do the "One Year Ago" part of the post well and then I can recycle it for five and ten years. In reality, I was skimping a bit in the past so I tend to review them and flesh them out some with each pass.

      I think it is something in my nature to make a statement, write it down, then check back later to see how well it aged. That has been as important an aspect of my blog as anything.

  2. Can you say a little more about the high level frustration in FFXIV? I'm hovering around 30 in several classes, so its not something I've experienced yet, but I want to be braced for it. Thanks!

    1. I'm not the best person to ask because I only got into the low 30s myself. That's where I felt the constriction becoming untenable. You'll already have encountered a lot of the issues - character progression being repeatedly locked behind storyline, storyline being locked behind group and later raid instances, an indescribably and seemingly ever-increasing amount of busywork, especially pointless and uninvolving cut scenes and endless cross-country travel...

      From what I've read on other peoples' blogs, the higher up you get the more of all this there is, but you also get to "enjoy" that staple of bad MMO design - repeated obligatory dungeon runs to grind out tokens to purchase incrementally more powerful gear. Any time a game has the equivalent of a "gear score" or "iLevel" I start to feel uncomfortable - it puts the futility of the entire process too far to the front for my tastes. I know we are all committed to character improvement as a core aspect of gameplay or why would we p lay any kind of RPG but there are ways to create the impression that it's an organic process and that's not one of them.

      Fundementally, though, it was the feeling that the game was persistently telling me what to do rather than letting me choose that drove me away. Paternalism at its most severe and unforgiving, I found it.

    2. Okay, gotchya. I think I have had a different experience by virtue of playing in a group that is doing the storyline together. So the bottlenecks appear self-imposed from my perspective. And while the mandatory dungeon might have been onerous in other games, here with a group and playing as a healer, its been a fun change of pace. I readily admit though, I'm a pushover for being led around when I think the story is interesting, and so far, it has been for me. If that dries up, it might be a problem.

      That said, my way around it when needed has been other classes. If its not a storyline night, I just crank up another class and run explore/quest. And in that sense, I have had the opposite travel experience from you. One click on my hotbar sends me to whatever zone I need to be in, after all, so I've been everywhere I could go to scratch that explorer itch, all the while leveling an additional class.

      I haven't experienced the gear issue really. The one time I thought I needed to gear up, I went to a market board and bought a new weapon for less than 10% of my Gil hoard. It may be a problem later on though...

      Anyway, good thoughts, I can certainly understand where the frustration would be coming from.

  3. I have no talent for predicting what I'll be playing even 3 months in the future let alone that many years. I am getting more picky about what I spend real cash on - I'm certainly less likely to trust a MMO developer with a year's cash up-front...

  4. FFXIV continues to be my personal favorite MMO, but for all the reasons you dislike it I suspect. I need a firm guiding hand from rigidly enforced plot now and again to keep me moving on a game.

    Neverwinter I keep dabbling in. It's not so bad. There's still a plethora of fan-made missions out for it. I'm genuinely surprised so many exist, although I don't know that they're marked with dates. I should check on that. Mostly Neverwinter irritates me because the race I'd most like to be (dragonborn) seems locked behind a $75 paywall. Thus whenever I think about Neverwinter, I get briefly excited, remember I can't be a dragon, and lose interest again.

    Marvel Heroes was very much a game about wading into crowds and making the crowds explode into ragdoll models. Bright, shiny, amusing. I'll miss it.

    Boy I sure was hype for Rift once and boy that sure didn't end well. I was disillusioned by that game at a rapid pace. (Bonus for extreme foreshadowing of future gender matters in the comments though.)

    Planetside 2 ... I ran around for a while. It was amusing. Eh.

    And Everquest 2 I still consider my First Love, MMO-wise. Ah, I do miss it, but it's so hard for me to restart it and try to progress at all. Maybe now that I've unlocked Mercenaries I'll make another go... As I've said for two years running.

    Probably my favorite MMO right now is Elder Scrolls Online, but that bumps against the "Really, you should subscribe if you want to craft" versus "But crafting feels like a functionally pointless activity given the rapid XP curve" issue... Mmh. It's fun to toddle around and explore though.

    1. You can see I've listed two "favorites" as well as a "first love".

      Look, I just like things REALLY HARD okay.

    2. It makes perfect sense to have a "favorite" and a "current favorite" and a "first love"! My own favorites list shifts a lot but I guess you can only ever have one "first love", which in my MMORPG case would have to be EverQuest.

      The perennial problem isn't picking favorites, though, it's finding the time to do them justice. So many good MMOs out there...

  5. Can confirm that Neverwinter is alive and kicking. I've been blogging about it on and off for four years. [/plug] :P

    People like to rag on Cryptic a lot (sometimes I do, too) but they seem to be one of the few Western publishers who still seem genuinely enthusiastic about the MMORPG genre instead of focusing on survival, battle royale or whatever else is the current flavour of the month. They have a "weekly top games" list on their Arc launcher, and Neverwinter is always number one (followed by STO). I look forward to seeing what they do with Magic: The Gathering.

    That said, I agree that Neverwinter seems oddly "under-reported on" in this part of the blogosphere. It's out on PC and two consoles, and based on Steam numbers alone it seems vastly more successful than some of its competitors that get a lot more coverage around these parts, such as Rift or SWL. Maybe its audience overlaps with that of Runescape. :P

    1. I had no idea you had a Neverwinter blog! I'll add it to my blogroll when I get back from work this evening.

      Tipa used to blog about NW regularly and several other bloggers mention it fairly often but I guess after a while people run out of things to say, even if they're still playing.

      I agree that Cryptic is both overlooked and badly treated by MMO fans. They aren't the most original or innovative of developers but they're consistent and solid and those are two virtues that have been sorely missing from the genre for a long time. I think their main problem in terms of reporting is that people see them as a bit dull, rather than hating them the way people hate DBG or Trion for past misdemeanors.

    2. Yeah, I'm one of those annoyingly hard to keep track of multi-blog people. Though to be fair, I tend to not promote the Neverwinter one that much because my entries there are on the short end and often irregular. Still, I don't regret creating it because I seem to be incapable of not wanting to write about any MMO that I'm enjoying for a good length of time and in that regard it has served me well.

    3. So given that you play a lot of NW... IS it possible to earn Dragonborn-hood in-game without shelling out for the $75 pack?

  6. It is surprisingly hard to predict what we'll enjoy, isn't it? Thinking back, I'm not sure any of the MMOs I've been hyped about pre-launch ever really paid off for me.

    Of course, the most famous example is GW2, which I was deliriously excited about before launch, loved for about a month, and then completely lost interest in.

    Neverwinter's a good example, too. I did enjoy it for a while -- I got as far as the original level cap -- but it just couldn't hold my attention long term.

    By comparison, other than WoW, the only MMOs I've settled into for a long time are SWTOR and TSW, both of which are games that didn't attract me at all out of the gate.

    1. Vanguard is my epitome of perfection, ironically. It was every thing I hoped it would be and quite a lot more. Even the bugs, of which there were many, just added to the idiosyncratic brilliance of the whole enterprise. The way Mrs Bhagpuss's Shaman's pet wolf would frequently turn on me in combat and bite me in the backside could not have been bettered for a running joke.

      GW2 has also turned out to be far better than I expected. I complain about it a lot but only in the way one does about something that really matters. EQ2, on the other hand, was a total disaster at launch and took the best part of a year to begin to show the first signs of becoming the gem it is now.

  7. Hmm. City of Steam. I wanted to like it, but it decided to absolutely not like me. I never really made it over account creation. While i did create one, it was broken from the start, and the support also was unable to really help me out.

    It's hard to do any worse, than blocking off potential customers by having bugs in the account creation. :(

    1. With CoS it really did depend when you tried it. It changed hands three times and the service varied wildly. I never really had any technical issues with it though. It was about as bug-free an MMO as I ever played.


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