Saturday, July 23, 2022

Look, Ma! Both Hands!

It's possible, although I don't really think it's likely, that you might remember me saying earlier this week, that I'd bought an XBox-style gamepad. Ostensibly it was because my swerve away from all-mmos-all-the-time to more of a mixed gaming economy had me running into more and more games that support keyboard and mouse grudgingly at best. That was my excuse, anyway, although the real reason was the Prime sale was on and I really wanted to buy something... anything... fun because it sometimes seems like all I ever buy on Amazon are necessities.

The game that prompted my purchase was Ikonei Island, which did indeed turn out to be even more enjoyable when played with a controller. Unfortunately, open beta ended the very next day, so I only got to play once, very briefly, using the superior control system. Grrr. Gnash.

Brevity aside, I enjoyed the experience so much I started looking around for other games to try with the pad. I was under the impression I had quite a few but once I started looking, I couldn't find any. Hardly surprising, really. Most of the games I've bought or played over the last year or two have been some variation of point&click adventure, walking simulator or visual novel, none of which seems especially suited to the controller, although I'm sure there are plenty that use it anyway.

As for my staple diet, mmorpgs, of late, I've rather fallen off that wagon. I think I must have played fewer hours per week these last few months than at any time since the turn of the millennium, although that has more to do with external factors (New dog plus extended run of great spring/summer weather.) than any loss of interest or affection for the genre.

Mmorpgs, being very much a PC genre by historical development, tend not to be optimized for or even playable with gamepads but there are some notable exceptions. Unfortunately, I couldn't remember what they were off the top of my head so I had to do a bit of googling.

Among many others, I came across this list, which looked good, even though I didn't find it all that helpful or indeed trustworthy, what with Tera (Closed down) and Valiance (Not yet up.) along with a few titles that aren't mmos at all, let alone mmorpgs, plus a bunch I'd never heard of (Steambirds Alliance, anyone? KurtzPel?) Still, it was somewhere to start.

I thought I'd make a shortlist of mmorpgs with controller support that I a) already know b) have played and enjoyed and c) still have installed. From the two dozen on the list, that left four - five if you include another from the concluding section, headed "Best MMORPG with Controller Support", in which they bizarrely boil the choice down to four games, two of which they haven't even bothered to include in the main part of the article.

The games I ended up with were

  • DC Universe Online
  • Dragon Nest
  • Final Fantasy XIV
  • Lost Ark
  • Elder Scrolls Online

I also considered Final Fantasy XI, a game I once tried very hard to enjoy despite it having hands-down the worst mouse/keyboard controls of any game ever. I wasn't going to subscribe just to give the controller a test run, though, and sadly, even after all this time there is no free-to-play option, although it does have a fourteen-day free trial. 

AThere's another consideration. After more than a decade I'm still traumatised from my struggles with Square Enix's infamous PlayOnline registration process. I don't think I want to go through all that again just for an hour or two's play and a blog post. Never say never, though...

ArcheAge might be a possibility in that I liked it quite a bit but it also played really well with keyboard and mouse. Like any other mmorpg, in fact. There doesn't seem a lot of point in re-installing a game that almost certainly won't feel more enjoyable on a gamepad than if I just played it in the regular way. If I want to mess around with something like that, I think Guild Wars 2 has some kind of controller support.

Trove was another theoretical possibility but I never really got on with Trove. I can't say I want to try again. For the purposes of the experiment, five games ought to be plenty, anyway, and it's fair to say that, while I've enjoyed playing all of them, four out of the five do feel like they weren't originally intended to be played on PC. There's a reasonable chance my experience might be improved with a controller.

The exception would be FFXIV, which I always felt played immaculately with traditional PC controls, but I've heard that it's also the best-implemented of all mmorpgs when it comes to gamepad support. Comba did feel a little off, now I come to think of it.... That might well feel a little smoother and more natural with a gamepad. Worth a try, anyway.

DCUO is a game I've always loved despite the control system clearly being designed for consoles. I would have made it my first stop, only I couldn't remember where it was. I haven't played since my hard drives all swapped themselves around and the icon has gone from my desktop. Obviously I could have gone looking for it but all the rest were there, staring at me, so DCUO shuffled off to the back of the line. 

It'd be funny if you could understand it.


I began with Dragon Nest. Things did not go well. 

I may have mentioned before just how many versions of Dragon Nest there are. I have played more than half a dozen of them over the years, including the original (Just called Dragon Nest although maybe we should call it Dragon Nest Classic now), Dragon Nest EU, Dragon Nest Oracle, Dragon Nest Origins, Dragon Nest 2019 and Dragon Nest Worlds

I have all of those except Classic still installed although Worlds is actually the mobile title and it recently closed down (Wipe away those tears! There's a Dragon Nest Worlds 2 on the way.). The icon on my desktop turned out to be for Dragon Nest 2019, which in turn turned out to be what I'd named the foder for Dragon Nest NA.

DNNA has an excellent opening cut scene with barely comprehensible captions but what the game itself is like I can't tell you because once you get past that it's solidly IP blocked. As the website explains, they only have the USA, Canadian and Oceanic rights. 

The EU servers closed a while back, when whoever it was that had them lost the rights and no-one else wanted to take over. Still, I was fairly sure there was some UK-accessible iteration of Dragon Nest still out there and I was right: Dragon Nest Origins.

I got that patched up, which didn't take too long. My old login details worked and it was wonderful to reacquaint myself with my highest-level DN character, Dora. I'd forgotten how far I'd gotten with her. She's level 27 (Out of seventy, I think.)

I fiddled about looking for the controller options but when I found them they were horrifically complicated, to the point where I closed the window in terror. I was so shocked I didn't even think to take a screenshot. I'd log in and do it now but I can't because Zenimax won't let me. Explanation follows.

I tried using the controller without the instructions. Some things were intuitive - movement, speaking to NPCs, jumping... Others weren't - scrolling through lists, selecting options, turning around.... I'm going to have to take a proper look at the enormous list of commands before I try and do anything more challenging than walk around town but since I always found DN fairly comfortable to play with the regular PC controls, I can't really summon up the willpower just now.

Proof of Concept

On to the next, which for entirely arbitrary reasons, I decided should be ESO. Big mistake. 

I knew there'd be some updating to do. It's been a while since I last played. I started patching at around midday and the damn thing was still going until about twenty minutes ago. It's nearly half-past six! 

For some reason the patcher kept downloading massive multi-gigabyte files and installing them even though I already had over 70GB of files in the folder. When I eventually checked the size of the finished installation it wasn't much more than 10GB larger even though it seemed like ten times that had to have come down the pipe.

Not only that but for a couple of hours the patching, installing and verifying was so intense it made my entire PC come close to locking up. I couldn't do anything more taxing than look at phones on Amazon and even that was a struggle. 

Eventually I went to lunch, leaving the patcher running, hoping it would fniish while I was gone. I came back an hour and a half later, just in time to see the PC shut down and restart. Whether that was something demanded by the patching process or the poor thing had just given up and rolled over I couldn't tell.

Another couple of hours later and the PLAY button is finally ready to click. I suppose I'd better go give it a try. It's a lot of work for a game I don't even care for al that much but I've started so I guess I'll finish.

Whatever happens when I get in is going to have to wait for another post so I guess this is going to turn into a series whether I want it to or not. I hope the rest of the entries end up a lot more interesting than this one but I have a worrying feeling they won't. There's only so many ways you can say "I tried it but I didn't much like it and now I feel like I've wasted my day".


  1. FFXIV has an extremely complex controller setup, IMO. I'm not saying it is bad but that it has a pretty steep learning curve even for those of us who spend 95% of their gaming time using a controller. I'm glad you didn't start there!
    Most of the challenge is with tab-targeting when there's a lot of enemies on screen at once. There are various filters you can set up and toggle on the fly. They work well but again, it's a lot to memorize when you first start using a controller.

    1. Being generally unfamiliar with controllers, last having used one in the 90s, I was somewhat surprised to discover they even attempt to match the full functionality of a keyboard. I was kind of expecting a much-reduced set of options, not the same number but with far fewer buttons to hang them on. SInce I rarely use most of the keyboard shortcuts to begin with and do everything possible with the mouse, I'm not sure how much of an improvement I'm going to find the gamepad but it's going to be interesting finding out.

  2. Most of the best PC games with controller support are single-player: Dead Cells, Bastion, FEZ, Braid, Mark of the Ninja. Some are multiplayer but only local, not online: Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime, Death Road to Canada. I think the new Gauntlet is the only one with online coop and good controller support. There is Duck Game but that is kind of a joke game and not really good. Kind of a wilderness of multiplayer gaming in general, to be honest: outside MMOs there are perhaps a dozen good ones and the rest are meh.

    1. That's a bit disappointing although there are a couple in that list I wouldn't mind trying. I suspect it will be more of an occasional toy than anything else but it's certainly made me think about the possibility of getting a console at some point, something I haven't really considered in a couple of decades. After more than twenty years sitting in what is effectively a souped-up office chair, I wouldn't mind being able to sit back in something more comfortable, especialy in the winter.


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