Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Embers Still Glow: Landmark, WildStar, TESO et al

We're not quite at the end of the year yet but several people haven't been able to hold off reviewing their previous prognostications. Wilhelm started it, followed by SynCaine and J3w3l, everyone linking to everyone else as they went. Like I just did.

Well, who am I to buck a trend? I'm not much for predictions but in the very dying embers of last year I did cast the runes for a few of the potential big MMO events of 2014. There were only three possible new partners on my dance card back then: Everquest Landmark, WildStar and The Elder Scrolls Online.

Of Landmark I observed "I think it will confuse and disappoint in equal measure". Pretty much on the money I'd say. I bought the Trailblazer pack for Mrs Bhagpuss as a birthday present and tagged along myself on an Explorer ticket. How appropriate. We had a lot of fun for a couple of months and I don't regret those purchases at all.

For a while Landmark (with the confusing EQ prefix quietly removed) was a hot topic across the MMO blogosphere. Much of the discussion centered around mystification over what the "game" was trying to be, a mystery which, I think it's fair to say, has yet to be resolved to anyone's great satisfaction.

I enjoyed being a part of that. I also really enjoyed building my Thomas Crown Affair 1960s mountain aerie. Unfortunately I have a suspicion that those first two or three months in "alpha" may well be the most fun I ever have in Landmark.

By June we were in "beta", not that anyone could tell the difference, and I was already calling Landmark "the MMO no-one mentions any more". Wilhelm observed that "Despite being called beta, this is still pre-alpha development" and I can't argue with that. Almost a year on SOE are finally getting around to adding mobs this week, so perhaps by Spring of 2015 we might be somewhere close to a beta build, although I wouldn't bet on it.

TESO arrived next. I passed. I never liked any of the previous Elder Scrolls games and didn't imagine this would be any different. It was, perhaps, a little subjective and over-the-top to extrapolate my disinterest and distaste into a prediction that TESO would "disappoint just about everyone". In the event things didn't go that badly.

Some people certainly seemed to be enjoying themselves at the beginning but it wasn't to last. The positive commentary soon dissipated until literally no-one I read was mentioning TESO any more. I don't even see many news stories about it nowadays.

The console launch, already postponed for six months, has been pushed into next year but, while it hardly sounds like a success story, the game is still running on a subscription and there's no sign of that changing any time soon. TESO would appear to have achieved stability at least. The general feeling seems to be that it's a quiet success although on what evidence other than not having gone F2P or merged servers I'm not quite sure.

WildStar was my pick of the three to go on to fame and fortune but I certainly wasn't sticking my neck out even then, suggesting only that "I wouldn't be that surprised to see it making the best showing of these three in 2014, at least until something better comes along". Faint praise that turned out not to be faint enough. WildStar limped out of the gate to an indifferent welcome and drifted downwards from there.

I wasn't planning on playing it at all. I didn't bother with any of the long series of beta weekends until the very end, when I received a beta key I don't recall applying for. I tried it and I quite liked it. So did a lot of people - for a while. Within a very few weeks, however, interest had dropped almost to nothing.

Carbine swiftly went the now-traditional megaserver route, allowing them to consolidate shrinking server populations without having to announce an embarrassing series of server merges just a few months after launch. They followed that with a hefty cut in the rate of new content development and the abandonment of old-school 40-man raiding, both of which had been core concepts for the game in pre-launch publicity. There was much scuttlebutt doing the rounds about the dire emotional and professional state of the studio too.

And yet WildStar carries on, still charging a subscription, still claiming to have hundreds of thousands of players. Everyone who ever expresses an opinion says the game should go F2P and will go F2P...everyone but Carbine and NCSoft. If it does I'll give it a run. Until then it made its niche and it can sit in it.

So, definitely not a vintage year for much-hyped AAA MMOs. There was one more, which almost no-one, including me, thought to mention: ArcheAge. Trion slipped that one in from leftfield, grabbing a huge amount of attention and goodwill, almost all of which they proceeded to squander. By now their second-hand, refurbished import is beginning to look even more downtrodden than their own, largely ignored and forgotten offerings, Trove and Defiance (remember those? No, thought not).

Leaving aside Bungie's Destiny, about which I know almost nothing, the only other really big deal of 2014 was Warlords of Draenor. I didn't mention that one last year, mostly because I don't pay an awful lot of attention to WoW, but its fair to say its been the MMO success story of the year. Will it lead to another round of MMO companies scrabbling to emulate Blizzard, this time by plunging resources into fan-pleasing, lore-heavy expansions for older MMOs?

I bloody well hope so! 


  1. I updated Landmark yesterday for fun - a LOT has changed. So much so I am completely lost in it and I think your exclamation that the most fun to be had has been had for you, applies to me as well. But hey, ocean front and swimming was there. And there are barely any claims in the space I last logged into - mountaintop retreats, oceanfront, tons of space available. I'll still follow it and update now and again since I have access since I paid for it. Will be interesting to see what building blocks from Landmark are found in H1Z1.

    I don't do annual predictions normally, but have a post looking back at this year coming up, and a short one looking forward. Always fun to see how the guessing game worked for fellow bloggers =)

    1. My main issue with Landmark nowadays is a technical one - it barely runs on my system at all. They supposedly did some optimization in the autumn but I can't tell the difference. That means its no fun even to log in to see the new stuff when they add it.

      I will try and take a look at the mobs when they're up and running but I think Landmark is probably going to be off the table for me until I get a new PC.


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