Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Pay To Survive : City of Steam, DinoStorm

A funny thing happened while I was playing WildStar today. It made me log out and play two other MMOs instead.

Not because I wasn't enjoying myself. I was enjoying WildStar very much indeed, wandering around Galeras helping the local farmers deal with a poison gas attack, aiding the local mayor in foiling an attempted Chua plot to undermine his town with giant mole machines. As you do.

No, it was the tunes. The extraordinary potency, as The Master might have put it, had he been born a century later, of cheap videogame music. I kept hearing fragments of melodies that reminded me very strongly indeed of the main themes from two games I haven't played for far too long - City of Steam and DinoStorm.

They're both browser-based games so there was no long patching process even though it's been more than six months since I last logged in to either of them. Okay, that's not strictly true. I did try to play City of Steam on my tablet a couple of months back but it wasn't a particularly successful experiment. Not without connecting a USB mouse and keyboard anyway and by the time you do that you might as well just play on the desktop.

For two MMOs that no-one talks about any more (not that anyone but me has ever talked about DinoStorm, as far as I can remember) they seem to be trundling along quite nicely. CoS has six servers running, three in Europe and three in the USA, although what a "server" means for a browser game I have no idea.

Someone in chat said the game was no longer being developed and there's precious little on the website to suggest it ever will be again as far as actual content is concerned but that doesn't mean there's nothing going on. There have been quite a few changes to the way log-in and playtime rewards work since my last visit and there's currently a large cross-server competetive event in progress. Plenty of people were chatting and chilling in Arkadia although it wasn't as crowded as I've seen it in the past.

My goal remains the same as it has been since ownership and operations reverted to Mechanist Games almost eighteen months ago - level one character far enough to get to the end of the main storyline. I've been stuck on one particular episode for as long as I can remember. It's a long battle through several instances to a boss that I have yet to come close to beating. I realized ages ago that I either needed to get a couple more levels or some better gear to have a good chance of getting past him but leveling is such a grind I haven't had the will to buckle down and get it done.

Then today I had an epiphany. You're not expected to level up by playing at all. That's why it's so dull. You're supposed to stand in the central square, select each activity in turn and let the game autorun you through the boring busywork of fighting. If you really don't want to be bothered even with that there's a button next to every activity that lets you pay to have it marked as "Completed" - you don't need to move!

There's a plethora of daily activities that give Shillings (the in-game currency), Bound Electrum (a version of the cash shop currency earnable in-game), XP, talent points, crafting mats, collectible currencies for buying pets and mounts, appearance gear. Every one of them has a "Finish This For Me - I Can't Be Arsed" button next to it.

You name it, they'll give it to you for doing nothing. Sell it to you, I mean, of course. Oh, you can still go out and get it all the old-fashioned way if you want to but why bother?

All this time I've been ignoring the simple fact that I have a wealth of currency of all kinds accrued from past efforts that could be spent to get me over the hurdles and on to the only thing that interests me - the story. All I need to do is remember to log in every day, cycle through the daily events, do the quick and easy ones, pay the game to do the rest and I'll knock off a level or so a day in about half an hour.

My goblin gunner is level 27. If I remember correctly, although the level cap is fifty, the story only goes to about thirty. It should take a week. Two at the most. I think I'll still have to go and do the story quests in the locations where they actually happen but that's kind of the point. I guess. I might also have to do the access quests for the next zone but that's fine too. I like seeing new places.

Gosh! Finding out I don't actually have to play the game to play the game has really motivated me to play the game! Who knew? All I have to do now is remember to log in. Thanks Carbine! I'd never have done it without your oddly unoriginal choice of background music.

As for DinoStorm I don't think I'm ever going to make any progress there. I doubt they'll miss me. I never gave them any money anyway. Someone must have, though, because the game is still plugging away. What's more, unlike City of Steam, which I think is definitely quietening down, DinoStorm feels busier than ever. There were dino riders all over the place when I was in town collecting my log-in rewards (paltry though they were, compared to City of Steam's).

What's more there were plenty of players out in the badlands. Unlike City of Steam, where almost everything outside the urban hubs happens in instances, DinoStorm is a real MMO with proper zones and everything and they're all set for open PvP. You can quest and level safely for a while in Dinoville but eventually you have to venture out into the badlands if you want to progress.

Despite the warning as you leave town I've never had any trouble. On my little starter dino I probably look too pathetic to kill. Until today. Someone on a hulking great tyrannosaur took exception to me breathing his air and filled me full of lead.

First time I've been killed by another player in DinoStorm. It was a learning experience. Literally.

I learned that you lose some money permanently and drop some more on the ground. I learned you can go back and get the money you dropped (aka corpse recovery) but that you can also buy a Wallet Guard in the store to stop you dropping money next time someone shoots you in the back. Or you can buy a PvP Protection scheme that prevents other players from attacking you altogether - for three hours.

Is this Pay To Win? It's definitely Pay Not To Be Ganked. Does anyone playing these games as their main MMO care? Who are those people anyway? Why are they playing these MMOS and not ones people have heard of? Sometimes I feel we're all living in different worlds and not just virtually either.

You know what? So long as the scenery is worth looking at and the music sounds sweet I don't really care. If I can buy my way to success or safety with imaginary money then I'm already winning. Aren't I?

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