Sunday, October 2, 2016

Ready For Prime Time? : AQ3D

In his September In Review post, Wilhelm observed "... if you want to be popular, post about WoW". To this sage advice I can add a corollary: if you want to be ignored, post about AdventureQuest 3D.

My previous post on that particular game drew fewer page views than just about anything I can remember writing; certainly fewer than any post this year. No-one, it seems, is on the edge of his or her seat waiting for the upcoming Open Beta of this one.

Ah yes, the open beta. The open beta that's scheduled for "October". That's now.

Is it ready? Not according to most posters on the forum. Here are some sample quotes:

"After playing for quite a lot over the past few days, I feel that this game isn't ready to be launch to the public yet at its current state"

"I personally think launching the game in October is dangerous when the game is at this current state"

" might be a good idea to postpone the beta"

"Really can't see why you'd put the game in open beta in this state so soon."

"The game, at the current state, is not ready for Open Beta"

I do love how my character looks.
And so on.  Now, I've beta tested quite a few MMOs. Comments like this are not all that unusual because there's a contingent that thinks things could always be better and that nothing should ever be revealed to the general public until it shines like the Spirit of Ecstasy on a Rolls Royce Silver Shadow. They're usually drowned out by the majority that just wants to get on with it.

The last time I had access to beta forums so determined that the doors should stay shut must have been the original launch of FFXIV. We all know how that turned out. AQ3D does not have the kind of problems SquareEnix did. The game works. You can play it. It doesn't claim to do a thousand things it doesn't do. It doesn't have a rabid fanbase hammering at the doors trying to get in. As far as I know...

The reason AQ3D may not be ready for Open Beta is not what you might think. It's not overly buggy or filled with half-finished systems that don't work. It runs fine for the most part - for an MMO in closed beta. No, the real problem AQ3D has is this: it's bloody hard!

Ye gods, is it hard! If you yearn for those glorious days in the late 1990s, when Level 3 took you six hours grinding orc pawns, get those rose-tinted specs on and sign up now.

Remember the fun you had killing hundreds of lions in East Karana in the vain hope that this time, this time, the High Quality Lion Skin would drop and you'd finally be able to craft your Fleeting Quiver? Imagine how much more fun it would be if that drop rate applied to all crafting mats!

Drop table needs work.
Disgusted by the way MMOs have shifted over the years to favor soloists over groups?  Here are dungeons so hard that solo players can't expect to get through the first room; where even being grossly over-levelled doesn't guarantee you won't die horribly.

Don't just take my word for it. Have some more quotes:

"... the drop rate for the items are terrible, you will be sitting in 1 farm location for 1-3 hours and still not have any of the materials you were farming for"

"...part of the dungeon is almost impossible for me, and I'm a level 14 player with Nightlocke weapons. I don't think it's a level 7 dungeon at all."

"The drop rates to get crafting items are horrible, and you need to run the same dungeon approximately 10 times (if you have some luck) to get ONE item. ONE upgrade."

"Made it to level8, and still lvl4 monsters in the first dungeon are impossible."

"I have been fighting the monsters ... for over four hours and I am still only level four. ... I am level four and a level two monster can almost kill me".

I could pull out dozens of quotes like these. Surprisingly, perhaps, most of the players complaining
have actually taken the time and effort to grind their way up the levels, through the dungeons and into the meat of the game. I haven't. I'll just have to take it all at face value because although I've played three or four times, I've already decided there are more entertaining ways to spend an evening than grinding the same two or three mobs for incremental advances and identical drops. And that's at level three.

Camping a single spawn for a quest drop. Two more mobs trained on me by another player. Both of us dead in a second. Brings back so many memories. Sadly, none of them good...
Part of the problem is the extreme dichotomy between what the game looks like it's going to be and what it is. It looks like a cheerful, cartoon-colorful knockabout MMO aimed at a younger-than-average audience. You come to it expecting a light-hearted, unchallenging romp and you get something that plays like EQ circa 1999. Only more so.

As several commenters point out, this is not likely to sit well with the audience it's sure to attract, particularly as a cross-platform game appearing on Android and iOS. This final quote neatly sums up the situation:

"I have not even touched the game for weeks now, simply because of all the issues with the XP curve, progression difficulty curve and combat system. If they can't even hope to keep their already loyal players entertained at this point, then the game will most likely not survive the general public".

It's not that AQ3D is a bad MMO. Not at all. It has a great feel, tons of personality, huge potential. Neither is it that there's no audience for a game that harks back in difficulty and challenge to the world as it was before WoW. Lord knows there have been enough calls for that Return to Values for years now.

In fact, there's nothing very much wrong here that can't be fixed with some tuning, tweaking and a general reality check. The game probably could use at least the rest of the year in Closed Beta, where major changes could be rolled out and rescinded as required, after which it would stand a good chance of launching to resounding applause.

Once it goes to Open Beta, though, the reviews and Let's Plays and Steam Ratings will roll in, like it or not. On this evidence, launching as it stands, that verdict could be as harsh on the game-makers as the game itself is on the players.

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