Sunday, December 15, 2019

Step Into A New World

Last week's reveal of an approximate launch date for Amazon's New World (now confirmed as May 26 2020) got me thinking about the future as it relates to MMORPGs. Specifically, the games I'm vaguely looking forward to playing sometime, if and when they ever get their act together.

I'm going to do this from memory, without a lot of preparatory research, in the hope of clarifying what I'm actually interested in, rather than what I could all too easily make myself get over-excited about if I worked at it. That said, I'm fairly hopeless at remembering stuff like this so I'll probably miss some things I'll end up jumping all over when they appear.

Let's start with New World. Without a doubt this is now at the top of my wants list, moving above Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen by dint of having an imminent release date.  It's also backed by one of the biggest companies in the world so I have no worries over whether it will actually happen.

Of course, I'm still vastly more interested in Brad McQuaid's legacy MMORPG as a game that might become a long-term home for both me and Mrs Bhagpuss. It's as close to the model I prefer as I'm likely to get. I'm just not expecting to get it any time soon, although a beta buy-in for $100 or so wuld be more than tempting.

On paper, New World doesn't look like something I'd enjoy but personal experience trumps speculation. Like a lot of people, I was lucky enough to get an invite to the alpha. It wasn't a particularly exclusive event. I did, however, get in right at the start, which meant I saw the way the game changed and developed over many months.

The New World Alpha Test has a fairly strict NDA (albeit nothing on the scale of the one Belghast recalls from Guild Wars 2's testing process) and as far as I know it's still in force. That means I can't really say much about either the game or the testing process.

I will say that it was a real alpha, in which systems and gameplay elements were frequently changed with the specific intent of seeing how various approaches worked. This was done with great communication from the developers, including reasons and expectations for the changes.

My experiences in the Alpha made me a lot less surprised than some comentators when I read about the changes the game has apparently undergone since it was taken back behind closed doors. An increased focus on the fantastical elements of the setting and on player versus environment content is nothing more than I would have expected.

What I wasn't expecting was a move towards what looks as though it could be fully optional PvP. Game Director Scott Lane is quoted at Massively:OP, saying of the PvP aspect "“If you don’t care about this stuff as a player, you can have a huge, massive experience without any of it.”" There's a lot of meat missing from the bones of this statement, like how that will actually work, but even if it ends up being a hybrid PvPvE system such as those we're familiar with from Allods, ArcheAge, Black Desert and many others, that's fine with me.

What did surprise me was the mention of personal housing outside guild-based territorial warfare. I didn't see that coming and it adds a huge potential value to the game for me. If I can potter around in safety in low/mid level areas, gathering materials and crafting stuff to build my own little wilderness home, that will suit me very well. It's a lot like what I was hoping for from Atlas and didn't get.

About the only thing I don't much look forward to is the "focus and very skill based ... moment to moment game play". I'm too old for that kind of thing. That said, PvE combat in the alpha was fine. Not my favorite kind of fighting but perfectly manageable for an incompetent button-masher. And I only played a melee character. I'm guessing ranged will be easier on the hands.

I'm not convinced New World will be something I'd recognize as an MMORPG but it doesn't claim to be one so that's not a problem. I am expecting a gorgeous, rich and fascinating world with immense exploration potential and that's more than enough. I pre-ordered the game today, which gives me guaranteed access to the Closed Beta, whenever that starts. I imagine it will also have a strict NDA. Looking forward to dropping a lot of veiled hints when the time comes.

Camelot Unchained does claim to be an MMORPG; the spiritual successor to Dark Age Of Camelot, no less. We've been waiting a long time for CU. The Kickstarter was getting on for seven years ago. The first phase of beta, expected in 2015, arrived three years later and that's the phase we're still in.

As Wilhelm observed "It is starting to make Star Citizen look positively progressive in getting test content to users". I've played Star Citizen on "Free Roam" and I'm not any kind of backer. I'd love the option to do that with Camelot Unchained, a game I'm far more interested in, but as far as I can tell it's still a $60 buy-in to get Beta 1 access.

The underlying concept of CU still appeals to me. Realm vs Realm is the best kind of PvP I've played - when it works. It often doesn't. This would be the first game to make it the be-all and end-all and I'm interested to see how that pans out. Also, Mrs Bhagpuss loves RvR so she'd almost certainly be on board.

How long does anyone want to wait to play a video game, though? CU has been "in development" since 2013 and it's only in the first stage of beta with a "lengthy" second phase planned. At this rate it's not going to go Live this side of 2021-2022. Does any game really need that long in the oven?

While we've been waiting for Mark Jacobs to get CU out the door, Broadsword have taken almost as long to get around to making DAOC free to play. They did finally manage it a little while ago and I've been meaning to download the game and revisit my old stamping grounds in Midgard and Albion.

So far I haven't been able to make the time but it's a virtual certainty that I'll be re-playing DAOC long before I ever set foot in its sequel. That's a straw in the wind for something that's becoming an increasing theme of MMORPG hobbyism for many: the past is more inviting than the future.

2019 saw two huge MMORPG news stories involving games coming back from the dead: WoW Classic and City of Heroes. In both cases, games long since abandoned or dismantled by their creators came back to an astonishing response.

Games developers as a species are never slow to jump a passing bandwagon, provided it passes by with all the alarms blaring and lights blazing, but they're ridiculously late on any trend that doesn't fit their ironclad pre-conceptions. If they'd had an ear to the ground they'd have heard the rumble that's been building for many years.

In the blogosphere, we've often talked about the dearth of new titles and reminisced about the good old days. It should surprise no-one that a good old 'un beats a lackluster newbie every time and yet it seems to have taken the industry a long time to cotton on.

The cumulative success of projects like Classic, Homecoming, Old School Runescape and P99 make it very hard to ignore the untapped demand for games that have supposedly run their course. The uncomfortable fact that for some of the mainstays of the industry it's five or ten year old games that still feed the bottom line is belatedly being re-shaped into a narrative the suits can understand.

The latest buzzword is "ongoing games", now an Award category in its own right. We're already moving past "games as a service" into the sunny uplands of forever gaming. Why make and market expensive new products when you can just re-furbish old ones? Getting new players has always been a gamble - why bother, when you can just hang on to the ones you've got?

On the back of that, some of my most eagerly-anticipated "new" games aren't anything of the kind. They're emulated versions of old games I either played and miss or missed playing when they were around.

Even I'm surprised by how many emulator projects I now have bookmarked. There's the Vanguard Emulator, obviously. I log into that every month or two and post about it occasionally. There are several more I'm looking forward to more than I'm looking forward to most official product.

Top of the list is Project: Return Home. It's a bold attempt not only to bring back a much-missed MMORPG but to port it to a new platform. If it comes off I'll be able to realize a long-held dream, one which I thought would have to remain a fantasy: I'll be able to play the EQ game I missed out on because I didn't own a PS2.

Return Home plans to make EverQuest Online Adventures available for the PC. If the team behind the project manage to pull it off there's a good chance I might have found a new home for months. Short of an actual new EverQuest game from Daybreak (and where's that "big news" that was coming in November, Holly?) Return Home might be the last "new" game set in Norrath I ever play.

Then there's Free Realms: Sunrise, about which I have written a few times. The folks behind that don't seem to be in much of a hurry so I'm not holding my breath. I'd still bet on getting an open beta before Camelot Unchained goes live.

A real left-field entry to my watchlist is FHX Restoration, a project aiming to bring back a barely-remembered MMORPG that operated under several names in various territories. It's the game known to some as Hercot or Xiones. I knew it as Ferentus.

When I played, Ferentus was in beta. I don't recall it ever going Live in this territory. I only ever saw the first zone or two and I can't really say why it's stuck in my mind the way it has but I've never forgotten it. Apparently there was a whole game there at one time, one which people paid for, played and enjoyed. I'd be very happy to take a look at what was on the menu after the taster I tried all those years ago.

As with most emulator projects, details on progress are hard to come by but there have been two brief opportunities to step into the world and see what's been achieved so far. Both of which I missed, because I only found about the project after they'd happened.

The first was a single day over a year ago. The second was two days in August. I'm keeping an eye open for the next. Maybe that'll be a whole three-dayer!

Games I was looking forward to, now not so much, include Ashes of Creation and Crowfall. Both of them have passed that point where they've been in development so long that all my intitial enthusiasm has burned away.

I was never all that keen on Crowfall to begin with. The early PR releases got my back up with all their talk about how they were going to save the genre. I didn't (and still don't) think it needs saving. As time went on, though, I began to think ArtCraft had some neat ideas on how to solve some longstanding issues, including payment models and PvP vs PvE.

Sadly, whatever it looked like they might do has become moot due to the length of time they've taken doing it. A lot of the things that seemed like problems then don't seem to be all that pressing now and I wonder if anyone really cares any more.  I know I don't,, although no doubt I'll give Crowfall a look - if it ever makes it out of buy-in testing.

I was a lot more invested in Ashes of Creation to the point that I pledged for both myself and Mrs Bhagpuss during the Kickstarter. If the game ever happens we'll get copies and I'll definitely play it and write about it here.

When they put up the first version of the Battle Royale spin-off, Ashes of Creation: Apocalypse, I enjoyed it well enough, considering what it was, but by the time they got to the latest version I couldn't be bothered. And neither could anyone else. The current Steam Chart stats show the average number of players online in the last thirty days was 8.5. Good luck getting a Battle Royale going, guys. Maybe you could invite the three people still playing Planetside:Arena.

And that's about it. I'm sure there are plenty of upcoming MMORPGs I'd be curious to try should I happen to come across them but I can't bring any to mind. I'd welcome any suggestions!


  1. Far and away I am most excited about playing games I used to play or missed in the coming year. Despite my most recent blog post, I'm feeling WoW (Retail and Classic) starting to wind down for me. Classic starts to get very slow paced as you approach 60, and there isn't anything I am likely to find fun once I get there (unless my tastes have changed dramatically in the last 15 years). Retail is like popcorn. Delicious, but hard to make a meal out of. Regardless, four or five months of entertainment is not something I will regret. No offline game would ever give me that kind of run.

    Once WoW finally winds down I am looking forward to subbing up to SWTOR again, there are several years of content I missed. STO, GW2, and ESO are all games that look fun to me that I've barely / never set foot in, and I have a lot of EQ II left to see at some point. I also recently found out that some friends of mine are playing Neverwinter, I may try it.

    If some new MMO were to come along and set the world on fire I wouldn't mind. However, I don't feel a lack of (new to me) things to try.

    1. The "ongoing games" concept really intrigues me. We're almost past the period of being surprised by how long some of these games can keep going now. We're beginning to move into an era where we expect it.

      I always remember an interview with John Smedley, where he said Verant expected EQ to last three years and hoped it might stretch to five. It entirely explains why EQII was timed to appear when it did - they thought EQ would be dead by then and the EQ Players would all be delighted to move on.

      Only that isn't what happened. People seem happy to stick with the game they know, provided it still looks like the game they know and still gets new content. What's more, even when they seem to have had enough and walk away, give them time and they get al nostalgic and come back.

      This is probably the one truly prescient aspect of GW2's design. It's by far the easiest MMORPG I've ever played to drop in and out of. There's virtually no barrier to re-entry. There's always a new cuttign-edge meta you can learn if you think you're some kind of harcore player but for the huge majority of GW2 casuals the game barely looks any different now than it did when it began. Apart from the giant bunnies, that is...

      Anyway, like you I really don't feel the need for new MMORPGs. There are hundreds of them already. How many does any one person need? If good new ones come along, that's great, but if not I'll be just fine with the ones we already have.

  2. I was in the New World tests as well. There was a push to get people in Goonswarm and allies into the game as a stress test. Smed's connection to GSF in EVE Online got them a pile of people for a giant battle.

    The game itself struck me at the time as being very much what H1Z1 ought to have been back when it launched, only medieval rather than zombie apocalypse based.

    As for huge news stories, WoW Classic was certainly one in its own right. When it raises the fortunes of a company like Blizz, it is a big deal. But I think City of Heroes was only huge relative to the small pond that the core old school MMO players swim in. MOP spending a lot of time covering something doesn't make it a big story outside of our neck of the woods.

    1. I never even saw one of the big territorial battles, let alone participated in one. I'd have liked to but it would have entailed finding and joining a company and then playing at specific times and that was way too much commitment. I did hear people talking about it a lot, though, and it seemed to be going down prety well.

      I included the CoH revival because as I recall there were over a hundred thousand players registered at the peak of the comeback, on the quasi-official alone. That would be easily enough people to count as a major success for almost any Indie MMORPG we've seen in years - and there are plenty of games from the majors that probably don't have numbers like that. It's not so much whether those players stick around - more that their interest flags up the potential, untapped market in that long tail of "people who used to play". I have a feeling, though, that by the time the laggard developers jump on board the gravy train will already have left the station. There have been quite a lot of retro servers and revivals now - I wonder how many the market can stand?

    2. Oh, and mention of Smed bringing in the Goons makes me wonder what degree of influence he might be wielding at Amazon Games. He's CEO of the San Diego based operation but we haven't really heard anything from him for a couple of years. His Twitter feed is jolly but very information-free. It did occur to me that the change of emphasis/direction might have something to do with him, although he'd usually be the one pushing for more PvP, I'd have guessed.

    3. That 100K number is impressive, but I am not sure what it really means. If there had been that many subscribers back in the day COH wouldn't have gone free to play, and if there had been that many players after free to play it likely wouldn't have closed down. The industry has made me cynical, like Turbine telling us a million people had signed up for the LOTRO beta or Rift saying that there had been a million characters created, phrased in such a way to make you want to parse it as a subscriber number. 100K people logging in and playing would be impressive. 100K signing up for the mailing list would be less so.

  3. From the recent Game Awards, there was news of Magic the Gathering coming into MMO form. It's being worked on by Cryptic and is apparently slated for a 2020 release (although nothing more specific than that, yet).

    Given we've not seen any gameplay yet, it's hard to really judge. The Magic: Legends trailer is all CGI and only offers hints and teases. But while I haven't played or been close to the card game variant for *years* some of the story trailers put out for the Magic property at large make me somewhat hopeful that there could be a bit to this.

    So... Maybe one to look out for! It's soon, at least!

    1. Yes, I looked at that one but for some reason Magic: The Gathering does absolutely nothing for me as an I.P. If anything I find it offputting due to some of the cultural baggage that follows along behind it. I did find it interesting that Cryptic were the people actualy doing the grunt work of making it, though. Cryptic may arguably be the most generic of major MMORPG houses but they do have a proven track record of getting working games out ther door on time.

      I'll take a look at it when it arrives but I'm not expecting much.

  4. It seems like the NDA for the New World alpha may have done more harm than good. I know a few people who had written the game off as "an open PvP gankfest" based, I guess, on incomplete alpha leaks?

    I guess it is also hard for the modern gamer to accept that an alpha really is an alpha and not some kind of marketing technique intended to build hype for the game.


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