Archive for January, 2010

Still Fixing What Isn’t Broken

Sunday, January 31st, 2010

Whew! I’m back after an extended and unexpected blogging hiatus. The New Year and a New Job really kicked my ass.

I had always been fond of FreeRealms. Even though the game’s combat was never particularly complex, it was varied enough to keep it entertaining. Your character would obtain a new combat skill every 5 levels. Upon reaching level 20, you’d have 5 abilities from which to choose, each serving the usual melee, AOE or ranged functions. When I wanted a break from WoW (or whatever the current MMO de jour may be), I’d log into FreeRealms for a few minutes of easy fun.

Sadly, SOE must have been cribbing notes from Mythic, because they took the whole fixing-what-wasn’t-broken concept to a whole new level of… brokenness.

Now the combat in FreeRealms consists of 3 buttons that you mash repeatedly as you attack wave after wave of monsters. It’s boring. It’s repetitive. And unless they were shooting for the Under-the-Age-of-Five demographic, I can’t begin to fathom SOE’s reasoning for this change. Hell, most 10 year olds have better video game combat skills than I do!

And FreeRealms is not alone in this recent ‘dumbing-down’ trend. In World of Warcraft I recently created an Orc Shaman named Urgulanilla (I pride myself in naming all of my characters after real people, even if they lived over a 1,000 years ago). I wanted to experience the Barrens area of the game before it gets revamped in the upcoming expansion. I was dismayed to discover that the aggro of the mobs in the starter area has been reduced to nothing, causing the first five levels of the game to be so simple that my character could sleep-walk through it. Booooooring.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not an MMO fangrrl that stomps her feet and whines the moment a combat skill is nerfed, or a game mechanic is simplified. I prefer that the starter area of any game be relatively easy, so I can learn the interface and explore my surroundings before being dumped into the deep end of the combat pool. But when you simplify the game so much that I can play it with with one hand while solving a Rubik’s Cube with the other, you’ve just sucked all the fun right out of it for me.

I really hope that the folks at FreeRealms rethink the changes they’ve made to the combat. I miss my Swiffer Mop-wielding Medic.

Fixing What Isn’t Broken

Monday, January 4th, 2010

You know an MMO is in decline when they get rid of their dwarf-tossing and replace it with painfully pedantic beginner quests. Case in point: Warhammer Online.

WAR has always suffered from putting all of its eggs into one PvP basket. Their “public quests” – cooperative PvE encounters – are a great idea in theory, but they are a complete failure if the player population is too low to support them. (For more information on how Public Quests work, watch this video.) Mythic didn’t take into account the fact that as a game ages, players move out of the lower level maps, creating population imbalances on the server. This means that all of those exciting beginner and mid-level Public Quests are as empty as a Greenskin’s head.

Mythic’s answer to this problem was to redesign the starter area. Initially, each race had their own beginner quests that were tailored to their specific racial histories within the overall storyline. These quests were fun, informative, and even involved some dwarf-tossing. The redesigned beginner area lumps everyone together doing generic we’re-at-war-so-go-kill-stuff quests, and involves tutorials so simplistic that a 10 year-old would be offended.

Sadly, I don’t think Mythic was seeing the bigger picture, and was attempting to fix something that wasn’t really broken. Yes, player population densities do shift, but the game would have maintained its population and attracted new players if they had addressed the lack of content and uninspired quests at the mid-levels. When my first character, an Empire Witch Hunter, got to level 20 the available quests became sparse and the quest rewards were often two and three levels above her. Nothing kills player enthusiasm quicker than receiving rewards that you can’t even use!

The irony of the situation is that although the combined beginner areas may give the illusion of player density, they have done nothing to improve the mid-level PvE areas. I logged into my level 32 Bright Wizard, who was last standing in Eataine – a Tier 4 area appropriate for her level.

The entire map was deserted.