Category Archives: Review

Fun and Games in Wildstar: The Launch Recap

Few hiccups aside during hour one, this past Wildstar headstart weekend marks one of the smoothest MMO launches I have ever been part of. Having settled for the only PVE-RP server on EU side due to (hopefully) better community, everything from claiming my name to creating my character and jumping into a mostly lag-free game was easy and carefree. Adding friends? Grouping right away? No problem either! And even if you can’t afford 10 gold for a guild just yet, Wildstar lets you create custom channels for better communication with your buddies. That is extra points right there for minding the MMO core-virtue that is (or should be) playing with friends.

A few players experienced rather troublesome queues this weekend which was mostly due to Carbine’s somewhat baffling miscalculation for PVP realms. There was….one. However, it took a few hours only until the login screen already informed about further realms being added both on the PVE and PVP side of things. In general Carbine seemed quick on the ball responding to players which is not something that can be said for every developer during a launch weekend.


Meet Syl and Kirby!

Having played my Dominion Esper up to level 17 now and fresh out of her first group adventure, let’s have a more in-depth look at Wildstar’s week one, shall we?

The Gameplay – Or how it all comes together
The single most important aspect for MMO longevity, the gameplay in Wildstar is the true winner. Everyone who paid attention to Carbine these past few years was ready for a lot of polish and yet, they have taken it up three notches since the beta. Wildstar plays intuitively from level 1, the pacing is just right and takes comprehensive steps in preparing the player for higher difficulty. There are quests, challenges and points of interest in abundance, flowing naturally into one another. Rewards are interesting and varied with bigger, more satisfying upgrades ever so often. The game is responsive when interacting with the environment as well as with various interface commands. Combat has that tangible “oomph” so many MMOs struggle to create, animations are excellent and visual aids have improved loads since the beta.

In summary: Wildstar is playable in the best sense of the word; very very playable.

Questing and combat
There are more quest hubs around than anyone can handle and that’s not such a bad thing. While there are other sources for good EXP, such as PVP, the numerous and carefully laid-out questing opportunities give players a sense of direction and make for a satisfying and reasonably fast leveling experience thus far. Down the road we might worry about the leveling game ending too soon but at least this here MMO has some endgame ready.

The quests are standard fare but vary frequently between kill ten rats, fedex or escort which can be shared with others. For some undefinable reason some of them still require backtracking while many will spare you the walk thanks to NPC voice communication. These tend to be longer questlines tying into an overarching storyline (some class related too) while others are just your old farmer looking for a hand. The public events seem somewhat sparsely peppered over the first few zones and come with disturbing reset timers compared to what you’d be used to from GW2 or Rift.

As for combat, I have always liked the concept of Wildstar’s doubly-active telegraph system and challenges increase significantly there as you level up. One inattentive pull of an elite mob (which are part of every area’s monster mix) can result in a quick and painful death unless you know your moves and WASD buttons. On a slightly different note, I am somewhat missing ticking things like buffs, procs and hots/dots on my character and target frames. I’d like to see more in terms of timing with procs and using synergies but maybe that’s just the impatient newb in me.

A while back I decided that Wildstar’s Explorer path was probably not for me because jumping puzzles – and rightly so. I love the Scientist challenges for every map which require you to scan various flora and fauna, as well as to learn more about the world (I has “Bookworm” title!). My merry scanbot companion comes with a custom name as well as booster and vanity options, so paths are hardly just a gimmick in Wildstar but seem reasonably flashed out instead and different from one another while not being game-breaking, either. There is replay value here for alts.

Gold and other currencies
There’s a steady flow of cash in this game and as long as you heed the MMO newbie’s cardinal rules of starting out poor, which are a) sell everything -and- b) stay the fuck away from the auction house, you will be just fine in the long run even if buying all class abilities as you unlock them seems impossible at first. Having bought a mount at level 15 already and being close to affording that guild fee too (do check out these amazing guild holomarks!), I am not worried about unlocking all of my skills in time. In a way, it’s not a bad thing having to concentrate on one set of skills and one playstyle first before accessing too many options – we don’t want to exhaust it all by next week, do we?

As for C.R.E.D.D., I’ve inspected the ingame currency converter just a little so far and can’t say I am really interested. With Wildstar being item shop-less (which is rather uncommon under NCSoft’s wing) and me being more than happy to pay for this sub, I can’t see myself messing with C.R.E.D.D. unless there’s another reason (like sparkling ponies).

Acquiring a house in Wildstar isn’t a real feat, it’s more of a birthright. Your little airborne acre waits patiently for your arrival and the standard housing option costs a mere gold to start with. Decoration items drop from special quests or challenges ever so often but seriously personalizing your home seems to be this game’s true goldsink. All I can say is stay the hell away from those customization tabs for as long as you have more essential things to invest in!

As a homebase for storage and buffs, Wildstar’s housing seems a fair enough deal. I’m just sad they went down the instanced route rather than outdoor. I can’t see myself spending an awful lot of time up there, just the way it never happened in LOTRO or Rift. Ah well.


Skills / Talents System and UI
The action set builder is one of my biggest qualms right now. Instead of simple drag and drop, assigning or re-ordering different skills on your action bar is fairly tedious and the AMP window is a complete eye-sore for anyone attempting to manage their playstyle stats at a glance. Hovering over tiny dots to check what they do is a big nono and so is a fairly inflexible UI that won’t let you move essentials around without addons. No pass from me here Carbine, this is not 2004! At least the overall look of the UI has improved vastly since the black bar of doom early beta players got to experience.

Cosmetics and Dye System
While we should probably be grateful that Wildstar has both, neither its cosmetic tab nor dye system are making me particularly happy at the moment. Managing your look has been re-delegated to NPC visits and the system is fairly clunky and limited in the sense that single items can only ever be assigned to one outfit and need to remain with the NPC when saved. The dye system allows for up to 3 layers of color per piece but seems slightly buggy still and umm, final because no un-dyeing, so careful with that!

The Music
While one can argue about degrees of cartoony graphics for Wildstar vs. other MMOs, its music leaves no room for debate: this title comes with an amazingly accomplished, varied and memorable high-quality OST that is a true joy to uncover as you are traveling from zone to zone, taking in different vistas that each come with their own theme and mood in return. Jeff Kurtenacker has done a stellar job and as always, I urge you to turn those speakers up and have a good listen before deciding that MMO music is not for you. This one might surprise you yet!

The Overall Feel – A not so final word
Well-rounded and here to stay are the two thoughts at the forefront of my mind when recapping my Wildstar adventures since the headstart. I don’t know precisely what magic Carbine have worked in those two months before release but it’s clearly made an impact and increased my personal enjoyment of the game considerably. I am positively surprised and eager to see more high-level content and hopefully some properly challenging group dungeons.

As preached before, Wildstar holds its own within the landscape of MMOs; however to the WoW veteran’s heart, it echoes many of the standards we have gotten used to by Blizzard. The familiarity of Wildstar’s early game experience fills me with the warmth of a cosy blanket and yet, it is still different enough to keep me going. I will see where I end up further down the road – for now, I am all in for the ride.

Weekend Wildstar Beta Round-up

Over the weekend I’ve found time to catch up on the MMO blogosphere’s unleashed Wildstar impressions and by the looks, nobody is unhappy to have played in the beta. While several have mentioned the art style not being very immersive at first, everybody seems to agree that Carbine is delivering a fairly polished game with lots of potential for group play. Generally, enthusiasm isn’t exactly overflowing but given how most of us are grumpy veterans, that’s just as well. Caution, thy name is 2014 MMO blogging!


Welcome to Whitevale /

Since I didn’t really give a complete beta review in my last update but rather focused on the “Wildstar versus WoW”-debate, here’s a quick round-up of many interesting posts by fellow bloggers that when put together, paint a pretty comprehensive Wildstar picture:

  • Clockwork thinks that Wildstar is a great game overall but needs serious work in the camera and UI department. As for telelgraphs, they sure take some getting used to! I happen to agree with all his points.
  • Bel over at Tales of the Aggronaut is extremely torn: for him, Wildstar comes close to Las Vegas in terms of busyness, content density and sensory overload. Being fiercely in the ESO camp already, it’s hard for him to find good enough reasons to play (or pay).
  • Braxwolf Stormchaser can say with certainty that Wildstar is an MMO. He likes the game’s overall flair and music and despite its cartoony graphics, found it to be grittier than GW2 or SWTOR. Still, he isn’t over the moon about Wildstar just yet.
  • Stubborn goes on to explain that unlike me, he will name Wildstar’s core gameplay a direct successor of WoW and that’s not a bad thing. Wildstar is the more refined title and Carbine have done a fantastic marketing job – all that said, he has no plans to play at launch.
  • Kadomi at the new blog To Boldly Nerd is exclusively interested to play Wildstar this year. Her review is one of the most complete I’ve found and covers a lot of aspects and great details about the game’s current state, so check it out!
  • As for my Battle Bards co-host Syp, he has already shared his positive Wildstar review much earlier than us ordinary people. Now that the NDA has dropped for everybody, he is back to discuss different purchase and pricing options while being very disappointed in the lack of proper collector’s edition. The fact that releasing the OST doesn’t get mentioned anywhere by Carbine is a big let-down indeed.

If you’re still on the fence about Wildstar, these different reads will provide you with ample input although they might not convince you either way. That last leap of faith is still yours to make. As far as I’m concerned, that pre-order is a done deal.

In case I missed anyone’s review, let me know so I can add you to the list! Happy Sunday all!

Wildstar ain’t WoW – Wildstar is Heavy Metal

Suddenly everything is moving really fast. ESO is about to launch, Blizzard hints at launch dates and pre-orders, Wildstar takes another day to get real. And somewhere in between all of this, people are getting bored of Landmark’s alpha. Looks like this year of new MMOs is finally happening!

Sooo, Wildstar. I’ve played in the permanent beta since this January, not for any particular fandom but gloomy frustration over ESO. Clearly, going into this second MMO without much anticipation has helped a lot. I like Wildstar; not the way I love LOTRO or Guild Wars 2 but enough to pre-order come this March 19th. Smart of Carbine to move fast and set their launch well ahead of WoW – not because the two are one and the same but because WoW is always competition. To anybody.

That of course leads me to where I want to go with this post: how Wildstar doesn’t feel like WoW when you’re playing. The internet is obsessed with comparing the two for obvious reasons, the cartoony graphics and well, the classic approach. Yet probably 70% or more of all MMOs out there are themeparks with a holy trinity. If that’s the similarity you’re judging things by then Wildstar isn’t any more a WoW clone than Final Fantasy XI – a game that launched 2 years prior to World of Obsessioncraft. But hey, I too am guilty of early comparisons and Carbine weren’t exactly shy to point out their target audience in the past, either.

Contrary to the popular notion Wildstar isn’t WoW, more importantly does not feel like WoW. Much rather I would say this: Wildstar is heavy metal.


A penetrating first look at Wildstar’s feels

From the get-go, Wildstar struck me as its very own thing. The overall feel and very consistent design concept seem well-known and yet aren’t, not after taking a closer look and certainly not within an MMO context anyway. If I had to describe the visuals to anyone, I would go with Brutal Legend meets Borderlands 2. That level-up animation still paints a wide grin on my face. This game is outspoken and slangy in its humor and despite the candy colors, it also has grimness and maturity to it (candy-color me impressed!). There’s the Firefly-like thematic fusion of a cyber-metal-punk wild west adventure…with pink bunnies.

The cartoony graphics of Allods mimic WoW in a way that Wildstar never does; more stylized, more artsy and whimsical are the settings of the Nexus and this painter’s brush is a different brush entirely. The world expands vertically as much as horizontally so the player character gets dwarfed more easily; a counter-immersive effect I’ve referred to (and complain about) as the goldilock’s experience before. Anyway, as a sucker for authentic and mature in MMOs it took me a good while to get used to the hyper-stylized graphics; staring at the grass in Wildstar for too long requires a willingness to suspend disbelief –


Whatever this is, it ain’t real grass!

But let’s rewind things a little and start at the beginning: the character customization. Wildstar offers as many options as vanilla Warcraft in terms of body and height variety which means well, none at all. That’s quite the flaw in 2014. At the same time, we are seeing some of the most exciting, accomplished and refreshing race design since Allods and maybe Tera. Boring and uninspired humans with weird hairdos aside, some of the Draken, Mordesh, Granok and Chua models are simply to die for.


Once you leave character customization, Wildstar is quick to introduce players to combat with their very own tunnel scenario. Yeah, they do that. Once again, there’s much to get used to here and it’s safe to say the doubly active telegraph combat couldn’t be more unlike WoW even if Carbine are aiming for the same strategic depth and role-based play with their group content. In the same vein, their restricted skillset and talent system strike me as modern and light-weight in a way WoW is only just learning to be, simplifying things with every new expansion.

I could go on from here and point out how the (sticky) camera in Wildstar works differently which gave me pause. There’s no insta-turn and quick 90° cutting corners which some players will clearly miss for the first few hours even if it feels natural after a while.

Or I could describe the chaotic refugee city of Thayd that feels nothing like any Warcraft city I’ve ever been to. If I had to name something about Wildstar that really let me down it would be questing which, despite different path options, is very kill ten rats. In this there’s no letting off Carbine.

In summary: You should probably give this a try

So many aspects in MMOs make for that complex, intangible quality that we call “overall feel” and if nothing else, you should give Wildstar the benefit of the doubt as long as you haven’t played it. The Nexus is an odd place, alien yet familiar – not entirely new but new enough, a little more grownup than expected and every bit as polished as anyone could hope for. There will be things to love and things to hate but dismissing this new title over being a second World of Warcraft because cartoony looks, well that would be wrong entirely. Wildstar is a fresh interpretation of a classic, an ambitious and deep MMO world with an unmistakeable, stubborn and outspoken style. It doesn’t need to copy WoW any more than any of the other upcoming games do; I believe we can move on from this notion already.

Remembering FFXI and: Why I’m not playing FFXIV A Realm Reborn. Yet.

Square-Enix have officially halted digital sales for FFXIV:ARR due to an “overwhelming demand” and unlike for Guild Wars 2 one year ago, nobody can say they’re surprised. The blogosphere is abuzz with FFXIV impressions and even those who wouldn’t touch Final Fantasy with a stick in the past, are willing to have a look at A Realm Reborn which is quite remarkable to say the least. I always hoped that this title would be given a second chance; to see it appeal to the western market way more than its predecessor, which launched in a time pre-WoW, is pretty amazing. The fact that I have to be careful about how I criticize the game in my usual circles these days, is funny.

FFXI was my very serious introduction to the genre back in 2002. My love for this franchise is no secret and is frequently highlighted during Battle Bards podcast episodes. I will defend Chocobos to death if I have to and tell the world why Square deserve all current fandom for being consistent, faithful and shamelessly magical on so many levels. There are not many franchises out there that have not only seen as many years, but bested cross-platform and cross-genre hurdles the way the Final Fantasy series have. FFXI is one of the most successful subscription MMOs to date.

So really, nobody wanted ARR to be awesome and great more than me. I signed up for the beta the moment I was able to. I spent time on the character customization, questing and exploring the starting areas, playing different classes. Yet all things considered, I’m sad to say that FFXIV isn’t on my list of current MMOs. I was even tempted to write that final “why I’m not playing…”-post the way I usually do, but then decided against it. Despite the fact that I was majorly disappointed by the beta and that ARR has had a rather horrendous launch, I’m willing to give it another go in a couple of weeks or months, when SE have had time to address the biggest issues. Why is that? Because of FFXI memories and my hopes to see some of that return one day.

My very personal ARR (beta) impressions

Before jumping into retrospective, let me explain briefly why my ARR beta impressions can only be summarized as “an exercise in datedness”. Maybe I’m applying higher standards to this relaunch – in any case I have zero tolerance for its particular shortcomings. From the very beginning, SE’s communication in terms of beta dates, feedbacking / NDA and actual DOWNLOAD LINK were beyond abysmal. Polish in this regard, be it customer info or smooth account and payment management, were never this company’s forte. FFXI veterans shiver in fear thinking back on Play Online account management. Still….because it is 11 years later and because this is a relaunch, I expected better. This is poor guys. Poor!

After discovering the download link for ARR in some forum thread (…), successfully installing and finishing a somewhat strangely organized character customization where all the female voices sounded like pornstars before climax, my Lalafell Conjurer was thrown into Gridania. Instantly I was critted for 500k of wearisome tiny speech-bubble exposition. I get it…this is the uhhh “tutorial phase” for all the complete MMO newcomers out there (so many of them!). So, after clicking away what seemed like an eternity in Lalafell years, I did my best to navigate the horribly designed starting area with help of the equally horrible town map. Oh and teleport thingies….which didn’t seem to have names on the map – yet the beautifully long dropdown menu for picking destinations required me to know. Trial & error, said I!

What’s with all the double confirmations, by the way? Do I really want to – really really? Is this game developed by Microsoft Windows? …

All of this wouldn’t have been so horrible if ARR didn’t send you all around town for the most lazily designed and unimaginative fetch&delivery quests since kill ten rats. First I wasn’t sure if they were kidding when asking me to pick up 6 sparkling vegetables lying around right before my nose. Then it turned out this quest wasn’t the exception. That’s when cold desperation took hold of me.

There was also a “do this emote”-quest for variety. It was my absolute highlight.


Outside town the world was a beautiful as ever. Yeah, they know how to do that stuff. Pulling mobs was weird in a group, what really irritated me however was how combat was still slow and formulaic. Also, SE have apparently not caught up with the whole shared tapping and nodes concept that makes newer MMOs so enjoyable. Sigh.

…There’s more and Jewel did a good job rounding things up elsewhere, so I’ll stop here. I know some of these issues were fixed since beta, the biggest offenders however remain and have me worried for the game’s future. To clarify, it’s great so many players are enjoying the current state of ARR, and if you happen to enjoy the more traditional or oldschool approach to all things MMO mechanics, more power to you! Still, I feel let down by the lack of polish and creativity in many areas, considering how a re-launch of an already once-failed title will have much to prove in the long run.

Remembering FFXI

This is where the ranting ends because there is much to love about the FF Online franchise. When I think back on my days in FFXI, many things stand out in my memory – things that made it worth my time and that may similarly change my opinion of ARR. To list just a few highlights:

  • FFXI was one of the first MMOs to introduce multi-guilding via linkshells. I loved the idea, I still think it’s a good one.
  • There was the insanely well-designed and flexible class system, with added hero classes. I was a Red Mage / Bard and up to date no cooler implementation for an MMO bard class exists to my knowledge.
  • As bad as auction houses were, as great was the simplicity of individual player shops via public inventory bag.
  • SE have always understood the importance of player housing.
  • Beautiful character, animations, spell effects and gear design. A beautiful world to play in, full of nostalgia and the most wonderful music.
  • Party combos actually mattered

My main reason for stopping FFXI was mostly twofold: the money and exp grind was insane for the average player – and FFXI was a game of merciless forced grouping after lvl 16ish with no soloability and setup flexibility whatsoever. I could’ve lived with much of its other imperfections and overall punishment but these main factors proved too detrimental to my longterm enjoyment and acceptance.

Needless to say, much got fixed and balanced as the game progressed. However, by that time there was another MMO called World of Warcraft demanding all of my attention. Which is where my worries for FFXIV come in: what’s gonna happen to subscriber numbers early 2014, when all novelty has worn off and the game will have to put up with some serious competition? It’s easy to love things when they are new. Which is why I do have my hopes up that ARR will see some much required fixing and polishing during the coming months, as more players engage with it and leave vital feedback. One can only hope for Eorzea because right now, things just aren’t “good enough” – yet.

That EQNext Update and whether we should be excited

So EQNext is officially more than that green picture ever since the big Las Vegas SOE reveal this August 2nd. TAGN made a nice round-up of MMO blogosphere reactions in case you’re still catching up like I do. Wilhelm calls himself cautiously optimistic which is all I’ve ever been in regards to this title. Much is riding on the big name; very bold has been the sandbox boasting in the past. I’m not a fan of developers who talk more than they’re showing, so at least now we’ve finally got some facts and videos to add to that grand idea that is EQNext. So let’s have another brief look while I’m trying to reign in the MMO summer-malaise sarcasm.

The “sandbox”
As a Minecraft fan I am mildly excited by the Landmark feature, especially in regards to real world implementation. Player created goods and services are always healthy for virtual worlds, although I am not sure how much I care for the destructibility of the environment. It sounds like a gimmick given it’s restorative nature.

Classes and combat
As much as SOE try to be innovative, the combat and class system of EQNext sound like a perfect hybrid between Final Fantasy XI and Guild Wars 2 (which is not a bad thing). Tons of classes and cross-class combinations have existed in Vana’diel since 2002, while active combat with a very limited set of weapon- and class related active skills is one of the reasons why I like Guild Wars 2 as much as I do. Means, no complaints here from my end; I am all for class freedom and fast paced, minimal UI combat!

Levels and progression
Sadly the one big oversight in Guild Wars 2, I am happy to hear EQN will do away with leveled progression. As far as alternatives go, we have yet to hear how exactly player progression is to be paced in this game. Personally I’d like to know how grouping / group setup will be balanced and what type of spin SOE intend to put on traditional questing. Frankly, I don’t think anyone can do much better than ArenaNet in this department.

The look
Maybe the biggest disappointment for me personally was the overall look of EQNext, combined with the action scenes shown during Part 2 of the presentation. Nobody was more surprised than myself to see SOE go for the cartoony Disney aesthetic that comes dangerously close to the butterfly in my MMO venn diagram, rather than opting for a more traditional medieval / high fantasy style that so many Everquest veterans no doubt expected. While I’m no veteran myself, I had high hopes for EQNext to put a modern touch and polish on what I associate with the olde D&D vibe. Instead, SOE presented us with Belle and the Beast (who looks strangely like World of Warcraft’s alliance crest come alive) jumping, hovering and rolling their way through a dirt parcours in platformy fashion.

Oh God…whyyy?


“…both a little scared, neither one prepared..”

I’m having a hard time recovering from this blow. While graphics aren’t everything in MMOs, the chosen style dictates a lot of the feel and atmosphere of the world. As far as cartoony graphics go, there is almost always a level of slapstick, popculture referencing and general lack of seriousness involved. That is one WoW legacy I could really do without – although SOE might have more reasons for this move than trying to follow World of Warcraft’s wide appeal and “longevity factor”. I think one can greatly over-credit WoW’s graphics style in this context. People still play WoW because it’s consistently managing to be a polished package that has a great deal to offer. That’s why players are willing to overlook its by now dated, cartoon graphics – not vice versa.



In general, the emphasis on things like facial expressions and clothes movement seems strangely overstated in Georgeson’s speech. While it’s nice to have detailed character customization or flowing fabrics in MMOs, I found myself cringing at the above selection of comic faces. This level of detail supposedly adds to our characters “coming to life” – I guess that’s where the presenter lost me. I always treat my MMO characters like alter egos and I’d like to think that it’s me, my personality and way of playing them that adds life to them. Heck, players have breathed life into 8bit pixel avatars since the beginning of video gaming. So no, I don’t like these EQNext characters at all. As for how they move around terrain, I hope combat won’t be quite as platformy as it looks like. I am of course blown away by yet another mage with blink…

Emergent AI and NPCs
If there was any mention of AI and the role NPCs are to play in EQNext during this reveal, I missed it. Either way, this feature is still my biggest draw for the title (see this great article on US Gamer for some more recent info). I’ve been excited for Storybricks ever since Namaste went more public with the concept and I can’t wait to read all about questing and NPC relations in EQNext. That might be the one thing winning back some of my sympathies. Having greatly enjoyed Animal Crossing New Leaf for the last couple of weeks on my 3DS, I am once more amazed at the mightiness of complex AI in video games. If SOE are really looking to innovate, this is one of the great untapped goldmines in MMO gaming. Fingers crossed!

GW2 Appreciation Day. Or: The seven months Recap

It’s been seven months to this day since Guild Wars 2 launched somewhat rocky in August 2012, and ever since players have argued just how much genre evolution has in fact taken place with this title. How much has GW2 truly pushed MMO design forward? Over half a year later there is more meat to such analysis.

I will never forget the heated discussions preceding this launch or some of the emotions flying high in the blogosphere. Hardly ever do unreleased games invoke such passionate argument between nay- and yay-fronts. Arenanet’s bold statements and promises for GW2 managed to provoke even the most level-headed genre veterans. So, you are talking of better days?- Well, you better prove it! Any developer can wax lyrical over their unreleased product of course. Yet, here and there this recent twitter observation rang true: “Pessimism is the natural state of the MMO gamer.” We like to complain a lot – but oh, beware of promising us improvement! If it sounds too good to be true that’s probably because it isn’t.

Or was it? Scary is taking the opportunity today to muse on the state of GW2 and what he is thankful for to ANet. Personally, I concur that there is much that GW2 has done for me and that I believe will shape MMOs to come. Seven months later, it is still part of my weekly MMO diet. There are also things however that did not turn out as well as I had hoped. So, while this is by all means an appreciation topic, I will cover all bases in a short recap.

Getting the bad out of the way

I think it’s safe to say that WvW did not deliver on my personal Alterac Valley dreams. Others have already analyzed in great detail all that went wrong in ANet’s three-faction PvP conflict model, preventing it from becoming a source of constant, passionate strife and server pride. As much as I wanted to engage in WvW, even after joining a PvP guild and seeing my server hit #1 on the EU ladder, my flame for this part of the game was sadly never kindled.

I have recently commented on why I feel let down by the subtle change from GW2’s open world no-grind (or at least missing item-centricity) premise, to what has become an endless grind for gear, tokens and daily achievements. ANet feeling pressured to re-introduce these features in lieu of non-existent endgame is probably my biggest GW2 qualm right now, closely followed by their lack of preparing an ingame grouping tool or at least global channel. While player initiatives such as gw2lfg are laudable, I am still at utter disbelief over this.

Other than that, the biggest surprise would be the miss-happen (under-)usage of the item store and inane approach to cosmetic gear (town clothes /eyeroll). If there’s a thing I expected this MMO to do well, it would’ve been cosmetics. But browsing the shop seven months later, one could think ANet do not actually want our money, much to their loss.

Leaving a mark on the MMO map

In spite of few serious short-comings, I consider GW2 a smashing success – and over 2 million box sales are not what I’m referring to. There is no doubt in my mind that GW2 did achieve some of the most important innovations and changes that it originally set out to do. This will and already has had impact on games yet to come.

So, in the spirit of appreciation day, here’s what I thank ANet for:

  • For proving once and for all, despite all doubt and suspicion, that MMOs can feature classic combat without role restrictions and holy trinity. I always believed in this particular feature and wasn’t let down.
  • For introducing a score of varied outdoor events and revolutionizing the fetch&delivery grind of mainstream MMOs.
  • For featuring an active MMO combat with exciting weapon combinations that feel different for every class.
  • For breaking up level progression and keeping to a flat leveling curve.
  • For de-cluttering the MMO UI and keeping a small health bar.
  • For a high level of gear customization in terms of armor dyes.
  • For curvy Norn ladies with proper booty and some of the most consistent, achieved race design in Charr, Asura and Sylvari.
  • For massive outdoor dragon encounters (even if they could be more difficult)
  • And last but far from least: the most stunning, beautiful, inspiring and shamelessly magical MMO world and aesthetic up to date – on land as much as under water. If that wasn’t enough, you also got Jeremy Soule to seal the deal and irrevocably hook you to the wonder that is Tyria.


I’ve seen some discussions of late on why graphics don’t matter and how we should return to pixels because that made for better games; I couldn’t disagree more. Graphics are not what makes or breaks an MMO – but give me a great game with GW2’s graphics and vividness on top and I remain your faithful customer forever more. Accomplished design and sound effects are the delicious sugar on every MMO cake.

Which of the above accomplishments do I suspect to have the greatest impact? No doubt we’ll see increased grouping freedom in future MMOs. Roles will likely return in both Wildstar and Elder Scrolls Online, but never again to the extent and inflexibility of past trinity-based AAA-titles.
More active combat is already here; we can see it in Tera and all bigger releases of 2013 feature it in one shape or form. I wouldn’t credit GW2 for this trend too much but its arrival has marked a new era of less formulaic MMO combat. That said, one can still improve on the zerg.

By far the biggest influence of GW2 lies in ANet’s revamped questing and dynamic event model (and yeah, I still call’em dynamic). Probably the most dramatic shift for me personally, GW2 has set a standard that future, western MMOs simply cannot afford to overlook. I can forgive fedex questing in LOTRO – never again though will I settle for a new MMO setting me on an uninspired kill-ten-rats routine. Thank you Arenanet for showing us what can be done!

I’m sure much more could be said for other aspects of GW2, such as crafting or the much debated personal storyline. I leave it to others to judge such matters as I lack the required focus and expertise. I realize too, this didn’t turn out to be such a short recap after all. I trust my readers will forgive me. The short version is that GW2 is the best thing coming my way since World of Warcraft and while being far from perfect, it hasn’t let me down on my biggest hopes and wishes. And for that I raise my hat to Arenanet.

With that, I am off to continue the Living Story. Enjoy your time in Tyria!

That one month into GW2 "Sub Question"

While many bloggers are posting their one-month reviews and conclusions on GW2, there’s one particularly hot question being asked all over various forums, news and community websites: “If you bought GW2, would you have still done it if there had been a subscription?”

In the light of GW2’s successful start and over 2mio copies sold already, there is no bigger elephant in the room – of course everyone is wondering how well ANet would’ve done this exact moment in time, had GW2 come with a subscription! It’s an intriguing topic (at a first glance, anyway) and no doubt this MMO’s launch date was smartly set sometime ahead of its other, direct competitors expansions. Unlike with sub games many players will surrender to curiosity and consider “just a box price” tolerable while maybe waiting on other titles (or already paying subs for them).

So, how are GW2 players and visitors feeling about the sub question, one month into launch? I asked the same thing last night on twitter, on a very spontaneous note. Here’s the range of reactions I got:

    • “Maybe” (Rowan)
    • “Yup. I bought two sets of gems already.” (Pitrelli)
    • “Only while it held my interest” (MantleCraft)
    • “Yes. I enjoy the game. I have passed on other games that have a sub because I didn’t enjoy them enough to justify the cost.” (Jazz)
    • “I would have, though i would prob cancel my other subs to justify” (Psynster)
    • “Definitely. The game has been fun enough that I would pay a subscription to it without thinking twice.” (Rakuno)
    • “Yes, I would have bought the game & then paid a sub based on how much I like it” (Heather)
    • “No. I would not.” (Eivind Johansen)

Now, I don’t know how representative the quantitative outcome of the answers I received really is, as it’s mostly familiar bloggers who sent me a reply (I did ask in general GW2 channels though). Retrospective inquiries like that are also generally difficult to interpret because once you are enjoying the game a lot, hypothetical choice may be affected by your current, positive experiences. The same bias exists for negative experiences though – and to draw conclusions on success and potential sub failure, it’s the nay-sayers one must focus on. Of course, I followed up that “No. I would not” -reply with a second question: “Are you currently paying for any sub MMO?” The answer was “nope”.

Well, shoot. I did hope for a different answer, maybe related to how bad this person’s gameplay experiences were with GW2, potentially compared to other MMOs! While you could probably argue that GW2 didn’t fully convince this customer to pay a hypothetical sub, there are players who will simply never pay subs and only ever try B2P/F2P games. That’s that and convincing them otherwise isn’t a realistic undertaking.

Still, it’s the “noes” that make this question interesting. The above example shows how difficult or virtually impossible interpreting negative reactions to any MMO truly are without much further investigation. In fact, a person leaving a negative reply may represent any of the following rough, five groups:

    1. The Economist: currently paying for another MMO and never intending to pay for two. Will consider playing both though.
    2. The Bored & Curious: waiting on MoP / anything else, only bought GW2 because it was B2P and launched earlier. Will drop GW2 until the favored MMO becomes boring.
    3. The Penny-Pincher: never pays subs period, or doesn’t play often enough to justify them for himself.
    4. The Lucky: didn’t actually pay for GW2 but got it as a gift.
    5. The Disappointed: genuinely disappointed/frustrated by GW2 due to “insert reasons here”.

    Of all these potential nay-sayers, the only one that comes with genuine motivation and therefore also a more meaningful reaction and potentially productive feedback, is the last category. Somebody who was open to pay anything at the beginning but got utterly turned off by some aspect of the game while playing. All the other groups would distort any kind of simple poll ran on the sub question. The outcome would be hard to read for anyone looking for more concrete criticism and potential game improvements. Which must not mean that useful criticism is absent in the other groups – but if you’re presented with an audience that never meant to pay a sub in the first place, you might wanna prioritize feedback of those that would have done so readily.

    Once you get feedback from the disappointed players, things naturally don’t get easier. As a developer you can now try and sort all various issues into those you can change, those you cannot reasonably change and those you do not want to change. What all of this tells me is that dealing with customer feedback is an enormous challenge and that the big “GW2 sub question” really is senseless and dissatisfactory in the light of our vastly different contexts and backgrounds. ANet have launched GW2 in 2012 and must therefore deal with an MMO audience of 2012, including all baggage this brings. Right now all things considered, they’re dealing rather (!) successfully.

    My answer is YES – but not without concerns

    There is no question I would pay for a GW2 sub. This I base on my personal positive experiences with the game, the individual and subjective fun and enjoyment I’m finding in this fresh MMO – just like everybody else does. I’m generally not focused on payment models; whether I pay a sub or not is irrelevant when an MMO manages to inspire me. So, when I refer to “getting my money’s worth” there is a more figurative meaning for me than may be for players that truly (have to) look at costs and put a value on every feature on their pros&cons list. I would certainly question paying for two subs at the same time though, for time management reasons.

    I would pay a GW2 sub too because there’s long-term appeal in Tyria. Having only just hit level 60 with my Elementalist, there is so much more content ahead I haven’t even touched yet and more world and story depth surfacing by the day, as I am progressing through higher levels. All MMO worlds take their time in introducing you to aspects like lore; to me GW2 has only started to bloom in this regard. When I fought in the Battle of Claw Island today, I felt real excitement and sadness over the course of the story. I don’t remember the last time an MMO questchain has inspired that reaction in me, actually I only recall Skyrim more recently.

    That said, my one-month GW2 recap comes not without concerns. While ANet did deliver on my biggest selling points, there are several more pressing and serious concerns I’m sharing with other GW2 players out there:

    • Bad/random dungeon/chest loot and the token grind; there is a particularly scary calculation on exotic sets currently found over at Hunter’s Insight. If ANet don’t look into this matter fairly soon, they can certainly never again claim that GW2 presents no grind of any sort!
    • Izari from Talk Tyria is majorly disappointed by ANet’s shift of stance concerning endgame gear and prestige armor, away from GW’s old philosophy that gear differences should be cosmetic rather than in stats. I was saddened to read this as I’ve greatly looked forward to GW2 taking some of the stats obsession away that I’ve come to loathe in WoW, due to all its technical and social backlash.
    • Now that I’m playing in more high-level zones, I detect a slight two-fold change about leveling up and questing: there are a lot more bugged events – and – as the Brave Elementalist points out leveling speed in low pop areas decreases significantly. That isn’t necessarily a horrible thing given the overall fast leveling experience in GW2, but bugged events need fixing and some of the less well-paced areas need looking into, especially in regard to heart quests (in absence of people to do events with).
    • Like so many others, I agree the WvW queues need fixing a.s.a.p. on individual and group level. While I fondly think back to a time where Alterac Valley queues took half a day, it should come as no surprise to ANet that this prized feature is a big focus, with many players queuing up already at lower levels. While I’m personally not affected too much by the queues yet, this should be one of their top priorities.

    I’m keeping my fingers crossed that all of these graver issues will be reviewed and addressed swiftly – for everyone out there currently waiting on WvW and also on behalf of GW2’s dungeon appeal and the very significant long-term motivator that is gear/collection in MMOs!

    P.S. I’d still like FP view and market place preview!

    Six games to keep you busy ’til Guild Wars 2 (for free)

    After the information flood from this year’s Gamescom in Cologne, I was planning on posting a “little” write-up on the status-quo of Guild Wars 2, maybe highlighting all the good reasons why we can all look forward to this upcoming MMO. The new information out there is numerous and scattered, a little over-whelming and off-putting to a skeptical mind.

    A little write-up….yeah, HA-HA! How naive can you be?

    That was before I chanced upon this erm “little summary” here which the folks at GW2 Guru put together since the convention. And we have yet to hear what else ArenaNet will reveal at this week’s PAX East. Exciting times.

    This convinced me that I should not waste my time with an incomplete list of bullets and rather advise you to go and have a look for yourself. If you require any more reading after that (which I find somehow hard to believe but anyway), Kill Ten Rats have a few more links to interesting reads up. Now, I might revisit my original intention of breaking things down in a short, comprehensive summary, but for the moment timing is not on my side.

    That’s not to say of course that I will not write about Guild Wars 2 anyway, because I am really excited (you may have noticed) and after the most recent clips and interviews I’ve watched, I am longing to finally get an ETA. It’s been mentioned that the game is apparently around 65% finished – whatever that means – and I guess even with the most optimistic mind we cannot expect GW2 to be released before coming spring 2012. However, there are reasons which speak against this too, making Q2 or Q3 the more plausible time frame for potential release.

    OH NOES! What am I gonna do until then? How will I make it through the dark, cold nights of winter?? I’m fine with not playing anything much during summer time, but after September latest I usually like to know what game I will be playing in the upcoming months. After all, there are preparations to make: reading up and deciding on what to play and which server to roll on. Friends to poke and bombard with links and information, until they finally surrender and get a copy themselves (works every time!). Relatives to contact about that extended journey to Alaska you’ll be taking, where there’s unfortunately no phone line and internet in case they try reaching you during the next few months.

    I’ve no idea how to entertain myself game-wise until 2012. Yeah, there’s that list of more oldschool adventures I intend to play through – but online games are where it’s at! And before you mention SWTOR; does not appeal. Not in the slightest. So, what can we do here? I’m sure I’m not the only one currently un-subscribed to WoW or Rift and somewhat hopeless over the lack of prospects. Which is where I like to turn around and ask: what’s worth re-visiting in the world of MMOs, if not paying for straight away? Well, I might just have a few suggestions!

    Six games to keep you busy ’til Guild Wars 2 (for free)

    • Sign up for Age of Conan Unchained; with AoC entering the FTP market, this is a great opportunity to have a look at one of the most accomplished MMOs currently out there, besides WoW and Rift. While AoC is by no means a perfect game and dated in many ways, there is a lot to be said for the maps and feel of Hyboria, the solo destiny quest chain, the combat system and refreshing approach to both melee and healing classes. If you know what you are dealing with and can overlook clunky UI functionality, you should find enough to entertain you for a while and maybe even justify a temporary subscription which will allow you to unlock more race-class combinations and more. For the PvPers among you, Funcom recently released their Blood&Glory servers where almost everything goes.
    • Give Allods a chance; yeah, I know Allods’ graphics look a lot like WoW while the game gets grindy fast. Yet, this recommendation is for the shiny-lovers among you: those who love creating characters and race combos at the character screen, test out different starting areas, dig shiny armor and walking around, exploring the world. Allods is free to play and offers eye candy in areas that WoW cannot compete because it’s simply older. And I still hold to the Arisen being the most badass race ever to appear in an MMO. There’s nothing to lose by giving this game a try!
      • Have a first or second look at Final Fantasy 14;  FF14 has been off to a very rocky start, to say the least and has since suffered the full impact of screwing up many things so early into release. You can consider SE’s mistakes unforgivable, or have another look at their popular franchise which has by now undergone a lot of patching for the better, on top of becoming free to play. The game has been streamlined in many aspects of gameplay, from combat to questing and crafting, and supposedly plays a lot smoother and easier overall. No doubt, FF14 is not everyone’s cookie – but it’s still your best shot if you enjoy polished asian/anime-flair MMOs or love Mogs and Chocobos. 

      …Moving on to even more FTPs, they are everywhere now, aren’t they? Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons&Dragons Online have been entertaining their own, enthusiastic audience for a while now:

      • I was very skeptical about LotRO from the beginning (hairy feet!), until I read about Weatherstock and other community events that define this MMO which claims to call the most agreeable crowd of gamers its own. If you’re one for community, lore and traveling the world, LotRO sounds like a fair deal to pass some time in Middle Earth. 
      • DDO is probably one of those MMOs you either love or hate for their oldschool flair. If you can deal with outdated graphics and overall not-so-polished gameplay though, Turbine are ever so busy to release new content for their players to explore. I have a feeling this MMO is very much an acquired taste, but comes with its very own atmosphere and charm.
        • Last but not least: Sign up for Blizzard’s WoW starter edition. Miss Azeroth or Alterac Valley & Co. but don’t care to pay the sub? The new, limitless trial offer let’s you return to the lowbie levels of the game without your account expiring. Up to Draenei and Bloodelves are available for re-discovering WoW’s early content and many of the revamped starting areas and quests. Or you might just want to kill some horde. There are still some heavy restrictions involved, but for some casual free play on the side this might be what you’re looking for.

        Makes you wonder how long it will take for WoW to completely switch over to FTP too? At the rate that things are going, with more and more content being about fast rewards and solo- or pickup-mode, this seems like an inevitable step. Subscriptions revolve around the idea of long-term time investment and heavy cooperation.

        My PVP priest in AoC

        Anyway, these are my personal recommendations for the currently MMO-less among you, in hierarchical order. Obviously, there are many other FTP options out there, but I’m not sure I want to try any of them unless someone convinces me otherwise (consider yourself invited to). Even for more casual testing, quality is a concern (and there are limits!). I have recently resubbed to Age of Conan after a look at the new PvP server – this is the good thing about free to play: play first, make your choice later.

        There’s absolutely no reason not to give older MMOs a go. You know what you are getting here: these games might not be polished diamonds, but they have character; they’ve had a chance to mature, gather a community and offer plenty of gameplay options. At best, you’ll upgrade your account and even use the item store. At worst, you’ve gained some insights on contemporary MMOs – consider it “educational”!

        I know about the anticipated titles for early 2012 and frankly, I am not sure I will subscribe to Diablo III. The Secret World does not look like it’s going to happen for me, either (who wants to do google research quests?). As for Teraboobs, yeah right! It’s going to be a long wait for Guild Wars 2 folks…and winter is coming!

        Trion introducing coin locks

        It appears that ever since Rift launched, there’s been a real pandemic of hacked accounts around – to a degree that is baffling considering this is a new MMO which only just launched a few weeks ago. I’ve not ever had anyone hack accounts of mine in the past, but then I take all sorts of security measures on my PC (as far as that’s possible) and I’ve used a WoW authenticator for years, being paranoid that the same thing might happen to me like to several mates. If you’ve invested a lot of time into an MMO account, it’s a horrible idea that someone else might break into it and tear it apart. I even had a good friend quit the game for good over this.

        Many bloggers have complained about Trion’s lack of security measures for Rift, some blaming them for the 16 characters password limitation. Personally, I don’t think this is the real issue, but then I’m not an expert in password security. I’ve commented a few times on other pages though, that I can’t understand why Trion would launch a new MMO without any security measures or authenticators being in place from the start. Surely, Blizzard’s past troubles in this area have shown everyone else how important this is?

        Anyway, Trion did finally react; the following Email has been sent to Rift subscribers in the past 24 hours, introducing a Coin Lock system for their accounts:

        Users will be coin locked if they log in from a new or different location or computer. When their account is coin locked, they will be sent an email to the address that they have on their account (their login email) with a code to enter into the game.

        Users will see the Coin Locked icon in the spot where their tutorial button shows up. Deactivating the tutorial tips will not turn off the Coin Locked button.

        While in a Coin Locked status, users will have the following limitations:

        • No access to the auction house
        • No ability to SEND mail. Users can still receive and view mail as well as remove items from mail
        • No ability to SELL to vendors. Users can still purchase items from vendors
        • No ability to salvage, runebreak or destroy items
        • No ability to trade
        • Users can continue to play and gain coin and items, but cannot get rid of them.

        If you are Coin Locked, simply click on the Coin Locked icon and enter the code found in your email from Trion. You will only have to enter the code once for each computer at a given location. If you play from multiple locations, or on multiple computers, you will have to enter your code the first time you log in from each new location or computer. If you log in and your account is coin locked, check your email! Someone may have logged in from another location with your account.

        It sounds simple enough – although I’ve no way of judging how secure this really is (am happy to be educated). It appears to be a good way to manage account security to me, without the need of some sort of “hardware” or extra tool involved. That said, they’ve also announced in the Email, that they’re currently looking at options for additional two-factor authentification, in form of a smarthphone app or other. I reckon that will be for free.

        Ever since I subscribed for Rift, I have been spammed “Preorder Registration Information” Emails, coming from a no-reply account at direct2drive; I must have received 50 of them by now and haven’t really found any way to stop this (although I did contact them directly, but received no reply). I don’t assume these are phishing attempts, in all likelihood it’s just a mistake or auto-notification of theirs gone bonkers. Still, I’m really glad to hear Trion finally introduced a coin lock system, for what its worth.

        Rift souls for WoW brains

        I had this long wall of text ready to publish yesterday, on how much I look forward to play future MMOs without the holy trinity – and then blogger ate my post and I couldn’t find any way to recover it – of course. *sigh* That convinced me I should rather be playing Rift than write silly posts, y’know basically a sign from above, and now I’m not even sure whether I have the heart to rewrite it all. I hate it when that happens, where’s the time machine when you really need it?

        Anyway, there I was trying to break down Rift’s class system in a comprehensible way  to one of my mates the other night, feeling ready to jump off the next cliff after approximately 10 minutes. Yeah I get it, the class system is a little more complex than in World of Warcraft – that’s why it’s fun. But it’s really not all that hard to understand, a trained monkey could grasp the concept pretty soon. To which my mate then replied: “what about Warcraft players?”.


        Before you reach the inevitable conclusion that said comment was actually offensive, it was made by somebody who’s played WoW himself for a long time – and arguing with such deprecating self-irony is kinda hard. I have also been told that I am made of pure evil for successfully luring people into giving Rift a go, making one of them buy an new shiny PC just to be able to run it properly, so apparently I don’t get to argue. Riiight, don’t blame me now, MMO players are all the same desperate bunch, muah muah!

        I get where this is coming from though: when you jump into Rift, there’s all that talk of callings, souls, roles, subclasses, planar charges and ye olde Warcraft player that you are, you’ve simply forgotten all about how it feels to start a brand new game and that initial confusion is part of the experience (and fun).

        That’s okay! /pat

        There are currently a few Rift resources in the making, but nobody likes to go and search half-baked databases when starting off with a new game. Also: Wiki articles are often cryptic and have the potential to scare you off rather than to help – now that would be a real shame. So, what is it with this class-soul-role mumbo-jumbo in Rift? Here’s my breakdown in 3 easy steps.

        Rift – Callings, Souls and Roles

        • 1. Callings (Azerothian: classes)

        There are 4 main callings or class archetypes in Rift: Warriors, Rogues, Mages and Clerics. This is the initial choice you will make when creating your character and cannot be reversed at any point in the game. Each of these archetypes offers 8 sub-classes or talent trees which are called souls in Rift.

        • 2. Souls (Azerothian: talent trees)

        Your very first quest at level 1 will let you gather your first out of 8 souls. Don’t worry about that choice too much because already at level 13 you will be able to get them all and switch around.

        Your character can equip 3 souls at any given time. That means your talent chart looks very similar to WoW where each class has 3 trees to fill points in. The main difference is that you have 8 trees available in Rift and it’s your choice which ones to play with and when. The game wants classes to have access to a lot of variety in playstyles and encourages you to experiment and respec often.

        So, if you roll cleric in Rift for example, you can play any combination of 8 souls: you can be Druid/Cabalist/Warden or an Inquisitor/Justicar/Sentinel – just to name two options. It’s up to you what “trinity” to set for. That makes for a stunning 56 unique build combinations available (more including PVP souls) per class. And then it’s still up to you how you spread your talent points within those combinations. Ideally, you still want to focus on one main tree at least, in order to get access to the powerful endtalents.

        • 3. Roles (Azerothian: specs)

        At some point you will tire of respeccing in order to switch or re-build your specs; you will want to have different talent and soul combinations ready to play, depending on whether you play solo, in a 5man or PVP. Every Rift class has variety of functions available, from tanking, to dps, support and healing. This is where roles come into play: a role is Rift’s equivalent to WoW’s dualspec, it let’s you save more than one talent spec at a time and switch between them easily, anytime and anywhere. Your first extra role will cost you 30 gold which roughly equals 30 WoW silver – so it’s very cheap.

        You can both respec and purchase extra roles at your class trainer. Note that while you’re leveling up, you must buy your new skill ranks individually for each spec and can only do this while the role is active (so it’s a good idea to switch while you’re at the trainer).
        Furthermore, you do not only have two roles available in Rift, but can get up to a total of 4 saved talent builds which you can re-name individually to keep track. This is another testimony to Rift’s class versatility and flexibility. Knock yourself out!

        Useful resources (Azerothian: wowhead & co.)

        That’s pretty much it! Not so hard now, is it? If you’re still looking for more info on something, have a look at the following, more and less useful Rift resources and Wikis. Keep in mind that the game has only just launched while browsing.

        You might want to visit:

        If anyone is using different pages or has other tips in general, I’m happy to hear about them. I have not actually had the time yet to look into any Rift forums and I don’t even know whether there are official realm and class forums or not. Exciting times! ^^