I'm a huge fan of D&D 4th edition. I especially like the character design rules and power structure, along with the thorough embrace of square-based combat. I've always thought it would be great as a video game, or at least an automated virtual tabletop, something like the D&D Insider tools and Roll 20 merged into one. But that wasn't to be.
Instead, Cryptic, the team behind Champions Online and Star Trek Online, bring us D&D Neverwinter, a 4e inspired F2P MMORPG. It features real-time third-person combat, not entirely dissimilar from Tera, with active targeting and dodging and stuff like that.
I was initially rather reluctant to try the game out, because I had horrible experiences with other Perfect World games. Perfect World, a Chinese company, employs very aggressive and oppressive monetization in its games, propagating all the worst of the Asian "pay to win" stigma.
Maybe "pay to win" isn't the right term. Maybe "pay to make tolerable" is more fitting. Not unlike the cruel disfiguration that befell Star Wars Online at the hands of its vicious F2P overlords, PWE games never stop reminding you how inferior you are for not having spend hundreds of dollars to silence them. But I was a D&D fan, and a fan of Cryptic's earlier work, so I had to at least try out Neverwinter.
I don't typically review games or issue scores on this site, so I'm not going to try and figure out how many stars or what percentage I'd award Rift's new expansion, Storm Legion. Instead, I'll say this: of all the MMORPGs out there right now, the one I'm most enjoying right now is Rift: Storm Legion.
I like the streamlined quest system a lot. It really addresses my biggest complaint about the "quest grind" which is the travel time players spend going from hub to hub. Rift's new quest system provides a single meaningful "breadcrumb" story quest which both carries you through the zone and is provided in sufficiently sparse chunks that it's actually worth reading through. I can't remember the last time I actually read the quest text. I guess the trick wasn't to make the text better, or even to voice it a-la SWOTR.
Along the way (following the breadcrumbs) you come across other quests you can do at your leisure. The key thing here is that you can do them without prerequisites. That means there's the risk of missing them, but I think Trion's come to the realization that this particular risk actually makes the quests a little bit more worth seeking out and doing. More importantly, it means you don't have to do them if you want to skip past an area and you can jump ahead and do them if you find yourself deep in a quest zone after chasing a world invasion.
Switching gears entirely from quests, I also wanted to comment on some of the changes to the class (calling / soul) system. In sharp contrast to the seemingly overwhelming tide of simplification (read: dumbing-down) that is sweeping any form of meaningful engagement with games, Storm Legion takes the risk of adding extra complexity and leaving it tucked away for players to discover. Take, for example, the Elementalist.
Rift's first expansion, Storm Legion, is finally here! In this special report blog entry, I'll be updating with my first impressions as they come. As always, you can click here for a free trial if you want to try out Rift for yourself. Be sure to join me on Faeblight!
First impression so far: cool new patcher theme! I like the purple and red! I'm glad I could be such an artistic influence for you, Trion ;)
Server just came down for a fix, so it seems like a good time to update. So far it still very much feels like Rift, which is a good thing. The patch process was quite painless: I risked trying out that "download while you play" mode I'm always so wary of and had no problems or negative experiences at all. Bravo Trion! There was a bit of lag, but nothing out of the ordinary for a bajillion players all shoving their way into the opening area of new content.
I tend to think that one of the main goals of a subscription-to-F2P conversion for a troubled MMORPG is not only to attract new players but recover players who cancelled their subscription. I think this is an especially valuable group for game developers because it is a group of people who have already demonstrated a willingness to pay for the game. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that I think critically about the process of bringing old players back.
Here's an example of why that sort of critical thinking matters. I recently got back into LOTRO, mainly due to interest from my cousin-in-law who was a big LOTRO fan long before the F2P conversion. But before we could play together, we ran into a number of very significant hurdles.
First of all, he had to figure out what his account name, email, and login information was. Remembering all that after so many years can become nigh impossible, especially if you play lots of different games and obey the rule of having a unique password for each one.
Not that it helped him; once he managed to log in and update, he found himself banned. His account had been hacked and stripped during the period of inactivity. Getting it unbanned involved the intervention of Turbine support. Then, finally in the game, we faced the uncrossable hurdle...
Since my last post about finding a job as a knowledge manager in a game company, I've been asked many times how that's coming along and why I'm not working as a gaming librarian yet. The thing is, my goal to work as a gaming librarian is a long-term goal. As in ten years long-term. A number of other important goals must be met first.
The most obvious short-term goal is getting some solid work experience in my professional field. Five to ten years working at a company with an established Knowledge Management office, or at a company seriously interested in establishing one, is my current career focus. Not only does this help meet short-term financial goals, but it also helps me establish a solid experience base to compliment my education. Working with experienced professionals who can share tips of the trade will be very different from listening to lectures. And I'm more of a hands-on learner anyways.
Once that career is in motion, I can seriously look at joining professional organizations and participate in career-related conferences. My ultimate goal here is to establish a forward-thinking reputation and eventually be able to present my ideas to my peers. I very much enjoyed presenting at the Canadian Games Conference, so I look forward to taking a role as an active participant and advocate within my professional circles.
The final step--and this is that 10-year-away one--is returning to the game development circuit with a plan based on solid education and solid experience. Of course, even this is mutable. The future has a strange way to reshape you, after all. While I think it's valuable to set long-term goals to work towards, I don't like to be restricted from other opportunities either. I don't know exactly what I'm working towards or when I'll reach it, but I'm sure it'll be grand when I find it.
When people ask me "why did you become a librarian" the easy answer is that I worked with librarians, enjoyed the work, enjoyed the people I worked with, and waned to join their ranks. But the deep underlying motivation is that, after working at a few game development studios, I saw a major need for improvement in the way games are made; and I saw how librarians are just the kind of person to fix those problems.
So I've begun my quest for a job as a game studio librarian. It's a bit of a ridiculous quest: I want a job that doesn't exist. But I think it should exist, and the hardest part of the quest is getting the job created.
The basic argument for why the job should exist is summed up in this Gamasutra article I wrote earlier this week. But basically, game studios are heavily reliant on knowledge and information and their knowledge is largely mismanaged. Hiring a librarian as a Knowledge Manager would go miles to improving workflow, saving money, and - crucially - improving the quality of the games being made.
This last part of the argument is the most important to me, because, as a game critic, I've often found myself in awe of the poor design choices made in games. I realize now that many of those poor decisions are made due to poor communication and a lack of information.
I was looking back at some of my more critical comments on Tera and I started thinking to myself: do I suffer from MMORPG design bias? The more I play Tera, the more I think "Oh, I wish such-and-such a feature from that other MMORPG was here." I wonder how much of a bad thing that actually is.
For example, in Tera, only one class, the Lancer, is officially considered to fill the "Tank" role, and that class can ONLY fill that role. Thus, Lancer and Tank are synonymous in Tera. This means that every party must have one Lancer. Then, every party must also have a healer, either a Priest or a Mystic. This leaves three spaces, which, according to the auto dungeon tool, must be DPS classes, of which there are five. Of course, Tera suffers the same class distribution in almost every game: no one wants to play Tank. The result is "insta-queue" for anyone who does play Lancer and excessively long queue times for everyone else. Contrast this with Rift, where three of the four classes can fill the Tank role, or WoW, where 4/10 classes can tank.
My bias says to me: "there should be more tanks." Or, specifically, it says that more classes should be able to tank. As many classes as possible. My bias is that I've found tank limitations to prevent having fun in MMORPGs, and that making more players be able to tank has tended to make other games more fun, therefore Tera should do the same.
Perhaps this bias emerges because of a different contrast with Tera and other MMORPGs: Tera offers far less character customization. WoW had three talent trees for each class which could, in certain cases (especially Druid and Paladin) radically alter the role the class would fill in a party. Rift took things a step further with eight souls per class, giving players tremendous freedom in customizing what they would be doing on a moment-to-moment basis. Tera harkens back to much stricter concepts of class, such that every player of a certain class is basically the same as every other player of that class. Within this framework, a much stricter party role for each class makes sense.
Well, I called it. It's time for an expansion for Rift and Trion just announced it wouldn't disappoint. A vertical jump of 10 levels, just like I said was needed, has been confirmed, along with the full press release for the Storm Legion expansion. Along with new levels, a new soul for each class, a new tier of crafting, two new continents to explore, and two new raids to, erm, raid.
Of unexpected interest was the announcement of Dimensions, described by Trion as "customizable spaces that allow players and guilds to own a sliver of Telara." Seems to be their answer to instanced housing, except instead of just a house, you get a whole pocket dimension with who knows what inside. I'm really looking forward to them though, as personal and guild housing was a feature I particularly enjoyed in Everquest II.
I just hope there isn't a giant grind for Air resist gear.