Seven Years In

Holy passing time, Batman! Seven YEARS?!

On the original blog, I would have a yearly sum-up of my previous year of MMOs at around this time.  So guess what?  The tradition continues.

Seven years ago, I dipped my feet in, and then plunged into, the MMO world.  And now, seven years later, things are still going strong.  So what’s filled the time in Year Seven?

The winner, and still champion…!

Well, as usual, City of Heroes conquers as being the game I spend the most time in.  The biggest news of the year there was the advent of Freedom, the freemium conversion of the game.  Hasn’t changed much for me, though-because I’m still subbing, and still having fun.

A pair of characters reached the lofty heights of level 50 in the last year:  Professor Dredd, a Mastermind character I’d had for the longest time (one of my earliest City of Villains characters, in fact), and a Warshade called Skyshade-who had originally been named Magic’s Shadow.

The game itself has undergone some significant additions:  primarily the Incarnate Trials, allowing greater and greater power for those level 50s.  Still, I have a fair stable of 50s now, so only a few got to start walking the path.  The top incarnates are Winter Tornado, Operative Rostov, Ebon Thunderbolt, and Stellar Protector.  Amazing Kane had a run at it, but when the developers introduced a new powerset called Time Manipulation, I knew I had to reroll the character to use that set.  So for the first time, I removed a level 50 from the stable and made a new version.  The original one made use of a free server transfer to the VIP Exalted server, in case I ever decide this was an incredibly stupid mistake.  Another fun event was the opening of a new 12 potential character slots per server, making it possible to purchase to 48 character slots per server.  Past history assures me that it still won’t be enough….

On the supergroup front, things have remained more or less stable.  The Union Supreme is still around, although activity when I’m active is a hit-and-miss proposition.  Hyperion Force has come off a year of assorted storylines, some of which were bigger hits than others.  And I’ve also been pushing ahead full forward with a villain group, too-the Entropy Legion, with my representative being originally Baron Craven (who eventually left because he backstabbed the group) and currently Dracofire, an alien fiery flying lizard.  Have I mentioned I love the Virtue server?

On the other hand, by TKO…

The next major MMO was Star Trek Online.  And things are less pleasant there.  The year started pretty strongly-a new feature episode hit in February featuring the Romulans and Remans, and it was-much like the previous feature episodes-a hit.  The highlight was the “Coliseum” episode, featuring an arena combat with some classic Trek music, a huge map, a puzzle…it had a lot of stuff that was just right.  Unfortunately, that was pretty much the end right there.  Thanks in part to the sale of Cyptic from Atari to Perfect World Entertainment, there was very little that was released outside of the C-Store offerings.  A publish did include a set of mechanical options, like “shooter mode”, but the next promised feature episode was pushed back…and back…and back.  The only thing resembling content for a long time was a series of random space Borg invasions.

Then the developers announced (to the surprise of nobody) that STO would be going freemium.  This, however, has been handled far worse than the CoH conversion.  My recent posts have probably hinted (well, that’s a mild way of putting it) of my own dissatisfaction with things there, and my opinion hasn’t changed much recently.  Despite this, there have been some good things.  Special Task Forces have improved to a point where a relative noob like me can play in them via PvE queues, and not spend several hours in one.  The Borg Invasions (now including a ground attack on Defera) have been pretty fun as well-they get you running around in space sectors, and the ground one seems nicely complex.  It’s not all bad.  It’s just a number of other decisions and actions involving the game that has me thinking that my time there is limited.

The Corps of Discovery still exists, but mostly in name only; it’s a place to exchange items and the like between characters, but there hasn’t been much in the way of fleet activity as everyone has drifted off into doing different things.  The Freemium conversion may have changed that, however; I’ve noted more activity in the News section of the Fleet menu than I’ve seen in a while, with names I’ve not seen in longer.  We’ll wait and see what the future holds there.

And now…the new challenger!

And then there’s the new kid on the block.  Star Wars: The Old Republic has come among us like a titan.  I obviously don’t have much to report on this one-it’s only been live for a little under a month.  All the same, I have a new Coreth on Canderous Ordo server-a smuggler.  And Alcarin is an Imperial Agent on Rubat Crystal, a member of the Correctors faction of the Sith Empire.  The Hyperspace Outlaws formed up on Ordo (although technically they’re using the guild name of simply “Hyper”).  The game’s been great fun for me so far, and I expect to be writing more about it in the near future as I indulge in my altaholism.  This isn’t to say that there haven’t been growing pains-I read on the forums and on news sites about exploits and errors-but I’m not seeing anything I haven’t seen from other game launches.

The old fighter gives up the ghost at last.

Speaking of Star Wars:  we saw the sunset of Star Wars Galaxies.  Nothing to say on this one.  I actually did manage to resurrect Coreth Landwalker briefly when SOE managed to have a huge data breach, giving me a free 45 days of compensation time; granted, since Corbantis server was no more, he had to be transferred off to another server, but I did it-and spent time taking screenshots of places, figuring I’d never get a chance to see them again.  Ironically, not long after, they announced the end, so there you go.  The timing of its expiration and that of the release of TOR is probably not a coincidence, no matter how much some folks might say otherwise.

A couple of other games claimed some time from me, although to a far more limited extent.  I amusingly had another 45 free days from the aforementioned debacle also applied to Vanguard: Saga of Heroes.  Which I’d only done a trial for, when it was released.  Funny, huh?  My PC is able to handle that game a lot better now than the one I’d had then, but it still couldn’t capture me.  SOE being in charge may have also had something to do with it.  I spent very little time in Champions Online, even given its freemium status; I tried out their version of feature episodes, but they just couldn’t grab me.  I spent even less time in Lord of the Rings Online; just enough to ensure characters were still alive, more or less.  I did get a few free weeks back in EVE Online (but I missed the really entertaining period when the riots were ongoing in Jita); I trained up a few skills, picked up a new salvager-specific ship for Zhaven Rel, and managed to get a datacore which I’ll likely sell off if I ever visit again.  DC Universe Online also went freemium, and allowed me to poke around there a bit.  I did something I never thought I’d do again-give SOE any cash at all-but it’s also likely to be the last of the cash I give them.  I expect to stop by there once in a while, but it’s no competition to the best superhero game out there.  Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a bit of time in the still massive World of Warcraft, where I got to see the Cataclysm hit; my free time literally spanned the space before and after the patch that wrecked the world, although the expansion itself hadn’t hit by the time I was done.  Irritated as hell about the talent changes, and more is supposedly on the way, but I don’t have a horse in that race anymore.

As usual, I also sprinkled some fictional writing in for my various MMO characters, since that’s something I still enjoy doing.  In a City of Heroes, Stellar Protector got put through an emotional wringer after finding out his wife had been replaced by a clone for a year, and I explored his reaction to that in “Facets”; but at least he had one victory earlier in the year in “Fall of the Gems” where a significant monkey was taken off his back (and a potentially nastier one was being put on-deck).  The Old Ranger of the same setting also got a little play in “Web of the Spider” as a new set of villains begin to assert themselves.  Meanwhile, in the Old Republic, the Imperial Agent Alcarin Rost began to get some time in with “Tales of an Imperial Agent”, and is a player in the open-RP fiction “The Arrival”.  All of those stories are at present at the respective web sites (all linked to on this blog), but I’ve begun to consolidate all my work over on the current Hyperspace Outlaws site-a project which will likely take some time.  Plans for the next year are ambitious:  throw up a new story for each character I’ve written about in the past.  That’s a lot of characters….

Seven years in, and a small horde of MMOs under my belt.  When I took a glance over my earlier years’ thoughts, I can’t help but notice how much longer the posts have gotten; the first one was maybe four paragraphs and some odd sentences.  This one is…well, bigger.  I expect the strong emphasis in the coming year to be with the Old Republic, mainly because it’s new; but I won’t ignore City of Heroes, and I’ll be keeping an eye on Star Trek Online’s follies as well.  I hope you’ll come along for the ride!

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Big Month Upcoming in MMO-Land

  The month of December is going to be busy!

  The first event of note is the Season Five: Call to Arms publish for Star Trek Online.  Basically, it’s all the Freemium stuff without opening it up to Freemiums yet.  Kind of like City of Heroes Freedom was live for subscribers before it actually went Freemium.  The uncharitable would call it a Live test.  It brings with it revamped Special Task Forces, a radical change in how one levels, how one crafts, how one gets starships at each level, how one gets promoted, more Borg invasions (well, just one-on the ground), and increased prices in the C-Store (along with the stipend for subbers).  The time between the release date of sometime around the first week of December and the actual Freemium launch of January 17 will tell us a great deal about STO’s future survival and health.

  On December 6, City of Heroes slaps a new power set on the Paragon Market:  Titan Weapons, featuring REALLY give weaponry to heft around.  Additionally, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a new Incarnate Trial hit, as we’re still awaiting the TPN Campus trial that was supposed to hit with Issue 21.5.  There may be other things on deck, too, with the Paragon Market, but the new power set is really the big draw here.

  Then comes the end of an era:  Star Wars Galaxies officially closes its doors on December 15, six years and one month after what a whole bunch of folks consider the day the game actually died.  My own feelings notwithstanding, it existed longer in its NGE incarnation as it did in its pre-NGE incarnation, so its passing is worthy of note.  This doesn’t really affect me beyond that, anymore-I don’t have a sub in that game, and I’ve already said my goodbyes to my characters and have heaps of screenshots for my memories.  So I can watch it fade away without remorse.  Yes, I’m certainly aware that there are other avenues to look if I want to get my SWG fix again, but that’s just not going to happen.  The characters, the places, all of that is gone.  SWG will forever remain a monument in people’s minds as a symbol of what not to do with a Live MMO.

  Perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not, Star Wars: The Old Republic begins its early access on December 15 as well-and launches officially on December 20.  To call that a Big Deal may be an understatement.  There’s a lot of strong opinions on the internet as to its worth; it may not be the Second Coming of MMOs, capable of conquering World of Warcraft, but it’s certainly a far stronger entry into the MMO-sphere than many others in the last couple of years.  It’ll be very, very interesting to see how things move ahead with it.  I’ll be particularly interested in seeing how they follow up with it; MMOs are very different than single player games; they require the producers to continually add to them.  With all the emphasis on voiceover work and story, Bioware may have its hands full.

  Finally, at some point, DC Universe Online will be releasing its “Lightning Strikes” DLC.  While no date has been officially given, they’ve said “later this year”, and there ain’t much year left.  Of course, this comes from SOE, the company infamous for missing deadlines and master of the overstatement.  Fortunately, I don’t have the warm fuzzies on the Flash like I had with Green Lantern, so my wallet is safe there.

  A bunch of MMOs are looking to finish the year strong (and one is just finishing, period).  It’s going to be a very interesting month to watch.

Feeling Unclean

  This is a very difficult post for me to write.  Merely thinking about it makes me feel unclean.  Dirty.

  No sense in putting it off.

  I’ve spent some time playing DC Universe Online since it went Freemium.  And…

  *sob*

  It’s kinda fun.

  My first character was a magic-based, hammer-using, sorcery-slinging hero named Emerald Sigil.  (Don’t bother looking for him anymore-doesn’t exist anymore.  More on that shortly.)  There’s something fun about taking a big hammer and smacking around Brainiac’s forces, then laying the smackdown on the bad guys in Metropolis with it.  I tried the Sorcery summoning path, but it didn’t really suit me.  So I rolled up a tech-based, bow-using, gadget-slamming hero named Landwalker.

  Well, I didn’t feel like reusing “Old Ranger”, and Landwalker sounds like it could be hero-y.

  So off I went, and had a lot more fun in Gotham City.  Had close encounters with luminaries like Bane and Scarecrow.

  It was entertaining enough that…well, I did the unthinkable.  I broke my vow.

  I gave cash to SOE.

  It was a one-shot purchase, as far as I was concerned.  I was always a fan of Green Lantern, and related content (including powers) was available for roughly 10 dollars.  Plus, doing so would upgrade the free account to Premium, bumping up available characters, cash limits, access to the vault-ah, hell, let’s be honest.  It was all about the character slots.  And the powers.  So I spent the cash, and immediately removed my credit card info right after; for some reason, keeping that info on file with SOE seems…unwise.  And then made a light-wielding meta named Blinding Fear-a villain wielding the yellow light of fear!

  Now, there is a caveat here.  As fun as it has been in DCUO, it’s all been solo.  The chat interface is horrid, and I still haven’t worked out how to use the chat windows.  The game’s console influence shows dramatically.  This is not a game that lends itself well to the kind of communication and action I would do in, say, City of Heroes.  CoH is in no danger of losing its spot as top game for me (particularly given the player summit info-but that’s for another post).  You do get classic travel powers like speed or flight, and acrobatics looks the part.  No teleportation power that I’ve seen-beyond the Watchtower/Hall of Doom’s access points.

  That said, it also avoids one of the most annoying aspects of MMOs:  spawn camping.  So far, in my experience, if you’re busy fighting something around an objective, and someone else sneaks in and tags the objective, you’re still getting credit for it.  The same kind of thing applies to targets; kill stealing doesn’t seem to be an issue, because you’re getting stuff even if you come in late.  And not apparently losing if someone does more damage or stuff like that.

  The setting is pretty solid, too.  Gotham’s always shrouded in night (and sometimes it’s raining), and looks suitable to what you’d see in Batman comics, movies, and animations.  Metropolis looks like a city that borders between the modern and the future.  And obviously, the biggest draw here is the characters of the DC Universe.  At the low levels I operate in, obviously, I tend to feel more like the sidekick than the hero (although the sidekick tends to get props.  “You know that Faust eats heroes for breakfast, right?  And you just beat him!”), but it’s a sidekick that can kick butt.

  And hey, the price is right.  Since it no longer requires a purchase (beyond my *sob* one), it makes for a nice game to spend time in when I need a break from serious heroing in Paragon City.

Some Devs Can Do No Right

  People who have followed this blog over the years(!) will be more than familiar with my somewhat less than complimentary attitude towards SOE.  I believe I’m on the record as saying that they’ll never again get a single dime from me.  As a general rule, the only times I really refer to them here is to mock them and berate them for generally stupid moves.  You can probably chalk most of it up to the SWG NGE, but continuing to read about their activites after that day hasn’t exactly done much to improve my opinion.

  So.  DC Universe Online went Free-to-Play last week.  (Okay, it went “Freemium”; I think I’ll just use that term from now on for sub games with free options.)  I’d love to tell you my impressions-but I can’t.  Because, yes, it seems that SOE has yet again dropped the ball.  And this is one that reeks of irony, because it only looks stupid in hindsight.  The steps leading to the situation made sense at the time.

  Going back to the opening day for DCUO.  Big hoopla.  News sites proclaiming it the Second Coming of superhero games, about to crush Champions Online and City of Heroes underneath its heel.  Man, did they blow that call.  Inside a month, people start complaining of a lack of content.  (Sound familiar?  A whole lotta MMOs have been releasing like that over the last couple years.)  Not long after, SOE was being called out at failing to deliver the promised “monthly updates”; they did manage to get it down to about a month and a half updates…briefly…before it went belly up.

  So people started bailing.  Shocker.  And this led to empty servers.  And this ended up leading to server merges.  Okay, sorry:  the creation of “mega-servers”.  A spade is still a spade.  But it made sense at the time.  Even the new “Fight for the Light” expansion wasn’t enough to save a sinking ship.  (And even that was poorly marketed-given how it had been held back from release, and to find out that they were gonna charge for it?  There was the usual uproar at SOE’s tactics, and eventually it was given as free to all subs.  Of course, they knew at the time what the future was going to hold; it’s a purchasable content pack now for free or premium players.)

  Along comes the Free to Play announcment.  The usual screams of joy and rage happened.  I was along the lines of “okay, I can now see what this is like”.  There was no way I’d pay ’em for the privilege, though.  Much as I like Green Lantern, there’s my hardcore unwillingness to give them any of my cash anymore.  I’d live within the limitations of the Free Player.

  It seems that a whole bunch of people had the same idea.  The servers got hammered.  Aside from one day, I haven’t been able to log into the game.  I was either locked on the loading screen after selecting a character, or I was put in a queue with roughly 5000 people ahead of me.  Oops-not enough servers!

  Irony, thy name is SOE.  They didn’t do anything wrong here except in hindsight.  (Man, that hurt to type.)

  Of course, this kind of thing is going to keep people interested away-and unlikely to upgrade to sub status.  Eventually, the devs will be implementing priority for subbers (one wonders why they didn’t do that already), but that helps the free and premium folks not a bit.  Fortunately, I’m sure that I’ll be able to check it out later down the line, as those thousands give up trying, or become dissatisfied like the players before them.  (I suppose it’s possible that the queue sizes are faked, too-it’s something I wouldn’t put past SOE, honestly.  But I’ll be generous and give benefit of the doubt.)  For the present time, though, DCUO is going to remain off my radar until sanity returns to their servers.

  I certainly hope Cryptic is paying attention to this minor debacle.  In theory, they have priority queues in place for Lifetimers (which is as trustworthy as a promise from SOE nowadays), but if I were them, I’d set it up for the subbers too, because I can easily see the same sort of disaster striking their servers when it finally goes live with its freemium plan.

More Free

Seems like every post I pop up here lately involves something going Free to Play.

This time, it’s SOE’s DC Universe Online.  That one wasn’t hard to guess at; Champions Online is F2P; City of Heroes will be going F2P in the VERY near future (since the VIPs are doing its headstart now)-it may even be Live before I finish posting this, for all I know.  And the general consensus of DCUO is that it was nowhere near worth a sub fee.  So, it seems that it was inevitable that it would go Free to Play.

The thing that surprises me is that they’re targeting a Live date of October.  That’s one helluva turnaround time.  This screams of SOE’s usual slap-dash work again (or heavy work behind the scenes in advance-which kind of tells you something about SOE since the game came out less than a year ago).  I’d be very, very leery about purchasing anything from their cash shops….  Still, the basic structure of their upcoming model is pretty much the standard-three tiers of play, from the straight free people, to the folks who purchased the game, to the people who continue subbing, with various details limited or nonexistent for the free guys, everything available (mostly) for the subbers, and something in between for the the folks in between.

Since I’m pretty much on-record as not being willing to give SOE another dime, I obviously would fall into the former range.  I’m sure I’ll take a look at it now-well, in October if they hold to schedule-and see what it’s like.  But I’m certainly not likely to throw over City of Heroes for it.

It’s amusing to see in their forums the same kind of things I saw in the CoH forum and the Star Trek Online forum when they announced:  pronouncements of doom, rage/fear of the free players to come, etc.  You would think there would be less of this since the model is becoming more and more established.  Guess everyone still judges by the WoW standard-if it doesn’t get WoW numbers, it must not be as good.  Whatever.  I’m tempted to look over at the Star Wars Galaxies forum to see what they think of that news, since they’re not going F2P, instead getting thrown under the bus….

Speaking of City of Heroes-I did mention it was in a headstart period, right?-the changeover seems to have gone more or less okay.  Got a kick out of the new Sewer trial, and hope to get a shot at the Underground trial for Incarnates this weekend.  The market…well, it’s got good and bad points.  Some things seem priced right-the Beam Rifle powerset was worth the price, especially since it was on sale.  I’m really, REALLY enjoying it.  On the other hand, the sale announced last night was a Pirate outfit “temporary” power (it’s actually permanent, but that’s how we tend to look at it); the problem is that it’s horribly overpriced as being more expensive than full costume sets-even on sale!  That seems like such a poor value to me.  There’s a number of those kind of “costume powers” out there, which would be terrific for RP kind of stuff due to the fact that you can’t reasonably make some of those costumes with the game’s costume editor-but at those kind of prices, I’d rather gnaw off my leg.  Thanks, but no thanks.

The new tutorial is better than I’d given credit for.  Originally, I figured it was just the Galaxy City mini-zone (that’s the kind way of putting it; what was lost compared to what we got is…tragic, honestly.  It’s puny.  I have hopes that we’ll see something more in the future…).  I had at the time really put it down because it told new players almost NOTHING about how to play the game.  Well, it seems I only looked at part of the story:  the game throws a tutorial contact at you at level 5, 10, and 15, which kind of makes learning about the various details that make up the game a part of mission arcs.  It’s rather well done, although I kind of think they might’ve been better to do some of it with the initial arc you start with when you leave Galaxy.

All things considered, it seems that the F2P model (or at least the “Freemium” model) is taking over the world of MMOs; I’m half expecting to see EVE Online throw its hat in the ring soon….

A Good Month for Heroes

January’s been shaping up to be a big one for fans of superheroism-at least in terms of MMOs.

The biggest news, of course, is the recent release of DC Universe Online.  Go figure.  I’ve heard reviews from people I trust on that that go in both directions:  good and fun, and bad and awkward.  It’s not on my purchase list; there’s too many factors that get in the way.  The first of which is I’m already playing a superhero game-City of Heroes-and it’s earned my cash on a regular basis.  The second of which is that I’m already involved in playing two games:  CoH and Star Trek Online; adding a third subsciption at this time would be nuts (technically, only one sub right now, but the lifetime sub for STO is still “paying” until June when it matches the amount I would have paid if I did the month-to-month, so until then…).  And finally…well, DCUO was made by SOE, which is about as poisonous a pill as one could ask for.

Still, if a buddy key fell into my lap, I’d certainly at least take a look at it.  Or if it ended up at STO box prices (let’s face it; STO can be found for cheap prices online.  If I’d ever wanted the collectors edition, it’d be a cheap purchase).  But even then I don’t think it would do nearly enough to entice me away from the games I’m involved with as it is.

Since I mentioned a Cryptic product, though, it’s also worth noting that Champions Online has a free-to-play date, and it’s conveniently near the end of the month.  Perhaps they’re looking to steal a bit of DCUO’s thunder here?  Could be!  Champs Online has its own problems, though.  I may have mentioned it before, but just in case:  their plan stinks-at least for former subbers.  According to their web site, folks doing the “free” route are forced into a limited number of characters, who are themselves having to follow a specific leveling plan:  archetypes.  Not such a big deal, if you look at the new player; sucks if you’re a former one, because the characters of the past were made with pure customization as they level; if you want to play them again, they have to be “converted” to one of the ATs.  Which aren’t much to write home about, and guaranteed to be less useful than the build you may have already put together.

Their F2P plans might help in getting new people, but those kind of limitations sure aren’t going to bring back anyone.

Credit must be given, though, in the fact that they are opening up just about all their current content to the F2P set; that’s at least a step up from Turbine’s model, where you would have to purchase content to level to max level (well, there’s always mindless killing things, but that’s a rather ugly way to level).  That doesn’t seem to be an issue with the CO model.  But again, the greatest benefit will come to people who have never tried CO before; the ones who did and left aren’t going to be persuaded to come back with limitations like this.

Obviously, my opinion is biased, as I have a number of characters-fairly low level, with highest being in the upper 20s-and the odds ofme playing any of them went down the sewage since I have no desire to remap powers to someone else’s preconceived notion of where the characters should be; even City of Heroes with its AT system gives more flexibility than what the F2P ATs are going to have.  So no fears that a free CO would lure me away there.

The quiet member of the superheroic trilogy is City of Heroes.  There’s been some hints about some stuff upcoming-an animalistic booster pack?  An in-between-Issue patch to open up the rest of the Incarnate Alpha Slot options?-but iffy on either of these hitting before the end of the month.  City of Heroes better start bringing its A-game, because CO with its F2P nature and the shiny newness of DCUO are both going to gain gamer attention, and if CoH wants to maintain its current dominance, it better start showing its hand a bit more than it has been over the last six months.