Monday, October 27, 2014

Mists of Panderia 2: Electric Boogaloo

Has Rift’s new expansion died before it lived?

Sit back kids, and grab something to eat or drink.  This bitchfest is going to be long.

It feels like the expansion, Nightmare Tide, is an attempt to recreate the Mists of Panderia expansion for World of Warcraft, complete with a shitton of farming.  Trion appears to have pushed a “quantity over quality” mentality, thinking to overload the players at the beginning of the experience with the sheer amount of “stuff to do”, and to give them something to push for.  But if they had paid attention to Mists of Panderia itself, they’d have realized that the players—both hardcore and casual, and everyone in between—do not like that mentality.  It’s nice to know that we don’t have to push ourselves to get into things, and to burn out before we even begin raiding.

First, a few facts about the first seven months after Mists came out.

-         1.)  World of Warcraft saw a 54% reduction in overall revenue between September 2012 and April 2013.  Now given, Mists sold millions of copies in September and that would certainly cause inflated numbers, but it is still not an insignificant drop in subscription numbers.
      2.) Coupled with this fact, World of Warcraft lost 1.3-million subscribers during this time period, or a loss of 14% of the playerbasev.  By September 2013 it had lost 25% of the playerbase, and Blizzard-Activision admitted they did not see it stalling anytime soon (to date, it has been staunched slightly).  It was also around this time that Blizzard did a huge mass banning of the bot farms located primarily in Europe and southeast Asia.

The next part is speculative, really supported by the threads that appeared on the forums for World of Warcraft, but also what many commentators in the gaming community mentioned about Mists of Panderia, but also Cataclysm’s end.

Mists of Panderia pushed the quantity-over-quality aspect of gaming hard.  Dailies were so abundant and damn-near mandatory that raiders had no choice: it was far worse than even Wrath of the Lich King and Cataclysm for enchanting and the like.  It was long, boring, and tedious, and players felt disenfranchised.  The leveling was absolute crap, and many progression raiders simply stopped raiding, myself among them.  It really began to feel like a grind every time you logged in, and when you feel like there’s no end in sight for two or three weeks in a row, you start to simply lose the will to log in.  I logged in because I had to: there were responsibilities inherent to my position, and I couldn’t simply ignore them.  After about two months of playtime, I had trained up the assistant raid leader to do my job, then told the guild I was leaving, and I didn’t know if, or when, I’d be returning.  I haven’t regretted this decision since, because it was simply not fun.  No one, not even the raid leader for a progression guild, should feel like they have to log in and view it as a chore instead of a hobby.  And if you honestly believe that there is a minority of people who feel that way, going simply be the data that can be extrapolated it is not the case: in 2013 even Blizzard admitted that the loss of paying subscriptions did not appear to be abating, and probably would not for the foreseeable future.

It should be noted that about this time, Ghostcrawler left the company (and thus the WoW Development Team) and the Warlords of Draenor expansion was announced.  Many more cynical players have said that it simply appears to be an attempt to placate the playerbase and bring them back in because of the failings of Cataclysm and Mists of Panderia, and I’ll admit to falling into that category.  Time will tell, but for now I have not preordered the expansion (the first one I have not done so) and I do not plan to buy it.

Now, Rift is a themepark MMO, referred to often as a “WoW clone” even though that isn’t fair: it brought quite a few nifty gameplay changes to the genre, but it still feels rather like a WoW clone at times, sure.  And to keep up with the feel, it appears Trion decided that the Mists of Panderia mindset was a good thing to emulate, thinking imitation truly is the sincerest form of flattery.  It isn’t the case, and it’s not just because Mists was so critically panned and negative.  To begin with, let’s look at the monetary costs associated with purchasing and getting into the game itself:

-          1.) New Souls (the talents) cost 4,500 credits in the store, which means you’re probably going ot drop $50.00 on credits because of sheer value.  To get something similar in terms of what you need to purchase it, you would have to buy four REX (the RMT version, much like a PLEX in EvE Online), or credits in some form to get to that point.  Either way, you’re hitting $40.00 with that, so you might as well just spend the extra ten if you can handle it.  This price, also, is assuming you’ve spent $15.00 on a subscription for the month, meaning you’re actually spending a minimum of $55.00 to do this; I am not, however, factoring in the subscription price for this.
      2.) The “physical” expansion costs $25.00 at a minimum, and I’ll go into this in a bit.  However, most people will purchase the $50.00 expansion simply to get the “Instant Level 60” boost that can be sold for in-game currency.  At this current time, it is selling for 3,200 platinum on my shard (Faeblight).  More to the point, purchasing this version (or the next tier, which is $149,99) does not give you those souls, meaning you have to pay an extra $40.00 to purchase that.  In essence, to obtain everything from what would normally come from purchasing such things you would be paying the equivalent to two expansion packs.

Now let’s keep in mind, Trion opens the entire leveling and gaming experience to everyone, even the players who don’t spend a nickel on the game the entire time they play.  As a free-to-play game, that’s how it should be done (Star Wars: The Old Republic should freaking take note here, considering how badly it has done since Day 1): you should give the players that much and put special things into purchases made with money.  No one is faulting them for launching “collector’s edition” versions of the game, and more power to you if you decide to help keep the game going, ladies and gents.  In all honesty, had I had the disposable income I probably would have dropped the $50.00 on the second tier version just to show my support.  Now, I’m not so sure I would, but that’s just me.

The most important thing right now, however, is the massive amounts of lack-of-clear-planning that appears to go on.  Itemization, for example, is complete crap.  Let’s give you an example of what I mean (sorry for the quality, you'll need to zoom in by clicking on the picture itself).  Now ,the stats on the item aren't bad at all, probably where they want epics to be to begin with.  Until, that is, you hit the Hit Rating: +53 hit.  That is the same amount of Hit found on epic-quality gear prior to entering raids in the previous expansion, and hit requirements did not remain the same with this expansion: to get into experts in the Storm Legion expansion it required 300 Hit, which one could easily do simply with crafted gear; for Nightmare Tide it requires 800 Hit, and the gear you will get will put you just at that base minimum, meaning this epic will not be used.  In short this epic will not see any type of play, relegating it to "less-than-trash" status.  No epic should ever be at that level.

Also on the topic of gear, several items that have been labeled "Bind on Equip" have simply become bound as soon as they are retrieved from a cache or box.  I'm not sure if that's a coding error or what, but it certainly seemed a bit iffy.

Next, on to questing.  There are no quest hubs, but that has generally been true throughout Rift's gameplay so I can't fault them for staying on-point with this.  Running form Point A to Point B can be tedious, but their liberal use of Porticulums for fast travel between destinations you've previously visited certainly helps to take a bite out of the strain generated by that.  but running from Point to to Point B, then to Point C and on to Point D only to return to a spot halfway between A and B is annoying, especially when it happens constantly.  You still have large expanses between those waypoints generally, and so you spend a lot of time getting to positions and less time doing the quests.

But that's okay, there's a lot of shit asking for your sword in their throat, and I'll be damned if I don't oblige!

The classes received "masteries" which are a set of four different "talents" that you can select between at each level.  Now, between fights you can switch from one mastery talent to the next without having to buy something like in WoW, but they don't really appear to be anything new.  Each class has it's own set of masteries, so there's no real variety for them: some are goign to be used, and others are just too broken that you don't look at it.  I can't fault them for doing this, though: World of Warcraft decided with Mists to nuke talent trees altogether, roll the spells and abilities into leveling itself and at certain levels (multiplications of level 15) you could put a point into a set of "talents" that would theoretically have benefits and drawbacks associated with them, allowing for you to be better in some instances and worse in others.  For Rift there are a lot of talent tress to work on, and adding five points into each would be tedious work, I will give them that.  But this game has been touted as one in which there is a lot more customizeability (spell check says that's not a word, but it can bite me) even when compared to Elder Scrolls Online, and in order to keep that they will have to work on the trees.  if it's a stopgap in order to allow them more time to work on refining the trees, I'd prefer they told us that.  As it stands, this is silly at best and downright lazy at worst.

The new capital city—Margle Palace—just seems like they threw together random schemes and backgrounds.  It is not aesthetically-pleasing, and it's not something that appears to be well-planned.  I mean, it seriously looks like an architect was not involved.  It isn't centralized like the other cities (Meridian is a fringe case, I'll grant you that).  It is too much like old Orgrimmar or Stormwind: not localized.  That drove people insane by the thousands, if not millions.  There's going to need to be a huge revamp of that city, otherwise people are going ot keep Tempest Bay as their destination when they hearth.

Now, with the exception of the itemization issue I can get over that,  It's simply stuff that can be fixed, as can what I'm about to write about that has really upset me.  The newest currency is called Void Stones.  Now, they're being used for everything in this expansion: buying Nightmare Rift lures costs Planarite and Void Stones, for example.  That is, of course, assuming you don't want to spend credits to do so (and yes, 9 credits is nothing, but that is not the point.  I simply have one question:

Who the fuck was in charge of this?

If you want to purchase gear upgrades like with Infinity Stones, you have to use Void Stones.  Fine, you're keeping with tradition.  But who thought it would be a good idea for dailies not to offer them, and more importantly to fucking cap them at a weekly amount?  Now given, not many people are going to take the days-on-end to farm up 35,000 stones (the weekly cap); however, I am assuming you intend to add ways to get a shitton of them in short amounts of time, meaning that people will go over cap very quickly.  I can only pray for this, because otherwise I will not give a damn about them, and neither will anyone else.

Two new slots (earrings) require 100,000 Void Stones each.  Much of the gear now requires a new "attunement", also requiring 100,000 Void Stones.

Per character, mind you.  Keep that in mind.

So with a 35,000 stone weekly cap, that is going to require a grand total of eight weeks (or two months for those of you who can do the maths in your head) to get those items.  Per character.  Hardcore progression raiders will be forced to get those slots and what-not in order to not gimp themselves and push for their server- and world-firsts.  This means they aren't purchasing Nightmare Lures.  They aren't going to spend 10,500 Void Stones to purchase the WoW equivalent of "dungeon gear" (oh, and that's for the cheapest items).  Sure, you're pushing them to purchase from the players and hoping to drive the economy, but you're also forcing them to do one thing to get geared.  you should have multiple avenues to do that, but there simply isn't.

Now, all of this can be bypassed by paying $25.00 for the expansion.  Well-played: it puts money into the hands of the company for "future development", which I am honestly assuming is simply being put on Trove and ArcheAge at this point, and that's not even working.  CCP Games learned the hard way that you can't focus on new ordeals and sacrifice on the old ones: their two new games have all but died in the case of one, and the second is done, with the team who had been working on it being laid off.

And I'll admit, that cap is high, because no one is going to spend the time to farm that many stones when it doesn't even appear in dailies!  So I guess in a way the cap is arbitrary, but that also means that the two months I talked about earlier is similarly arbitrary because no one will get to it.

And Daglar has been hesitant to actually talk about it, at all!

Now, I'll admit that I relatively enjoyed the leveling experiences (until level 64, which was a bitch in itself; now, imagine having to do it twice because Trion can't remember to back up your server's data on redundant drives!).  And I'm thoroughly enjoying the Minion idea (which seriously, you need to find a way to add that to the mobile app).  I think the stamina needs to regenerate faster, but I can live with it.  I'm also enjoying the streamlined profession leveling, as it's simply easier to farm mats now, and I can live with that, seriously.

Trion can fix this stuff that people have been complaining about.  It is early-enough in the expansion to get players to enjoy the game again, because right now players are annoyed.  First impressions are important, but if you work on fixing some of the stuff that people have mentioned (and not just myself, mind you: hundreds of people have developed threads on these topics) it will go a long way towards helping to repair whatever hit your reputation took.

But what do I know?  I've just been playing MMOs for over a decade, beta tested many of them, and have been writing for Joystiq for over five years.

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