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Terraria: so close to being a great game.

December 18, 2011

I think that I’m going to throw in the towel with Terraria. It’s not a bad game, I’m just done with it for now. Simple design flaws keep it from being great. Most of the game design is “cart first, horse second”. Meaning that the equipment you can obtain or craft AFTER killing a boss is usually what it takes to kill the boss. This was true prior to the most recent (big) update, but has only gotten worse since the latest update.

After banging my head against a wall for the past few hours trying desperately to win at least ONE of the new boss battles, I decided to look up videos online… Basically, they absolutely require insane amounts of farming or at least three very well equipped players. So, it’s basically group content, or, content for obsessive players. I wouldn’t mind it that bosses require multiplayer, except that Terraria is NOT a very good multiplayer game, in my opinion. The principle problem with Terraria multiplayer is loot distribution. Short version: if you see it you can grab it, and gear determines what level of the game you are at, and loot can be VERY, very rare. So, should your buddy pick up or craft a critical, game-changing item, he quite literally “leaves you behind”. Of all the people I’ve played Terraria with, only one of them wasn’t a loot whore. The rest would rage if they didn’t get the item they wanted and always refused to slow down for other players, or to distribute loot evenly among players – they just wanted to get /more loot/. “Multiplayer” games essentially became several independent single-player games going on in the same map. Mind you, loot does NOT respawn in Terraria, so these independent solo games on one map are quite essentially _competitive_ by nature.

The competitive atmosphere that Terraria multiplayer generates is quite unfortunate. It’s not the “good” kind of competitive mood that some games exhibit. This isn’t Modern Warfare, where competition is healthy and enjoyable; this is more like finding out your friend borrowed your car without asking, or a random guy hitting on your girlfriend while you are on a date – that kind of competition.

Changing the looting system is the only way this will change, and that is not something that the developers will ever change. Given that the challenge level of the game where I’m at requires multiplayer, I think I’m going to shelve it for a while.

In other news, I finished off Bastion. That’s definitely a good, solid indie game. I don’t think that I’ll give it another play-through however – so the replayability is limited. But, at $5, it was one of the best games I bought this year. There’s not much extra to say about the game, other than I was surprised by how deep and quasi-political the story got later in the game. I can’t say that I disliked it however, but it certainly was a shock. I figured it would have a more tame, or more personal story, like Braid.

A Steam buddy of mine plays WoW still. It had me thinking I might want to keep it around just to game with him and another guy on Steam… Thankfully however, they play WoW on an absolute minimal basis, so it’s not worth trying again. I do think that I can finally retire WoW for good. Thank God for that. It was easily the best, and worst game that I have ever played.

With that said, I’m actually downloading two other MMOs… Low-rated action “Gangsta” MMOs: CrimeCraft and APB. At first I was just going to try out CrimeCraft, but it seems like both might be worth a try, especially since APB has a driving component. APB has plenty of hackers however, so I might not spend much time in that game given how little tolerance I have for cheating and hacks.

Also on the horizon is Star Wars: The Old Republic. This is my first post to even mention the game, which is funny given how much of a Star Wars fan I am, how much I enjoy BioWare games, and given that I’m a sucker for MMOs. I think that the reason I’ve been so quiet about the game is I thought it was coming out /next year/ (or later), and because Star Trek Online really, really ruined my faith in MMOs, especially those based on a famous franchise. I had such high hopes for STO, and it ended up being a buggy, boring game. What’s worse, is the game didn’t have any obvious potential to get better, it was flawed on a fundamental gameplay level. It was obvious to me that without a ground-up rebuild of the entire game, STO would always be a chore to play for more than a few hours. I had invested a LOT of faith in the game because of the fact that it was being developed by Cryptic, and I (mostly) agreed with their vision of how to design MMOs. After that, and after playing soooo many MMOs in my days, I have become very cynical about MMOs.

Nevertheless I’m going to buy it at release. If I still had Comcast cable I would have already pre-ordered it and would be playing it /right now/, but the reality is it would take longer for me to download and install the game over my current connection than it would be to wait two days and just buy it in the freaking store. That’s due in no small part to the MASSIVE 27 GB installation size however. I’ve got to imagine that it comes on at LEAST 3 DVDs. Jeeze.

I had debated quite a bit about buying it or not, because of my experience with shitty MMOs, and my hesitation to get involved in “yet another MMO”. I read articles, mini-reviews, opinions, and beta impressions. Ultimately it’s WoW with a Star Wars skin. At first that convinced me I shouldn’t ever play the game… but I found myself thinking about what I read while I was at work… a lot. It was at that point that I realized I have to buy it, if nothing else just to get it off of my mind – and put to rest any doubts as to how much I don’t want to get roped into a big MMO.

This leads me to a few speculative thoughts about SWTOR based on what I’ve read and the gameplay videos I watched on YouTube:

– The leveling experience is likely going to amaze me, or bore me to tears. I’ve read mixed opinions on it, some are saying “ZOMFG ITS KOTOR3!!1“, some are saying it’s okay, and others are saying that the junk quest to story quest ratio is 10:1 – i.e. very, very bad pacing. I really don’t like grind leveling anymore, it just doesn’t tickle me… at /all/. But, if the pacing is a bit more even, I may end up loving the game, especially given how many different potential story-lines there are. Likewise, I’m already firmly of the belief that questing in terms of multiplayer is going to be either total shit or absolutely brilliant – and this is an important factor for me. I don’t want to have to choose between intriguing plots and playing with friends – it shouldn’t be an either/or situation. Having to choose one over the other mostly defeats the whole “fourth pillar” (or story-telling) that BioWare has been yapping on and on about.

– PvP looks a lot like Rift, both stylistically and gameplay wise. That is a mixed bag for me. I don’t like the whole human-only race selection, which makes the battlefield seem samey and bland, even to the point of /confusion/ since the two factions have similar looking races and classes. It’s so bad that the game REQUIRES name plates to be on in order to tell which team someone is on. I think that I’ll get involved in PvP since there is a bolstering mechanic at level 10 that allows a HUGE pool of players, hence the wait time will be minimal; but I don’t think that I will get serious about SWTOR PvP because of the aforementioned issues – it just seems unoriginal and a bit boring.

– If the single-player is crap, then the lack of a bolstering / side-kick system for PvE and instances is a huge turn-off for me, and may have me leaving the game after my initial month is over. I’ve already told my Steam buddy about this – because he’s likely going to play more than I will and will quickly outlevel me. His answer: “Have alts”. Well, maybe that works for him, but I personally do not want to build an army of alts and it bothers me that I won’t be able to readily group with friends. BioWare stuck to the WoW formula SO CLOSELY that they couldn’t be fucked to include a side-kick system. Sad. This, as well as the bland PvP ensures that when Guild Wars 2 comes out I will jump ship quickly and quite permanently. Sidenote: GW2 goes into closed beta this month!!! Holy shit! It looked VERY polished in the videos I’ve seen, so it can’t be “too far away”.

– The PvE combat videos I’ve seen are very uninspiring. It’s basically a slower version of WoW / Rift mixed with STO. There’s no auto-attack, which I don’t really understand. That sounds arbitrary and would only be fitting if the game supported gamepads and/or was going to be multiplatform. Mashing keys over and over is… not very fun, or involving. Just because I’m pushing the button doesn’t mean I care. I don’t really understand the direction BioWare went with this, given how action oriented Mass Effect is and how strategic their earlier titles were. It doesn’t seem in the spirit of the original KOTOR games… it just seems like a lazy WoW copy and paste. The instance encounters looked okay, but still very WoW+STO – too much “face tanking” for my liking without any input required from the player other than their standard class/build rotation.

– I have very mixed feelings about the direction BioWare went with the class system. First, the bad: Players are forced to PERMANENTLY decide their sub-class (i.e. their /true/ class for the purpose of end game) early in the game and can’t take that decision back later. They likely did this to FORCE players to re-roll in order to play the other sub-class, and invest hundreds of hours in order to do so. MMOs are ALL about sucking the time out of their audience, and that’s a really short-sighted and poorly veiled method of forcing players to invest more time (hence money) in the game. Poorly played BioWare, poorly played. I’m very disappointed by this. I thought BioWare was beyond making these kinds of Blizzard game design decisions. This also creates “pure DPS classes”, something that I REALLY wish the MMO genre would move past, as it always creates a role deficiency for tanking and healing… Given that I’m positive BioWare went with the copy-paste Tank-Healer-DPS-DPS-DPS party format, since that’s what WoW has. 🙂

– Secondly on my shit-list for class design is how copy-paste the talent trees are. There’s no denying it, the talent trees are a one-for-one blind copy of WoW talent trees. At least the talent system in Rift allowed players to switch _roles_, not just switch how they perform the single role they have (in the case of DPS classes), and there wasn’t a single class that was “DPS only” in Rift. Hell, you could have 4 or 5 different talent specs on one toon! <sigh> Again, poor form BioWare. There’s no reason to NOT allow players to switch roles, other than to force them to re-roll their toons and to force people to play the game longer. Lame.

– On the other hand: apparently all of the specs are viable, if Taugrim is to be believed (an authority if no one else is). That’s good, I get really tired of MMOs pushing shit builds that just don’t work.

– The classes are mirrored across factions. Excellent. It took Blizzard SIX years of constant, small, subtle tweaks and adjustments to not only mirror classes and races across factions – i.e. to undo the damage they did by making asymmetrical factions. While I don’t agree with total class homogenization (like what Blizzard is doing right now), I think it’s important to balance factions if a game MUST have factions… and (un?)fortunately the Star Wars universe is definitely faction oriented.

– Currently the starship is just an over-glorified fast transit between planets. I guess you can “walk aboard your ship”, like you could in KOTOR, but you can’t bring other players on your ship. wtfh? So, everyone takes a different car to the prom it sounds like. Not that big of a deal, given that if it’s anything like STO (and it sounds like it is), there’s no starship customizations anyway. Oh, and spaceship combat is a single-player rail shooter. WTFH? Laaaaaaaaaame. This is a huge disappointment.

– Combat is, as discussed in the linked reviews, mind-numbingly boring. “Press 1, Press 1, Press 2, repeat.” Yeah. And position doesn’t have ANY function in combat (except for one class that can “use cover”, but they are predetermined cover points). I would probably pay $30 or $50 a month to play an MMO version of Battlefront 3 (RIP). In fact, the smartest thing that LucasArts and BioWare could do is to buy the work done by Free Radical on Battlefront 3 and integrate that code into SWTOR. Not that it’ll ever happen, because we’re talking about LucasArts here, a company known for making really shitty business decisions, but I can fantasize, right? I don’t think this will ever change, the combat will likely ALWAYS be a WoW clone.

In summary: I’m going to play SWTOR, however I have very mixed feelings about it. The ultra-tame combat, WoW-clone feel, and the lack of grouping options (there’s not even a group finder apparently!) will have me running for the hills in a few months at most. At least I’ll be able to add it to my ever-growing list of MMOs that I’ve tried. <sigh>

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