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MMOs: So Long, and Thanks For All The Fish!

December 18, 2013

I’ve been fighting with myself for years now about the value of MMOs – are they really worth playing? Tonight I feel that I can confidently, and finally answer that question, with a resounding No.

I recall in a much earlier post (perhaps from 2009 or 2010!?), stating that if I had to get /drunk/ in order to enjoy something, then it’s probably not all that enjoyable on its own merits. Of all the games that I play, the only one that requires a bit of alcy for me to loosen up to the idea of actually playing it, it must be an MMO. That is the first sign of fatal failure of any kind of entertainment.

The second sign of failure is the debate itself. If one must ask themselves, at /all/, if the hobby or medium is entertaining or worthwhile, then it is neither. In the case of MMOs I debate it daily, more-so with some MMOs (WoW, SWTOR), and less-so with others (GW2) – but the debate is had, every single time I play an MMO. Since my old Vanilla WoW raiding days, I have yet to actually finish an MMO session feeling /good/ or like I was entertained; unlike more conventional games, such as Mass Effect, The Legend of Zelda, Halo. Those conventional titles leave me feeling fairly good, like watching an engrossing movie or reading a captivating book. I play those games because they are /fun/, not because I have a Skinner box compulsion to do so.

I had been trying to “grind” my third Guild Wars 2 character to 80 – perhaps the only character that I’ve enjoyed so far. Even writing, or saying the term “grind” makes me grit my teeth. I realized tonight that I was suffering through quite a bit of tedium in order to get to the “good part of the game”.

Don’t get me wrong, the first time through in Guild Wars 2 is a fairly solid experience, but there’s still far too much repetition, and players are harshly punished for failure. Can’t get that vista at the end of a 20 minute jump puzzle? Fuck you, start over. Can’t keep your newbie crew from wiping on trash pulls in “low level dungeons”? Fuck you, start over. Not only that, but each restart will cost you precious time… a /lot/ of time. Make no mistake about it – MMOs have always punished players fairly brutally for failure, and they are less painful than they were in the days of Ultima Online, where death meant EVERYTHING YOU OWN was stripped from your body, or EverQuest 1 where death meant you lost hours and /hours/ of experience (in fact, dropping down an experience level after a death was very common), and you could /still lose EVERYTHING YOU OWN/.

In those days, time was something every 15 year old had in vast quantities. Now, in my mid 30s, it’s something I simply can’t afford to throw at a game, simply to be “punished” for not being leet enough. Call me a pansy casual – but the fact of the matter is, time wasted is time wasted, regardless of your hobby – but gaming is the only hobby where the creators will aim to rob you of your time. MMOs are particularly guilty of this.

I feel like I’m over explaining why I don’t like a genre of video games that is generally disliked by the public at large, including most gamers. If nothing else, I’m writing down my thoughts about why I don’t believe I’ll play traditional MMOs anymore.

On the other hand, unconventional MMOs that don’t feel like a monumental waste of time will probably remain on the menu for a long time. I have been still been playing quite a bit of Planetside 2 over the past month or two. I still /mostly/ play as AA in a SkyGuard, but I also do a bit of infantry fighting as a generic Heavy with the universal heat-seaker, the NS Annihilator. While I don’t get very many “Kills”, I do get tons and tons of kill assists with that sucker. It also seems to be VERY solid at deterring and distracting enemy fighters and bombers – providing something of a No Fly Zone anywhere they are deployed. This is especially true if you have friendly fighters in the area – it will give your fighters a huge edge in combat, forcing enemy fighters to dodge, juke, and drop flairs while still trying to stay alive in a dogfight.

In fact, with the auto-repair on the SkyGuard, it’s possible (perhaps preferable) to drive as a Heavy due to the NS Annihilator. I find that hopping out to repair takes too long, leaves me too vulnerable, and the light tank is so fragile that it will probably blow up if enemies have clear line of sight. If you are alone as an engineer, you’re probably going to have to Redeploy after losing your tank. As a heavy, you can probably finish off your pursuer with a rocket, or engage infantry with your LMG.

I occasionally run around as a stealthy, SMG-toting ninja – but that’s not really my flavor of gameplay, so I just do it to flush out snipers and to mix things up a bit.

Apparently Sony will be adding personal long-term goals and milestones. I have /no clue/ how that is going to work, however I’m enamored by how well Sony has continued to support Planetside 2. It was a MESS when it was first released, but now it’s a playable, fun product with fairly substantial content additions (although mostly in the form of infantry weapons and gimmicky cosmetic items).

“The Day After Update”

While my post from yesterday may have read like a rage-quit rant, I still feel very confident in my decision to generally avoid traditional MMOs, including Guild Wars 2. I’ve been following Wild Star – a WoW-ish-looking MMO that I was somewhat interested in the game until I read this article, indicating that Wild Star game is basically going to timewarp the genre back to 2005, when shit was “too hard to enjoy for anyone except retirees and college kids that don’t actually plan on graduating” (i.e. WoW’s primary audience until 2008 or so). It’s /cute/ that the design director basically told casual players to Fuck Off when asked what players should do if they find the time requirement too much. He said “Then don’t play”. I can only assume that he is addressing that statement to a player that probably has a spouse and kids, and a job that matters – a player that pays the same subscription fee as the hardcore, pizza-face stereotype of the MMO players and gamers at large. <shrug> That’s an unfortunate attitude to take towards casual gaming. It really only acts to cement my decision not to get invested in traditional MMOs anymore.

On the other hand, my favorite shooty MMO, Planetside 2 has just released another fairly sizable update. Quite a few players are either rage-quitting or extremely jubilant at the balance changes. I’m somewhat indifferent, because I never get too invested in any one class, vehicle, or weapon to care if it gets nerfed into oblivion.

Only two changes will matter to me much. The first is how they nerfed the Harasser. I wasn’t playing at the time the vehicle was introduced, and I’ve only been around them for a month or so – but I feel they are noticeably overpowered. I don’t play in a squad or with a regular group of players on voice chat, so I really can’t use the vehicle other than as a taxicab to get from A-to-B, however I’ve seen coordinated use of those NES Jackal jeeps and they are without a doubt the single most deadly vehicle in the game since pre-nerf Liberator bombers. Due to their mobility, firepower, and durability I’ve seen on Harassers take down main battle tanks on a regular basis, and they punch through light tanks like they are made out of wet tissue paper. Two Harassers with complimenting weapons and backseat mechanics (allowing in-combat repairs, giving them effectively “unlimited life” via Wolverine-like regeneration) can route an advancing enemy platoon with little difficulty. I’ve seen Harassers kite several tanks at a time – and win through attrition – rarely sustaining substantial damage due to their mobility. The combination of speed and durability is ultimately what makes it overpowered, as it is the only land vehicle that can completely control an engagement. The Harasser can initiate and disengage at will – a tactic the tank drivers can only dream of. Furthermore, the lethality of their weapons make Harassers enough of a threat to distract tanks and anti-vehicle infantry, leaving said tanks and infantry open to assault from flanking attackers. I’ve seen this tactic used repeatedly to break stalemates, especially in fairly open or hilly environments where the Harassers can bomb across the terrain and blistering speeds.

I’m not overstating how powerful the Harasser is, I’m only stating what I have observed. I don’t have an axe to grind, and they don’t even bother me much because I’ve learned that it’s better to not engage them at all except if they are being poorly piloted, or if you can attack them with some kind of heat seeking rocket. Likewise, I don’t engage a MAX head on, it’s better to engage them with appropriate weapons or in favorable conditions than to die for no good reason. I’m over explaining myself (again) – but I felt it necessary to clarify why I believe my comments about the Harasser are objective.

<ahem> Anyway, yeah, they are overpowered in land engagements, and I’m glad that they have been nerfed. The fact of the matter is, the nerf isn’t that bad, at all. They are still exceptionally mobile (while not quite Burnout fast), they still can take THREE direct hits from a TANK, and Harasser weapons are still deadly. I will wait to see if they can still single-handedly push back platoons, but I still believe they are viable and the nerfs were appropriate, perhaps even conservative. I earnestly believe that the only reason that I didn’t see more Harassers on the battlefield is because the  vehicle fundamentally requires a coordinate pair (or trio) of players that use voice communications – something that appears to be more rare than I originally believed.

The only other big change that I care much about is the buff to lock on time of the heat-seaking Annihilator missile launcher. That’s my new bread-and-butter. While I don’t like the range reduction, I believe that the net impact will be positive on my KDR. More often than not my long-range missiles will miss anyway, due to terrain or despawn of my target or missiles. In the past I tended to lose close range targets as they went around buildings – especially fighters and Harassers – the lock on time improvement will help remedy that problem.

The patch is done downloading – time to get to it!

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