Life is a train of moods like a string of beads.

The locomotive of my MMO enthusiasm has finally run out of steam, for the time being at least. The once huffing-puffing funnel is cold and still, and the roaring firebox –burnt out– now smoulders silently, where even a vigorous stirring of hype elicits nothing more than a gentle ember glow. As the running gear of my fervour slowly seizes, resistance to resuming my journey along that straight, bland, unchanging MMO track builds inexorably. A number of us are still keen on playing together, and as such we have all clambered like the Keystone Kops onto a single handcar, which we propel perilously down the MMO track, our arms flailing, but hanging on against all the odds nevertheless.

City of Heroes is the game we find ourselves enjoying at the moment, primarily, I feel, because it is one of the least MMO-like MMOs around. Oh, it still has all the standard MMO tropes, I grant you, but what it lacks is many of the border guards, barking dogs and machine gun posts of the traditional MMO regime, whose only purpose seems to be to stop you getting together with the people of your own kind, whose company you enjoy. CoH used to be excellent for getting a group together, now I would say that it is probably unsurpassed. I’d proffer that its whole purpose is to delight those who use it, but that would be inaccurate; its purpose is to be ignored entirely by those who use it. In short, City of Heroes’ grouping system works like this: invite people to your group, pick a mission, have fun. Everything else is taken care of. It’s the Jeeves of MMO group mechanics: useful, helpful, discrete, empowering, facilitating and, sadly, an incredibly rare find.

I tried to enjoy Lord of the Rings Online’s latest expansion, but outside of the absolutely stunning cosmetic items the new content provides, there’s nothing new there that excites me. If I were already chugging happily down the MMO track, then this would undoubtedly be solid fuel to keep the big wheels turning, but there’s simply not enough originality there to kick-start a seized and stationary locomotive of enthusiasm. I think I am, perhaps unfairly, disappointed that the latest expansion doesn’t really include any fresh system which drags the game in new and interesting directions: despite how players may feel about the skirmish and legendary item systems, they were at least attempts at something a little bit different. This latest expansion includes an implementation of phasing, a technology which Blizzard has already successfully proven doesn’t really work as intended, often breaking the immersion it is supposed to enhance, and sometimes inadvertently becoming one of the barriers to grouping with friends. I hesitate to say that this expansion was lacklustre, but to my mind it seems as though Turbine may be dedicating resources to their own Titan, because although they are clearly not neglecting LotRO, there just doesn’t seem to be the desperate drive to impress that was present in the previous paid expansion, as though LotRO will not be the flagship in Turbine’s fleet for much longer.

In the meantime I’ve switched tracks and find myself hurtling along in the game train, whose tender is overflowing with rich fuel. So far I’ve shovelled Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Space Marine, Gears of War 3 and Bastion into the firebox, and the pressure of choice was so great at one point that my boiler was in danger of bursting. I burnt through those games in short order, however, and now I’ve picked up the latest DLC for Dragon Age 2, because despite all the raging Internet forum complaints, I still found the game enjoyable enough to run through it twice. Mark of the Assassins has added Felicia Day, which is never a bad thing to my mind, or to the minds of the majority of Internet nerds, upon which I’m sure Bioware’s marketing department is relying. Somewhere in the recesses of Bioware Marketing HQ, a big tick is being slowly and firmly scribed with a squeaking whiteboard marker against the name Felicia Day, ensconced as it is alongside the names Jennifer Hale and Claudia Black, beneath the double-underlined heading “Voicerotica for nerds”.

It’s good to be back on the game train, something always worth doing from time to time: often, when you play MMOs exclusively for too long, you forget what the simple pleasure and satisfaction of playing a game actually feels like.

6 thoughts on “Life is a train of moods like a string of beads.

  1. darkeye

    I was playing Rift the other day, and doing the chronicle for new level 50s, it felt exactly like the feeling I’d get from completing a single player game, NPCs cheering for the player, important characters singing praises of the players, random text that appeared depending on what achievements were completed while levelling, and there was an interesting boss to tackle solo. In a single player game, the credits would roll and fireworks, in Rift you get shackled (really your character gets hooked up to a machine with no say in the matter) with a grindy alternative advancement system that has bland and minimal bonuses, in addition to the rest of the usual repetitive stuff to do. I’ve been seriously comtemplating buying an PS3 and dark souls, to get out of an MMO rut, I haven’t played anything on a console since WOW:BC came out.

  2. Melmoth Post author

    I’m finding that now is a good time: I’ll probably avoid the SWTOR launch, and the only other MMO I’m remotely interested in is Guild Wars 2, so there exists a significant period of time to take a break and enjoy some other forms of entertainment. Obviously, the nice thing about free-to-play in this instance is that I can immediately walk away from LotRO without loss, yet wander back at any time and pick it up again should I find myself getting withdrawal symptoms.

  3. Jonathan B

    I picked up City of Heroes on the $1.98 sale they had about a month before f2p released, because I planned on trying the f2p and figured for under $2, having a premium char would be good. It was a good choice. The 1200 points I received for it paid for the one class I knew I wanted that the f2p didn’t include: the mastermind. So far, my MM hero is up to level 23 in the time since f2p went live. After hitting level 9, I have done missions and sewer trials ranging from level 3 to level 50 because of that exemplar/sidekick system you describe.

    The one caveat to the sidekick system is that at higher levels, you can find a mission more difficult than it ought to be if too many players are way below-level. While you temporarily do damage and receive defenses equal to one level below the group leader, you don’t gain any extra powers. Having 3 powers when the others have 12 makes for more time spent on cool-down which makes for a lower output of damage and/or healing. Or at least that’s the impression I’ve gotten in a few runs where the level was way over most of the group. The cooldowns started to get noticeable in prolonged fights with large groups of enemies. Especially if your healer was on cooldown. :> An MM suffers an extra disadvantage because your minions don’t level up to your temporary level. So if you’re in a group way over your level, expect your minions to die frequently. :>

    That said, I still think it’s an excellent way of handling things. Some other upcoming game was advertising downgrading and upgrading to the level of the zone you’re in. Was it GW2 maybe?

    This past week or so, internet speed issues have forced me to go back to offline play primarily, resulting in a resuming of my Mass Effect 2 vanguard playthrough. I am gradually getting the hang of the biotic charge power. It can get a little ticky about what it does and does not consider an open target when cover is involved, but it’s fun to use. Coolest moment so far was stepping out of cover to get an angle on an Eclipse Heavy, seeing her launch a rocket straight at me, and phasing THROUGH the rocket untouched to body-slam her, following up with a frost-ammo shotgun blast and finished off with a quick melee hit to shatter the Eclipsesicle. Worth the price of admission, that was.

  4. Jim

    To give an idea of how far behind I am in my single player universe, I just finished the main campaign of Fallout 3. It felt truly personal and heroic…something mmog’s simply can’t match.

    I continue to play Rift because the endgame offers so much multiplayer diversity…but it is not with rabid obsession.

    Balance is good. There is no rush, only options. A great time to be a gamer.

  5. Pardoz

    From memory, MM pets in CoX *do* scale up to your effective level, but you have to dismiss and resummon them after your level changes. (Unless this has changed in the year or so since I last played).

  6. Melmoth Post author

    @Jonathon B: I do think the fact that it’s somewhat harder to perform in a mission when a player is massively under level for it, is probably a suitable deterrent to playing that way the entire time, something which is probably fair in a level-based MMO. It’s one of those systems where it works well for the intended ‘allow you to play with your friends’ use, but can strain a bit when pushed to the extremes of what it was intended for. Glad you’re also getting some enjoyment out of the game!

    @Jim: M’colleague can wax lyrical on the joys of Fallout 3, alas I never managed to get into it. For some reason, I have trouble with huge sandbox games, but it’s probably just because I don’t give them a chance to get their hooks into me. For the same reason, I’m probably not going to pick up Skyrim, as lovely as that game looks.

    @Pardoz: Interesting information, I’ll have to check that out at some time. It’s still a bit of a hassle, but certainly less frustrating than having your pets fighting ten or more levels below the mission!

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