It was a bit of a mixed weekend of gaming for me. I didn’t have much to do with the PC because it was mini-Melmoth’s birthday, and thus I spent most of my time building Lego models with her, and –along with Mrs Melmoth– playing various board and card games with her. I can heartily recommend Labyrinth as rather good fun, but would advise against Top Trumps if you too have a four year old who can evidently read minds or has x-ray vision; I lost more games of Top Trumps over the past weekend than my gamer fortitude can rightfully endure, and so I fully empathise with others when they express their torment in dealing with gaming losses.
Along with the birthday of the Infernal Queen of Top Trumps there was a double bonus super surprise fun holiday weekend here in the UK, so I had very little time to switch on the PC what with one family event or another to attend. I did get a spare moment or two on Sunday, and flipped into Tera to find that my box-included subscription time had expired, and I have to confess I was torn as to whether I should continue my subscription. I’ve flicked over to a couple of MMOs while I’ve been playing Tera, including the regular Friday night session of DDO, and none of them compare to the freedom I get from the combat in Tera. That’s not to say Tera’s combat is a revolution, there are still the same hotbar buttons to press, but the freedom of movement, nay the necessity of movement in order to stay alive, is something which I sorely miss when I return to the more traditional Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots style found in the MMO WoWpack. Tera also tweaks the traditional hotbar button mashing sequence with the addition of chained combo. attacks, which allows for a much more natural flow of attacks to be chained in quick succession; being knocked down and hitting the spacebar to trigger a leaping counter-strike, followed by another correctly timed spacebar press to immediately follow-up with an overhead slam, may sound simplistic, but it is the sort of addictive action-orientated style with which fans of beat ’em up games would easily empathise.
While pondering a further subscription to Tera, I patched Star Wars: The Old Republic and Rift, and did my customary login check to see if either was available to me, via a free weekend or such. To my surprise Rift did indeed allow me access, and a quick bit of investigation showed that I still had a week or so of my previous three-month subscription running. Maybe it was Tera’s action combat, or perhaps a general ennui with the genre as a whole, but I couldn’t find any spark of enthusiasm for Rift whatsoever. The wait-on-global-cool-down combat seemed ponderous, almost ridiculously so. The game was still as pretty as ever, but again, the incredible fidelity of a game such as Tera, whether you can stomach its design decisions or not, leaves other MMOs looking like so much aged tarnished brass. Rift’s soul system is, perhaps, the most frustrating part, a design which promises so much freedom, and yet delivers the same constrained-by-PvP ‘pick the useful abilities from the trash’ limited build potential that World of Warcraft’s talent trees always did. From the great potential that such a system promised, what was delivered was essentially a way to easily respec between traditional trinity roles, a step change over WoW’s dual spec. system to be sure, but still disappointingly bland – a soul system with no soul.
It’s so utterly frustrating because I really want to like Rift, I like the concepts which they have chosen to implement, but everything seems so formulaic and constrained. There’s no wild frontier, no trailblazing – they’ve followed the traditional paths through the design wilds, simply trimming back the undergrowth a little more, paving the way with stone blocks and posting road signs. It’s the same reason I probably won’t find myself subscribing to Tera or Star Wars: The Old Republic, for although there is trailblazing to be had, it is still just a few minor detours off into the wilds, before quickly re-joining the perfectly straight, perfectly smooth, perfectly monotonous routes which have been trodden for years, to the point that they are more Roman road than primitive path. I have no doubt that it is as much to do with my tiring of the tropes of the genre as anything, but it’s also born of the frustration that games such as EVE clearly demonstrate that this genre does indeed have the potential to encompass wildly different forms beneath the canopy of MMO, yet it’s still one of the few MMOs which forged a way into the wilds and never concerned itself with returning to the common path.
Of course deliberating over subscriptions is all moot at the moment, as my PC decided to trip the fuse fantastic last night and now refuses to even spin a fan. I’m hoping it’s just a power supply problem (and that it didn’t go Spartan and take the rest of the components with it), but for the time being I’m on an enforced MMO abstinence, and as such I’ll be catching up on my reading; as well as losing a ludicrous number of games of Top Trumps, I imagine.
I’m stubborn, both nominally and literally. That should score some points.
Seriously, though, your short phrase “constrained and formulaic” perfectly (pretend that word is in italics, since I don’t know how to do that without a button) describes how I’ve felt about the genre as a whole. We see tiny advances outside those constraints from time to time: Rift’s soul system and auto-grouping, WoW’s move away from servers, the “action” combat of DDO (and now TERA), the “story telling” in Star Wars, but it’s like each corporation tells their developers like a frustrated mother with her toddler in a candy aisle, “You can have ONE piece of nonstandard feature candy. That’s all. Don’t ask for more.”
I get it’s a business model and MMOs are hugely expensive to produce and blahblahblah. I understand the economics behind it. That doesn’t stop me from feeling disappointed and frustrated, though, one bit.
Happy belated mini-you birthday, and good luck with Top Trumps. If she’s that good at that young an age, maybe it’s time to teach her Hearts or Gin Rummy! Then again, I have no idea what Top Trumps is, but it sounds like a card game to me.
For me Rift revolves around its patches and content rather than mechanics, and 1.9 looks great, enough to resubscribe possibly, as something to keep me amused between BWEs of GW2.
Instant Adventure is Rift’s trump card at the moment, combined with the new mentoring system coming in 1.9, it’s working out to be a really interesting way to approach themepark questing. And then they plan to introduce a ‘take me where I’m needed’ button, which really turns the whole endgame paradigm on it’s head.
@Stubborn: Until MMO development moves away from the core concept of a levelling curve into which subscription duration is intrinsically linked, I don’t think we’ll get anything more than modules of innovation bolted-on to what I see as a fundamentally flawed foundation.
@darkeye: I agree that Rift is King of Content, but unfortunately all the content in the world is no use to me if I’m not enjoying the game itself. Thankfully for Trion, there are many people who are perfectly happy with Rift’s game systems, alas I’m just not one of them; as I said, I really want to like Rift, I just find myself with little enthusiasm for that style of game-play these days, which is a terrible shame, as there’s a lot of content to be had for those who do still enjoy it.