Monthly Archives: May 2016

8 Best MMO Endgames That Start (Almost) Immediately

MMOs differ in a multitude of ways from their single player cousins. One could easily argue that the most prominent difference between MMOs and non-MMOs is the potential lifespan. Single player games will typically last somewhere in 15-80 hour range. On on the flip side, some people have been playing MMORPGs like Ultima Online for over 15 years. The content that keeps players hooked in MMOs is typically referred to as the endgame. This is where characters engage in PvE raids, PvP battlegrounds, crafting high end gear, or doing some other activity where the ‘real game’ begins.

typical MMO endgame raid screenshot

Typical MMO endgame raids take hours or days of playtime to reach

The problem with the MMO endgame is that getting to the ‘real game’ can be a huge chore, resulting in players that never see it at all. Additionally, many MMOs (MMORPGs especially) promise a virtual world to live in, but don’t actually pony up until grinding hours upon hours to get there. It’s like saying real life starts when you reach CEO. To counter this mentality, MMO Bro is highlighting 8 MMO endgames that start immediately.

Now, before beginning I want set some guidelines and expectations. Some of these online games involve a hefty learning curve. Some MMOs will offer immediate endgame for particular styles of play but not others. Veterans might even consider a number of these as MMOs without endgame content altogether. I’ll be taking all of this into account and ranking the games in order. The primary ranking is how soon a brand new player can participate in each of the game’s content segments where the largest mass of players are congregated. It is possible an MMO might score well in one content segment and poorly in another.

Now, let’s get this best of ‘immediate MMO endgames’ list started.

8. Planet Calypso (and Entropia Universe)

Planet Calypso MMO Endgame

Planet Calypso has its differences from Entropia Universe, but both are made by the same company and work in the same fashion.Their unique aspect is that currency is directly tied to real money. Thus, players can acquire real monetary value by playing and acquiring loot or even lose it through repairs, bad investments, and the like. With that said, it is extremely difficult to actually turn a profit in these games. I would argue though that the endgame for Planet Calypso is in trying to do just that.

Both Planet Calypso and Entropia boast lifelike player run economies. The value of goods will rise and fall as players adjust to ever changing market conditions. The value of hunting a particular mob or mining a particular resource will vary from from one day to the next. The value of these is not directly tied to the level or strength of the area they’re found within.

Leveling and advancing one’s character is not necessary to the endgame of making money. A new player could technically find a profitable location to exploit. What experienced characters gain is access to a greater variety of locations, which does increase the likelihood of profitable ventures. More valuable than that though is understanding the game’s economy and mechanics. I think that a new player with a high level character would fair worse than a veteran player with a low level character when it comes to making money. Since knowledge and learning is such an integral part of playing these two games, I feel that the endgame starts on one’s first login. Unfortunately that learning might entail some serious real life monetary losses in the process.

7. Runescape

Runescape MMO Endgame

Game #7 is one of three very similar titles on this list. Runescape is a sandbox MMORPG where players increase individual skills by using them. Once a skill is maxed out, a player can buy a cape to symbolize their success. People in the Runescape community comically refer to the endgame as collecting capes. It’s not really too far off the mark though.

The sandbox nature contributes to an endgame that either begins immediately or not at all, depending on perspective. The purpose of playing is simply to advance your character by doing whatever you want to do. And there is a lot of advancement to be had in Runescape, with a large number of experience points required to max everything out. But advancing your character to a max level doesn’t really open up too many new gameplay opportunities with one typical MMORPG exception: raiding. This is certainly an important piece of the endgame that PvE players will have to wait to experience. Unlike other level based titles though, one won’t need to be maxed out to participate. It will take some time though and bossing is certainly a large aspect of Runescape’s endgame, which keeps the game from a higher ranking.

6. Guild Wars 2

Guild Wars 2 MMO Endgame

From a brief description overview, Guild Wars 2 seems like the perfect game for casual players or players looking to dive right into the endgame. The core elements of the Guild Wars 2’s endgame are World vs. World, Fractals, and Structured PvP. For those unaware, World vs. World is a massive group of instanced PvP battlegrounds where players of one server fight players of other servers in a 3-way match. Fractals are randomized small group PvE dungeons. Structured PvP is where teams of five players compete against another team in a sports-like arena fashion. All of these are accessible early for players thanks to the dynamic level adjustment system.

Dynamic level adjustment works a bit differently for each endgame activity though. In World vs. World, characters receive the stats of a max level character but not the traits or skills. Similarly, characters in fractals will scale their stats to max level but be less effective without traits or skills of “legitimate” max levels. Both World vs. World and Fractals will reward the player with experience though so by engaging in these activities, a player can both experience the endgame and progress their character. Structured PvP has no form of character advancement, but players are all put on even footing in terms of stats and skills. Dynamic level adjustment also works in the reverse for high level players entering low level areas. This means that technically one could even include questing as part of the endgame, but max level players rarely go back to previous zones simply for that.

With all of that said, PvE players won’t really experience endgame fractals until legitimately reaching max level. With only five members to a group, a lower level player is a decidedly weaker contributor than a max level player with all of their skills. Thus, it’s not likely many people will want to party with you. Admittedly, leveling is fairly fast with each level taking about an hour, but eighty hours is a bit long for an immediate endgame. However, PvP players of all types can jump in on the endgame quickly after install.

5. Ultima Online

Ultima Online MMO Endgame

Like a lot of the titles on this list, Ultima Online invites new players to an early MMO endgame through its unique progression system. Characters grow in strength by using the skills they want to train. So animal taming goes up from taming animals, sword fighting from fighting with a sword, and blacksmithing from making armor and weapons. There’s no actual levels in Ultima Online and improvement comes from performing personally enjoyable activities. Only seven skills can be taken to max level though so diversity of player builds is quite alive in Ultima Online. It’s surprising how few MMORPGs employ a skill-use based advancement system.

Unlike more recent MMORPGs, there isn’t a lot of guided progression in Ultima Online. You don’t go out and repeatedly raid the same dungeons to acquire better equipment. You don’t fight other guilds for territory control. You don’t dominate the auction house with crafted items. You just play the game how you want and get rewarded by advancement in those areas. The lack of endgame direction certainly limits the game’s mass appeal (more than its dated engine), but it’s also why the game is close to two decades old.

The downside is that like a lot of sandbox titles, PvP plays an important role in character freedom. In Ultima Online, combat will still be decided by the level of a character’s skill, so new players can feel pretty useless until reaching higher skill levels. If the endgame goal of an MMORPG is competitive PvP (even though there’s not a lot to fight over in UO) then this is the one aspect that will take some time.

Still, one might fairly argue that Ultima Online doesn’t even have an endgame to it. My counterargument would be that the endgame starts as soon as you choose that first skill to master.

4. Wurm Online

Wurm Online MMO Endgame

Despite the creator of Minecraft’s ties to Wurm Online, the game never really gained more than a niche following. The release of Wurm Unlimited on Steam has increased the popularity of this sandbox MMO (even though they’re technically different products), but its lack of mainstream popularity unsurprisingly mirrors Ultima Online’s. Wurm Online plays like a 3D version of Ultima mixed with some Minecraft.

In addition to a skill based leveling approach that is even more granular than Ultima Online, Wurm Online inhabitants have immense control over shaping the game’s landmass. Players may create tunnels through mining, flatten and raise the ground, grow crops, and build structures from raw materials. All of the towns in the game are player created and intense cooperation is needed to accomplish the higher end feats, whether on the PvE or the PvP server.

Wurm Online offers impatient endgamers the opportunity to play their character in a 3D world the way they want to play. There’s no prerequisite activities for whatever your endgame goal may be. Want to maximize your ambition and build a kingdom alongside friends and guildmates? There’s no reason you can’t start doing that on day one of Wurm Online. There is a bit more direction in Wurm Online than Ultima Online, and a bit more freedom of actions. However, this comes with the caveat that character skill and high end crafted equipment is even more important for PvP. New players simply won’t be an important participant early on, but every person counts!

Although Wurm Online and Ultima Online give early access to a similar style of the MMO endgame, Wurm just feels a bit better with all of the gameplay options. For that reason, I rank #4 just a smidge ahead of #5.

3. Planetside 2

Planetside 2 MMO Endgame

Although Planetside developers didn’t create the first massively multiplayer FPS, they did popularize the concept. Nine years after Planetside’s launch, Planetside 2 took up the mantle and led the MMOFPS subgenre into the world of free to play gaming. It now sits as a great example of both how to start an endgame immediately and how an immediate endgame can sometimes not bring about the desired player experience.

Planetside 2 is a PvP only game where players align themselves with one of three factions to wage epic, Battlefield sized battles. The core gameplay objective revolves around territory control. Players must decide with their allies where best to strike and make gains. Given the twitch based nature of Planetside 2 and the relative strength of beginner weapons, players should be able to positively contribute to battles from the get go. Unfortunately, Planetside 2 has a surprisingly long learning curve and the lack of a good community support system to overcome it. New players can often feel like their contributions are meaningless or worse.

In part this is why Planetside 2 has developed somewhat of a misguided pay to win reputation. The most popular MMOFPS offers no paid items that cannot be achieved with gameplay alone. The length of time it takes to “max” a character is considerably lengthy though and paid players can essentially pay to skip large parts of this progression. This wouldn’t be much of an issue except, as discussed above, new players aren’t readily given the proper support system to succeed. Thus, it’s easy to feel as a new player that one must grind or pay to really start experiencing Planetside 2’s endgame. The truth is that new players need a mentor or strong community to help them learn the ropes. I would recommend any new player finding such a person or group before attempting to play.

2. Guild Wars

Guild Wars MMO Endgame

The max character level for Guild Wars is twenty. That should give you a hint of the priorities the developers of Guild Wars place on a fast endgame. By comparison, World of Warcraft and EverQuest have each raised their level caps by over twenty levels now.

Guild Wars emphasizes horizontal progression over vertical progression. Whether a player prefers PvE or PvP, a new player can be grouping with veterans within a week (or a single day of addicted play). The new player probably won’t actually be as good as the veterans, but it’s not due to the power of their skills. Progression comes in the form of learning hundreds of skills, multiclassing, and then narrowing those skills down to eight very synergistic abilities.

The lack of power creep in Guild Wars or a direct competitor (even with its titular successor’s release) means the first Guild Wars still has plenty of life for a new player. It’s an MMO players can play to overcome PvE or PvP challenges without worrying about a precursor grind to access said challenges.

1. Eve Online

Eve Online MMO Endgame

Perhaps Eve Online’s most notable feature is its character progression system. Character skills are gained in real time, whether logged in or out. Thus, the length of time to max out a skillset is measured in years instead of weeks or months like other MMORPGs. Eve Online also emphasizes territory control with an open PvP system in the far reaches of space. So with no other explanation or experience, one would think Eve Online would be the furthest thing from an MMORPG with an immediate endgame. However, three key components allow new players to legitimately experience Eve Online’s PvP endgame within a matter of days (real time, not gameplay time).

First, all ships in Eve Online are useful and each ship type has its own skill set to develop. Just because a player knows how to pilot a capital ship doesn’t mean they’re an expert on frigates. And frigates are extremely useful. They’re quite agile and some of the more powerful weapons will have issues tracking them. Additionally, they are cheap so an army of frigates can take a while to down if replacements are readily available.

Secondly, skill gain is somewhat logarithmic. Earning your first 2% damage bonus make take a few hours. Earning your last 2% damage bonus may take weeks. Even then, Eve Online is rarely about individually encounters. Fleet engagements are where a new player will spend most of their time so the bonus damage or high tech fittings a veteran has can only carry him or her so far.

Lastly, unlike Planetside 2, Eve Online has great community support. The slower pace of the game certainly helps here, and corporations (i.e. guilds) will fight over new players. This in turn leads to new players receiving guidance for what is a complex MMO. That corporations recruit new players should provide even further evidence that newbies can contribute to endgame immediately. You don’t exactly see World of Warcraft guilds recruiting fresh players to go raiding do you?

Final Observation

It’s interesting to note that most of these games place an importance on PvP in the form of combat, marketplace action, or both. Both Guild Wars titles are the only options with more horizontal progression than vertical, pretty much in entire MMO genre. I think perhaps the most telling sign of an MMO with a fast endgame approach is whether or not high end guilds recruit new players. People look to recruit members that can help them in the endgame, and if newbies are getting recruited, it stands to reason that they’re going to be ready much sooner than later.

The Most Stable MMORPGs

The unfortunate truth is that MMORPGs are not games that are going to be around forever. They’re reliant on developers to continually maintain and support their servers, and eventually there comes a day when that is no longer economically viable and the game is shut down forever.

Short of that, aging and unpopular games can slide into “maintenance mode,” where the servers are still running but new content and updates are no longer produced. Such a game will be abandoned by all but a small core of devoted fans, and even they may not last forever.

This knowledge can be a source of anxiety for MMO players. When wondering whether to invest time into a game, one may wonder how much longer it’s likely to operate and receive active support from its developers.

If you’re one of those people, let us help set your mind at ease. The following is a list of some of the most stable MMOs on the market. They have healthy fanbases and significant developer support and are likely to survive and thrive for many years to come.

Star Trek: Online

A Romulan character in Star Trek: Online

MMOs based on famous franchises can be an iffy proposition. The developer rents the license for the IP from its owner, and if the game isn’t pulling its weight, that owner can pull the plug at will.

However, right now, all indications are that Star Trek: Online is doing just fine.

Developer Cryptic has recently announced ST:O’s third expansion, Agents of Yesterday, which will shake up the game by taking players back in time to the era of the original series. Cryptic is also planning to bring ST:O to consoles soon, expanding its potential playerbase significantly.

Neither of these are things the game would be doing if it weren’t bringing in good revenue and maintaining a healthy population, and both should bring in new players and more activity, at least for a while.

The upcoming releases of Star Trek: Beyond and an as yet untitled new TV series will also shine a renewed spotlight on the Star Trek franchise, and that, too, should benefit ST:O.

DC Universe Online

The supervillian Bane in DC Universe Online

Like ST:O, DC Universe Online is a licensed game and therefore has something of a Sword of Damocles dangling above its head, but right now, all indications are that the game is doing well.

Regular updates are still being published, and Daybreak has even announced a plan to port the game to Xbox One, DCUO having already been on PlayStation 3 and 4 for some time. It also recently added cross-platform play for PC and PlayStation users, though Xbox One players will have their own separate servers.

These are clear signs that the game is still successful enough to be worth investing significant development resources into. Launching on Xbox One will expand the game’s reach even further.

The continued success of DC Universe Online is likely because it’s managed to carve itself out a strong niche in the industry. It’s one of the few quality super hero MMORPGs currently on the market, and while MMOs on consoles are slowly becoming more common, for a long time DCUO was one of the few good options on that front. Even as more competition arrives, DCUO’s established fanbase should keep it steady for some time.

EverQuest and EverQuest II

A raid group in EverQuest

EverQuest’s glory days at the top of the MMO world are long, long gone, but it and its successor are still plugging along with small but intensely loyal fanbases.

Even as technology marches along and these older titles fade from the public eye, they’re continuing to receive regular updates, often in the form of full expansion packs, and there’s no sign of that stopping anytime soon.

The odds of EQ and EQ2 having any significant growth at this point are negligible, but anyone who’s stuck with them this long is clearly in it for the long haul, and the EverQuest franchise’s importance to the MMO genre as a whole gives them a great deal of security.

Guild Wars 2

The rebuilt city of Lion's Arch in Guild Wars 2

There was a time when Guild Wars 2 was the poster-child for rock steady developer support in the MMO world, with updates every two weeks and boundless enthusiasm for the game in the community.

In the years since launch, that has changed a bit. Updates are now more sporadic, and while GW2 has launched a major expansion pack, Heart of Thorns, it was met with somewhat mixed reviews.

That said, while it is no longer the industry’s golden child, GW2 is still a fairly healthy game. Updates might not come every two weeks anymore, but they’re still reasonably regular, and the game maintains a respectable fanbase. Work is believed to have already started on another expansion, showing that the developers still have strong faith in their game.

Star Wars: The Old Republic

A cinematic in Star Wars: The Old Republic

Star Wars: The Old Republic had some rough patches after launch, but a controversial yet financially successful free to play conversion and several expansions have done a lot to right its course over the past few years.

By all reports, the game’s latest expansion, Knights of the Fallen Empire, has been its most successful to date, and it will theoretically set the tone for future updates to the game.

The recent up-swell in popularity for Star Wars as a whole due to the new movies should also benefit SW:TOR greatly, and the widespread appeal of Star Wars and the devotion of its fans ensures a strong fanbase for the game for a long time to come.

There will likely come a day when SW:TOR is shut down to make way for a more modern Star Wars MMO, but given how much money it’s making currently, that shouldn’t be a concern for a long time.


A screenshot of the free to play MMORPG RuneScape

RuneScape is one of those interesting cases of a game that almost everyone seems to ignore, yet it remains incredibly popular and successful. You will rarely see MMO sites give it much coverage, and it gets even less discussion in the greater community, yet it’s quietly become of the genre’s bigger success stories.

RuneScape has been operating continuously since 2001, has welcomed hundreds of thousands of players, and was even named the most played free MMORPG by the Guiness Book of World Records. It updates regularly, and over the last few years it has been experimenting with opening specialty servers such as Old School RuneScape, which preserves an earlier version of the game.

The Elder Scrolls Online

The Harborage subzone in Elder Scrolls Online

Like several entries on this list, Elder Scrolls Online is based on a famous franchise with legions of fans, but unlike the others, this is a franchise solely owned by its developer. That gives it all the benefits of name recognition and passionate fans without the risk of the license being revoked if its owners feel the game isn’t turning a big enough profit.

ESO could probably enjoy a fair bit of success just by coasting on the popularity of its franchise, but it’s proven itself a strong game in its own right, with lots of quality content and strong systems.

ESO has been putting out large DLC packs with a fair degree of regularity for a while now, and it shows no sign of stopping anytime soon. It’s old enough to have worked out many of its early kinks, but young enough to still have a big population and lots of excitement around it in the community.

Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn

A cutscene in Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn

Like ESO, Final Fantasy XIV is a game with a popular IP that is solely owned by its developer, reaping the benefits of an existing fanbase with none of the downsides.

Since it relaunched as A Realm Reborn, FFXIV has somewhat embarrassed most other MMOs by putting out meaty content updates with a regularity that would put clockwork to shame. The game’s first expansion, Heavensward, did well, and the next expansion is reported to already be in production.

World of Warcraft

An interesting method of escape in World of Warcraft

In the MMO community, claims of WoW’s impending death are an everyday occurrence, but for all the wailing and gnashing of teeth, World of Warcraft continues to thrive. It is true that it’s fallen significantly from its early days of glory, but it remains by far the most successful MMO on the market.

On top of that, Blizzard Entertainment has far greater commitment to its games than most other developers. It still actively supports games it released more than a decade ago. The venerable Diablo II was patched not that long ago. Even if we do reach a day where WoW is no longer a major moneymaker, it would be supremely unlikely for Blizzard to shut it down.

WoW is likely to continue declining over the next few years, but it’s still so big and so good at finding new revenue streams that it’s likely to continue being a financial success — and thus continue to get new content and updates — for years to come.

The only thing you need to be worried about is that WoW’s decline may lead to fewer and smaller updates over time. But a true maintenance mode or a shutdown is probably years, if not even decades, away.

Blizzard’s Makes Multiplayer Anti-Social

Like many, I played Overwatch during the free weekend. Tyler Bro already discussed his thoughts regarding Overwatch, and I don’t have that much to add regarding its core gameplay. What I do have to add is an observation that really surprised me about the Overwatch community itself from my several hours of playing. No, they weren’t bullies, miscreants, bossy types, trolls, jokers, or fan bois. They were something much worse. They were silent.

Overwatch Chat

Will you brave the silence and talk in Overwatch?

Overwatch arguably entices players to communicate more than any of its previous titles. The potential for coordinated teamplay is so deep that it should inherently encourage  communication. Blizzard has done their part to open up that communication with in game voice and even allowing all chat (a big deal for Blizzard). But outside of a talkative enemy pre-made group, I can count the number of players that actually talked in game on two hands (orally or in writing). Sure, some of this can be attributed to people simply learning the game, but I think that something far more reaching is largely to blame. Blizzard has actually conditioned its fan base not to talk.

Over the past several years, Blizzard has increasingly make multiplayer experiences less social. I would go so far as to say they even breed anti-social behavior. The proof is in the products so let’s go over each game’s disdain for communication individually.


The communication in this game is limited to six prepared phrases. Six. If all I could do was say hello, good game, and damn you in the real world these blog posts would be a lot shorter and a lot less interesting. I certainly wouldn’t have made a single friend gaming online limiting myself that way.

In Hearthstone, there’s no chatting with opponents nor even a general chat room. To speak with someone directly I’d need to add them as a friend first, which makes absolutely no sense. A friends list by its definition is a list of people you actually know in some capacity with which you have a positive relationship. How can I develop such a relationship in Hearthstone when I’m not even given the chance?

Hearthstone chat

Your Hearthstone chat interface

It’s not even like we can even opt-in to chat. It’s just a feature that literally does not exist in the game. Blizzard focused their efforts so strongly on delivering a casual CCG experience that they even removed the ‘chore’ of having to talk with people! It’s such a shame because players interested in discussing strategy or tactics must resort to out of game methods. Time in between turns presents players with opportunities to talk shop or offer friendly banter. But Hearthstone is a game you play with other people who may as well be intelligent bots.

Heroes of the Storm

Blizzard’s answer to League of Legends and DOTA2 instructed us that we could avoid toxic players and trolls by removing /all chat. Then came the realization that most flaming comes from teammates and not opponents, so they added an option to block team chat entirely. This is a MOBA that’s supposed to be about the team more than the individual but where allies can be ignored before even uttering a word. It’s entirely possible that the ally you’re trying to coordinate with doesn’t even see your messages.

What’s more is Blizzard decided that the game would be best without a post-game lobby. So again, there’s literally no way to communicate with the opposition unless you add them as a friend. Half of the people involved in every competitive match of Heroes of the Storm have no way to opt-in to chat with the other half. Somehow, Blizzard managed to create a game with even less communication between opponents than Hearthstone. The pattern of anti-social design choices by Blizzard continues with their MMORPG behemoth.

World of Warcraft

World of Warcraft at launch was anything but anti-social. Things have changed over time. World of Warcraft has always been solo friendly but used to also encourage guild participation and fostering friendships. This was in spite of design decisions such as Bind on Pickup and gibberish enemy communication. But the golden age of socialization in WoW seem be waning due to features that encourage casual and solo play.

The addition of cross-realm LFG and LFR (looking for raid) has been a life saver for off-time and guildless players. Whereas before content was unreachable for this population segment, it’s now incredibly accessible. The downside to this is that players don’t form any lasting bonds. There’s no need to worry about one’s reputation or finding a reliable group. Players can drop in and out of groups and even if a toxic player gets kicked it’s easy enough to join the LFG queue once again. LFG has completely supplanted the old method of dungeoneering for all but the most hardcore raiders.

Ten Ton Hammer posted a few months ago about the death and decay of guilds in World of Warcraft. They cite LFG/LFR as one of the reasons for guilds declining among other changes such as smaller raid groups and guild perks that discourage small guilds. Guilds are one of the primary methods of socialization in MMORPGs so to see the largest MMORPG continually weaken their significance is disappointing. That’s not to say that LFG/LFR is bad but to highlight the lack of value Blizzard assigns to socialization.

World of Warcraft garrisons

Modern era World of Warcraft

The addition and importance of garrisons in Warlords of Dreanor only reinforced Blizzard’s anti-social values. Garrisons are basically a Facebook game you play inside World of Warcraft. Players send followers to gather resources and heroes on missions for loot. The player gets rewards by clicking a few buttons and waiting a certain amount of time for their rewards to arrive. There’s no interaction with players and it’s completely a solo feature (unless a friend, which are becoming harder to find, wants to gauge the aesthetic appeal of your garrison for some reason).

Diablo III

Finally, a game without player opponents so everyone should be on the same page here. Unfortunately, the game is so repetitive and easy to play that bots can do the job for top tier players. There’s not really much of a need to talk in Diablo III because there’s nothing really to coordinate. The game can be played as easily solo as it can in a 4-person group. Rewards go up with more players, but the only interactive reason to group up is to trade items. Of course traders can only do this if they were in the same game when the item dropped. Many feel it’s a step back from Diablo II’s vibrant trading community.

Perhaps the most interactive component in Diablo II was in fact trading (bartering technically). Everything in Diablo II could be traded which made for some interesting negotiations at times. Players could also share loot with friends without restrictions and a cap of eight players allowed more to join in on the fun.

Diablo 3 trading

It’s all mine and you can’t have it! Seriously. You can’t.

To their credit, Blizzard has improved interactivity since launch by removing the auction house and adding clans and communities. Ranked multiplayer greater rifts also encourage competitive players to find like minded individuals for success.

Starcraft II



That summarizes the most chatting you’ll see in a StarCraft II match. However, unlike all of the other titles above, StarCraft isn’t a game with time for chatting. Actions per minute rules the ranks of StarCraft II and chatting doesn’t add to that ratio. RTS games typically balance and build around 1v1 and StarCraft is no different. Thus, there’s not really much of a team to coordinate with either. And due it’s popularity you’ll be unlikely to see the same person twice unless you are a very high ranked player. Players might sometimes discuss a game after it ends or chat in the general lobby, but StarCraft II isn’t game you play to make friends.

Blizzard’s Anti-Social Ways

Is Blizzard making a mistake by making their multiplayer an anti-social experience? It’s hard to say no considering Blizzard’s profit levels. All of their games exude quality and top sales charts. And it’s not as if Blizzard is making games with the intention of creating an anti-social community. In the examples above, Blizzard has implemented features in order to either strengthen casual play, limit real money transaction gold sellers, or diminish flaming and general toxicity. These are noble goals, but Blizzard’s foresight in how accomplishing these goals will affect other aspects (such as socialization) is questionable

If features are to be added that are anti-social as a byproduct then intentional social features should be added to compensate. That clearly is not a priority for Blizzard. Blizzard lately has produced entertaining games that could be played just as well with a computer as a human, if only the computers were smart enough. They seem to changing their tune with Overwatch, and it will be interesting to see if the anti-social behavior bred in older titles will bleed over into their latest.



8 Ways MMORPGs Can Eliminate Grinding

Every MMORPG currently available employs some method of grinding for advancement. And it doesn’t have to be that way. It shouldn’t be that way.

Grinding is the act of completing (typically repetitive) tasks primarily or solely for the purpose of character advancement by expending minimal effort. If the reason you are questing, killing mobs, chopping trees, or raiding dungeons is for ph4t l00t, levels, or to breach some gated activity then it’s grinding. Don’t get me wrong. I know some people like grinding. Grinding can be relaxing. Meditative even. But the entire market is saturated with grinding-centric MMORPGs so we really could use a game with a different approach.

The difficulty developers typically run into when combating grinding is keeping character progression alive. Many would say this is the greatest flaw of Guild Wars 2. They’ve created an advancement system that’s almost eliminated grinding at the cost of any interesting character progression post max level. Yet despite this if I wanted to create an alt and level him to 80 then a grind would still stand in my way.

Like the good MMO Bro that I am, I have compiled an eight item checklist to combat grinding without sacrificing character progression.

  1. Horizontal Progression – Think Guild Wars 1 here. Tons of skills that can be changed out. The problem GW1 had is that these skills were set once a mission or PvP round started. This stymies advancement because players only had a limited number of skills that would breach the ‘top 8’ for their role.
  2. Dynamic Combat – We MMO vets know that our classes or roles come with a right way to play and a wrong way to play. It’s ridiculous. It’s made more ridiculous by the fact that these roles are fairly easy to master. Combat should require adjustment to the situation at hand. Horizontal progression gives us this opportunity. Players should be able to change out and even buy skills or skill sets on the fly with some cooldown penalty or power up cost. This creates an ever changing battlefield.

    guild wars 1 skill choices

    Skill Choices in Guild Wars 1

  3. Useful ‘Level 1’ Characters – For some inane reason, game developers hate new players. Level 1 characters get less skills and less hit points. Then they get crushed. Then they have to grind. Good horizontal progression means new characters just have less options. OK – yes, they’re still at a disadvantage. But they aren’t useless. Give them some starter skills and let them participate from the start.
  4. One Character – There is no need for multiple characters or classes. Even if the game devs want to use a ‘holy trinity’ balancing mechanism, we still only need one character. Going back through the same content to get the same rewards is unnecessary.
  5. Reward Overcoming Challenges – I was so happy when I saw some instanced MMOs implementing challenge ratings for dungeons. Unfortunately, they weren’t really more difficult. They just required better gear. Even worse, some of them created systems were it was more efficient to farm the easier tiers. The best rewards should go to those stressing out and risking a loss. And it should be available from day 1.
  6. Dynamic Content – Not to be confused with dynamic combat. Dynamic content means never playing the same game twice. How? Think MOBAs like League of Legends. Think innovative shooters like Overwatch. Think randomized dungeons/enemies like Diablo. Think survival games like Don’t Starve. Think player missions replacing generic NPC missions. Think procedural generation like every game genre that’s not an MMO is implementing. Create game content that requires reaction instead of repetitively reinforcing the status quo.
  7. Rankings – Prestige. It’s all about prestige. You can replace some character progression with prestige by implementing rankings. Don’t make people feel bad about themselves though. Hide rankings below a certain point or create casual vs. competitive rankings. Casual = Progressively increased, mostly effort based rankings. Competitive = ELO ladder type rankings (yes, this can be done for PvP, PvE, and even crafting). Implement season ladder rankings alongside permanent ladder rankings if it makes sense. Rankings are extremely underused in MMORPGs.

    Diablo 3 seasonal ladders

    Diablo 3 ladder system

  8. Eliminate Legendary Gear – Don’t force best in slot gear ‘choices’. Epic loot is bad. Give people real choices by creating gear with randomized stats like in Diablo style games. This can lead to interesting changes in how people build or play, but wouldn’t be imbalancing. All this gear would be roughly the same effectiveness but with different stats or different skill modifiers (see Dynamic Combat above).

I’m not saying doing all of these things is easy. There’s a fine balance to making an intricate and dynamic system work. But the point is to incite and reward critical thinking instead over rote grinding.


Is Overwatch Missing the Mark?

Blizzard Entertainment is currently running a free open beta for their hotly anticipated new sci-fi shooter, Overwatch, which is due for release later this month. It’s shaping up to be a strong PvP game… but that’s all it is.

Reinhardt guards a payload in Overwatch

Overwatch consists entirely of competitive 6v6 matches played out over a handful of very similar capture-based game modes. It offers nothing else whatsoever. For a company as large and storied as Blizzard, that seems strangely unambitious, and the closer one looks at the missed opportunities of Overwatch, the more one begins to wonder if the game is missing the mark.

The potential versus the reality:

Overwatch generated a huge buzz when it was first announced at BlizzCon 2014. This was the first new franchise from Blizzard in more than fifteen years, and their first foray into the realm of first person shooters. Its announcement featured a spectacular cinematic trailer that showcased a game world full of color, excitement, and memorable characters.

As details filtered out, we learned that Overwatch depicts a near future world full of fantastic heroes uniting to defend the world from strife and conflict, to uplift the innocent and inspire as well as protect.

Overwatch was shown to feature a cast more diverse than virtually anything else in the gaming world, with a nearly balanced gender ratio and characters hailing from countries on every continent. No one could ever have expected Blizzard of all companies to become a champion of progressive ideals, but suddenly they were setting new standards of inclusiveness.

It was also immediately clear that Overwatch would be backed by lore and history as deep as that of Blizzard’s other franchises. Each of the game’s twenty-one playable characters has a strong backstory that connects to the greater narrative of a world on the brink of being torn apart by the conflicts between human and machine, citizen and corporation.

In short, Overwatch was a game brimming with vigor, optimism, and creativity.

A shot from Overwatch's announcement cinematic, featuring Tracer and Widowmaker

Yet it soon became clear that the reality of the game was very different from the impression given by its bright image and hopeful story. It would consist only of PvP matches completely divorced from the rich lore built for the game. Characters could potentially ally with their mortal enemies to kill their friends — or even themselves.

That in and of itself is not necessarily a problem, but there’s nothing else to the game. Blizzard has repeatedly shot down the idea of offering any other game modes.

It’s also strange that a game that is sold as being so light-hearted and hopeful is in reality quite harsh and unforgiving. Overwatch’s training tools are very sparse, and largely inadequate to the task of preparing those without prior experience in PvP shooters.The game’s mechanic of allowing players to change heroes mid-game also presents an extremely steep learning curve, forcing players to learn a large roster of characters off the bat if they want to play to their full potential.

It’s also a blisteringly fast game, where a split-second’s mistake or hesitation can result in a player’s instant death. There is little forgiveness for the slow or inexperienced.

Overwatch is a game that tries to send the message that all are welcome, yet the game itself has nothing to offer those who are not of a strong competitive mindset.

The missed opportunities:

Overwatch was clearly built to be a PvP game first, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but it could have offered a lot more than competitive play.

The Nepal map in Overwatch

From the moment it was announced, players have been asking about the possibility of a single-player campaign to flesh out the clearly rich lore of the Overwatch universe. Yet Blizzard has shot down the idea every time, preferring to tell Overwatch’s story through outside media like comic books and animated shorts. A strange decision indeed for a video game company.

The potential for a fantastic single-player experience definitely exists within Overwatch. As already mentioned, its backstory is clearly strong, and it’s hero-swap mechanic could make for very unique single-player gameplay, encouraging players to use different characters for different situations, perhaps even multiple times in the same mission. This would also have the advantage of helping people learn the characters before stepping into PvP.

Outside the single-player realm, there is still plenty Overwatch could do to appeal to those outside the hardcore PvP crowd. They could implement a co-op mode that would allow players to work together, rather than against each other.

Technically Overwatch does have co-op in the form of its versus AI matches, but it’s a very shallow feature, being merely a carbon copy of the PvP game with AI opponents. It’s clearly intended purely as a training tool, and it doesn’t even accomplish that very well, as the AI is very predictable and only uses about half of the game’s heroes.

Overwatch would benefit tremendously from a mode designed for co-op from the ground up, such as a horde mode. The game’s lore certainly offers many good scenarios to form the premise of such a mode, such as the robotic rebellion known as the Omnic Crisis.

Even for those who do enjoy PvP, Overwatch seems oddly limited. All of its maps boil down to some variation of “go to a point and stand there to capture it,” and it’s a game that becomes very repetitive very quickly, even considering its impressively diverse roster of heroes. It would benefit greatly from the addition of more game modes, such as team death match or a mode without hero-swapping.

The Hanamura map in Overwatch

Some variety is brought to the game with its weekly brawl mode, which shakes up the game with wacky new rules like random hero selection or reduced cooldowns, but even that feels like something of a stopgap solution to Overwatch’s repetitive nature.

Comparing to the competition:

When you start comparing Overwatch to other, similar games, its limited nature becomes even more perplexing.

Take the newly released Battleborn. It’s very similar to Overwatch, being a first person shooter with stylized graphics and a wide roster of unique heroes. However, in addition to three distinct competitive modes, Battleborn also boasts a full-length story campaign that can be played either solo or co-op, and players can unlock much the same perks and rewards via solo or co-op play as they would in PvP. It’s not just a neglected training mode; it’s a fully supported style of play.

One could also look to Call of Duty, the franchise sitting atop the shooter world. Call of Duty has a thriving PvP scene, but every new release also includes a full-length single-player campaign and some sort of co-op option.

Overwatch falls short even when compared to Blizzard’s other games. World of Warcraft has strong support for both PvE and PvP. Hearthstone regularly releases single-player adventures to supplement its competitive aspects. StarCraft II is a pillar of the eSports world, but also boasts a spectacular single-player campaign and extensive co-op support. Diablo III appeals to hardcore min/maxers and casual RPG fans alike.

In the context of that, it seems baffling that Overwatch has chosen to have a laser focus on such a specific type of gamer.

A co-op mission in StarCraft II

StarCraft II offers a robust co-op mode designed from the ground up to support team-based PvE.

Blizzard is the Midas of the gaming world, so it’s hard to imagine that Overwatch will be anything but a success, but one wonders how much more of a success it could have been if it had not focused so exclusively on competitive play.

It’s not a question of if Overwatch will lose players by offering no alternative to PvP, but simply how many. Those players will instead seek out Overwatch’s competition, and while it probably won’t be enough to stop Overwatch from being a hit, it still seems foolhardy for Blizzard to leave all that money on the table.

What might have been:

For what it is, Overwatch is a solid game. The core gameplay is strong, the art is fantastic, and the action is plentiful. But it is an incredibly narrow game. It’s a fantastic experience for those who crave intense, high octane competitive play, but very unwelcoming for everyone else.

One can’t help but wonder why Blizzard has set their sights so low with Overwatch.

Perhaps it has to do with the fact Overwatch is cobbled together from the remnants of Blizzard’s cancelled MMO, the game codenamed Project: Titan. Perhaps the company’s higher-ups were scrambling to recoup what they lost on Titan as quickly as possible, and thus they rushed Overwatch out the door as soon as they could.

If that’s the case, there’s always the chance it could expand to become more feature-complete after launch, but Blizzard has shown no interest in anything like that so far. They seem content with the game’s current, highly limited state.

It’s all very confusing, and for those who were inspired by Overwatch’s colorful and optimistic world when it was announced, very disappointing, as well.

AFK Progression in MMORPGs

Actively playing a new MMORPG has really got me thinking about how I spend my time. Although I love the concept of virtual worlds I tend not to stick around very long because mechanics tend to feel very rehashed. Black Desert Online does rehash a lot of typical Korean features such as heavy grinding and the worship of RNGesus. It also brings a lot of new or underutilized features into the fold, which is why I’ve stuck around. One of these features is away from keyboard (AFK) progression. Creating a proper AFK MMORPG isn’t easy though as a game needs to balance automated progression with an actual reason to play.

In Black Desert Online players can engage in a few activities that progress their character even while they’re AFK. The two most prominent of these are fishing and horse training, both of which can net significant sums of money. Earnings don’t match the results of active play but are a nice way for casual players to somewhat keep up. I really appreciate this progression that occurs while I’m doing other things. Horse training and breeding in particular has added a unique set of goals for me to accomplish. Without the AFK option, I wouldn’t have near the patience to try it out. I also enjoy that actually playing the game will net significantly more progression (in both money and levels) so the game isn’t purely playing itself.

Black Desert AFK Fishing Rewards

Black Desert Online

Unfortunately, Black Desert encourages players a little too strongly to stay online, even if doing nothing. Workers mining and chopping trees won’t repeat jobs if the the player isn’t online to play taskmaster. Regeneration of energy, which is used to craft goods, grinds to a halt while offline. In this aspect, Black Desert takes two steps forward and one step back and is my biggest pet peeve with the game. My computer has to be on and logged in 24/7 to make full use of AFK progression. That’s right – if I log out for any reason these AFK activities stop. Even worse, as someone who needs energy and employs tons of workers to gather raw materials, my crafting progression basically halts while offline.

Ideally, Black Desert would solve this by allowing players to set offline actions that would repeat until stopped for some reason such as getting killed or the server going down for maintenance. I don’t see that happening though and it’s definitely a negative for an otherwise unique take on AFK progression. Either way, Black Desert is far from the first to showcase its talents as an AFK MMORPG.

Eve Online started the whole AFK progression idea over a decade ago. Players learn skills in the game in real time (whether logged on or off). Every skill corresponds to the ability to do something cool in Eve Online. Everything from manufacturing to placing buy/sell orders to piloting capital ships requires some real time investment. It’s one of those core features that led to players dubbing it ‘spreadsheet simulator’. Planning out skills and timers became an integral part of progression in Eve Online. For the first several years of the game, skill training could not be queued so players would even set alarms to avoid wasted time. Luckily the dev team has since added skill queuing, but Eve is no less a numbers and planning game.

Eve Online AFK Skill Training

Eve Online

Crowfall is following Eve’s lead by making the bulk of character progression a real time, AFK affair. Crowfall does improve on Eve Online’s pure AFK skill training by allowing players to gain basic proficiency from playing. It will essentially act as a tutorial for gaining the basic concepts of a skill or archetype and skip a boring intro period gated by real time. Similar to Eve, the payoffs for earlier training will be much more efficient than later training. For example, In Eve Online the skill Gunnery would add +2% rate of fire per level regardless of if that level took 2 minutes or 2 days. Crowfall appears to be doing something similar. It means new players won’t fall too far behind and the game will reward exploring multiple play styles.

The point of Eve Online and Crowfall’s AFK progression system is twofold. First, hardcore players can’t get too far ahead because skills are limited by real world time. Second, without the need to ‘level up’ constantly the players are free to do what they want. However, MMORPGs need progression. Without progression in MMORPGs, players tend to leave. It’s one of the bigger criticisms of Guild Wars 2 (which, funny enough, was not an issue with its predecessor).

The form of progression in Eve Online is earning Isk, the game’s currency. It’s been a while since I’ve played Eve but I remember that being one of the most boring MMORPG experiences in my lifetime. Mining ore and killing NPC ships were the basic money making activities. Neither really kept me from falling asleep. I eventually started making money through market orders which improved the game, but also gave me less of a reason to actually play outside of occasional fleet battles.

Although the dev team for Crowfall has answered many questions about their vision, it’s unclear how the finished product will turn out when it comes to active progression. There seems to be many similarities with Eve Online in terms of gathering raw materials and killing weak monsters to build up. I’d rather see primary gains from things like pillaging enemy lands that encourage more enjoyable activities rather than building up to the fun.

Crowfall AFK Skill Training


On the far end of the AFK progression spectrum are browser MMORPGs that fully embrace playing the game for you. MageRealm is a decently high production browser MMO. The main selling points of the game are delivering a full MMORPG experience with no download and automated combat/movement. Just tell your character where to go and what to do and the game will take care of the rest. Obviously this hinders the overall depth of the game quite a bit, but it allows casual players to keep up from work, home, or pretty much wherever. But if a game primarily plays itself, is there really any point to it?

I really do like AFK progression when it’s integrated well. That’s been done to some extent now but still leaves a lot to be desired. Ideally the perfect AFK progression and leveling system would meet these requirements:

  1. AFK Progression occurs whether or not I am logged in.
  2. I can progress my character’s levels, skills, and wealth further, to at least some extent, by actually playing.
  3. The game rewards my logging in and playing significantly more than my not playing.
  4. The game rewards enjoyable and/or risky activities over mindless repetition for advancement.

AFK progression has its place in the MMORPG world, especially those where PvP is a focus. It allows for constant achievement and advancement despite real world scheduling conflicts. But creating a game that’s fun whether logged in or not? That’s a challenge I think developers have yet to fully overcome.