Monthly Archives: January 2017

Lockboxes Are Annoying, But We Should Move On

Few issues in the MMO community stir up strong feelings the way lockboxes do. These virtual gambling devices stir up a level of hatred and vitriol unmatched by any other issue in the MMO world. And yet, they continue to propagate unchecked through our virtual worlds, despite the best efforts of the community.

A advertisement for a lockbox in Guild Wars 2

If I may play Devil’s advocate here for a moment, I think the time may have come for us to take a step back and examine whether all the furor over lockboxes is really productive. It’s clear that lockboxes are here to stay, so perhaps it’s time for us to learn how to live with them.

But First…

Before I get into the meat of my argument, I want to make a few things clear off the bat.

First, on terminology: Lockboxes have become such a contentious topic that even the word can generate no end of controversy. Many games avoid the name altogether and will vehemently argue that what they’re selling is not lockboxes.

For the purposes of this discussion, though, I am defining lockboxes as any pack of randomized items that is sold for real money.

Secondly, I want to be clear that I am not a fan of lockboxes. I’m against randomized rewards in general, and making me cough up real cash for the privilege of never seeing the item I want actually drop doesn’t endear me to the idea.

The only game where I buy lockboxes is The Secret World, and that’s mainly because I’m a lifetime subscriber and can therefore purchase them with my complimentary stipend of cash shop currency. I’m not actually spending money on them.

A toga outfit acquired from lockboxes in The Secret World

In general, I would prefer MMOs remain lockbox-free. I’m in favor of micro-transactions as a business model, but I’d rather simply pay directly for the item I want. I don’t enjoy gambling.

However, I have also come to accept that lockboxes are part of the reality of online gaming these days.

Reclaiming Perspective

I agree that lockboxes are bad, but I don’t agree with the extreme view many gamers have taken of them. I think it’s time for people to step back, take a breath, and regain some perspective.

I often hear people say that lockboxes destroy games. Does no one else see this as absurdly melodramatic? I certainly don’t think it’s true.

It can be a little irritating to see some gorgeous mount or awesome costume that you’ll never get unless you dump a small fortune into gambling boxes, but how much impact is that having on your moment to moment gameplay, really?

Even in the most obnoxiously lockbox-focused games I’ve played (looking at you, Cryptic), the fact is I could still play and enjoy the games perfectly fine without dropping any money on lockboxes.

A game that is worth playing without lockboxes will still be worth playing with them. If you’ve quit a game because it added lockboxes, I suspect you were already burnt out on the game anyway and simply needed an excuse to pull the trigger.

An advertisement for a lockbox in Star Trek: Online

A lot of people express concern for gambling’s potential for addiction. Frankly, the ethics of gambling are probably a bit beyond the scope of an article such as this, and I don’t think there are any easy answers, but for my part I’m inclined to err on the side of personal responsibility here. Gambling boxes do have some strong psychological hooks, but ultimately you’re still in control of your actions.

There’s also the concern of children being exposed to gambling practices, and I do agree that kids shouldn’t be gambling with real money in games, but that’s an issue for parents, not developers or publishers. It is a parent’s responsibility to monitor and regulate their child’s online activities.

Accepting Reality

Blunt talk time: In the battle against lockboxes, it has become abundantly clear that their detractors have lost.

Lockboxes simply wouldn’t be as widespread as they are if they didn’t make good business sense. Whatever negative publicity created by the introduction of lockboxes is clearly offset by the revenue they generate.

I often see a perception that lockboxes — and all micro-transactions, but especially lockboxes — are something that only benefits developers in the short term, that makes a lot of money upfront by taking advantage of gullible players before ultimately poisoning a game in the long term. This clearly isn’t the case, though.

Many games have continued to have long and prosperous lives after the introduction of lockboxes. Again to use Cryptic’s games as an example, Star Trek: Online and Neverwinter are continuing to chug along just fine, with regular and meaty updates, despite absolutely drowning in lockboxes.

The Underdark in Neverwinter

Similarly, Guild Wars 2 has had lockboxes since launch and has continued to enjoy a respectable level of success. Star Wars: The Old Republic is another game that could serve as the poster child for excessive use of lockboxes, and it’s doing quite well for itself after many years of the practice. The list just goes on and on.

And the sound and fury over lockboxes in the community simply isn’t making a difference. If you oppose lockboxes, I certainly sympathize with your perspective, but you have to understand that your disapproving forum posts and blog comments simply don’t matter to a developer’s bottom line. The best thing you can do is simply not buy lockboxes, because that’s the language they best understand, but even then you may have to accept that lockboxes are probably here to stay.

Redirecting Our Efforts

That’s not to say that criticism is worthless, or that we should just roll over and let developers and publishers do whatever they want without saying a word. But we need to be realistic, and reasonable.

Lockboxes probably aren’t going anywhere, but not all lockboxes are created equal. Some are relatively harmless, but others are truly obnoxious. It would be good if, instead of flatly rejecting lockboxes as a concept, we encouraged developers to find more player-friendly ways of implementing them.

Part of the reason I feel okay buying lockboxes in The Secret World is that there are many measures in place to prevent their random nature from becoming too punitive. All of the drops can be traded, so you can swap something you don’t want for something you do or simply farm pax and buy what you want at auction. TSW’s lockboxes also drop a currency called Lucky Coins that can (eventually) be spent to buy lockbox items from a vendor.

This makes it much easier to get what you want from lockboxes without spending an arm and a leg playing slots, and it allows both players and developers to benefit. It would be great to see all lockboxes take a similar strategy.

A mount acquired from a lockbox in Star Wars: The Old Republic

TSW also often offers ways to earn lockboxes through gameplay, from holiday quests or the like, which offers up another way to get the item(s) you’re after without spending yourself into bankruptcy. Overwatch does something similar with its loot crates, allowing you to earn them through normal gameplay as well as purchase them with cash. I think if this practice were more widespread the general opinion of lockboxes would improve significantly.

I also don’t think we should give up the fight to keep direct purchases part of MMO business models. Something I find frustrating about SW:TOR’s lockbox obsession is not so much the boxes themselves but the fact that almost nothing good ever gets added to the cash shop for direct sale. I never have anything to spend my subscriber Cartel Coin stipend on. Those of who us who don’t want to gamble should still have options.

And let’s stop demonizing developers for adding lockboxes to games. They’re not monsters conspiring in a dark room to bleed players dry (well, most of them aren’t, anyway). They’re just trying to turn a profit and earn a living, like everyone else in our capitalist society. I certainly don’t think insulting and denigrating them is going to make them more likely to listen to your arguments against lockboxes.

Beyond all that, there are frankly much bigger issues facing the MMO world than lockboxes. I can only imagine what kind of positive changes could be made if half the passion directed against lockboxes was instead put toward combating the toxicity within the community…

R-E-L-A-X

In a perfect world, MMORPGs wouldn’t need to have lockboxes, but that isn’t the world we live in. There are a lot of valid criticisms to be made of the concept, but I think the conversation has metastasized into something that is no longer helpful or productive. It would be in everyone’s best interest to take a step back, calm down, and recognize that while lockboxes can be annoying, they’re not the death of the genre.


I Hate Training Gear

In Elder Scrolls Online, player gear can be customized in a number of ways. One such way is through traits, which can add effects like more damage, penetration, healing, etc. Training is one of those traits, and I hate it. You wouldn’t think so given its effect of increasing EXP gained from ALL sources. I must be crazy, right? Who doesn’t like leveling up faster?! Yet never have EXP bonuses felt so tainted as they do with training gear.

Training gear has a massive impact on leveling speed. Depending on the quality of the individual pieces, a full training set can increase EXP gains by over 80%. It’s really hard to pass that up in a genre that is first and foremost about advancing one’s character. And it’s nice that Zenimax included some means to speed up the grind for both alts and new players. Unfortunately, it brings some unintended consequences and ultimately weakens the game.

ESO Training Gear

The worst aspect of training gear in ESO is it makes acquiring new equipment pointless until endgame. No matter how epic that new sword or armor is, it won’t help you level as fast as a set of common training gear.  Even at low levels, acquiring new loot should be a fun activity. In ESO, every single piece of pre-endgame equipment either gets vendored or deconstructed for crafting materials.

Secondly, because acquiring loot is pointless until endgame, it disincentivizes activities that aren’t EXP focused. It follows then that the most effective use of training gear is grinding. Grinding in highly concentrated areas will level one up quickly, but it’s as horribly dull as grinding in any other MMORPG. Leveling up this way also lets you save money in the long run by maintaining outdated equipment. That brings me to point #3.

Training gear isn’t overly difficult to craft, which I suppose is good. The one exception to that is for newbies, who typically won’t have the friends or funds to finance their own training gear set. Even if they can get their hands on a full set early on, there’s no way to upgrade it to keep it level appropriate. Crafting a new set every 10 levels to maintain somewhat adequate stats is burdensome at best. So new players either have to devote resources to recrafting the same lame gear, earn deficient EXP, or (as referenced above) grind with others who can do all of the work instead.

ESO isn’t the only game at fault. Other MMORPGs exist which employ a similar system of encouraging suboptimal equipment to increase overall leveling speed. It doesn’t make any sense though. It establishes progression as the primary means of entertainment, which should be a byproduct of actual quality entertainment like dungeons, PvP, and quests. In games where grinding is really all there is to do, maybe it’s reasonable. In a game like ESO where dungeons, PvP, and questing are all high quality activities, it hurts the game.

Training gear only serves to boil a content saturated MMORPG like Elder Scrolls Online down to a mindless level grind. Zenimax Online should replace it with a trait with actual endgame uses and just increase EXP rates from all sources by 80% before level 50, gradually declining to 0% at 160 champion point levels (the highest gear level requirement). ESO is not a game that needs the filler content of level grinding to keep people around, and it shouldn’t act like it.


Comparing ESO and TSW’s Build Systems

Elder Scrolls Online and The Secret World are games with a lot in common. They’re both highly story-driven and solo-friendly. And they both have highly flexible build systems that give you great freedom in how to construct your character.

But which system is superior? Let’s break it down.

Combat in Elder Scrolls Online

How they work:

The Secret World has a pretty unusual take on character progression. There are no classes at all, and every character has access to all 500+ abilities in the game, organized in a complex menu called the ability wheel.

The ability wheel is divided into sections based on the game’s nine weapon types, as well as three small miscellaneous skill lines roughly corresponding to each group role (tank, healer, DPS). Each weapon is intended to be able to fill two group roles, one of which is always damage.

Abilities are unlocked by spending ability points (AP), earned every time the player “levels up” (for lack of a better term in a game without traditional levels). Earning experience also unlocks skill points (SP), which are spent on lines relating to weapons and other types of gear. This allows you to equip more powerful equipment and is the vertical progression element of the game, whereas the ability wheel is more horizontal.

A player in TSW therefore constructs their build by selecting two weapons and seven active and seven passives abilities. While most active abilities require you have the corresponding weapon equipped, most passive abilities will work with any weapon, and combining passives from multiple weapons is one of the most important skills for a TSW player to learn.

At higher levels, you can also further specialize your build with advanced systems like auxiliary weapons, AEGIS gear, and augments.

You’re not tied to any specific build in TSW. You can change which abilities you have equipped for no cost any time you want, and there’s no limit to how many abilities you can unlock.

The Secret World's ability wheel

Something else unusual about TSW that doesn’t get as much attention as it probably should is that the game’s leveling curve is inverted. In most games, levels take longer to earn as you progress further, but in TSW, the amount of XP needed to earn AP is constant, whereas the XP you earn from killing monsters and completing missions constantly increases as you progress through the game. An ability costing 50 AP might take you several hours to earn at the beginning of the game, but by end game it could be done in a single session.

Elder Scrolls Online, meanwhile, is a little closer to the traditional RPG style of character progression, though with some unique twists of its own.

For instance, ESO does have traditional levels. Each level up earns you skill and attribute points that can be used to unlock or upgrade abilities and to increase the stats of your character, respectively. You can also earn additional skillpoints from certain quests or by collecting skyshards from the game world.

Unlike TSW’s ability points, skill points in ESO are finite. There are many hundreds to earn, but you will eventually reach a point where you’ve got them all — at least until the next content update. This means that while you can learn a lot on a single character, you won’t be able to have every skill at your disposable.

ESO also has classes — four of them, to be precise. However, your choice of class is a much smaller decision than in most games. Any class can use any equipment or weapons. You can be a melee sorcerer in heavy armor, or a staff-wielding, spell-flinging nightblade if you so desire.

Ultimately, the only thing your choice of class in ESO does is grant you access to three unique skill lines that are exclusive to that class, but most skill lines are available to all. These include unique skill lines for every weapon category and armor type, as well as lines for the four NPC guilds, miscellaneous skill lines like Soul Magic, PvP-centric skill lines, and lines for players who choose to become Werewolves or Vampires.

The Champion Point menu in Elder Scrolls Online

There are also non-combat skill lines, as well, that relate to crafting, theft, and the like. Some skill lines may require the purchase of DLC to unlock.

In ESO, you can equip up to to six active abilities — five standard and one Ultimate — at a time, and you can swap new ones in and out as long as you’re not in combat. At level fifteen, you unlock weapon swapping, which grants access to a second set of six abilities you can switch to at will. Abilities from weapon lines require the appropriate weapon be equipped, but most other abilities can be used no matter what.

Passive abilities are always active. They do not need to be equipped, and there’s no limit to how many you can have. However, many have limitations on when they operate. Armor passives, for instance, require you to have at least some items of that armor type equipped for you to reap their benefits.

After reaching level cap, ESO players can further augment their builds with Champion Points, earned via experience as per normal levels and spent on various incremental passive bonuses. There’s no limit to how many Champion Points can be earned, but there is a limit to how many can actually be spent to earn bonuses. This limit regularly increases with new content updates.

Pros and cons:

If you want maximum freedom, The Secret World’s system wins out. There is, at least theoretically, next to no limit to what sort of character you can make. Your performance depends mainly on passive choices, but your playstyle depends more on active abilities, so you have a lot of flexibility in how to play.

Even the game’s gear stats are flexible — with no separation between, say, gear for caster DPS versus melee DPS — so you can mix and match weapons to your heart’s content. Blood magic and swords? Great build. Shotguns and fireballs? That works too.

A fight in a darkened warehouse in The Secret World

However, TSW is also on the whole less user friendly. The sheer volume of choice can be overwhelming, and the mechanics of interaction between various abilities and gear stats can be quite complex. The game is also notoriously bad at explaining all this complexity, so a lot of people make it very far into the game with very bad builds, never knowing just how bad their set-ups are — this is likely the source of the complaints over the game’s combat.

For its part, Elder Scrolls Online’s build system is a lot easier to adjust to thanks to its relatively lower complexity and the fact it hews much closer to traditional RPG archetypes and mechanics.

It’s not without its own difficulties, though. If you do find yourself with an nonviable build in ESO, your only choice will be to purchase a respec using either in-game gold or real world cash, and both options are pretty pricey. Whereas in TSW if you have a bad build, you can just keep playing and quickly earn enough AP and SP to adjust.

Both games will allow you to use almost any build you want while soloing — which is a huge part of both games — but require a greater degree of specialization for endgame content. In TSW, you can easily have separate builds for separate activities (in fact the game encourages it), but in ESO you’ll probably have to choose a specific activity and build for it, at least if you want to be optimal.

TSW’s system does cut down on character identity, though, seeing as everyone can literally do everything. If you’re a hardcore RP fanatic, you might prefer ESO’s more traditional system of character specialization.

Both games utilize the traditional trinity of group roles, so if you’re hoping to break the rules there, you’ll be disappointed.

Combat in Elder Scrolls Online

In theory you can break out of the trinity in TSW, but that requires careful coordination by your entire group, and most players prefer the path of least resistance: a traditional tank, healer, and DPS set-up. At best you can satisfy yourself with unusual builds that blur the lines of the trinity, like leech healers and healtanks.

Finally, you can also consider the separate aesthetics of each game. TSW is set in the current day, and while it has some fantasy elements, it also has a lot of guns and modern technology. ESO is more about traditional fantasy weapons. Part of the reason I’ve been spending time in ESO recently is that I simply prefer bows to guns.

Which is better?

Ultimately the answer to that question mostly comes down to personal preference.

For my money, I prefer TSW. It offers the most freedom and flexibility. My character can be whoever I want them to be, whenever I want them to be.

However, if you prefer something that’s a bit closer to a traditional RPG experience, more user-friendly, or more promoting of character identity, then ESO may be your preference.

They’re both good systems no matter how you look at it, so you can’t really go wrong.


2016’s Crowdfunded MMOs

More than any subset of gamers, MMO players fall in love with a game’s potential. We’ve also been burned the hardest, making for a oddly cynical yet idealistic crowd. These two facets of our identity make for an interesting reaction to crowdfunding campaigns on places like Kickstarter and Indiegogo. As potential backers, it’s fair to question the practicality in backing an MMO’s campaign. Crowdfunded MMOs in 2016 weren’t quite as exciting as some years’ past, but this article didn’t get to 1,400+ words with nothing to show.

How did the below campaigns perform? Is the money that people requested even enough to fulfill their design goals? Are the timelines for delivery remotely reasonable? Is there enough experience on the team to even deliver the technical challenge that is an MMO?

Despite these questions and more, five games were able to meet their funding requirements in 2016:

Chronicles of Elyria

Chronicles of Elyria crowdfunding

Raised: $1,361,435 on Kickstarter

None of the 2016 crowdfunded MMORPGs promised a more unique experience than Chronicles of Elyria. Hell, it might be more ambitious than anything else on the horizon outside of Star Citizen. Players will see their characters age, die, and even perform activities when offline. NPC quests will be replaced by player mission and contracts. Combat will be twitch based so the team is also effectively promising low latency, even in large battles. The development team wants to create a truly living world and all of CoE’s features come back to that core idea.

The pricing model is fairly unique too. When a character dies (living on average one real year), players will need to pony up $30 to transfer their soul to a new host. Other factors can improve or reduce one’s lifespan, but basically this is a $30/year subscription fee. Seems pretty reasonable to me if Soulbound Studios actually delivers on their promises. And I Kickstarted CoE, so I hope it does! The biggest concern is that developing a complex sandbox like the Elyria team envisions involves a lot of upfront work. Creating an offline NPC system that won’t induce massive player rage isn’t a breeze either. A million bucks seems like a lot, but that’s really just a stepping stone for a game changing MMORPG like this one. The feature at greatest risk is the twitch based combat. I expect some regression to a hybrid model like in Elder Scrolls Online.

Dual Universe

Dual Universe crowdfunding

Raised: €565,983 (approx. $600,000) on Kickstarter

Dual Universe promises a sandbox in one centralized, persistent universe where economy, politics, trade, and warfare are all player-run. Sound familiar? The game creators seek to create a single monolithic server where players can live out their roleplaying desires in space. Any type of character is possible, and tons of possibilities abound for how players can impact the world. Skills even train in real-time. The Kickstarter reads like a bullet point feature list for Eve Online.

The key differences are direct planetary interaction, voxel-based building and construction for immense freedom, and combat seems to be more planet than space driven. Delivering everything they state on their Kickstarter page by launch in 2018 is ambitious, to say the least. It’s taken Eve Online over a decade to get where they are now. While technology certainly makes “catching up” faster and easier, planetary combat is significantly more complicated than space combat. I’m also concerned about the audience size, given that Eve Online has never been a behemoth in the genre. Visualization of characters and voxel building will attract new crowds on their own though. The chance to start on even footing vs. Eve’s decade plus vets is also attractive for new and veteran MMORPG gamers alike.

Edengard

Edengard crowdfunding

Raised: £41,535 (approx.  $51,000) on Kickstarter

Edengard is a yet another sandbox MMORPG, this time styled in a post apocalyptic world similar to Fallout and Mad Max. The core gameplay revolves around rebuilding civilization. Players will be able to build their own towns from scratch, fight other players for territory, and build characters with 17 unique skill trees, all with procedurally generated content in a persistent game world. This is an ambitious project, one many others have promised before. We’re basically talking about upgrading Rust into a fully functional MMORPG, and that game has sold roughly 5 million copies at $20/pop. To say I’m skeptical would be an understatement.

The Poland based Huckleberry Games is apparently towards the tail end of development and thus only needed a relatively small capital infusion. That explains why $50,000 could get Edengard into a playable state. Hitting that amount with 128 backers is worrisome though, as it doesn’t signal a wide audience. They’ll also be launching on Steam Early Access within the next few months. On the plus side, Edengard has been in the works for over four years now so there are some videos that showcase what could be a solid game. Based on previous launches of similar concepts by similarly sized studios though, I expect this to linger in Early Access for at least a few years. Hopefully the team will stick around until then to fulfill their vision.

Dragon of Legends

Dragon of Legends crowdfunding

Raised: CA$ 20,380 (approx. $15,500) on Kickstarter

Prior to this Kickstarter, the developers cut their planned persistent world MMORPG features. So why is it on this list? They still plan to deliver something similar to Guild Wars or Destiny, which generally qualify as MMOs. I’d also rather be overly inclusive than exclusive. There will be a hub to interact with a bunch of players and instanced based areas to play through primary content with a group of up to twenty players.

Combat is ARPG hack and slash style with several different abilities depending on faction and class. Similar to many MMORPGs, players can also gather resources to craft complex goods. These can then be used by the player or sold for a nice a profit. It’s unclear whether the team can deliver all of the planned online features with such a small budget (even if they find venture capital or Canadian grant money as planned). I’d guess Dragon of Legends ends up being launched as a single player game, with multiplayer to come later down the pipe. That’s assuming the single player game is reasonably successful to begin with. We might end up with something like player hosted games accessible from a general lobby like in Grim Dawn. That would drop it out of the MMO space but at least deliver promised multiplayer.

Screeps

Screeps crowdfunding

Raised: $11,493 on Indiegogo

Despite its budget, Screeps is by far the coolest MMORTS I’ve ever read about. Players control their own colony using JavaScript to issue commands. They’re also limited by their CPU usage. Essentially to play Screeps well, one will need to program well. There doesn’t seem to be a ton of options by normal MMO standards. The fact that players gain an immense level of freedom through programming their own actions more than offsets the minimally apparent scope.  Unlike other MMOs that need to raise hundreds of thousands in order to succeed, Screeps has already launched on Steam (NOT Early Access). The reviews are pretty great too. If you’re an MMO fan looking to brush up on your JavaScript skills, look no further than Screeps.

Kickstarter Continuations

And some MMORPGs ran continued crowdfunding campaigns in 2016. Project Gorgon raised almost $20,000 on Indiegogo to supplement their $75,000 on Kickstarter in 2015. Crowfall launched an investment based campaign that is set to close in a few days. Instead of simply paying for a future product, investors in the MicroVentures campaign actually purchase a (minuscule) amount of the revenue generating pie. It’s raised almost half a mil, putting Crowfall’s total funds at over $10 million. Some may take this as a worrying sign that Crowfall is running out of money. On the contrary, there is just a lot that goes into making an MMORPG that promises as much as Crowfall. Whereas I expect every other game on this list to cut features, I expect Crowfall to launch with the vast majority of their stated list.

Failed MMO Kickstarters

A number of other MMOs attempted Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaigns in 2016. Most were run by rather clueless developers. No screenshots, no videos, no history, and no experience means no money. People aren’t going to support a developer or team, without anything on the table, that expects to make an MMORPG from scratch for some paltry figure like $25,000.

The only notable failure is Hero’s Song. Headlined by Daybreak Game’s former president, John Smedly, Hero’s Song promised some interesting features. Basically, players could randomize their world based on a number of unique factors and open it up to “MMO mode”. Patrick Rothfuss was also on board to create the backstory. For those unfamiliar with him, he’s basically one of the heir apparents to “George RR Martin” in the fantasy world. Unfortunately, they only met half of their funding goal and closed down shop earlier this month. It should just go to show that if these veterans can’t deliver an MMO-lite experience for $100,000, you should be wary about someone offering five times the features at the same price.

 


Favorite Games of 2016

2016 has come and gone and now it’s time to reminisce about what turned out to be a great year in gaming. Tyler Bro and I have compiled our three favorite games we played in the past year. Most of them didn’t actually release last year, but that only shows one of the great things about gaming. Multiplayer games especially tend to evolve over time and many are in better shape than we’ve ever seen.

The Bro’s Picks:

Elder Scrolls Online
elder scrolls online 2016

I’ve fallen in love with Elder Scrolls Online. There’s so much interesting content here and two months later, I’m just scratching the surface. I tend to get a little ADD when it comes to MMORPGs so the wealth of options is fantastic. There’s a ton of dungeons (with a myriad of difficulties), expansive PvP, crafting, and crazy amount of customization options.

Unlike many other MMORPGs, I don’t feel compelled to play in a particular way. I log on and get rewards for doing whatever it is I find enjoyable. This is not the MMORPG it was when it first launched. ESO took a while to get to the point it’s at now, but One Tamriel really sealed the deal for me. This is my MMORPG of choice for the foreseeable future.

Overwatch

overwatch 2016

Elder Scrolls Online lacks one important multiplayer feature: competitive PvP. This is where Overwatch comes into play. I don’t always want an intense skill based multiplayer game. When I do, Overwatch is just a few clicks away. For a long time, League of Legends was my competitive multiplayer game of choice. With less time to devote to mastery, Overwatch has served as more than a capable replacement.

The characters feel truly unique and most of them offer a different experience from a typical shooter. Using abilities at the right time can mean the difference between a victory and a loss. The pacing of the matches feels just right too. Overwatch is one of the few multiplayer games that really changes things up for a gamer who sometimes feels like they’ve seen it all.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

witcher 3 2016

Of course, sometimes it’s important to just sit back and enjoy a fully immersive single player experience. In that regard, Witcher is hard to beat. I actually played this for the first time in 2015, but I enjoyed it so much I played through it again (with DLC) in 2016. There are some flaws, sure. The pacing is a little off in the main game, and combat isn’t super deep. I don’t think I’ve ever played a perfect game though so I’d qualify these as pretty minor complaints.

I love the characters, story, choices, and world. I can’t say at any point that I lost my sense of immersion in The Witcher 3. Actions and reactions flow in a natural manner, and there is a ton of choice & consequence. Making tough moral decisions is such a great part of the game. I hope to see something similar in that regard in 2017.

Tyler Bro’s picks:

Landmark

A player character in Landmark

Landmark was a pleasant surprise. We were all pretty disappointed by the cancellation of EverQuest Next, but if that was a case of life giving us lemons, Landmark is some pretty fine lemonade.

It’s a pretty simple game — really more of a toolkit than a game — but for what it is it does its job well. There’s almost no limit to what you can create in Landmark, and some of the creativity on display within it is truly awe-inspiring.

It might not be “main game” material, but it’s a nice place to pop into for some relaxation every now and again.

Star Wars: The Old Republic

An Imperial agent character and Lana Beniko in Star Wars: The Old Republic's Knights of the Eternal Throne expansion

If we’re to measure only by hours spent in-game, SW:TOR was my top game in 2016. Bar a few short breaks here and there, I played it heavily over the entire year. The major changes made by Knights of the Fallen Empire intrigued me, and I wound up getting sucked in for the long haul.

This is actually a bit surprising, even to me, because I’ve never really been a Star Wars fan, and there are some pretty big things about the game that I don’t like, from its business model to its combat.

However, I am a sucker for a good story, and that’s one thing Bioware tends to deliver pretty consistently. Between the class and expansion stories, I had no shortage of plot to keep me engaged, even as I largely ignored the multiplayer and endgame content.

StarCraft II

Nova's ship, the Griffin, in StarCraft II's Nova Covert Ops DLC

Although its last expansion technically launched in 2015, 2016 was still a fantastic year for StarCraft II. Its co-op mode has far exceeded everyone’s expectations, and I can’t even count how many matches I’ve played over the past year. With new maps and commanders coming regularly, it just keeps getting better.

Meanwhile, the Covert Ops DLC also provided a small but very quality dose of story content. I had my doubts about whether Covert Ops could measure up after the excellence of Legacy of the Void’s single-player experience, but it won me over with its intense story, innovative gameplay, and epic challenges. If Covert Ops is truly to be the last story update to StarCraft II, at least they left on a high note.

For all the stumbles made by Blizzard’s other properties in recent times, StarCraft seems to have the Midas touch these days.