Monthly Archives: February 2017

Why Themepark MMOs Work

These days, themepark MMOs — games focused on structured, developer-created content — dominate the genre. They are both the most common and the most successful games around. But what is it that makes the themepark MMO such a successful model? Why have these games enjoyed such success?

The Vault of the Wardens dungeon in the themepark MMORPG World of Warcraft

I’m a pretty diehard themepark fan myself. I may play sandboxes here or there, but in the end my heart still lies with the carefully constructed worlds that only themeparks can provide. Therefore I think I can speak to what it is that has given the genre such enduring popularity, or at least why I keep coming back to them.

Purpose

For me, the biggest appeal of themepark MMOs is that they give me a clear purpose. Some people like to be dropped in the middle of an open field and left to find their own fun, and I respect that, but it’s not for me.

I’m very goal-focused in games. When I log into a game, I want to have a clear idea of where I’m going and what I’m fighting for. You can say it’s the journey and not the destination that matters, and I’d agree, but I can’t start the journey if I don’t know where I’m going. I love to stop and smell the roses, but you can’t make a whole game out of that.

That’s not to say that everything need be totally linear. I think the best themeparks are those that offer the player several options on how to advance through the game and progress their character. But there still needs to be goals to be pursued, whether it’s getting the best gear, finishing the story, or even just hitting max level. There needs to be purpose to the experience. Your actions need to matter in the long term.

The ideal themepark MMO is one that offers a variety of goals and a variety of methods to achieve them. Those that marry purpose with choice achieve the best of both worlds, giving players direction without babysitting them.

Familiarity

As we all learned from Bill Nye growing up, inertia is a property of matter. Since we’re made of matter, it can also be a property of gamers.

Fighting as a Jedi consular in the themepark MMORPG Star Wars: The Old Republic

The very popularity and persistence of the themepark MMO can be a mark in its favor. Odds are you’ve already played a number of themeparks and know what to expect from them. A quest-focused leveling experience, some dungeons, probably optional PvP, gear-based vertical progression, and so forth.

There’s a fine line between familiar and derivative, and there are more than a few themeparks that fall on the bad side of that line, but so long as they’re not aping past games too much, there’s nothing wrong with leaning on standard designs. That’s why we have distinct genres in the first place.

When you know what to expect, the barrier to entry is much lower. You can spend less time learning and more time enjoying the game.

Personality

Sandbox fans may disagree with me on this, but if I’m being honest, the non-themepark games I’ve played all felt a bit… flat to me. Empty. Soulless. Without color.

When you focus on player-created content instead of developer-created, the game itself begins to lose some of its personality in the process. That doesn’t make them worse games, but it does give them different appeals, different “hooks” for the player. Sandboxes are about the people you meet. Themeparks are able to develop personalities and identities all their own.

The lore, quest text, NPC dialogue, and more all contribute to adding depth to the setting of any themepark, to the point where the world almost becomes a character unto itself, and any good themepark MMO will quickly establish a distinct personality that sets it apart from the pack.

Leveling up in the themepark MMORPG WildStar

Lord of the Rings Online captures the richness and detail of Tolkien’s writing. Star Wars: The Old Republic is a game of politics on both the personal and the galactic scale. World of Warcraft is, well, Warcraft — it’s a pretty unique flavor all its own. Aion has an exotic surrealism. WildStar is like Looney Tunes on acid, except somehow nowhere near as awesome as that sounds.

That’s not to say that you can’t find some pretty soulless and empty themeparks, too, but that’s the result of poor design or lazy developers, not an inherent flaw of the genre.

Artistry

I’m a big believer in the idea of video games as art, and within the MMO field, themeparks are where it’s at for fans of art in gaming.

There isn’t a lot of respect for MMORPGs as an art form, even among MMO fans, and to some extent I can understand why. There are certainly plenty of examples of MMOs that have little or no artistry to them.

This is why I don’t play Rift. I find it to be an excellent game mechanically, but I find it to be such a bland hodgepodge of generic fantasy tropes that I simply can’t become invested.

But there are also exceptions, MMOs that are good examples of video games as art, and every one of them is a themepark MMO.

The opening cutscene for the mission The Way of Things in the themepark MMORPG The Secret World

The Secret World‘s mission design, lore writing, voice acting, and storytelling are among the best I’ve seen — not just in MMOs, or even in games, but in all of media. SW:TOR features vivid, three dimensional characters and some genuinely powerful story arcs. Even WoW, despite its occasional stumbles, has had some moments of brilliance. Don’t believe me? Do the Bridenbrad quests in Icecrown and get back to me.

This level of artistry is not something that can happen by accident. It’s only possible when developers carefully plan and design the content. It is therefore something that only a themepark MMO can provide.


Building a Social MMO for the Solo Player

Confession time: I’m one of those awful solo players you always hear are ruining the genre. I used to be more of a social MMO player, with a small but tight-knit World of Warcraft guild that I called home, but after they broke up, I’ve found myself becoming ever more of a virtual loner. I generally don’t join guilds, and if I group at all it will be in a PUG.

A solo player in World of Warcraft

But despite that, I still admire the potential of MMOs as a social medium, at least in theory, and I generally support the idea of finding ways to make MMORPGs more social.

The trouble is that most of the solutions I’ve seen proposed by the community and developers don’t encourage me to be more social. If anything, they drive me even further away from other players.

If developers want to convert solo players like me into socializers, this is how I would go about it.

Don’t Force It

The knee-jerk reaction for how to make a more social MMO seems to be to make grouping unavoidable, to force people to be social whether they like it or not. Grouping is made essential to progressing the story and advancing your character.

If you’re looking to convert solo players to group players, though, this is absolutely not the way to do it.

People in general don’t like feeling like they’re being coerced into doing something, and solo players in particular like to chart their own course.

Personally, the more I feel forced into interacting with other players, the less I want to do it. Elder Scrolls Online’s reliance on trading guilds instead of a public auction house hasn’t made me reach out to a good guild. It’s just made me not trade at all.

A solo player in Elder Scrolls Online

Similarly, making group content a requirement at every turn doesn’t make me more likely to do group content; it makes me more likely to find another game. Grouping should be an option, and a robust one, but it shouldn’t be something that the developers try to railroad us into.

Avoid Anti-Social Design

By “anti-social design,” I mean mechanics that unnecessarily pit people against each other, like competition over loot or harvesting nodes. For the first few years of playing MMOs, I became conditioned to avoid other players in the open world for fear that they might steal my mobs (or that I might steal theirs), and any longtime MMO player has at least a few stories of groups and guilds being torn apart by loot drama.

Thankfully, this is one issue developers are doing a good job of addressing. Mechanics like personal loot and open tapping have greatly proliferated over the last few years, solving a lot of the unnecessary conflicts within MMORPGs.

Make Grouping Accessible

For people who are on the fence about group content to begin with, making it hard to find a group definitely isn’t going to win them over. Effective and easy to use group finders (ideally automated) are absolutely essential for any game seeking to be a social MMO that welcomes the solo player.

Solitary players probably aren’t going to be interested in joining an organized guild or spending an hour spamming general chat in hopes of landing a good PUG. But if finding a group is as easy as hitting a few buttons and waiting a few minutes, people are much more likely to give it a shot.

Similarly, difficulty options should also work to be inclusive.

A group facing the "Hatekeeper" boss in The Secret World

Now, I strongly resent the stereotype that all solo and casual players are unskilled. I’m a solo player, and one of my biggest complaints about the MMO genre as a whole is that they’re just too easy most of the time.

However, solo players are not a wholly homogeneous group, and at least some of them will probably need a lower difficulty of group content, at least until they learn the ropes.

And sometimes even if you can handle a higher difficulty, you may not want to. Personally I prefer to face my challenges when playing alone and enjoy group content more when it’s low stress. I can handle social pressure, and I can handle gameplay pressure, but both at the same time starts to suck the fun out a bit.

If I’m alone, my failures only affect myself. In a group, four other players are relying on me, and it feels terrible if I let them down. On the flip side, it also sucks to have a carry a person whose company you enjoy but whose skills may not be up to the tougher content.

Honestly I find it baffling that MMO developers have decided that group size and difficulty need to be married to each other. Just because you like to play with friends doesn’t mean you have leet skills, and just because you’re not a social butterfly doesn’t automatically mean you suck at video games. Instead of solo content always being easy and group content always being hard, there should be options on both sides of the fence.

Offer More Small Group Options

Not everyone enjoys raucous parties. Some people prefer a quiet gathering with a few close friends.

A pair of characters in World of Warcraft

In the same way, not everyone wants to play in a raid, or even a full five-man group. Some would prefer to play with just one or two other people when they group.

For someone who’s traditionally played solo, it’s an easier adjustment to play with just one or two others than a larger group. This is particularly true for those who suffer from social anxiety, but even if you don’t sometimes it’s just better to have an intimate gathering than a big crowd.

Strangely, though, most MMOs offer little or no content targeted specifically to duos and trios. It’s usually solo, five-mans, or raids, with nothing in-between. This creates a larger than necessary gap between solo and social MMO play.

Get Serious About Cleaning up the Community

This may be the most important thing, at least for me personally.

In most MMOs, it’s only a question of when, not if, I’m going to see a bunch of hate speech, extreme vulgarity, or general trolling in public chat. And the answer to “when” is usually “very quickly and very often.”

Now, I’m an adult. I don’t mind if people want to drop some f-bombs in chat or if the occasional disagreement breaks out. But we’ve gone long past that in both severity and frequency. Last time I played World of Warcraft, Trade chat was used more for child-rape jokes than for actual trading.

You might say that these are just a few bad apples and not representative of the community as a whole, and maybe you’re even right, but this is the face of the MMO community as it stands now. This is what’s most visible, and these are the people who are setting the tone.

A flashpoint group in Star Wars: The Old Republic

Can you blame anyone for not wanting to engage in the MMO community when their first and most prominent impression of it is of bigots and bullies? I know it’s one of the bigger reasons I can’t be bothered to try joining guilds anymore.

If developers truly want to make social MMOs, they can’t be content with simply throwing a bunch of players into a pot and hoping for the best. Some real effort needs to be made to make these communities warm and welcoming places.

I know it’s not practical to fully moderate thousands of players 100% of the time, and there will always be some degree of jerkishness on the Internet, but right now it feels like developers aren’t even trying. The trolls think they can get away with murder, and from what I’ve seen, they’re right.

I could probably write a whole article just on this topic, and I won’t pretend to have all the answers, but suffice it to say that a truly social MMO will remain a fleeting dream as long as developers continue to turn a blind eye to the toxicity within their communities.

Accept the Need for Solitude

No matter how much developers succeed in making a social MMO, the fact is some of us are still going to want to be alone at least some of the time. I remember that even when I was at most social a few years ago in WoW, I maintained one or two low level, unguilded alts purely for the purpose of having some time to myself when I burnt out on people.

Developers need to recognize that there’s nothing evil about wanting to play alone in an MMO. Even those who are highly social might occasionally want some time to themselves.

And when people do feel the need to play alone, there should be enjoyable and rewarding options for them. When people are free to be social or not as they please, everyone wins.


Humble Freedom Bundle Quick Games Review (All 60 Games)

Holy crap there’s a lot of games in the Humble Freedom Bundle. I’ve taken a short break from MMOs to play all of them this week. I’m glad to say that there aren’t any bad games in the bundle, but sad to say there’s not enough time to play everything fully. As we live in a time of plenty for video games, I’ve sorted all of the games into four tiers to help bundle buyers figure out what to play.

Platinum Games

Everyone should try these out.

the witness

The Witness – WOW! In the Witness you learn how to solve puzzles by completing other puzzles with no instruction. Often times you’ll need to be very observant of your surroundings. Never seen a puzzle game like this.

Stardew Valley – Sandbox builder with dungeon crawl and relationship simulator elements. It’s a better and more modern version of Harvest Moon. The game’s not very challenging, but it is without equal in its genre.

Mini Metro – At first it doesn’t seem like much of a game. After you lose your first game you realize how incredibly deep and challenging the simple gameplay is. It’s essentially a logistics simulator that can be played in a number of ways at a pace that’s right for you.

System Shock Pack – System Shock is a good game but more of a “Silver” quality nowadays. System Shock 2, however, is still perhaps the best FPS/RPG around (with mods). The FPS part hasn’t aged well, but this game holds up due to a great antagonist, fantastic character customization, and tons of atmosphere.

Gold Games

Genre fans definitely should play these and most people probably should.

invisible inc

Invisible Inc. – Showed me that stealth is way better as a tactical RPG than an action shooter. The turn based nature removes waiting for guards to finish their routes and lets you get to core enjoyable element of stealth games. Tons of puzzle solving and creative/critical thinking. Rogue-like randomization provides a ton of replay.

Super Meat Boy – The gold standard for platformers. The levels are short, interesting, and diverse. It’s tough as nails but the deaths rarely feel unfair due to slick controls. Very funny cutscenes to boot.

Octodad: Dadliest Catch – This game sounds incredibly dumb but is actually hilarious. Performing mundane tasks with no dexterity (because you’re an octopus) is surprisingly fun. Great dialogue too. You’ll love it or hate in 10 minutes so give it a try.

Subnautica – Not everyone got this, but those who did and like builder games and exploration need to play these. There’s some Early Access issues (bugs, sound quality, endgame content, etc.), but it’s worth playing now.

Super Hexagon – Do you like testing your reaction time and awesome techno chiptunes? Play this.

The Stanley Parable – Choice as a gameplay mechanic. There’s a lot of freedom that’s not immediately apparent. Discovering that en route to 20 different endings is a unique experience in The Stanley Parable.

The Swapper – Puzzle platformer with genuine horror elements and a good story. Honestly, one of the best atmospheres ever in a 2D side scroller. Cloning puzzles are rarely this good, but everything is well thought out in The Swapper.

Guacamelee – Play as a luchador in this metroidvania brawler with co-op. It’s a unique concept, as long as it works. Luckily, Guacamelee puts it altogether in a package complete that oozes theme at every corner with its dialogue, visuals, and music.

Hand of Fate – In Hand of Fate, players build their upcoming adventure through a deck of cards. The player then encounters these in a random, board-game-like layout. The brilliance here is that players can then adjust decisions based on what they know is left in the deck. The action combat is pretty generic, but the short fights don’t drag the game down much.

Silver Games

Genre fans probably should play these, while others will install just for a rainy day.

guns of icarus online

Guns of Icarus Online – Unique team-centric FPS of manning a Steampunk gunship to bring down opposing airships. The downside is you really need everyone working together so it’s not great for pubbing. The population is also very weak for a multiplayer game.

GRAV – Sci-fi, survival builder game with randomized planets. Sadly doesn’t get updated much but has a good base. Hopefully developers will come back and re-focus on the game’s strength: building more dangerous co-op encounters and tools to combat them.

Song of the Deep – Metroidvania submarine game with a cute story. The narrator is fantastic, and the story moves at a good pace. Map markers keep you from getting lost. It’s a very solid lighter metroidvania, but doesn’t do quite enough awesome things to make it a must play.

Day of the Tentacle Remastered – Do you like old school point and click games? This is one of the best, and the remastered version is great. If you don’t like point and click adventures, this won’t change your mind though.

VVVVV – Challenging platformer with very cool gravity mechanic. Some deaths can feel unfair because of how little of the map loads at a time and going back through the map can be a chore. If it looks fun, you’re the right audience to play it.

Nuclear Throne – Very good roguelike bullet hell shooter. It’s fast and frantic and crazy (all in a good way). The lack of automatic fire on beginning weapons is annoying though considering how many bullets you fire in a bullet hall game. Ultimately, I feel Enter the Gungeon is similar but better.

Mushroom 11 – Neat puzzle anti-platformer that’s hard to put into words. Players move goo through landscape based physics and erasing goo to reform elsewhere. Definitely worth playing if you’ve enjoyed puzzle platformers in the past.

Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP  – There’s not a lot of actual game here. The music is great and some people will definitely love the experience. Just don’t expect to DO a lot here.

ROCKETSROCKETSROCKETS – Really, this is a local multiplayer only game. Use missiles, bombs, and shields to kill up to three other friends in this aesthetically pleasing, arcade arena game. It’s not a great comparison, but it reminds of Smash Brothers with rockets.

Human Resource Machine – High production value programming puzzles. I love the art style. People who like logic or programming puzzles will love HRM.

Spirits – Remember Lemmings? This is it. If not, it’s a light strategy puzzle game.

Tower of Guns – Frantic Quake style shooting with randomized levels and a number of unlockables. I thought I’d love this but the music and sound effects are way too light to really engage me.

Waking Mars – The voice acting and writing is surprisingly (mostly) good for the mediocre visuals. I guess I’d classify the genre as metroidvania puzzler, but that doesn’t evoke the right feeling for this game. Where Waking Mars earns high marks is its good pacing and continuous evolution of relatively simple core mechanics.

AI Fleet War Command – A high learning curve and a bad UI belie what is a fairly deep 4X-ish strategy game. If you have the patience and want a suitably refreshing and epic strategy game, give this a whirl.

Q.U.B.E. – Good block puzzles. Never gets repetitive. Short game with enough of a story to help things move along.

Rituals – This feels like a graphical version of Zork. If you don’t know what that is or you didn’t like Zork, you probably won’t like Rituals. Otherwise, it’s a decent and short adventure game that doesn’t overstay it’s welcome.

Beat Hazard Ultra – I kill two birds with one stone here. Beat Hazard is my go-to rhythm and shoot ’em up game. This game has been around for a while and is still fun to play in short bursts.

Chroma Squad – The Power Rangers tactical RPG with business management elements. I’m not sure yet if the script is intentionally as bad as Power Rangers, but that’s not really the core element of the game. Skip the story entirely and play this for its solid turn based squad combat.

Bronze Games

Dedicated fans of the genre might want to play these, and everyone else can skip them.

world of goo

World of Goo – Physics bridge building puzzles. You either like them or you don’t. This is more of them.

JumpJet Rex – SNES feeling platform. Where it sets itself apart is in it’s mobility and accessible short level. Players can jump infinitely, dash, and rocket jump all from the get go.

Monsters Love You! – A multiple ending, choose your own adventure monster simulator. I never found myself really caring about my choices, but there are a lot of them that slowly flesh out your monster’s character. This then plays into monster/human interaction and the ending.

Overgrowth – For as long as this has been in development I expected a bit more. Still feels like a tech demo. If you love fighting games, this is worth playing for the limb attack freedom. Otherwise, there’s just too many higher quality fighting games out there. Likewise, there’s much better parkour games available as well.

No Time to Explain Remastered – Platformer and sometimes side scrolling shooter. Nothing innovative except for the hilarious voice acted lines in their relation to the plot.

Thirty Flights of Loving – It’s 10 minute (or less) interactive story. It does a pretty good job of telling a lot in such a short time. But it also ends before you can really care about any of it.

2064: Read Only Memories – Visual novel masquerading as a point and click adventure game. If it’s immediately appealing then go for it. Otherwise, you can pass this up.

A Virus Named TOM – Amusing backstory aside, this is a puzzle strategy game that just isn’t that rewarding to play. I never got the “oh that was really cool” moment found in better puzzle games.

7 Grand Steps: What Ancients Begat – Board game that wanes quickly as you realize its lack of depth. Might be worth playing until you “figure it out”.

Sproggiwood – Classic feeling rogue-like that was once pretty good but has been surpassed by numerous entries into the genre. Town sim aspect is vastly underutilized.

Hot Tin Roof: The Cat That Wore A Fedora – Dat name doe. The presentation and dialogue is good, but the platformer and puzzle elements are mediocre overall. The controls can also be frustrating.

Retro Game Crunch – A multigame pack that hearkens back to the old NES days. If you grew up in that era, this is worth playing for a fresh sense of nostalgia. Most of the games are solid, but nothing in here is a must play.

Secrets of Rætikon – The art style and the first 30 minutes of this game are the best part. Afterward, things start to get repetitive pretty quickly.

Girls Like Robots – More puzzles! Like A Virus Named TOM, none of them really feel really rewarding. But if you can’t get enough puzzling in your life, here’s more of them.

Ellipsis – Feels more like a time waster tablet game. That’s not to say this minimalist fast moving puzzler is bad. It just doesn’t feel particularly fresh.

Robot Roller-Derby Disco Dodgeball – The name really says it all. I encourage everyone to try this game for 5-10 minutes. Hard to recommend playing more except for some silly multiplayer fun with friends.

Ballistick – I felt like I was playing a high quality Kongregate game here. Ballistick does stealth better than action so that’s who should really play this. Regardless, there’s better games available in both departments.

Dangerous High School Girls in Trouble – A board game with some interesting concepts that ultimately dulls fairly quickly. The graphics and basic UI in this one don’t help the cause. Don’t let the theme keep you from playing though – it’s fairly irrelevant.

Super Galaxy Squadron EX – It’s a vertical shoot ’em up. If that’s what you want to play, this will more than get the job done.

TIMEframe – Walking simulator to explore the rise and fall of a civilization through time’s rapid lenses. Conceptually sound with good music and atmosphere, it’s disappointing because you never feel like you do much. The distances between locations adds heft but also kills the pace.

Dusty Revenge – A beat ’em up with nice boss fights but regular stages that generally last too long.

Luna’s Wandering Stars – More physics puzzles! Some of these are pretty tricky so it’s certainly worth a play if that’s what you like.

Team Indie – A platformer that takes elements of various indie games to try and create several experiences in one. It works to a degree but not enough to be an enticing experience for people who don’t regularly play platformers.

Streamline – This game relies on a large Twitch community, which it does not have. Some fun parkour elements if you can actually get a game going.

Shutshimi – A horizontal shoot ’em up. It’s OK, but other than co-op doesn’t play differently enough to warrant specifically picking it over all the others.

Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken – Platformer shooter that does everything perfectly fine. There’s obvious silliness, but I wouldn’t say it adds a ton to the game.

Potatoman Seeks the Troof – Clearly not a game to be played for the visuals. It’s a challenging platformer where you jump to avoid things. Nothing fancy.

Ninja Pizza Girl – The platform, parkour speed running parts are good. The rest of the game just detracts from that. Has wider appeal than most “Bronze” games, but I don’t think anything will fall in love with it.

There’s a lot of games in this Humble Freedom Bundle. I have no doubts that somewhere your opinion will differ than mine. I shot for as an objective take as I could make, and I’ll stick by these rankings. Either way, $30 for all of the above has been a great deal. Knowing that money is going to worthwhile charities is all the sweeter. The Freedom Bundle ends 2/20 at 2 pm EST. A few of the games reviewed above also are sold out. Check the full listing before purchasing if certain games will sway your decision.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Guide to Couples MMO Games for Valentine’s Day

What better gift is there for that special someone than spending some quality time together in a virtual world? Maybe you just started dating and want to get to know each other better. Maybe you’ve been a couple for a decade. No matter the length of a relationship, MMO games offer opportunities that simple cooperative games can only fawn over in jealousy. After all, the only thing better than hanging out together is doing it in front of other people. This Valentine’s Day, don’t just show off how great of a couple you and your partner are. Do it in one of these MMOs that lets you flaunt it to thousands of other players.

Elder Scrolls Online

valentines day mmos elder scrolls online

Rings of Mara aren’t explicitly for romantic couples, but it sure is appealing for them. This cash shop item only needs to be purchased by one partner, presumably whoever’s turn it is to pay for the next date. Afterward, head to a Shrine of Mara in one of the major city hubs. Then pray to Mara and boom! Your two characters now earn +10% EXP when playing together. If you really want to go the extra mile, a tuxedo and a wedding dress are also available in the cash shop. And since Valentine’s Day is all about showing off to everyone else in the world, you better buy them.

V-Day MMO Flaunt Score: 5/10

Sound good? Read our Elder Scrolls Online review here.

Revelation Online

This system is pretty cool. It actually lets you court your significant other by simply playing together. Activities such as questing, clearing dungeons, grinding on mobs (and/or each other), or mentoring will generate love points. Love points can be spent on costumes, buffs, and emotes. After reaching a certain love point threshold, you and your partner will qualify for a wedding (which can be between same or opposite gender characters). Marriage will bring even more benefits including your partner’s name in your title, buffs, and new “married person” abilities. Hilariously, it costs 10,000 gold divorce mutually and 300,000 gold to “force” a divorce. Commitment is no joke in Revelation Online so the flaunt level is pretty damn high here. Valentine’s Day itself brings costumes and emotes each year.

V-Day MMO Flaunt Score: 10/10

Sound good? Read our Revelation Online review here.

Lucent Heart

valentines day mmos lucent heart

Lucent Heart has a standard list of MMORPG features until you get to the “Cupid System” bullet point. Then you realize this game is the perfect cheap date compromise. Once Cupid matches two players as Soul Mates, they gain some unique gameplay opportunities. Grouping with a Soul Mate adds extra EXP for both partners. That’s pretty standard. But then they get special Soul Mate Dungeons, the responsibility of growing a “flower” together, and access to lovers emotes that provide temporary buffs. That’s right – Lucent Heart actually rewards you for obnoxious PDA. It’s amazing! Of course, official marriages are also included. The tricky part to all of this is you can’t manually select someone as your Soul Mate. You must use this matchmaking system which randomly partners you with someone. There are guides out there for “rigging cupid” though so don’t be too worried.

V-Day MMO Flaunt Score: 10/10

Eden Eternal

Beginning a relationship with someone in Eden Eternal is as simple as right clicking their name and inviting them on a date. Assuming your partner accepts (you are actually dating each other, right?) you will each earn a 10% EXP buff and a specialized ‘Couple’ tab on your social screen. This will keep track of Luv Coins (to buy skills), a couple’s only message board, and Lover skills. If the couple wants to take the next step, they can get married. There are some steep requirements before marriage though. The couple must have been dating for longer than 30 days, have both reached level 50, and must pay a hefty bit of coin for the wedding. In return, they’ll be granted a firework show for all to see and a ring that grants +2% to all attributes.

V-Day MMO Flaunt Score: 8/10

Final Fantasy XIV

valentines day mmos final fantasy xiv

If you’re feeling particularly optimistic about your lovely Valentine then you can go with Final Fantasy XIV’s eternal bond. It might just marriage by another name, but it sure does sound a lot more…permanent. There’s some good and bad to say about Final Fantasy’s progressive system that allows characters to marry regardless of gender, race, region, or allegiance. The wedding attire in FFXIV is pretty sweet (see above). The ceremony can be pretty extravagant too if the couple ponies up a collective $40 USD.

You will undoubtedly impress onlookers with the spectacle, but the long term result is disappointing by comparison. The couple is awarded a 2-seat chocobo, the ability to teleport to one another, and an embrace emote in addition to their wedding clothes. Rubbing your love into people’s faces like a scene from Twilight for a full day is commendable, but ultimately it’s just one day. Like Revelation Online, Final Fantasy gifts emotes and costumes for its V-Day content.

V-Day MMO Flaunt Score: 7/10

Sound good? Read our Final Fantasy XIV review here.

La Tale

Similar to Eden Eternal, La Tale lets you court another player. It’s nice to have some options before tying the knot in an MMO. Valentine’s Day is for gaming couples new and old alike so jumping into marriage might not be the best course of action. Luckily, in La Tale couples receive stat increases for playing together, a healing skill, and an EXP buff. Married players get a sweet ring that builds affection points through slaughtering innocent monsters while partied together. These will give the happy couples buffs that they can show off to other party members. Excellent.

V-Day MMO Flaunt Score: 8/10

Dragon Blood

Once you hit a certain level you gain the ability to propose. A wedding date must be set after the proposal is accepted. It cannot be canceled unless express permission is given from the Dragon Temple Priest. Assuming nobody gets cold feet, the wedding will commence on the chosen date with wedding gifts for guests and rings for the newlyweds. These rings are not just for show as they will boost tons of stats. They also open up new skills as the rings absorbs the couples’ love from playing together. Unfortunately, the level requirement isn’t super easy so both partners will need to show their dragon dedication before their romantic dedication. The main plus of Dragon Blood is that its a browser game so you can both get some Valentining in during work hours.

V-Day MMO Flaunt Score: 5/10

Sound good? Read our Dragon Blood review here.

Age of Wushu

valentines day mmos age of wushu

Age of Wushu is one of those few MMOs with an intimacy system. After adding someone to your friends list (in this case, your Valentine’s Day sweetie), players will earn Intimacy Points for playing together. Intimacy Points basically give you and your friend/partner mega stalker abilities on each another.

If you want to take things to the next level and get married in Age of Wushu, you’ll need to commit real world financial resources to the game’s developers. Both players must pay for VIP status before taking their vows. Additionally, one of four level weddings must be paid for with in game money. And Age of Wushu is about as traditional at it comes here, with the male needing to front the entire bill. On the bright side, the weddings are pretty fancy. At the highest tier, a 28-man palanquin will carry the bride to the altar and ten heralds will loudly proclaim the ceremony. After the delightfully unnecessary wedding display, guests can cheer on the couple. If they cheer loud enough, they all get gifts! Finally, marriage comes with tax-exempt trading, married couple titles, a unique skill, and unique items.

V-Day MMO Flaunt Score: 9/10

Fiesta Online

With Fiesta Online, you go big or you go home. This MMO is great for a Valentine’s Day couple that is serious business. Wedding is the only romantic option, but it is a blast. First, an announcement is made to the entire server that you two are the best couple of the day. Then you get to invite guests to a special wedding chapel to participate in the ceremony. Wedding attire is highly recommended but not required. Afterward, the priest will grant you a stat bonus for partying together, a permanent wedding pet, and the ability to summon your partner. Of course, if you’re like me and my wife, you will troll summon each other for the rest of time. Ain’t love grand?

V-Day MMO Flaunt Score: 7/10

Sound good? Read our Fiesta Online review here.

Ragnarok Online

OK, truth time: a lot of these MMOs don’t have anything to offer but marriage. Like Fiesta and Eden Eternal, players will need to level and pony up some cash before reaping any romantic rewards. Like a lot of older MMOs, Ragnarok Online unfortunately only allows opposite gender marriages. If this affects you, plan your characters accordingly! The wedding ceremony will grant the couple a few unique skills and amusingly disable attacking for a while. Ultimately, getting far enough in Ragnarok Online to get married really shows more commitment to the game than to one’s partner.

V-Day MMO Flaunt Score: 5/10

MapleStory

valentines day mmo maplestory

MapleStory’s marriage system is pretty simple. Buy a ticket and get married. The ticket costs about $5 cash, which is actually pretty cheap for couples compared to some other MMOs. The wedding isn’t all that amazing outside of the Vegas style chapel sign. The only saving grace is that your wedding photos will be published on the MapleStory website for all to see.

Of course there’s also a near-mandatory $5 price tag for a ‘Commitment of Love’ ticket. This ticket is necessary to get any actual benefit out of being married. Every 100 days of marriage will grant the (hopefully) happy couple special quests and an upgraded wedding ring. This can go on for up to 1,000 days so there’s potentially four Valentine’s Day worth of content in MapleStory. It may not be the highest quality or the flashiest, but quantity counts for something! Unfortunately, Valentine’s events in MapleStory feel more like Candy Crush than anything lovey dovey with its solo-centric consumable rewards.

V-Day MMO Flaunt Score: 6/10

If I missed any other MMOs with some romantic element or frequent Valentine’s Day events for couples, let me know. I found it pretty odd that Valentine’s Day quests are fairly solo driven both in terms of content and rewards. Having events is certainly a plus, but most of these aren’t going to drive couples to play the game together. The games that scored the best offered unique advantages for playing with a partner, extravagant emotes or weddings, and/or a numeric relationship score.

Playing games online as a couple is something that should really happen more often. These MMO games should help couples spend some quality time together this Valentine’s Day. While they’re at, show as much digital PDA as possible to sicken everyone else. Isn’t that what Valentine’s Day is all about?


For Honor Is Fascinating, Baffling

For Honor is the latest buzz-worthy title from Ubisoft, promising intense competitive action against a brutal Medieval backdrop. In the lead-up to launch, they held an open beta event, and I dove in to see how this latest entry in the online PvP field stacks up.

Two teams zone into a match in the For Honor beta

For Blood and Honor

Providing For Honor impressions requires taking a step back just to define the game. It incorporates elements of MMOs, RPGs, MOBAs, and fighting games, but it doesn’t exactly fit into any of those genres.

Its basic premise is an ongoing conflict between three factions: Vikings, Samurai, and Knights. You must pledge yourself to a specific faction, but oddly this doesn’t affect your choice of class. You can, for example, play a Knight class even if you’re sworn to the Samurai. I suppose it helps keep things balanced.

There are three classes per faction, and it seems each can be customized a fair bit, both visually and in terms of gear and stats. Some are gender-locked, though, which is a bit off-putting.

For Honor does feature a single-player story-mode, a decision I salute given how many similar games have neglected this feature (looking at you, Overwatch), but the beta only included competitive modes, so I can’t comment on its quality.

The heart of For Honor is its unique dueling-focused combat system, which utilizes combos, counters, and multiple angles of attack to create a very deep and challenging experience.

Executing an opponent in the For Honor beta

Executions are delightfully brutal.

If you’ve played Age of Conan, For Honor’s mechanics may feel familiar. You can angle your weapon to the left, the right, or above. This will block attacks from that angle, but also prevent your own attacks from getting through as long as your enemy’s stance is focused the same way.

This makes combat into something of a cat and mouse game where you are constantly trying to exploit your enemy’s weaknesses without exposing yourself too much at the same time. It rewards a deliberate style of play, but it’s also quite fast-paced, so you need to be able to think fast.

You can also guard-break an enemy to get in a few free shots — though there are counters to this — and each class also has access to some active skills that are unlocked as you gain experience throughout a match — much like a MOBA. Some game modes even have swarms of weak AI minions to farm for XP, strengthening the MOBA feel.

But this barely scratches the surface of the incredible depth of the combat system and its various combos, counters, and abilities. When I first started on For Honor, I thought the tutorials were incredibly thorough and had covered everything I could possibly need to know, but it quickly became clear they were only the most shallow and basic introduction to the game’s mechanics.

I’ve been gaming for a long time, and For Honor is honestly one of the hardest games I’ve ever played. It took me a fair bit of practice just to be able to survive basic training scenarios against the AI. The sheer number of different combos and interactions across all the classes is staggering.

A failed mission in the For Honor beta.

This image pretty much sums up my experience with For Honor.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to experience much of the game’s PvP thanks to frequent crashes and disconnects. On the odd occasions the servers did cooperate, I was once again slaughtered quite handily.

On the rare occasions everything aligned and I was able to best my opponent, I found it an incredibly satisfying experience, but that’s not something that’s going to happen often when you’re still new to the game.

That same complexity applies to its meta game, as well. While For Honor focuses on small scale matches — including duels, deathmatches, and a point control mode called Dominion — it all feeds into a massive territorial war between the three factions. A video explains the mechanics of this when you first investigate the game’s multiplayer, but it dumped so much information on me so fast I failed to absorb any of it.

A Niche Perfected

While I spent much of my time in For Honor being frustrated, I nonetheless developed a high opinion of it, at least from a certain perspective. It’s extremely challenging, but it doesn’t feel cheap or unfair, and I greatly admire its depth and complexity.

However, I do think it will only appeal to a specific type of player.

Let me be clear: For Honor is not a game you can just jump into and play. I do not think there can be such a thing as a casual For Honor player.

A duel in the For Honor beta.

This is a game that will require hours of research and practice in order to achieve even a basic level of competency. You will have to pay your dues.

For those who are willing to put in the time and effort to “git gud,” I think For Honor will prove an incredibly rewarding experience. I could also see it being a strong contender as an eSport, depending on what kind of community it ends up having. I think a duel between two highly skilled players could be thrilling to watch.

But for those of us who don’t want to put that much effort into a video game, For Honor will likely never serve as anything but a source of frustration. It’s an excellent entry in its niche, but that niche may end up being rather narrow.

I come away with two totally different yet not incompatible opinions. As a student of game design, I love For Honor. As a guy who plays video games for fun, I don’t like it at all.


More MMO Games Should Treat Us Like Transistor

Maintaining proper perspective on MMO games requires branching out into the unknown from time to time. Transistor, by indie developer Supergiant Games, is my latest foray. It’s a game with few flaws that doesn’t share a lot in common with MMOs but probably should. The story and characters are great. It doesn’t overstay it’s welcome at any point, and the art design melds perfectly with the music to appropriately set the mood. Most importantly though, Transistor treats me how I wish more MMO games treated me. It treats me as an intelligent individual that realizes I know what I want more than the developers. It asks me what I know, rather than telling. This treatment is endearing and typically lacking in MMOs.

transistor mmo combat differences

In the vast majority of modern MMOs, 5 hours of playtime equates to about 5 levels. This adds or upgrades something like 2-4 abilities, for use in a simplistic rotation. Mastery at this stage is a breeze, and the developers come across as coddling parents. Ultimately, you as the player might spend days of real time until the game trusts you enough to play with the ‘grown up’ toys. Then and only then does the it respect you enough to attack with meaningful challenges.

Compared to indie darling Transistor, I can’t help but feel insulted. 5 hours in Transistor is enough time to net all 16 abilities and possibly even complete the game. Only four abilities can be active at a time so it seems unimpressive at first. Your mind quickly changes once you realize that in addition to an active function, abilities can also upgrade other skills or provide passive benefits. By the end of the game, the player has unlocked enough options to provide over 22 trillion combinations to choose between.

Then there’s Limiters, Transistor’s difficulty modifiers. Players can alter things like incoming damage, number of enemies, health regeneration, and more. In exchange for making the game harder, players receive more EXP to level up faster. Different players will inevitably find different Limiters more suited to their playstyle, and it works beautifully in combination with the freeform skill system. By the time new game plus rolls around, the player is fully equipped to play exactly how the player wants to play, not how the developer wants.

Themepark MMOs especially are all too eager to put the player on rails. They’re afraid of losing players by overwhelming them with options. It’s easier to move people through a funnel than an open field. This spills over into character advancement. New or upgraded abilities come at fairly regular intervals which are, frankly, too slow. Yes, I know what you’ll say. If advancements proceeds too quickly, a Guild Wars 2 situation arises where players jump ship when facing a lack of meaningful progression options. It’s an understandable fear but only if the problem is addressed with the same solutions as before.

Developers make two false assumptions. Firstly, they measure our intelligence poorly and often cater to the lowest common denominator. But most of us are smarter than we’re given credit. Barrens chat equivalents can be cesspool of lunacy, but the average player is there to PLAY and not troll online. The vocal minority does not represent than silent majority. Even trolls can be pretty intelligent – they might just also be assholes.

transistor mmo games difficulty compare

Secondly, developers tend to treat vertical progression all too favorably. There’s a simple reason for it. It better aligns with the linear track on which themepark MMOs carry players. It’s hard to justify more options in one area (the ‘what’ of progression) while limiting another (the ‘how’ of of progression). That’s where the beauty of Transistor shines. The indie game shows us how a vastly underused horizontal progression system can be augmented to add the depth of vertical progression without losing any breadth. Abilities can upgrade abilities in very exciting ways. The large number of skills combinations results in an MMO game that is difficult to fully master but without an overly difficult barrier to entry. And that’s exactly what we should want.

Mastery comes in many forms and many players would prefer not to always be learning something new. That’s where the equivalent of Transistor’s limiters come into play. Let players customize the difficulty of their environment with ease. Instanced worlds will be needed to accommodate but that’s nothing new. At least now we would get a gameplay reason instead of a technical reason for server splits.

From the game’s start, Transistor treated me with respect and without presumption. It had a story to tell with challenges to overcome and just enough direction not to get lost. My options felt limitless, yet I only ever had access to just over a dozen skills. The variance and complexity in which I used these skills were all up to me. For a genre about “being who you want”, MMOs could stand to learn a lot from Transistor’s customizable ability and difficulty models.