Monthly Archives: March 2017

What MMOs Can Learn from Mass Effect: Andromeda

Have you noticed that things are a bit quieter than usual in your MMO lately? Are the streets of Stormwind a little barren? Is the fleet not quite buzzing as much as it usually does? Is the crowd in Cyrodiil a bit thinner?

The planet Havarl in Mass Effect: Andromeda

If you’re finding that the online population is looking a bit smaller all of a sudden, you can probably place the blame on Mass Effect: Andromeda. Bioware’s juggernaut release has drawn the attention of almost everyone with any interest in RPGs, and one would expect plenty of MMO players to dive into it. I know I have.

While playing Andromeda, I can’t help but compare it to MMORPGs here and there. They’re very different games in some ways, but very similar in others, and I think there are a lot of ideas MMO developers would be well-advised to steal from Andromeda.

Persistent NPCs

Most NPCs in MMORPGs are very forgettable. They send you off to collect seven and a half boar sphincters, you get some XP, and you move on, likely never seeing them again. Even in games where more effort is put into writing interesting NPCs — like The Secret World — you still eventually end up moving on.

Mass Effect: Andromeda also has a lot of disposable NPCs that give you one side quest and are then forgotten, but like most Bioware games, it also features a core cast of companions who stick with the player through the entire game, growing and evolving along with you.

Having a persistent cast to get to know and care about gives a significant emotional hook to a game. It gives you something to fight for, a motivation to keep going, and it adds an element of investment that can’t be achieved by simple game mechanics alone.

I’ve long felt this is the way to go for MMORPGs, and I’m surprised more developers haven’t tried to buck the trend of disposable NPCs. Even Bioware’s MMO, Star Wars: The Old Republic, has struggled to maintain a consistent cast throughout its lifespan, though the more recent expansions seem to be making a greater effort in that regard.

The crew of the Tempest in Mass Effect: Andromeda

Only Defiance, of all games, has managed to maintain a consistent core cast from beginning to end, and I felt it gave the world and story a texture that most MMOs lack.

Freedom of Choice

One thing that I am greatly enjoying about Andromeda is that it has done away with traditional classes. Every ability in the game is available to the player. Spending skill points unlocks “profiles” that steer you toward specific playstyles, but even so there’s a tremendous potential for customization and playing the way you want, especially considering it’s easy to swap between different profiles and skill sets on the fly.

And that’s without getting into the dizzying variety of guns and customizations for those guns that exist within Andromeda. Your options in this game feel almost limitless.

I find this level of freedom incredibly liberating. I’ve never liked being tied to a narrow playstyle on one character. In Mass Effect, I enjoy playing as a biotic, but in the past games I always wished I could augment my character with some tech abilities or better combat skills without giving up my signature adept moves. In MMOs, I like playing a rogue in World of Warcraft, but I’ve always wished my rogue had an option for ranged fighting, since some fights are pretty harsh on melee.

Andromeda has given me the freedom to break the mould that once confined me, and I would like to see MMOs follow suit.

Now, the ability to customize your character without limit isn’t entirely unheard of in MMORPGs, but it is rare. Only a few games — Rift, The Secret World, and to a slightly lesser extent Elder Scrolls Online — offer a level of freedom comparable to Andromeda’s. I would like to see this become a more common idea.

Fighting the local wildlife in Mass Effect: Andromeda

Freedom of Movement

Like a lot of MMOs — and really any games with large open worlds — Andromeda tends to entail a lot of travel time. Unlike MMOs, however, I’m not finding this feels like a chore in Andromeda.

This is because movement itself is interesting gameplay. Andromeda equips players with powerful jump jets that allow them to leap and dodge with great speed and force, which makes navigating the often hostile terrain of the Heleus Cluster into a fun little mini-game all its own.

This movement system even benefits combat. Players can leap into the air to fire over enemy cover or dodge circles around powerful mobs.

When traveling longer distances, players can hop in the Nomad, an all-terrain vehicle. But whereas MMO mounts are usually just a passive speed boost, the Nomad has boosters for temporary bursts of speed and jump jets to help it clear obstacles, and the player can even toggle between different driving modes for better speed or climbing ability. Again, it makes simply getting around a lot more interesting.

I’m not sure I’d want to see too much gameplay injected into movement in MMOs, as it could become over-complicated pretty fast, but it would be nice to see a bit more effort put into the mechanics of mounts and less into coming up with ever more bizarre visuals for them.

Right now the only MMORPGs that seem to have put any real effort into making movement interesting are superhero titles like DC Universe Online and Champions Online. I don’t play those games much, but I’d take their travel powers over mounts any day.

A Non-linear World

Scanning some plants on planet Eos in Mass Effect: Andromeda

In most MMOs, you travel through the world in a very linear fashion. First this zone, then that zone. You could perhaps blame the genre’s obsession with vertical progression, but even in games with a more horizontal progression — like Guild Wars 2 — you still tend to go through the world in a pretty linear path. You can revisit old zones, but there’s usually not a lot of impetus to.

My experience of Andromeda so far has been fairly different. It’s not just that enemies scale to your level, although they do, but that the game is designed to be approached in a non-linear fashion. I regularly find new missions and activities in old zones, and rather than following a strict path from one planet to another, I am instead finding myself going back and forth between various locations as dictated by the needs of the story.

This feels a lot more natural, a lot more logical, than just going from one zone to another and forgetting about all that came before. It makes the setting of a game feel more like a real place.

This is something MMOs would have to handle carefully, as being constantly sent all over the world could quickly become irritating. In the old days, this kind of design in MMOs was a lot more common, but it was often an exercise in frustration due to long travel times and non-scaling content that made revisiting older zones pointless. With more advanced technology and better design, I do think the concept of more non-linearity in MMO worlds could be made to work, and I would enjoy it if older zones could still have some meaningful content after you’ve moved on from them the first time.

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Have you been playing Andromeda? What lessons do you think MMOs could take from it?

Is Trion Worlds Really Pay to Win?

This article was updated on December 8, 2017 primarily to reflect changes made to Rift that have impacted my analysis on Trion Worlds as a whole.

Trion Worlds has acquired a bit of a reputation as a pay to win company. For every game they launch, I see questions on forums and social media asking if the game is pay to win. Some don’t even get that far. Angry gamers scream, “it’s Trion, not gonna play that p2w trash!” Are these feelings justified? Surely some of it must be. Where there’s smoke there’s fire, after all. But are people just falling in line with the hive mind? Could anonymous gamers, known primarily for their thoughtful and rational analysis, be overreacting?

Welcome to the internet, where anything is possible.

I’m going to break down the most commonly faulted cash shopss in each of Trion Worlds free to play games. I’ll judge just how pay to win it makes each of these MMOs based on the criteria at the bottom of this article. The answer may surprise you (though perhaps not in the way you think).


archeage cash shop

This is where the biggest pay to win talk stems from for Trion. People are filled with such hatred for how ArcheAge has been handled, they’ll twist words to infer Trion even admits running a p2w game. If you follow that link, read some comments too. People hate Trion Worlds. For all of the talk about how pay to win Archeage is though, people rarely cite any specific examples. As any good bro would do, I’ll set you down with the cold, hard truth.

The cash shop doesn’t sell a magic “win” button. There’s no one item that will super power your character, but there are items that are absolutely necessary to progress in the endgame. One of the best real money purchases are high quality upgrades. These items can in turn be sold on the general auction house for large sums of gold. In ArcheAge, gold can be used to obtain pretty much all of the best gear, vehicles, housing, etc. The endgame is fairly time insensitive (nice speak for grindy) so paying real money and converting to gold through the public market is not an insignificant boost. Additionally, crafting is pretty much a disaster without paying for a subscription. Players are restricted by labor points for crafting type activities, which not only generate twice as fast for subscribers but also generate while offline.

Yes – it’s an advantage for a subscription. I’m not going to call that pay to win though, especially because it can be purchased with in game gold. Subscriptions are limiting and not as open for abuse. The problem lies in the relationship between ArcheAge’s cash shop and it’s auction house. Players can literally become as powerful as the cash they spend. $1,000 is way more valuable than a year of average play time. It’s simply unrealistic to survive a grind to the top without real money help. The combination of selling both cash shop items for gold and endgame gear for gold is another serious concern. ArcheAge has a lot of cool things going for it, but if you expect to seriously compete in PvP, don’t expect to do it for free.

Verdict: Pay to Win

Atlas Reactor

This is the game Trion haters don’t want you to know about. The publisher took a while deciding how to monetize their best in house product since Rift. Fortunately, the solution they chose was the right one.

Atlas Reactor is free simultaneous turn based game with a weekly rotation of free characters. The freelancers (characters) are like League of Legends champions in terms of unique abilities. Instead of a 30 minute real time MOBA, Atlas Reactor is a 10 minute turn based tactical team death match. The weekly rotation can include any freelancer, and they’re fairly well balanced. Free players can also acquire cosmetic rewards by playing. Purchasing the game gets you every character, faster cosmetic rewards, and ranked play. At $30, it’s also a lot cheaper than buying the full roster for League of Legends or Heroes of the Storm. However, there is no way for free players to acquire new freelancers without paying that one time fee. Still, it’d be nuts to call Atlas Reactor pay to win. There’s absolutely zero vertical scaling of power to buy.

Verdict: Not Pay to Win


Defiance cash shop

Trion Worlds really wanted Defiance to succeed as a pure subscription game, possibly to get away from the pay to win moniker. Unfortunately, it didn’t work. For a time, everything was going well. Then it seemed like Trion wanted to milk Defiance for everything they could.

Defiance’s pay to win structure doesn’t jump out at you initially. The game is fun at first, with a good deal of steady progression. Eventually the grind will set in, and you’ll look for how to speed up progression outside of events. The fastest and easiest way is turning to the cash shop …maybe. You see, the cash shop in Defiance includes the chance to acquire legendary guns on par with top tier free items. Buying the best gear in the game is pretty crappy, but gambling for it is even worse. At least there isn’t a ton more than that in the pay to win department.

Verdict: Kinda Pay to Win


Trion’s free Diablo clone felt like a winner when I first played it. The intro mission starts off with a bang, and there’s a nice slew of quests to run through. Combat isn’t special but felt solid for a hack and slash. Then the high level grind reared it’s ugly head with only one legitimate means to combat it: spending money. It’s technically possible to get everything in the game for free and catch up to older/paid players. It’s just that in practice it’s absurd to dedicate your entire life to it. And that’s exactly what it would take.

The marketing speak says paying for gem refinements to advance gear is paying for convenience. It’s not. It’s paying to stand a chance and play with the big boys. Devilian is one of those games that gets you hooked on a fun 10-20 hours and slowly tests your resolve to continue progressing without spending money on cash shop advances. Do you throw away a character you spent hours on without seeing the endgame? Or do you pay some money to make a boring grindfest somewhat more palatable? Devilian does everything they can to steer you to the latter.

Verdict: Pay to Win


Rift cash shop

This is the MMORPG that started it all. Rift was one of those heralded “WoW Killers” back in the day. It turned out to be more of a “WoW deviation”, copying a lot of WoW’s gameplay with it’s own twists. It played uniquely enough with its multiclass soul system to be worthwhile on that alone. For a long time after it went free to play, many viewed it as the MMO doing it right. Then ArcheAge came along and people were clamoring for heads to roll. Did Rift actually get worse or was this simply ArcheAge hate spilling over?

There was a time not so long ago when only paid players could use earring. Yep – an entire equipment slot blocked off from use without paying money. That’s pretty inexcusable and reeks of greed. That’s been fixed, and Trion Worlds has reverted to the same system as always – charging for content. The three things paid players will want are a subscription (increases money gains), expansions (needed to level up past a certain point), and souls/callings (classes). None of these grant instant, unearned power and most importantly, none of it is scalable. Players can’t skip to godly levels of strength without putting in the time. To me, that’s the most important qualification to avoid pay to win.

Now, I wouldn’t necessarily say Rift is truly free to play. To hit max level, players will eventually need need to spend money for high level content. It might make Rift’s free mode more of a demo, but it doesn’t make it pay to win. However, over the past year Trion has been adding more and more content that lets paying players surpass what free players can reasonably accomplish. As such, I’ve bumped Rift from its initial scoring of “Kinda Not Pay to Win” to “Kinda Pay to Win”.

Verdict: Kinda Pay to Win


Trove is sort of Minecraft meets standard MMORPG. Not being a big fan of builders, I’ve only played for a bit. Rest assured that during my short span there was plenty of pay to win discussion. Those clamoring to proclaim “pay to win” seemed to be resting on the laurels that everything should be free. The way Trove makes money isn’t perfect, but is it pay to win?

Players can purchase classes, cosmetics, and faster progression. No class is inherently better so that’s no big deal. Cosmetics are always fine for free to play monetization. Faster progression is the concern, and it is noticeable. However, it’s a subscription fee and thus isn’t scalable. Free players won’t ever hit a paywall in Trove, but paid players get to bypass the mindless high level grinding. No matter what though, players at the top have to work to get there. The best items in the game aren’t purchasable like in ArcheAge so even if somebody had some monetary assistance, at least you know they earned it.

Verdict: Kinda Not Pay to Win

Final Verdict

All in all, Trion Worlds trends towards pay to win. Let’s take a step back and look at the developers of the game, rather than the publisher.

Kinda Pay to Win or Worse:

  • AcheAge – developed by XL Games
  • Devilian – developed by Bluehole Ginno Games
  • Defiance – developed by Trion Worlds and Human Head
  • Rift – developed by Trion Worlds

Kinda Not Pay to Win or Better

  • Trove – developed by Trion Worlds
  • Atlas Reactor – developed by Trion Worlds

Notice a pattern? If not, I’ll spell it out. The games where Trion Worlds is fully in control are the games that lean towards a fairer system. Trion certainly isn’t perfect with their own IPs (Rift’s earrings), but they certainly respond better. Why is this? Maybe Trion Worlds takes on deals other publishers don’t want and so are beholden to third party developers’ greedy demands. Maybe they are at bad at negotiating with developers when adding cash shop items. Maybe they simply don’t care and get greedy with their third party games games. All I know is that I’m going to feel a lot better about diving into Trion Worlds games made solely by Trion themselves.

Unfortunately, since initially writing this article it seems that Rift has started diving into more and more p2w indulgences. The above paragraph still has some merit. Rift went a long time without succumbing to pay for gear indulgences, so I wouldn’t rule out playing a future Trion MMORPG. I’d just keep a stringent eye on developer practices to keep them honest.

Eight Reasons Your PvP Team Lost

PvP is a pillar of online gaming, whether it’s an MMO battleground, a MOBA, a shooter, or spreading gossip in Ever, Jane. The unfortunate reality of PvP, though, is that for every winner, there must be a loser. Sooner or later you find yourself not the pwner, but the pwnee.

Sometimes your best efforts just aren't good enough

As your virtual corpse decays on the battlefield, trampled by enemy mounts and teabagged by the opposing team, you find yourself asking, “Why? Why, o God, must I suffer so?”

I am not God, but perhaps I can offer some answers to that question.

The Lone Wolf

“There’s no ‘I’ in team” is a piece of advice we’re constantly bombarded with from childhood on, and it’s a good one. It deserves to be as ubiquitous as it is.

And yet, despite both its omnipresence and its fundamental logic, the concept of team above the individual is still somehow lost on a shockingly high number of gamers.

Thus, you see people charging eagerly into five-on-one confrontations (presumably whilst screaming “LEEEEEROOOY JENKINS” at their monitor) or simply camping the bottom lane while everyone else is contesting the map objective because SERIOUSLY RAYNOR DID NO ONE EVER TELL YOU THIS IS A *(@!ING TEAM GAME.


The Accidental Death Match

Team death match is a very popular PvP mode in many online games. So popular, in fact, that lots of people like to turn all the other modes into team death match, too!

Carrying the flag in a World of Warcraft battleground

This is why, while you do the boring but necessary work of guarding the flag, your teammates have charged off to some random field in the middle of nowhere to battle back and forth with enemy players for no other reason than the sheer joy of meaningless irrelevant slaughter.

They may cost you the match and your faith in humanity, but at least they’re enjoying themselves. And in the end, isn’t that the real victory?

No, no it isn’t.

The Learning Experience

Everyone has to start somewhere. You just hope it isn’t your team.

Alone of all the failures gracing this list, the newcomers are the only ones deserving any sympathy. They don’t mean to be bad; they just don’t know any better. They’re new to the game, and they’re trying their best, even as they make countless mistakes that seem glaringly obvious to your experienced eyes.

You can’t blame them too harshly, even if they sink your team like the iceberg did the Titanic. Try to take comfort in the fact that the loss will probably be a learning experience for them, and they’ll do better next time.

One would hope.

The Critic

A less than successful battle in DOTA 2

Everyone’s a critic, or so they say, and never is this more true than in online gaming.

If you play any online PvP — or really any kind of online gaming — you’ll find no shortage of people willing and eager to critique any and all aspects of your play, completely unsolicited.

If you’re lucky it’s only a critique, and their advice is actually useful. This can still be a bit annoying if you didn’t ask for it, but it’s preferable to the alternative, which is an endless string of all-caps profanity delivered by someone who boasts half your kills and twice your deaths.

The Saboteur

As we learned from Michael Caine, some men just want to watch the world burn.

As annoying as all the other mistakes mentioned within the hallowed paragraphs of this article can be, they’re mostly honest mistakes. But sometimes there is more at work, a dark malignancy at the heart of your team, a malice lurking in the heart of a teammate that is turned against his or her own.

Maybe something was said that caused offense. Maybe something went wrong early and they’ve decided a quick death is preferable to trying for the epic comeback. Maybe they don’t have any particular reason. Maybe they don’t need one. Maybe they can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with.

Whatever the case may be, they’ve decided to do everything in their power to make you lose. They’ll feed the enemy kills. They’ll sit in your base and refuse to fight. Heaven help you if the game allows friendly fire. One way or another, they’re going down, and they’re going to drag you and the rest of your team with them.

A PvP battle in WildStar

The Full Murphy

Murphy’s Law states, “Anything that can go wrong, will.”

Sometimes it is not one single factor that brings an end to your dreams of glorious victory, but a confluence of them. A perfect storm or chain reaction of horror and nincompoopery.

Someone charged in too soon and got themselves killed right away, leaving your team at a disadvantage as they contest an objective. The healer goes down and spends the rest of the match throwing out verbal abuse instead of heals. Someone else decides to just start feeding the enemy free kills to “get it over with.” And all the while Raynor is still camping the bottom lane and doing basically nothing because SERIOUSLY WHY IS IT ALWAYS THE RAYNORS.

There’s no coming back from a mess like this. Just pray it’s over quickly and your suffering can come to an end.

The Unthinkable

If you look across your team and cannot find fault with their play, despite your best efforts, and still find yourself losing, it may be time to consider the unthinkable: Perhaps you are the noob.

It is a terrifying thought. The mind rebels from the mere possibility. But think back and analyze your own behavior.

When the enemy team captured the lumber mill, where were you? Were you putting on a valiant if hopeless defense of the mill the likes of which would make King Leonidas himself weep manly tears? Or were you dueling the enemy team’s rogue approximately fifty miles away from anywhere relevant?

A match in the online PvP game For Honor

When your team’s healer was dog-piled and killed, were you doing everything in your power to defend them, or were you furiously typing a thesis on their rank incompetence without contributing anything yourself?

Look in the mirror. See yourself.

The Impossible

If all other possibilities are exhausted, maybe… just maybe… hear me out… you simply lost fair and square to a superior team. I mean, anything’s possible, right?

Nah, that can’t be it.

Must See Places: Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR)

Are you new to SWTOR or are you considering giving the game a try? This article will guide you to the places of the galaxy you don’t want to miss. Join Ravanel Bro on a dazzling tour to five must-see planets in Star Wars: the Old Republic (SWTOR).

Note: this article contains spoilers from the Star Wars movies Episode IV – VI. It does not contain any story plot spoilers for SWTOR and is safe to read for players who haven’t yet finished the entire game.

SWTOR screenshot with the landscape of Alderaan, with pine trees, wild animals and snowy mountain tops

1. Alderaan

Star Wars fans will recognize Alderaan as the home planet of princess Leia, which is briefly shown from space in A New Hope before blown to pieces by the Death Star. SWTOR allows players to explore this planet almost 4000 years before the disastrous event. Juicy detail: Alderaan is not the peaceful planet Leia describes. Warring noble houses fight for control of the world. You can experience the noble power plays firsthand when helping House Organa or House Thul during planetary and class stories.

Must-see spots are the Elysium, the ancient place of Alderaan’s peace council high up in the clouds, and Organa Palace, the future home of princess Leia. Players visited the latter en masse at the end of 2016 during a player organized wake in honour of Carrie Fischer’s passing. Of note is also Alderaan’s unique transportation system of tamed thrantas. These peaceful creatures will fly you over the mountain tops. You will find plenty of opportunity to enjoy Alderaan’s mesmerizing mountain landscapes from dizzying heights. Finally, you are able to admire the indigenous animal that inspired Leia to call Han “scruffy-looking nerf herder”. Many friendly nerfs will cross your path during your travels.

Travel advice: Alderaan is a relatively safe planet, provided you keep your distance from competitive Houses and hostile wild animals. It is designed for players of level 28-32.

SWTOR screenshot of the landscape of Taris, showing ruins of large buildings overgrown with trees and wild rakghouls

2. Taris

Taris is a must-visit for every self respecting Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR) player. Three hundred years have come to pass since the events of KOTOR I and civilization is taking its first careful steps into recolonizing the planet. A vast wilderness infested with dangerous rakghouls surrounds small islands of courageous settlers. Must-sees are the crash site of the Endar Spire and the deserted pod races. Players can find out what happened to the people that went looking for the Promised Land (KOTOR I) during the quest Chasing History. But even if you didn’t play KOTOR Taris is worth visiting: the landscape features a beautiful mixture of lost civilization and lush wilderness.

Travel advice: Your safety cannot be guaranteed past the designated colonization camp perimeters. Tread with caution: rakghouls infest the wilderness beyond. Taris is designed for players of level 16-20 (Republic) and 32-36 (Empire).

SWTOR screenshot with the landscape of Voss, showing yellow grass, trees with red or yellow foliage, a rocky environment and a huge sun in an orange sky

3. Voss

Voss is often mentioned as SWTOR’s most beautiful planet due to its soft orange sky and autumn colored foliage. On top of that, it is unique to SWTOR: it is not mentioned in any Star Wars movie, game or book. The planet is inhabited by two races that are engaged in a conflict: the reclusive, force sensitive Voss and the tribal Gormak. The Voss’ houses are colorful and inspirational; much of its furniture can be acquired by the player for their stronghold. Recommended for visiting is the Shrine of Healing. This holy place holds a datacron that gives lasting power to players who have assisted the Voss with their troubles.

Travel advice: Voss is relatively safe to explore, provided you keep your distance to dangerous wildlife and hostile Gormak tribes. The Nightmare Lands in the northeast are said to turn explorers insane and are not to be visited without a guide. Furthermore, tourists should never touch the stone tablet in the Gormak Lands if they value their life. Voss is designed for players of level 44-47.

SWTOR screenshot with the landscape of Tatooine: a desert with rocks in the distance and one of the suns in the clear blue sky. Two banthas roam in the foreground.

4. Tatooine

Who isn’t in love with the two-sunned desert planet, featured in so many Star Wars movies? Sandcrawlers, jawas and sand people. Banthas, krayt dragon skeletons and a sarlacc pit that looks just like the one Boba Fett took a dive in… Tatooine has it all. Note that Republic and Imperial players land in a different area of Tatooine. Both towns (Anchorhead and Mos Ila) have their own feel, so it pays off to visit with characters of both factions. The Tatooine air balloon will take you on a stunning trip over the desert and might just reward players with something special. Wealthy players may buy a stronghold on Tatooine for 1,8 million credits, allowing for a permanent residence under the two suns.

Travel advice: Don’t venture too far into the desert or you might hit an exhaustion zone. Tatooine is designed for players of level 24-28.

SWTOR screenshot with the landscape of Zakuul: huge dark skyscrapers lighting up in the night

5. Zakuul

Only discovered recently, Zakuul is another planet unique to SWTOR. Located in Wild Space, this ancient and advanced civilization has managed to elude the gaze of the known galaxy for centuries. Architecture fans will find plenty to look at in the city, while lovers of nature might enjoy a hike in the Endless Swamp. The Palace of the Eternal Dragon comes highly recommended. Players can explore it during the Knights of the Eternal Throne (KOTET) story.

Travel advice: Zakuul is perfectly safe, unless you are an enemy of the Eternal throne; in which case you can expect to be regularly met by hostile skytroopers. Players need to own the Knights of the Fallen Empire expansion in order to gain access to the planet. It is designed for players of level 60-65.

Want to see more? Click on the images below to enlarge.