Monthly Archives: April 2018

Bless Online – #Hype or /Ignore

Bless Online is the next big MMORPG we’re getting our hands on. The May 2018 Early Access date is quickly approaching, resulting in the plethora of MMO souls clamoring for more information. Is Bless Online worthy of a hype hashtag or will this be another game to safely ignore? No doubt fanbois and detractors will be at odds from now until the game’s final server closure. For the average Joe though, this is what’s worth looking forward to and what’s worth worrying over.

bless online bloody screenshot

#Hype

B2P

This happy medium bridges the gap between F2P and subscription and has turned out financial successes for Elder Scrolls Online, Guild Wars 2, and Black Desert Online. Regardless of what’s best for players, I do think this is the best model for Bless Online’s continued success. More revenue for the publisher and developer should translate to more content for players. Theoretically, it also means less scummy or spammy revenue generation tactics. Ideally, B2P results in fewer bots too. That’s been rather insignificant in my experience though.

No Loot Boxes

In an interview with MMORPG.com, the developers of Bless explicitly stated there would be no loot boxes. There will be the standard fare selection of goodies such as cosmetics, advancement boosts, and mounts but nothing that’s currently on the commonly accepted MMO no-no list. Of course whether or not they stay more pure or descend into Black Desert’s P2W practices remains to be seen.

Fresh Combat System

bless online old combat

Truth be told, we don’t know exactly what Bless Online combat will look like when Early Access launches on Steam. The developers are really pushing a narrative of a full rework for the game so we can only guess what that will entail. Currently, it plays like something akin to the combination of Guild Wars 2, Revelation Online, and Black Desert Online. It’s action oriented but with tab targeting. It also feels clunky with limited build options, so I imagine that’s what they’re targeting to “fix” rather than radically alter core gameplay mechanics. For example, there’s a combo system in Bless Online but it feels about as interesting as a standard ability rotation in World of Warcraft. If active tab targeting is something you’re interested in right now, I’d recommend trying out Revelation Online to see if it’s worth getting hyped over. Revelation handles “classic” tab targeting combat exceptionally well.

Horizontal Endgame

At level cap, Bless alters progression from a strong vertical experience to horizontal advancement. Guild Wars 2 manages this fairly well, but I think there’s a lot of room for improvement. My hope is that Bless Online’s endgame will reward players who see the value in switching builds depending on the situation (a big deal for its PvP centric gameplay). This does mean the development team has to be on the ball with balance changes, and that’s not particularly easy even for seasoned veterans like Blizzard. I love this idea in theory, and greatly prefer horizontal progression to never-ending item level progression.

Unique Racial Storylines

Apparently each of the game’s seven races will tell their own unique story. This reminds me of Star Wars: The Old Republic’s approach to storytelling. Reports from players on the Russia and Korean servers tell of a diverse questing system with a passable story. Whether this will translate well depends on localization efforts, but Bless Online seems to be going the distance by implementing full voiceovers. Good stories can go a long way for MMORPGs so if Bless Online succeeds here, they will be one of the few.

Party Buffs

hyped for bless online group buffs

Tyler Bro and I tend place different values on solo player MMOs vs. group MMOs. While we see the merits of each side, there’s no denying the industry has catered more towards solo players lately. Bless Online seeks to change that with their party buffs. Depending on the makeup of a party, leaders can select one combat and one non-combat affect to apply to all party members. Whether these buffs will actually encourage group play in any meaningful way remains to be seen.

/Ignore

Not F2P

The merits of B2P are clear, but there’s a serious problem with the model. With so many substitutes in the space, it can be challenging to convince friends to pay for and pick up yet another “MMO with potential”. My general preference now is something akin to Guild Wars 2 – a limited free experience and introduction to the game with enough gameplay to get players hooked.

Pay to Carebear

If you want to avoid PvP at max level, you are going to have to pony up regularly for a cash shop item. I doubt it will be too expensive, but it’s a noteworthy additional cost. Additionally, the game will clearly be designed with PvP in mind so PvE players may find content updates more lacking than something like the well-balanced Guild Wars 2.

Two Faction PvP

Bless Online is pushing a heavy PvP narrative, promising 100vs100 battles. That sounds great with the exception of no MMORPG has ever balanced a two faction system, which Bless will be using. Inevitably one side pulls ahead on a server and draws players who crave to winning. Games like Aion that have rewarded players on the “losing side” still haven’t succeeded in a truly balanced experience. I’d argue Dark Age of Camelot during its peak has offered the best massive scale PvP, and it did so primarily because with three factions, two of them can also gang up on one if the one pulls too far head.

Current State

The biggest concern is that we’re hinging a lot of hype on Bless Online’s ability to radically alter their combat system. As I mentioned above, combat right now is not a strength of the game. Fighting enemies feels rote and mundane. While quests offer diversity more than most F2P MMORPGs, they still lag behind immersive offerings such as Elder Scrolls Online and World of Warcraft. Bless Online did post about key changes last Tuesday, but the new dynamic combat system is suspiciously sparse. The The lack of concrete gameplay videos showing these massive overhauls with a month left to go should be concerning to anyone that’s followed an upcoming MMORPG before.

My recommendation is to avoid the hype trap but continue following the game. Bless Online could develop into a worthwhile experience, possibly even as soon as the Early Access launch. It’s just that MMORPGs are notorious for missing the mark, especially at launch.


Black Desert Online: When Pay for Convenience is Pay to Win

I’m thankful for Black Desert Online’s cash shop for one reason – it exemplifies the notion that paying to win cannot be analyzed in a vacuum. This is a game where if the cash shop was transferred to another popular MMORPG or if a different core system replaced BDO, I’d change my opinion. As is, Black Desert Online definitely falls into the pay to win camp. Their monetization model is particularly frustrating given the existence of several free MMOs that aren’t pay to win.

black desert online cash shop

BDO cash shop – spend time here or “lose”

The cash shop in Black Desert ostensibly sells convenience. There are very few “max power” enhancements, mostly limited to the ghillie suit that hides player name in PvP. Compared to something like ArcheAge where every dollar spent is an immediate power upgrade, BDO may not seem so bad. While the system certainly isn’t as egregious as ArcheAge, paying for convenience is a big deal when grinding is all that matters. And grinding is all that matters in Black Desert Online.

Power in BDO is and always will be commensurate with time spent playing the game. Two equal level players with as little of a difference as 20% in total AP/DP from items will result in a decidedly lopsided contest. And it’s not like items with higher AP/DP even come from completing challenging raids or winning equal PvP contests. They result from mindlessly grinding enemies for hours on end.

This is where pay for convenience turns into pay to win. Items in BDO’s cash shops grant EXP bonuses with costumes and looting speed plus miscellaneous stat bonuses via pets. The EXP bonus is a problem because levels in BDO are essentially infinite but increasingly slow to come by after level 50. The pets are where the real bonuses lie though. Monsters die by the dozens in Black Desert Online and all of them drop loot. Players must farm these either for rare drops or to gather silver from vendor trash to pay for existing equipment improvements. Pets pick up loot for the player and better pets (they can be upgraded) pick up loot faster. Manually picking up loot in BDO is a huge time waster so proper pet usage can increase grinding efficiency by approximately two to five-fold. And the only way to reliably acquire “pet power” is via the cash shop.

black desert online pets

Pets – the most important investment in BDO

There’s no denying that buying these items in the cash shop help players progress significantly faster. That’s one problem. The other problem is that open PvP enters the picture once you hit level 50. Mindless killing isn’t really worthwhile in BDO but killing to claim grinding areas is certainly is. And guess who is going to win those battles? The guys and gals that have been grinding the longest with the most cash shop gear. Remember, power in BDO is commensurate with time spent playing the game, amplified by the cash shop. So now the weaker players not only aren’t leveling as fast because they lack these “convenience” items, but they’re leveling even slower because stronger players push them to sub-optimal grinding spots. In BDO, the rich get richer.

The cost for optimal gear and the maximum number of the highest level pets runs about $400 – $500. This figure only rises as additional costs are incurred to further maximize efficiency such as weight and inventory upgrades. At least those are fixed costs. Assuming you don’t feel like $500 for peak efficiency bonuses on a time intensive grinding MMO is that bad, there are still items like Artisan Memories. These are used to recover durability on items that slowly degrade as upgrades inevitably fail in the RNG equipment upgrade minigame. Durability recovery via real money means less in-game money spent means more money for other things.

But hey, this is just convenience, right?


Should MMOs Encourage Altitis?

fry mmo alts

Fry doesn’t know what to do, and very often I don’t either. Altitis is a very “real” illness that affects millions of MMO players worldwide. Urban Dictionary defines altitis as a “mental disease of making too many alternate characters.” The good news is that it is treatable. The bad news is that only the disease’s very creators have that power.

It’s easy to understand how altitis has become so common place in our world. New characters mean new classes mean new abilities mean new experiences mean…well, this could go on for a while. Altitis generally develops naturally, but some MMOs provide boons for splitting time between characters. Features like rest XP and limited respecs contribute to this international phenomenon.

Those who suffer from altitis report the inability to stay logged into a single character for more than two hours. The greatest victims are unable to ever reach max level. For them, there is no endgame. There is only new game. How will they ever see the glory of raiding when stuck on an endless loop of starter quests? Some developers even take advantage of the infected, limiting free character slots and selling them for a premium.

There are MMO developers who have decided to fight back though. They seek to attach players to the life of a single character. Final Fantasy XIV is one such bastion of hope in the field to cure humans of altitis. In an effort to curtail this epidemic, Square Enix’s MMORPG lets players level any class on a single character. Is this right? Or does it go against the natural order of MMOs? On a deeper level, we must ask: is altitis a blessing or a curse? Perhaps this disease is actually a strength hidden in plain sight.

Developers Should Encourage Altitis

There is a school of thought that increasing alternate character density will serve to enhance the quantity and quality of gameplay. The logic goes something like this – if playing through the game once is fun, playing through ten times is ten times the fun. And it’s not the same game because players are experiencing everything from a set of fresh eyes.

Even if exploring a world for the second or tenth time isn’t as fun as the first, it allows players to combine the homey feeling of an MMORPG with the discovery bug of a new game. In games with multiple factions like World of Warcraft or EverQuest, playing a new character really can feel like experiencing a new game. This leads to a train of thought that many consider but rarely actually discuss.

wow alts

MMORPGs would be better if people focused more on the journey than the destination. There’s such a huge focus on leveling up and gaining more power in MMORPGs that actually playing the game can turn into a secondary activity. Are gamers really more interested in a high item level score than actual, sheer enjoyment? I’m sure some are, but deep down are you one of those people?

Altitis reinforces the idea that we’re here to experience the game here and now, not look at the results of our merits in a trophy case. I would be willing to bet most of your fondest MMO-related memories involve other players. A properly executed alt-heavy world would largely focus on the journey over destination by prioritizing socialization features. Because the leveling process is largely more dynamic than farming raids, it opens the doors to a wider array of people to meet. Perhaps this is something the upcoming Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen will truly embrace this rather old school concept.

Developers Should Discourage Altitis

Justin from Bio Break brings up multiple good points in discussing how World of Warcraft Legion broke his altitis that had so deeply ingrained itself during Warlords of Dreanor. And all of these points directly relate to the negatives of the mental disease. Time has been and will always be a major factor for fully experiencing MMORPGs. You can’t progress without at least some trace amount of it, and maintaining even a single alt can effectively put an end to meaningfully progressing a main character.

While leveling up new characters can be fun with all the new abilities and a fresh play style, poorly structured progression can devolve into a chore. Completing the same quests in the same order is not a fun activity for most people. Games with a smaller world or limited leveling options fit better in an alt free world.

While many like to complain about the present state of MMOs, the fact is we have plenty of good MMO offerings. It’s entirely plausible and more importantly, enjoyable, to call multiple virtual worlds home. We may not normally designate characters in these other universes as alts but perhaps we should. Progression is the core mechanic of MMOs and any time spent on a new character takes away time from the others. This is true whether or not that character is a part of the same game world.

Eschewing the benefits of why developers might support alts frees up time to work on content elsewhere – namely the endgame. I’ve said some negative things about it, but the fact is that progression is an MMORPG’s biggest draw. Ditching fifty quests to spice up alt-driven replay could be spent on new abilities for existing characters to toy with. Discouraging altitis means freeing up resources for more novel content, even if the quantity of content is higher with alt-driven gameplay.

Altitis and You

No one can tell you how to deal with altitis. This is a very personal decision that one should discuss with friends, family, and an MMO professional. For those suffering, definitely don’t look at this list of MMO games. It would be a really bad idea. No! Wait!

It’s too late. We’ve lost another.