Tag Archives: PvE

Legion Is off to a Strong Start, but I’m Still Worried

We’re now well into the second week of World of Warcraft: Legion, and while the “new expansion smell” is still in full effect, people are beginning to settle in. I’m very much the sort of person who likes to stop and smell the roses, so I’m not as progressed as some people, but I think I’m starting to get a feel for what sort of an expansion Legion is.

The Broken Shore scenario in World of Warcraft: Legion

So far, Legion is looking good. I’ve certainly been enjoying myself so far, and while there have been complaints here and there, the feedback from the community seems mostly positive so far. If nothing else I think we can say with certainty this will be a better expansion than the universally reviled Warlords of Draenor — not really a high bar to clear.

Yet the bitterness from WoD does not die easily, and I can’t banish my worries about World of Warcraft’s future entirely. What if Legion isn’t so much a change of direction for the positive as it is a stroke of luck by a development team that’s still chasing its own tail?

Off to a good start:

Firstly, it does need to be said that so far Legion has been a pretty good ride. There have been some stumbles — Blizzard’s attempts at making professions more interesting, for instance, have succeeded only in making them even more tedious and unrewarding than before — but the good is definitely outweighing the bad right now.

The new artifact system, which gives every specialization a mighty weapon with its own unique powers and storyline, may well be the best thing to happen to the game in years.

Artifact quests themselves are awesome. Their story-telling is as good as anything WoW has done, and they offer a healthy level of challenge — not brutal, but enough to force you to fully explore the toolkit of your class. Each one takes a little under an hour, which is long enough to feel substantive but not taxing. They’re a great way to encourage playing alts, and they’re just fun.

Artifacts themselves are also pretty enjoyable. Unlocking traits makes leveling feel more satisfying, but since you can eventually unlock every trait, there’s no worry of painting yourself into a corner with a bad build.

Claiming the Ashbringer artifact in World of Warcraft: Legion

They can make playing alternate specs a bit more challenging, and unlocking traits is perhaps a little more of a grind than it needs to be, but there are catch-up mechanics in place to keep either of those issues from becoming too severe, and likely more will be added as the expansion progresses.

Similarly, the new class stories have proved very exciting so far. Each has a unique flavor appropriate to the class and is of an incredibly high quality for something only one twelfth of players will ever see. They are a little overly time-gated, and the physical order halls don’t seem to serve much purpose, but again, the good outweighs the bad.

The more traditional content seems pretty good so far, too. The dungeons and leveling zones aren’t the best WoW has done by any stretch of the imagination, but they’re still pretty good, and certainly better than anything Warlords of Draenor offered.

Taken all in all, Legion is shaping up pretty well right now.

So why is there still this nagging worry in the back of my mind?

Fears for the future:

The trouble is that Warlords of Draenor didn’t happen by accident. It was the result of some deep-seated cultural and philosophical issues within Blizzard.

Right now, I’m not seeing a lot of evidence that those issues have been addressed. I personally would have been very comforted if Blizzard had come right and said that they messed up with WoD, that they were going to do better, but we haven’t seen much of that, and there’s already some evidence of them repeating their mistakes.

A demon hunter character in World of Warcraft: Legion

Let’s look at the issue of flying mounts, one of the biggest debacles of WoD. Blizzard disabled their use in current content and said they would be re-enabled at a later date, but refused to give a straight answer on how or when for months. Eventually they declared that flying mounts — the number one prestige reward in World of Warcraft and a staple of its cash shop — would be permanently disabled in all new content going forward.

This caused a massive fan backlash and no end of poor publicity for Blizzard. Eventually, they caved to pressure and decided to bring flight back… but only after a pretty intense grind.

You’d think they might have learned something from how much resentment that mess engendered, but they clearly haven’t, because they’re doing it all over again. Flying mounts are currently disabled in Legion content, and Blizzard refuses to give a clear answer on when that will change.

Part one of the achievement required to unlock flight is already in the game, so that at least lowers the chance of them reneging on their promise this time, but I still wouldn’t rule it out. And then there’s the issue that the current achievement is at least as big a grind as WoD’s, and it’s only part one. All this just to be able to use mounts we’ve already spent dozens of hours or in some cases real world cash to earn.

If you ever doubt that Blizzard’s decision restrict flying is anything but an attempt to artificially pad the length of content by shoe-horning in another lengthy grind, look no further than the Flight Master’s Whistle. This an easily obtainable item that instantly teleports you to the nearest flight point, with only a five-minute cooldown.

It’s about the most immersion-breaking, content-skipping thing possible — everything they claim to dislike about flying mounts, except worse, because on a mount you’re still traversing the world and can stop if you find something interesting.

A netherdrake flying mount in World of Warcraft

But it still doesn’t offer quite the same convenience of unlimited player flight, nor does it let us use all those fancy mounts we’ve worked so hard to obtain, so it keeps the Pathfinder achievement a valuable carrot to chase.

One could also point to the oft-lamented “raid or die” mentality that has tended to define so much of WoW’s history, and especially Warlords of Draenor. For Legion, Blizzard has set out to make five-man dungeons a more viable alternative. That sounds great until you realize how they’re doing it.

Many of the new dungeons in Legion are limited to mythic difficulty only, meaning they can’t be accessed via the dungeon finder, and the meaningful rewards for all dungeons are from increasingly difficult mythic + modes. So if you want to actually progress via five-man content, you’ll need an established group of skilled players.

The upcoming five-man revamp of Karazhan in patch 7.1 will feature a whopping nine bosses and is intended to take potentially a few days to complete a single run.

The appeal of five man content for many people was that it didn’t take days, that it didn’t require you to plan your schedule around it, that it didn’t require an established group of players, yet now it will require all of those things. Blizzard isn’t so much making dungeons an alternative to raids as it is making dungeons into raids, with all the unpleasant baggage associated.

So really, it’s still raid or die. The only difference is that now you can raid with a smaller group. That might help some people, but it’s not doing much to address the core problem. More casual players are still being tossed to the curb, and those who already enjoyed five-man content are in some ways losing access to it.

The Azsuna zone in World of Warcraft: Legion

Another major mistake of recent expansions has been temporary content. Entire epic quest chains — in some cases crucial to understanding the story — have been deleted entirely from Mists of Pandaria and Warlords of Draenor, and WoD’s massive garrison system was completely abandoned.

Now they’re planning to do it again with artifacts, which have already been confirmed to be going away after Legion. One can only imagine how much work it will be to re-balance every class without their artifacts, or how much it will suck to be the player replacing the Ashbringer or the Doomammer with a random Pointed Stick of the Bear come 8.0.

This is one of those times I think Blizzard’s massive success has almost become a detriment. Most developers can’t afford to burn money on temporary content like this. It’s the game development equivalent of washing your car with Dom Pérignon.

There’s more examples I could give, but I think the point has been made.

Warlords of Draenor was the result of extreme favoritism by Blizzard toward a very narrow band of players, a belief that players will like whatever Blizzard says they like, and a willingness to take their fans for granted. All of that still seems to be true in Legion.

I don’t think Legion will be another WoD, but I do think another WoD is inevitable unless Blizzard gains some humility and takes a good, hard look at themselves and their attitudes towards the game.

In the meantime, I think the best advice is to enjoy the good parts of Legion while it lasts. It’s a long way from perfect, but it’s still a breath of fresh air compared to WoD… and perhaps whatever will follow, too.

Is Overwatch Missing the Mark?

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

Reinhardt guards a payload in Overwatch

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

The potential versus the reality:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The missed opportunities:

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

The Nepal map in Overwatch

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Hanamura map in Overwatch

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

Comparing to the competition:

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

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

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

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

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

A co-op mission in StarCraft II

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

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

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

What might have been:

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

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

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

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

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

Top Eight MMORPGs with the Best Quests

Questing is perhaps the most fundamental form of structured content in MMORPGs. It forms a huge portion of the content for of genre, and virtually every MMO utilizes at least a few quests. Even sandboxes usually include some, if only to help players learn the mechanics.

Considering that, it’s a bit strange that MMO quests are so often lacking. Far too many games make them nothing but a chore to slog through on your road to endgame.

Yet this is not universally true. MMO questing is capable of providing content with compelling storylines and/or unique and interesting mechanics. We’ve ranked the best MMO quests paying attention to overall narrative, individual pieces of content, adherence to game world lore, and unique game mechanics.

8: Star Trek: Online

A boarding party during a mission in Star Trek: Online

Star Trek: Online has a somewhat different take on questing. Each mission is meant to replicate, to at least some degree, the episodic format of the Star Trek television shows. This makes each mission significantly longer, meatier, and more story-driven than you’d find in the average MMO.

The quality of individual missions can vary a bit, and the stories aren’t always terribly gripping, but it’s definitely a welcome change of pace from the usual grind, and if you’re a Trek fan, there’s a definite note of nostalgia, though ST:O’s missions don’t always echo Star Trek’s story-telling style as well as they might. Such is the disadvantage of a combat-focused MMORPG.

ST:O’s dual combat models also offer a welcome level of variety. Most missions will include both ground-based segments, where you control your character and bridge officers, and space combat segments, which do an admirable job of replicating the look and feel of battles from the Star Trek shows and movies. While the ground segments play mostly like traditional MMO combat, space combat is entirely different beast and of a style quite unique in the genre.

7: World of Warcraft

MMO Quests: The Miracle of Aessina World of Warcraft

When it first released over ten years ago, World of Warcraft set the tone for MMO questing for years to come, and as we’ve discussed, MMO quests are not always stellar, so that’s not entirely a good thing.

But while it’s true that much of WoW’s questing is mired in mediocrity, that’s not always true. Some of the most memorable, best quests in any MMORPG belong to WoW. Over the years, the developers have implemented many storylines that rise above their fellows, such as Wrath of the Lich King’s bittersweet Crusader Bridenbrad story and Cataclysm’s epic Elemental Bonds story arc.

It’s also worth noting that WoW’s questing experience has steadily improved over the years. Every expansion has brought with it more diverse mechanics, a stronger commitment to epic story-telling, and higher production values. Thanks to Cataclysm’s revamp of the old world, most of the oldest and clunkiest quests have been streamlined and improved.

And if sheer volume is what you’re after, WoW offers more content for the quest fan than just about any other game. After more than a decade, WoW has enough quests to keep a player occupied for months, if not years.

6: The Lord of the Rings Online

The logo for Lord of the Rings Online

Lord of the Rings Online uses a similar style of design to World of Warcraft for many of its quests, which, again, is not the best recommendation.

However, it also features an epic storyline spanning the entire game — which is still being expanded on regularly — and that is a cut above the usual rat-killing tedium. You can expect to visit iconic locales of Middle-Earth, from Moria to Gondor, and interact with major characters from the books. Each quest in Tolkein’s MMO world continues to pull players deeper into the lore. Characters’ journeys echo that of the Fellowship, slowly marching toward Mordor and offering new perspectives on the familiar events of the The Lord of the Rings.

5: Neverwinter

MMO Quests: A mysterious Foundry mission in the action MMORPG Neverwinter

The professionally made quests in Neverwinter are not much better than those you’d find in any other MMO, notably only for their use of solo dungeons with traps, hidden treasure, and exciting boss fights.

What really makes Neverwinter interesting from a MMO quests perspective is the Foundry, a tool for players to create their own quests. Of course, throwing open the floodgates like this makes for a lot of sub-par player-made quests, but player reviews make it quite easy to separate the good from the bad.

And make no mistake: Many of the player-made quests in Neverwinter are of an incredibly high quality, equaling or surpassing the professional content of many MMOs. Players also tend to offer a greater variety of content than most developers; expect puzzles and mysteries as well as more traditional combat-centric quests. Arguably, the best MMORPG quest system belongs to Neverwinter thanks to its user generated content.

4: Defiance

A mission introducing the EGO program in the shooter MMO Defiance

Defiance’s side missions are quite unremarkable — the kill ten rats quests of all kill ten rats quests — but the main story missions are actually of a very high quality, with a colorful cast of characters and lots of exciting, epic action.

Unlike most MMORPGs, which provide an endless string of NPCs that are interacted with briefly and then forgotten, Defiance tends to focus on a relatively small cast of core characters that follow you throughout the game, echoing the type of main cast you’d see on a TV show. Not surprising given Defiance’s pedigree. This allows each NPC to have a lot more depth and be a lot more memorable than you’d see in most MMOs.

Obviously, if you were a fan of the lamentably cancelled Defiance TV series, the story of Defiance the MMO will appeal to you greatly, but if you’ve never watched a single episode, Defiance’s story missions stand on their own as an exciting sci-fi adventure that anyone can appreciate.

3: Star Wars: The Old Republic

The intro to the trooper storyline in Star Wars: The Old Republic

From the game’s very inception, Bioware has shouted from the rooftops that Star Wars: The Old Republic would be an MMORPG that puts story first. And for the most part, they succeeded.

True, the side missions in SW:TOR are rarely memorable, but the main storylines, and especially the unique storylines for each class, are of a quality rarely equaled in the MMO space. They can easily rival the story-telling of the best single-player RPGs.

Not only is each class story of an incredibly high quality, but they also sell the unique feel of each class very well, making each a truly unique experience. Play James Bond in space as an Imperial agent, or be a bastion of peace and healing as a Jedi consular.

The one downside is that SW:TOR questing content is still quite mechanically dull. They may give you a really good motivation for killing those ten rats, but you’re still killing ten rats. And the developers really love button bloat.

2: The Elder Scrolls Online

MMO Quests: An Aldmeri Dominion zone in The Elder Scrolls Online

One of the problems with quests in MMORPGs is that developers often take a “quantity over quality” approach. Elder Scrolls Online takes a different tack, offering slightly fewer quests overall but making each one a significantly more substantive and compelling experience.

There’s also more of a sense of exploration and adventure when questing in ESO. Most quests are just found while exploring the world, with little or no signs pointing to them, so you need to seek them out. This could be frustrating, but ESO’s world is so detailed and so brimming with lore collectibles, skill points, and treasure that wandering is never dull.

The stories in Elder Scrolls Online are not particularly memorable as a rule, but they at least rise above the (low) bar set by the average MMO, with at least some memorable characters and stand-out moments.

1: The Secret World

MMO Quests: A cutscene during one of The Secret World's issue seven storylines

So far on this, we’ve covered games whose quests have excellent stories, as well as those who provide mechanically interesting quests. Yet only one game consistently hits the ball out of the park on both fronts. Only one game views quests as worthy of all the same mechanical complexity and spectacular production values as the best endgame content. These are the criteria worthy of the prestigious title of MMORPG with the best quests.

That game is The Secret World.

On the one hand, every main mission in The Secret World offers a strong and compelling story, provided through fully voice-acted cutscenes and readable items found along the way. Nearly all of TSW’s missions tie-in to the main story in some way, and even those that don’t feature emotional or exciting stories in their own right. There is no filler here.

On the other, TSW’s missions also feature unique, interesting, and often devilishly challenging mechanics.

Much praise has justifiably been given to TSW’s investigation missions, which feature puzzles and mysteries of incredible depth and complexity. Often investigation missions will require research into real world topics, and entire websites have been created by Funcom simply to serve as clues. Both these things blur the line between gaming and reality in mind-bending ways.

But TSW’s inventive mission design doesn’t end with investigations. Also breaking the MMO mold are sabotage missions, which feature a combination of stealth gameplay, light puzzles, dodging traps, and other inventive mechanics. Sabotage missions also help sell the game’s horror setting better than anything else, presenting you with terrifying monsters that you can only flee, not defeat.

Even TSW’s action missions, which focus on combat and are the closest to traditional MMORPG questing, also often provide light puzzle gameplay or other unusual twists, like vehicle mechanics.

Trinium Wars Is a Glorious Mess

Recently I had the good fortune to obtain a free key for the Steam early access of the new sci-fi MMO Trinium Wars. The buzz around the game was not good, but the post-apocalyptic setting intrigued, so I resolved to give it a try with an open mind.

A landscape in the MMORPG Trinium Wars

What followed was one of the most bizarre experiences of my whole MMO career. Follow me down the rabbit hole, friends.

Chasing the rabbit:

The basic concept behind Trinium Wars is actually pretty interesting. After a nuclear holocaust during the third world war, Earth was devastated, and only a handful of humans managed to escape into the depths of space.

Centuries later, they returned, only to discover Earth had already been recolonized by an alien race with the rather unfortunate name of the Narc. Unlike humanity, the feline Narc seek to live in harmony with nature, so they’re instantly at odds with the humans. Both sides also fight over the precious resource of trinium, which is important for some reason.

Humans and Narc, obviously, are the playable factions, and once you’ve chosen one, that locks your entire account to that faction, which seems oddly punitive to me.

On top of that, a race of vicious mutants — descended from those humans who failed to escape the war — is hostile to both sides, making the ruined and altered Earth a vicious three way battleground.

As a backstory, it’s a bit rough around the edges, but on the whole it’s pretty intriguing. In fact, it strongly reminds me of the premise of Defiance, which I rather enjoyed (both the TV series and the MMO).

Combat in the MMORPG Trinium Wars

It didn’t take long for the problems to start cropping up, though. Character creation, for instance, was quite disappointing, even considering the low expectations for what is obviously a fairly low budget game.

There’s no body customization, for one thing. Body type is tied to class, of which there are three. I had wanted to be a ghost, a versatile stealth class, but I’ve never been a fan of the archetype of “tiny girl whose status in regards to puberty is at best unclear,” so that left warrior and esper as my remaining choices.

I’ve never been a warrior fan, so esper it was. If you can manage to parse the Google Translate-spewed world salad that is the class description, you’ll get the impression esper is some kind of ranged spell caster.

My remaining character customization choices boiled down to hairstyle, hair and eye color, and a random assortment of different facial features, so I cobbled together something decent and zoned into the game.

This was followed by a short cutscene establishing the Narc culture. Despite some shaky voice acting, it was actually pretty good, if somewhat generic, and had me fairly pumped up to actually play the game.

I was destined for more disappointment.

A very deep well:

Trinium Wars’ visuals don’t lend themselves to a strong first impression. The game looks at least a few years out of date, with blurry and muddy textures and a general lack of detail or realism. It’s not stylized; it’s just poorly executed.

Maybe I would have felt better about the graphics if I had been able to see more of the environment, but the developers saw fit to carpet every square inch of the landscape with quest spawns, to the point where all I saw was a sea of nametags.

A morass of quest spawns in Trinium Wars

At least you don’t have to worry about competition over quest spawns.

But hey, graphics don’t matter as long as the gameplay is good, right?

Yeah, about that.

By now we’re all familiar with the bland style of “kill ten rats” quests that dominates far too much of the MMO genre, but Trinium Wars boils it down to its most shallow and tedious essence.

Quest text is as brief and pointless as WildStar’s infamous Twitter quests, further enhanced by colossally bad translation into English that has clearly never known the touch of a quality assurance department.

As an aside, I’m always baffled when import games don’t spring for a proofreader who is a native English speaker. Having done some proofreading work myself, I can tell you for a fact it’s not terribly expensive.

Even if they had proofread the quest text, the storytelling quality is… sorry, I can’t use “storytelling” in relation to Trinium Wars with a straight face.

Near as I can tell something was going on with mutants attacking. I was a bit distracted by the fact that the supposedly nature-loving Narc had tasked me with the murder of baby parrots as one of my first duties.

I was also somewhat distracted by the NPCs. For some reason half the characters you meet are women dressed in as little as the developers could manage without jeopardizing their ESRB rating, who are performing stripper dances for no reason whatsoever.

Between that and the zoomed in conversation camera, half the time you’ll be getting your quests from a pair of tin-plated nipples or a gyrating buttocks.

Chatting with the local strippers(?) in Trinium Wars

This is an interesting way to receive a quest.

I was too busy laughing to even get around to being offended by the shameless sexism.

And the quests themselves are just boring. Enemies wander slowly in circles, waiting to be killed, and pose no threat whatsoever. Presumably combat gets better later on as you unlock more skills, but to start it’s mostly just watching your character auto-attack while waiting on the unnecessarily long cooldowns of your few abilities.

The one good thing I can say is that the combat animation and sound effects, even for auto-attacks, are quite powerful and intense, and far better than you see in the average tab target game.

There’s more to the game than questing, but I didn’t have the chance to sample such things. Dungeons, as I understand it, aren’t unlocked until much later on.

That leaves PvP. Trinium Wars offers mass open world conflict between “thousands” of players, but that, too, doesn’t come until much later. However, low level PvP fans can participate in some sort of MOBA-inspired mini-game that is sold as one of Trinium Wars’ most unique features.

Unfortunately, when I tried to queue for it, the game helpfully informed me that there were not enough players in the game for matchmaking to function.

Down, down, down:

I’ve barely begun to scratch the surface of the issues with Trinium Wars. The game is also ripe with quality of life flaws.

The cash shop window in the MMORPG Trinium Wars

For example, there’s not nearly enough customization potential in the UI or controls for my taste. I was particularly frustrated by my inability to disable click to move, resulting in my constantly sending my character careening off in the wrong direction as I tried to pan the camera.

The list goes on. Picking up gear is rather frustrating, as you then need to buy microscopes to identify it before you can use it, and the identify animation seems rather unnecessarily long to me.

One could also draw attention to the game’s business model. The cash shop is one of the more unpleasant I’ve seen, offering naught but XP boosts and various over-priced ways to circumvent the game’s many small annoyances. If I understand it right — and, to be fair, with how unreadable most of the game’s text is, there’s a good chance I don’t — you even need to buy a consumable to chat zone-wide.

Conversely there’s none of the cosmetics or other fun items that normally appeal to me in a cash shop.

After all this you might think I’m being unfair. After all, Trinium Wars is in early access. By the developers’ own admission, it’s not nearly done yet. It is true that a fair few of the issues I cite will likely be addressed as the game marches toward a proper launch.

But the fact is this is a game that is already fully monetized. It has a box price and a cash shop. I think that requires it be held to a certain degree of scrutiny. Some concessions can be made based on the early access tag, but only to a point.

And frankly I think the problems are so many and so severe that it’s hard to imagine Trinium Wars ever reaching a polished and fully playable state. I’ve played alphas and betas before, and they were all far better than this.


A confusing load screen in the MMORPG Trinium Wars

Your guess is as good as mine.

At first, my thought was to warn everyone to stay far away from Trinium Wars, but after careful consideration, I’ve decided not to do so. In fact, I encourage all and sundry to give it a try.

You see, Trinium Wars isn’t just awful. It’s gloriously awful. Magnificently, brilliantly awful. It is by far and away the worst MMO I have ever played. It makes WildStar look serious and intellectual, Dragon’s Prophet look polished, Neverwinter look generous, and World of Warcraft look challenging. If you wanted to build a shrine to every kind of error an MMO can make, this would be it.

Trinium Wars is an unequalled masterpiece of bad design. It is as bad as it gets, with just enough faintly redeeming qualities to taunt you with the feeling there might  be some alternate universe where it’s actually fun. It’s charged past the border of terrible and into the realm of being so bad it’s good.

It’s the Plan 9 from Outer Space of MMOs.

Black Desert Online’s PvP and PvE Cognitive Dissonance

Black Desert Online is set to launch on March 3rd.  Considering how many people are tuned into Twitch just to watch other people play, it’s pretty clear the game has some hype. And on paper a lot of it sounds really good. There’s a sandbox element for players to level up via “life skills” like fishing and more typical crafting skills. The open world has no fast travel elements and is set up in a way so cities will always be crowded by new and veteran players alike. There’s not even a level cap so theoretically one could constantly progress and level up in Black Desert Online forever.

It has come under fire somewhat for the lack of a typical end game. I don’t like that end game has become synonymous with high level raids. In all honesty, I don’t like the term end game at all. MMORPGs (like any game) should be fun regardless of where one is in progression. Perhaps the heralded MMORPG action combat in Black Desert Online will truly make for an exciting leveling experience regardless of the activity. But the end game right now is squarely designed around guild vs. guild warfare, castle sieges, and territory conquest. And there seems to be some cognitive dissonance when it comes to that end game because grinding PvE is the only way to get there.

black desert online pve grinding

Step 1: Grind all the mobs (PvE)

I have not played Black Desert Online yet, but as I’ve read more about it I was struck by this strange design decision. In order to PvP effectively, one most PvE. And when one is “done” with PvE, primarily PvP remains. And the potentially infinite leveling only compounds this level of cognitive dissonance. Black Desert Online employs a soft level cap of 50, which can be reached in about 20 hours if desired. No problems there. 20 hours is a lengthy tutorial, but there are a lot of skills to pickup and master. After that though, each level will take between 25 to 100+ hours. And the way to get that EXP is through grinding mobs in PvE, even though level 50 is when the heralded PvP is supposed to begin. And it’s important to keep up in levels and gear because otherwise players can become nigh unkillable with too much of a gap. So players who want to legitimately compete in PvP have to engage in an activity other than PvP to do so effectively. It doesn’t really make any sense.

People who enjoy PvE and grinding in Black Desert will be treated to a different problem. While many people may find the combat and leveling experience fun, there is very little to test one’s PvE mettle once the 50 level “tutorial” is finished. Here’s a game where players initially get treated to a care bear experience of an MMORPG with a focus on killing mobs as quickly as possible. And the continuation of that isn’t raids or challenging content as expected, but a handful of world bosses to down from time to time and… lots of PvP. This level of cognitive dissonance in an MMORPG is especially strange because of how hyped up gamers are for Black Desert Online. People who want PvP have to PvE and people who want PvE will eventually run out of combat content without turning to PvP.

Because of the heavy grinding nature of leveling up past 50 and the impact that those levels and silver gains have, it seems like there is a limited long term audience for Black Desert Online. Players need to be dedicated enough to repetitively grind monsters and mobs and in doing so, their reward is to wipe the floor with opponents without reprieve. That’s a recipe for disaster for casual players, the lifeblood of any multiplayer game, as they will find they have no real chance to compete individually. There’s safety in numbers though and one’s choice of guild (which seems almost necessary to join to progress) will certainly play a large role in Black Desert Online. Still, an arms race of those who can grind the most likely won’t be appealing to the masses.

Black Desert Online PvP Siege

Step 2: PvP – your second life

And this mentality of forcing players to engage in both PvE and PvP is fairly unique to Black Desert Online. Other MMORPGs with both PvP and PvE content allow players to focus on either PvE or PvP exclusively. For example, in Wildstar players can gain EXP solely through arena and warzone PvP. And there’s end game challenges for PvE fans to engage in after leveling up.

Mandating players to engage in both PvE and PvP activities as Black Desert Online is doing could be a recipe for disaster. But even if it is a problem, the game still has a lot going for it with top notch combat and a wealth of non-combat activities to engage in. I don’t know that this mix is really going to cause a major issue. But it will take some adjustment because there is going to be a sense of confusion over the relationship between PvE grinding and PvP end game in Black Desert. Regardless, it will be fascinating to watch as casual PvE fans reach the level 50 soft cap and discover what awaits them.

Almost as fascinating as the PvPers who thought they were done grinding after dinging 50.