Drfited away – but still playing games!

My blogging career definitely tracks my MMO play activity. If I’m playing any genre but MMOs, I don’t seem to take the time to blog about it. Since I’ve been actively blogging here, I played some League of Legends, a lot of Starcraft 2, Team Fortress 2, and a lot of single player games that I missed while immersed in various MMOs (The Witcher, Mass Effect, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Fallout 3, among others).

I recently started playing LoTRO again (and tried Rift on a free weekend), and my desire to blog also picked up. It’s curious; I’m a very solitary person within most MMOs. For example, I just finished leveling a minstrel (usually a very group-friendly class) to 65, almost entirely solo. Despite my reticent nature in-game, I’m happy to talk about what I’m doing in an MMO when I’m not actually playing it.

Why do I want to talk about MMOs more than single player games or multiplayer games? Is it something about the persistence of an MMO compared to the more transient experience of multiplayer matches? Is there more of a story to an MMO? There’s a pretty good story in most single player RPGs, but I don’t feel compelled to write about those so much. I spent a lot of time playing TF2 and Starcraft 2 and League of Legends with other people, but I don’t feel the need to blog about it. It must be the persistent world that makes me feel like sharing, the non-instanced nature of an MMO. Anyone can log on to Steam and find me for a TF2 game, or friend me on League of Legends and ask if I want to play, or I can join a variety of Vent/TeamSpeak servers and play a match with friends, but all those interactions happen outside the game world first. The MMO is always there, always on, always the same, and somehow that makes me want to write about it. Maybe it’s a way of connecting with my character who’s idle while I’m not able to log in, and maybe it’s a way of connecting with other people who are doing the same thing, yearning for a bit of persistence while we await another opportunity to enter that world and play.

Whatever it is, I’m happy that my on-again off-again relationship with LoTRO has finally reached a major milestone.

That took long enough

Gallatin at 65

It’s kind of crazy how much work still remains in LoTRO. As you can see, I’ve got trade skills to master, I need to figure out Legendary Items and maximize what they offer, I’ve got plenty of skirmishes to run, deeds to finish, traits to earn, and dungeons to explore if I ever decide to start grouping on a regular basis. I’ve reached level cap, but I certainly haven’t come close to maximizing Gallatin’s potential, and I hope to spend some time figuring out how to make him a useful member of a group instead of a solitary War Speech minstrel. He’s also got a big house to decorate!

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LoTRO F2P – An Early Look

I managed to get the LoTRO F2P update downloaded last night, after adding the Turbine Invoker and Turbine Launcher to my firewall exceptions. Never had to do that before, but it worked.

The update wasn’t all that large and I got to play for a little bit. There are interface updates – the experience bar is a little bigger, a little brighter, there’s a Skirmish button next to your bags, and there’s a Store icon at the right side of your toolbar. I got a bunch of deed updates and I got some Turbine points for deeds and reputation. People in my guild were talking about having thousands of points – I only had 80 🙂 I don’t think I’m a completionist, or maybe my point total just isn’t correct yet. Turbine had a note about a problem with points, so I’ll wait and see what I end up with in a couple days.

I thought, as a current subscriber, I’d get a chunk of points to play with, but they haven’t appeared yet. I think the only points that registered were due to my standings with various factions.

I finished up some Moria quests and logged out. I’ll check out the new zone when I get a little more time to play. So far, so good? Beyond the update problem, everything was stable. It’ll be interesting to see what happens when the F2P is live for everyone, though. I wonder if they’ll stay stable through the weekend.

LoTRO and free to play

The Lord of the Rings Online goes free to play in two days, on September 10th. As a current subscriber, I get an early look at the new point store, new zone, and lots of other changes, rules, limits (or lack of limits if I keep subscribing) and, I’ll admit it, some confusion.

I’m not the obsessive MMO player I used to be, where I’d follow official and unofficial forums like a dog on a scent. I couldn’t tell you what my monthly fee might be if I decide to keep subscribing. Does it stay the same? Does it increase? What happens if I stop subscribing? Does my gold disappear? What about the characters I already have over the cap?

I know I could find these answers in a thread on the official forums, but I hardly take time to blog any more – I’m hoping that nothing really changes, I get charged the same amount, and the game I’ve casually enjoyed through 56 levels, deep into Moria, doesn’t change too much for me.

I’m happy Turbine is experimenting, I like some aspects of the free to play model, and I think it’ll be good for the game, but I’m also being selfish. I don’t want to do any extra work. Sue me, I’m lazy 🙂 I’m looking forward to logging in and checking things out, though. Think I have to give it the usual patch-day level of expectations? Probably. Right now the updater is bombing out behind my Word Press window – maybe it’ll be tomorrow before I get to check things out.

I’ll post my opinions about the F2P changes, and if it impacts an old casual subscriber, or if the game just keeps ticking along for me.

Anyone else going to start playing, or return to play, now that it’s free?

There and back again

Yep, I’m back in MMOs, back in LoTRO. This was the longest break I’ve taken from MMOs in the 11 years I’ve been playing them. I wasn’t game-free during that time; I played a lot of Team Fortress 2, Dragon Age, League of Legends, and a bunch of other stuff on Gametap, including fairly regular Civ 4 games.

I think I played so many MMOs for so long that I lost my appreciation for the genre. Everything felt like work, and my burnout from one MMO was bleeding over into any new MMO I tried, or old MMOs I reactivated.

Honestly, I probably wouldn’t be back in an MMO if it wasn’t for Turbine’s  free Welcome Back weekends. The Activity Log on My LoTRO page shows that I was last subscribed to the game in April of last year, and I only played for about a month. Then, last October, I came back for my first free Welcome Back weekend, and returned for free weekends in November, December, and January before resubscribing in February.

Maybe it was playing only occasionally that allowed me to reconnect with the world and with my character without quickly burning out again. Maybe it’s just the depth of LoTRO after a couple years of adding and tweaking and upgrading the game experience. The depth of LoTRO is pretty significant compared to a lot of other MMO’s out there; Turbine hasn’t shied away from crafting, housing, and their skirmish system is pretty damn cool. I like the Deeds/Traits system, the world lore is significant, the Book quests now have solo options (which work pretty well for me as a mostly-solo gamer), and I’m always looking forward to logging in, instead of feeling like it’s a job.

I re-applied to the Old Timer’s Guild, and hopefully I’ll get enough sponsors by the end of the month to become a full member. I’m also hoping that playing an MMO rekindles my desire to blog a bit. No promises – I’m trying to finish up my Master’s degree by the end of June – but playing MMOs seem more blog-worthy than single-layer games. There’s plenty to talk about in LoTRO, and I haven’t felt that way about an MMO in quite a while.

The Year I Fell Out of Love

I’ve never done reviews or predictions here. I’m not nearly timely enough in my posting to pull it off. That doesn’t mean I don’t mentally review the past gaming year, though, and this New Year’s brought the revelation that 2009 was the year I fell out of love with MMO’s.

I’ve gone through multiple stages of MMO burnout in the past, only to return with a vengeance to a new game/new world, but I suspect that’s no longer true. 2009 found me subscribing and unsubscribing twice to LoTRO and Eve (the closest current examples of the MMO design I prefer), and I don’t think I’ll ever play WoW again. I’m playing a lot of single player games and Team Fortress 2, and I don’t think I’m simply burned out in need of an MMO break any more. I might be done with MMO’s, unless something really interesting appears on the horizon.

MMO bloggers seem to be looking forward to Blizzard’s next WoW expansion, Bioware’s The Old Republic, and Star Trek Online in 2010. I have almost zero interest in any of them (TOR being an exception because of how much I’ve enjoyed Dragon Age, and I hold a shred of hope that Bioware will surprise me with TOR the way DA surprised me). I really don’t expect to buy or play Star Trek Online, and I can’t imagine ever returning to Azeroth. I had three good years in Azeroth, but I think I’ve exhausted that theme park. And honestly, I expect The Old Republic to be a similar theme park, albeit newer and shinier.

I don’t have the same sense of anticipation about new MMO’s that I once had. Maybe WAR broke me; I had so much hope for a DAoC-style game, and Mythic just abandoned so much of what I enjoyed about DAoC in WAR. It felt like it had been influenced far too much by WoW, and I have a fear the same will happen with The Old Republic. I’m still bitter about WAR, so much so that I can’t even bring myself to play the free trial to see what’s new.

The only game I can see myself perhaps trying again in the future is LoTRO. The new skirmish system in the Siege of Mirkwood expansion sounds interesting, and if they make the Book quests solo-able, that might be enough for me to give it another shot. I do enjoy my house, the crafting, and the huge world of Middle Earth, and there’s a lot I haven’t seen there yet; I’m not nearly as burned out there as I am with WoW. I suspect I’m going to have a long stretch of MMO-free gaming ahead of me before that happens, though. I just don’t feel the love any longer.

And the winner is…

Instead of jumping into Darkfall or Fallen Earth, I resubscribed to Eve Online last week. Three things influenced my decision. First, I already own Eve, and my wife and I went out on the $50 I would have dropped on a new game. Second, the videos from the Alliance Tournament on CCP’s Youtube site made me miss the game. Third, I kept saying to myself “I want a game that does what Eve does”, and, well, duh.

I’m still keeping an eye on Darkfall and Fallen Earth (leaning more toward Fallen Earth right now), but I might wait for a price drop, or at least wait out my rekindled desire to play Eve.

There’s also a pretty good chance LoTRO’s latest offer will get me to pay $30 to subscribe for three months and get the Siege of Mirkwood expansion for free when it’s released at the beginning of December. I have the client downloading in the background now, and I’ll play it this weekend, taking advantage of the 25% xp bonus on top of a couple months of rest xp. Free is good.

There’s plenty of competition in the MMO space these days, and Turbine and CCP pulled me in with a combination of good marketing, good value, and top-notch games. I have a couple stories to tell about my latest Eve experiences, and I’ll probably be back with a LoTRO update after the free weekend is over.

Summer break

I didn’t intend to take the summer off from blogging, but that’s exactly what happened. Between work getting a little crazy (anyone else getting hit with budget cuts, wage freezes, hiring freezes, etc.?), spending a lot of time outside with my daughter, and taking a summer class for grad school, life has been about everything but blogging.

Plus, I can’t get too excited about any of the MMO’s that are out right now. I’ve beaten WoW to death, don’t really have the time to enjoy Eve the way it’s meant to be played, I was bored by WAR, grew weary of LoTRO, and there’s not much new to catch my interest. Ok, other than Champions, there’s like nothing new, right? And don’t mention Aion…that’s a definite “give it three months” game. I’ve had my fill of Eastern MMO’s lately, and there’s nothing new under the sun. I even tried EQ2 for a month, and while I liked it, it’s too many steps backward. I want to see MMO’s doing something new and different, or I suspect my malaise will continue.

So, is the problem the games? Probably not. I think I’m just toast on MMO’s after ten years of playing them pretty much nonstop. I still have the desire to log in to a persistent world and build characters…just not any of the worlds that are currently available. I’d gripe about the industry and lack of innovation and clone-mentality development (this is the Internet, after all…I can bitch with no justification, right?), but I don’t really think that’s true or fair. I think developers work really hard to provide good gaming experiences, and I think my inability to stick with one MMO has more to do with me than the genre.

Keen made some good observations about what he misses in current-gen MMO’s last month (yeah, I’m behind on my blog reading, sue me), and a lot of it rang true to me. He started by saying

When I think back at what we’ve lost, or have begun to lose, in the MMORPGs of today, I keep coming back to one thing:  The World.  We’re starting to lose that sense of a big/massive, open, true world that we can explore and live in as we develop or take on the role of our character

Yep. I think this is what disappointed me most about WAR. It’s a game that’s packed with content, and I found out I don’t enjoy that very much. It was a very linear experience, and I never felt a sense of isolation. There wasn’t a sense of danger, either…you could either survive the zone you were in, or you were going to die. There wasn’t much tension, like in Keen’s run across Antonica. And there’s definitely not that much open space.

I blame WoW’s success for that shrinking of the game world, although I think WAR went further than WoW did. The idea that a world has to be convenient after World of Warcraft is pretty pervasive. I miss the sense of distance in Everquest or even Dark Age of Camelot. Making a run from your portal area down to the enemy gates in the DAoC frontier was a hell of an online gaming experience, and WAR didn’t preserve that feeling. WAR’s like a convenience store MMO experience…you can get a limited number of things really fast, and some of them are enjoyable, but if you’re really hungry, you want something more.

I was thinking about resubbing to Star Wars Galaxies the other day, because I was remembering riding around on my speeder with my artisan/architect, surveying for good spots to drop my harvesters. I remember how cool it was to have so much space around me, and an encounter with another person out there usually resulted in some sort of interaction, even if it’s just a wave or another emote. Travel in WAR and WoW feels like commuting…there’s sea of people around you, but you’re not interacting with any of them. I miss the days of physical space and possibility and adventure.

I don’t know if the MMO market can support games like that any more. There’s so much pressure to deliver WoW-like profits, or even a tenth of WoW profits, that designing a world that’s more of a community-driven sandbox is risky. There certainly don’t seem to be any games like that in development, so maybe MMO’s have passed me by. That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with current gen MMO’s…it just means that I don’t think I’ll be playing them very often.

So, instead of logging in to WAR and leveling characters through scenarios and RvR, I’ve been playing a lot of Team Fortress 2. WAR scenarios reminded me of my old FPS days, and I’ve been getting my scenario/RvR fixes through TF2. It’s easier to get in and out of TF2 matches, I don’t have to grind levels or gear, and it’s a brilliant game. Is it just me, or do you think Valve could make a TF2 MMO that’s more fun than WAR? Might just be me, and the burnout speaking.

Anyway, my daughter is playing Wizard 101 and Free Realms, and I have alts on her accounts that I’m playing, so I might hit up some of the folks I’ve seen playing those games and say hi (Tipa and Pete have both posted about those games recently). Other than that, I’m usually playing TF2, on the Gamers With Jobs servers when they’re hopping in the evenings, pining for the old days, the MMO frontier days.