My Experiences as an “MMO Girl” (Part 2)

My nearly six-month experiment came to a close earlier this month when I officially retired “Chichi” and restored Kijimuna to his former glory.  For those of you that may have missed the original article; back in January I wrote a piece about my attempt to see what gaming is like through the eyes of a female. Having spoken with several girls I know in Final Fantasy XIV, I decided to quietly moonlight as a female character for six months to see just how different, if at all, I would be treated.

If you read my original article, you’ll learn that aside from people being just generally nicer, my initial experience was not all that different. Back in January, I wrote that I had not encountered any harassment or sexisim, etc. So, now, six months later has that changed? Well, the answer is both yes and no.

In the months since my original article, I finally consented to joining a free company (guild). I decided to pick one of the largest on the server. From my personal experiences, larger MMO guilds tend to be busy and impersonal. People come and go all the time. I didn’t want to become close to anyone or have to lie about my identity, so a large guild would allow me to simply be another face in the crowd. This worked well for quite some time. Then, one day I volunteered to join some members on a trial (big monster battle). This event marked the first time since I started playing a female character that I was “hit on”…

As I stood there, healing my companions, a member of our party made a semi off-color comment about how well Chichi was able to “handle her staff” and would I like to see if I could “handle his”. This was quickly dealt with as Chichi informed him that if he presented his staff to her, she would snap it in half and sheathe the two pieces in a very uncomfortable place. This person later apologized to me in private for his behavior.

A few weeks later, another person seemed to become infatuated with Chichi. He followed me around and volunteered to help me with whatever I was doing. At one point, he even offered to pay for a private house so Chichi could have her own dwelling. For those who do not played FFXIV, let me tell you this is a VERY generous offer. Housing is scant and expensive on nearly every server in the game. I politely declined the offer.

As my time playing as Chichi drew to a close, I found myself realizing that I was going to miss her. Chichi had come to grow on me. The character was simply adorable. I entertained the thought of just continuing to play her, but I also missed playing as Kijimuna, a character I created almost 7 yeas ago. So that I wouldn’t have to completely say goodbye, I came to a compromise. I hired a new in-game “retainer” or virtual companion and named/modeled it after Chichi. So now, even though Chichi is no more – a part of her still exists in the world of Eorzea.

So, after six months of playing a female character incognito, what are my thoughts?

Well, overall – even though I never actually presented myself as a female, acted flirty or feminine, the majority of players did seem to treat me nicer that they did when I would play a male. As I originally observed, many players were more patient and helpful. Aside from one sexual remark by a single individual, I was never objectified or harassed.  Perhaps this was because I never did come out and claim to be a woman. I really can’t say. But based on this experiment, albeit unscientific as it was, I was relieved to see that players perceived to be female are not the subject of sexual harassment day in and day out.  I’m not claiming that women gamers tend to to cry wolf about such topics, but it certainly doesn’t seem to be quite as bad as one might think by simply hanging out on twitter for five minutes.

When dealing with other players in any multiplayer environment, it’s always wise to remember the wisdom of Rufus from Bill and Ted’s Excellent adventure… regardless of who you are or who you are dealing with, “Be excellent to each other”.

My Experiences as an “MMO Girl” (Part 1)

So, as I promised, in 2017 I’m going to try to do more with this site besides write and post reviews. This post is a prime example of that. This is an article about a secret experiment I’ve been conducting. One that I’m now ready to share. In this post, I’m going to describe my experiences as playing an MMO under the guise of being a female.

Now, I’m not doing this in attempt to be controversial or shocking. This was an idea borne out of sincere curiosity. Please allow me to explain. If you’re a frequent reader to this site, you know that I’m an avid player of Final Fantasy XIV. My character, Kijimuna was created during 1.0 early access and has persisted throughout the entire course of the game. It was with this character that I founded one of the first Free Companies on the Balmung Server:  The Luminous Company.  However, over the years being a “casual only” company on one of the most competitive and overcrowded servers took it’s toll.  The numbers of active players in my company dwindled from over a hundred, down to about two dozen in a few years. In the last twelve months, I found that only myself and about three other players were active in company. Eventually, the company finally just came down to myself and one other player; a girl I had known since the original 1.0 version of the game. The day finally came when I logged on and noticed that even she had not logged on in over 30 days. It was then, I decided it was time to close up shop and consider finding a new group of in-game friends to join.

The problem I ran into was this: my server was jammed packed with elitist players. Despite my long term experience with the game, I am very much a casual player. I cannot commit to any schedule and I don’t have the ability to dedicate hours and hours to endless grinding. A few companies I did join up with never really felt like home to me as I was unable to participate in many activities due to my schedule. The one thing I really loved doing in the game, helping new players, was an impossibility on my server. You see, Balmung (my server) is super popular and therefore almost always locked for new character creation. There are simply no new players to help. That’s when I decided to take the plunge and move to a non-legacy server. A place where I could interact with newer players. As I was preparing for this move, I recalled a conversation that I had with my longtime in-game friend. One night, when it was just the two of us playing, she described to me her experiences being a female player in an online game. She explained how for the most part, people are generally kind. But how occasionally, she would find herself being objectified or suffering some minor unwanted advances. She also described how, if she really wanted to, she was able to manipulate a large portion of male players into providing her with help and sometimes even get them to carry her through difficult content.  I always wondered just how true that was.  – Well, as I sat there preparing to move Kijimuna to his new home, a thought occurred to me; what would happen if I transformed Kiji into a female? I mean, I had a number of these Fantasia potions (character re-design items) stashed away, perks from playing 1.0. I could use one and design my character as a female, temporarily – and blog about my experiences. It sounded like an interesting idea, so… I did it!   With that, Kijimuna Kudaka was no more.

……… drumroll

                                   ……..                            ……..

                                                                      …….                  …….  MEET:     Chichi !!!

First, I want to clear something up. When I transformed Kiji to Chichi, I did so solely with this article in mind. I had no intentions of using the transformation as an attempt to benefit or enrich my character. In fact, when creating my new persona I decided to stick with the very mundane and “unsexual” Lalafell race. The last thing I wanted to do was create some buxom, sexy fem fatale. I wanted to see what a real female mmo-player might experience.

I have now been playing as Chichi for almost three months and it has been an interesting experience. But before I get into the details, I want to layout some important facts around this experiment:

First – I never come out and claim to be a female. I’m simply playing a female character, and allowing others to make assumptions.

Second – I don’t flirt, act girly or cutesy, or change my in-game behavior in any way.

Now, with that in mind let’s talk about the results. Well, the last three months have been interesting. First, I’m amazed at just how many people automatically assume that because I am playing a female character, that I must be a female. Perhaps it is because I’m playing a cute little Lalafell and not some bikini-clad Valkyrie… I don’t know. But the majority of players I interact with do assume that the person behind my keyboard is indeed a female.

I’m proud to report that most players treat me no different than they did before. I’ve not been sexually harassed, or looked down on. However, it does seem that people actually seem to be a little kinder and patient with Chichi then they were with Kijimuna.  If I’m playing with others and I botch something, there’s less frustration exhibited.  I have also received more offers for help and more invitations for groups than I did before.

In fact, this led me to making another very important decision in regards to this experiment.  I decided to politely decline all free company invitations for the first few months or so. Just so I could see how many invites I would receive.  When playing as Kijimuna, after disbanding The Luminous Company, I received a total of two invites in the three months before deciding to leave Balmung.  As Chichi, I received a total of eleven in the same amount of time!

In fact, my refusal to join with any established groups created a bit of a buzz. A lot of people seemed puzzled by my insistence on playing solo. Well, I’ve recently caved and accepted an invitation to a small, but established Free Company. This will no doubt result in more social interactions with other players. So, I’m curious to see just where that might lead.  To date, I have yet to experience any off-color comments or negative experiences. Let’s see if that changes as I begin to mingle more with other players. Stay tuned for an update in the coming months!

FFXIV: Version 3.4 Update

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So, Final Fantasy XIV version 3.4 (aka: Soul Surrender) has finally arrived and I’ve had time to dive in and check it out in full. I apologize for not getting to this post sooner, but before checking out the new content, I was scrambling like mad to finish the limited-time Yo-Kai Watch crossover event. Sadly, I have to admit this event marks the first time I was unable to fully complete a “seasonal” quest line. The event consisted of participating in FATE events, from which you could collect cute Yo-Kai minions, and Yo-Kai Watch themed weapons. Collecting the minions was simple. But collecting all the weapons took quite a bit of dedication. Granted, SE allowed nearly 3 months to get this done, but I had a lot of real world stuff going on so I had to cram most of it into the last three days. While I did not finish the event 100% of the way, I was down to the very last weapon when the clock ran out (and only 2 tokens short of claiming it!) – I hope to see this event brought back at some point in the future, as SE did with some of their other limited time events. But, considering this one tied in to a third-party, I’m not counting on anything. Boo.

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But enough about Yo-Kai… Let’s talk 3.4. So, what’s new in this patch? Well, we’re getting very close now to the final wrap up of all Heavensward content. Later this week, Square Enix hosts the first of the three Fan Fests . It is during these events that fans are expecting a reveal for Final Fantasy XIV 4.0. So, the end of all 3.x content is coming quick! Here’s what’s been added in the latest patch:

New main scenario quests, new side quests.

New PVP content:  Custom matches and player duels

New Raid content:  Alexander phase 3

New Trials

New Dungeons

New Player Housing options:  Apartments, aquarium furniture/collectible game

Grand Company Content:   **FINALLY!!!*  New ranks and a new “Squadron” system

A new “Wondrous Tails” system – Essentially, this is a system that encourages and rewards players for doing older content.

A slew of refinements, new items, materials, mounts, minions, etc.

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So what do I think of the new patch? Well, as point releases go, it’s pretty solid. It balances both refinements and new content pretty well. We can see the pieces coming together for the ultimate conclusion to the 3.x storyline and I feel that breadcrumbs are also being laid for what’s coming next. I feel like SE has things down to a science at this point. The amount of new content was just right to both keep the story line moving along and to keep players busy for a while. With Final Fantasy XV on the horizon, I expect a bit of a lull in the next month or so. It seems like SE is also predicting this and planning accordingly. I feel like the next six months will provide plenty of time for new players to catch up so that they can enjoy whatever 4.0 will eventually have to offer.

The shining gem of this patch for me? The Wondrous Tails content. It’s always difficult to get veteran players to pay attention to older content. This can be frustrating for newer players that need assistance on progression. This new mechanic gives players what really amounts to a “sticker book”. By completing certain dungeons, trials, etc during the week – they earn a sticker. Once the book is full, rewards are available. I found this whole set up to be very well done.

As far as point releases go, I give this patch an:   A

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FFXIV: Version 3.3 Update

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Since completing my post on Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward, Square Enix has released the anticipated 3.3 patch. For many players, 3.3 was expected to be a much needed shot in the arm for a game that has slowly been slipping into a lull. So, what all is included in the 3.3 patch? Let’s take a brief look:

*This patch adds new content that continues the main scenario (Heavensward) story line, and makes a adjustments to previous main scenario quests.

*New misc quests added and adjustments to existing quests (Including a new category of daily Beast Tribe quests)

*New Raid added: The Weeping City

*Two new Dungeons, and new trials added.

*Adds a new tier to the Anima Weapon progression

*A new “treasure hunt dungeon” the Aquapolis.

*More Player Housing zones added, new furniture items added and a new “Flower Pot” system introduced.

*New items and mini-game adjustments, new player hairstyles and emotes.

*New “RaidFinder” system added.

*New PVP System “Shatter”

*Misc fixes, balance adjustments, and UI updates

Wow! That’s quite a lot of content. Sadly, one of the announced features that I was most looking forward to, was not included in this update (The Undead Dungeon), so I supposed I’ll have to wait a little long for 3.35 before I can sink my teeth into that one. But aside from that, this was my experience with the 3.3 update:

I played through all of the new main scenario and misc quests in about three days. This includes the new dungeons and trials. By the 5th day I had completed the new raid. Despite having cleared a majority of the new content already, the rewards provided by these new additions certainly make the very re-playable. It’s easy to see that the Heavensward story is quickly coming to a close. I expect soon that SE will make an announcement regarding the next expansion. Once that occurs, I only expect a couple more major patches for 3.x.

All in all, I give this patch a rating of:   B

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Hub Post: Final Fantasy XIV

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Finally, we are brought to the most recent entry in the numbered Final  Fantasy series: Final Fantasy XIV. This is the second MMO in the series and one filled with both controversy and success. I’ve been an avid player of this game since it’s release and  I’ve written a little bit about this game before, so for those interested, you can read my initial thoughts here: “A Look Back: Original Release”   –  “A Realm Reborn Beta Test”  – “The Rebirth of Final Fantasy XIV” — But, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about the game in the posts to come. Just like with my FFXI hub, this post will serve as a Table of Contents for any future posts regarding Final Fantasy XIV and it’s expansions.

** Final Fantasy XIV  (1.x)  –    A Realm Reborn  –    Heavensward **

Other Reviews In This Series:

IIIIIIIVVVI VIIVIIIIXXX2XIXII XIIIXIII 2XIII Lightning Returns XIV – XV 

IV: After YearsVII: Dirge of CerberusVII: Crisis CoreVII: Advent Children (Movie)XII: Revenant Wings – Type-0 – XV: A King’s TaleXV: Brotherhood (Anime)XV: Kingsglaive (Movie)

World of Final Fantasy – Explorers – Mystic Quest – 4 Heroes of Light 

Tactics – Tactics Advance – Tactics A2

Dissidia – Dissidia 012

Crystal Chronicles – Ring of Fates – My Life as King – My Life as Darklord – Echoes of Time – Crystal Bearers

Dimensions – Record Keeper – Brave Exvius – Mobius Final Fantasy  – Justice Monsters V – King’s Knight 

Initial Thoughts: The Elder Scrolls Online.

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As promised, I have finally put together my initial thoughts on The Elder Scrolls Online. I’ve spent the last thirty days giving the game a good run and this is what I’ve concluded: In my opinion, the game needs work. At this time, it’s certainly not the game for me.

Let’s me preface this by saying, that I’m not an Elder Scrolls fan. I don’t dislike the series, I just simply have little experience with it. At the time of this writing, I have not played the first few games in the series and I’ve only logged about 10 hours in Skyrim. I’m very much an Elder Scrolls newbie. This may be my whole problem.

I know the series by reputation and since this game is chronologically the first entry in the series, I was excited to see what an online version of The Elder Scrolls would look like. So let’s take a look.

First of all, like many MMOs, you have a choice to make before you even buy the game. Do you purchase the regular edition of the big fancy Imperial Edition. Typically, collectors editions will net you some cute vanity items or pets, sometimes even a couple items with very slight stat boosts. That is true in this case, but for the first time I can think of, the collector’s edition also allows access to an exclusive race for your character. This was a HUGE source of controversy within the community, and personally, I also think this is a poor idea. It’s certainly a terrible trend to set. Regardless, I took the bait and purchased the Imperial Edition of the game. Note: this game features a monthly subscription model.

 

At first start, things begin much like any other MMO. The character creation process is familiar, but with plenty of options. This is a good thing. The description of the available races and classes are short but acceptable. In this game, you can also choose a faction to align with. I found that there no description for these factions during the character creation, which confused me a bit. So I had to tab out of the game to read up on them before making a decision. This was inconvenient, as the faction you choose dictates y our starting area and some of the early in-game storyline. Certain races are also only playable under certain factions. (That is unless you pre-ordered the game, in that case you can play any race, any faction — expect the Imperial race. That is only available for CE owners… Sheesh).

Upon starting the game for the first time, you enter a short tutorial phase. This is pretty cool. The zone is incredible looking and the quest itself is somewhat exciting. It really put me in the mood. So good job here.

 

The game graphics are superb and the storyline and voice acting are also very well done. The game controls seem a bit unusual tho. The default setting on the PC is your standard WSAD scheme, but the combat is mouse-based. Left-click for attack, and Right-click for block. Occasionally, an enemy will jump over your head, requiring your spin around. There are also actions that are unlocked as you level. These are tied to the a stamina bar. So once it’s drained you, have to wait for it to fill before executing any special moves.

The in-game camera is also set just a little off kilter from your character, so you see things from an over-the-shoulder perspective instead of from directly in back. Alternately, there is a first person view. I tried it. It was neat, but I didn’t find it very functional. I also kept finding myself accidentally drawing my weapons when attempting to mouselook. Of course the camera is freelooking, so there is no click required to look around. It just felt off to me somehow.

 

The tutorial is very cut and dry and easy to follow. Once it’s over you are deposited into the game world and anything goes from there. There are quests to follow. Doing so will allow the game’s storyline to unfold. These also serve as an introduction to the many of the game’s instanced dungeons and other content. However, in true Elder Scroll’s fashion, you can also choose to ignore any of this hand holding and just explore. I found this very appealing at first, but it soon becomes obvious that without following the quests and leveling up in the intended fashion, you quickly become very easy prey for the many dangers lurking in the game.

Even though you select a class at the beginning of the game, this actually only determines the special skills that are available to you. You have complete freedom over what equipment to wear and what weapons to use, etc.

I know that the game features a PVP related area, and many players seem to flock to that. However, I have to admit that I didn’t make it that far. The game failed to snare my interest. I think I re-rolled my character about 5 or 6 six times trying to get into the scenario and find my niche, but I always failed to do so.

I’m not sure why, but the ESO just didn’t hook me. It’ a beautiful game, and the backstory and lore is vast and well done. But, I just didn’t see anything that I hadn’t seen before. I did not experience anything innovating or fantastic. I have not renewed my subscription.

I tend to think that in the grand scheme of things, ESO is going to end up being the MMO to play for Elder Scroll fans. I think the general audience may largely pass it by. Time will tell. I plan to give this game another look after I’ve had some time to play some other Elder Scrolls games.

Because the content of an MMO is subject to change, I don’t “review” MMO games the same way I do single-player titles. But these are my thoughts on the title as of right now.

Other Reviews In This Series:

Arena  –     Daggerfall     –     Morrowind    –    Oblivion    –    Skyrim

Online: Initial Thoughts

Review: Diablo III – Reaper of Souls

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Normally, I do not include separate reviews for expansion packs. But this time, I feel obligated to make an exception. I’ve had several weeks to experience the Reaper of Souls add-on for Diablo III and I feel this release deserved a post of its very own.

For those of you who have been reading this blog for a while, Diablo III was one of my earliest reviews. Looking back at that review now, I cringe to see just how poorly the write-up seems. I suppose my blogging skills have improved over time and interestingly enough, so has Diablo III.

When the game was originally released, D3 was a bit of a mess. There were server problems, performance problems, and lots of controversy over the direction in which the game was taken. Over time, a lot of these issues were resolved through patches and changes to the title. The long-promised PVP system was finally added, and not long ago, Blizzard made the decision to remove the auction house system altogether. In doing so, item distribution was radically revamped in the game. Fans rejoiced and I was no exception.

Even without the expansion, Diablo III is a much better game today as a result of these changes. So, what does the Reaper of Souls add-on bring to the table? Here’s a rundown of some of the more important additions:

New playable class: The Crusader
An extra chapter: Act V – Reaper of Souls
Maximum level increased to 70
“End game” content
Difficulty adjustment

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The game still requires an internet connection, but my criticism on this has softened a bit over time. The game servers are much more stable than they used to be, and it seems that Blizzard’s vision for the hybrid single-player/multi-player experience has become a little bit clearer over the last two years.

Aside from new content and patches, several core changes have really made for an all-around better experience. The old tiered difficulty levels have been revamped and replaced with a new system that seems to be a much better fit. The game now offers Normal, Hard, Expert and Torment options. With the hardest option being very customizable.

I was a bit skeptical at first of the direction that the expansion would take storywise, but that too came as a pleasant surprise. I don’t want to spoil anything, but naturally at the end of Diablo III it seems like everything has come to a satisfactory close. Blizzard did a fine job of adding a new angle and continuing the plot. Upon completion of Act V, it is also clear that the Diablo story is far from over.

All in all, I have to say that Reaper of Souls is exactly what Diablo III needed to help round out the rough edges and bring the game to perfection. When looked at as a whole, my original review is now superseded by the breakdown below:

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Difficulty: Varies –  As mentioned above, the entire difficulty system has been redone, and for the better. Normal – Expert modes seem to be a very nice fit. Although later in the game, they do seem to be maybe just a bit easier than they should be. Regardless, this all goes out the window once you’ve reached the Torment option. From here, you can crank up the abuse to your liking. Why would you do this? Well, the harder the game, the better the rewards.

Story: The original Diablo III had a fantastic story, this expansion only adds to that. A few loose ends are tied up and a whole new villain takes the stage. Excellent stuff here.

Originality: This is hard to gauge considering RoS is an expansion. The new Bounty system and Rift system that becomes available upon completing the main scenario is very fun and extremely well done. It really helps keep the game alive even after completion.

Soundtrack:  The new in-game music is fantastic. Very fitting and well done. For an expansion, no expense was spared here.

Fun: Reaper of Souls really does a lot to breathe new life into a two year old game. I’ve had more fun with Diablo III now than I did when the game was originally released. This is Diablo done right.

Graphics:  Not much has changed here. This game uses the same engine as it always has. The graphic options for Diablo III have always been well done. Lighting effects are used well, shadows are well done. Everything is and was beautiful since release.

Playcontrol: No changes here. The game still works and controls as it should. I tried a number of different mice and I encountered no issues worthy of mention.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4- This expansion and the patch the preceded it were EXACTLY what Diablo III needed to make the jump from being a good game to being a great game. The price of the core game has been reduced to a mere $20 in most places. The expansion will still run you $40, but together they still cost what Diablo III cost upon release. In my opinion, if you’re going to experience Diablo III, Reaper of Souls is a must have.

 Available at retail and through Blizzards Online Store

Other Reviews In This Series:

Diablo –  Diablo IIDiablo III :: Reaper of Souls

Rise of the MMOs – Part 2

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So far, I’ve discussed a few of the early MMOs that I have had personal experience with. Of course, for every one I’ve played, there’s many more that I haven’t played. Most the games I’ve mentioned have been successful. But of course, what happens to an online game when it is NOT successful? Think about it for a moment. MMO games are, well, Online. If the game does not do well, there’s a good chance that the company behind it may pull the plug. And if the servers go off, so does the game. What happens to that $50 you spent on the retail box, do you get it back? Of course not. This is the risk of gaming online.

There have been several popular titles that have experienced just this very thing. Some of them like The Matrix Online, Tabula Rasa, and Star Wars: Galaxies did in fact go dark. Usually, when this occurs, the game developers attempt to have some sort of a sunset period that allows some closure for the players both in terms of storyline and player satisfaction. Others developers just pull the plug on a specified date and that’s it. The later is exactly what is happening to players of Sony’s Wizardry Online and Vanguard titles.

The first failed MMO game that I was follower of was the original version of Final Fantasy XIV.

Boss battle for Final Fantasy XIV version 1.0

Square Enix, the company behind the Final Fantasy series nearly destroyed their reputation with the original release of Final Fantasy XIV. Riding off of the success of their first online game, Final Fantasy XI, the company was admittedly lazy with their second online offering.

The game was beautiful, there’s no doubt about that. But upon release there was almost literally nothing to do. The game had very little content. On top of that, poor backend engineering led to server problems and a number of lag and congestion issues. The game featured a flawed combat system and the design of the gameworld was both repetitive and confusing for players. The title was almost universally condemned by both players and critics alike. As a fan of the series, even I stopped playing in those very early days and turned my attention towards other games.

Backed into a corner, it seemed obvious that Square Enix was going to pull the plug on the game. But instead, they replaced the game’s lead producer and made a startling announcement, something that no game developer had dared do before: they were going to scrap the existing code and rebuild the game from the ground up. And they did just that.

While keeping the service active, and attempting to improve the quality of life for current players, the developers were busy behind the scenes creating an entirely new game engine and content for a relaunch. This is something that normally take an average of 5 years, Square Enix managed to deliver the final product in just two. Upon its re-release, Final Fantasy XIV was a massive success. It is also my current MMO of choice.

A panned out view of combat from Final Fantasy XIV 2.0

During my stint away from those troubled early days of FFXIV, I found myself seduced by a game known as RIFT. This title, in many ways is very much a World of Warcraft clone. I say this in terms of gameplay, not so much in a storytelling and art direction. But really, that’s ok. RIFT had my attention pretty heavily for several months, but once I reached the endgame content, I found myself bored with it. Apparently, I was not alone. As the game’s population dwindled and profits started to sink, there was much concern over the fate of the game. To resolve this, RIFT switched from a subscription based model to a Free-to-Play model. This has appeared to work very well for the game. Although, I do not play RIFT anymore, I’m glad to see that it did not end up being just another game on the list of deactivated MMO titles.

This same scenario occurred for another very popular title. The long awaited Star Wars: The Old Republic.

SWTOR

From the beginning, Star Wars: The Old Republic looked doomed to fail. The game had been in development for many years and the hype surrounding the title had reached epic proportions. I mean, who does’t love Star Wars? Everyone wanted to play this game. It was supposed to the Warcraft-Killer. I think maybe we expected too much. Signs of concern started even before the game was released. The game came with a premium pricetag both for the standard and the collector’s edition. On top of that, for the first time the Collector’s version of the game seemed to offer more than just a few vanity items. The CE actually featured a whole in-game vendor with a stock of gear only available to those willing to pay the extra money for a special edition of the game. Upon release, the game featured a very rich experience at the beginning, but for players who rushed to reach the endgame content, there was little there. Rather than fail, Star Wars also switched to a Free-to-Play model. However, unlike RIFT, some of the business decisions for SWTOR drew heavy criticism. For example, certain content is locked out for free players. Even some UI elements are unavailable unless you’re willing to pay a little extra. Regardless of these issues, the game does seem to be thriving under its current pricing model. Now… if only I could get that $200 back that I spent on the original Collector’s Edition.

So what’s the next for MMO gaming? As I type this, everyone is keeping a close eye on The Elder Scrolls Online. At this very moment, the game is currently in its Early Access phase. The game goes live for all players on 4/4/14.

The Elder Scrolls is a well respected and loved series of single player RPG games. So its only natural to want to extend that to an online world. Personally, I hope the game is successful. I have purchased the game, and I plan to begin getting my feet wet this evening. But despite my anticipation, the warning signs are already showing…

The Elder Scrolls Online

I participated in the beta test, and much like the original launch of FFXIV, the beta version of the game felt VERY incomplete. Yes, I realize that a beta test is just that, and early TEST. But trust me, there’s some things that should be fully working. I encountered frequent disconnects, incomplete textures and other strange issues during the test. Also, there’s again concerns with this game’s Collector’s Edition. Whereas SWOTR offered a CE exclusive vendor, TESO is offering a whole playable race that’s only available to CE purchasers.

I’m very curious to see what happens with this game. So instead of being an observer, I’ve decided to do an experiment. I’m going to use this blog to chronicle my thoughts on the game. I’m not a huge fan of The Elder Scrolls. I purchased the series Anthology but I’ve only logged a few hours into the most recent entry; Skyrim. I really like what I’ve seen of the series and I do plan to catch up in the near future. But for the time being, I’m a rookie. So to me, this is going to be a whole new experience.

I’m going to approach the game with an open mind and I’m going to try my best to set aside any expectations and pre-conceived notions I may have. The game comes with a free thirty days. I’m going to take advantage of the time and then make note of my observations. If this interests you, please look forward to the posts.

Rise of the MMOs – Part 1

Ultima_Online_cover

The nineties were a truly epic time for gaming. This decade saw many changes in the home console market. Handheld gaming became mainstream. And of course, PC gaming took off at a rapid pace. With the ever growing popularity of the internet, a new concept in gaming began to rise to the surface: online connectivity.

The first online multiplayer game that I ever played was a text-based adventure game hosted by a local BBS. It was called Legend Of the Red Dragon. The game was quite simple actually, but it totally floored me at time. The BBS in which it was hosted could only handle one or two connections simultaneously. When trying to connect during peak hours I’d have to command my modem to dial over and over until I was finally able to get on. LORD is a hard game to explain these days, but essentially, the first time you played it you made a character and you could perform a certain number of tasks daily. This is includes things like fighting monsters, exploring, flirting with the taverns girls, etc. I don’t believe you could participate with other players in real time, but you could leave notes for other players that they would see when they logged in. Also, a log of player actions and accomplishments were posted so that everyone could see what had gone on during the day. At the time, the whole concept was fascinating to me and I have many fond memories of the title.

Example of the LORD interface courtesy of Moby Games

LORD was a watered down version of what is known as a MUD, or Multi-User-Dungeon. These text-based games allowed multiple players to interact together to one degree or another. MUDs were the first “MMOs” in many ways.

The first full blown Massive Multiplayer Online game that I truly experienced was Ultima Online.  I had been a fan of the Wizardry series for many years, and I had recently came off a binge of playing every RPG game I could find on the PC. as a result, I had just finished a marathon of Ultima games and the franchise was on my mind. I remember seeing the game on the shelf of my local computer store and I recall the fierce debate that raged inside my head; do I really want to pay to buy this game and then pay to play it?

I had a somewhat moral objection to revenue model for this game. I had recently read about it in a magazine and I was appalled to learn that the game was going to have a monthly subscription. In my mind, paying for the purchase of the game was enough. I had all but decided to boycott the product, but yet, actually seeing on the shelf – I couldn’t resist.

 

I played Ultima Online for a couple of weeks, but I wasn’t able to really get a sense of understanding for the title. It looked and played like some of the later titles in the series. But the online element felt rather chaotic. Also, to me, there didn’t seem to be any clear-cut goals to accomplish. Maybe I just missed something, but by the time my free month had expired, I decided that the game wasn’t for me and filed in the back of desk drawer – swearing to ignore these types of “pay to play” games from now on.

Of course, a year or two later I was persuaded into trying the latest and greatest multiplayer title, Everquest. You see, by this time I had moved on from hanging out on BBS forums and I was a full blown Internet user. I used to hang out in an IRC chat room with other local people and all of them were big Everquest fans. They raved about it non-stop. So, I bought the game and indeed, I was impressed by the way the title looked and operated. I was quite ignorant about the inner workings of the game, and I didn’t really understand the community aspect that already formed around the game, but I was enjoying exploring and checking things out.

Everquest

It was only a few days after getting my feet wet with the game that I again decided, this was not the title for me. You see, every time my character would leave town, I would be attacked by a group of players. Being new and inexperienced, I was no match for them. I would literally take one step out of town and BOOM. These guys would kill me. It was my first experience of being griefed by another player. It was all I needed to say “That’s it. I’m done.” Despite this bad experience, the game still intrigued me. I could see the draw behind the game. Everquest reminded me a lot of Dungeons & Dragons. (The tabletop role playing game that I played a lot as a young teen).  I found the setting and most aspects of the game very appealing. But at that time in my life, I had very little patience and being held back by other players was just unacceptable. Today, the game is still active and in fact recently reached its 15th birthday. Since the time of its original release, the game has changed dramatically, 19 expansions and countless updates, the Everquest of today barely resembles the Everquest that I played in 1998. In fact, I believe it is even Free-To-Play now. I’m also sure that the type of player-killing I encountered now has some safeguard in effect, so for the curious, the game might be worth a look. It’s also important to note that Everquest spawned a sequel, Everquest II. A third sequel is also on the way.

Due to these experiences, I stayed away from MMO RPG style games for a long time. My multiplayer experience was restricted to first person shooters almost exclusively. Then, one day I saw an article stating that Square Enix was looking for players to help test a new online game, this game would be Final Fantasy XI. This struck a chord with me. I had enjoyed the Final Fantasy series immensely and for the first time in a while, I found an MMO that interested me.  I’m not going to go into too much detail here now, because one day I will post a whole article about XI. But, this game is the MMO that finally managed to hook me. I played the crap out of this game. I have wasted years of my life… seriously. It’s actually kind of sad.

Final Fantasy XI

In Final Fantasy XI, I found the perfect balance I has always been looking for in a multiplayer game. FFXI has a wonderful storyline. So, you’re not just walking around killing monsters and getting stronger for no apparent reason… you’re doing it so that you can continue experiencing the game itself. In fact, everyone is doing this – as a result, teamwork is encouraged. It finally all made sense. FFXI really opened my eyes to the magic of MMO games. Since that time, I have tried several titles over the years with varying degrees of success.

No discussion about MMO games would be complete without a mention of what is arguably, the most popular of all time, World of Warcraft. WoW is the title that really brought MMO games into the public consciousness. I should go on record as saying that I am not really a big fan of World of Warcraft. I have played it, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. But by the time WoW popped up on my radar, I fully invested in Final Fantasy and WoW did not offer enough compelling gameplay to tear me away from my home. That being said, Warcraft certainly offers a lot for new players and it’s very easy to get into.  One feature that really set WoW apart from the other games at the time was the concept of player alliances. You see, when creating a character in World of Warcraft, you have to choose between creating an Alliance character or Horde character. This represents your character’s allegiance or affiliation. Originally, this had a big impact on gameplay. You could only befriend and talk to other players on your faction, members of the opposition were considered enemies. This has become very watered down over the years, and the concept really doesn’t mean as much as it once did. In many ways, the World of Warcraft has reached the sunset of its lifetime. Over the last couple years, the game population has dwindled as more MMO games have captured the attention of players. Now, players can often even create characters that are instantly granted maximum level in the game. This is a practice I disagree with.

Regardless, WoW really did wonders for the genre. It introduced concepts and practices that were very much needed and still permeate to this day. For example, in Warcraft, when you encounter an NPC that offers a quest, there is an icon floating over the head of that character. This let’s you know that they have something interesting to say. In prior games like Everquest and Final Fantasy, there was no identifier. To uncover quests and assignments you pretty much had to wander around and talk to every NPC that you encountered. WoW also popularized the Quest Tracker. This provided an in-game log of assignments and your character’s progress on them. Until now, these sorts of things had to be kept track of manually on paper by the player.

Character Creation for WoW

After the success of Warcraft, it seemed that there was a new MMO popping up every time you turned around. Conan, Vanguard, Guild Wars, the list goes on and on. For the most part, I managed to ignore most of these games and stuck with Final Fantasy. But occasionally, I ventured off my tried and true path.

I admit being sucked into buying the original Guild Wars and all of it’s expansions. This game intrigued me with its beautiful art-direction and pricing. You see, unlike most other games, Guild Wars does not require a monthly subscription. It functions off a model known as Buy to Play. After paying for the initial boxed software, you can play the game for free. As a result, the content in the game is somewhat limited compared with other MMOs, but there’s certainly no shortage of things to do.

One of other side effects of this sort of pricing I discovered, is the general immaturity of other players. Up until now, I had found MOST other game participants to fairly friendly and mature. This was especially true for Final Fantasy XI. WoW certainly had its number of jerks, but nothing like what I experienced in Guild Wars. I’m not sure how it is today, but back in 2007/2008 you could almost guarantee that the first thing you would see when logging into the game was a line of half-naked women dancing or people arguing in open chat. One time I asked another player if they wanted to team up for a quest and I was told repeatedly to “eat his farts”. So… free to play and buy to play gamers, be prepared to grow some thick skin against this type of nonsense.

The beautiful world of Guild Wars

I’ll be continuing my thoughts on MMO gaming in another post within the next couple of days. If this is a subject that interests you, stay tuned.

Review: Quake III Arena

Right on the heels of my Unreal Tournament review, comes my thoughts on it’s competitor Quake III arena. Both of these titles are similar in terms of gameplay and they were released only days apart. So how does Quake hold up? Let’s see.

First, let’s talk about what Quake III is not. It is not a direct sequel to either or the previous games in the series. Nor is it packed with loads of single player content. Quake III, much like Unreal Tournament, was designed to be a multiplayer/arena style game. It does feature a brief single-player scenario to help new players get familiar with things, but this can easily be played through in a matter of hours. The single player campaign features a very loose story regarding a race of aliens that pluck contestants from various points of space and time and force them to fight in gladiator style areas for their own amusement. Once you’ve got your feet wet against the computer, you’ll be ready for the true focus of the game, which is pure multiplayer action.

As far as the game goes, it is very well done. The arenas are plentiful and fairly diverse. The level design certainly has that “Quake” feel to it. But I found the arenas to be rather small and somewhat overly symmetrical. I found some of the best maps to actually be community created content.The weapons are diverse and will be familiar to anyone who has played the previous entry’s in the series. One big gripe I have with the game though has to be the character models. They seem to be well done overall, but the models don’t really feel like they belong. Some of them are cartoonish, while others are photo-realistic (featuring the faces of the developers). I couldn’t really find one that really suited me.

The gameplay itself feels a bit looser than UT, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The slicker playcontrol in this title gives the illusion of faster-paced combat. But If you’re used to the feel of UT, there’s a small period of adjustment that will take some getting used to.

Overall, as a combat arena themed game goes, Quake III is a classic and ranks right up with the best of them. However, there’s quite a bit of content missing from the original release. Aside from Deathmatch, there are not other modes of gameplay available unless you purchase the “Team Arena” addon.

Quake III Team Arena is a separate product that adds new gameplay modes like Capture the Flag, Overload, and Harvester. These styles of play are mostly team-focused but feature some alternate gameplay modes that multiplayer gamers have come to expect. The odd thing is that they are not available free of charge (as they always have been). In its day, these features seemed to cost quite a bit and many players initially overlooked the expansion. These days, the two games are often bundled together for one low price.

Difficulty: Variable–  Needless to say, all bets are off when playing against other people. The difficulty in multiplayer mode is directly related to the skill of your opponents. In the single player campaign, you can choose between several skill options. The AI is pretty good, but it does feel to be a bit more automated than UT.

Story: The background story in QIII is pretty weak, but do we really need much of one?

Originality: Many people wanted to point fingers at either Quake or Unreal back when these games came out. The debate over who ripped who off were endless. Despite both being arena-deathmatch focused games, each title feels pretty unique. Quake III certainly manages to keep the “techno-gothic” feel the series is known for.

Soundtrack: The background music very appropriate and well done. The sound effects are familiar and somewhat recycled from other games in the series.

Fun: Despite its age, Quake III is still fun today. It’s still fairly easy to find active players on the net, although many of them have moved to “Quake Live” (a free and mode modern version of Quake III arena). The BEST way to enjoy Quake III today might be with a group of friends. But make no mistake, there’s lots of fun to be had.

Graphics: Quake III has a very unique graphical style. If put head to head against UT, I feel that QIII comes in second place. Although, I have to admit, many of the arenas have some very well rendered visuals. Despite this, the overall graphical tone of the game seems just a sub par.

Playcontrol: The default controls are pretty much perfect. The modern standard of WSAD is included out of the box and is implemented flawlessly. The mouselook seems to be a bit looser than previous games in the series. This can be adjusted, but even in its default state doesn’t take much getting used to.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – Quake III is an excellent multiplayer game. In fact, it was pretty much the standard for several years. I recommend it to almost anyone with an interest in these types of games. However, when compared directly with Unreal Tournament, I have to say I feel it falls a little short. Don’t let that put you off though. Quake III is definitely worth your time.

Currently available on: Steam

Other Reviews In This Series:

QuakeQuake IIQuake III Arena – Quake 4 – Enemy Territory: Quake Wars