Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Personal Monumental MMO Week

This week has been a monumental MMO week for me.

I’ve been playing MMOs for years (for about six-and-a-half years now if my calculations are correct). But last Sunday was the first time ever that I reached the level cap in an MMO* when I got to level 80 in Age of Conan. Thanks so much to my wonderful Sisters in the Dark Desires guild for helping me bridge that last gap (by tackling the Onyx Chambers together).

The last Monday I finished my Destiny quest line in Age of Conan. This quest line starts when you first create a character (and wash up on the beach of Tortage) and ends with this quest you can get at level 80. The first twenty levels are spent almost completely on this quest line (particularly Night Time Tortage) and probably one of the most enjoyable quests in an MMO, giving some glimpse what BioWare’s fourth pillar of story could do in an MMO. After you leave Tortage you get a few more Destiny quests at certain levels (at levels 30, 50, 60 and 80); the level 60 one in particular allows you to finally get rid of that tattoo you’ve got since the start.

And then last Monday the finale of that in the last quest, defeating the Grim Grey God, which is by no means easy (more difficult for some classes than others; as a Bear Shaman I’ve actually got it quite easy). After some minor quests you end up in the Soul Chamber which acts as sort of a giant ‘puzzle’ mixed with tough combat. And I admit I looked up what to do beforehand, and got lots of advice from my wonderful Sisters, or it would’ve taken forever. You need to know pretty much what to do when to have a chance to win, and even then it can be tough.

But I did it, meaning I’m pretty much done with levelling.

Of course it doesn’t quite end there, as the story does go on. After defeating the GGG you still have to take care of the sorcerer behind it all. But that’s done in the form of end level raids, which leads me neatly into my next personal MMO landmark.

Because last Tuesday was the first time I ever raided in an MMO. I’d signed up for a raiding alliance a week or two before, seeing the end in sight and wanting to be ready. Though I admit that it’s mostly because several of my guild’s members are in it as well (our guild is too small to do raiding ourselves). We actually did three raids in sequence (three different Tier 1 raids). And I was extremely lucky since I got not one, but two epic drops for my class. Or rather there were two drops for my class and the only other, more senior, player in the raid already had both items so he let me have them. Now I’ll have to do a lot of raiding just to get the points to pay for them.

For the rest the raiding was quite enjoyable; at least far more enjoyable than PvP (which I very strongly dislike for various reasons). Though it felt a bit like “repeatedly beating on the same target(s) over and over again until it does” it actually helped that there were lots of other spawns around the boss as well as well as other things happening that requires everyone to adjust what they’re doing. Though I can see it as being extremely frustrating to wipe as well and the whole things of synchronising your schedule with 23 other people, “planning your life around the raid” as one might say, is a big problem. I definitely wouldn’t want it to be the only thing to do and would love to have some small group and even single-player ‘raids’.

Because I’ve noticed that the main difference, besides the large group of people and epic drops, with normal repeatable dungeons is that you have to dynamically adjust your behaviour based on what happens. If spawns appear you have to fight those before returning to the boss, and the boss might do things that have you reacting. This would go well with single-player (and small group) ‘raids’ as well. But I think that instead of having one big boss to beat, better would be a dynamic situation with continual streams of enemies, keeping you on your toes. In fact, something along the lines of the final Destiny Quest would work quite well. I’m curious to see what, if anything, Star Wars: The Old Republic might be doing there.

In the end though it’s not really the raids themselves, or even the epic loot, but rather the people you play with that make the raids enjoyable. And I’m not altogether convinced that such a large group is truly the best for that. It’s generally easier to connect and have fun with a smaller group of people as you tend to be more personally involved with each of them. And it’s a lot easier to schedule time together with a small group (while I enjoyed the raid, I enjoyed last Sunday in the Onyx Chambers with my Sisters a whole lot more).

For the rest my MMO life has been fairly busy last week. Been trying some Free Realms beta (though it’s released now) which is surprisingly enjoyable for a free game. You just run into the “must pay money to get more” limit rather quickly and a lot of the mini-games are very simplistic (there’s combat, but don’t expect too much depth) or just annoying (trying to find a number of items in the world at a set, and quite tight, time limit with no indication of where to look is annoying, particularly if after running down the area a dozens of times you still haven’t even found one). Also got into another closed beta for an MMO that I’m not supposed to talk about; have only had time to try that one once. But this coming weekend should be better.

Then there’s some roleplaying events that are being planned (another Derketo Gathering, want to do another Acceptance Ceremony to officially accept some members into the guild, got some Sisters at Battle events coming, want to do some more of these high-level dungeon runs with the guild, etc). And I haven’t even finished Fallout 3 or Prince of Persia (which I got at a 50% discount during GDC from Steam) yet next to having a number of television shows to catch up on. All of which is a luxury problem, of course. Then there are a couple of very close friends that I want to spend time with more than any of all of the above.

So I’ve been fairly busy and it looks like I’ll continue to be for quite some time. But I wanted to make this post to mark the monumental MMO week I’ve had. And if you scoff and laugh because these things have become so mundane to you, then try to remember the first time that you reached maximum level, or the first time you went raiding. Or maybe even just the first time you played an MMO.

Perhaps then you’ll understand why I indulged myself a little with this blog post.

* Not counting reaching level 20 in Guild Wars since it uses a slightly different system where the first twenty levels are done in a few weeks and pretty much just one big tutorial for the main game after. Besides, I never did finish (or even start for that matter) the Ascension quest (which officially marks you ‘graduating’).

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