State of the Rez: Invariably Variable

Commitment is not a strength of mine; I’m more of a visionary. That’s true of both my blogging endeavors and my MMO gaming habits and while I’m conscience of this tendency toward good intentions with little follow through, having it on display via blogging heightens that self-awareness. A few weeks ago I decided to post three times a week— Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday— with specific categories in mind for each day. I was able to maintain that schedule for a week or two but quickly realized it was too much. I’m now committing (as I did at the start) to once a week with anything else being optional. That said, I have in mind to improve my speed as a writer and may attempt one or two additional posts per week, limited to 30-45 minutes for completion. (If any other bloggers have advice for writing quickly and briefly, I’m all ears).

Around the same time I set a goal to write on a schedule I also wrote a post about Final Fantasy XIV, stating that it would serve me well as a “home” MMO. I’m no looking for permanence in my virtual spaces, I’m more of a world traveler when it comes to these games but nonetheless I was enjoying the title so much I thought surely it had become the homestead amidst my nomadic exploration, a place for hat racks, area rugs and of course, ninjitsu. As with every venture I’ve had into Eorzea it begins well but ends with a fizzle. On paper it fits with what I’m looking for in an MMO and I imagine I’ll revisit the game in the future but for now I’m finished with Final Fantasy XIV.


The deciding factor was Elliot’s post at Massively OP listing the steps necessary for a fresh 50 to be prepared for Heavensward. When last I left FFXIV I had just reached 50 and was planning to take a month off before returning to finish the main story scenario up through 2.55. I did not realize at the time that completing the story would require a certain ilvl. To be ready for Heavensward I would need to devote my time more fully to FFXIV rather than casually playing through a series of quests as I had expected so instead I uninstalled the client for now. I may return in the future but at this time I am put off by the prospect of having to go through the end game grind of A Realm Reborn before entering the next expansion.

Final Fantasy XIV wasn’t the only game I removed from my hard drive recently, either. The WoW token was released this past month and I had more than enough gold to purchase several months of game time and could do so from the character selection screen. Warlords of Draenor still offered little of interest for me but I had intended on leveling my followers and setting up my garrison in such a way that I could passively earn enough gold to continue my subscription indefinitely. After two weeks of logging in daily to send my followers on missions with little desire to pursue any other objectives in game it dawned on me: if I’m not having fun in WoW anymore, what’s the point of having a garrison able to cover the cost of a subscription?

Findweakness_Garrison Night

At that point I made the decision to not only uninstall the game but also the other Blizzard titles I own, the client, and to delete all the bookmarks to the WoW related podcasts and news websites that I have followed for the past three years in order to completely distance myself from the game. In all this time I’ve been playing other MMOs, I’ve never completely left WoW. Even when I wasn’t subscribed I continued to follow the news and listen to opinions on class design, content release, and lore. I was like an ex-boyfriend too curious about the current status of an old flame. As such I would inevitably return to the game but I think it’s time now for a clean break and a cleansed palette. That’s not to say I will never play again, but that if I’m going to return it will be refreshed and curious, rather than jaded.

Several other titles were uninstalled as well leaving only those games I am currently playing and a few others I may pick up again in the coming months including Star Wars: The Old Republic, Marvel Heroes, Rift, The Elder Scrolls Online, Guild Wars 2, and Trove. As for my current favorites, I have nestled quite contentedly into Star Wars: The Old Republic and Marvel Heroes. Coincidentally, the former was the title that a little over a month ago I thought was unable to compete with the others on my “must play” list. With both expansions purchased and having played for a month as a subscriber I have subsequently changed my opinion. It turns out I’m quite happy with the Star Wars flavored WoW clone, theme park, combat lobby MMO. In fact, I believe those words— often used derogatorily by many a Massively OP patron and columnist— describe the elements I enjoy most in the genre. It’s liberating to recognize and be content with the fact that I am happy with the mainstream model. Besides, if I wait long enough the genre will shift and I’ll get to tell the new MMO youngsters about the glory days of dungeon finders and gear treadmills.

“You mean characters used to progress vertically grandpa?” my cyborg grandchild will say.

“That’s right Mark-I,” I’ll nod, remembering those nights of chaining dungeons and raiding for hours with guildmates. “And we use to gamble on loot pulled from the corpses of dragons once a week as well.”

“You mean you didn’t have to wait in these lines? What about the crafting overlords, weren’t they mad you didn’t have to buy their stuff?”

Reality will wake me from bittersweet reminiscence. “That was before the rise of OPnet and the Bree-800 series cyber-economists,” I’ll say, resisting the tears. “That was before #Sandboxgate ruined everything.”

And then of course I’ll send my cyborg grandchild back in time to prevent the Sandbocolypse by stopping the development of Star Wars Galaxies at all costs. As his form vanishes a Bree-800 series android will burst into my open world housing plot and overcome my avatar slowly but assuredly with item decay.

….what was I talking about again?

Right, Star Wars: The Old Republic and Marvel Heroes. With 12x XP arriving on May 4th, I plan on diving into the class story of my Scoundrel however lately when I log in I spend most of my time healing in Warzones and Galactic Starfighting. With most MMOs in the past I’ve engaged in PvP sparingly and sporadically, but in SWTOR I am uncharacteristically preferring the leet pwning of noobs over PvE questing and Flashpoints. I’m not great at either Warzones or GSF but this past week has seen a couple of significant milestones for me in these arenas. During my last GSF match I managed to rack up eight player kills, three of which were rapidly one after the other. It was exhilarating. I attribute this relative success to my upgraded striker as much as any skill development on my part. As a healer in Warzones I managed to heal one million HP in a single match at level 35 this week and over 650k HP without a single death in another. I accomplished something similar in the 10-29 bracket but that was largely due to the fact that few people knew to target the healer at that stage. This time I survived because I had a better grasp on when and how to use my defensive cool downs, crowd control abilities, and cc breakers.


Whereas SWTOR is my new favorite MMO, Marvel Heroes is more of a guilty pleasure. I recently leveled my first hero to 60 and rather than explore the end game for max level characters I have decided to level the other heroes I have in my roster. At first I was working on Ms. Marvel but with the announcement that the Avengers would be receiving an additional 50% bonus to XP, I decided to give Black Widow a try. In a handful of days I’ve leveled her to 40 and I fully intend to blitz my way to 60 before the event concludes. Afterwards I’ll pick back up where I left off with Ms. Marvel or set this game aside for a while as I tend to play it in bursts.

A lot has shifted over the last month with both my gaming and my blogging. My intention with this post was to outline some of those changes and to put my current blogging expectations in writing and to mention what I’ll be playing over the coming weeks and months. Expect one post a week with one or two writing exercises in brevity as well. I’ll be chronicling my leveling progress in SWTOR as well as Marvel Heroes and hopefully I will also get back into the habit of writing reflectively on scripture once again. David and Goliath Revisited was one of my favorite posts of this past month and I’d like to do more in that vein going forward. Of course, given my proclivity for writing down one set of plans and then taking off in another direction entirely, next week I may be chronicling the adventures of a fictitious time-traveling, cybernetic grandson instead. One never knows.

Having Fun with Difficulty or Difficulty Having Fun?

Challenging combat in an MMO can be fun when it is done correctly. However when challenge is introduced poorly the game becomes frustrating. Recently I have experienced two types of difficulty, one in Star Wars: The Old Republic and the other in World of Warcraft which illustrate the ways in which challenging combat may be introduced and how they affect player experience. When players are given a puzzle to solve and the tools to do so, even if the encounter takes several attempts success will be satisfying, but when content relies on stiff-necked perseverance banking on luck, even winning feels empty.


During my last play session of SW:TOR I did something I rarely if ever do; I logged out immediately after dying. For the past few nights I’ve accomplished very little on my Jedi Sentinel partly due to the pace crushing cut scenes and planet hopping but also due in part to an embarrassing number of corpse runs. After each death I would read my tool tips again, wondering if I was missing a way to increase my damage output or reduce my damage intake but the only difference I ever saw was between dying and almost dying. What made the experience so frustrating was not that the encounters were difficult, but rather that I did not seem to have the tools necessary to overcome the challenge. Winning was one part perfection and two parts dumb luck. I don’t find that style of gameplay engaging or fun.

When I did a little digging to see if others were having similar experiences I found two types of posts on forums and reddit. The first type of response (mostly found on the official forums) was written by people who have never failed at any game ever, successfully raided Ahn’Qiraj solo as current content in 2006 at the age of four, and are flabbergasted at how anyone could fail so badly in any MMO, questioning the education level and lineage of the player seeking help. As you would expect, reading this boosted my self-confidence and as a result I have yet to fail at anything in game or in life. Seriously though, if this is how you respond to people asking for help, I am calling your mom and she is totally going to take away your internet privileges.

The second type of response in some ways was even more disturbing though. While it came from players far more willing to help, it revealed a flaw in the type of difficulty I was encountering in SW:TOR. The advice I read was to a.) out-level the content by running warzones, b.) hunt for better gear on the GTN, and c.) pick a different class specialization. The last two options could arguably be considered legitimate; they certainly are for high level end game content. But for theme park MMOs I think that players should be allowed to level in whichever spec they prefer and should receive enough gear through quest rewards to require few if any visits to the in game auction house. Leveling content should not require the same level of optimization as end game raiding.

The first response though— to out-level the content—is inexcusable. That’s not an engaging solution to challenging content, that’s a workaround to poorly balanced gameplay. The problem I and apparently many others were facing during certain stages of leveling a Jedi Sentinel was that there simply were not enough tools to deal with the incoming damage of certain mobs or mob groups. Even when using all available defensive cool downs, dps cool downs, and crowd control abilities there was just too much chance involved in succeeding and the end result was frustration and ultimately a rage quit for the night.

Findweakness_Garrison Night

Compare that to a similar encounter that I had in WoW with very different results. With the release of the WoW Token I was able to hop back in game for the next month using the gold I’ve accumulated. While running through the Spires of Arak I came across a mob slightly lower level than my Rogue but intended for groups. I thought it would be fun to see if I could take him down solo and gave it a shot. The first time I died when he had about 20% heath left. After a brief corpse run I went over my rotation again. I was a little rusty having only had a Rogue main during the first month of Warlords and having been out of the game since the end of December. I also went over my defensive cool downs as well as the talents and glyphs that might improve my survivability making changes as I saw fit. On my second attempt I died even sooner but I noticed an ability that needed interrupting and another that needed to be avoided all together. By the third attempt I was successful.

The difference between this encounter in WoW and the many challenging circumstances I’ve found myself in as a level 25 Jedi Sentinel in SW:TOR was not the difficulty level of the games themselves per se. If anything, the mob I encountered in WoW required the use of far more abilities and a greater awareness of what the mob was doing. What made the one experience frustrating and the other satisfying were the options I had available in overcoming the challenge. The first was like a LEGO set missing half its pieces. No matter how many times I look over the directions or stare at the image on the box, it’s never going to be built. The second was like a set missing instructions but with all the tools and pieces made available for figuring out how to build the final model.

It’s true that sometimes I want to easily crush mob after mob, grinding away for experience, materials, or reputation. But I do not shy away from challenging solo content either, so long as the pieces I need to finish the task are in place. Success may require out of the box thinking or even referencing outside sources, but the basic toolset has to be there. When games equate challenge with repeatedly slamming my shoulder into a locked door until chance or fatigue finally give way, it ceases being fun and long term I’ll likely seek out greener virtual pastures. But give me a challenge where critical thinking and fine motor skills are tested and I’m a happy little gamer.

EDIT: After writing this post I did end up purchasing a full upgraded set of gear for my character from the GTN and a partial upgraded set of gear for my companion, T7. This cost about 25,000 credits which is not terrible for level 25. The gear made all the difference. I made so much more progress afterwards and while some encounters were still challenging, requiring thoughtful use of all my cool downs, they were enjoyable.

I also created a new Smuggler, just in case.   😉

It’s Always Been a Matter of Trust

I’ve been trying to write this post for a week and so far I have three different drafts of about 750 to 1500 words each, the first two not worth the paper they were never actually printed on. And while the exercise of writing has helped me process both the data and my personal feelings on the matter I am not sure I have written anything publishable. The subject? World of Warcraft and its latest expansion, Warlords of Draenor. Unfortunately nostalgia, disappointment, and a sense of loss have soaked the wool of informed opinion with the dew of emotionally charge memory making it difficult for me to comment meaningfully on the current state of WoW. I think I am unable to be objective on this topic but have decided to push through and write anyway.

A week ago Alt:ernative Chat posed a question via Twitter asking what would entice former players to return to Azeroth. I missed the original Twitter conversation but did read the subsequent post and decided I would try to answer the question as well on my blog. I began by making a list of features I felt were missing. Dailies that unlock crafting recipes, gear, and cosmetic rewards and that progress the central storyline. The return of scenarios and valor so that players can be rewarded for the daily completion of said scenarios as well as dungeons. These features were chief among those I had been missing since reaching level 100.

My intended point was that the removal of those features decreased the value of this expansion as compared to previous ones because there was less content for the end game player. Thus I believed the $50 I spent purchasing Warlords of Draenor bought me less than the $40 I spent on Mists of Pandaria. With my current interest in Final Fantasy XIV I was also going to cite it as an example of a game providing meatier updates and expansions than Blizzard was able to produce. However as I wrote comparisons between the WoW expansions themselves I was no longer certain that there was less content than in the past per se, but rather alternative forms that did not match my personal preference.

What was the problem then? Has there really been a decline in quality or am I simply missing an earlier form of WoW that no longer exists? Is the game really worse or just different? After drafting the first two posts I had determined the problem was not with Blizzard’s design but rather with me. I was mourning a lost incarnation of Azeroth and looking for fault with the developers instead. After all, it is hard to let go when there are memories I would like to relive and the simplest form of coping is to blame someone else.

Had that been the only conclusion I would have abandoned the idea and never started a third draft. My original soapbox proved to be flimsy and unable to support the weight of my malcontent with the game. Then I read this piece by Tough Love Critic which brought new perspective on the subject. In this post Tacktix discusses the need for Heart of Thorns, the upcoming expansion for Guild Wars 2, to deliver big on all the updates and additions ArenaNet has proposed so that the studio may overcome the loss of trust many players have felt over previous campaigns that have hyped new content or game systems only to have the studio follow through on them half way if at all. I can’t speak with any authority on ArenaNet or Guild Wars 2 but what resonated with me was the notion of a breach of trust between player and creator.

While it’s undeniably true that both my desire to play an earlier version of WoW and my unrest with the changes brought about by the release of Warlords affect how I feel about the game and the studio behind it there has also been a tangible breach of trust. And that rift has widened by my interaction with other games and the value they provide by contrast. For me that loss of trust began last year with a fourteen month content drought and continued with the gutting and reimagining of my favorite spec for the warrior class as well as the “modernization” of WoW’s end game model. The shift in playstyle and the negligence in providing new content for paying players has left me jaded and suspicious. If I continue to invest in the game, will Blizzard continue to take it away from me?

Last year was when I first heard about Final Fantasy XIV and the work of Naoki Yoshida in rebuilding the franchise from the ground up after a disastrous first launch. Since rebranding the game A Realm Reborn, the studio has managed to update the MMO with significant patches on a predictable three month cycle. Nearly every patch includes daily hubs and dungeons, progresses the legendary weapon quest chain, and unfolds more of the main story scenario. FFXIV has even added a new class in a patch and will introduce three more in the upcoming expansion, Heavensward. What was Blizzard up to during this same timeframe? Seemingly nothing; fourteen months went by without any new content. And while the delivery of content was interrupted for over a year the subscription cycle for players certainly was not.

Finally, in November of last year when the lengthy development of Warlords came to a close and the game officially launched both my class and the end game model were unrecognizable; they had been rebuilt into something new and foreign. It was not the product I thought I was purchasing. While this is subjective, for me it was as if they took the game I enjoyed and a favored class and broke them both. It’s backwards to think this way— I realize that— but I felt as though Blizzard had sullied my game, the one I had entrusted to them and instead they severed that trust and redesigned the game in their own image.

While it may seem unreasonable to claim WoW as my own, it only serves to illustrate that ownership in this genre is not only in the hands of the creator. It begins with the studio who designs and sells the game but as a community forms around that virtual world and identifies with it in ways that may or may not be in line with the studio’s intent, custody moves into the hands of the players and must be shared by both parties for the health and future of the game. It is a symbiotic, cyclical stewardship. And if the developer choses to drive the game’s evolution in a direction that distorts pieces that initially endeared players to the game, eventually the community will grow indifferent and trust will be transferred to someone else.

I think that is why Final Fantasy XIV is such a success and why World of Warcraft will eventually lose momentum in the MMO market. Failure at the onset forced Square Enix to reconsider the game they were making and to determine if it was the kind of game their audience actually wanted to play. With A Realm Reborn they have been able to win back trust in the MMO community, displaying respect for the player base with content that is both prolific and well done. They have been responsible with the IP they created and that was in turn entrusted back to them by the fans. By contrast Blizzard seems to continually crash forward on their own course regardless of player preference and the outcry of those who offer measured, considerate criticism. Sadly they can ignore the consequences of that neglect, at least for a time; they have the brand loyalty and social inertia to do so.

All that said, I don’t think Blizzard has made a bad game nor do I think “the end is nigh” for World of Warcraft. The problems they encounter as a studio and the decisions they face in order to project the Warcraft legacy over another ten years are unlike anything experienced by any other studio. They walk a fine line between maintaining the status quo at the risk of becoming obsolete and propelling the game forward by embracing modern trends at the expense of isolating their oldest alumni. As for me, I can’t shake the feeling that it may be time to turn off the lights and lock up for good.


A Matter of Trust
by Billy Joel

Some love is just a lie of the heart
The cold remains of what began with a passionate start
And they may not want it to end
But it will it’s just a question of when
I’ve lived long enough to have learned
The closer you get to the fire the more you get burned
But that won’t happen to us
Cause it’s always been a matter of trust