Last week I purchased a couple more MMO soundtracks to add to my miniscule (but growing) collection. The first was Blade & Soul which was a no brainer, I’ve loved the music as I’ve been playing through the game. As the second I wanted to purchase one of the World of Warcraft albums but choosing where to start was at first difficult. However after listening through bits and pieces of each I knew right away I wanted to start with the Cataclysm soundtrack because for me, that will always be when WoW was home.

I started playing World of Warcraft during the Firelands patch of the Cataclysm expansion although at the time I didn’t even know what a patch was. It was months before I even reached Hyjal and took my first steps into the “new” expansion and by then Dragon Soul had already been released. The first character I leveled to 85 was a Blood Death Knight and shortly thereafter I tanked my first hard mode dungeon, my first LFR raid, my first normal difficulty raid, and ultimately found my home with the guild “Escape from Reality.” I know for many people this expansion represents a turning point for WoW and not for the better but even now I would happily play on a Cata era server.

While I really enjoyed the expansion’s leveling zones (especially Uldum!) the end game is what I remember enjoying the most. Some of its little stuff, like when I finally had blacksmithing and jewelcrafting maxed on my Death Knight so that I could have the extra gem slots and the special jewelcrafter gems. Or the fact that I could gain valor by either running one dungeon a day all week, or I could chain run them all at once in one night. Or having to actually use crowd control for some of the hard mode dungeons; I felt like a boss using “Bind Elemental” or whatever it was called on my Shaman.


My guild, Escape From Reality after a Dragon Soul kill. I’m the Night Elf DK behind the Worgen bear’s butt.


Others are more significant, like the way the Blood Death Knight played as a class during Cataclysm compared to the two recent expansions. Playing a Blood DK well was very meaningful to me then because it was such a challenge. If you knew how to use all of your many cool downs and also how to game death strike and death runes to have big heals and blood shields you could survive nearly anything. I remember fighting Archbishop Benedictus once without a healer because he had been locked out of the fight before it began. I had to use everything in my toolkit to survive but we did it. Or another time during the Well of Eternity when everyone but me died on the first boss, Peroth’arn, and I managed to stay alive and kill him by myself. Those and many others were the moments that made me love tanking; moments that I don’t think were ever repeated during Mists or Warlords.

When I listen to “The Shattering” or “Curse of the Worgen” those are the things I remember and that’s why I chose the Cataclysm soundtrack over the others. It bothers me when other people put it down as one of the worst things to happen to WoW when for me it was one of the best but that doesn’t change my appreciation of it. While I don’t foresee it ever happening, were WoW ever to return to that “golden age” of Warcraft, it will be happy indeed for me and the ten other members of the Cataclysm fan club.

Dual Wielding: Negativity in the MMO Community

Dual Wielding: A series featuring two bloggers writing on one topic and answering the question, “If the pen is mightier than the sword, what happens when you dual wield?”

(Be sure to check out Mersault’s take on the subject as well.)

There has been a number of blog posts written lately regarding negativity in the MMO community, and amongst bloggers specifically. I’ve read a few of these posts and from what I gather the concern is that the growing number dissatisfied players publically sharing their pessimism about the genre is either a sign of the end times or the cause of it. While there may be greater attention on this problem right now it’s nothing new; for as long as I’ve been reading MMO forums and blogs there have been complaints, dissatisfaction, pessimism, and open threats. There is of course the question as to whether it is escalating or not but honestly I couldn’t say. Quantifying negativity over time sounds like a dubious endeavor and so while I’m tempted to say yes, it is getting worse by a few degrees, I can’t say for certain whether I think that because it is, or if I’m simply noticing it more because it has become the topic de jour.

So what are some of the common arguments amongst those unhappy with the state and direction of the genre? I’m sure this list isn’t exhaustive, but here are a few of the most common:

  1. The motives of publishers when developing their business models (F2P, early access, etc.)
  2. The competence of developers to produce a quality game experience consistently.
  3. The direction the genre is moving—from sandbox to theme park, from hardcore to casual, from group dependent to soloable content, from social multiplayer to selfish singleplayer—pick your own poison.

Are they wrong about all of these concerns? Or is this all legitimate criticism of the genre and those behind it? I think it’s clear that to some degree whether or not you find any of these things disconcerting depends on what type of gameplay you prefer and which MMO(s) you are evaluating. Publishers and developers need to make money but the line between sustainable income and greed can be hard to define objectively; the quality of a product might have as much to do with creator competence as it does with the resources available to said developers. As for the direction of the genre, whether the changes that have already occurred are a gain or loss will likely be determined by those iterations that are yet to come.

If you were to say that’s a flimsy, non-committal answer you’d be right and that’s my point. That negativity exists is certain; whether or not it’s justified can only be determined in hindsight. The systems involved are simply too complicated and the available data too incomplete for the average blogger or forum goer to predict the success or failure of an entire genre. Especially when these voices are often few in comparison to the silent masses happily playing the games available on the market, completely ignorant of the warring words among those most engaged with individual games and the genre as a whole.

Or are they? That’s another question I’m not sure how to quantify; I know that negativity exists within the MMO community because it is being voiced regularly in blogs, on reddit, and on forums but what I don’t know is what percentage of the overall player base actually pays attention to these sources. I certainly do, but I think at this point I’m clearly a member of this “inner circle” of MMO players and so are most of the people I interact with who play MMOs. Outside of this community that is paying close attention to new releases and the changes being made to older titles, there may be a great number of MMO players actually enjoying these games with no idea that they are approaching the genre incorrectly.

Personally I envy those players because that kind of ignorance really is bliss. The time I was most satisfied with the MMO scene as a whole was when I was playing World of Warcraft during the Cataclysm expansion. No, that’s not a typo. I was happiest playing an MMO during the expansion that killed the game that killed the genre (or so I’ve been told). The reason? I didn’t know any better. I was playing an MMO for the first time and everything was new and exciting and I wasn’t influence by anything outside my own experience with the game. No one was telling me what the genre was supposed to be, and so I was happy with what I was presented.

There have been two expansions since then and as you might expect, my opinions of those expansions have been quite negative, especially Warlords of Draenor. Ultimately that’s where much of this negativity comes from, not because the changes happening are bad, but that there is change at all. I actually long for the days of Cataclysm because in my experience that expansion was good, it was exactly what an MMO was supposed to be. Is it any surprise that someone who began playing during vanilla WoW or Everquest or Ultima Online feels exactly the same? Our initial experiences forever influence our expectations and when those expectations are not met, we grow dissatisfied. For those of us who like to be heard, that means we take to the forums or blog.

However if I’m right in that so few MMO players actually read blogs or go to forums, then at least the genre is safe from dying simply because we all complained too much. In fact I think the ongoing evolution of the MMO tells a different story, that as the genre changes with the demands and desires of the marketplace as a whole—perhaps to the point we no longer recognize it as an MMO proper—the player base broadens and the number of people happy with what’s available also increases.

The changes happening within the genre could be an entire blog post of its own—in fact it will be sometime next month—but for now I’ll leave you with a few closing thoughts. If negativity within the MMO community is of concern to you, regardless of how you feel about the businesses developing them or the games themselves, stay away from those forums and blogs that feature only outlooks of doom and gloom. Either surround yourself with others who enjoy the genre and know how to write critically without exhibiting hopelessness or stop reading blogs and forums about MMOs all together. Just find the games you like and play them with the people you like. You won’t eliminate the presence of negativity within the community but you will remove its influence on your enjoyment of the games that brought us all together in the first place.

Movement Progression in Trove and the Value of Flight in Draenor

Character progression in Trove is varied, from class leveling to club world developing to mount, pet, and recipe collecting. Perhaps my favorite type of progression in the game involves movement. It’s an odd concept, but I think it’s a suitable way to express one of the more novel aspects of Trove; how you maneuver through the world changes over time as a type of progression. However before I talk about movement progression in Trove, I’d like to give a little context as to why I think this is such an important feature that is quite relevant to the recent “discussion” between WoW developers and disgruntled players with regard to flying in Draenor.

This week a couple of blog posts caught my attention, one directly addressing the topic of flying and the other more tangentially related. The first was published by Azuriel at In an Age and it convincingly argued that the world of Draenor is in reality one big developer-directed dungeon. The restrictions on flying, the artificially created corridors that restrict movement through the zone, and the linear quest chains drive players in a very specific direction predetermined by the development team. The other article that got me thinking was written by Shintar at SWTOR Commando on the funneling of alts through the same content post 50. Shintar points out that after the conclusion of the class stories, the same story is played through over and over by every alt, leading to a narrow content experience. What both posts are ultimately discussing is the “on rails” aspect of both games so common to theme park MMOs. It’s not a new criticism, but it’s one partially resolved by the progression of movement found in Trove.

Did I mention there were boats as well?

Did I mention there are boats as well?

If you’ve been playing MMOs for a while, you’re probably familiar with the claustrophobia these narrow experiences evoke.  Recently in Star Wars: The Old Republic I was on Ilum going into several mineshafts to save the world. Literally. The planet was going to crack if I didn’t turn off these mining machines which sounds really exciting except in reality I went through the same map twice and encountered the same mob clusters twice. It got boring pretty quickly but there was no alternative for advancing the story; I had to press on and endure the grind. Imagine doing that on 15 other advanced classes, a situation that is very real for SWTOR veterans due to the 12x XP. Even a more open world environment like World of Warcraft can feel just as closed when questing determines your movements in much the same way. I think this might be one reason players enjoyed flying in WoW. It wasn’t just about efficiency, it was also about approaching familiar situations in a new way. At the very least it allowed you to reduce the time it took to play through those repetitive, “on rails” situations.

Compare my SWTOR experience to the way I move through the environment in Trove. As a new player I started out with a double jump and a slow mount. When I would approach a dungeon I would search for the entrance, follow the path created by the developers from beginning to end, and then hopefully defeat the final boss. Because all I had was a double jump, it took time working through the platforming required to maneuver through the dungeons and reach the end boss. However as I played through the content more and more, my movement options started to expand. First I found gear with “Jump” as a stat. This increased the number of times I could jump before having to touch ground. As of this writing, my current gear has +23 Jump. That’s right, I can jump twenty-three times before I have to land. The additional jumps allow me to avoid certain platforming perils or even to find alternative ways to enter a dungeon.

The Dark Dracolyte watches over Neon City.

The Dark Dracolyte watches over Neon City.

As I continued to progress through the game I realized I could use craftable bombs to further change the way I moved through my environment. Rather than searching for the front door, I began blasting my way through walls, roofs, and floors. When my mastery rank reached 20 I received my first pair of wings—which function like a glider— opening up even more options. You might argue that I’m “skipping content” by playing this way, but I’m not. I’m creating content, and I think that was the developer’s intention. The same dungeons appear in Trove repeatedly as you level. If you’re in Candoria, you’re going to see the same cake tower, gingerbread house, upside down ice cream cone, and gumball machine a lot. However as your movement options progress, you get to experience them in new ways. At first you’ll battle through them the “correct” way. As you gain more jumps, craft bombs, and earn wings, you’ll find all sorts of ways to engage the same experience.

Here’s how it might look once you have all these advancements: you’ll use your extra jumps to scale the outside of a gumball machine, avoiding the flame throwers inside. Then, you’ll blast your way through the glass and directly engage the boss. Once the cupcake or licorice man is dead, you’ll toss another bomb at the ceiling and jump up to the roof of the dungeon. Finally, you’ll leap off the top and glide your way to the layer cake tower next door, tossing a bomb at the side and using your extra jumps to clamber into the random entryway you’ve just created. It’s always a little different and vastly extends the life of the dungeons.

SWTOR, for all it's beautiful landscapes would be so much better with open worlds to explore and exciting ways to traverse them.

SWTOR, for all it’s beautiful landscapes would be so much better with open worlds to explore and exciting ways to traverse them.

Now imagine my experience in SWTOR but with similar options for movement progression. Perhaps I would have pushed through the first mineshaft the traditional way, burning through mobs to reach the end of the tunnel in order to defeat the elite at the end. Then with the next shaft, I might use a pair of rocket boots to jump over the entrance and onto the top of the cave, riding my mount until I reached the point where I thought the back of the cave was located. I would then pull out a timed explosive, set it, and blast a new front door through the roof. Leaping down through the hole in the ceiling I land… right in the middle of three mob clusters. Crap. I’ve misjudged where the boss was located, and now I have to either engage three groups at once or use some other movement option to escape the deadly situation. That sounds a lot more exciting than playing through the same narrow map in the same narrow way, doesn’t it?

I’ve used SWTOR as an example due to my own recent experiences, but the same ideas could be applied to World of Warcraft. Blizzard’s assumption that corralling players through a predetermined pathway will improve their enjoyment of the content is short-sighted; it works once, then it’s a grind. Instead, with future expansions they should follow Trove’s example and push alternative ways of exploring and moving through the environment even further. For now, just add flight back into the game, preferably without a petty grind.  Flight isn’t something that has to hinder the player’s experience of the content, it’s a way to expand the life cycle of what the developers have created. And with the skimpy gameplay offerings of Draenor, Blizzard needs all the artificial longevity it can get. That’s what Trove has done, and that’s why I see movement as an integral part of character progression in the game. If you’re playing Trove, keep that in mind as you level up your character and expand the way you move around the world. It’s not just a matter of convenience, it’s there for new means of exploring the world and maneuvering through lairs and dungeons.

2015-05-31 002216

Also mag rails. I believe I forgot to mention those as well. This one plays music, and yes, I’m riding a moustache.