Massively’s daily grind column was unusually interesting this morning. The question was: if you could play only one studio’s MMOs forever, what would it be? I totaled the responses. Here are the results:
Sony Entertainment 15
I would betray Trion and safe-pick Blizzard, although I’d like to see Everquest Next first. I was surprised by Sony’s polling strength. EQN is a game I didn’t mention in my “what do I play besides Rift?” post a few days ago.
I really like the EQN character development concept–focusing on one character being able to do everything (which is one reason I like Rift so much, and now you can have all crafting and gathering skills using store unlock scrolls.)
On the other hand, a lot of the EQN reveals we’ve seen since August have been very average PR-flavored fare that make Paul Sage’s E3 coverage of Elder Scrolls look relatively wonderful and forthcoming.
An example is the crafting “dev diary” posted a few weeks ago. Fifty collectible materials. More than ten metals and ten types of gems in five tiers. Harvesting. Make tools. Make better tools. Find crafting recipes.
Wonderful, you’ve exactly equaled vanilla LotRO? That was my thought. Except for something called a “claim” that the devs refer to a few times. I have no idea what that is. They didn’t explain it. So.
Several months ago I read Syp (Biobreak) and TAGN write about how they lost interest and momentum mid-Storm Legion in Rift. I knew at the time that one day I’d experience what they were saying, and sure enough, this weekend it hit. I’m level 55.
I don’t know what the Trion level designers were thinking with this quest flow and zone design. After the initial Storm Legion entry zones, the follow-up zones are big and directionless. I went all over Eastern Holdings last night and couldn’t find a quest hub. I just did the “carnage” quests and an invasion.
Seratos has quests and a beacon-lit direction, helping the Caretakers, but I don’t care. Tonight I did the instant adventure daily in Seratos, which was fun popcorn grouping, run around and kill things.
There is a golden adage to fiction writing: if at any time your writing isn’t developing character (either the character of the protagonist or the antagonist, or the major players), you are wasting your time and risking losing the reader. That is happening here.
Rift has always had too many NPCs and not nearly enough development of any of them. Queen Melia is cardboard, like her blank expression. Meanwhile, I always smile when I hear that the Queen in Guild Wars 2 has decreed this or that, or has decided so-and-so. That is immersion and character building.
I’m not at all calling out the Rift writers. Maybe there is a disconnect between the writing and the actual world building. Also, I believe some of the Storm Legion writers are no longer writing on Rift. Also, Trion is always trying different creative things here aside from the standard quest hub format. Did it work? Public opinion says it didn’t.
Anyway. Text is surely the cheapest form of quality reproducible entertainment in the world today, and it remains the most effective in useful ways. It drives me crazy when an MMO fails in an aspect that would cost them so little to improve so much.
Trion has an exemplary and lauded F2P store presence and handling, but the fiction writing is flat to the point of raiders crying in the forums to be allowed to just skip leveling and not have to deal with it.
What would be the biggest, most immediate improvements? Trion should use fewer NPCs and factions, while making each of those as vivid, interesting, alive, and important to the game world as possible. The player should also get a good introduction before they start doing tasks and quests for some random NPC or faction.
The player should also understand the stakes of failure. The stakes should always be increasing, and ideally they will involve the player in some way that they care. To care about the world, the world has to be worth caring about, and that means liking and befriending the NPCs. I’m sounding like a broken record on that point.