A game that is.
Like many of those whose blogs or posts I've read lately; I am between games in the sense that none played lately has really sparke dmy interest. I find myself hoping the coming games offer something new.Normally a single-player game would be my recourse when I feel a desire to be lost in a sense of wonderment... not seeing any immediately; I decided to go back to DDO; the first MMOG that captured my imagination, to see if it - or my perceptions - had changed.
Even those who could care less about this particular game may find what I am learning interesting.
I quickly found reminders of what I loved - and of what drove me away.
The intro story reminded me of what it took me a good while to get through my thick skull while playing...
This is NOT D&D. It's not even really Eberron.( the intro clearly places the game environ in "blank" part of the campaign map; purposefully left open to development in the setting) ... Much like trying to enjoy the X-men movies... You have to put aside what you know - and your expectations - to be able to enjoy the game on its own terms. This issue - game companies using IP's - brands - to draw customers and thus having sets of expectations to contend with... It's a question of whether or not one is shooting themselves in the foot.
The graphics... a step above what I have gotten used to lately, even on my subpar machine. The atmosphere of the dungeons is suitably grim (if a little too... empty? perhaps. I htought no food/ no living quarters 'monster holding pens' went out long ago...). So its visually impressive; which i'd forgotten.
The music and sound effects. It's funny; the GirlFiend and I had just been watching a movie commenting on how effective music was in evoking atmosphere. I had forgotten as well how familiar; for example, the songs of the bards had become. That in particular gave me a sense of returning 'home'. Going into the first dungeon; the music gave me the eerie sense of foreboding.
So: immersion? Check.
More familiar with MMO controls now (and confident to keymap); meant I was less confused and distracted from the GAME - which calls to mind one of my own theories - don't let the audience concentrate on the wires if you want them to FEEL. It also reminded me of the many discussions here about "accessibility" - how a strength of; for example; WoW was that it kept the controls peopel had become accustomed to or easily learned. Unnoticed by me the first time; my inability to get a first-person view frustrated me now.
In no time i was crawling a dungeon with an inappropriately-named female character that i assumed had to be a horny 14-year-old boy. The lack of enabled voice chat hinted as much. Later; speaking on her mother's computer mic to chastise team-mates who wouldn't stay near her cleric, I discovered I was quite mistaken.
Very soon; I was lucky enough to find one of my old guildies; and had myself a party. Old names were mentioned; new people met; and hilarity and uproar was the order of the day. i was quickly reminded that even after the game had lost its 'adventure' for me; I had played because I had enjoyed the comapny. We were laughing so much I didn't notice how quickly we were running through the dungeon mercilessly pummeling compltely-outclassed baddies... until I noticed that i wasn't noticing; so to speak. The danger that is. What fun kicking puppies? And i had paused to have some private tells with the one player i realized was new. No one noticed that we two were paused. The new player was trying his damnedest to keep up with people who'd run the same quest at least once for each 'toon; and as a result was getting nothing out of the adventure. As founder of a for-new player's guild; this was a little more of a concern to me.
"Let's do it again on elite" ... rang the inevitable cry. The new player and I agreed to speak later; and i looked at the players with me. This time i went with more as an observer. Really I had no choice of role...In DDO you may repeat adventures at a higher level of difficulty - which affects the rewards of course. For the reasons that I play; I'd much rather move on to a new adventure... Where I don't know where things are.
It is in MY opinion one of the game's greatest mistakes that while having an exceptional (for mmog's) stealth/perception engine... the lack of random placement - or better yet random dungeons - means that scouting; stealth and trap detection - are immediately rendered pointless if anyone has done the adventure before and hasn't agreed NOT to spoil it for the fresh members. So while there is a play option for people who like "farming" a quest for greater loot and xp; there is NO option for the other play style - those who like suspense and discovery.
In a game engine already skewed against missile weapons (increased hit points of monsters paired with relatively low fire rates); increasing the monsters to level 5 made my level-2 longbowman (i'll pause to laugh about my composite longbow) liitle more than a shieldman. So... I accompanied my friend's party of insanely-outfitted twinks; as little more than spectator.
I watched as characters wielding weapons they would NEVER find on quests of this level; use endless potions and wands to negate the hits of monsters that should have been "pwning" them. I watched soemone I once knew as cautious and tactically excellent eschew teamwork in a laughing race for 'kills' in the sure knowledge that nothing here was a real threat; and if it was we could just walk back in for a small xp hit (20% of xp doesn't seem small? what if its xp you really don't deserve? YOU LOST). I watched our mechanical wizard (don't ask... don't ask) throw spells so carelessly that twice he had to leave and recover his "mana" (spell points) - and come right back in( resoucre management FTW!!). Once my friend shared that i could use wands and had given meone; the play got even more ridiculous. I made a Leeroy Jenkins joke that no one got.
Much like the new player no one had noticed; this was a bit disturbing to me. Within just few minutes of being so glad to talk to an old friend whose company I cherish... I had a reminder of why I had lost interst in playing with him. And this isn't about him. It was about what the opportunity to "cheat" brings outin players. It was about what different people ENJOY in a game.
We had started as a group of players who came on a trial, met, and as a joke made a 'new blood' guild. We soon found quite a few other new players. An older guild had discussed adopting us as their welcoming commitee and a place to 'graduate' our members to. We had a falling out over how they brought in new player - by twinking & care-bearing them through all the early content boring to the older players - which made it boring to the new players. We played through quest others said we couldn't do- at our low levels - without auction house weapons; with solid tactics (i got lots of 'sparta!' ribs) and teamwork.
As our levels advanced; we found people had the in-game money to BUY powerful magic. People began to have contacts (e.g.;one adult fellow's father; & the other guild) that could give them discarded weapons [a phenomenom of DDO is that you will almost always pull loot and rewards usable by a lower-level character - i suppose to encourage an in-game economy. What it really results in is MAD TWINKING]. In the end; our guild split over such things - we ended up with a graduate guild and a new-player friendly guild that discouraged twinking and revealing dungeons to new players.
What I discovered was simply enough; that everything boiled down to replaying content and game balance.
What was fun FOR ME was when our magic and resources FORCED us to use teamwork to beat enemies just as tough - or maybe moreso - than we were. Once we had people able to SURVIVE blind reckless charges into groups of enemies.. where was the impetus to use tactics or teamwork?
In a game with no random dungeons; once we started playing with people who could cite from memory the location of every monster; trap; and secret door; what was the purpose of the scouts? What fun for the players who ENJOYED playing stealth? The ones that laugh when people complain "stealthy repossession is too hard".. Why? Because not everything can be handled by blundering brute force? Welcome to the special forces; asshole.
My friend Harur put it best... Yes we can buy endless wands or run through adventures with bought magic items or do runs on adventures we've done before; all so we know we can win...
BUT WHERE'S THE ADVENTURE IN THAT?