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Justin Webb: The Top 5 Most Awesome MMO Thingies at E3

Column By Justin Webb on June 22, 2010

Last week, many of the MMORPG.com folk made the trek to LA to take a look at the latest MMOs in development. Many of the big guns were there. We saw Bioware's The Old Republic; a trio of SOE games; the latest from Trion; and some snippets from THQ, Perfect World, Gazillion, Nexon, Square Enix, and EA.

I wanted to write "The Top 5 Things That Hit Bill Murphy in the Face at E3", but unfortunately Bill only got hit in the face three times during the show, his most impressive injury coming from a piece of porcelain shrapnel that flew across the food court barely minutes before the doors opened on the first day. Bill has a small cut on his lip to commemorate his inaugural "blooding". So, in honor of Bill and his regular Top-5 articles, and that fact that I can't think of anything else to write about, I've decided to go with "The Top 5 Most Awesome MMO Thingies at E3 2010".

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Warhammer 40K's Costumes

Although we didn't see anything about THQ's upcoming 40K MMO apart from the trailer, we did get accosted by probably the best costumes I've ever seen at any show. The Relic guys really outdid themselves with their 7-feet high Space Marine, Chaos Marine, and Greenskin "booth babes". The Orc had a fully-articulated radio controlled head with hydraulic facial musculature, controlled by a handler using a 360 controller.

While the trailer seems to confirm the three costumed factions, little else could be gleaned from the tight-lipped Relic devs. Speculatively, it looks to me like it might be an "action" MMO. The targeting reticule at 0:40 in the trailer looks/feels like a shooter, although this could be clever editing. Only time will tell. In the absence of any actual game information, this "Most Awesome MMO Thingy" is solely for the costumes.

Tera's Group Play

After the single-player demo at GDC, there were several questions regarding whether Tera's targetless action-based combat would be fun against tougher PvE opponents. I was a bit skeptical myself. However, after playing in a 5-man group during E3, I must admit that combat in Tera is fun ... really fun.

It's all about the dodge button.

Combat here isn't about switching on auto-attack and hitting your rotations. Instead it's about moving and dodging away from your foes. All the monsters in Tera have "tells" - animations that signpost when a big mega attack is about to happen. The key to success is to dodge out of the way and set up flanking or rear-guard attacks. Adding in dodges makes combat feel really dynamic; it makes you feel like you are actually doing something, like you are involved and important. It makes it feel like individual skill is important - a feeling that has been severely missing from MMOs of late.

The game play feels like something new. It's a fundamentally different way of playing an MMO. In a genre that is crying out for innovations, Tera's action-based positional skirmishing is startlingly fun to play and a breath of fresh air in the otherwise crowded TAB-to-Target MMO landscape.

Rift's Rifts

While playing through the otherwise guided in-game demo of Rift: Planes of Telara, I decided to take my character on a detour and headed toward a "life" rift that appeared in the distance. As I entered the anomaly, the rift expanded out and filled with creatures, including a Cthulu-inspired plant behemoth that poked down through the rip in time and space. The rift area contained 10 or so nature-y monsters for me to kill. After I had defeated this batch - I cheated and used a "kill all" ability that I had noticed on the hotbar - a second wave of monsters appeared (and a timer), and I was filled with a powerful sense of déjà vu.

"This is a Public Quest isn't it?" I asked the Ex-Mythic employee overseeing my demo. He said "no", but he knew I was on to him.

Yep. Rifts are Public Quests. However, they are public quests with all the "suck" removed. The rifts in Rift can occur virtually anywhere in the world. And, since they are dynamically generated, and not statically triggered or persistent world events (like WAR's PQs), they can be scaled and their frequencies increased or lowered. Rift's rifts aren't hard coded so they can have semi-random scripting variations, based on any number of variables. According to my handler, rifts can also modify the nearby environment if they are not closed quickly, changing the visual nature of the landscape. He also hinted that any game action that a player can fail (a crafting attempt, say) could trigger a mini-rift event using this dynamic system. So, fail in crafting your enchanted sword and accidentally summon an angry demon. I like it.

The secret of dynamic intelligent content creation is the Holy Grail for MMO developers. It looks like Trion may have solved it. Will the rest of the game be any good? Shrug. However, the rifts in Rift are a very-cleverly-done modification to an already good idea from another game - it's the first better iteration of PQs that I can think of. Linking this pervasive dynamic way of creating content directly into the world IP is genius ... and they haven't resorted to "phasing".

The Agency's Gadgets

While there was only a PvP demo for The Agency on display at E3, I was able to get a look at the gadgets used in SOE's espionage shooter MMO.

Instead of having each class having a large amount of core abilities to choose from, The Agency has player's modifying their class's play style through the use of gadget items. Gadgets are class specific, and have abilities built into them. Equip the gadget and you get the ability - it appears directly on your character's hotbar. Many of these gadget abilities are particularly powerful.

While I won't go into too much detail here (Alan's article talks about gadgets in more depth), what is particularly fascinating to me is that, in The Agency, gear = talents. Of course, this could result in the game being a loot grind, where players try to complete uber builds by obtaining specific hard-to-find items. With little detail on how PvE operates, and the various mechanisms in which players accumulate loot, it's hard to say how this will pan out. What is interesting though is how you can dramatically change the play style of a particular class by the addition of certain equipped items. This certainly alleviates the problem some games have with their classes, in that they always play the same way. This kind of variety will certainly appeal to many gamers. However, we'll have to wait and see how SOE implements gadget itemization to know whether their game is a broken loot-acquisition grind mill or a joyous item-based progression of near-infinite play-style choices.

The Agency

???

Those of you paying attention will notice that this Top-5 list only has four things in it. I played a lot of MMOs at E3 this year and I've been really scratching my head trying to come up with a fifth thingie to add to the list. Overall, it was a very bad E3 for MMOs. Many of the games I played were absolute dogs. And while the games mentioned above might not themselves end up being super awesome, they do each contain a nifty feature or two that made them stand out from the other dross on display.

Let's hope it's a top-10 list next year.

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Justin Webb
Justin Webb is a veteran MMO designer and curmudgeon who has worked for Hasbro, EA, and Tencent.

Justin's column will appear every Tuesday here at MMORPG.com.
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