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Matt Miller: The Return

Column By Matthew Miller on July 23, 2013

Almost all of us have done it. We completely and fully invested ourselves in an MMO, levelled up to the cap, geared our character out, got a ton of achievements or badges or whatnot, beat all the end-game content there was to offer, and then something newer and shinier came along and we pulled up stakes and moved into that world for a while.

Then we realized that world wasn’t as good as the one we left behind. Maybe it was the graphics, maybe it was the gameplay, maybe it was the community. No matter the cause, you stopped playing that MMO and moved on to other things. Maybe a new console game came out and you just had to do all the side quests to fully understand the story. Maybe you got a new significant other who doesn’t see your MMO addiction as an attractive quality. Whatever the case, you abandoned your beloved MMO for months, maybe even years. And then it happens.

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You read an article, probably here on MMORPG.com. Your favorite game is coming out with an expansion/patch/dungeon/feature that exactly scratches your itch. You fondly remember the game you used to play and are eager to jump back in. You reinstall it, or at the very least patch up to the latest client. You reactivate your subscription. You punch in your credentials and select your favorite character. Then, suddenly, you become Gandalf from Lord of the Rings. As he wanders through Mines of Moria, he utters a line that resonates with you: “I have no memory of this place.”

You stare at your toolbar. Sure you recognize those icons, but you're damned if you know what any of them do. You realize you put them in those specific slots for a reason, but from what you can gather, your toolbar looks like a completely random assortment of powers, abilities, and spells that have no rhyme or reason. Your skill tree, where you agonized over where every single point went, has likely been reset.

A lot of players in this situation sigh exhaustively and realize they didn’t block the time out to relearn the game at this exact moment. They click “Quit to Desktop” and plan on coming back when they have the time to devote to relearning their character. Odds are that time is never devoted and that character isn’t revisited until months have elapsed and the whole circle repeats itself.

But say you really do want to return to the game. What steps can you take to ensure you don’t fall prey to Gandalf-syndrome? Well, lets look at the constants, things that likely have not changed at all since you last logged in.

  1. The world. Sure there are probably new areas, but you know your game’s hub areas like the back of your hand. After mere moments you are going to the bank, finding the transportation systems, and doing everything in town like a seasoned pro.
  2. Your gear. Likely when you quit the first time you had decent gear for your level. This is probably still decent gear, so there is one aspect of your character that hasn’t changed and doesn’t need immediate updating like your toolbars and skills. Be thankful for that.

Now for the tough part, relearning your character and the game. Make sure you have a good, solid 60 minutes to devote to this. And this is an hour of actually playing. Do things like researching talent builds before you even log in. The first thing you are going to want to do is spend your talent points. Likely there are a multitude of builds out there that don’t involve a lot of knowledge on your part. Pick one of those and go with it. You likely can respec later if you messed something up.

Next you need to work on those action bars. Here’s the thing: you probably played this character so much that there is some muscle memory involved in fighting, but that won’t be apparent until you actually begin to fight. In some cases, you had a customized UI that is long lost, so you are forced to rebuild your UI to a point where you are happy. This can eat up a lot of in-game time, so make sure you budget additional time for this beyond your play hour.

Then there is that damn toolbar with all those mysterious icons. While this is what I do, it may not work for you, so take it with a grain of salt: Scorched Earth. I remove every single icon from my tray leaving completely empty action bars. Then I open up my abilities list and start alphabetically. I put stuff into the bar and start shuffling the powers around as I come across new ones that take priority. In the end, I have a serviceable action bar, but nowhere near as comfortable as what I remember.

Now for some fighting. As tempting as it might be to just dive right into the max-level (or current level) content, don’t. Get your feet wet and jump into lower level content that you can solo without fear of dying. Stuff will probably die too quickly for you to relearn your character though, so you might try either fighting with old/underlevel equipment, or doing a dungeon or other content that has “sack of HP” bosses to pound on for a few minutes.

Once you start getting into the groove again, you start to realize powers that you are missing, not using, or using at the wrong times. It really is like riding a bike. Your muscles remember what to do, you now just need to resetup your action bar with the right skills in the right places. By the end of 60 minutes of practice fighting you should be comfortable with your damage and skill use to now take on some level appropriate enemies. Hopefully you will smash through these with ease, and you can begin your journey anew in the game that you loved.

Now, to just convince your friends to rejoin you.

I’d love to hear what experiences you’ve had in coming back to an MMO after a long hiatus. Was it far easier than what I described, or was it too much work to even bother? I know that MMO developers love to get players back, so if you have any advice you’d like to pass along on what could have made your re-entry into the game better, please post that as well!

Matt Miller / Matt Miller is a 22 year veteran of the computer game industry and columnist for MMORPG.com. He was Lead Designer for City of Heroes over five years, and has "seen it all" when it comes to MMOs (but still learns something new every day). You can always reach him on twitter @MMODesigner. He also co-hosts the Danger Huddle podcast on general gaming, available on iTunes.


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Matt Miller
In this bi-weekly column, Matt "Formerly Known as Positron" Miller of City of Heroes fame seeks to clue MMO gamers in on the minds of developers, their decisions, and what it's like to craft these massive games.
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