I have always wanted to put pen to paper, about my admittedly short experience with MMO, because I feel it showcases the differences between hardcore MMO gamers and a newbie like myself. I find it interesting to deconstruct MMO, and look at features that are considered “fun” by longtime players — and whether they are “fun” for someone with fresh eyes.
As i noted before, I got a computer upgrade around Christmas time last year, and immediately my online buddy Fungi pulled me into MMORPGs, something I did not have the ability to experience before. Naturally we were going to start with Free-to-Play games, and Rift was the one we picked.
For someone who for years ran a laptop from 2005 without a good video card, Rift was an eye-opener. I’m a very visual person, and the graphics were…. let’s not shortchange the game now — they were stunning. The characters were pretty. The world was beautiful. The best part? You could actually interact with other players during gameplay, which was doubtlessly the thing that one feature that kept me interested for the longest time. PvP wasn’t my thing, but cooperative gameplay hit the precise right chords for me.
For the most part, the story progression was good as it took the player further into the world of Telara, and what splendid sights to see! Silverwood is typically beautiful fantasy forest, Gloamwood the dark reflection, and Iron Pine is simply majestic. We rose through the levels at a gradual pace, met some good people along the way, and even joined a Guild (before the founder abandoned Rift for Elder Scrolls Online — I still miss her, wherever she is!
And then we hit level 50 and started exploring the Storm Legion areas. Touted as a major map expansion of the original Rift game, geographically Storm Legion added two entire continents for players to explore…. but it was not the same. The design aesthetics had changed from rich and vibrant to… stretches of wastelands and wilderness filled with wandering monsters. Most of the new areas were vast, yes, but also desolate and empty. It became rare to encounter other players out in the wilds, which as I pointed out, was an important aspect of MMO for me. The story missions became dull and repetitive, made worse by the great physical distances players now had to cover just to get to a spot to kill X number of enemies. That was the first time I understood the term “Grinding” in MMO — and it was definitely a tedious grind to maximum level.
But surely it was worth it, with a whole new suite of endgame content to look forward to. So we pushed on.
There was no warning about how different endgame content was compared to normal gameplay: Difficulty was increased by orders of magnitude. When we first attempted a dungeon, there was no explanation of what we should be doing, and why certain things needed to be done. We met some cool folks and joined up with their Guild, and those fine folks were patient enough to help us learn things. They were more experienced and better-geared than us, but probably by only a few months. During this time we learned that everyone needs to monitor a lever and click on it when the time comes, while the tank distracts the boss monster — because logically why wouldn’t you think of that? Or you have to interrupt a specific power of the boss monster, or he’ll wipe your entire party — isn’t it obvious?
As I learned more, I respec’d my characters to maximize their potential. I started using Macros to stay competitive, and adapted my ability rotations to maximize effects. I maxed out my crafting skills so I could craft special gear for myself and my Guild friends. We still wiped. Repeatedly. Ultimately, if I wanted to do endgame content better, I needed the top-end gear that can only be acquired through the toughest dungeons and raids.
From what I read and understand, this is a fairly typical layout for MMORPGs, so I don’t begrudge Rift for it. But this mode of operation doesn’t actually promote player cooperation: one mistake in a dungeon by one player can cause a wipe, and when you’re not playing with friends, PUGs are not very forgiving. I have observed playes being kicked off a dungeon team because they weren’t performing; I have even seen my Guild friends do that to a healer who wasn’t healing good enough. I felt so bad about it I PM’d the player and apologized for my Guild-mates.
At some point, I realized I was doing and struggling with endgame content that I wasn’t geared to do, mainly to try to get the gear that would allow me to do them. Talk about a vicious cycle! It was tedious, it was frustrating. I was at the point where I thought I’d just throw some real money at it to get the high-level gear, when it dawned on me: What’s the point if it wasn’t fun anymore? By then I wasn’t having any fun, and Fungi had effectively stopped playing. During a two-day period in May when the 2.7 patch came out, my frustrations hit a peak when changes and errors combined to wipe out a huge chunk of my currency (I was saving up for a piece of high-level gear). I still regret that I RAGEQUIT and never logged back on; I really wanted to at least let my Guild friends know that I wasn’t coming back.
Maybe I will do that, but anyway.
That was when I moved to STO. In the three or so months I have been playing, there are a few things that STO did much better than Rift: granted the endgame content is still a bit of a grind, but so far I actually enjoy STO’s endgame play, where I can in fact “play” and not “memorize” how to play. There is usually no single mistake that would cause a party wipe. It also helps that there are effectively two modes of gameplay in STO, space and ground, that gives the game twice the value. And of course STO has the advantage of having an established fictional universe with a lot of background and lore; it’s much more scary to be suddenly facing a Borg cube — because you know you’re in trouble — than a random giant fantasy monster that you would reasonably assume your heroic warrior can defeat.
I am not alleging that STO is perfect, but by comparison it’s doing a lot of things right where Rift failed me. Enough that I have spent some real money on it – not much so far, maybe $40-$50, but given how much I play it and how much I enjoy it, I consider it money well spent. And with the new expansion coming in October, I expect to get more mileage out of the game yet.