The year in review
It seems to be traditional for bloggers to review their year, and I hate to fly in the face of tradition — besides, I’ve never done this before so it might be interesting.
I started out 2008 playing Star Wars: Galaxies. No, really. I’d gone back to it after finally getting tired of Vanguard, mostly because I wanted to craft, nothing else out there appealed (especially on the crafting side), and SWG had recently brought in Beast Mastery which was supposed to bring all the old Creature Handlers galloping back. The crafting hadn’t changed much, but its place in the game had; even in a galaxy far, far away, loot is busy taking over the roost. What I liked about SWG years ago is apprently not something most advenurers like (or so we’re told?) — a 100% player-created economy. Back when SWG started, there was no loot to speak of: if you wanted food, weapons, armour, a house — you bought something that had been made by another player, or made it yourself. I liked that, and it’s one of the few ways a crafting-heavy game can actually have meaningful crafting. Well, crafting isn’t meaningful in SWG anymore because nothing decays and loot is better anyway, and the harvesting side of it can quickly become a job just like it did last time.
As for Beast Mastery — it’s not creature handling. I had a bit of fun (and a lot of frustration) making pets and getting the odd mutant; then I discovered you have to sell your soul to the grind gods to level just ONE pet, never mind several… in a game where characters now level so fast you’ll miss it f you sneeze. In the midst of all this it became officially okay to “play” afk — an oxymoron if ever I heard one, and pernicious; I swear it became more obvious that game elements were being designed with AFK-“play” in mind. That seems both extremely silly and extremely dangerous to me. Offline activities, like EVE, sure. Sideline activities, sure… but a game that’s actively designed around the fact that its players aren’t actually at the keyboard for many activities? That’s just wrong.
Just as I was starting to get a little tired of SWG, the Warhammer Beta invite came rolling in, sometime at the end of June or the beginning of July. Just one, because I’d signed up years ago (literally) and the spousal unit hadn’t, so that caused a little spouse-aggro but hey, if ya don’t sign up ya won’t get picked! Anyway, some of my characters were suspiciously male, and not just so I could attend stonings. As anyone who knows me knows, I never make male characters — for one thing I’m horribly sexist, for another I usually don’t like the male models, and finally I’m a one-woman redresser of the gender balance in RPGs and MMOs — which is why I have so many alts, see? It’s a public service really.
The beta was a blast. Betas usually are, for me, because I like to be testing and breaking stuff and I like the mentality of the other players who are there to test and break too — as for the freebie game-triers, I just ignore them. (Even worse are the people who get into a beta just, apparently, so they can say “My game MegaPwnCity is WAY better that this piece of crap! Really! What are you all doing here?!” — do they get paid for spouting that kind of stuuff in an environment where, pardon my language, absolutely nobody gives a shit? Weird. Annnyway…)
I’ve seen this question asked a lot over the last few weeks: why was WAR beta more fun than WAR live? It’s not a fair question, especially with the heavily directed beta phases we had (at least the ones I saw), and especially because most people’s expectations in beta are not at all the same as their expectations of a live game. Fair or not though, it’s a fact that in many ways WAR was more fun in beta than it turned out to be in live.
To me its greatest flaw is the lack of fluff, something which isn’t likely to change. We’re at WAR, moron! Hell, even the NPCs constantly bang on about it — “Shouldn’t you be fighting?” — “Do I look busy to you?” (um no, you look like a vendor, which is why I’m here — or um no, you’re standing around like a scarecrow waiting for me to turn my quest in so no, you don’t look busy). WAR is too grim and too, well, at war to have any fluff. I get that. However, I like fluff. I love fluff. I don’t want The Longest Day all day every day in my gaming, and that’s what Warhammer feels like to me now.
Personal preferences in the fluff department aside, bugs and other growing pains aside, Warhammer Online is a solid game and will, I think, mature into something its core players are happy to keep playing for a long time. I say this with a little trepidation, because I’m not sure yet what will happen on servers when most of the population is 40 and they’ve done the same back and forth across the same zones for the 17,000th time — but since the human element in RvR might change things up a little, maybe it won’t get too stale too quickly.
Regardless of whether I’m enjoying WAR now or not, it was a lot of fun in beta and led to the creation of Casualties of WAR, which is likely to be one of my two long-term tribal groupings (along with The Knights Who Say Ni). It’s time to change how we view social groupings in and around our gaming, but I’m going to save that for another post (no really, a post I’m going to write, not a post I’m going to joke about writing). Those Casualties fools talked me into blogging — something I’d been half-heartedly doing on LiveJournal for years, mostly as a means to keep in tough with my trans-Pondian UK mates — and you know how that turned out. I also ended up writing a brief but fun column for Hammer of WAR Online — a site, like many others, that peaked and waned much too quickly thanks to WAR’s weird launch madness and post-launch apathy.
Autumn came and my thoughts turned from WAR to fluffier things, like Wizard 101, thanks largely to the reviews Hudson and Tipa did. I didn’t end up playing it for more than a few weeks, but I didn’t really expect to, at least not full-time, and it served its purpose: it cheered me up after my growing irritation with WAR (undyeable cloaks, conehead hats, zoning issues — you know, the important stuff). It’s a fun little game and has proved useful, because the kids are looking for something their kids — growing like weeds, smarter than I ever was, techno-geek-grrrls in the making — can safely play online. Wizard 101 certainly fits that, even if the first thing anyone ever said to me in that game was some guy being really creepy (I mean seriously — does anyone say “Hello pretty” in an non-creepy way? I don’t think so Tim!)
Then came the beta invite for that Game I Test I Can’t Name (GITICN — I need a catchier acronym). It’s actually not quite in beta yet and that’s all I can say without having to kill you after, so read on at your own peril. It’s fun, but it’s a very very early beta (aka alpha), and anyone who’s been involved in one of those will know what that means in terms of stability, systems consistency (yesterday you scratched your nose — today you pick it! — tomorrow, no nose at all!), and character wipes. It’s all part of the process but the smart tester knows when they’ve had enough of testing for a while, for whatever reason. If you get peeved with crashing, or whatever else pisses you off, stop testing for a while — it does neither you nor the game any favours to be testing while angry. So, I backed off.
A month after W101, during which I thought about logging in to WAR but mostly didn’t bother — a month during which they brought out some very helpful performance and bug-bashing patches — and during which I also had surgery that turned out to be about 100 times more painful than I ever expected it to be and lasted more than the 3 days I optimistically thought I’d be out of commission, I followed a Saturday-morning whim and typed “Warcraft free trial” into Google. A day later I was downloading the full version and trying to remember my old account name and password.
It being a whim, I really thought World of Warcraft only had a very slight chance of recapturing my interest. I expected a lot of “been there, done that” fatigue and not a lot of newness, since Azeroth doesn’t appear to have changed all that much since I stopped playing in Spring 2005. As it turns out, this was a good time to go back and try things out; they’ve made significant changes to my favourite class (Huntard… sorry, but I love em) and oh, you know, added a few other things. (I’m sure the fact that there are 126 Dread Knights for every single other class out there right now will eventually balance out.)
Right now I’m experiencing the old-yet-new feeling you get when going back to a game, like I got in SWG, and it’s enjoyable. When that fades, I’ll have to see whether there’s enough to keep me playing, and since ultra-casual interest seems to last about a month, we’ll find out here in a week or so whether WoW will keep me for a while. (I wonder if a game is like a habit — if you play it for 3 weeks, you’re more likely to keep playing?)
Looking at all this, I guess most of the “big” MMO releases of 2008 passed me by. I didn’t have the cash to try Age of Conan at release, but since a lot of Ni friends were trying it out I just waited to hear what they had to say about it — which, resoundingly, was “Nice touches, but don’t bother,” so I didn’t. Tabula Rasa never really caught my interest, and neither did Hellgate: London. If there was another big MMO release I’ve not mentioned, either it wasn’t that big or my bad memory is going strong.
I’ve not really been as flighty as I thought, though that’s more down to not finding games I wanted to try, I think. 2008 continued a trend that started several years ago, where I keep thinking I’ve found The One game, only to discover it’s not. Thank god there’s no alimony for broken game relationships. In 2008, however, I think I started revising my expectations of why I play games and what I want from them, and “the One” isn’t necessarily it anymore. If I can have a series of casual relationships that are fun but don’t involve getting a mortgage and having e-kids, I think I can handle that. To be honest, it’s about all I have time for — and even when I do have time, what I want is FUN. Easy, uncomplicated, not looking at what I’ll be doing here in 3 years fun, just log-in-and-have-at-it fun. Okay, I think I’ve tortured that metaphor enough.
I’m not much of one for new year’s resolutions, mainly because I never stick to them, but I will make this one: in 2009, I won’t make my blog posts any shorter. I’m constitutionally incapable of using 2 words where 12 will do, and oddly enough you guys seem to prefer the longer posts — besides, even if nobody read them, I enjoy writing them.
Happy New Year all. May 2009 find you healthy, happy and prosperous. And if you win the lottery, think of me.