what’s my carrot for endgame these days

my carrot and cake!

my carrot and cake!

Yes, I’m getting old and less patient with games these days.  Anyway, my fascination seems to wax and wane.  When I don’t stick around, I tend to dig into SciFi Fiction and graphic novels.  I mostly enjoy leveling but once I hit endgame, there’s just limited things to keep me there given my likes and limited discretionary gaming time.  At most I have a few hours  a day to spend gaming, not 12+.  I’m only mentioning this because I sense that the target audience for mmo’s definitely play more than 2hrs daily.

But I digress, back to my carrot…I’d like to think it comes down to: interesting story and gameplay but there’s some intangibles in there also.  

notthatintoyou

Interesting story means interesting to me of course but generally goes beyond the standard “go kill ten rats in my basement” story.   Quest wise, it could be the back story of a npc, how some character has “fallen” and is seeking redemption, or how 2 people set on very different paths.  Or something totally different like the “Scotty” quests in Rift. I’ve run into these “story” quests in WOW, LOTRO, RIFT, TSW, SWTOR, etc.  OK, so not every quest CAN be interesting and compelling….I know but they do get me past the standard kill, fetch, or deliver quests.  Unfortunately, these typically dry up at endgame, ie, you have made it to the end of the story so now what…answer is usually dailies. If a game can’t serve this up during leveling, I most certainly won’t make it to level cap.   

Gameplay means a couple of things.  First and foremost, I have to enjoy your combat system.  I’m not saying it has to be great or special, I just have to enjoy it.  TSW has great stories but the combat system just didn’t click with me.  On the other hand, Rift’s and GW2’s combat system really hit it off with me.  It seems I’m at home with either the action or tab targeting models.  

Second, the best rewards need not be extremely difficult to obtain, and certainly not requiring running the same content hundreds of times (RNG) for the drop you want/need.

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Make it a difficulty factor, not a time factor.  I’m not claiming mastery of these examples but LOTRO’s endgame seems to be about playing the same content over and over (RNG) and RIFT’s a matter of time (numerous notoriety grinds). Now, I don’t have any issue with GW2 legendary weapon system acquisition.  It meets the difficulty factor and the time factor can be somewhat circumvented by using the Trading Post.  I see it as a measure of difficulty more than time because of the different areas of the game that one has to master. I’m not saying its perfect but it’s a step in the right direction. Again this applies only at endgame and in particular if you want to try out raiding.  

Third, make it easy to play and interact with others online when I want and solo for when I want to do my own thing. I think we are at a point where most MMO’s are easy to solo, at least the ones I play regularly.  Chat/guild channels let me keep up with what’s happening in game.  The subtle differences rise to the surface when you look at how easy/hard it is to find groups for content.  In that instance, I have to give a nod to Rift and their cross shard grouping mechanics.  It’s also practically a requirement given the endgame notoriety grinds found in Rift.

Now for the intangibles.  I didn’t find much in LOTRO to keep me there. Granted I had other issues that kept me from playing on a regular basis but for the time being, its not on my dashboard. Rift, I see lots of intangibles.  Dimensions is a biggie, huge.

from Rift Junkies

from Rift Junkies

You don’t need any reminder of this than seeing the reaction to EQNext: Landmark reveal.  Allowing players to tell their own story…a win.  Now, much lower on my intangible scale are the artifact and achievement systems. Ok, enough rant, time to game.

Neverwinter Nights- part 1

Going old school here with Neverwinter Nights.

I played this back when it initially came out, rolling a Druid.  I can’t recall the outcome but I must have gotten kinda far into the game.  I picked it up  with the recent GOG.com sale and wanted to give it a go.  This time around I rolled a dwarven Fighter to be a little bit different kind of hero.  I would love to try a caster role but I’m somewhat lost with the controls and how to manage multiple mobs with CC so I thought as a first run through I should go with a melee class.

Right away, I hit the prelude/tutorial and I feel somewhat out of place with the gameplay controls.  This is really old school stuff here.  Luckily for me, a fighter is pretty darn easy right now with just needing to click attack on the mobs.  I won’t say much about the graphics as this is game is aged and you just have to get passed the obviously dated look.

The setting is of course Neverwinter, which has been beset by a plague.  I’m in this all purpose “fantasy” high school that just happens to have 5 magical creatures that are the key to curing the plague.  Naturally, the school gets attacked, the creatures escape and me, your hero, must find them and save the city.

I find a henchman/side kick half orc with a good alignment and a huge 2 sided axe.   I picked him because he breaks the typical Orc bad guy casting and of course he packs a punch with the axe.

First stop is the Prison area.  I eventually find my way there.  You really need to read the quests to figure out where you need to go, not much hand holding going on.  We blast through mobs without much issue, point click and mobs are demolished.  Not much in the way of strategy or skill selection, hack’n’slash is getting it done very well. I do imagine squishier support classes will have it harder making it through here. We nab a key off one of the mobs and gain entrance to the prison.  We eventually make our way to the head jailer and take him down…eventually.  He wasn’t quite the pushover his underlings were.  We then meet up with a parasitic type creature that moves from host to host before we eventually kill it and brings it’s brains back to Lady Aribeth, our employer.  Level 4!

Rift Renaissance

Moonshade Highlands at dawn

Moonshade Highlands at dawn

When I read my raptr game summary Monday morning I wasn’t shocked at the crap ton of time I spent in Rift the past week, hey I was having fun.  Ok, I do have a full time career 40/hr week job and family but the last week I had oral surgery, holiday weekend, plus mandatory furlough day = lots of gaming time.  Another pleasant surprise has been Rift’s f2p roll out by Trion and the reaction from the gaming community.   When f2p launched, I didn’t pay much attention to Rift news but it’s easy to see now why people are singing Trion’s praises.  It’s  especially apparent when you compare the f2p cost to SWTOR.

All the areas I’ve been to , with the exception of Ember Isle, has been hopping with folks.    There’s a certain game launch feeling to Rift right now and I’m happy that it’s been a success for those folks at Trion.

So, in Rift, I pretty much explored most of the Dendrome area, picked up all the ports, and I took part of some zone events and what not.  It’s a nice zone, plenty to do there and work towards with a steady supply of rewards.  Early last week, I started seeing more and more people talking about trying out Rift, especially in the LOTRO community.  I got in touch  with some LOTRO folks through twitter and the next thing I know, I’m accepting an invite to the CTSM guild (that’s the Casual Stroll To Mordor podcast tag). It’s been great, there’s really no price on playing a game with good people, it makes all the difference in the world.  So this means I left my old guild but there’s bad blood there.  Last year, the guild moved en masse to GW2 when it launched and since my return to Rift, only a handful of us were on most of the time, no group activities, and it was more or less crickets….for someone playing everyday, it just wasn’t a good fit.

Character wise, I’m sitting at lvl 60 on my Cleric and everyone else in CTSM is pretty much just starting out.  In Rift that’s not a problem as you can mentor down to the level of the content.  One shotting mobs is fun when you are solo farming but in a group, its just plain boring.  So, I helped out some guildies, running them through several dungeons, Realm of the Fae and Darkening Deeps. It’s not everyday when I get to roll out my Justicar build as my role du jour has been a Shaman DPS powerhouse.

Realm of Fae

Realm of Fae

Darkening Deeps

Darkening Deeps

Up until now, I pretty much neglected all the crafting or reputation sections of the game in favor of leveling…but that’s different now.  Now, I’m looking for different areas that I can find some fun in and I’m seeing all the things I must do in crafting and notoriety and I still haven’t done anything with dimensions.  I bought 2 more crafting slots to learn mining and butchering, yeah!

butcheringThis will supply my armoring, outfitting and artificing professions.  In just a few but long sessions, I leveled mining and butchering to 335 (375 is the max).  Outfitting is at 357, armoring and artificing are ~ 150 each.  I picked up fishing too and that’s moving much slower but still fun.  On Notoriety, I’m working my way up from the lowbie zones and maxing out each succeeding zone.  I maxed out my reputation with Quarry Rats (Scarlart Gorge) and Iron Claw Trappers (Scarwood Reach).  Next up will be the Runeguard faction in Moonshade Highlands.

What the Rift happened?

Rift: Strangers in a strange land

Rift: Strangers in a strange land

With Dragon Bash bugging out on me and winding down, I turned my attention to Rift’s f2p transition and update with a new level capped zone, Dendrome.   I packed a ton of hours in Rift this past week, I was having a lot of fun and time seemed to disappear on me.  I started out on my lvl 60 Cleric and finished up capping some notoriety with some early level zones, Silverwood and Gloomwood.  Gloomwood has to be my most favorite zone…it’s got scenery AND werewolves! I’m glad the Hag story is a repeatable quest.

A tale of two sisters

A tale of two sisters

Then I hit a plethora of dailies, carnage quests and story quests.  And with all the added patron status buffs, notoriety with the 3 factions in Dendrome is moving much faster than in the past.  Not to get tired with my Cleric and to see how the better half of Telara live, I rolled a Defiant Rogue with the intent of leveling as a Bard.

Freemarch

Freemarch

In just  2 hrs, 48 min, I hit level 14.  Being a patron definitely has it’s privileges.

GOG.com sale.  Yeah, I had some fun with that.  One of the titles I picked up was Neverwinter Nights.  I played that back when i came out, oh 13 yrs ago, and wanted to give it a spin and see how it felt.  More on that later.

Endgame for casuals

Yep, its possible for an mmo to keep casuals at level cap provided they have something meaningful and challenging to do.  That’s a fairly intuitive requirement.  There should be a blending of the two (casual and raider), but it’s a line that can be easily crossed, mostly at the expense of raiding difficulty and reward.  I don’t claim mastery of this topic, it’s just a few thoughts that were triggered by game play and forum rants.

Disclaimer: I started out my mmo career as a wanna be, occasionally Hardcore raider. I’m writing this article now as a firmly established casual player. I have no bone to pick with with either type of player or style and my only “beef” is with douche-bag players that try to troll one side against the other.

A place to call home.

Building and setting up a house is a fulfilling activity, maybe not for everyone but a lot certainly feel that way and keep asking for this. Take a look at what Rift has done and what Wildstar is planning and it’s really incredible. I like that idea that you can start off with just a shack and as you acquire loot/gold, you can build up or enhance what you have, much like in RL. You can also create a niche for Crafters to build housing slots/items. For example, Raiders will collect trophies that will need crafters to build the items to display these trophies. All this takes is time and money which a casual play style can adapt to.

Guild/Kinship centered Missions

Casual players have ingame friends too and it’s fun to do stuff with your friends, especially something that requires a coordinated group effort.  GW2’s Guild missions goes a long way in scratching this group itch without having the raiding time requirement.

Challenging Solo Content

Jumping Puzzles: Ok, jumping puzzles can and do cause rage in some, I get it and I’ve been there. However, take a look at GW2’s Mad King Clock Tower jumping puzzle. Now, that is challenging but not quite impossible content. It’s not level dependent so it’s highly assessable with the promise of some nice goodies at the end. I could also see the value in a Spectator mode here for the lawls.

Casuals experiencing Endgame Raids

Check out Rift’s Chronicles, also here . I really like how Trion presented these solo versions of it’s raiding content. Without these Chronicles in place, many players would never see this amazing content and it doesn’t take anything away from the actual Raid because it doesn’t award Raid level loot.

Gear and Trading

Make the best raid/endgame gear tradeable so that casuals have something meaningful to spend gold on. Yeah, allow casuals to gear up with the best stuff by using the Auction House. Those casuals buying this gear will be paying a premium price and they will have had to work hard for that currency. They are no less deserving that the raiders who won the drop, especially considering that Casuals put in lots of time, just like everyone else and often don’t have the same resources as raiders to make efficient farming.