MMOnday: Heart of Thorns Impressions

gw2-hot-logoOne of the most anticipated releases in the MMORPG world this year has been Guild Wars 2‘s first expansion Heart of Thorns. It came two years after the game’s initial launch and boasted the  first raid, new class specializations and even a completely new class (in addition to plenty more). Last week players flooded into the new region to face the game’s recently awakened elder dragon Mordremoth and his hordes of minions.

So how is it? As someone who’s been playing for the last two years, the expansion feels very enjoyable so far. The class specializations take awhile to unlock (too long, according some of the most vocal critics of the new system), but the Hero Points needed offer a nice alternative to simply grinding enemies to gain experience for a new level as many MMOs opt for. Another new mechanic is gliding which feels smooth and offers a great way to traverse the new areas. Very reminiscent to Aion, another NCsoft-published MMORPG released in 2008.

Music and art direction are also strong. The background music is quite enjoyable and gamers may find themselves turning up their volume a bit to enjoy it. Plenty of new enemies have also been added and many feel unique and foreign. One of my favorite additions are the bipedal mushrooms which are happy to dive at players as they cross the jungle. Looking forward to discovering more as I venture further.

I can’t comment too much on the story, but playing the introductory sequence that brings you into the new region felt exciting and also set the tone for the story.

One special note I have to make is about the expansion’s launch: there was no downtime, no queues and little lag. Online games seem rarely prepared for hordes of players at launches or expansions, but ArenaNet did a great job of keeping the experience smooth and pain-free. I remember the launch of Warlords of Draenor and what a nightmare that was, so it was extremely refreshing to be able to play as usual even with such a surge of people.

Have you played yet? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

MMOnday: What are your MMO pet peeves?

Many game genres have certain tropes or reoccurring mechanics which can cause frustration among the playerbase. MMO’s are no different, so today I’d like to ask, “What pisses you off in massively-multiplayer online games?

FFXIV-quarrymillSpeaking for myself, I find complicated maps and backtracking to be one of the most awful elements I consistently see and which irk me to no end. The original release of Final Fantasy XIV was perhaps one of the most frustrating examples I can pull from recent memory. The map to the right, pulled from Aleczan’s site, shows exactly how convoluted and annoying they were to navigate. Luckily this was fixed in the massive A Realm Reborn update.

Another pet peeve of mine is poor auction house or trading interfaces. World of Warcraft doesn’t have the most amazing one, but it’s an example of a game that can be expanded upon by players themselves through addons. Other titles which I enjoy playing, such as Aion, don’t allow such customization and thus deliver subpar experiences.

Enough about my opinions though, what do you hate to see? How about killing 10 rats? Or a very limited set of skills for players to use at a given moment, such as in the Guild Wars series?

MMOnday: How do you MMO on the go?

As smartphones and tablets have improved, in terms of both processing and graphical power, so too has mobile gaming. Gameloft has recently released a sequel to their game Order & Chaos, which was largely seen as a clone of World of Warcraft, except for your pocket devices. Clones don’t usually look so impressive, but back in 2011 it was no minor feat to a huge 3D world at your fingertips without ever having to boot up a computer. At launch it did sport a WiFi requirement, as well as a small monthly subscription, but it was nonetheless a remarkable technical achievement.

Nowadays we take such games for granted and there are plenty of MMO titles on iOS and Android to choose from. Not all feature 3D characters or vast worlds, but many have addictive gameplay that is suitable for short instances such as commuting to work or school, taking a lunch break or even distracting yourself in the restroom.

Do you prefer 3D MMORPGs such as Order & Chaos? 2D sidescrollers like MapleStory? Or even strategy titles? What are you playing while away from your favorite PC games?

MMOnday: How well will role-less raids work in Guild Wars 2?

Besides the announcement of the release date for Heart of Thorns (October 23), the expansion for Guild Wars 2, the game’s developer ArenaNet shared some exciting news about upcoming group content that would be introduced: raids. Unlike many other MMORPGs, Guild Wars 2 does not utilize the “holy trinity” system for classes which traditionally has gamers playing either a tank, healer or DPS (damage dealer) and instead has everyone doing damage while using self-healing spells and timing their dodges correctly to avoid damage. This difference plays heavily into how group content is approached, both by players and the developers.

Unfortunately, I never got into dungeons in Guild Wars 2. In other games if I were playing tank I’d enjoy keeping enemies on me so others could whittle down health, try keep allies alive as a healer or compare my damage output to party members as a DPS. You may notice that all of those roles include not just myself, but my teammates. I’m doing something for the group. In GW2 it never quite clicked, because I’d always feel like a single player with no way to see how much damage I was contributing and nothing as dramatic as constant taunts or heals to throw out to really influence the tide of battle on a regular basis.

Raids will now cater to parties of up to 10 people, but the mechanics won’t be substantially different than the current 5-man dungeons. Each character will still solely be responsible for damage, although some of the new class specializations may have more impact on the group such as stat-boosting buffs or heals.

I’m definitely willing to give the game’s group content a second look and anticipate the storytelling that will come along with it. I just hope dealing damage can feel more meaningful when 9 other players are doing the same thing next to you.

If you haven’t tried the game, it is now free-to-play (but don’t call it F2P)! So go enjoy it and think about whether or not it’s worth buying the expansion.

MMOnday: Are gender-locked classes acceptable in 2015?

Trion has announced a new free-to-play Action RPG-MMORPG (a la Diabo) called Devilian Online, but one thing has sorely tempered my expectations for the title: gender-locked classes. While gender diversity for players may not be expected in established franchises, games which allow a player to create their own characters are generally expected to have a range of customization options; the choice between a male and female character is important for many MMO fans. I should know, I spent a semester studying gender expression in World of Warcraft during college and spent a lot of time interviewing both male and female players on why they chose their character gender and what it meant to them.

There was a great variance in preference, with some players choosing their own gender to play as in-game because they could identify with their characters more and some choosing the opposite gender so that they could enjoy the form of the opposite sex (this was mostly straight males). Some female players who played as male avatars also expressed a desire to avoid unwanted attention from men while playing.

In MMOs there are no right or wrong choice when it comes to gender, except for when there isn’t a choice. Devilian Online will not ask you whether or not you want to be a girl or a boy when you start the game; each class has a predefined gender. If you choose to be a Beserker or Shadowhunter you’re going to be a guy, conversely Cannoneer and Elementalist will have you playing as a female.

The game is not new in Asia, with it being announced in 2012 and released last year in Korea after extensive testing, but it does raise questions about how comfortable gender locked games should feel in today’s market. Does gender matter when you’re playing MMOs? Or are you alright with the lack of customization?