Tag Archives: Pathfinder Online

MMORPGs to look out for in 2015

I try not to go too much into talking specific games on this blog, but as the year 2014 draws to a close, I think it may be appropriate to list the upcoming MMORPGs that interest me personally and will hopefully also interest the reader. Along with the game’s name, I will try to give a brief description of it – what makes it interesting, what negatives may come with it and why.

Pathfinder Online (link)

Based on the popular tabletop RPG franchise, PFO is a high fantasy title being developed by Goblinworks who, by all accounts, don’t seem like the most experienced developers in the industry.

The key features of the game as I take them are the massive open world, EVE Online -like territory control in the form of environmental hexes, emphasis on roleplaying, and freedom in character progression.

It is easy to conclude Goblinworks is taking a very sandbox approach, which is something the company has not been keeping a secret. CEO Ryan Dancey has in a couple of speeches made points as to why this approach was chosen. One of the reasons, according to him, was that a sandbox world where the mechanisms matter more than the content would be cheaper to develop for a small team in comparison a full-fledged themepark.

I do hold some skepticism towards this project. What worries me are a couple of things. The first thing is the release model: the game just went through it’s alpha period, after which there will not be a beta phase, but instead a phase Goblinworks refers to as early enrollment, a stage of development where the game is not nearly finished yet and that will last for a couple of years, but after the beginning of which characters will no longer be wiped.

What this seems like is an evolution of the paid beta model that has in the past years become very popular, if not the norm – you know, the model where the beta is only regarded as a marketing phase rather than a testing one. However, in Pathfinder Online’s case, the game doesn’t even have most of it’s core features like movement or combat in their final stages yet as the game enters the early enrollment phase.

Talking about unfinished, having played the alpha, I am worried the developers may be focusing slightly too much on complex systems and forgetting about the fun. The character progression system and the crafting system for example seem complex yet dull in their current, hopefully far-from-finished implementations. The same goes for combat, which has interesting concepts such as separate main and offhand attacks, but which currently feels extremely boring.

Now, one probably shouldn’t judge a game by it’s alpha (except in cases where the alpha is just a marketing period, ArcheAge acting as an example), so I will try to not draw complete conclusions here. I will say however that the designers probably need some redirection in terms of what players actually find fun. That being said, I will be keeping my eyes on the game.

Shards Online (link)

Here’s a pretty unique concept – a player run MMORPG. What makes Citadel Studios’ Shards Online intriguing is that they will be selling the server side software, promising each player run server to be capable of supporting at least 64 players at a time. Now, 64 players isn’t much, but it is only the minimum number the developer is currently sure player-run servers are going to be able to support. And more importantly, servers or shards may be connected together to form a cluster, allowing for much larger realms to exist.

While player run servers are interesting by themselves, the game doesn’t look bad on it’s own either – it reminds one of a slightly modernized Ultima Online, a game on which some of the developers have in fact worked in the past. Unsurprisingly, official servers with a monthly fee will also be available. What is surprising however is that not all servers will have the same theme – the plan, according to the developer, is to create multiple art sets for players to be able to play and create not only high fantasy but also steampunk, sci-fi, and other worlds.

Camelot Unchained (link)

For the players who fondly look back to the Realm vs. Realm battles of Dark Age of Camelot, Camelot Unchained probably seems like the most interesting thing on the horizon. The game is being developed by familiar faces from both, DAOC and Warhammer: Age of Reckoning. I will not lie, personally I never was a big RVR person. But it will be interesting to see how a game with such a strong name and development team will do – whether it will find and be able to keep it’s own niche of RVR players or not.

Albion Online (link)

Another title strongly in the sandbox train, but this time with a focus on more open world PVP and bite-sized gaming – an unconventional combination. So far I have personally not been keeping up with Albion Online too tightly, mainly because of the fishy-seeming paid beta testing and the fact the game has been stated to be utilizing a F2P monetization model which I fear may not suit a PVP focused game very well.

Whether or not the F2P model will work out or not remains to be seen. With stylized graphics and gameplay that has had a pretty polished feel to it even during testing, as well as cross-platform support (which is very important to me personally, being a Linux gamer), the game will still be worth following – and in the best of scenarios, even playing. It has already grown a pretty strong following for itself.

Corecraft (link)

After a little bit of thinking I decided to include this one here. Corecraft isn’t a new game – it is an emulated World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade server.

While there are a lot of private WoW servers out there, Corecraft is unique in the amount of attention it has spawned. While it utilizes the open source MaNGOS emulator, the developers have rewritten a lot of previously existing systems themselves to get them functioning better. This is an exception from the norm in the emulation community where it is common for server owners to only be capable of creating simple scripted events but not much else.

The biggest selling point of the server is that it will be releasing the content of WoW’s first expansion in an unnerfed state and in the correct order, with all the attunements intact, albeit classes will be balanced for the later months of the expansion due to the 2.4.3 client.

I’ve personally witnessed a couple of popular emulation projects crash and burn so some level of scepticism is only appropriate. But if everything goes as planned, I believe many people will be able to squeeze a nice amount of nostalgia-filled gameplay out of the server.

Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen (link)

After the business failure that was Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, Brad McQuaid has for whatever reason appeared as a pretty hated figure in the MMORPG community. Having been one of the original idea guys behind EverQuest, he still has his fans however, and those fans are surely waiting for his next game, Pantheon.

Similarily to Vanguard, the main selling points of Pantheon: ROTF are uninstanced dungeons and group-focused gameplay. The target audience is quite obviously the same: older EverQuest players.

While the game has suffered from difficulties with funding and malicious rumours being spread on various forums, some concerning Brad’s personal life, some how the employees of the developing company are being paid, a modern open world themepark is a thing a lot of people are sure to be interested in. And unlike a year ago, it does seem like the game is actually going forward, for update videos are being made on a monthly basis now. It remains to be seen what comes out of this project.

Project Gorgon (link)

While currently at a very early phase in development, Project Gorgon is already showing quite a bit of promise. It’s goal is to be the sandbox for the PVE player, and despite the team’s (currently) very limited resources, the pre-alpha version of the game, available for testing purposes free of charge, feels surprisingly solid and thought out. It shouldn’t be very surprising to hear, then, that the small team behind the game consists of veteran developers who have worked on such past titles as Asheron’s Call one and  two.

Early into development or not, a sandbox without open PVP is something a lot of players have for a long time been asking for – Project Gorgon might just one day be able to offer that, but we shall see. There is at least one obstacle on the way to mainstream success however, and that is that mechanically the game probably feels rather dated to the younger audience.

Shroud of the Avatar (link)

What would this list be if it didn’t include the game of two very familiar faces of the MMORPG world: Richard Garriott and Starr Long?

Shroud of the Avatar is to be another medieval fantasy sandbox title, which in itself probably isn’t very surprising considering who’s behind it. There are a couple of reasons to keep an eye out for this game. The combat system for one, which is to deviate from basic tab targeting and apparently will be having something to do with cards. There’s also the fact the developers are desperately looking for ways to not segregate PVP and PVE players, but allow for the playstyles to co-exist. It remains to be seen how this is handled. Lastly, its worth noting that like a couple of other titles on this list, SOA also uses the Unity3D engine – rather surprising from Garriott, but then again we live in another decade now.

The Repopulation (link)

The mandatory sci-fi game on the list, The Repopulation is another title claiming to aim for a very open sandbox experience, this time in the spirit of (and I am quoting here) Star Wars: Galaxies and Ultima Online.

Personally I am not into the theme of the game, which is non-space sci-fi. Hence, I have not been keeping up with news on development. However, the game is planning on going with a free-to-play model, which is worrying considering it will feature open world PVP. The sci-fi crowd has less games to play than us in the fantasy field however, so I will be following how development progresses. It is currently at an alpha stage.

Play2Crush (link)

The last object on the list could well be a hoax, but when a developer associated with the creation of Shadowbane along with another name about just as familiar from Ultima Online promise to be publishing news about their upcoming project in the near future, its probably worth the effort to keep one’s eyes and ears open.

Conclusions

That’s quite a nice amount of games coming up. Reading it, two things come to mind. The first is, a lot of new small developers have started up recently, many of them going for crowds one can with good conscience refer to as niche.

The second thing to take home is that the use of Unity3D is a rising phenomena. I have yet to see a finished MMORPG created with the engine that was a success, but it looks like we’re heading towards something new in the MMORPG industry: a standard. This has the potential of speeding up MMO development and making the market more varied. It will remain to be seen, however, whether or not any of the MMORPGs made with the engine make it big.

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When your setting limits gameplay

Fantasy is quite a broad genre of entertainment and literature. The amount of different fantasy-themed settings in gaming alone is mindboggling to say the least. With such huge variety, you would think developers would have plenty to choose from to avoid their chosen setting or theme coming in the way of gameplay. And if no suitable setting exists yet, you could make your own. Dragon Age is a good example of a recent, well executed, completely new fantasy setting, even if it is filled with the majority of the usual genre cliches.

But despite all the variety available, sometimes sacrifices must be made. Maybe the developer chose an IP based on it’s popularity, but the IP’s setting is difficult to make full use of in practical game design. Lord of the Rings Online and other games based on the same franchise are a great example here. So good in fact they’re worth taking a closer look at.

The whole Middle-Earth setting is probably the most valued brand in modern fantasy. After all, it is what started the genre. This legacy along with the rather protective Tolkien Estate (on a personal note, having seen the second Peter Jackson Hobbit film, not quite protective enough) and an almost equally puristic follower make for a tricky situation when it comes to implementing some mechanics into games utilizing the IP.

Lord of the Rings Online handles these problems somewhat decently in most cases, but still remains far from managing it perfectly. The game suffers from being locked in the timeline of the latter parts of the Third Age, specifically the time of the War of the Ring. The story must go forward, and the focus on this single plotline makes the gameplay very focused. Despite major changes to the plot made by the developer for the sake of gameplay, it is difficult for the player to feel as if they could really integrate themselves into the world of Middle-Earth as a regular citizen. The fact the modifications made to the plot’s details by the developer make the player, every player, a major hero and agent in the storyline does not help.

Indeed in LOTRO, some solutions the developers have come up with leave the player wondering whether they could’ve been implemented much better, or whether the devs should’ve just taken more artistic freedom with the IP and twisted it even further away from the original texts of Tolkien. For example, characters cannot die, for there would be no sensible way to resurrect them. So instead of health there’s morale. When a character’s morale runs out, they are forced to retreat from battle, or respawn in gaming terms. While morale works, it has it’s own problems. Diving must be disabled for example, because characters must not drown. This is a clear gameplay-limiting issue, stemming from the setting itself.

Another side effect the use of morale in place of health causes is that it limits is healing gameplay in the holy trinity combat system (the usage of which one could argue for or against in the game in question, but we’ll leave that debate for another time). As there is no health, there are no healing spells, which in many other settings would be granted to healers by deities, which in turn also do not exist in a  fitting form on the face of Arda. The developers of LOTRO have solved this issue by making Minstrels’ music the primary source of morale. Practically speaking, the Minstrel class works like a healer in any tab targeting game before LOTRO, just that their abilities are not spells but rather pieces of music and the like that do various things, like increasing party members’ morale (health).

With immersion in mind, this is again a very half-satisfying solution. While gameplay-wise the Minstrel works,  it just feels very out-of-place that every adventuring party battling their way around the world must have a musician with them, playing the lute right behind them as they go on about their business of spilling orc blood. Now, that’s not to say that priests having direct access to these rejuvenating spells would not be almost equally ridiculous if we thought about it in a more everyday sense (I’m looking at you, recent Forgotten Realms novels), but at least when a priest does call to their deity for some healing to be granted to their allies in a Forgotten Realms or Warcraft based game, it makes sense in regards to the setting.

It doesn’t have to even be the setting itself that rules out a gameplay mechanic or at least makes it seem out of place – it could be the genre of the setting itself.

EVE Online’s skill training system works pretty much as follows: you choose what you want to train, be it piloting a certain ship or using a new type of artillery, and the training will take a set amount of time. The skill will keep on training even when the player is offline or doing something completely unrelated to the skill in question, and the pace of training cannot really be sped up.

This system works well and makes near-perfect sense from the setting’s point of view – when training, what’s happening is the player’s character is either going through simulated training in a virtual environment set up in their head, or maybe data is being transferred directly into their brain. Who knows, its scifi, and it works.

The same system that works so well in the dark scifi world of EVE would not suit a medieval fantasy universe nearly as well. Which is why I personally do not quite understand why Goblinworks, the developer of the upcoming indie title Pathfinder Online, chose to add this system as a feature to their game.

Pathfinder Online, or PFO for short, borrows it’s setting from the popular Pathfinder tabletop RPG and so represents the fantasy genre in a very traditional way. It would be an understatement to say that the system in which one can gain XP points without doing anything feels awkward in a setting such as that of PFO. Granted, I am slightly oversimplifying PFO’s system here, for the player does need to engage in certain deeds related to the skill at hand to actually “level up”, but as you watch your experience points accumulate while standing in the character selection screen without doing anything, it all just feels terribly out of place. Where is that experience coming from, it makes you wonder, when the  character isn’t even doing anything.

Other than for it’s awkward experience and crafting systems, the latter of which I will not get into now because the game is only in alpha and I am expecting it to change, Pathfinder Online actually manages to remain rather true to it’s setting for the most part. For example, while one could have an argument over whether throwing fireballs and other spells here and there makes magic feel cheap or not, that sort of magic exists in the Pathfinder universe and so, manages to make sense.

In the end the real reason why doing such crazy things in PFO is easy to implement from a developer’s viewpoint is because Pathfinder was designed to be a gaming platform from the get-go – much in the fashion of the previously mentioned Forgotten Realms, Warcraft and Dragon Age universes. Of course we can come back to the whole wizards are boring thing when we compare tabletop games of the same setting to their CRPG counterparts, but the reckless throwing of fireballs of the CRPGs still doesn’t quite manage to seem completely out-of-place. Not to the same extent as for example the Rune-Keeper class of LOTRO at least – the Rune-Keeper you see is a pure magic caster – something one would completely not expect to work in the Middle-Earth setting, not while staying true to the IP at least (and it doesn’t).

For what its worth, my advice to a developer trying to choose the right setting for their game would be to first make sure that it really suits the game’s needs. If it doesn’t, before you start development, make completely sure you can implement all the necessary gameplay elements without stretching the limits of the original IP too much – you probably don’t want to anger the fans of the IP – but at the same time, it would likely be best to not come up with crazy solutions like not letting your players dive either just for the sake of staying true to the setting.