Archive | February, 2013

A closer look at Warframe

Unexpectedly, my attention has been grabbed by a game I mentioned in my last post about games I’m anticipating — Warframe. I thought it deserved a bit more than the few sentences I gave it, so let’s have a look in more depth.

Warframe: The Ember frame's Fire Blast ability

Warframe’s setting is our solar system, at some future point in time. You play a Tenno, a member of an ancient warrior race, and for various reasons the Tenno are seeking to establish a foothold in the area. The game starts with a brief tutorial, teaching you how to use your weaponry — each Tenno carries a main firearm, a secondary firearm, and a melee weapon. The game itself is a third-person shooter and supports both solo play and co-op missions for up to four players. It’s worth noting that adding and removing friends from a solo play session is pleasantly smooth — if you log in to find a couple of your friends are already playing, you don’t have to wait for them to finish their mission; you can just “join session” from your contacts list and you’ll warp into their combat mission right at their heels.

Warframe: Let's go kill things!

Once you’re through the tutorial, you’re presented with a solar system to explore by way of doing combat missions, which usually send you to an enemy facility or spaceship to conduct sabotage, raids, thefts, assassinations and exterminations. Completing each mission unlocks the next, and as you progress you’ll unlock multiple mission branches, so it’s not entirely linear. The missions can be replayed, and although the objective remains the same the mission area layout changes each time, so even ‘farming’ low-level content can remain interesting.

Warframe: The missions of Mars

Character progression isn’t hugely revolutionary, but it’s well suited to the style of game. Your warframe (body-hugging power armour, basically) levels up as you gain XP, and as it levels up you can spend points unlocking new abilities and boosts to your stats. Each warframe has four thematically-appropriate powers – for instance, the Mag frame (which I’m playing at the moment) gets:

  • Pull – pulls enemies to your melee range
  • Shield Polarize – refills an ally’s shield, or depletes that of an enemy
  • Bullet Attractor – makes a hostile target virtually unmissable for a short time
  • Crush – “magnetizes” the enemy’s bones (neat trick!) to inflict horrifying damage on them

Warframe: The Mag frame's ability unlocks

Your other equipment improves in a similar way, although new abilities only come from your warframe. All of your equipment can also be upgraded by adding mods to unlockable mod slots; mods are looted in game, and add extra damage or crit chance to your weapons, and extra defensive stats to your armour. You can upgrade and equip gear at will between missions; new equipment can be acquired via crafting, in-game currency, or the cash shop.

Warframe: Kris shows off the Ember's Overheat ability

It’s definitely still a beta — just last night, in fact, we encountered a mission that we couldn’t beat because the end-boss kept knocking people into areas where they’d get stuck. But the development team is quite active with patches and fixes, which is all one can really ask for.

The best thing I’m finding about Warframe is that it’s quick and easy to start having fun. Within 30 seconds of firing up the game you can be in a solo mission shooting Corpus crewmen or joining your friends’ session to help them exterminate a ship full of the Infested. There’s little overhead; it’s instant fun, with enough progression mechanics to keep one coming back.

Wait, I lied. The best thing is the mobility and movement system. Tenno warframes are agile and limber, and the engine allows you to scamper up vertical surfaces, wall-run across bottomless caverns, and zip-line from platform to platform. I’m adding it to the very short list of games (along with DCUO and Firefall) where just getting around is half the fun.

Antici…pation: the new games I’m waiting for

Although the industry is in flux, I can’t help but feel that it’s never been a better time to be an MMO gamer, with a ton of interesting games either just released or on the way. Here’s a list of some of the stuff on my radar; I’d be really interested to hear what everyone else is looking forward to.

Warframe: Me and my fellow Tenno on an elevator

Path of Exile
This MMOaRPG just entered open beta. It’s a very well-done Diablo clone with a massive skill progression tree, from an indie development studio in NZ. If DIII let you down, PoE might be what you’re after. I can’t speak to its entertainment value any more than that, as I’m only five levels in, but development seems active and it looks promising.

Warframe
This also just entered open beta as of last weekend. (Or, at least, everyone who was in last weekend’s open beta weekend gets to stay in the beta.) It’s a lobby-based third-person shooter with solo and co-op mission-based content; I’ve been playing it with friends, and it’s surprisingly fun. Like Firefall, you can change your “class” just by buying a new suit of power armour, although unlike Firefall a lot of the gear is locked away behind either a long grind or RL money pricetags. The Founder Pack program is still running until March 16th, and if you’re enjoying the game it’s quite good value.

Defiance
Defiance is an MMOTPS (third person shooter) currently in closed Alpha, with closed Beta weekends, due to launch in April. It’s by Trion Worlds, in tandem with a SyFy TV series. Reports from beta testers say that it’s a third persion shooter, console-compatible (with the associated UI limitations), and mechanically similar to Borderlands. It’s mission-based with a massive world and dynamic events called Arkfalls (much like RIFT’s Rifts), with some (consensual?) open-world PvP thrown in.

Neverwinter
This MMORPG is currently doing closed Beta weekends. You can get beta access by buying a founder’s pack, otherwise they’re scarcer than hen’s teeth. It’s the MMORPG followup to the very popular Neverwinter Nights; it’s based on the 4th Edition D&D ruleset (in the same way that NWN was based on 3rd Edition) and seems to be quite a good port of tabletop rules to an MMO environment. It comes from Cryptic; I suspect they got the license because they have experience with player-created content from the Star Trek Online Foundry, and player-created missions are an integral part of Neverwinter’s heritage.

WildStar
WildStar is currently accepting beta signups, although I don’t think the beta has started yet. They’re aiming for a balance of themepark and sandbox content, with variations to suit different playstyles. It’s an MMORPG, with a steampunk/fantasy flavour, from NCSoft’s Carbine Studios. Looks fun.

ArcheAge
A Korean MMORPG from the creator of Lineage, ArcheAge has been in closed beta in Korea for a while, and Trion has signed a deal to bring it to Western markets, hoping to launch it later this year or early 2014. It’s another sandpark game, with a fascinating and complex class system (it’s a bit like Rift’s “souls” system, except there are a ton of souls and you can mix and match any of them, not just a subset of them).

The Repopulation
This is a sci-fi sandbox MMORPG currently in alpha, from indie devs Above and Beyond. It looks like it’s going to be focused on a lot of non-combat play – which isn’t to say there won’t be combat, but there will be meaningful non-combat stuff to do too. Honestly, it looks like they’re trying to hit the same notes as the original Star Wars Galaxies, which would suit me just fine.

Pathfinder Online
This is the upcoming MMORPG based on Paizo’s hugely popular RPG spun off from D&D 3rd Edition. Again, they’re going for the ‘sandpark’ balance, with a crafting economy, player settlements, offline skill training… you know what; it sounds like they’re trying to make Fantasy EVE. Whether or not it works is yet to be decided, but if it works, it’ll be glorious.

So that’s what I’m keeping an eye on. What about everyone else?

How RMT broke EVE Online

I started playing EVE months ago, and with the complexity and depth of the game’s systems and setting, you’d think I’d be all over it. Weirdly, though, I’m not. I do enjoy EVE, and I’m still subbed to allow my characters to train their skills, but I very rarely actually play, and that’s because of a combination of two factors: offline skill training, and legitimised RMT.

A low-sec system in my Retribution

I’ve got a few posts brewing on RMT, F2P and related subjects, but the Cliff’s Notes version: I don’t actually have anything against microtransaction-funded gaming when it’s done right. The problem is that in the case of EVE Online, it removes the point of playing the game, at least for me.

I was first introduced to buying ISK, via PLEX, not long after I first subscribed. Naturally Kris mentored me through my introduction to EVE, and as someone with disposable income and less free time than he’d like, he’s the target market for in-game cash shops and RMT. As Dee once put it,

8. People who are time-rich-cash-poor can “afford” to spend in-game time grinding for benefits and bonuses. People who are time-poor-cash-rich don’t have this luxury.
9. People who are time-poor-cash-rich can “afford” to spend real-world dollars for benefits and bonuses. People who are time-rich-cash-poor don’t have this luxury.

Or, as Kris puts it, “I could spend hours and hours mining or running missions for forty million ISK an hour. Or I could spend half an hour’s worth of my pay and buy a PLEX worth half a billion ISK, and spend those hours doing something more fun than grinding for money”.

It’s hard to argue with that logic, if you’re cash-rich and time-poor, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that.

So what do you do instead of grinding for money? Well, in most games you’d spend your time doing something satisfying – something that gives you a sense of progress. Unfortunately, you can’t spend time making progress in EVE, other than accruing resources or fighting other players. All your character skills are trained in realtime and nothing you do in-game affects them. Very little is gated by your corporate standings1, other than access to Jump Clones2, and everything you could buy with Loyalty Points3 you can buy on the market with ISK anyway. Of all the (PvE) things you can do in EVE, almost all of them are rendered pointless if you have the money to buy the ISK you need.

I’ve played other games with legitimised RMT – Guild Wars 2, for example, where you can buy gems with RL money and sell them on the Auction House for in-game gold. That didn’t break the game, because you couldn’t buy XP or reputation or Karma or any of the other “progress” mechanics in the game.

And I’ve played other games with offline skill training – Glitch, for example, where your skills trained in real time just like in EVE. That didn’t break Glitch, though, because you still had to play the game to accrue currants 4 and imagination and crafting materials and all the other resources in the game.

But that doesn’t work, in EVE. If I’ve broken the seal on buying ISK with real money, and there’s nothing I can do in-game to “skill up” my character, then there’s little left for me to do, and thus little reason for me to bother logging on. I’m not a PvPer, either by inclination or by ability, and anything I can do in PvE is rendered meaningless — if it weren’t for that offline skill training, I really would have no reason to remain subscribed. And sooner or later, the appeal of paying money to improve my characters in a game I have no incentive to pay is going to fade entirely.

Legitimate RMT? Fine by me. Offline skill training? Sure! Just not together in the same game, please.

My apologies for the six weeks (ugh) of radio silence. My work arrangements changed just after Christmas, and with a long commute and a busier week than I’ve been used to, I’ve had very little time or energy for personal projects. Hopefully things are back to normal now, or what passes for normal around these here parts…

  1. Factional reputations, basically.
  2. A means of getting from one side of the galaxy to the other very quickly instead of spending hours in transit
  3. A currency earned by doing corporate missions and spent on factional rewards.
  4. Currants-y. Get it? Glitch was full of puns like that. I miss it so.