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I’m back and still gaming.

Well, things have been a bit quiet around here, haven’t they? I’ve still been playing games, of course; that’s never likely to change. For over a year all my spare blogging time went into Astrek Association, our Firefall fansite, and since we put the site on hiatus and stopped playing Firefall I’ve had enough other ups and downs that I just haven’t had time to get back to blogging.

So what am I playing? Well, I’ve stopped looking for the One True Game, the game that will capture my attention for years at a time the way WoW did. Those days are gone. (Games like Civilization and The Sims can still do that, but they don’t have the social element I’m looking for.) Earlier this year I was playing Warframe full-time – which has developed remarkably since I last played it, and we had a lot of fun in it. I have no doubt I’ll be back. We’ve spent some time in SWTOR, and I intend to spend more before the upcoming Shake Everything Up expansion in October, and my WoW guild is raiding again.

Skyforge

Lately, though, my spare time has been going into Skyforge. It’s an action-combat MMO in a magitech setting where you play an Immortal, one of the few people gifted with more than one life, and as your power grows you evolve into a fully-fledged God. Skyforge is level-less (your progression is measured by your Prestige, which is a sum total of the abilities you’ve unlocked and the equipment you’re using) and class-based, although you can unlock and change between classes readily on one character.

There are a few things that stand out about the game:

  • The combat is fun and satisfying; it’s not crazily spammy the way some other action combat games are, and although you’re fairly limited in terms of number of abilities, the combat system is deeper than it first appears. Telegraphs are handled by animation, rather than by floor designations, and despite my inexperience with action combat games (because mostly I don’t like them) I’ve found it perfectly manageable.
  • The monetisation is not punitive; the premium currency pays for everything (including ‘premium’/VIP status), and can be purchased using in-game money.
  • The classes are interestingly varied, with a distinct range of playstyles and variety between the classes. Flavour also varies from medieval fantasy to magitech sci-fi; ranged classes include the archer and gunner side by side, while in melee you’ll find light-channelling paladins and chainsword-wielding berserkers.
  • Progression is interesting; you earn various currencies which you then spend on unlocking stat buffs, abilities and talents in a skill web reminiscent of Path of Exile, and this progression then moves you towards earning new classes. It’s hard to explain concisely, but works quite elegantly in practice.

There are some irks to the game. One big obstacle is the pantheons mechanic – pantheons are Skyforge’s equivalent of guilds, and there’s content that only reasonably sizeable pantheons can access. Our little few-person pantheon-of-friends just isn’t going to cut it. The UI is cursor-locked and modal, which makes it controller-friendly but an unnecessary obstacle when you’re a keyboard-and-mouse player. And, being a F2P game, regional chat is lower than the lowest common denominator, and hard to ignore. That said, no game is perfect, and the annoyances certainly haven’t spoiled Skyforge for me yet.

The Sims 3 University Life guide, part 2: general content

University Life, the latest expansion pack for The Sims 3, has just landed within the last few days, and there’s not much in the way of comprehensive guides out there. I’ve already posted Part 1 of this guide, covering the process of preparing for, enrolling at, and attending University; this part discusses the other new content in University Life, including social groups, new careers, new skills, new traits, new lifetime goals and rewards, and more.

Read on for more information about University Life content...

The Sims 3 University Life: Sims University map

I’m still working on Part 2 of my Sims 3 University Life guide, but in the meantime I thought I’d share this, in case others find it useful. It’s a map of the Sims University sub-neighborhood. Unfortunately, more distant areas look somewhat warped, due to the way the Sims 3 map view works, but there aren’t many spots of interest in the upper reaches of the map anyway.1

Click the image to see a bigger version of the image (1280*720), or download a 1920*1080 version here.

Sims 3 University Life - Sims University map.

Read on for more about the Sims University town and what you'll find there...

  1. This was created by stitching together 12 overlapping screenshots of the map. If anyone knows a better way, feel free to let me know!

The Sims 3 University Life guide, part 1: attending University

University Life, the latest expansion pack for The Sims 3, has just landed within the last few days, and there’s not much in the way of comprehensive guides out there. I thought I’d put together some preliminary information to help people out. This part discusses the process of preparing for, enrolling at, and attending University; the second part will discuss the other new content in University Life, including social groups, new careers, new skills, new traits, new lifetime goals and rewards, and more.

Read on for more about enroling and studying at Sims University...

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.

WoW ghost towns: why Blizzard’s not helping

As I return to WoW, I’ve been adapting to their latest changes aimed at normalising player numbers: cross-realm zones. Now, I’m not a fan of CRZs for various reasons but they do at least help keep deathly-quiet servers from dying entirely. That’s not, however, necessarily a good thing. Azuriel from In An Age recently discovered that, in his absence, his server had gone from ‘quiet’ to ‘desolate’.

For the past three expansions, Blizzard has been solving all the problem elements of low-pop servers except the one that matters: the server itself. Play BGs with everyone else, run dungeons with everyone else, raid with everyone else, and now even quest with everyone else. Isn’t it about time you let us be with everyone else?

As Azuriel points out, Blizzard’s been putting a lot of work into normalising player populations, easing the strain on overcrowded servers and providing playmates for underpopulated servers. Unfortunately, it brings as many problems as it solves.

Silvermoon City - frequently a ghost town

Personally, I don’t like cross-realm zones because I like having the opportunity to farm for resources or rare spawns in peace, and because they’re fundamentally unnecessary. WoW levelling rarely requires the assistance of another player (unlike, say, GW2 dynamic events, RIFT dynamic events, SWTOR heroic quests, etc) so the lack of players in levelling zones isn’t a handicap. And, on the flipside, overpopulation is rarely a problem outside the two-week period immediately following an expansion. Cross-realm zones are a drastic solution to a problem that doesn’t even exist for 102 weeks out of every 104.

And they have costs. As others have pointed out, WoW’s model isn’t set up to accommodate lots of competition for mobs or resources. Guild Wars 2 highlights the opposite model, where everyone can harvest the same resource node and you can still get quest credit and loot from mobs ‘tagged’ by other people. In this model, cross-realm zones work fine; in WoW’s selfish “everyone get your own stuff” world, CRZs just make peoples’ lives harder.

Add to that the impact on the community. During the most recent Darkmoon Faire, Goldshire on my server was suddenly a hotbed of ERP and idiot epeen-swingers when it had never been like that before – because it wasn’t my server any more, it was a generic server with people from anywhere and everywhere. Talk about destroying one’s sense of community. CRZs really fall apart when you’re looking at areas where players stand around and chat instead of get on with the business at hand, because the more you weaken peoples’ ties to their community, the less incentive they have not to act like jerks.

Unfortunately, I think we’re out of luck. As Azuriel says, “Blizzard isn’t ever going to bite the goddamn bullet and put realms like Auchindoun out of [their] misery.” And we have ourselves to blame for that, because of the way that the MMO community reacts to anything other than constant growth. Server closures and server merges are the number one sign, in most peoples’ minds, that a game is struggling, and Blizzard can’t afford to be seen as struggling, given its position at the top of the pile. Most games are forced into server closures and merges anyway, by the necessity of providing a playable environment for their customers, but Blizzard have had the resources to develop technologies that prop up ailing servers without merging them. It’s logical that WoW would have some underpopulated servers, after eight years and waves of growth and shrinkage. In their case it wouldn’t actually be a sign of failure to consolidate lower-population servers; it’s fairly clear that WoW may not be the only game in town any more, but it’s not even remotely in trouble. But WoW has a special cachet as the constant success story in an otherwise marginal industry, and I suspect that Activision-Blizzard aren’t willing to sacrifice that for the sake of player satisfaction.

My five favourite MMOs

In the spirit of yesterday’s post, here are my five favourite games that are MMOs.

It’s hard to analyse MMOs in the same way as non-MMOs, because there are so many other factors that affect one’s fun – the quality of dev support, the quality and frequency of new content, the friendliness of the community, the critical mass of players that makes a world feel lived-in, and so on.

Still, here are the five MMOs I’ve enjoyed the most – and, in some cases, miss the most.

  • World of Warcraft

Yeah, yeah, WoW is the opiate of the MMO masses; it’s old and tired and whatever. I don’t care.

Don’t get me wrong: I fell out of love with Blizzard a couple of years ago, and I haven’t been inclined to cut them much slack since them. But despite my dissatisfaction with what WoW has become, it’s impossible to forget the years of happiness and fun it’s provided, or the way it’s shaped an entire industry and brought it into the mainstream.

When WoW was shaping up for release, our SWG guild put its money on EQ2 instead. Most of us weren’t Warcraft enthusiasts, didn’t much care about WoW, and many had a history with EQ that made EQ2 look amazing. When WoW came out, we were snobbish about how ‘ezymode’ it was and how it just gave you stuff on a plate – while we went back to retrieve our corpses again (and corpse runs in EQ/EQ2 were not the simple thing they are in WoW!) and earn some XP to pay back what we’d lost by dying.

And then slowly we all trickled across to WoW, and we realised just how damn good it was. Most importantly, more than any other game at the time, WoW cut away the bits of the MMO gaming paradigm that weren’t fun.1 “I’m a game,” said WoW. “I’m supposed to be fun. Stop doing those stupid grindy chores in other games, and come and play me.” And we listened, and we did, and most of us never looked back.

World of Warcraft

  • Lord of the Rings Online

LotRO is very much a game in the WoW-ish themepark model, but it’s far from just “WoW with a Tolkien theme painted on”. Its crafting system is more interesting (and more relevant), the game’s ambience and atmosphere are absolutely perfect, the narrative does an excellent job of keeping you involved in the story and making you feel integral without overriding the canon, the seasonal festivals are fun and setting-appropriate (instead of just feeling like our holidays pasted onto a fantasy world), its geography is excellent, and the community is generally peaceful, friendly and mature. And it’s got a) what’s probably the single best F2P implementation I’ve seen in any subscription game, and b) the best wardrobe/cosmetic gear system ever. The game design is great: each class feels special, with unique mechanics and clear differentiation – playing a WoW warrior, DK or paladin all feels much the same; playing a LotRO loremaster, minstrel or runekeeper does not.

It’s not perfect, of course; in particular, the animations and movement engine feel unresponsive, which drove away pretty much everyone I was playing with. The housing system is clunky and lonely, and reportedly unlikely to be improved. And there’s been some unhappiness with the direction of the Turbine Store, like the immersion-breaking $50 hobby-horse mount. Those aren’t dealbreakers for me, but sadly I don’t rule the world (yet).

But If I could wave a magic wand and make all my friends and guildmates want to play one MMO; if I could make everyone I know and want to play with congregate in one game — LotRO would, without doubt, be that game. I’m only not playing it now because nobody else is.

(It also has my single favourite MMO class of all time, the Loremaster. That class was made for me, and I really wish more MMOs had classes like that.)

Lord of the Rings Online

  • Star Wars Galaxies

Oh, SWG. I am so conflicted about you.

SWG was really my first MMO love. I’d played UO years before, but not in a particularly involved way, and I’d missed the whole EQ craze.

SWG was so very flawed. It was massively buggy – for instance, you’d quite often lose half your inventory when you crossed an invisible zone line and it wouldn’t come back for a couple of hours, which was irksome to say the least. And being very sandboxy, it didn’t take long to run out of things to do for those of us who hadn’t quite got the hang of making our own fun yet. All up, I only played for eight months or so before being lured away into EQ2 and then WoW.

And yet SWG had so much going for it that no other game has matched. Its Star Wars atmosphere was perfect – much more Star-Wars-y than SWTOR, to be honest. The game mechanics were interesting, the Galactic Civil War actually made open world PvP relevant (and thus people actually did it for reasons other than ganking lowbies!). The game encouraged roleplaying and storytelling with non-combat classes like dancers and musicians. The housing system was excellent. And the crafting – oh, the crafting. The crafting was basically perfect, and hit pretty much every single one of my buttons as far as crafting goes – and unfortunately it’s set an incredibly high bar that no game has since been able to match. I regret leaving SWG behind, more so now than ever – the classic case of “you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone”, really.

I’m very happy to discover, though, that there’s a team of volunteer devs developing a Star Wars Galaxies emulator/private server project, at SWG Emu. I haven’t checked it out yet, as I’ll need to find my original game install discs, but this might be my only chance to get my SWG fix again.

Star Wars Galaxies

  • Glitch

Glitch was a magnificent experiment from a startup studio called Tiny Speck. It launched as a browser-based MMO in 2009 and ran until December 9 this year; they simply couldn’t find a way to make it a viable concern. It also didn’t help that they were tied to Flash, and thus their future in mobile gaming – which would otherwise have been a perfect fit for Glitch – was limited.

Glitch had a sense of fun and whimsy like no other game I’ve ever encountered. Almost entirely combat-free, it revolved around exploration, social and emergent gameplay, and crafting. You gathered cooking materials by nibbling piggies, milking butterflies, and squeezing chickens. The fact that there’s no longer a game where you can milk a butterfly makes the world a sadder place, in my opinion.

Glitch

  • DC Universe Online

I can’t believe I’m putting this on the list, but I actually think DCUO belongs here. (This is the spot where I had about five contenders, all with pros and cons, and eventually I decided DCUO came out on top.) I played it constantly for a couple of months in early 2011 and then dropped it like a hot rock, focusing at the time on all the things it did wrong, and not giving enough love to the things it did right.

So let’s get that out of the way up front: it was a great game, ahead of its time, that was hampered by a horrible console-compliant port, utterly inadequate multiplayer features and a user-hostile interface. (The month-long downtime due to the PSN hack didn’t help, either.)

At the same time, though: it pioneered AoE keybound looting and the limited-toolbar MMO style, its movement engine was the most fun I’d had just running around in any game since WoW’s flying mounts (and it hadn’t been topped until I discovered Firefall’s jump jets), the combat system was unique and even healers got to beat stuff up, instance play supported duos, the instances were fun and interesting, the setting was true to canon, and it had Mark Hamill voicing the Joker. Flying over and around Metropolis was just amazing, and the game deserved a lot more credit for its good points than it got.

DC Universe Online

  • Honorable Mentions
  • All of these games were in competition for the fifth slot which eventually went to DCUO:

    • Star Wars: the Old Republic – would have been on the list, were it not for the limited replayability contributing to a player exodus and stale endgame. As a levelling game, it’s superb and would have been at the top of my list, but the fun stops suddenly when you hit 50. Well, it did for me, anyway.
    • Firefall – without a doubt my favourite surprise of the year, this MMOFPS will almost certainly be on my 2013 favourites list. But right now it’s still in beta, and they’re adding content and changing things quite radically and frequently. It’s unreasonable to assess the game right now, because it’s definitely not a finished product.
    • RIFT – I had a lot of fun in RIFT this year, but it’s just not compelling enough to draw me in when I’ve already got other themepark MMOs on the go. It lost the competition for my time against SWTOR, then TSW, then GW2 and now WoW. I like it well enough, but apparently I just don’t love it.
    • EVE Online – spaceships and lasers; what’s not to love? Well, the community full of toxic asshats, for a start. But more importantly, the existence of easy RMT takes something away from the game. I could spend twelve or fifteen hours mining like crazy to make myself half a billion ISK, or I could spend fifteen dollars in the EVE store and net myself half a billion ISK with about three mouse clicks. Don’t get me wrong, EVE’s still fun, but the existence of RMT (and my introduction to it very early in my EVE-playing career) takes away any incentive to do pretty much any PvE in the game. Add to that the fact that the only way you can improve your character is just to wait for RL time to pass and there’s little incentive to play EVE as anything other than “oooh look at the pretty spaceships”; it’s lost the risk-vs-reward factor necessary to make it a game.
    • The Secret World – another game about which I’m conflicted! TSW’s writing is the best I’ve ever seen in an MMO, the setting is refreshing and novel, the character progression system is very flexible, the missions are compelling and the investigation missions in particular are just amazing. Unfortunately, it’s plagued with a lot of challenging, grindy combat that dilutes the awesomeness down to merely ‘okay’, and it lost the competition for my time and attention. I’m not done with it, but I’m also not feeling the itch to go back any time soon.

So, I imagine some of my choices are pretty unusual — but it’s also true that many MMO players get fixed on just a game or two, and fleshing out a whole list of five can be a bit hard. What would your five favourite MMOs be?

  1. Like XP loss or XP debts for every death. Like corpse runs where you respawn alive but your gear’s still on your corpse waiting to be retrieved, in the middle of all the mobs that killed you the first time when you had all your gear. Like needing a full group of players, including a tank and a healer, just to be able to kill same-level non-elite mobs. Like having to run almost everywhere in a world full of monsters you can’t solo because taxi points are few and far between. And so on.

My five favourite games

I’m going to exclude MMOs from this list, otherwise the sheer volume of hours eaten by MMOs would outweigh every other game I’ve ever played. But here, in no particular order, are my five favourite computer games ever:

  • Civilization III

Thankfully I never encountered the original Civilization, else I might never have graduated from high school. As it was, Civ II nearly put something of a dent in my college career. But Civ 3 was, for me, the pinnacle of the series. Although Civ IV and V kept innovating, and I’ve spent hundreds of hours in Civ IV in particular, no other game has eaten entire days at a time like Civ III. You start playing on Friday evening, and next time you look up and think “oh, I should sleep”, it’s Sunday morning and you’re not quite sure what happened to the last 36 hours.

Just one more turn. *click* Just one more turn. *click* Just one more turn…

Civilization III

  • Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri

Sid takes the Civ III model and applies it to colonising an alien planet – and then throws in awesome politics, environmental awareness, a deep and engaging unit advancement system, and narration by Leonard Nimoy. What’s not to love?

(Just one more turn. *click* Just one more turn. *click* Just one more turn…)

Alpha Centauri

  • Diablo II

I think this was probably the first Blizzard game I owned, which makes it something of a gateway drug. Look, I don’t need to tell you all why D2 was awesome, do I? Everyone knows. It was just pure unvarnished fun. I didn’t play on battlenet and rarely played online at all, so I didn’t have to deal with the hacks and cheaters, and I put a hell of a lot of single player hours into Diablo II. It’s no surprise that Diablo III was something of a letdown, really – no game was going to live up to the memories of D2 fun.

Diablo II

  • Heroes of Might and Magic III

I have very many fond memories of Heroes III, and it was somewhat unusual for allowing hotseat multiplayer games. I spent many many hours convalescing after a long hospital stay, chasing computer enemies all around the map in multiplayer games with my best friend. The graphics were nothing to write home about, and the map difficulties were inexplicable to say the least, but nothing beat converging on your opponent’s last town with half a dozen of your heroes all packing armies full of angels, archers and zealots.

Heroes of Might and Magic III

  • Mass Effect

I have a confession to make. I *mumble* haven’t finished Mass Effect. Or played ME2. Or ME3, for that matter.

Look, it’s not my fault, okay?! I was in the middle of my first playthrough ever, in uber-completionist mode, and then my gaming machine died. I managed to salvage my savegames, but by the time I’d got a new machine reinstalled and back up and running, I’d lost my momentum, and forgotten where I was up to in all the side missions. And I just don’t feel right ploughing on ahead with the main story mission without finishing off the side content, because I am – as previously mentioned – ridiculous about completionism. So I’m going to have to start again from scratch, and that’s going to be fruuuustrating. (And I’ve been dithering about this for oh, about two years now.) But make no mistake, I want to, and I will, because Mass Effect is so awesome it goes on my list of Favourite Games Ever even though I haven’t finished it. It’s just that good.

Part of it is that I’m a tabletop gamer, heavy on the roleplaying, and Mass Effect was immersive and enrapturing in a way I’d never encountered in a computer game before. A lot of it was that for the first time I got to play a female hero who kicks ass, takes names and saves the universe – that’s a pretty novel experience for women gamers, and it absolutely added to Mass Effect’s allure for me. And part of it is that I’ve discovered I really quite like military sci-fi. (Also, I sort of had a crush on my Shep, which is always disturbing with fictional characters.)

Engrossing storytelling, immersive character play options, interesting and non-derivative worldbuilding, awesome voice acting, and big armor and heavy weaponry. Mass Effect might just be the greatest game ever.

Mass Effect

What are your five favourite games? I’d love to hear in the comments…