Friday, December 30, 2011

Targeter's MMO Year in Review

Lock and load, agents!  A different type of post today ... a look back at what happened over the past year in my own personal MMO sphere.  It was the best of times, the worst (the absolute worst) of times, but I think it wrapped up nicely.  2011 was an odd year filled with ups and downs, twists and turns, incredible highs and rock-bottom lows.  I'll attempt to sum up the happenings in quarters for your amusement.

THE FIRST QUARTER

The first quarter of 2011 was hectic.  We were still in World of Warcraft and the latest expansion, Cataclysm, had just dropped!  I was deeply involved in WoW, after taking over raid leader duties for our guild Pub Crawlers.  My orc shaman (later to be transformed to a goblin) became the first Pub Crawler to hit 85, and the first Horde shaman to hit 85 on the server.  The trek from 80 to 85 took me 27 hours flat; at the time, I thought nothing of the content I just blazed through because surely the endgame material would fill my plate!  Right?

The raiding scene in WoW had a sea-change in January.  Gone were the relatively easier raids of Wrath of the Lich King; instead, a three-headed beast reared its ugly head in the forms of Throne of the Four Winds, Bastion of Twilight, and Blackrock Descent.  At the end of WotLK, Pub Crawlers enjoyed great success with raiding; we were pretty much all over-geared for the fights and we'd had plenty of time to fine-tune our tactics.  Cataclysm, however, was a whole different ball of wax.  Gone were the glory days of facerolling the early raid bosses; the first bosses of the new raids were arguably some of the toughest in the instance, particularily Magmaw.  10man and 25man raiding saw their gear (and difficulty levels) normalized - this caused an uproar in the community as the markedly more laid-back 10man guilds like us suddenly ran face-first into a difficulty wall.  The early days were the hardest; eventually we downed bosses and became marginally successful but never at the level we enjoyed in WotLK, which put stress on the raid team.  This would lead to ... well, we'll get to that later.

While my Horde guild struggled, I had the great fortune of meeting up with some excellent chaps on the Alliance side.  The Vanguard of Norrath became my home away from home and provided me a pleasant place to relax and unwind.  Boltac, Diamnae, Kothian, Ultha, Suuza, all of them welcomed not only my raiding knowledge  but also my quirks and humor.  I leveled a dwarven shaman (shock, gasp!) with them named Brewtotem and wound up on their raid team as well.  It felt good to be a worker bee and not responsible for calling the shots.  We saw some success in our time but there was never the pressure on the Alliance side as there was on the Horde side.  Maybe the Alliance folks just worked better as a team, or maybe they all had the same goal; I'll never know.  But something clicked with them and I enjoyed my time with the Vanguard immensely.  I was so pleased to hear that they'd be transferring with us to The Old Republic; they are the other side of my MMO family


THE SECOND QUARTER

As much fun as I was having with Brewtotem and the Vanguard, the exact opposite was happening on the Horde side.  Pub Crawlers got bogged down in the raids and animosity reared its ugly head.  By May, my raid team was no more, having been disbanded by the GM during a night of drunken stupidity.  I was asked to leave the guild and happily obliged, not wanting to deal with any person or persons who put their own selfish goals ahead of the team, and angry over how my friends who had recently joined were treated.  I spent the next weeks mending fences as best I could; even though I was ridden out of town on a rail and made a convenient scapegoat for someone's personal agenda, I still respected more than a few people in the guild and didn't want what happened to me to have any lingering effect on the team.  It was a tumultuous time; people left Pub Crawlers in anger, were driven out, or were asked to leave.  In the end, things settled down and more than a few of us quit World of Warcraft altogether, vowing never to allow that to happen when The Old Republic launched.  The lack of content, messy blowup of Pub Crawlers, and general malaise eventually forced my hand, and I eventually left the game in August.

During the second quarter of the year, a new contender rose into view.  RIFT, the new fantasy MMO from Trion Worlds, launched to spectacular fanfare.  RIFT was a fun game that was well-produced.  It had an engaging 'soul system' that allowed you to combine aspects of many different types of classes into your character.  This made it new and exciting.  The graphics were great and the character design was fantastic.  The questing structure and leveling scheme was very reminiscent of WoW but this made slipping into the game that much easier.  Telara was a familiar yet new home; and the early days were surprisingly fun.  I never viewed RIFT as a game I would play for more than six months (which is what wound up happening) but after the horrific explosion of my raid team, I was glad to have something to occupy my time.  Switching between my Alliance shaman and RIFT made my divorce from Pub Crawlers (at least, the leadership of PC in WoW) palatable and provided me an outlet for my MMO needs.  Sad to say however that RIFT , while a good game in its own right, never could have held my attention for long ... the behemoth was 'round the corner.

The Old Republic's hype machine kicked into overdrive at this time.  Bioware started releasing a flood of details from the first Fan Site Summit; Darth Hater, TOROcast, TORWars, and others were soon gushing detail after detail about the new MMO from the boys in Austin.  This was an exciting time for me; finally, the MMO I had first heard about in 2007 from a Destructoid article, was coming out.  I'd been secretly marking TOR's progress throughout my WoW career but now I could throw my full effort into it.

THE THIRD QUARTER

Beta.  Thanks to a friend of mine, I was able to access the TOR beta.  This had two effects: 1) I decided to start this blog to document my impressions of the game, and 2) reinforced my belief that I had made the right decision.  The Old Republic was everything I could have hoped it to be.  I'm not going to sit here and proclaim that it was perfect from the start; the beta had some hideous bugs in it and they changed many things since - the commendation drop rate, commendation trading, default gathering settings, experience gains, even the levels of enemies on worlds.  The first draft of the game was rough, but the gem was there.  I could finally play it, and in playing it, I was able to share my experiences with you all.  Even if those experiences were limited to frothing at the mouth, mumbling incoherently, or sporting sudden erections at the merest mention of anything relating to the word 'republic.'

And while this was a happy time for me, it was also a tad depressing; my experiences in beta, while awesome, were temporary.  I knew this was the deal going in; I knew the characters would be wiped repeatedly.  And yet, I was shocked at how attached I became to these heroes I made.  The first hooks of 'story' and 'emotion' were sinking in.  My view of this game had always been one I would consume casually, at my own pace, but thanks to the beta, I started to realize how vastly different each of the classes were and how their stories played out.  I'd always assumed that The Old Republic would be KOTOR 3 through 10, but now I was starting to realize the enormity of that truth.

It was in this quarter that I started Imperial Intelligence; I really had no expectations for this blog or any clear goal.  Would I make it an Agent-centric blog focused around builds, meters, and the highest dps available?  Would I make it instead into a daily journal of my gaming experiences?  Would it be a guild touchpoint where I could disseminate information to my team?  Hell, I still don't know to be honest.  So it'll remain what it is ... a hodge-podge of stuff I find interesting and like to write about.  So there *pfffffllbbbttttt*

THE FOURTH QUARTER

The final quarter of this year can only be described as: RELEASE.  Of The Old Republic, of the tension-filled waiting, of the floodgates holding back opinions, information, reviews, expectations, disappointments, everything.  The portcullis lifted and the hordes stormed through to a galaxy far, far away.  Many things happened, from the release date announcement, to the CE unboxing, to the staggered early access that infuriated so many, to the launch day account fiasco ... so many things to talk about, yet nothing to say.  It's all been said before.  Bioware did a decent job, but in my opinion, basically proved why you don't do a staggered release.  While it makes sense logistically, I felt it was a cold and cruel decision for most of the playerbase.  If there's anything we gamers crave, it's certainty.  From release dates sets in stone, to game features we expect to be there, to when we get to play, gamers thrive on things they can count on.  Bioware made a misstep here by throwing that certainty into question.  I think other companies will look at this release and learn from it; I hope the good doctors do.

This quarter saw the formation of Scum and Villainy, the home for all wayward Pub Crawlers, Vanguard, and any others in The Old Republic.  We've formed quite a nice little family in the meantime and are steadily progressing through the game, led by Targeter the Double Agent, level 40 Sniper.  This quarter also gave birth to the official alliance between us Scummers and our Vanguard of Norrath brethren on the Republic side, giving all of us a place to go no matter which side of the galactic war we're on.  I couldn't be more proud to be married to the outstanding folks from the Vanguard.  To Chris, Joe, Costa, Dave, and the rest (even Lenny), thank you for partnering with us in this galaxy far, far away!

LOOKING FORWARD

As we look forward to 2012 what can we expect?  Well, Pappy Targeter has a few predictions!
  • RIFT will go free-to-play by December ... and experience a HUGE boom in sales
  • The Old Republic will have 2 million players by the end of 2012 and settle into the #2 subscription spot
  • More information on a Mass Effect MMO will leak out before the end of the year
  • World of Warcraft will maintain around 10 million subscribers due to the Mists of Pandaria
  • Scum and Villainy will have a raid team and we may have even downed content!
  • Blizzard and Bioware will maintain a friendly civil war for the hearts and minds of MMO gamers
  • Some smaller MMOs will go belly-up: Age of Conan, Warhammer Online
  • The decision to start charging for FFXIV will be one of the worst in MMO history

Thanks all for a great year!  It started rough but ended great.  Fly safe, shoot straight on this New Year holiday.  And remember to grab a DD for your spaceship.  For the glory of the Empire!

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