Truth be told, I wasn’t even interested in DAoC when it was being hyped and released. Wen badgered me into getting the game for her, and I tried it out for a couple of days and was slightly miffed to find that I sorta liked it. Then Wen snuck out and bought me a copy while I was asleep, and I continued playing it. My general impression was, "It’s Everquest without the sucky bits." Now if that statement makes DAoC sound derivative, it’s absolutely correct. However, when comparing something to EQ with the qualifier "without the sucky bits," you might as well be talking about an entirely different game. Most of EQ can be categorized as "sucky bits."

This doesn’t mean DAoC is without its warts. Because its system is so similar to EQ, both technology and playing system-wise, it has the flaws that go along with the EQ engine and the EQ character system. It’s still absurdly level-based, every 5 levels difference or so between characters/monsters equating to about 4 million years in evolution. The landmasses feel significantly smaller than AC landmasses, though this is ameliorated somewhat by the lack of a LODAING ZONE PLEASE WAIT window every time you move about a hundred yards. Solo play still gets extremely boring past the high teens, though at least it’s possible (for some classes). A rigid class system still leads to a templating mentality with each class, resulting in carbon copy class representatives, though this is slightly less repugnant that the 10 endurance spec life spec racial melee twinky concept. All in all, DAoC isn’t really new, it’s just another step in the plodding evolution of MMORPG’s into something that will hopefully not suck someday.

So with a system that’s more or less tolerable, the same two problems predominate the world of annoying things in this game as any other game of its ilk: balance and players. Here’s a quick look at a couple of examples of these problems.

THE POOR STEPCHILD

12) Hibernia will get special attention in order to correct what people perceive it being the “poor stepchild” of the game. In particular all aspects of the development team will be turning their attention to that Realm (classes, spells, NPCs, dungeons) to improve it and the player’s perception of the Realm. — Mark Jacobs

As anyone in the stock market or advertising will tell you, perception is everything. A "perceived" weakness in Hibernia leads to an actual weakness, as Hibernian players take off for other realms, or other games. This is exactly what’s happening now.

Realm balance in DAoC has been a big pain since release, with Midgard dominating on most (if not all) servers. This has been a big whining point on Vaultish boards for a long time, and the problem now is that with RvR conflict actually meaning something, the imbalance will only get worse.

(Insert general RvR digression)

Midgard’s dominance in RvR conflict can be attributed to a number of factors, including (but not limited to) buggy ass Midgard AE stun effects that allow one green guy to stun an entire group of enemies for minutes while his pals pound them to death, better min/maxing potential in player races (specifically trolls and dwarves), and better itemization of dungeons.

Now all of this has been brought up before on various forums especially stun, and the standard Midgard answer is either "U SUK QUIT WHINING," or else admonishing the complainers to defeat them with tactics. "Using Tactics" doesn’t matter. Yes a group of well-coordinated players can defeat a Midgard group of stunmonkeys hitting the spell button over and over again, but the Midgard group can also use tactics, and then it all comes back down to stun again. This is as pointless as claiming the v1.08 Zerg in Broodwar are perfectly playable. Yes, if you are a genius, and very lucky, and your opponent is a drooling idiot, you might have an even shot at winning.

The itemization of dungeons becomes radically important when you consider the recent itemization of Barrows in Albion. Suddenly good stuff was dropping for 30+ players, and after a day or two of mad camping, groups of Albion fighters were able to more or less hold their own in RvR… except, of course, for the fact that Midgard characters are generally higher level than them because of their earlier advantages. And the numerical advantage of Midgard from new players joining the winning team, and disgruntled Albion/Hibernia players switching over to Midgard after being chainstunned for the 800th time. And specific class imbalances between, for example, the Scout and the Hunter. However, Hibernia had no such itemization buff, and suffers as a result.

As bad as the Albion/Midgard situation is, it can’t even compare to the Hibernia vs. anyone else situation. Hibernia is unfinished. Hibernia has crap for itemization. Hibernia’s race/class selection is generally weaker vs. anyone else’s in head to head conflict. Moreover, most of the RvR conflict in the game takes place in Hibernia, because their frontier areas are relatively tame, without huge packs of purple mobs walking around waiting to kill you while you look for a party to chainstun in peace. And more and more Hibernians just give up and go to Midgard, and the gap becomes wider.

Soon RvR and Realm Points will actually matter. This is bad.

Relics will soon be "fixed" and capturable. Realm points will confer potentially HUGE skill bonuses on players. Having seen nothing about any sort of RP wipe preceding this significant mechanical change, I can only assume there will be no such wipe, thus rewarding people who shamelessly used chainstun and used F8 to find stealthed enemies for weeks.

Last night, a quick look at /realm on Palomides shows that ALL of Hibernia’s keeps were captured by Midgard. (2 have been recaptured by the time of this writing.) This is no doubt a preparatory move to going for Relic keeps the next day. It’s also in preparation for increased guard presence and roaming. Take the keep when the guards are easy, and hold them until the guards are not so easy.

Before you can reward players for a PvP system like Realm vs. Realm, you have to make sure it actually works first. This means fixing the RvR bugs like stun, holes in keeps, F8, etc… and fixing Hibernia. It’s more than just a perception: Hibernia is unfinished. Lack of itemization, lack of attention to classes even worse than Albion’s, lack of anything resembling a finished feel in layout and terrain. Give players a reason to want to play Hibernia. The big reason people want to play Midgard seems to be the perception that Midgard is a big I WIN button. It’s too late to try and get people out of Midgard, now that they’ve been leveling in the cozy glow of chainstun for so long. New players and those migrating from other servers are the only hope for Hibernia, and they’re going to take a lot of convincing. "Special attention" is right, and beyond just finishing Hibernia. You need a lot of "perception" to reverse the damage that’s already been done.

VENDOR BUY BANK GUARDS I RESIGN FROM MY GUILD

I’ve never been crazy about the idea of "gaming guilds" at all. They always start out as seemingly sensible endeavors, and always wind up in a cesspool of stupidity. This is no different in DAoC than it is in other games, and this rant is sorta game-generic. It just happens that I’m playing DAoC at the time that I finally got off my ass to write it.

There’s a specific evolutionary path that most gaming guilds follow:

Guild Starts as a small number of friends who decide to hang out together and have fun. "Having fun" can mean anything from sitting around in town baking bread and looking at each others’ avatars to roaming the countryside PKing miners and lumberjacks.

Guild Seeks Recognition through a dopey name and some sort of insignia. In beta UO it was just a bunch of people spamming their dopey name over their heads with a speech macro, or naming their characters something like "[WE B K3WL] Raistlin." Eventually games implemented less bandwidth-intensive systems for people to spam their affiliation.

Now you have a "guild." What happens now usually goes like this:

Guild Grows through the inevitable invitation of friends of guild members who aren’t in the initial clique, and then their friends, etc. etc. Guild becomes a number of subsets of players, and they start whining about each other.

Guild Splits as these subcliques go off to form their own clubhouses. Initial clique members tend to stay in the mother guild, though sometimes they are torn between the core group of associates and others. Much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments.

Guild Closes Membership as the core of original players feels somehow slighted by all this factionalization and ungrateful bastardism, and they refuse to take any new members.

Guild Withers Away Pitifully as people natually get sick of playing, or decide to move servers, or get banned for bug exploitation, or the guildmaster takes off with the bank box. End of guild.

There are some exceptions to this evolutionary trend, of course: there are guilds that exist for reasons of exploiting badly-thought out game mechanics, such as the infamous mulechains of AC. There are guilds started by people who think they know better, and skip entirely over the "Guild Grows" step and gets right down into the "Pitiful Withering." There are also a few guilds whose only requirement is that you kick ass as a player. The first "guild" I was in, Dragon Company of Heavy Gear, was such a "guild," and while it did eventually wither pitifully, it was to date the best player organization I’ve been involved with.

As an example, I wound up joining the Vitae Rising Palomides/Albion branch, basically because I wanted access to guild chat to harass Beau and scam him out of money. The concept of VR as started by Hearding in AC was a pretty simple one, very common to most sort of fuzzy guilds: just have a good time, don’t be a dick, don’t ask to be powerlevelled, don’t bitch, etc. The thing that made VR different was that Hearding and some of the other original members were funnier than the average fuzzy friendship guild type. Naturally, VR grew and grew, and the first sign of its evolution as a "player guild" was Hearding leaving. (This was a nice alternative to the "Close Membership" stage.) Eventually there were a bunch of branch offices and associated monarchies, including the Jin Lee Monarchy, Kynn’s monarchy of the day, and me (I suppose, though I turned down all potential vassals except those who just wanted to have a tag on them to avoid "U WANNA B MY VASSEL" spam). Branches handled things very differently; VR was still mostly about getting killed and sorta having a good time, JLM was eventually about being rank 8, Kynn was about killing people, and I was about not logging in. Eventually branches moved to other servers, or animosity grew between branches, or whatever.

Enter DAoC. Players from VR start playing, and naturally they want to continue the proud tradition of factionalization into this new game. In my opinion, this is a terrible mistake. Player guilds are ephemeral, and changing games means a whole new outlook for many players, based both on individual play and game mechanics. You cannot do some of the stuff you did in a different game. Holding onto a guild tag out of some absurd sense of "friendship across universes" leads to things like the Angry Angels, a good Heavy Gear clan, moving to Starcraft and largely sucking at it. Guild members who might be better served by joining a different affiliation in a new game wind up sticking around in an old guild out of sentimentality and sometimes suffering from it to the point of quitting in frustration, where they might have been much happier going through the normal process of being alone for a while, learning the game, and picking a group that best suited them.

Now also consider that the Palomides/Albion branch of VR wound up consisting of lots of different kinds of former VR members, not the one core you normally start with. Everyone has a different idea about what’s going on. Naturally the fracturing starts early. Soem people think that lower level members should be twinked to hell, something which is not really possible in DAoC, but they come from an AC mindset where you go from level 1 to 5 in one arrow shot against a Tusker Guard with a twinking mage next to you. Some people want to power up so they can RvR together. Some people actually think that nobody should be outlevelling each other, so that all guild members can always play together… I suppose on the one day per month when everyone is online at the same time, at level 5. Some people don’t even know that Beau, the de facto guildmaster, is an angry drunken bastard who cut his teeth in some memorable conflicts and get easily offended when he berates them, or when he gives them free stuff, or whatever. A big stupid pissing match starts and people leave VR to go join other branches of it, or to join different guilds, or quit, or whatever.

Good.

Guilds are ephemeral for some very good reasons. You don’t get paid for being in them. They’re based on a recreational activity that’s only as good as the company support, for only as long as the game is being supported. The old argument of "you should stay in your guild because your friends are there" doesn’t hold water. If they were your friends, it wouldn’t depend on your belonging to their gaming group. The "friends" argument I believe was originally concocted by Verant to keep people playing EQ, camping a goddamn monster for 40 hours at a time, waiting in line for loot, and somehow believing that they were having fun.

 

2 Responses to “First and Last Dark Age of Camelot Article”
  1. [quote]Angry Angels, a good Heavy Gear clan, moving to Starcraft and largely sucking at it.[/quote]
    Actually we never did SC on any official level, though we did do BZ and HG2. Not to mention there are many of us from that time period still around, sad as that may be we still linger in games together from time to time.

  2. Maybe it was just Ab? Weird, I could swear I saw some of you…

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