I said I’d mention more of MMOs and, well, then went quiet!

Mainly that was thanks to a combination of laziness and the most recent Staggering Stories update – which was mammoth (and late thanks to the extinct hairy elephantness of it). The quality was even better than that quantity, too – look on the Staggering Stories site for yourself! A big thank you to everyone who helped make it possible – another update to be proud of!

Back on topic, though. I won’t go back to the glory days of MMOs here (I may return to that in the future, though, if you are unlucky). Instead I will have a quick moan about Sony Online Entertainment!

It starts with Vanguard: Saga of Heroes (well, actually it started with Star Wars Galaxies but ignoring the past…) Vanguard is a game of incredible potential. A truly massive game in scope and real estate. Real estate? Yes, it has big wide rolling landscapes with a very naturalistic look. It would be stunning to look at it if I didn’t have to drop my resolution so low to get it to run on my machine. Even at that low res I have to turn the image quality settings right down just to get 20+ Frames Per Second out in the wilds. In major cities the frame rate drops to 2 or 3 FPS – a slide show. True, I don’t have the most up-to-date hardware but I can run the likes of World of Warcraft and Guild Wars at full quality settings (and both look fantastic). I would even go as far to say that WoW looks better than a fully spiffed up Vanguard. The reason: style. Vanguard visuals try to look more natural but are doomed to be less interesting than the highly stylised look of others. That’s the difference between an art direction and trying to make something look like it would out of my window.

So, besides the slightly boring looks and abysmal performance, what else is wrong with Vanguard? There are obviously the inevitable bugs that come with rushing a game out before it is ready (and Sigil, the makers of Vanguard, apparently even admitted as much – they needed the money!) Those will, hopefully, be fixed in time (unlike what happened with SWG, which still has launch bugs to this day and plenty more besides.) The game play is the thing that really kills it right now, though. They have added new ideas, particularly the Diplomacy ‘card game’. They’ve borrowed some of the best ideas from SWG, such as player housing and in-depth crafting. They haven’t, however, brought in the best element of SWG (now missing in action there too) which was forced class interaction. Players had to seek medical attention, they had to have down time with entertainers, they had to buy armour, weapons and food – looted versions were only basic and virtually worthless. That’s not there in Vanguard, instead you have vendors with computer generated items and loot drops. There are no real reasons to go back to town, that I’ve found, other than to visit trainers or quest NPCs. The quests themselves are pretty standard fare of kill N of X creature, kill Xs until you have looted Y objects or visit location/NPC Z. Nothing new there.

It sounds like I’m completely down on Vanguard but I’m not. The real thing that colours my vision of this game is the performance. I’m not going to spend the best part of a £1000 to upgrade my machine to a point it might approach comfortable playing conditions. Towards the end of the year I probably will upgrade my machine, it’s due, but no other game I’m currently playing requires it right now. Vanguard is not compelling enough to force me to upgrade early.

The other fly in the ointment is SOE’s price hike for their Station Access subscription. Station Access gives you a subscription to all of SOE’s MMO games for one monthly price. A good deal if you want to dabble and the price is right. What was $22.99 (Yankee Dollars, plus 17.5% VAT for us Europeans), when I originally signed up for it a little over a year ago, has now been announced will go up to $29.99 on the 2nd April 2007. What must be a little under a year ago I quit Station Access when they pushed the price up to $24.99. If an extra couple of dollars made me cancel my Station Access last time you can imagine what five dollars will do now I’ve returned to it, for $25, this time. This new price rise means that Station Access is actually more expensive than two monthly recurring SOE games (by one cent – they are $14.99 each a month). It’s even worse if you compare paying for three, six or twelve months at a time – an option you don’t have with Station Access. Three months subscription to one of their games comes in at effectively $13.99 a month, six months at $12.99 a month and twelve months at $11.99 a month. Station Access used to be a reasonable deal for playing one game and dabbling in all of SOE’s other games (you still have to buy the retail boxes and upgrades, though). Now you’d have to be seriously playing two SOE games and wanting to dabble with the others to make it worthwhile. I doubt many people have the time for that. SOE are pushing away their most dedicated supporters. They will never get anywhere close to challenging World of Warcraft’s dominance with behaviour like that.

On a happier note, it looks like Babylon 5: The Lost Tales is shaping up nicely. Warning: many spoilers there, I saw a couple and stopped reading it! Nonetheless the pictures are basically safe as we all know who’s in this already!
Galen and Sheridan

2 Responses to "MM-Woes"

  1. Hobbit says:

    The bods in charge at SOE need to take a long look at themselves and then fire themselves. They had it in their power to dominate the market – SWG was outstanding, addictive and reasonably priced, and what did they do? They messed with the concept, hiked the price and drove away their most loyal customers. The bods at WOW reaped the benefits. I was offered a 30-day free trial to get back into an SOE title but can honestly say I’m not interested. I don’t trust them and have no intention of giving them any more of my money – which is a shame, ‘cos I met some brilliant people on line. Extremely odd people, but brilliant all the same.

  2. Yes, it’s tragic what they did to Star Wars Galaxies. It should have been the biggest MMO in the business – it’s Star Wars! Even after the poor prequel trilogy there are still countless millions of fans out there who would have liked to run around in the Star Wars universe. It should have been bigger than Warcraft – what the heck is Warcraft? It’s based on a series of Real Time Strategy games. Fantastic games produced by one of the best (probably _the_ best) game developer out there but nonetheless…

    SWG: released far too early. Excellent ‘sand box’ type game that sorely lacked directed content (mission terminal grind aside). Then when they did add quests they destroyed the sand box and junked everyone’s achievements and professions. What were they thinking? They were trying to dumb it down to gain those millions of players they expected to have. It was too late, their mismanagement had lost their early adopters and created unprecidented amounts of bad publicity. SWG is known throughout MMO circles for all the wrong reasons. It looks like it is basically in maintenance mode now, SOE have realised it’s a dead MMO crawling.

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