Sidequest: The Division

Blade & Soul (Episode 85)

THE GRINDSTONE TRIBUNAL:

Grindstone showed up in force for this game, but not all the usual suspects decided to stick around. However, we’ve got plenty of entries this time, now from Chachera, Dabeer, Wind, Dobar, LDJoy and myself, along with Dreskar, who’s fervor for this game seemed to drop dead at level 30. The rest of us got much further. It’s the perfect read for waiting in the queue!

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Warface (Episode 84)

THE GRINDSTONE TRIBUNAL:

Can you feel the “meh”? We all liked this enough, but not enough to keep it around. Once again Dreskar, Karochi and myself offer up our thoughts.

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The MMO Grinder 2015 Year In Review

Despite my nature of being vehemently anti-traditionalism, I almost like making these, so here comes another Year-In-Review for 2015, a.k.a. “The Worst Year for MMOs (so far)” I don’t want to say it’s a dying medium, but I do want to say we’ll need to start accepting that loose definition of “MMO” if I want to have more than 4 episodes a year. Sheesh.
Keyphrase being “almost like making these” as the list is late this year for several reasons, most of which involves laziness, watching AGDQ and that weird feeling that I usually did this right before MAGfest, and it’s not happening until late February.

This year, we moved the official Grindstone VOIP from Raidcall to Discord when Raidcall pledged full allegiance to Mother Russia. It was a move most of us would agree was for the best.
MMO Grinder was officially upgraded to 1080p/60fps despite my webcam and framerate not entirely cooperating with that, as my PC is only a processor and hard drive away from undergoing the Theseus Paradox.
Streaming officially died in my eyes, and we’ll leave that stuff to the experts, speedrunners and infectious personalities that keep charm and wit along with entertainment, and not some grumpy asshole who can’t stand attention seeking cultures. I have no idea why I still link my Twitch channel in my videos. If you donated to my Patreon because you really wanted to see more streams come about from me… you’ve probably pulled that support by now.
Speaking of Patreon, the service, and support for my channel exploded in popularity this year, along with my Youtube channel. It might be due to Angry Joe‘s plug of my F.E.A.R. Online review in “Worst Games of 2014” that net me a massive subscription boost. Relatively massive for my channel that is. Like, if you compare the few thousand or so subs gained purely from that plug, against the literal millions of subs he has, that’s LESS THAN ONE PERCENT of his subs. It’s barely over ONE TENTH of a percent. YT plugs can help, but even with a frighteningly popular Youtube channel plugging you, you’re not going to get noticed off it unless you entice them enough to stick around. Food for thought.

For a few of these categories, I’ll also have Co-Writer Setch Dreskar chime in with his choices when applicable.

DISCLAIMER: With the exception of unquestionably factual categories (which is basically “Most watched review”), this list is composed of nothing but purely opinionated statements. All categories and opinions contained within are as meaningless as life itself. Disagreement is acceptable and expected. Blind rage is sad and annoying. Please find something far more worthwhile to get mad at.

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Biggest Surprise: Heroes of the Storm

For a while, I was convinced the MOBA genre would be forever lost to me. Building games around competition is one thing. Building games around team competition is another thing. Catering to a preconceived, ever-evolving community-made meta is a third thing. Combining all three is a recipe for absolute mental misery. Every MOBA I played, from the genre originating DotA2,  to trend-setting LoL, and the perspective altering SMITE all ended up with the same kind of game once the MLG-360NoScope-420BlazeIt crowd settled in, demanding every single one of these games play out the exact same way. I have several other MOBAs sitting on my desktop waiting to be previewed, and I dread having to try them out. To say I had little desire to see what happened with Heroes of the Storm is an understatement. This is exactly why I listed this game as my “Biggest Surprise.” For once I was seeing a game that actually understood what caused MOBA toxicity. It broke down the genre to a psychological level, understanding that the problem isn’t that toxic players exist, it what turns them toxic in the first place. Some players can’t focus on the fact that classes have differing roles, or multiple nuances of play, and might not be able to perform to their standard. HotS made it so no one team member or class was ever fighting for experience or gold, by having everyone on the team share experience, and removing the gold/item system completely. I’d say the same thing about the brilliant move to remove the tired K/D/A scoreboard by grouping assists and kills as “takedowns” but last I checked, K/D/A was placed back in for ominous reasons. (If this is no longer the case, feel free to tell me.)
Regardless many other moves make this the most casual-player/beginner friendly MOBA outside of Adventure Time Battle Party, with still plenty of interesting stuff to keep my interest. Also helps if you have any love left for Blizzard.

Setch DreskarI had a tough time picking just one game to take this title, but for me it would have to be Pirates of the Burning Sea. There are other titles like Armored Warfare where I was weary of the game back during its alpha stages but once I got a key I found a game I really enjoyed, but PotBS is the title where I and several other members of grindstone expected little to nothing of the game and found a title that we really wish would be remade on a modern engine and with a new company. The game had ideas that would be very interesting to see redone and the naval combat was decently enjoyable for a game we were expecting to be a filler title.

 

Biggest Disappointment: Dragomon Hunter

And here I thought XLegend was going to be a shoe-in for another fun time. Hell, Eden Eternal kept me attached for far beyond the playtime needed for the video, and Aura Kingdom was practically Grindstone’s second Wushu, with tons of players and constant dungeons being run regularly by us. Lightning did not strike a third time. I don’t know what it was, but Dragomon seemed like a tired retread of everything that came before it, with nothing new or refreshing to set it apart. Dragomon collection was just another version of mount collecting. Nothing to the level of interest or complexity involved in say, Dragon’s Prophet. Combat felt like a weaker retread of Aura Kingdom’s combat, but adding in cheap instakills as punishment for missing the (oftentimes broken or invisible) telegraphed attacks. The story was worthless, the graphics seemed like a downgrade, and everything about the title failed to keep my interest. I really was looking forward to this, and even reached that obnoxious point where I was convincing myself to like it. It just took a lot longer for me to see the cracks, and when they began to show, they made the Grand Canyon start to blush. Easily the weakest Xlegend title I reviewed on this show, and marginally playable for a game developer that had no trouble competing for my attention before.

Setch Dreskar: This is easily Skyforge for me, I mean what a mess of a game. I was interested in the title at first, it has one of my favorite developers, Obsidian Entertainment, at the helm and their story telling does begin to shine through later but everything around it is just so dull. The combat system which seemed interesting and unique drags on far too much, and the grinding just so you can grind on your main grind is just so maddening I can’t believe this level of grind passed into the main title, and can only hope this was Publisher jack assery. It really does boggle the mind about how crap this game gets as it goes on, and the weekly limits are insulting even more so when you are told to play the generic facebook game if you are capped on everything else.
I do however want to mention what title would have easily swept this category for me if we had reviewed it. Triad Wars is a game that outright lies about what it is to try and garner an audience, and clearly that audience gave them the cold shoulder as the title will be closing its doors before even leaving beta. This was a game that claimed to be an MMO but was little more than a single player game with characters named by other players that you never got to see or interact with. This is a game that used farmville level mechanics to force you to play constantly to get anywhere. The most amusing part was when they changed the entire combat system and screwed over the entire playerbase that had been playing for awhile while giving a huge advantage to players just starting out. It went from sub par sleeping dogs, to terrible sleeping dogs with enemies having levels that kicked you in the nuts if you weren’t geared, and if you had been playing for a long while your gear didn’t change from the base combat system and made fights nearly impossible. Fuck you Squeenix. Fuck you for ruining such a promising title and doing everything to manipulate marketing. We all know you are a shit company but this just smacks of trying too hard to be terrible.

 

Biggest Non-Starter: Echo of Soul

Ever know when something isn’t going to be a thing, even when people are trying to convince you it is? Echo of Soul, a.k.a. “Most Anticipated MMO of 2015” by Incompetent Dipshit Gallery MMOSite, was every generic Asian MMO ever made. It did absolutely nothing interesting when looking at gameplay aspects alone… and yet this game didn’t offend me enough to not want to play it. It just exists. It’s about the best “Podcast Game” I’ve ever played. You know, the kind of game that you play while listening to a podcast or video because it barely demands your attention while still feeling like something to do? That kind of game.
While I’ll admit Aeria did some rather interesting things to keep the game’s palpably stale formula moving along as fast as possible, like lowering all item costs to 1 silver, and making the level grind fairly swift and simple, it wasn’t enough to keep any attention, or have me shower this game with any merit beyond “It’s not unplayable.” The PvP was kinda fun, too, but still not enough to make me want to keep it installed.

Setch Dreskar: This is a category with so many for me that picking one was rather difficult as I think a lot deserve this spot, but the one that edged the rest out is ELOA, mostly because it is the freshest in my mind. For the record the other dishonorable mentions would be Echo of Soul and Drift City, though all of these are games that we weren’t that excited for and looked to be doing nothing interesting and came out feeling the exact same way. I mean ELOA was so generic and dull I kept finding as many excuses as I could to not even play it, getting to where I did was a slog and was so draining that I can’t even imagine how non-bots actually stomach pushing through the title.

 

Biggest Annoyance: FFXIV Rage Runoff

“Umm, bro? This is from last year.”
Well, yeah the review is, but this thing certainly isn’t. I don’t know if this is the result of that boost in subs, or that thing that happens (in short, angry viewer misunderstands/dislikes video > angrily posts about video to game’s forum community > mob mentality ensues > shitstorm of nerd rage. See: City of Heroes) but I’m pretty much convinced I need to revoke the titles of “Best Community” and “Most well-received review” of 2014. But, in 2014 this wasn’t an issue. This stuff started cropping up a few months after, and crawls up occasionally to fart in my face. Go and look at the post on Youtube for FFXIV. Look at the dislike bar. Realize that’s the most disliked video I’ve ever done and wonder what the hell they thought I was saying.
In some self realization, I’m pretty sure this is on me for what I’ve been doing in every MMO Grinder intro. For those of you not big on picking up patterns, the intro to every MMO Grinder (the part that comes up before the titlecard) is a short anecdotal story about how I heard about the game, why I chose to play it, and what kind of history I have with the title, or things related to that title. The intro has gotten me in trouble more times than I can count. I tend to notice that most of the things I say in the intro tend to be the most discussed aspects of my video, despite the soft intro being completely irrelevant to the review.
I tend to forget this is the internet. This is a world where attention spans go to die. A world where Vine is a thing. These people likely saw me admitting my dislike of Squeenix (seriously, I think they’re terrible manipulative nostalgia-mining charlatans and I hope they go bankrupt.) and took it as if I was going to spend the entire video shitting on the game, and decided to stop watching. That or they let that fact tarnish everything I stated in the video, even blatant facts, as some sort of harsh critique… If I had a dollar for every time I saw a comment where someone took my mere observation of the fact tutorial tips were frequent and deep into levels, countering with “You can just shut them off!” as if I didn’t fucking know that, I wouldn’t need Patreon anymore.
And the excuses as to “why I didn’t like the game” or “why the video was wrong” just kept pouring out:
“You don’t like Square!” (They’re not Square anymore.)
“You didn’t get to endgame!” (That classic useless chestnut I’ve repeatedly explained in my show.)
“Your rotation was awful!” (Wasn’t aware I had to play a meta to enjoy a game. That would have been a valid critique had I said something like “combat feels weak” or “enemies are too hard to kill.” But I didn’t, because it wasn’t. They just kept harping on it because I recorded my gameplay at level 3. I’m certain they were all experts out of the gate.)
One guy actually linked my character profile in FFXIV “Totally-not-the-Armory” service as if this was somehow the smoking gun that rendered my video obsolete.
If not that, they’ll assure me that the game “fixed all of my problems”.
Oh, really? Are the first 45 levels still insultingly basic? Do the NPCs still say “mayhap” every 90 seconds? Does it still have a subscription fee? Is it still published by SquareEnix?
The sad part of this is… I don’t hate this game. I don’t find it special, and it’s honestly one F2P conversation away from being every Asian Fantasy MMO I’ve ever played, but this shit… this shit I predicted in the video itself, the very thing that’s spawning this shit, turning it into a self-fulfilling prophecy, has irreversibly soured me on this title. I can’t stand to look at it anymore, and I’ve never been so pissed off at a game that didn’t directly do anything to piss me off… Besides that constant meme garbage, and abuse of the word “mayhap” of course.
Oh and that promise I made about giving the endgame a chance and putting up a Backtrack to give my thoughts about it? Yeah, not fucking happening. Consider that officially revoked. Muzzle your god damned zealots, FFXIV Fandom.

 

My most backlashed review: Dragon Nest

Oh hey! More zealots! I can’t get enough of Nexonites apparently. It’s that dangerous combination of youth, weebism, and wannabe MLGer that makes reviewing Nexon titles such a pain in the ass. “This game would be great if it weren’t for the players” just sums up Nexonites perfectly, and I am fully aware I said that once before. It’s seriously worth repeating.
Really the complaints came in the form of something I thought was pretty innocuous.
“This game is pretty easy.”
Early out, and fairly deep in, it IS. But somehow that translated into the players who think their performance and abilities in this game are an extension of their self-worth (read: penis) had to go on the virulent offensive because this somehow implied they were not so much “good at the game”, as the “game was easy enough for anyone to be good at.” So I was inundated with rant comments from people with Dragon Nest avatars and names like “Kenshiro Kikkoman” telling me I was wrong because PvP is competitive, or the end level fights are really tricky if you play on max difficulty and don’t have any armor equipped. Some real quality projection and reaching. I’m not claiming the game wouldn’t eventually become difficult, but everything experienced by us was simply very basic, and required little skill to accomplish. The fact it might get harder does not invalidate the earlier proclamation.
Sad part is, this really should go to FFXIV now, but that WAS last year’s video, and I need to be fair. I already said my piece earlier.

 

My most well-received review(s): ELOA/Vermintide

Ok.. technically ESO is this, but I’ll have that coming up a few times more, and as far as comments sections screaming pronunciation pedantries and Upvote to Downvote ratios go, these two games came out quite solid., so it’s kind of a toss-up.
ELOA, was recent, yet well-received due to it being a rather humorous review to make, as anything with plenty to mock is always going to be a hit. People love negativity, especially when the types who agree with it far outnumber the people who’ll defend the game with their lives. From the goofy ass announcer, and terrible voicework to the generic gameplay, ELOA was a game few seemed willing to play, but a review many seemed happy to watch.
Vermintide holds the opposing end of the attention spectrum. The game and video came out looking amazing, and there was plenty for Warhammer fans and L4D fans to be interested in. People seemed to like the detail and interest in the game seemed pretty high. My Halloween eps always seem to garner some form of attention, and while certainly a better title than I’ve managed to choose for a few of those eps, I hope this won’t be the last time I have a true horror title to look at for this show.
Common complaints among both seemed rooted to one thing each, my claim ELOA wasn’t a hack and slash, despite that term being used to describe Diablo Clones before, and the fact Dreskar’s fanboying of Vermintide caused it to be a strategy guide more than a review. My personal fav among the latter being someone angry at the fact we gave away the ending. Sorry if mentioning “the world is ending” gave away the ending for “Warhammer: The End Times – Vermintide”. I can see how that might ruin the surprise.

 

My most watched review: The Elder Scrolls Online

Yes, I don’t have to suffix this category with “of this year” this time. Maple Story has been officially dethroned and in its place is something I doubt will ever be met with the same kind of viewcount (and comment repetitiveness).
Holy shit did this episode get away from me. I don’t even know HOW. Was it linked somewhere? Did it get listed on some YT algorithm. Did my timing actually work in my favor for once?
After all, this was the far predicted relaunch/”f2p” conversion of ESO. We knew there would be SOME interest. But holy crap, 300,000+ views?! For a channel with barely over 22k subs at the time?!
I’ll put this into perspective:
The rage that accompanied the FFXIV shitstorm? 144k views currently.
The tits game with tits on the titlecard that was about tits, and all subsequent rage trying to call me an SJW for calling out cheesecake for being a cheap lure? 141k views.
The game directly linked to by a popular Youtube personality with millions of subs? 44k views.
ESO? Current view total: 306,214. That’s INSANE. I have no idea how that happened. The only video on my channel with more views is an old shitty video of the GLaDOS boss fight from the original Portal, posted a week after that game came out NEARLY TEN YEARS AGO. To call the ESO video a runaway success would be putting it mildly, but I’m well aware that’s still pretty mild compared to many YT channels that looked at ESO. I’m not delusional.
Just wishing I’d stop seeing people complain about that “Nim” fuck-up and the way I pronounced “Khajiit”. It’s not even a real word, FFS.

 

Best Community: Heroes of the Storm

Whatever Blizzard was doing to lessen toxicity, it seems to have worked. I’ve never seen a MOBA where most players are more focused on fun than victory, kills, or metas… I’m not saying they don’t exist.. No idea why people are so binary about that shit, as if saying “people are generally nice here” means your story about “that one asshole that one time” is immediately invalidated, but when there’s less for teammates to fight over, they tend not to fight as much. I don’t play ranked. I don’t need scoreboards to measure my worth as a human being, or I’d give a lot more of a shit about subscription numbers. So I can’t really tell you how well this carried over to the competitive scene, but at least they aren’t leaking over to casual play too often.
I say “too often” because my earlier mention about K/D/A rearing its ugly head came about when some dipshit at Blizz reneged on that promise, claiming “the community was clamoring for ‘more competitive scores’ and ‘better assassin play’. I’m sorry which community was asking for this because the forum thread that accompanied that announcement was page after page of people telling Blizzard how terrible of a decision this was. Seriously, who are you competing against with that scoreboard? Your own team. Very little of that forum thread was clamoring for this awful change that’s nothing more than a last-hit/kill-steal counter, in a game where that doesn’t even matter, and the rest are not happy with this change. Time will tell if Blizz goes back to the team friendly “takedowns” counter or pulls its classic dismissive stance of “working as intended”.
I take that as a good sign for this community, though. People defending the change are being downvoted to oblivion, while those against it are very articulate in their explanations, and unafraid to call out people who make claims without evidence or spoonfeed PR bullshit. (One of the more popular posts was someone taking Blizz’s statement of “promotes better assassin play” and simply replying with “How?”)
If you want to play a MOBA where the likelyhood of someone biting your head off for making a simple gameplay mistake is at least in the lower digit percentages, HotS is your best choice.

 

Worst Community: Wakfu

I don’t know what I was expecting. This was pretty much the perfect storm of fuckery where communities are concerned.
Weebs? Check.
Older game filled with grizzled veteran players unwilling to accept newbies? Check.
Faction based gameplay forcing needless tribalism? Check.
Sandbox world with open PvP? Check.
This, like ArcheAge, is another game that proves if people are allowed to be a dick with little consequence, they will be. The entire game’s economy is based upon whether or not other factions feel like deforesting your continent that day. High level and end level players would hunt down stray newbies and taunt their victims before murdering them for their personal amusement. The chats were an endless pile of insulting, immature, inane channer chatter, and it’s all a huge mess. It’s unfortunate, as Wakfu remains one of the more unique games with a fantastically involved world and interesting, deep combat mechanics, but the players make the “Massively Multiplayer” part of MMO seem like a really bad idea at times. Go in with a good group, as that’s the best you can probably hope for. Otherwise you’ll be digging in a lot of rough to find any stray diamonds.

 

Best Recovery: The Elder Scrolls Online

I… I don’t even know what happened here. As illustrated pretty heavily by the stupid intro I did, I didn’t want to play this game. I didn’t enjoy the beta (but not to the crushing levels of “fuck this game” quite a few people I know did.) I remember we started out expecting to completely mock and deride this game, even going around looking for technical flaws and other design derpery I remembered from the beta. Invisible friends. Endlessly farmed dungeon boss corpse piles. Weirdly repetitive dialog. And, sure, while we found some of those things, what we had to remark on is how much of it we didn’t.
We were all pretty floored when ESO beat out TSW for a “best MMO 2014” list on a website, thinking there was no possible way that could have happened. People from GW2 were just pissed off their game lost, and counter-voted, right? (Well, that did happen but it wasn’t a majority shift.) Regardless of outcome, public opinion of the title seem to have shifted, and after our second foray into the game, we were beginning to see why. This was a remarkable turnaround.
Yet, if you talked with the general gaming public about it, you’d never think it did. ESO still heavily lives with this stigma it received from the beta. Multiple sources openly mocking the game for having the gall to exist. I was still shocked to see a random tweet that came about when ESO announced its million dollar giveaway contest stating,
“2014: ESO will have a subscription. 2015: ESO will be free to play. 2016: We’ll literally pay you to play this game!”
Fun fact: Unsuccessful games clamoring for players don’t give away massive amounts of money in contests. They spam cash shop sales, and ignore all content updates that don’t involve those sales.
I get why some people might not like it, but I can’t help but commend a company that actually listened to its active playerbase, stopped trying to awkwardly fuse the fanbases of Elder Scrolls and MMOs, and worked on making it the best game it could be.

 

Worst Turnaround: Trove

What the hell happened here? I was all set for this to be my go-to hop-in-hop-out casual-play title for the year. Creating stuff for your cornerstone and club world was a blast. I loved the simple gameplay and community focus. The combat was fun, and the game was just a joy to play. In fact, for the most part, all of that is still true. There was just one problem.
Trion inverted the old philosophy: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” into “If it ain’t broke, fix it til it is.”
They just kept adding and adding and ADDING things. While most people might not understand why this would be considered a bad thing, lets just say that each new addition threw another wrench into the engine. The servers got laggy and unplayable. The grind grew more and more intolerable. Lucky boxes, and other “pay to enjoy” aspects were being steadily dumped into the game, each before the last addition ever had time to be thoroughly tested and ironed out within the community.
This made a game that I loved become steadily more unrecognizable, even after they pulled out of beta and went “full launch”, they refused to stop messing with it. After they turned the wonderfully minimalist UI into some sort of ugly Fisher-Price-meets-MSPaint looking nonsense, I was done. Have they improved since then? I don’t know. I hope so, but I’m not planning on looking back until they settle into a solid framework, and quite trying to Special Edition it up.
There’s PvP added recently, too. So that’s something else that didn’t need to exist.

Setch Dreskar addsSpeaking of Trion, what the hell happened to the company as a whole? Trion were the guys that took roleplay in Rift seriously and would help police roleplay on their roleplay servers to keep players happy. Trion were the company that listened to their playerbase and made it so both factions finally allied together because there were less reasons to remain separate in the face of an overwhelming threat, making them stand in stark contrast to that one arrogant company that seems to enjoy pissing on its fanbase and sticks its head in the snowbank whenever a suggestion is made. If you can’t guess that company is named after a destructive weather phenomena and enjoys making memes to ridicule its players.
Back to the point though, what has Trion done these days? Slowly eroded all its titles to milk them for cash, begun ignoring the playerbase, thrown in pay to win garbage into its titles, and flooding mediocre content into its titles to keep up the appearance they are giving good value. With that being said it isn’t hard to see how Trove could go from a Grindstone favorite into its current position where we are annoyed at how much Trion has squandered in the name of making quick cash. So much content is now required to have an enjoyable experience, pvp getting shoved in while being directly opposed to the playerbase at the time ensuring the friendly game where everyone could work together while be yet another generic meta-fest. I think I personally will miss the amazing musical club worlds that created intricate songs the most. Damn you Trion, just damn you.

 

Favorite Overall: The Elder Scrolls Online

I really did not see this coming. If you had told me the game I was most actively avoiding and dreading to play would have become my favorite overall MMO in 2015, I’d have asked you not to repeat such a pointless cliche… But I still would have thought you were making some pretty longshot bets.  The funniest thing about it all, is that I’m really not sure what changed or why my attitude did.
Again, we did play the beta and “we were bored” would be understating it a bit. Nothing felt special. Really, what changed?
I can’t explain it, but I can relay my feelings pertaining to both. Perhaps it had something to do with my initial choice in the beta of creating Ciann as a Breton (pronounced: ped-ANT) and forcing myself in the frighteningly boring Daggerfall Covenant opening areas. Eventually I decided to make Liatania as a Nord, and even though “Bleakrock” was an aptly named area, I felt a bit more intrigued by everything happening in that faction (Ebonheart Pact). But by the time the beta was over and I hit unplayable quest bug after unplayable quest bug, I couldn’t be assed to pay to play a game I gave no shits about the lore and world of. I basically avoided it like the plague and chuckled at every rage review that came across for the game.
So when we started up again expecting the worst, what we got felt so much better.
Combat felt interesting. While certainly simplistic, and not the best available to the reticle combat genre, something about that style seems to work, and we were able to avoid movements and perform attacks based upon the situation, not simply a rotation that should be applied to everyone we found.
Finding bits of lore and skyshards gave the world an exploration aspect that felt more freeing after we say how the areas were being set up.
Questing plays out in a TSW style “Here’s a main story to funnel you down a path, but if you come across people to help along the way, do what you want.”
Taking the time to read and see what was at stake in many of the quests (most notably Ebonheart Pact) provided some of the most soul-crushing moral choices I’ve seen in a game. This is an industry awash in “moral choices” that can be decided with a coinflip. Choices that edge both side of extremes. Choices that have basically spawned this entire idiotic culture of binary, black and white, kindergarten-level “morality”. Knowing that neither choice I made was the unquestionably “right” one, and it was up to ME to decide what to do, blew my mind. To see someone saying the game’s moral choices were bad because they weren’t clear cut, “right and wrong” options baffled and frightened me for that person’s social future. Life doesn’t work that way.
I can’t emphasize that enough. I can recall an exact moment when the game got to me. Without trying to spoil much, I was questing in an area where a town was host to a rather polarizing condition, with clear positives and negatives. Two separate NPCs had completely differing ideals on whether this was a blessing or curse, and when I was nearing the end of the quest chain, I told my wife I only had “one more thing to do” and I would be offline. That “one more thing” turned out to be my decision to, as one NPC would see it, preserve their condition and “let them live”, or to the other NPC, end that condition and “free them from torment”. I sat there for a solid 5 minutes, internally arguing with myself. I would nearly click on an option, and then pull away with an audible grunt of doubt and frustration with myself, until I finally chose one. The other NPC then insisted I change my mind, sending soldiers to stop me from making my decision, begging and pleading with me to stop what I was doing, with a terrified intensity in his voice that wounded me to the core, even causing me to doubt myself a final time before carrying out the option for good.
I was undergoing an existential crisis over something that literally had no effect or consequence to the core gameplay and it wasn’t until Undertale (which would be my GOTY if I reviewed Indie games and not MMOs) that I would again be wracked with such conflict over my actions toward, for all intents and purposes, lines of code. Like UndertaleESO can have a serious mental impact on you if you let it.
Beyond the above few paragraphs, I suppose like this game because I really don’t care about the lore and world of the Elder Scrolls. I don’t have a fond memory of playing Morrowind. I didn’t play any of the other titles because I simply didn’t care to. They didn’t interest me. So I’m not feeling betrayed by simplified systems, lore retcons, or even where this whole thing is even supposed to fit in the overarching story, and I think that might be the best thing this game has going for it… which unfortunately was not their initially intended audience. I don’t think it should be made to suffer for it, and it certainly takes far more risks than that other anticipated MMO that it fought alongside its debut year.

Setch Dreskar adds: This one is a no-brainer for anyone that is within the grindstone community. Elder Scrolls Online has been one of those major shocks for me. I was debating having this up for Biggest Surprise but I knew full well I would be putting the title here and wanted to talk about some other surprises we had over the year. This was such a turn around for me, everything about Tamriel Unlimited just made the game feel so much better than when I was given press access for the beta. So this argonian savage will continue to play ESO, and I am looking forward to the continued support and expansions that are being added, especially Thieves Guild and Dark Brotherhood!

 

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Signing off another year-in-review, here’s to remembering to change my credits to read “2016” in my next episode. We’ll see if I even still have a show to do by the end of this year.

Armored Warfare (Episode 83)

THE GRINDSTONE TRIBUNAL:

Despite the excitement of some, there weren’t too many people to tag along this time. Once again we have Dreskar, Karochi and myself taking up Tribunal duty to air out our true thoughts.

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Episode 82: ELOA

THE GRINDSTONE TRIBUNAL:

Getting people to play this was like pulling teeth. At least they give you good pills after pulling teeth. Come feel the boredom from Karochi, Dobar, Dreskar and I.

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Sidequest: Blade and Soul

Dragomon Hunter (Episode 81)

THE GRINDSTONE TRIBUNAL:

Burnout hit hard this round, with only 4 of us ever bothering to give this game an extended amount of care. Two of whom aren’t being paid to do so! Dreskar and I are joined by Karochi, an XLegend fan, and Dobar, someone who’s all too familiar with the grindwall.

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Derivative Design: When is a “rip-off” not a “rip-off?”

There’s a term I see far too often used in gamer culture… hell, nerd culture in general, whenever a genre is forming or design elements start being used in multiple places. That term, of course, is “rip-off”.

We have other terms for it of course.
“Clone.”
“Copy.”
But what if it’s merely “coincidence”?
What if something you thought was original wasn’t as original as you thought?

To bring up what started this whole thing in the first place, let’s take a look at “Dragomon Hunter” and in turn, the game most comments cried foul for when they saw the debut trailer, “Monster Hunter”.

First off, there’s plenty you can claim was taken and/or stolen from Monster. There’s a bank available at the beginning of each “hunt”.
You have a small cute creature to follow you around.
You collect parts of monsters to create better gear.
But the differences far outweigh those similarities, even though people are going to pick apart everything once they’ve seen one.

The thing is, though, Monster Hunter isn’t all that original in the first place… especially when it comes down to the one thing everyone was pointing at. The monsters.
Capcom didn’t invent raptors, wyverns, manticores or the dozens of mythological monsters that you hunt within the game. They just gave them different names.
When Dragomon Hunter includes a flaming manticore into their game that’s their prerogative. You can call it a “Teostra” rip-off all you want, that doesn’t change the fact that the two characters aren’t exact model or animation copies. I’ve seen the Teostra fight and the “Molten King” battle plays out nothing like it. This isn’t Hunter Blade, after all.
Sure, you can make the case that Dragomon does far more than that, especially if you go about looking at the “Rock Gigant” and immediately think “Groudon” from Pokemon. But take a look at them side by side sometime. REALLY take a look. They look almost nothing alike, aside from their general color, stance and eyes. That’s not enough to be considered a ripoff. Rock Gigant doesn’t have smooth white spikes on its side. No runic markings on its body. No claw-tail. Rock Gigant’s jaw is two massive bone like plates, while Groudon has a rounded shark-like mouth. It’s not even close.
Yet our minds are desperate to make a connection and call out these apparently copyright violations when there really aren’t any.

The term “clone” tends to be thrown around a bit much around forming genres. When a new game comes out, or at least brings a new set of mechanics to life, others try to see what they can do with those mechanics. It happened with the First Person Shooter when the media dubbed them all “Doom Clones” in the early 90’s. When Mario 64 brought about a new style of gameplay with the 3D Platformer, all too many publications were willing to dismiss Crash Bandicoot, Croc, and hell, even at one time, Tomb Raider as “Mario 64 Clones”. Sometimes the “clone-name” never goes away, as we’re currently seeing with the recent genre trend, the “Roguelike”, a name that literally means “like the old PC game called ‘Rogue’ that contained permadeath mechanics.”

Another genre that of course has had “clone” and “rip-off” shouted at it more times than I can count is the MOBA. DotA Fanatics would have you call them “DotA-Style” games, as they’re unquestionably miffed by the fact that Riot’s “League of Legends” coined the term by making their own version of DotA. A term I will greatly admit is completely vague and nondescript on its own, applicable to hundreds of differing titles and genres, but the name’s stuck. You say “MOBA” nowadays and most players are going to know what kind of game you’re talking about. The market itself reached some sort of mobius-strip of cloning when Heroes of the Storm started getting rip-off accusations for including Jaina in their game when it was “so obviously a copy of Crystal Maiden”.
Just… just look into the history of something before you say some really stupid shit like that again, guys.

We’re seeing it rise up again with the similar titles of Overwatch, Paladins, and Battleborn cropping up. Three titles with similar mechanics but very different feels being labeled as copies by people who’ve played one or less of these titles, and have nothing to go off of beyond screenshots and promo trailers.

You want to see some actual “rip-offs” go look into the woefully under-regulated mobile market sometime.
The Mobile MOBA “Ace of Arenas” is such a painfully obvious League of Legends clone that I can name every Champion they copied to put into their game upon first playing them. Hell, when you include a fox girl who attacks with a boomeranging “soul orb”, can summon a trio of homing fireballs, and has an ult that causes her to dash toward enemies while firing shots, you wonder if Ahri and Riot might want to have something to say about it.
This brings about another observation. Ace of Arenas also has a Sun Wukong, which many Leaguers might cry foul as another “rip-off”, just as they did with SMITE adding a Sun Wukong. But here’s the thing… Neither League nor SMITE invented Sun Wukong. He’s been a Chinese legend for centuries. All Riot did was take the name, look and abilities of Sun Wukong and inexplicably give him a new lore. (Getting into Riot’s “re-lore-ing” would be a whole other article)
I’ve played one of those Mobile RPGs that uses characters and skills copied directly from League of Legends as well. Jolie from “Magic Rush Heroes” is Miss Fortune in every way but look. Muse is Sona. Emily is Annie. Yet the game’s mechanics are so far removed from the MOBA that it honestly amuses me, and just makes me wonder why they bothered.
You’ll find dozens of cash-in clones looking to ape the latest trend of the month. Some of the companies going as far to rip themselves off, by making the same kind of title with a slightly altered skin. King.com has so many versions of Candy Crush, a clone version of Bejeweled, mind you, that I’m pretty sure that bubble is well on its way to bursting. I’m just saying there’s plenty of real, honest to goodness rip-offs out there without having to look at a creature and go “Hey, that kinda looks like that one character if you squint and ignore these several traits! RIP-OFF!”

But let me offer up one question…

Does it really matter?

This isn’t like “The Asylum” trying to take advantage of the latest movie release by making a low-budget movie with a similar title in order to fool some unsuspecting, non-observant grandmother into buying it for their grandkids.
These games aren’t something you go to the store and pick off the shelf, trying to fool us into thinking they’re the real thing. There’s just people with varying amounts of personal creativity trying to place something they enjoy into their own personal world.
If there’s really a problem, a true concern, the companies in charge WILL take care of it, not a group of roving fanboy gatekeepers shrieking at every perceived infraction of copyright like a low quality copy is honestly going to take attention and players away from their favorite titles.

All in all, it’s best to be mindful of the true originality and source of something before you start mislabeling it as a reference, copy, or worse, “Rip-Off”. Reality is far more vast than the world contained within your favorite game.

Sidequest: Paladins (Closed Beta)

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