The MMO Grinder 2016 Year-In-Review
So here we are, the annual pre-MAGfest tradition that’s only 3 months late. I think I speak for many when I say “Fuck 2016” and not just due to the climate of current events, or swath of influential celebrity deaths… the MMO Market was pretty dead this year, with the most expected and anticipated titles being half-decade old titles that only lived up to various levels of hype.
As far as the show is concerned, Patreon moved to a monthly schedule instead of per-video, in order to reflect the “one episode a month” shift that occurred later in the year, which didn’t exactly pay off in the long run. On the plus side, my effort with Sidequests and Backtracks doesn’t feel completely wasted anymore. (And they’re far more fun to do than full episodes anyway. Well, Sidequests at least.)
Streaming was rezzed after I decided to embrace the absurdity. I’m still telling the random parades of sycophants, coaches, and fanboys to sod off, but there’s a core group showing up more often, and we had a lot of fun with games like Black Desert, Riders of Icarus, and recently, Revelation Online. Also, there’s that indie game stream I do sometimes… and I got a capture card for my Switch. There are options now, and I don’t entirely hate it anymore.
Like last year, Dreskar will be adding his own take on a few of these categories, (and other members may stop by to offer more thoughts.)
POINTLESS DISCLAIMER: It’s all subjective. Praise or damnation of a title is utterly meaningless in the grand scheme of things. I do not claim to be any authority on the matter or what’s good or bad in an MMO, just what I like or don’t like. Never let anyone tell you how to think. Just share opinions without pretending like any dislike of your hobbies equates a personal attack.
Biggest Surprise: Battleborn
Like apparently the entire gaming community, my initial reaction to this game was… “What the hell is this?” I only heard of it because Nate had suggested it to us and after looking up what it was about, I was far more intrigued by it, especially since unlike the OTHER arena shooter people were flipping their shit over, it had a robust PvE mode.
Then I played it and fell in love with ISIC as a character. Probably my favorite character out of every game I played last year, Aaron Linde did wonders bringing about what would basically happen if you took the spirit of the Nihilist Arby’s Twitter and gave it sentience. ISIC hates life with a joyous glee. He knows existence is meaningless, and can’t wait to make everyone suffer for it, yet comes across as one of the most pained and charming characters in the game.
As for the game itself, I adored most of the writing and character interactions, and the gameplay was a lot of fun. Sure there was plenty wrong. An inflated price-tag, a random loot-focused improvement system, some unbalanced PvP, and the fact that absolutely no one wanted to play the game. Seeing this game get basically eaten alive by Overwatch was unfair, and despite neither game being an MMO, this was essentially 2016’s version of “Two games coming out at the same time in direct competition with each other, despite being vastly dissimilar.” Like 2012’s GW2 vs TSW, and 2014’s Wildstar vs. ESO. Except in this case the loser was completely destroyed. I still wish this game would come back to some form of life, but the ghost town playerbase and the fact Aaron Linde quit the writing team and the company leaves me little desire to keep playing. So much so I already uninstalled it. But I really liked what I had played, and hope some level of resurgence would possibly come about.
Dreskar’s Pick: The Division
For myself the biggest surprise would easily have to be The Division, as before I had played the beta I couldn’t help but roll my eyes and give a shrug, “Oh good another Ubisoft game, and oh look they downgraded it again.” While both of those statements are embarrassingly true they also don’t mean the game can’t be good on its own merits. The Division has tons of problems, the story is about as Ubisoft terrible as you can expect, the concepts don’t really work, it has nothing to do with Tom Clancy in style or substance, the enemies are bullet sponges and tedious to fight, but through it all, it isn’t a dumpster fire. It is pretty surprising when a game simply not sucking ass comes up as a merit in its favor but Ubisoft have built up a reputation for failure to deliver so often that merely being okay is a huge shock to me.
However they didn’t rest when the game launched, again another surprise, and we may well be visiting this game later down the list as well.
Biggest Disappointment: Tree of Savior
Those bad framerates and weird graphics bugs are just a Closed Beta issue, right? …right?
These are the thoughts running through my mind when I looked at the game back in Closed Beta, but I felt what I was looking at was something that would be ironed out. What I got was far, far WORSE when the game hit its launch. Even the fun I had during CB, thinking it was a grinder title I might be able to get into, faded fast and the classes felt weak and uninspired. The issues remained present, and the pace was painful. Plenty of stream moments were had, giving us such wonders as “The Rave Cave” but overall something I initially planned to do as an “Open Beta-Tester Event” would have been the worst option for one, as parties were horribly limited, and guilds were a nigh impossibility with the most asinine guild system I’ve ever seen in an MMO. Grindstone was split into groups just to play it, and options were polarizing beyond belief, but it seems time settled on this game being a major failure in all aspects. People clamoring for another Ragnarok Online, are best off just playing Ragnarok Online again.
Dreskar’s Pick: Black Desert
Without a doubt in my mind, Black Desert slams itself home in this category. While Jon may have Tree of Savior, I never really had any hopes for the game to begin with, so I couldn’t really be disappointed in how it turned out. That wasn’t the case with Black Desert where I seemed to be on a rollercoaster of ups and downs all throughout, hopeful that I was going to get a sandbox game, realising it had too many themepark elements in it, repulsed by the awful animation quality and the lack of care in translation and general systems usage. I eventually decided to make my own fun doing trade runs and crafting and to the game’s credit those systems are well implemented, save for the naming of objects completely wrong, but the main bugbear I have is that Daum are so scared of bots, which they have no grasp on handling, that they completely gutted the idea of community within the game. We were met with the phrase “I would but I can’t.” far more often than should ever be acceptable. “Hey, do you want to gather resources for me so I can build us a ship? “I would but I can’t. We aren’t allowed to trade anything, even in the guild.” Hey, do you want to do a Guild Mission, get some comradery up and earn ourselves some gold as well? “I would but I can’t. I don’t have access to that area and therefore can’t help trade or do anything at all.”
The game is just flawed, though I would still argue people try it but if I am honest I was profoundly disappointed with the title. It could have been a great sandbox game and instead, it was just an okay sandbox experience with awful writing, dialogue, and design mixed in, not to mention Daum being completely incapable of understanding when to use a sledgehammer and when to use a scalpel for design. Also, that character creator is the biggest load of bullshit I have ever seen, it is the single most limited character creator I have seen in recent memory, thanks devs for ensuring we can’t make the face we actually want, we have some stupidly arbitrary hoops to jump through instead. Fucking wrinkly assed wizards…
Biggest Non-Starter: ASTA
What tried to be the second coming of Vanilla WoW just felt like a hyper-generic Asian MMO with a ton of outdated systems. We only bothered looking at this game as it was dubbed something that should get more attention. “A WoW-Clone, but in a good way” was the consensus of its defenders, but it felt more like Generic the MMO, with absolutely nothing to set it apart from dozens of better titles. A forgettable story, forgettable combat, forgettable crafting, and forgettable questing, only the use of the game’s engine to add significant shine to the turd of broken textures, and garbage character models, didn’t hold our interest for the absurd amount of time and quests the game expected you to complete.
Most amusing was the fair amount of showings from “Buddy Tsabeda” dismissing issues as “problems with the Open Beta” only to have them realize for once… no. It wasn’t. The game was in full launch status… and then was unceremoniously shut down months after our review came out. Are you sure you want me to give attention to your favorite ignored MMOs?
It least it birthed us our “Achieved with CryEngine” meme.
Dreskar’s Pick: ASTA
There isn’t much more for me to add, I just enjoyed the fact the community thought the game was in Alpha, or maybe an early beta and didn’t even notice the game had fully launched without ceremony. It is rare to find a game so MEH that even the people playing it don’t know about major events.
Worst Community: StarBreak
This is a tentative “Worst Community” because while I’ve seen some to this level in many games, it’s exactly what they can do to you in this game that edges them far over the railing into “winning the category” territory. For a refresher, StarBreak is an MMO Metroidvania Rogue-Like… which means it has permadeath. All you keep is money and whatever items you stashed at home, while your character, equipped weapons, levels and upgrades all get reset to zero upon any of this game’s many easily suffered deaths. (Even paid cosmetics vanish, for fuck’s sake!)
Now consider that the community in StarBreak is purely public. You open or enter a portal, people can and will follow, adding to the epic clusterfuck that’s already happening on screen. Then some people will dash far ahead, scooping up all your potential upgrades just because they want to boss rush. Others will follow behind you, letting you do all the work, and scooping up their unearned share of the spoils. Players will get mouthy with you for not predicting their exact movements or following their one-word text speak instructions like “wait”, “why” or “don’t”. I had players get unreasonably mad at me over the slightest perceived wrongs (when the text box was so tiny I didn’t notice they were even mad until after I left). I had player abandon me at the boss when it was nearly defeated after taking a solitary hit that still left them in good states. Most egregious was the almost traditional manner in which players would watch a player die, and then spend the time spamming the RIP and HA HA HA emotes in repeated succession, just to throw insult to injury. It made a pretty rough experience outright intolerable for a lot of us.
Just an absolute garbage fire of a community, which make the few diamonds-in-the-rough who will flag health drops, give you powerful weapons, and escort you to secret areas, all the more appreciated, even if they’re not even remotely the norm.
If you’re wondering where “Best Community” is… nothing stood out in any remarkable form this year, sadly enough.
Starbreak, I have words for you later as well but your community gets special mention in my book. In a game where you can’t help each other, where your interactions with other people are simply to keep with the herd and spam emotes you manage to stand out for being terrible. In a game so frustrating to play giving people the ability to spam HAHAHAHAHA at someone just adds that extra layer of GO FUCK YOURSELF that just doesn’t come around often. Starbreak, your community wholeheartedly deserves this award.
Most Backlashed Review: Paladins
If it walks, swims and quacks like a duck, it must be an Overwatch Clone. Dear god, don’t ever let people know what seemed like an undeniable truth. Excuses came from left and right, from poorly researched, and falsified videos “exposing” Blizzard for “stealing Hi-Rez’s concepts from Global Agenda” (when the point of Todd Harris’s Reddit post stemmed more from “there are very few original ideas when working in certain genres” than “Blizzard copied us you guys!” though I can see how you’d think that.) to needless claims over “what game was announced first and when”… I thought it was pretty cut and dry. When you go from a card-based level-up system, and an interesting, but hard to balance tank siege escort mode, using strategy and timing to escort the tank, and take out the wall’s defenses, to literally taking the Payload map from Overwatch/TF2, adding Ultimates, and a “Definitely Not Play of The Game” bullshit animation at the end of the match, only the most delusional can deny that Paladins was sneaking a peek or 20 over at Blizzard’s term paper. But deny they did, throwing a wave of dislikes over the video, if not outright whining about it in general. The Us vs. Them, binary bullshit, “There can be only one!” mentality bred by decades of shitty console marketing strategies manifesting in the most absurd way possible.
Now they hate the game again and decided they’re just mad about loot boxes for cards or some shit. Nerds are stupid.
Hey, I still liked Battleborn the best of all the arena shooters this year. What the fuck do I know?
Most Well-Received Review: Riders of Icarus
This is absurdly low bar this year, as you’ll find some… choice comments in that comments section as you tend to do, but when it comes to overall view-total combined with Like to Dislike ratio, not to mention that weird bump the game was given by some high profile Youtubers, there was general interest, and general agreement overall pertaining to my Riders of Icarus review. I felt I came across fairly positive with the game admitting it didn’t steer too far outside the box, though it’s weirdly short lack of content left a lot to be desired. A remarkable showing for a fairly unremarkable game. At least it showed Nexon was starting to come around past its Maple days.
Most Watched Review: Black Desert
While I honestly thought Blade and Soul had a larger hype-train behind it, I forgot how much people are sold on convolution. The character creator became an overhyped meme, the combat was being overly praised by many, and the shitty decision to go Buy-to-Play in the NA market may have forced a lot of eyes this way once the review came out. The constant streams with large groups from Grindstone probably helped, too. Riders of Icarus came a close second, and neither game came anywhere near the juggernaut that was Elder Scrolls Online’s viewcount, netting a mere 56k for Black Desert, and 48k for Riders of Icarus, Black Desert still pulled in some impressive “far over my subscriber count” numbers.
Most Divisive Title: StarBreak
StarBreak sat in an odd spot for us. It rang so many bells that I can’t help but have a soft spot for it. It’s an indie title. It’s 2D. It’s a Metroidvania. It’s a Rogue-Like, AND it’s an MMO. The game kept me coming back to it, far after the review was over.
But… not everyone felt that all fit together so well. Especially the way the game was combining these elements. Many of which I would agree with, but were outright deal-breakers for Grindstone.
Visual clutter was beyond unreasonable.
Instant death pits and OH-KOs should not exist in a Metroidvania, where exploration is normally encouraged and rewarded.
There was no way to have a room to yourself, as it was likely you’d get others jumping into the room and taking many upgrade drops and spawns for themselves.
Bosses would take far too long to kill, especially going solo.
But I was willing to look past all of these. I honestly liked playing the game better than Rogue Legacy, but getting anyone else to join in with me seemed a chore, so I was often left to parties formed at the will of the community… and we already went over how that could be a problem.
I still pop in on occasion… just very cautiously. I worked too hard on that Wildfire… and I’m never going back to Strands.
Starbreak is a title that just rubs me the wrong way in every regard, from its shit community that can’t help but still go out of their way to be assholes, to the fundamental flaw in design that makes up the entire game. This is one of those beating a wall with your bare fists until it finally relents but unlike a game like Dark Souls where you simply keep trying, learning and adapting as you play until you overcome an obstacle, in Starbreak you simply get shit on by some bullshit and get kicked all the way to the start with NOTHING. You can’t learn patterns or level designs because the former are too random and rely too much on enemy spam, while the latter is non-existent because the game is completely random in level generation. This is one of those games where no one brought a good idea to the table, you aren’t making constant if slow progress like a Rogue-like or Rogue-lite, and you constantly have to repeat the same tedious grind through the same starting levels over and over again simply to return to where you were. This is a game that I wish no one would play, and I think the developers should be ashamed of themselves for ever pushing this dumpster trash fire of a game out into the daylight.
It has cheap bullshit deaths, a system that overly punishes deaths, bottomless pit stages with precision platforming, an aesthetic where enemies blend into the background, one hit kill moves that aren’t telegraphed well, boss fights that are boring to fight while being overly nerve-wracking from bad mechanics, an over-reliance on people that have higher leveled characters to come back and destroy lower level content, and classes that are so imbalanced that picking the wrong one is a ball punching frustration but thankfully since death is often imminent you won’t be forced to slog through it for long.
Worst of the Year: Swordsman
Seriously fuck this game. I said it in the Tribunal, and I’ll gladly say it again. This game is the worst MMO I have ever played. The hands down most uninspired, poorly designed, terribly translated, badly programmed, tedious nightmare slog. I know I just looked at Revelation in 2017, but I’d STILL rather play that than this horrid mess of a game. Absolutely nothing about it worked for me. The graphics were lazy. The music was merely OK, and only at times. The world was empty and boring. The movement was stiff. Combat was so bad you could play the entire game effectively by hitting the “4” key or just clicking on the quest-log. Enemies were just lazy clusters of endlessly respawning clones standing around in open fields, specifically designed for AFK bot grinding, which was a fucking IN-GAME FEATURE. Every terrible feature we mentioned in Revelation was done WORSE in Swordsman, with a very close by release date. Just a god awful, boring slog of an experience. I didn’t want to play the game. I didn’t want to do the video. Every second I played was pure misery. I hope to god I never have to play something this terrible ever again.
Dreskar’s Pick: Winning Putt
Given my stance on Starbreak you would think it would occupy this particularly onerous spot but no, there is another game that earns my distaste all the more. Step up Winning Putt, a golf MMO that is pay to win, looks like shit, barely runs properly, has awful voice acting and dialogue, poorly thought out mechanics that get worse with memory leaks, an entire class choice that is THE WRONG FUCKING CHOICE, stolen assets, plenty of cash-grab schemes, and if I was told the game was simply made so Namco Bandai could launder dirty money I wouldn’t be surprised.
This is a game that should have never existed, and while we had some stinkers throughout the year I would gladly play any of them over having to even look at Winning Putt’s launcher ever again. If I had one wish for every year this would be the year I wish Winning Putt dies and is erased from the marketplace forever.
Favorite of the Year: Blade and Soul
Calling this category “Favorite Overall” was a bit of a misnomer, as I’ve still sold my soul to The Secret World, and Dreskar has a permanent home in Elder Scrolls Online, so I changed up the category title.
I am not sure what I expected from Blade and Soul? Weeby fanatism? A derailing hype-train? All the usual staples we’ve seen from these games that were available when Guild Wars 2 was new, but held over in publisher hell keeping it from the states for no logical reason. (Looking at you, PSO2) If anything I’d say I wasn’t really looking forward to the game beyond the fact it was another more traditional MMO, and they were starting to become a rarity.
But something about Blade and Soul STUCK with me. I wanted to progress. I enjoyed the combat. I enjoyed the Arena PvP. I loved that World PvP was purely “opt-in” with an ingenious usage of the costume system. I still have fond memories of running through the desert area with Dabeer, using our classes’ various skill sets to work together to chain-stun and combo enemies in a flashy and entertaining manner. The game was just a lot of damned fun. Yeah, some characters were bland or annoying, the story was goofily cliche “grr revenge argh” stuff, crafting was messy and convoluted, and that RNG upgrade system can eat my ass. (I have heard that’s been done away with now) But overall, I had not had that much fun in an MMO in a while, and it was another game that made me wish I had far more time to play these games overall, instead of always moving on to the next one. (Which in this case, was Swordsman. So imagine how I felt…)
I hear people decided that the game sucks now because of something to do with an expansion? Eh, I wouldn’t know. I still see a lot of charm in this game.
Dreskar’s Pick: The Division
Yep, my pick for Favorite of the Year is The Division, a game that was merely okay when it launched refined and pushed itself forward until finally releasing its second expansion which I argue should have been the base game from the start. They didn’t stop there though as they made the base game less about bullet sponge enemies and more about doing various dungeons, added in a gear score systems and sets so you could actually make a build for your character, and some new weapons and gadgets to play with!
The real meat of the game though is Survival mode and it is just a blast to play. While it can take an hour for a single match to finish, that match is always nerve racking, hunting out food to keep your body from burning through its energy reserve as the temperature plummets outside, fighting through buildings looking for medical supplies to keep the deadly pathogen growing in your body at bay, all the while scavenging weapons and armor to fight your way to the cure and then escaping on helicopter after an intense showdown with hunters is nothing short of amazing. We had a few times we streamed this as a duo group and I would be up for playing survival mode far more often! Please more like this in the future!
Oh and Underground was pretty alright as well, we can do more of that too.
And there we are, one-quarter into this year, and the latest year-in-review is completed. Let’s keep watching this genre fall the fuck apart while I gather the materials to start up a whole new show in the future! See you in early 2018. Or not. Whatever.