The Next Best Hope

The latest piece of Elder Scrolls Online promotional fluff is the eight-plus minute trailer embedded below. It’s pulling in raves, largely from folks I would consider outside the hardcore demographic. Which in itself is fine.

Although this trailer is indisputably well-made, as a fan of both Elder Scrolls games and MMORPGs it doesn’t get me excited about ESO. For one, it reminds me of the Warhammer Online and SWTOR cinematic trailers. Which were also well-done and also utterly unrepresentative of the actual game. This one even follows the same narrative arc as those two. It doesn’t highlight any of the things that makes the Elder Scrolls single-player games special. It doesn’t even use the iconic Elder Scrolls theme, a baffling omission. That alone would have stoked me up to buy it.

I haven’t played in the ESO beta, and folks who have are more than welcome to correct me on these points. But what I see is a very conventional game lacking much of the interactibility and dynamic world that made Morrowind, Oblivion and Skyrim so interesting. The game itself could prove me wrong about this, but unless I get a beta invite I’m very unlikely to drop the $60 it will take to find out. I do expect ESO to sell lots of copies. I doubt its staying power and ability to retain subs beyond the three-month point. I think that MMO players, those most likely to be willing to commit to a subscription, will find ESO uncompelling. Then again, SWTOR seems to have done very well with a modestly big retail splash followed by an agile shift to microtransactions. It’s safe to say that everyone expects ESO to follow the same pattern. Perhaps I will try it then. Meanwhile I hope it does very well, but along with that there’s a hope that it’s a better and more interesting game than I think it is.

Another Run at SWTOR

Based on no particular impetus aside from a vague desire to get back to it at some point now that it’s free to play, I reinstalled SWTOR, picked up a new Smuggler character and am having a surprisingly good time with it. Without the added overhead of a subscription, I’m finding it generally more fun than my two previous rounds with the game — but then, it may be that it just takes until level 7 or so to get attached to whichever “fourth pillar” applies to your class.

It seems like Bioware, despite some stumbles, is doing a halfway decent job of supporting the game post-launch. The new “expansion” is now launched and there seem to be plenty of players even in the lowbie zones and even at my weird hours. So hopefully it’s doing well.

On the downside, SWTOR has the most punitively restrictive free player package that I am seeing right now, bearing in mind recent changes that loosened things up a great deal in SOE’s EverQurest II and Vanguard. Some of the restrictions can be loosened by upgrading to a “Premium” membership, and most others can be bought off, but some of those restrictions are borderline insane.

For example, free players are limited to two hotbars. Selling UI elements for virtual currency. Free players are also limited to five field resurrecions. Not five over some cooldown period, or five per however many levels, but five field rezzes ever. Beyond that you get to rez at a regular rez point or buy more rezzes from the store. Free players also don’t get bank access, at all, unless they buy it.

None of this is a real impediment given my own involvement level, but the restrictions loom large and early and I can certainly see them turning waffling players off while providing a big disincentive for players looking to pay without a sub. Personally I spent five bucks to spring for the Premium deal, which is worth it for the four extra character slots and extra crew skill slot alone, but I am not inclined to spend any more at the moment (I didn’t say not tempted — I am after all having fun.)

I am planning to play until level 20 or so with the Smuggler and see how I feel about it then. Even if I keep in installed and continue to dabble, though, it is very likely my summer game will be EverQuest II or Vanguard.

Betas: Guild Wars 2 vs. SWTOR vs. Rift vs. TSW

A beta event for The Secret World has been announced for this weekend. I am signed up, am downloaded and patched, and plan to do a video since there is no NDA. I will not be doing as much coverage as I did for the recent beta weekend for Guild Wars 2, for a variety of reasons.

Readers may recall that I played in both the Rift and SWTOR betas and elected, in the end, not to buy either game. I am taking the plunge with Guild Wars 2 but am in the same position with TSW than I was with SWTOR and Rift — that is, intending to probably not buy the game.

Star Wars is, from my perspective, a tired and threadbare IP, bloated and festering, the days of its glory long past. The amount of wretched Star Wars material now far exceeds the quality stuff. I have great fondness for the first two films (and even to a lesser extent for Return of the Jedi,) but everything else save KOTOR alone can die in a fire as far as I’m concerned. Still, Bioware has a very strong history with the brand, and the extension by them of Mass Effect’s dialogue systems is a natural fit. And the cinematic trailers were freaking amazing. Plus, when I played it, I felt like the quality was very high, beta or no.

Rift had an intriguing core concept, a workmanlike fantasy world and the best implementation yet of the dynamic event idea. The beta was polished and in far better shape than many other MMOs were many months after launch. Trion clearly has its shit together. But in play it was frustrating, and doomed to become more so as population in the leveling zones thinned out. The scaling of the dynamic events was clearly off and level made too big a difference in practice; a gap of a couple of levels between you and the Rift spawns meant near-instadeath.

The Secret World looks to have some interesting character mechanics that I am interested in seeing in action, but the whole modern supernatural/conspiracy thing isn’t really my cup of tea. From a genre standpoint am am interested in it somewhat less than I am in Star Wars. I have, however, liked such games in the past on the tabletop (Vampire: The Masquerade, Mage: The Ascension and Unknown Armies being the offhand examples,) so there remains the possibility that the game will win me over. I haven’t been paying all that close attention to it, so it’s plausible that I just haven’t seen the stuff that will sell me yet.

Now, prior to getting into the GW2 beta I had already bought the game, whereas with both Rift and SWTOR I was on the fence, or at least half on the fence in the former case, when I played their test versions. My position on TSW is in that ballpark. What makes the difference? Why was I willing to buy Guild Wars 2 but not SWTOR or Rift before I tried them, at exactly the same point in the decision-making process?

I see TSW as a game that is more promising than SWTOR or Rift. I think the hobby needs more games without levels, for one, and more games outside of traditional fantasy for another. But the holy trinity, which TSW will retain, is an anchor around the neck of the whole genre, as far as I’m concerned, and I’m also tired of tightly structured progression. GW2 gets away from both of these things and provides an experience that, while not really a “sandbox” in any true sense, is at least less linear. That’s a huge thing for me.

So I shall belly up to the TSW beta this weekend for at least an hour or two, and report back with my findings. I don’t expect to fall head of heels for it, but there’s always hope.

WoW-Killer, My Ass

Some might call this grave-dancing, but me, I call it I told you fucking so.

Yes, SWTOR is underperforming. And contrary to EA claims, its budget may have been well north of the $300 million figure cited by the infamous EALouse. A figure which was sneered at by SWTOR devotees, but which, as I demonstrated long ago, twice, makes it a virtual impossibility for the title to turn a profit for EA, no matter how much magical accounting they do. Because the money spent on it is not actually imaginary.

Even in the MMO blogosphere, we’re starting to hear discontent, and not just from the people, like myself, who never bothered buying it. SWTOR’s first real patch broke level-cap PvP hard, and they’re scrambling to fix it. They are probably working less hard at letting players unsubscribe from the game.

I like Bioware and am rooting for them, but the budget doomed this project the minute it went over $100 million. I still think it’s going to hold on to subscribers better than most new MMOs that launch these days, but EA had better take a hard look at how Trion Worlds worked to keep players in Rift. But it doesn’t really matter. The only people who will be happy with the checks they get are the ones at Lucasarts.

The Road Ahead: 2012 in MMOs

An end is come to 2011, and it was, shall we say, not a banner year for MMOs. The year saw two successful launches of games mired in their lack of ambition, and the rest of the year was older games doing interesting things like going free to play or launching nostalgia servers. Still, as we say in Cleveland, “there’s always next year.” Which is now. So what’s on the horizon for the next twelve months (minus a couple of weeks,) and how will current market entries evolve? Here are my (only slightly late) predictions.

As far as I can see, the only “triple-A” title with a real chance to shake things up in a big way is Guild Wars 2. Even if it doesn’t come through with everything it’s promised, it’s going to make the year’s big splash, with top-notch production quality and a stated desire to abandon some of the hobby’s most pernicious leftovers from the EverQuest days. Holy Trinity, this means you. The move toward dynamic world events rather than static quests may provide a sense of non-linearity. On the other hand, I worry about the cohesion of its world and the side systems that are so important to fleshing out an MMO, like crafting. And the semi-static cutscenes, while artfully done from what I’ve seen, may subtract from immersion and sense of place. There’s also the technological element that I tend not to favor in a fantasy game, and the inevitable cutsey race, but I intend to do my best to live with those.

A game that will have less impact but which may be just as innovative is Funcom’s The Secret World. It ought to be graphically top-notch, if system-crushing. It’s going to fill the modern supernatural niche that’s been underserved by MMOs up to this point, and also promises to depart significantly from established tropes. It’s scheduled to launch in April, but my guess is that it’ll be pushed back to July. The big fear with this one is that, as they did with Age of Conan, Funcom will mis-target the game and end up courting the wrong bunch of players. But hopefully they’ll have learned a lesson from AoC’s troubled evolution and the marketing and community folks will be rowing the same boat as the developers this time.

Not likely to shake things up at all is Mists of Pandaria. More of the same, yawn. Blizzard has unquestionably left the era in which they can do no wrong, and their Big Dog will continue to shed subscribers, but by late in the year — November or December — Mists will cast off, and WoW will still be on the top of the heap. Expect a formal announcement of whatever Titan turns out to be at Blizzcon.

I’m now thinking that my earlier prediction for Star Wars: The Old Rebublic — 2-3 million subscribers at peak and 500K six months later — is going to bust. I now think it will peak substantially lower — say a million and a half — but that it will hold on to the players it has much better than recent history would suggest. Whether it’s actually a profitable enterprise for EA is likely to remain murky, no matter how many people are playing it. Don’t be shocked to see it holding on to a million subs by the end of the year… but we’d better see some substantive update/expansion news by then, too, or we’ll see it start to peter out after that. The slow rollout of new content is poised to hurt SWTOR more than other titles because it’s likely to be even slower than usual.

I predict that TERA will be the next Mortal Online – mildly hyped before launch and sinking like a stone after. But I could be wrong, and if the game pulls off the action-style combat at its heart it could do better than I expect. TERA is going to live or die by two things: how well the combat plays, and how well the combat plays one-handed, if you catch my drift.

WildStar looks promising, if conventional, but I don’t think we know enough about it to dismiss it just yet. It’s coming out of the NCSoft House of Winners, so my expectations are low, but it’s not being developed by NCSoft, so there’s a chance it will turn into something palatable. Its visual style, though, sings “WoW Clone,” and many might not be able to get past that even if it varies from bog-standard more than expected. I think it will release in Q4 of 2012.

Dust 514, the ground-based counterpart of EVE Online should finally launch in 2012. It had better — Microsoft and Sony are gearing up for the debut of the next generation of consoles, and this year is likely to be the last chance for titles to make a big splash before people start looking more at the new round of hardware than the current one. I predict modest — very modest — success on this one; it’ll be hobbled both by CCP’s lack of cred in the shooter marketplace and by its exclusivity on the lagging PS3. God only knows how clean it will launch, but nobody is better than CCP at shepherding a title through a modest debut and into long-term growth. Expect to start hearing about a PC port around the end of the year.

Speaking of CCP, we may or may not hear anything new on World of Darkness Online. It’s not shelved, exactly, but expect the focus for the year to be on EVE and Dust. Next year I think we’ll start to hear some serious noise about this title.

Warhammer 40K: Dark Millennium will not launch in 2012.

Neverwinter is a wildcard. Like TERA, it’s supposed to be action-oriented, but my hopes are not high for it in this department. Nevertheless, I’m looking forward to seeing it. I’m predicting a Q3 launch.

Korean entry ArcheAge has all the hallmarks of a Vanguard — big promises, low quality control and a lead developer past his prime. No other game manages to look so promising yet elicit so many utterances of “really?” Open world, super-detailed crafting and construction, mass battles on land and sea… and player run jails and other harebrained-sounding stuff make me excited yet extremely leery. It may release in 2012 — I think it will — but my guess is that a North American release is months behind the Korean launch, maybe into 2013.

Less worrying is The Repopulation, despite its awful title. With early talk centering around the influence of Star Wars Galaxies and Ultima Online, it’s not likely to be a massive hit, but it’s got a chance to shake the hobby out of its torpor. I expect a launch in 2013 at the earliest. It’s one to keep an eye on.

Planetside 2 will launch in 2012 with major problems and withering scorn in the blogosphere, but will be a modest success for all that. “Modest success” is the best SOE is going to manage for the moment… but they have a big opportunity to do something special with EverQuest Next. Let’s hope they don’t blow it, but in any event I expect to hear only token news about it in 2012.

Vanguard will still be running as of the end of the year. I hope to see a freemium move, but SOE appears to not be considering that for the moment. I should finally see some long-awaiting development and new content, which may boost its (currently dire) numbers.

The most promising-sounding thing in development is Pathfinder Online. Goblinworks seems to be telling me all the right things… start small, don’t spend a gazillion dollars, don’t plan for more players than you have even the remotest chance to get or keep, and create a realistically-scaled sandbox world. But it’s really early, and I’m not even convinced that the project will materialize at all. These guys are really new and untested, so I think they’ll either bring a number of fresh ideas to the table and actually advance the state of the art, or evaporate before accomplishing much of anything. I’m rooting for them.

Among older games, EverQuest II, LotRO and City of Heroes will keep on trucking under their new freemium models. EverQuest will continue to endure, but I think we’ll see another historic sunset some time during the year. My guess would be Dark Age of Camelot, but Warhammer Online is very, very vulnerable, especially with a companion game (Warhammer Online: Wrath of Heroes) that takes the fun(ish) part from WAR and makes it a game of its own. Bioware/Mythic may also decide to tighten their business up if they’re taking to big a bath on SWTOR, the basket all their eggs are laid in, so Ultima Online could fall here as well.

We’re going to start to see the many entries in the freemium MMO marketplace shake out into tiers. This has already started, but it’ll become more apparent in 2012. The biggest player in the freemium market is going to continue to be LotRO unless something very dramatic happens, but APB is giving it a good run for its money right now, and Star Trek Online has a shot at landing in the top bunch if it can hold together.

We’ll see in a year how I did.

Why Play MMOs?

Games, even just video games, are varied. There are lots of different kinds available from the preposterously fantastic to the incredibly realistic, from the casual to the hardcore, from brain-rottingly easy to the extremely challenging, and in a diverse array of genres. So what is it about MMOs in particular that interests us in them? What drew us in at the start, and what keeps us around?

Having done a lot of reflection on the subject both over the last few years and recently in the wave of Skyrim, I think the basic appeal of the MMO is threefold.

First of all, you have the big nominal selling point for many, especially among the commentator set, in that in an MMO you’re playing with other people, often “friends” of some description. Yet most MMO players (but not necessarily most commentators) play mostly or exclusively solo, either be preference or due to problems getting together with the same bunch on a regular schedule. Surely, the presence of other players is appealing to some, but just as often other players in the game can be a distraction or an annoyance. In quasi-MMOs like Guild Wars or multiplayer Diablo their presence is entirely optional, such that you don’t even have to notice them if you don’t want to. It’s my thought that the presence of other players, no matter that it may be very important to some folks, is a secondary concern, and the other two factors don’t rely on it.

Second, you have immersiveness. Many different types of games can be immersive, while others don’t even try, but almost anything calling itself an MMO, as well as a few examples that fit only marginally into the category, at least make a passing attempt at it. Some level of immersiveness is a commonality among MMOs. To me, the social part of the game, while attractive, is less important than this, but the two factors are unalike in that nobody plays a game becuase it’s not immersive, but plenty of people play multiplayer games because they are profoundly antisocial. For some it’s a social outlet that they find they can manage, while for others it’s an outlet for their antisocial tendencies. This last type of verminous individual has an impact beyond its numbers.

Third is the open-ended nature of the MMO. Few examples are really open-ended in truth, but they can seem so in practice, because some players will simply never exhaust the finite content, or never get bored with the repeatable content. You can, if you want, play regularly for years and never see the same stuff, or just deal with it. There’s a sense of progression, but you have that in many kinds of games, not just RPGs, let alone MMORPGs. In an MMO, though, you should ideally not very often feel that you’ve reached the end of the line as you would in a game like Dragon Age… and if you do, you may quit or at least put the game aside for a while until there is something new to do. This is the one that gets mentioned the least, but is perhaps the most important. How many folks do we know who left an MMO because they felt that they’d done all they wanted to do in it?

This last is also where the World of Warcraft formula, of easy advancement made even faster and more trivial over time, starts to look counterproductive. It’s a good thing for a game to be accessible, as WoW is, yet it burns players out faster, too. Lost in the fact that WoW has more players than other MMOs is the related fact that more people leave it, too, and I would bet that happens at a higher rate. It’s an easy jump to thinking that, for example, EVE players, in a more open-ended game with a steadier advancement pace, might be by and large more loyal to it.

This calculus also says something about why Skyrim has, by and large, been so immensely appealing to MMO gamers in particular, and why it took over the MMO blogosphere to such a great extent before players were wrenched away by the must-play SWTOR… and why some didn’t make the jump, despite all the hullabaloo. It’s an immersive and open-ended game that happens to lack an MMO’s social multiplayer aspect. Not that there aren’t other factors, of course, but this is one of them.

The Obligatory Holiday Loot Post

The holidays are a great time for gaming. A lot of major releases come in November and December, and there are sales aplenty, and not only on Steam; both Amazon and GOG had some dynamite sales this year, and I’m sure there were others. And then there are the inevitable holiday gifts, and the posts by narcississtic bloggers about what loot they got. Ahem.

This particular year, my will of iron has sufficed to keep me from buying anything on Steam. Well, during the actual holiday sale, anyway; during the Autumn sale over the thanksgiving break I did pick up Europa Universalis III Chronicles (which is the complete Complete Edition,) and Star Ruler. I was tempted in the holiday sale’s first day or two by Portal 2 but held off. It’s my thinking that it’ll show up again in the usual “best of” offerings in the last day or two. If not, I can wait. Steam has offered lots of good stuff but nothing that I don’t have already at the drop-dead price that would guarantee my pulling the trigger.

I’ve owned a Playstation 3 for two years as of this holiday season, but aside from playing some Dragon Age and Fallout 3 in the first couple of weeks (both games I sold off and later bought on their natural platform, the PC,) it’s been used almost exclusively for Rock Band and watching the occasional Blu-Ray. That may be changing now; the Christmas holiday was a veritable PS3 bonanza for me. Not only did I get Lego Rock Band, which I’d been wanting for a while, but Saints Row 3, Red Dead Redemption and all three Uncharted games. At something of a loss as to where to start on this pile of stuff, I figured I would tackle the biggest portion first and started the first Uncharted. Which is pretty good so far, and is a good place to get one’s feet wet in PS3 gaming at any rate; the series as a whole is probably the signature line for the platform.

I had the relatives working from my Amazon wishlist, so there was some danger that I’d wind up with Star Wars: The Old Republic, but that did not pan out, which is probably a good thing; those who care are getting their fill of posts about SWTOR elsewhere. I did get a nice fat Amazon gift card and a book on the Unreal Engine, so I forsee a lot of busy days ahead.

Out With the Old, In With the New

As players line up for SWTOR early access like tovarisches waiting for toilet paper, tonight marked as grand a farewell as could be arranged for an altogether more fearless and ambitious game set in the same universe. Star Wars Galaxies, whose chief liability was that it was saddled with the tiresome Star Wars IP, is no more.

Bioware’s $300 million behemoth will be off to a roaring start, of that there is no doubt. Perhaps it will have better endurance than I expect, based on how far I got in the beta. My inclination, today, is to be negative about it, but I’m trying to look on the bright side. What that bright side boils down to is that Bioware is the best thing to happen to the Star Wars franchise since The Empire Strikes Back. They have done their best both to produce an experience as high in quality as possible, and to conform to the market expectations mandated by their enormous budget. It’s a title that could take no chances, and does not. SWTOR is by no means a bad game, but that it exists as it does is a sad commentary on the state of MMO design. Eight years ago Star Wars’ place in the MMO space lie with a game too revolutionary for its own good, so innovative that the Lucas goons had to put a boot on its neck to force it to conform. That effort did not entirely succeed, and even to its last day it was a game far richer in possibilities than SWTOR will ever be.

Somewhere, lurking in the depths of the bleak ocean that is MMO development, there is somebody working on something that learns the lessons – good and bad – taught by Star Wars Galaxies. Someday we’ll have the game that does for MMOs what Skyrim does for single-player RPGs. But that day is not today. Today is SWTOR’s day, and as players warm to it, especially players who remember what SWG was and what it could have been, the thing to remember is that every cent they give it it is another cent worth of validation in the echo chamber that surrounds George Lucas that what was done to SWG, the stifling of innovation in favor of conformity and derivation, was the right thing to do.

No SWTOR For Me

Early Access for Star Wars: The Old Republic started today for some people. I wish them all the best, and I hope the game defeats the money odds and does well – certainly, my feedreader is currently cluttered with SWTOR stuff and lots of my blogger friends will be playing it for a while. I will not. Having tried it out in the beta, it simply does not contain any features that interest me. I was tempted to make snarky posts about “the new WoW expansion,” but that childishnes isn’t worth my time or energy. I would rather focus on stuff I am interested in instead of stuff I am not.

On that subject, it’s my intention that EQ2 will be my main game over the break, and I continue to make progress. My original character (that stuck) who had been stuck in the high 20s in her Tradeskill level is now finally out of Tier 3, thanks to the crafting questlines. And she also finally has her leaper mount. There were opportunities to get this done over the summer, but I just didn’t get around to it. The fact that I have spread effort out over ten characters does not enable speedy progress in any one of them. But I’m generally happy to move up slowly these days.

I have been very, very fussy about progressing characters in an orderly way, to the point that I would like to get everyone out of Tier 1 in Adventuring, Harvesting and Crafting. I have stockpiles of Tier 5 harvests in the bank awaiting a character who actually reaches tradeskill level 40, but I want (especially with only two shared bank slots at the moment) to free up the space hogged by the first two tiers of ingredients before moving others up. There is now only one character who has not yet reached Tier 3, and any new characters I make (and I have no free slots just now,) will just harvest.

Another item that has at long last been accomplished is that I have finally coerced Mrs. Ardwulf into playing EQ2. She tried it in the past but was put off by the ugly (old) UI, ugly (old) character models, and the very dated original starter isle. Now under no pressure, we’re playing a bit together for maybe an hour or so a day, and it’s great fun, although I keep having to assure her that becuase EQ2 has mentoring, the advancement pacing issues we faced in WoW will not apply. She has not much touched crafting or housing yet, and I’m convinved it’s those elements that will really hook her.

The EQ2 F2P trailer, which I have now linked more than once, is currently a “promoted video” on YouTube. This costs money. It’s also still one of the lead items on Steam. Let’s hope this kind of thing continues – EQ2 is a very strong game with a powerful brand but has a very low profile, whereas I see ads for LotRO, DDO and EVE all over the place.

Skyrim and the Death of the MMO

It feels like I’ve fled the MMO blogosphere, but I’m still here. The reason for the unusual quiet time is, of course, Skyrim, which I continue to play avidly and am in no danger of “finishing” any time soon. It seems like it’s keeping a lot of bloggers on my feedreader away from their usual MMO haunts, too… and even spoiling Star Wars: The Old Republic for a few. The latter is seeing a bit of a surge in interest lately with a beta event upcoming this holiday weekend, to which seemingly everyone remotely interested has been invited. I got my invite but will probably not participate.

One comment over at Tobold’s and highlighted by Syncaine struck a special nerve:

I’m 11 hours into Skyrim, right now (level 9) and boy… coming from WoW it seems I’ve been playing a videogame for small children, really.

I’ve been thinking that over for the last few days. One of the biggest reasons I got into MMORPGs in the first place is to experience a virtual world that could be explored and interacted with. Oh, I like progression and camaraderie as well, don’t get me wrong, but in terms of interactivity and exploration value Skyrim simply dwarfs virtually every MMO out there, even including sandboxy stuff like EVE Online and Fallen Earth. The only MMO remotely comparable to it in this regard is the much-neglected Wurm Online, which really deserves a bigger audience (and a better interface) than it has. Of the traditional, EQ-style MMOs only Vanguard seems to carry a weight to Skyrim, and even there it’s mostly an illusion; opaque systems and a huge world give Vanguard the sense of a bigger sandbox than it is.

These are all good games, and I’ve championed all of them in the past to greater or lesser degrees. But in all of them I have the distinct drive to “catch up,” as if there is greater fun awaiting me if I reach some magical level or other milestone. Only when I do, it’s the same game there too. Skyrim hasn’t been like that. It’s been immersive fun from the start, and I feel no pressure to not screw things up or waste time or money. I’m at the point where I am questioning whether MMORPGs are even a good idea for me – and that’s not just Skyrim talking, but where video games fit into my life. To be sure, I will have more to say about the particulars of how Skyrim compares to MMOs and affects how we perceive them, but that’s for another time – right now I’m talking about how it has affected me.

That sense of “catching up,” even if it’s just in my head (and it is, although I believe it’s a common sentiment,) means that it’s difficult for an MMO to work for me in the same way that Skyrim does. MMOs function best when you can dedicate what is frankly a lot of time to them, and on a predictable schedule. Right now I’m getting a fair amount of gaming in but not during the same times from day to day and week to week, and that undermines the social strengths of an MMO. When Skyrim satisfies another key appeal of MMOs and blows the entire genre off the table on the other… well, I can’t see any reason to be more than peripherally involved at the moment. There’s plenty of solid games but not enough interesting going on.

Certainly, this wears any desire I have to approach SWTOR down to a vestigial nub. I’ll be dabbling in LotRO and Champions Online and EQ2 as I get the chance and as I need a change of pace, and paying close attention as always to what EVE and Vanguard are doing. I am not “abandoning MMOs” so much as reorienting my gaming life around stuff that can be played “sub-casually” without feeling like I’m wasting my time. Until I can find the time to play properly, which almost certainly means two years from May when I finish school. Right now there’s Skyrim – but also Oblivion, which I never got as far in as I would have liked, and Minecraft and Mount & Blade: Warband. There’s a common thread of an open world and a sandboxiness among those games, but I’d also like to delve into strategy stuff again. Stuff with a savegame, where I can have an impact and yet not feel pressured to play or advance or not mess up.

At least until Guild Wars 2 comes out – likely to be late next year. That’s the one MMORPG on the horizon that has me really excited, and the only one I see releasing anytime soon that’s bringing anything new to the table at all. Other projects with possibilities, like World of Darkness or EverQuest Next, are years away, and ArcheAge is a big unknown from where I’m sitting – it could be anything from a world of awesome to hot buttered ass.