Sunday, October 8, 2017

Spark of Cash

Always on the lookout for an immersive virtual world in which to lose myself, I'm kind of torn on the topic of Chronicles of Elyria.

On one hand, I'm loving the aesthetics and philosophy they're advertising. Coherently proportioned character models and environments? A low-magic fantasy world with frontier pioneering overtones? Sign me up!
Gameplay mechanics sound half lifted from my own mmmanifesto and half a mix of daring, immersive RPG features only seen once in a blue moon in cRPGs. You want a development freakshow? Try a Miasmata-like or old-school Morrowind map-and-compass navigation instead of endless GPS markers on your HUD. Or how about realistic encumbrance penalties so you can't carry a whole village in your pocketses and a need to bandage your wounds and stay well fed a la Stalker? Or, try a material-shaping minigame crafting system I haven't run into since A Tale in the Desert., or players retaining monopolies on new technologies, which caused no end of scandals in EVE-Online. Try a lineage system, something I haven't personally seen outside the initial showing of Elemental: War of Magic, and the requisite incentive to re-incarnate: character aging and permadeath.
Yeah, permadeath. That gigantic bugaboo always proposed but never implemented in online games, excepting a rare, highly specialized indie project like Faery Tale Online.

It sounds too good to be true, and after my last grave disappointment with Dawntide I've grown wary of small developers' big campaign promises. Certainly some of the proposed features on Chronicles of Elyria's website sound a bit naive, like auto-generating personalized quests to trigger during every character's lifetime, something nobody can swing even for single-player games. The amount of development time required to elevate these past laughably trite "kill ten rats" tedium would likely fund a whole separate AAA game in itself.

Or take the proposition that the game map will be somehow "secret" with players charting it themselves and sharing this info at will. Have these people played nothing online in the past twenty years? In a multiplayer game, no static content is ever secret. Within three hours of launch, you'll have ten different websites posting complete maps of the game world cobbled together from thousands of players' individual maps, and the cartography system which took up fuck knows how many hundreds of work-hours of (customer-funded) development time will have added no more to your customers' immersion than a link to the unofficial wiki. The next day, you'll get a UI mod which automatically draws every player a complete map.
The only way to make exploration worthwhile in an online game is with constantly shifting, ephemeral changes.

Despite such stumbling, I was all set to pre-order until the different purchase tiers brought to my attention the Spark of Life system and CoE's odd interpretation of an old marketing scheme. You need to buy your continued existence with real-world currency. Sounds like a welcome step back from the idiotic "Free-to-play" real-money-trading responsible for so much of multiplayer games' degradation, a return to subscription systems, but... remember that touchy permadeath issue? Though details are (I can only assume, deliberately) vague on this most important topic, it seems every character death cuts into your subscription time, from the original 10-14 months to 3.75. Even less if you're a successful player, the equivalent of a guild leader.
To render this tragedy more comical, CoE's developers repeatedly advertise this as a measure to -reduce- griefing, by punishing aggressors more harshly than their victims.
Mmmnnyeah... No.

Questions abound. How exactly does this address the vast majority of griefing? After all, griefers by definition don't play fair, don't need to walk up to their victims and initiate direct combat. Just off the top of my head, I can imagine griefers depopulating entire regions of wildlife to starve other players, destroying goods, blocking traffic, "training" monsters onto their victims, etc. and all other players being unable to do anything to stop them without being themselves labelled griefers. I don't care how good you think your algorithms are, they'll have more loopholes than a toy racecar track, and will in fact be the means by which griefers operate. Look at EVE-Online. Half of combat involves exploiting aggression timers.

Imagine all the griefing in any other game amped up by a simple proposal: that you can cost other people real-world money by killing them in-game, and you'll get some idea of how many ass-clowns this game will attract. Far from their apparent starry-eyed innocence in promoting this as an anti-griefing measure, a more rational look suggests Soulbound's aim is the exact opposite. Chronicles of Elyria monetizes griefing. It banks on the most abundant activity in any online game to shorten subscription times and increase re-subscription rates.

Sadly, despite this disgustingly sadistic profiteering, I'm still strongly leaning toward pre-ordering. $30 for a supposed minimum subscription time of ~3-4 months still divides down to slightly under the $10, $12 or $15 monthly standard of subscription-based MMOs, not to mention the much steeper costs of staying competitive in a pay-to-win FTP title. It's a price worth paying to get away from WoW-clones. Sad state of affairs, but the game industry's just that shitty, and if it delivers on even half of its campaign promises, Chronicles of Elyria might be the least of many evils.

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