Learning to Love the Journey

There is one thing in particular I’m not good at when it comes to MMO gaming — that is being able to slow down and enjoy the process of levelling. That particular journey is one I rail against, one I view simply as a necessary evil, an obstacle to be overcome in a mad dash to ‘where the game begins’ — the end game.

Elder Scrolls Online: A character and their stats page, showing they are level 15.
“You want me to do how many more levels??”

In apparent contradiction, however, if you offered me an MMO that forwent the levelling experience, one that said, ‘Bing! You are max level from day dot — go forth and raid’ I probably wouldn’t be able to enjoy that either.

It’s possible this contradiction arises from one of the inner-shifts as a gamer I’ve gone through over the years, where the value judgement I make against the components of an MMO hasn’t kept up with what I might actually enjoy.

I think the reason I wouldn’t accept (at first?) an MMO where you could go do everything from the moment you logged in is that it would feel undeserved. Unearned. Cheapened by not having ‘suffered’ to get there. That means I believe at some level that access to raiding and the end-game gear experience is something that must be earned in the first place.

Wait, do I Believe That?

When I take it out into the light and say it plain like that, I’m not sure that IS something I believe. Or at least, it isn’t a standard I would enforce on anyone else. But does that then follow that I also believe I’m on some other level — higher or lower — than my fellow players?

Final Fantasy XIV: Treants menace the player, one close in the foreground with more behind.
“To reach the end game, you must pass through US! Oh, and then a hundred or so more quests.”

I don’t think so… Not now at least. Not consciously. I do wonder if there is an implicit bias1 at play. Something that may have roots back to when I was more firmly entrenched in the PvP player base.

While I never bought into the hate that existed between the PvP and PvE groups, it was pervasive. It was impossible not to feel immersed in it, the feelings ranging from pity for the poor lambs who didn’t understand, to disdain, to outright and open hostility.

I generally took the tack of trying to convince and sell people on the benefits (as I saw them) of the PvP way of life. I simply exited any conversation it was clear this simply was not going to happen (aka, most of them).

There were a number of motivations for the tack I took, many altruistic, but some as a matter of preservation. I think a large part of the hostility that existed between the two groups stemmed from a vocal outcry against implementation of any kind of meaningful PvP in new MMOs from the PvE sphere. It felt like being under near constant attack and having to defend the style of play we enjoyed best.

More than likely that was a belief shaping experience.

My Recent Experimentation

Enter The Elder Scrolls Online and more recently, Final Fantasy XIV.

A dungeon entrance with a rune above an archway in the game Elder Scrolls Online.
“Yiss! A dungeon!” (My compatriots sped ahead while I took this screenshot, but not to worry, I found them.)

A lot of what I just wrote for the prior section I thought through as I wrote it. But even before, without that level of introspection, I had a vague desire to try ‘learn’ how to better enjoy an MMO more completely. To enjoy the experience in the early- to mid-game as well as the end.

What ESO and FFXIV have in common which made them good candidates in my mind, was a stronger focus on story than most of their competitors. While I’m far and away from being in a position to judge their overall quality in this regard, I’m enjoying what I’ve seen of both so far.

FFXIV previously allowed itself to get too bogged down in requirements to do some fairly bog-standard MMO fetch and kill side-quests. Now the XP-tuning so far seems to allow you to bee-line the MSQ (Main Story Quest) which makes it much more likely I’ll manage to get through it.

Part of the mindset shift I’m attempting is to mentally treat these two titles as the co-op/multiplayer Elder Scrolls/Final Fantasy titles I always wanted and simply put aside the fact that they’re MMOs — and all the baggage those come with.

While it’s still fairly early on in the experiment, it seems to be working. I haven’t even been tempted to look into what the raid-metas might look like, the health of the end-game scene in general or anything else of that nature for either title.

No doubt I’ll engage in the endgame if and when I get there, but that will come after I’ve stopped to smell the roses along the way.

Confronting Confirmation Bias and Echo Chambers

Anthem is the catalyst for this post, but the discussion could certainly be taken more broadly. Also, I want to make it very clear that I’m not excluding myself from this. No-one is free of bias, the best one can do is try to be aware of where your personal bias’ lie and take the necessary steps to mitigate them.

Whatever else you might think of Anthem; it can certainly look good.

My bias toward Anthem is something I first raised after exposure to the demo weekends, again while writing up my impressions of The Division 2 beta and most recently mentioned being in the ‘honey-moon period’ for my early impressions of the early-access launch.

This is all good and well, but I want to write a review that will be useful to people shortly. So at least for myself, I need to confront the assumptions and biases I’ve held to date, and break the echo chamber effect1 somewhat in order to do so.

What was my starting level of bias?

Well… I essentially came out of a 5+ year blogging hibernation for the express purpose of talking about Anthem.

That should put some context to it for you. At the time I made the decision to come back to blogging for it, there is very little I could have heard or seen that would have dissuaded me from the position I then held.

Nonetheless; over the course of this (admittedly so far short) stint at returning to blogging, I’d already started to self-moderate. I had seen signs I was being unreasonable in my expectations. I was shrugging off certain things that really do deserve constructive criticism.

Enjoying a thing is absolutely fine, good even. We are, for the most part, much too ready to jump down negatively on almost anything and everything. I know that my natural inclination is one of skepticism and disbelief. Before this, I would have told you that I’ve been around the pre-launch hype of too many games to be taken in again. Prove to me it’s worth the hype and then maybe, possibly, I’ll change my tune.

I couldn’t tell you what it was about Anthem that captured that remaining, ‘I want to believe’ spark left in my imagination, really. But capture it it had.

And Now?

I’m still enjoying the game. No-one (including myself) has been able to talk me out of having fun with Anthem.

This is not always a given, either. My Steam library is littered with titles of a more-easily-hyped-Naithin, and some of them to this day have not been loaded. Even once.

I have something like 35 hours into Anthem now and still hunger for more.

Be that as it may though, I think I have managed to gain a better perspective on where the troubles lie. The areas that are in need of improvement if not outright remedy. I can see that Anthem’s ‘Games as a Service’ model is more than anything else ‘Early Access’ for a AAA studio title. (This is a post for another day.)

To get there, to this more balanced position, has meant going out of my way to listen to dissenting opinions. Going willingly into the lion’s den of negative opinion about something I enjoy, and considering whether each individual complaint holds merit in as detached a manner as possible.

Review to Come Soon

So yes, the review will start rolling out soon. Depending on length I may section it off. In particular because I can write about story with some confidence in it not materially changing with the patch on the 22nd Feb.

But if you were hoping for a bit more guidance right now on where things sit with Anthem, I guess my conclusion is this:

Yes — Anthem has problems. The load screens being a big one (especially for those without the luxury of an SSD they can make space to fit the game on). There are other issues too in my opinion with how itemisation is handled and certain story decisions.

But equally, Yes — Anthem is fun despite these problems. Anyone telling you that you can’t have fun with the title in it’s current state is wrong. Now, whether you are willing (or able) to support a full-price game that is coming out with these issues is another matter, and a decision not to is certainly one I could respect.

I want to play Metro: Exodus so much, but I simply refuse to support Epic while their means of acquiring market-share is to introduce third-party exclusives to the PC market. I will wait a year for a Steam release rather than give them a cent of my money now. So I do get taking a stand.

Also, there are a lot of pretty good titles coming out right now besides.

If you’re on the fence, but interested, I think the best thing you can do for yourself (if you’re on PC) is to grab one month of the EA Premier access. This will give you a full month of unfettered access to try it out for yourself, and form your own opinions rather than take my word, or anyone else’s.

If at the end of the month you’re still invested, and/or the coming content drops sound interesting, you can then choose to invest (with 10% off the purchase price, if you do it before your month runs out).

Alternately, just wait for a few months for all the hype (both positive and negative) to die out, and see where things stand then. As I said, plenty of good titles to tide you over in the meantime. :)