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.

Changing Times, Changing Gamer

I’ve had a draft kicking around for a while now aiming to explore how I’ve changed as a gamer over time. But as this post sort of ambled it’s way through my mind I could never quite grasp the full form of it. Originally I thought it might focus on my change over time (in the MMO-world, at least) from being an absolute carebear to PvP evangelist to somewhere in the middle.

That’s something I certainly still want to explore but reading through both Bhagpuss’ ‘All Aboard for Funtime’ and then only a little later Pete’s ‘Playing Just Because It’s Fun’… Well, it occurred to me just how large a subject this actually is.

Complicating this further is that more than once I’ve found that my actual preferences in games had shifted, consciously unbeknownst to me, and became something different to my stated (and at some level, still believed) preferences. The PvP evangelist back to more of a PvE-leaning player was certainly an example of this.

Further, separating what has been an internally driven change in my preferences vs. what has been driven by the market might not be a task I can even do.

The Need for Persistence

Somewhere along the way, though, I started to require something more from games in order to feel satisfied by them. Some reward. Just playing isn’t enough. It might be gaining levels or earning loot. It might be unlocking Achievements.

I don’t like this about myself very much.

Pete (2019), Playing Just Because It’s Fun (Dragonchasers)

The added emphasis is mine — it struck a chord with me. I think because even though I don’t view this need as a bad thing myself, there have been other changes that once I became consciously aware of them I did feel a need to somehow reconcile them with myself.

What I hear in Pete’s article is a desire for permanence. For some degree of persistence and recognition to what has gone before. There could well be more to it, or I may have an entirely different set of gaming motivators from Pete and missed his mark completely.

But it lead me to make the following comment, which I don’t think I can materially rewrite in any better a form, so I’ll copy here with a small amount of tidy up for reference:

I remember being perfectly happy playing completely static and unchanging from round-to-round FPS’ like Quake World: Team Fortress back in the day.

…Right up until I got my first taste of an MMO. Which for me was Asheron’s Call. Many things about AC blew my young mind, but not the least of it was that I could log out and come back later and carry on building from where I was. What a concept!

When this started finding its way into FPS titles like the Battlefield series, a sort of unholy melding of round-to-round play but with persistent ranks and unlocks, I knew I could never go back to a completely static game environment.

I think what this offers us is a sense that what we’ve done matters. At the end of the day, it might still have ‘just been a game’ but there is something a little more tangible than time spent to point at and say, ‘I did that’.

Evolution of Taste and Tolerance

Bhagpuss spoke to the change over time in his desire for a realistic, weather matters, food matters, weight while swimming matters, low-magic RPG where there was narry a hint of rivaling God’s or Dragon’s, to being able to let go and buy into the trappings of the more standard RPG fare where power-spikes of the players lead to such encounters becoming relatively common place.

“I was paying far more attention to whether I was enjoying myself than whether I ought to be. It turns out that being powerful and winning all the time is fun.”

Bhagpuss (2019), All Aboard for Funtime (Inventory Full)

The journey is one I can relate to as I have been through the same, albeit over a relatively shorter period of time.

My tolerance for demanding games has dwindled to near zero. But I suppose I should clarify ‘demanding’ in this context. Because I’m still all for challenge in games. I’m good with beating my head against a raid boss for several hours a night with friends, and in a similar vein I’m perfectly happy to play through titles like Dark Souls that have the potential at least, to be rather punishing of poor play.

But I simply will not sit through another game that demands that I eat and drink every 60 seconds. And looping back to my straying away from PvP evangelism? There was a time when I was all for the full-loot, winner takes all style of Asheron’s Call: Darktide. I loved the concepts of base-building (and loss) of Shadowbane and Darkfall. Territory control in EVE was an amazing draw.

Now I can be easily frustrated if a player in PvP manages to dislodge me from a quest or hunting spot, even if there is no other real consequence.

This was one of the changes in myself that I had trouble with. I couldn’t with any certainty finger-point at a specific time, place or reason for this change in myself and what I wanted out of a game.

It might’ve been the disappointing executions of both Shadowbane and Darkfall. It might have been the then result of being more open to trying WoW and its relatively light implementation of world-PvP.

I don’t know, but I do know that when I realised it, that I couldn’t really tolerate my own previously-preferred style of play any more, that I felt quite like a fraud. There I had been espousing the virtues of such PvP implementations. The player-stories they offered, the increased power and meaning of social interactions through the steadfast allies and deadly nemesis’ you’d come to find… And I’d lost the will to engage with it?

I think in some ways I might even still be looking for the answer to what happened there. There is some part of me that would like to be back in that world — but it just isn’t me any more.

The Division 2 Private Beta – The Dark Zone

I spent about 4 hours in the Dark Zone today as a duo – and let me tell you. I’m glad I wasn’t out there alone. It might just be a demo thing, but almost everyone was pretty gung-ho about going rogue and ‘testing things out’. Fortunately for us, that meant there were plenty of targets.

I haven’t yet given the structured PvP mode available in the beta a go (Conflict) so I cannot speak to the quality of the map design or how that mode feels to play.

So this will speak to the feel of PvP in The Division 2 more generally, and what it’s like to explore the Dark Zone with the new player density and map size.

If you’re actually after what the PvE experience is like, or the game more generally, then check out my impressions of the early game. The end-game PvE impressions are still to come.

Time to Kill and General PvP Feel

TTK has definitely been reduced in PvP combat relative to what it was in The Division 1. But it is not down to Call of Duty or Battlefield levels of quick as some were concerned about before we gained access to the game.

The TTK is measured in seconds, around the mid single digit figure range under sustained fire.

If you let yourself get caught with your pants down without any nearby cover, then you’re very likely dead. But with so much cover around, you’d have to be actively trying to avoid it. ;)

I was a little dubious going in how I felt about Massive adding Normalisation to the Dark Zones. But after seeing it in action and how they’ve done it, I’m a convert.

Not all weapons are created equal when it comes to PvP, the ACS-12 — a fully automatic shotgun with a 20-round mag (21 if you chamber one as well) — is rediculous.

If you can get someone trying to repair their armor or suppressed behind cover from a buddy, you can pop around for a quick ‘Hi!’ followed by a veritable hailstorm of lead which quickly leads to them on the floor, expression stuck somewhere between surprise and sad-panda.

For your mid-range engagements, Assault Rifles feel very good. At one point I was walking around with two AR’s equipped to avoid having to reload, before ultimately changing to and settling on one AR for distance and to close, then the ACS-12 auto-shotgun for up close and personal.

I was a little dubious going in how I felt about Massive adding Normalisation to the Dark Zones. But after seeing it in action and how they’ve done it, I’m a convert. I like it. Essentially the base stats and the item modifiers will be normalised to a certain level, regardless of the starting item level or rarity.

No more DZXP after hitting Rank 10 in the beta. :(

But those who invest the time to get good gear in the form of exotics (think legendaries), for example, will still reap some reward in that they will have additional talents and mod slots on the gear to be normalised. If you’re a low level rocking in with greens and blues; sure the base damage and whatever mods you’ve rolled will rank up – but you’re still missing the 2-4 mods and talents the people with time invested will have.

To me this feels fair and a great balance, that makes it possible to compete for those coming in yet without making it feel that time invested to gear up has been wasted the moment you set foot into the DZ.

Honestly, overall PvP in The Division 2 feels pretty good. I couldn’t tell you how long it took us to reach Dark Zone rank 10 (the maximum in the beta) because time seemed to be flying by so quickly. I would estimate though that if it was over an hour, it wasn’t by much. More likely it was less.

Heck, you’re rank 2 and a bit by the time you’re done with the entry tutorial; which I’ll cover next.

Entering the Dark Zone

If you’re contemplating The Division 2 without the benefit of experience from The Division 1, you will be pleased to know that there is a tutorial mission included now.

It will guide you through activating your first safehouse, getting and extracting contaminated loot, and activating the gateway turrets. More of those in a bit.

Throughout this mission you’ll be running around an instanced version of the Dark Zone map without other players around, granting an easier and less threatening way to get started.

This is a positive addition, but I hope you are not made to run through this in full for each of the three Dark Zones!

Impact of the Dark Zone Map Size and Alerting Changes

In The Division 2, within the two plus minutes it takes from when you send up the flare to the chopper leaving with your loot safely in tow — it is entirely possible for another player to book it there from anywhere on the map.

We’re talking small. Real small. Yes, The Division 2 ships with 3 such areas to play in, but it’s not the total area that is of concern. It is the density.

If your focus is on the PvP elements in the first place, this is likely going to be a positive news story for you. If you were there more as a PvPvE player with an intent to focus on the PvE element just with some added risk… I’m sorry.

Size is the biggest factor here, but the zone now also alerts other players when a ‘Landmark’ location (PvE stronghold type location) is engaged with, so anyone so inclined can make a beeline to you.

Extractions could be done in The Division 1 with relative safety if you so chose, because you could use an extraction point far, far away from any known Rogue players.

In The Division 2, within the two plus minutes it takes from when you send up the flare to the chopper leaving with your loot safely in tow — it is entirely possible for another player to book it there from anywhere on the map.

For some scale comparison to these images, The Division 1 map screenshot was at maximum zoomed out distance. The grid roads you can see are main streets. The Division 2 map, the bolder lines are streets – the smaller lines between them you can see are walkways, paths, alleys and similar.

Again, this is good news if it is your intent to PvP like it was ours today. But I know a lot of people enjoyed The Division 1’s Dark Zone for the risk and occasional PvP but didn’t want it to be constant.

That particular playstyle is not likely to be an option in The Division 2. You will either need to choose to adapt and take a more active PvP participation level, or to forego the Dark Zone altogether.

It’s not ALL bad news though, even if you’re not so good at PvP to start with, as contaminated loot (the kind you must extract to secure) is not the only kind available.

Completing a Landmark on the map and the occasional drop besides will go straight to your normal inventory, so even if you do lose that stash of contaminated loot in the process of trying to extract, you still come away with something beyond than the taste of bitterness and defeat.

The Turrets

Sigh.

Their impact to the game is fairly minimal actually. We had one rather ‘lol’ moment though when someone turned rogue on us just a liiiitle too close to the turrets coverage zone and were wiped off the map nigh instantly.

They are not out in the playfield at large, so can be fairly safely ignored. The stated reason for their inclusion is to prevent camping of Rogues at the entry/exits of the DZ and therefore make the DZ feel more welcoming to newcomers.

Ok, fair enough, but while you’re in one of the DZ waypoints, you can fast travel to absolutely any other one. So it wasn’t truly needed from that perspective.

And then the other changes made to the alerting of PvE Landmarks being engaged with and the reduced TTK seem to run contrary to welcoming in new players anyway.

In essence, they’re nothing to make a fuss about — but also seemingly a pointless addition.

Conclusion

It’s something I said in the Early PvE impressions too, but essentially if you liked PvP in The Division 1, you’ll more than likely enjoy it here too.

It feels good, with a great balance between pace and time to react. When I end up having time for the full launch of The Division 2, I’ll certainly be there.

Note that I said PvP specifically there rather than ‘The Dark Zone’, because I can’t make the same claim there. If you are mostly a PvE player, but still dipped your toes for the heightened excitement and tension in The Division 1’s Dark Zone, my sense is that you may very well not enjoy The Division 2’s take.

A potential mitigating factor to this is that each week, one of the three Dark Zones will cycle into a heightened danger mode where normalisation is turned off.

If it turns out that the true hardcore PvP fans flock to this particular DZ each week, you may still get the experience you’re after by simply going to one of the other two. But that’s a really big ‘if’.

The PvP of The Division 2 is faster paced, but without losing sight of what The Division is. It’s still an RPG looter-shooter and this is reflected in the TTK not being the sub 2-second times of CoD or BF and having your arsenal of skills to support.

It feels good, with a great balance between pace and time to react. When I end up having time for the full launch of The Division 2, I’ll certainly be there. :)

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