On Horizontal Progression

A little over a month ago, I first jotted down some thoughts about the upcoming MMO Torchlight Frontiers, a game many of us thought would never see the light of day. I signed up for the beta, which we have no idea when will happen, but this also means being subscribed to their newsletter, and the first new tidbits of information have started to trickle through. The email I received linked to a post on the Arc Games website, which makes sense due to this being a game produced by Perfect World, and Arc being their launcher.

The article in question is about how Torchlight Frontiers will have “horizontal progression.” You can read the full story there, but I have cherry picked some interesting points because this is a topic that is near and dear to my heart. In most MMOs, or RPGs for that matter, there is always a sort of vertical progression, in that you’ll gain levels of experience opening up new gear and new areas of the game, but this all comes to a screeching halt once you’ve hit the level cap. Then we’ll be subject to the developers’ ideas of what “end game content” should be. Sometimes these activities can be amazing, and other times things are too systematic and boring. In games like the original Everquest, the level cap stayed the same for a very long time, and things like Alternate Advancement points could be earned to still give a sense of progression, but without negating parts of the end game once a new expansion came out. In other titles like World of Warcraft, you’ll see things like Garrisons or Artifact Weapons being introduced just to be thrown in the garbage bin during the next expansion. Echtra Games is attempting to get away from this model.

We’ve come to call the approach “Horizontal Progression.” Horizontal progression is not a specific feature, it’s a way of looking at power growth that creates a great game for the long term. For each feature we think about how it will grow both vertically and horizontally. When this works, there are some big benefits: ​

  • New content doesn’t invalidate past progress
  • Players can specialize characters in a wider variety of ways, for a wider variety of content
  • Players have fun reasons to play all over the world, not just the “end game”
  • Players at different levels/progression have lots of ways to play together that are rewarding for everyone

These bullet points are key, and I think they have the right ideas when it comes to trying to build a world that has progression, but doesn’t throw other bits out the window just for the sake of a level cap increase. It sounds like specialization will equate to having some sort of alternate advancement system, most likely skill points in various trees. There’s also some scaling tech being used to help these systems to work and allow people new to the game to play with veterans.

We achieve this with the magic of dynamic gear scaling. It’s a trick I first saw in Guild Wars 2 and I loved how it kept the whole world interesting and rewarding to play in for me even at max level. In Torchlight Frontiers your high level gear is dynamically scaled down in power when you enter lower level zones. You keep your skills and affixes, but your stats come down enough to keep the gameplay entertaining.

Scaling is also used to reinforce the “different progression” feeling when playing in different Frontiers. Gear that drops in Goblin Frontier is aligned to that Frontier (you can see it clearly in the tooltip) and it scales favorably when moving around that Frontier. You’re a bit ahead of the monsters’ level.

Take that same gear to the Hyvid Frontier and it scales worse – you’re behind the monsters’ level. You have some useful stats, but it’s clearly better to start collecting gear from the local Frontier if you want to progress at a good pace.

Gear scaling is an interesting idea, but scaling isn’t something new. Clearly they have drawn inspiration from Guild Wars 2, but we’ve seen similar concepts in games like The Elder Scrolls Online. I like the idea of “Frontiers” which sound sort of like Diablo III‘s end game content, but where each is dependent on different stats and thereby different gear so each Frontier will feel like it has its own progression without needing to scale arbitrary levels. The post goes on to tease about other ways these systems will work together to fulfill the horizontal progression goal.

I mentioned earlier that there’s a bunch of big features and details about the game we want to share. At this early stage we want to get the vision for the game across so players can see where we’re going with things like “no levels” and Frontiers and dynamic scaling. The next few features we reveal will build on this foundation I’ve just laid out. We have so much more to tell you! It’s not just gear that we’re designing to support “different power”; we have lots more ways you’ll collect tools to help tackle the challenges of Torchlight Frontiers.

It will be interesting to see how this unfolds. I’m curious to see just what other features they are looking to implement, but thus far it all sounds very promising. This is also wrapped up in an Action-RPG package, and these games tend to be pretty addictive in and of themselves. My only concern here is if there will be enough to set Torchlight Frontiers apart from other successful ARPGs — Diablo III does feel like its nearing the end of its lifespan, but games like Path of Exile are still going strong and have dedicated playerbases. If they can find the right mixture of new features and exciting gameplay I think we might have a damn fine game on our hands. We’ll have to keep an eye on it.

State of the Game: Projects

Over the weekend I was able to get some gaming time in, and as regular readers will note, I jump around between titles pretty regularly. Sometimes I’ll try something out and it won’t stick, but I’ll jot down my thoughts and move on. Other times I have a bunch of games I’m interested in playing at the same time, so I’ll spend a little time here and a little time there. Recently, the games I’ve been focused on are Destiny 2, Fallout 4 (DLCs), ESO, and Burnout Paradise Remastered. There are a few other games I’ve been tinkering around with, but these are the four I’m focusing on talking about today. So let’s dive in.

Destiny 2:

I realize that I started playing this game a year after everyone else, and I realize that the only reason I’m now playing it is because it was offered for free. Still, I honestly can’t figure out why it was so universally panned when it came out. I know there were plenty of people who were still playing it regardless of the negativity, but when it comes down to it, in its current state it doesn’t feel any different than the original game. Truth be told, I didn’t delve too deeply into the first game. I had one max level character and finished up the main story plus DLC stories but I didn’t do every single quest, I didn’t play crucible and I didn’t raid. So probably I don’t know what I’m talking about.

With that said, it’s still a great game. There’s something about melding first person shooter gameplay with RPG elements. I absolutely love this style of game and I should have just picked this up way back when. I’m glad I didn’t have to pay money to play it, but I am looking forward to getting through the rest of the game and picking up the DLCs as I go along. Here’s hoping that they stretch this one out for years instead of making another numbered entry. It appears their gameplan going forward is to add at least two more DLC in the next year so perhaps there will be reason to keep playing.

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In my past couple of sessions my best friend and I have leveled up to 10, and have a light rating of a little over 100. I’ve managed to grab a few blue pieces of gear along the way, and we’ve completed the main story up until rescuing Cayde and being pointed in the direction of Io. At this point there was a level gate (we were 9 at the time) so we pushed on by doing some adventures and public quests. We had been pretty much ignoring much of the side content in favor of completing the storyline, but at this point it appears that perhaps we should do a bit of everything just to make sure we’re ready for the next bit of DLC once the original main story wraps up. It’s been a blast and I find myself wanting to play more often than he is available, so I may start leveling up a Warlock on the side. We’ll see how time permits.

ESO:

Due to trying to play too many games at once, my time with ESO has been sporadic. During my last session I decided to try out some PvP battlegrounds, and like my experience with Destiny 2, it sucked. I’m not nearly a high enough level or geared well enough to hang with the groups I was being matched up against. It looked like it has the potential to be a blast but I’m not there yet. So I ended up running around doing more quests and it’s been fun.

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I honestly don’t really know what I’m doing most of the time save for running around following quest markers and killing shit. I guess that’s par for the course. This seems to be the same in most MMOs, so here we go. I’m more invested in other storylines at this point in time and my memory isn’t what it used to be so I tend to just take in the sights and mosey around at my own snail’s pace. Not having a subscription to this point has made it more appealing because I’m not wasting time and can play as I see fit. Perhaps once I get nearer to the end of the original game’s content I’ll think about subscribing to see more of what’s been added in my absence.

Far Harbor:

Fallout 76 comes out in a month and a half. My goal was to finish off the Fallout 4 DLC before that happened, because I know once there’s a new Fallout game I’m not going to bother with the predecessor any longer. The last time I had played I killed off a rather large Mirelurk queen as part of a side quest, and I went back to Far Harbor to turn in all the quests I had completed during that session.

During my session over the weekend, I ended up with a journal full of more side quests from those citizens, as one of the quests that I completed had the city’s leader backing me, something not easily done with “mainlanders” such as myself. I completed a couple more, when a robot appeared outside of town looking for a detective (me). I followed her to a hotel that contains an underground vault, where a murder was committed and hence why I was sent for. Upon entering, we find that all of the people inside are no longer people, and are actually “robo-brains.” This means their human brain has been transplanted onto a robot’s body. Immortal as they are now, they’re still very much able to be killed, as is evident from the crime scene I’m asked to investigate. This questline bugged out on me several times, but in the end I found out that the killer was actually masquerading as one of the other residents having killed her himself. Basically she found out about something he didn’t want anyone else to know about so he killed her then took on her identity. I also found a dead overseer in a vault-tec suit, who’s journal entries were quite hilarious (you can read those above). I have no idea how much more it’s going to take to complete Far Harbor, and there’s still Nuka World after that, but hopefully before Fallout 76 hits shelves.

Burnout Paradise:

I don’t have too much to say about Burnout Paradise, I’ve played a few more times since my initial post, and it’s been a blast. It’s truly a fun game and something I can do that takes very little brain power, so on nights when I don’t feel like diving into something with more depth, it’s relaxing to cruise around this beautiful little world. The trophies come in droves though, as evidenced by this round of screenshots:

If you were ever a fan of arcade style racers, definitely give this one a try. That’s all I have for this time. Happy gaming everyone!

Getting Started in Destiny 2

I was late to the party with the original Destiny, and I guess you can say the same is true with its sequel. When the first one released I was slightly interested but didn’t get around to purchasing it until after The Taken King came out. I didn’t play much then either, only checked it out for a little while but had a sour experience with a so-called friend and that turned me off from the game for a while. I ended up going back to it and running through all of the main story and side quests through The Taken King, and even purchased the next expansion but didn’t put much time into it after that. I had the intentions of picking up Destiny 2 at release just so I could hit the ground running and play the game while it was still the new hotness. But then when Destiny 2 released, it was pretty universally panned by critics and people whose opinions I trust, so I didn’t bother. Well, at this point the game has just released it’s first major expansion, Forsaken, and Sony decided to give it out for free as part of the Playstation Plus program.

Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I downloaded the game right when I found out it was available early. I convinced my best friend that he should download it as well, and we have been able to get in a couple of sessions together.

Session 1:

I’m not really remembering all of the issues people had with the game upon its release, as that was a year ago and my memory isn’t what it used to be. Still, having played it myself now I don’t really see much of a difference between this game and the first. There was a little snippet at the beginning when I logged in where my Destiny save game was imported into this game and I got to see the things I accomplished in the first iteration. The two characters that I had played were still there too, one being the Warlock I started with and the Hunter I ended up running through the game to max level. The storyline is a little convoluted but essentially a big alien threat has attacked The Traveler and essentially robs all guardians of their light.

Despite the fact that my friend and I were in voice chat together, we had to play through these first bits of the story alone. We have the big attack and you’re pretty fucked up, you come too and wander about for a bit, then we’re treated to some cut scenes of the storyline and then eventually you wind up in a place called “The Farm” which is shown on the map as a separate place from Earth, but still looks very much like Earth when you are there. Whatever the case, it’s the new Tower, and you get your social interaction here along with some vendors, your bank, mailboxes and the Crucible guy.

The main story pushed us to head to where a bit of The Traveler had broken off and landed near by. We’re warned that it’s a place of death, but after killing off some bad guys, we get our light back and can move on to bigger and better things.

Graphically it’s still a beautiful title. I really thought Destiny was up there with games like Uncharted that can really push this system to its limits. It’s surprising that a game can look this good on a stock PS4, considering most games are a bit more washed out. I assume on a PS4 Pro or on PC it looks even better, but it was free here, so this is where I’m going to play it.

By the end of our first session I was level 3, as we took a couple hours to get to the point where we could even play together, and by that time it was getting late so we called it a day. We got together to play again last night, and ended up pushing further into the story.

Session 2:

More fighting on Earth as my Hunter and my friend’s Titan leveled up and went on Adventures, participated in public quests and followed the story to it’s end here. Clearly there will be more to do on Earth at a later time, but for now they’ve sent us to Titan to help out with some network building.

We also see Cayde being held captive by our antagonist, and because I’m not blind or deaf I have already heard the spoilers about his demise and the plot of Forsaken having to do with getting revenge for him. But since I don’t know the particulars, I’ll play my way through and see for myself. If this ends up sticking like I think it will (we’ve been having a blast so far) I will likely pick up Forsaken once we’ve completed the main story.

When I was playing the original Destiny, I never did end up playing any of the game’s PvP mode, Crucible. I decided that I wanted to try it out. That was probably a bad idea. I assumed that as you entered into matchmaking, you would be paired up with and against other players of similar level/power. That doesn’t seem to be the case, as one guy was level 20 and the other 50 (?) I think. Either way they were much better equipped and felt way to hard to kill. We did get kills nonetheless, but lost the match and decided that we should level up a bit before bothering with that again. It does feel pretty good as shooters go but I didn’t like the level disparity.

By the end of our second session I was level 7 and had looted my first exotic from a quest. Nothing too special but I’ve found my groove. I don’t really like the new subclass that you’re stuck with at the beginning, and look forward to opening up others. I’ve found that while playing in a duo, I can experiment with my weapon loadout more though, and have settled on a Scout Rifle as my primary and a pistol for the side arm. I do like me some auto/pulse rifles and sub machine guns too, but for now these have worked as my friend’s titan is typically using a shotgun so he heads in first and I take out the long range targets. Overall it’s been a blast and I look forward to progressing through it!

Finding A Groove: ESO

For the past week or so the only game I’ve been playing on my PC is The Elder Scrolls Online. That’s not to say that I have played every day, and it’s not to say that I’m obsessed with the game, but I’ve been logging in and continuing progress and that’s more than I can say about many MMOs these days.

In an attempt to write something of substance rather than just “I did this” or “I beat this game,” I thought it would be nice to write something more in the vein of Bhagpuss, where I have some deeper thoughts about something and splash some pretty pictures in between.  A decade ago, I was living and breathing MMOs, to the point where I played every day when I could, and would jot down notes and thoughts while I was at work in order to write out blog posts about the games I was playing. It was mainly Everquest 2 back in those days, but there have been a smattering of other MMOs that I’ve played over the years, but I never stick with one title for long and most of the time I take a short tour to have something to write about and then move on.

I find that one of the biggest draws to ESO for me is the fact that its set in the same world as the rest of The Elder Scrolls series. Having familiar races and places makes a difference and makes me want to explore. Honestly, this isn’t much different than playing a single player TES RPG; you’re still the hero that saves the day and there’s still at ton of quests and places to explore.

One of the issues I took with the game back when I first played it was that it really didn’t feel like it was necessary to have an Elder Scrolls MMO. Most people I knew that had played Skyrim really just wanted to be able to play Skyrim with a couple of friends. Those I had talked to about it thought that a traditional TES game with some co-op functionality would have been better and I tended to agree with them. Having returned to the game after some changes have been made, I find that this feels like that. The game is alive and well, and I find myself running about in solo mode completing various tasks and for random people to just be in the area and helping out to take down harder mobs without the need to group up or even have a conversation. I imagine it would be just as easy to play PvP in the same way or to finish up higher level content. Now that everything scales it seems like you could literally group with anyone and do anything.

It seems though that despite the fact that what I’m doing is still basically the same shit I would be doing in Skyrim, but instead of doing it alone it’s in a shared world, it still affects my attitude towards the game. The simple fact that this is an MMO means I don’t read quest text, I just click through things and on to the next kill ten rats quest because all I care about is vertical progression and not the story. Sure, the game is beautiful and there are some great sights to see. I rather enjoy the combat (though it sucks a bit when you get some lag). There’s just something in me that says “who cares” when it comes to the story that they are pushing at me.

It doesn’t make sense, when in Skyrim I would read the quest text and be enthralled by the things I was doing throughout the game. It felt epic and felt like I was the only person in that world who could complete these tasks. In a shared world, you are still force fed this storyline where you are the “one true hero” but you also see other people doing the same thing you are and at the end of the day it feels less special. But that doesn’t make it less fun.

What I’m trying to get at here is that I’ve found a groove and I’m enjoying myself in an MMO for the first time in a long time. Despite having made a return trip to Norrath at the beginning of the year, I still didn’t really feel at home and honestly the game’s aging graphics take away from the experience. The gorgeous visuals of ESO make me want to play it more, and the fact that I see people everywhere I go makes it feel more alive than other fantasy MMO worlds I’ve participated in as of late. Despite feeling a certain way towards MMOs for the past few years, I feel like this one is getting its hooks into me, and I don’t have the guilt of wasting subscription time at this point because I’m so low level that I’m still working through original game content. I may subscribe at some point just for the perks and all the DLCs but for now I’m happy with this feeling of having something to work towards. A strange relationship I have with MMOs, indeed.

Dwaddling About: ESO

I had forgotten just how big The Elder Scrolls Online really is, especially now that it has had a bunch of DLC’s and two Expansions added to it. I originally purchased the “Tamriel Unlimited” version off of Steam at some point when it was on sale, so right around the time the game went buy to play. This was prior to any of the expansions, and it appears that the highest level character I had was a level 12 Templar. Having been away from the game for a few years, I didn’t know what to expect. I knew that I enjoyed what I had seen, but several key changes have happened that I had no experience with. First, they did the whole level scaling thing throughout the world, so now it doesn’t matter where you go, the content scales to your level. This is a boon for those that want to group, but in my case being a primarily solo player it probably doesn’t mean much. I had no idea what I was doing on my other characters (also have a Nightblade and a Sorcerer) and never really progressed too far, so I decided it was probably a good idea to just roll a new character. The new Dragonknight seems fine, and it appears that there is a new starting area, as Morrowind is part of the free content at this point.

Tutorial:

It’s still the same sort of tutorial, but it still seemed different from what I can recall from the original game. After leaving the beginning area it seems that we are either in a Morrowind zone or nearby, I’m not really certain. The meat of the game seems to be the same but of course there are a ton of new things to do because of all the xpacks, and apparently you can access them all with the subscription fee, or purchase them in the crown store. I’m not about to spend any money at this point because I know that I have a habit of only playing MMOs for a month or so before moving onto other things, but a bunch of people in my social feeds have been talking about it and I’ve been craving an Elder Scrolls game for a while now so here we are. This will have to do until TESVI.

Dwaddling About:

I’ve been running around the beginning zone doing quests for randos and it’s been pretty fun. I do enjoy the action oriented combat that ESO brings to the table, and it still feels much like Skyrim in most ways so I’m getting the fix I’ve been looking for. The game looks even better now that I’m running it on my 2k monitor, and it’s still smooth as silk even on ultra settings. So far I’ve leveled to ~7 on the DK, and I’m just trying to familiarize myself as much as possible before I go back to some of my other characters.

Housing:

Another new addition since I’ve been gone is housing. I stumbled upon this mudhouse in my journeys and popped in to check it out. Reminds me of the Inn rooms from EQ2, and I’m not even sure what things you can place in a home. I’ve not really paid attention to housing in most MMOs (save for EQ2, which was one of the best at it) so I’m not sure what will come of it but I know the housing in Skyrim’s DLC was worth having if nothing else than for storage, and also to have your wife be a shopkeep and earn you money passively. Not sure if those correlations exist here but I’ll find out eventually.

Goals for now are to just level up a character and see more of the world. I’m glad that I can play through the Morrowind areas without having to buy anything or pay for a sub, so I’m going to try and work through what I can without the subscription. If I stay hooked then I might spring for the sub just to play the wealth of DLCs, but I believe I have to pay for Summerset, so that is probably the last thing I’ll do. They did add a new race (which I’m not really interested in) and class (Warden, which I would like to try) which can be purchased in the store, so I’ll probably spring for that eventually. Or I’ll be done with the game in a week. I guess we’ll see, won’t we? If anyone is playing this and has a guild they want to invite me to or wants to do some group content let me know!