Why PFO Matters:
My interest in PFO is related to my larger dissatisfaction with MMOs. MMOs are my favorite game genre because I'm a social gamer, but the two models for MMOs are currently broken:
- Theme-park models are broken, because players can chew through content faster than developers can create new content. That's where the grind template comes in, because making you grind the same 6 dungeons in a loop for to turn in to get higher armor, so as to loop higher levels of the dungeons for , and so on. It doesn’t matter who you are (Bioware)—only WoW had enough of a revenue stream and player base to support the content stream, and
- Sandbox models are currently broken--dumping people into a box with tools to grief/kill each other creates greifing/murder sims. Because devs haven't done careful design work to make pro-social behavior necessary to success, sandboxes tend towards toxic behavior.
Currently two developers recognize this, and have articulated plans to fix the broken models.
- EQ Next plans to fix theme-parks by leveraging procedural generation and player-base crowd sourcing to make new content. I don't know if it will work, but it is a creative attempt, and is not doing the exact same thing hoping there will magically be a different outcome. At least they recognize the problem and offer a solution.
- Pathfinder Online wants to fix sandboxes by a) making the interactions meaningful, and b)steering players away from toxic interactions.
- Since exp comes automatically over time, the way you progress is not by grinding mobs, but by developing your settlement. I have spent the year gathering resources for our crafters, crafting essential items for our warriors (as a jeweler I make the essential "trophy charms" that sort of act like spellbooks for fighter special maneuvers), making friends and allies from other settlements, grinding PvE escalations for spells/recipes and victory markers (it's kinda fun, but it is also kind of grindy), and expanding/protecting (and recently losing) the territory that gates how high the settlement can train (this usually involves PvP).
- One pretty big innovation in reducing toxic behavior between players is to move the stakes for competition from player vs player to settlement vs. settlement interaction. It is possible for Joe player and Susie player to fight, and it does happen sometimes. But since the rewards aren’t high on average, and generally risks economic loss--the power curve is fairly flat, everyone is vulnerable and dies on occasion, thus degrading your gear—it's not the focus. So you don't want to fight for the hell of it. But at the settlement level it can make a lot of sense--like "stay the f*ck out of our area," "That tower is ours not yours," strategically blocking an enemy settlement from a resource area, etc. And then the flip side is you find settlements you can ally with, and who you can trade raw goods or training with, because no settlement can make and train everything they need--there's forced interdependence. So far this year, I've been randomly PK'd (both times it was evil guys from Golgotha) a total of two times. Whereas I've had six settlement level battles (half-hour to 3 hour) involving lots of players from varies allied settlements. So the system seems to be working well, at least in my experience,
What's Currently Working in PFO:
- PFO offers incredible complexity in character design. Characters are completely customizable, and you usually end up with a mix of various role features: e.g. my healer-focused cleric is actually a cleric 10/ fighter 8. You can have pretty powerful, deep synergies if you build your character right, but you can also build a pretty inefficient character
- The settlement system works. We are busily building up our holdings and outposts, gathering the raw bulk goods we will need to maintain our settlement. And to do that, we are busily gathering victory markers from defeating PvE escalations, and gathering lots of raw resources to craft the holdings/outposts from. And a couple of us who love spreadsheets are busily figuring out the optimal way to build, mix, and match those holdings/outposts—settlement building is complex and requires a lot of thought.
- Economic loop: The economic loop works, and is integral to the game. I and a lot of others like harvesting resources, and also running PvE groups to gather more mats and recipes. And we turn those over to our crafters, who in turn make us better gear. Which in turn lets us control territory, so we can train higher, and gather more resources, kill tougher stuff, and so on. That loop is fun and works.
- Crafting works: It is meaningful to be a crafter. Raw materials and recipes can drop from mobs, but not finished end items. So crafting is a 100% viable and very rewarding career path. I think this is the closest I've seen to how cool crafting was in SWG. I am the only jeweler in my settlement, and they need me to make trophy charms, otherwise our fighters would be totally gimped. I really like feeling essential that way. I also think making crafting interdependent is a great idea. You cannot craft things on your own after a few levels. I make finished, magical jewelry, so that means I have to depend on a gemcutter and smith to make me refined gems and metal. Some people hate that you can't make stuff on your own, but I see how powerfully social it is.
- PvP: PvP happens, and again there is a lot of intricacy. You have to understand how PvP combat works to correctly construct your character, and there are tradeoffs: a good gatherer or crafter won't be able to PvP well, and while there is a lot of overlap between a PvE and PvP build, there is still some differences. In particular, different attacks apply different effects on the target, and those effects can be exploited. So if you and your settlement mates have the right mix of classes/attacks, and understand who can apply/exploit what effects, you can have a pretty powerful synergistic effect, and that is critical in PvP.
- The game supports sociality. The power curve is low, and so new characters can jump in and start to contribute. The interdependence of combat effects means you need to work with diversity and as a team in PvP. The crafting system means you have to be social within and between settlements 1)within the settlement, gatherers, crafters, and adventurers work together in and economic loop, and 2) between settlements you have to trade: e.g. my settlement, Ozem's Vigil, has to depend on our buddies in Forgeholm and Alderwag to make some of the stuff we need, and they need us also.
What Needs Work:
- PvE Content. Escalations are pretty much it, and they are kind of boring, kind of grindy, although they are adding some variety in (e.g. elementals in ver. 8). No dungeons, no real quests, just grinding down escalations in the hope you get a good recipe/spell, and victory tokens for killing the boss.
- Combat UI and movement: Currently, parts of the interface, and movement mechanics need work. Targeting doesn't work well (although they have improved the size of the hit box). But that has caused other problems, in particular because the combat UI is inexplicably pass-thru: if you click on a combat button and a friendly player is right in front of you, your click BOTH activates the ability and targets your friend, so friendly fire is incredibly easy in melee. That also happens with mouse-look—you are using mouse-look to turn to one side as someone runs past you, and so you inadvertently target them, and friendly fire ensues. I think you have to have a multi-button mouse to play this game.
- HUD/Targeting. PvP an be very confusing, and one of the more lacking features is it is hard to tell friend from foe. The models are generic, there's no way to tell allies/build raids beyond your party, and so basically it can be very easy to fire at the wrong people. There is a HUD display of the target's name and company, but it is tiny and at the top border of the screen, so you have to look up, away from what you are doing, to read it. It's more like a Head Way too Far Up Display (HWtFUD).
- Variety in Racial Choices. Right now it is human, elf, and dwarf. Kind of blah.
What's Pretty Broken:
- Graphics. What can I say? Graphics are…not good, and while I am confident they will be one day, if good graphics are essential to your gaming experience, PFO is not a good choice for you.
- Character Models. I guess this is part of the graphics, but it's bad enough and important in it's own way to be worth mentioning. Models are incredibly generic, some are inexplicably ugly (people have quit the game over how ugly elves are), and they just aren't good. Basically you can be a generic male of female human/dwarf/elf. And the armor has low variety, so you end up with the same armor look for each tier/race/type. There's a lot of elf maids running around with the exact same Sexy Santa's Helper outfit…that are supposed to be wizard robes.
- Lack of Roles. Right now you can be a fighter, cleric, wizard or rogue. It sounds like we are still months away from introducing any new roles (e.g. Barbarians, Paladins, etc). That kind of stinks. I understand that this is part of the development map, but still it bums me out.
- Chat/UI. The game is missing some of the most basic chat and UI functions. You can't cut and paste into chat windows. There's no friends list. If you want to chat with someone or invite them, that means typing their incredibly stupid, long three name, name. You can't easily adjust or configure the UI (although thank God they recently changed the UI graphics so it close to readable now). Heck, you can't even tab between the username/password fields. It's like someone said "How can we make the UI and interaction features like Meridian 59, except way, way worse?"
- Population. It's low, way lower than I like. It feels like since ver. 8 I'm seeing an uptick in population, at least up in the North. But I still worry a lot about how few folks there are in the game. I think it's matter of sustaining a minimum population as the game steadily improves in features.
Which brings to another important thing that's working well:
- Steady, Consistent Improvement. Since the game launched early this year, there have been 8 EE release versions, and each one has been a big improvement. Seriously, the game still has a long way to go, but man has it improved. The delta is positive, consistent, and steady, and that's what makes me optimistic. So far, the developers have absolutely been faithful and acted as they spoke.
If you haven't tried PFO, and maybe now get why this game matters, and has the potential to help fix what's wrong with MMOs, and help us get back to the kind of fun we had with UO and EQ, then I recommend giving it a try—contact me for a buddy key to try the game for 15 days for free. And if you are one of those few that long to be a paladin, or someone who wants to support the holy work of lawful good paladins and clerics, then please contact us at Ozem's Vigil. We're looking for a few good women (and men!). http://ozemsvigil.guildlaunch.com/
Do the RIGHT THING: come be a Paladin with us! http://ozemsvigil.guildlaunch.com/