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Jumping Jumbled Juxtapositions

As I mentioned in the last entry, I'm currently attempting to play both Wildstar and FireFall.  In doing so, I have to say, I'm so confused right now.  These are two games that should play distinctly differently, thereby allowing a nice variety of play.  Instead, playing them both seems to invalidate each other.
Power Armors: Comic feasibility versus sci-fi realism.  Another way in which these two games split hairs against each other.
This occurs on several major fronts:

Conflict 1. The flow of the central combat mechanic:

This basically entails the basic kinetic activity the player will be up to while playing these games.
  • Wildstar demonstrates that interesting gameplay can be had from an enhanced traditional MMORPG combat model that eschews the auto-attack mechanic in favor of telegraphing attacks that effect specific areas supplemented by a dodge mechanic that allows the player to move slightly faster to avoid enemy telegraphs in a limited allocation.
  • FireFall demonstrates that interesting gameplay can be had from straight up lifting a first person shooter combat, complete with player versus environment enemies that actually have to lead their shots to hit you.   The player does their own dodging, and more damage can be done by carefully aiming shots at vulnerable parts of enemies (usually the head).  The enemies are a bit dumb and unresponsive sometimes, but this is somewhat made up for by the sheer volume.
Despite the difference in core philosophies in the central game mechanic, they're both fun games in their own right.  If I think FireFall is more fun than Wildstar because it does away with the enhanced traditional MMORPG combat for some more fluid gameplay, I'm right.  If I think Wildstar is more fun than Firefall because it has a greater depth to it than straight up FPS gameplay, I'm also right.  There's the conflict: how can two paradoxically different approaches to central combat mechanic be both right?

Conflict 2. The variety in the central combat mechanic:

The number of things a game gives players to do can be likened to the number of toys you have in your toybox.  In time, you may bore of everything in the toybox, but surely some toys will last longer than others by virtue of toys not all being equally interesting. 

In a comparison between FireFall and Wildstar, both games limit the player to a smaller pool of actions than the 30 available actions in a traditional MMORPG.
  • In FireFall's case, it's 3 "skill" actions, 1 "hyper kinesis module" super action, 4 more slots that can be used for various "calldown" items, and finally a small choice of primary and secondary weapons that are aimed and shot.  There is also good access to the third dimension in the form of everyone being equipped with jump jets.
  • In Wildstar's case, it's 8 action slots, a gadget slot, a medishot slot, a path action slot, with no real choice of primary weapon (it's determined by the class) and aiming is simpler because you're just lining up attack telegraphs along the ground.  You can also fill a secondary and tertiary hotbar with additional usable items, but this is unlikely, as those kinds of items are rare and have largely been streamlined into the medishot and gadget slots.
  • Neither game is quite as limited as Defiance, which gives players a mere 1 abilities of 4 to use, a grenade, a larger selection of aimable weapons, and a cover based mechanic. 
Of course, this is a generalization, and does not get into things such as AMPS, perks, and other mostly passive abilities.

The conflict here is that I cannot, for the life of me, determine which set of toys has the better entertainment value for me.  I think Wildstar has a definitive advantage, in terms of sheer number of unique abilities and overall activities available in the game but, then again, FireFall allows you to access all of the toys the game has to offer with a single character.  Even if there was a sheer numerical advantage in toys a player can access in one game versus the other, it's hard to gauge how each activity will impact the player because everyone finds different things interesting.

Conflict 3. The Questing Structure:

I think it's fair to say that Wildstar has a great deal more content overall than FireFall,  The latter game probably has half the geography and a quarter as much detail invested within.  FireFall also has no qualms with having you walk, drive, or glide long distances between mission waypoints at random, whereas Wildstar keeps things relatively localized around quest hub areas.

Yet, by sticking so close to the tried and true, Wildstar has somewhat shot itself in the foot.  We've seen dozens, if not hundreds, of games already aping the quest structure of World of Warcraft because it worked so well.  The consequence being that this is one activity that we're good and bored of.  FireFall's more dynamic event centric mechanic provides a much-needed alternative... even if the job boards are a bit of a step backwards in the direction of World of Warcraft.

Once again, I'm at a loss as to which is better.  For all its slavish traditionalism, Wildstar's questing structure did, indeed, facilitate a large number of interesting quests.  However, for all the dreadful dearth of unique activities to be found in FireFall, it indeed deviates enough to feel like a whole new game in some ways.  It does not help my cognitive dissonance that these things are so mutually exclusive: to quest or not to quest, what kind of question is that?

Conflict 4. The single character versus multiple character architexture:

If you're a regular reader of this blog, then you should know how much of an altaholic I am.  No, not alcoholic, I never touch the stuff.  Altaholic - I just can't resist rolling up alternate characters to play because, while it does abandon and derail my progress on my existing characters, it also provides a short and easy route to some unique gameplay when I'm good and bored of what my previous character was capable of.

For me, what's really turning out to be terrible about Wildstar is that there is a whole third category to roll alternate characters over:
  • Class is the main event - the greater body of what this character can do that five out of six other characters cannot.
  • Race an important cosmetic consideration, but fortunately there's no real gameplay impact.
  • Now we have to worry about what side activities and abilities we get with the brand new path choice.  
Great; so paths are basically an exponential increase in a reason for me to roll alts. (No wonder I rolled so many in City Of Heroes, a game that gave you a choice of archetype followed by a choice of primary, secondary, and tertiary power sets.)

Despite generating this additional demand, Wildstar actually makes alting hard on me because of several reasons:
  • A mere six character slots per server, which means if I decide I want to try a different path or race on a class I'm probably going to end up throwing away progress by virtue of needing that character slot.
  • Each character has to go through a protracted tutorial and three starting areas before getting to the real start of the game around level 15.  
  • Your characters' assets (gold, items, ect) are segregated from each other.  Although you can visit the houses belonging to your other characters on the server and mail things between them (for in-game money and time).
I generally like WildStar but, dude: I'm having a miserable time trying to play it since I'm so alt-happy.

FireFall would seem to want me to play it, as it has a solution to all of these problems:
  • There's no need to worry about classes.  Battleframes are the equivalent of classes: you level up your proficiency in them by using them.  You can switch between them at battleframe stations any time you want, all on the same character.
  • There's only one race, human, and you can re-customize your appearance at any time.
  • There are no paths, everybody gets access to all the activities in the game world and, consequently, all the perks of those activities.
  • Since there's no need to change character, there's no need to go through the starting areas ever again.
  • All of your inventory is on your character at all times, with equipped gear saved on each battleframe, so there's no need to worry about transferring items between characters.  
  • You are automatically scaled to appropriate zones or mission instances, so there's no need to roll another character to play with your friends.
Other than sharing your account between several players (which is pointless considering this game is F2P) there is virtually no reason to roll alternate characters in FireFall.  This is not the first MMORPG to do this, as you can see similar systems in Final Fantasy XI, XIV, Runes Of Magic, and Defiance.  Each of these games actually reward you for having an interest in playing the rest of them.  In the case of FireFall, this is how you unlock perks that may be useful for other classes.

So where's the mental conflict?  Clearly, FireFall is much more compatible with my altaholic mindset, right?   Well, despite my personal preferences, I can see some advantages to WildStar's approach.
  • Having several unique inventories and property in the different characters in Wildstar actually provides me a tangible in-game advantage: more space, more housing plots to play with.  
  • Having characters as distinct entities means that, when you see a character of a certain level, you can clearly identify that character as being exactly that strong and not hiding a stronger class they just aren't "wearing" right now.  
  • Finally, I might just happen to like alting because it provides several unique perspectives into the game, even if it does stymie my progress when done in excess.
Being an adult is sometimes about knowing what's good for you is not always the same as what you like.  Is this one of those cases?  Well, it's a game, so probably too trivial for it to matter.  But, that aside, it is hard to say if there is really anything wrong with having my cake and eating it too when a way has been found. 

And much dukkha was had...

It is said that humankind is quite fixated on inventing its own misery.  Clearly, my tendencies along these lines are quite advanced that I can find four unresolvable conundrums between two games.
Still, I think I might just have a point here.  That point being that these are two games that have the game goal of a mostly persistent state massively multiplayer online game, yet employ differing, successful philosophies whose coexistence actively juxtaposes one another on several fronts.
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