As the scope of MMORPGs available to us continues to broaden as new games are constantly released, so do our expectations. We expect new games to have as many cool features as older games, and this is only natural given the fact that developers have better tools to work with now as well as a whole bunch of history to learn from. One feature that often understandably gets overlooked during a young game’s first couple of years is the addition of holiday events. Sure, you could say FFXIV: ARR has a Halloween event going on currently, but after running through the half-hour it takes to complete the one quest chain, it’s pretty safe to ask yourself, “Wait, that was an event?”
Still, I have to admit something. There’s a part of me that thoroughly felt immersed while running around Limsa Lominsa as a goofy-looking ghost. It was the decorations, I think. Despite the fact that All Saints’ Wake was ridiculously small and only centered in the three main cities, those three cities really felt like a holiday was in town. The quest line presented a brief yet satisfactory story of sorts, the NPCs were charming, and the costume rewards were easily obtainable and fun to run around in. The Magic Pot was also an awesome touch for Final Fantasy fans.
Should Square Enix do better with the event next year? Yes, yes, and please– yes. But given the fact that the game is still crawling around in its infancy stage, I’ll give this event a pass and hope for better when December rolls around. For now, though? The pirate pumpkins put a smile on my face. Call me crazy, but I am content with that.
I’m also pretty content with the October/Halloween events in most MMORPGs that have been around for a year or more (full disclosure: Halloween’s my favorite holiday). The various developers have had time to iron out the “first year” kinks and have started to figure out what their player base wants as far as holiday events go. Guild Wars had some of the best Halloween fun around, and Guild Wars 2 has followed in its footsteps quite nicely. There’s plenty of immersion, fun items, and special baddies to kill in Guild Wars 2‘s Blood and Madness event.
The Secret World puts on a good show for Halloween, and I’ve heard EverQuest did as well. World of Warcraft, naturally, is the game where many other MMORPGs became inspired to fill up cities full of elves and pumpkins and snowy trees and bunny hats in the first place– so we’ve gotta at least give Blizzard a nod. The latest WoW holiday event cycle can be narrowed down to “kill X instance boss and complete some achievements”, sure, but immersion is apparent everywhere. So much immersion, in fact, that WoW players commonly get sick of blinky lights and gnomes in Santa hats before December 20th even rolls around.
Immersion is important in a holiday event. It encourages us to feel like an actual “event” is going on. That things are different. That we can take a bit of a break and have fun. That we can earn some cool rewards and enjoy the day with friends in a way that’s slightly different from the norm. It’s important to change up the beat. That’s partially why we enjoy MMORPGs, after all. We enjoy being part of a game world that isn’t static.
That’s why it’s pretty disappointing when an MMORPG adds holiday events that do little to make things not-so-static. I’m not talking about games that don’t make events revolve around real-world calender events, either. Developers can choose to go down that path if they prefer. But if an MMORPG has an October-themed holiday event, I want to see that October-themed event. I want the immersion. I want the cool decorations. I want to feel like things are really different, and that players have a reason to celebrate. I want more than, well, what RIFT gave us this year.
Now, don’t get me wrong. If there’s anything my readers know about me and my work on RIFT Junkies, it’s the fact that I love RIFT and have a great deal of respect for Trion for listening as they have to the game’s community. The developers take a very “think-on-your-feet-and-let’s-try-stuff-out” approach to adding new features and content to the game, and I’m admittedly a fan of that somewhat risky approach. It sometimes pays off remarkably well. Other times, it doesn’t. It’s times like this when I tend to be a little more critical.
The first year of Autumn Harvest excited me. It was a satisfactory autumn-flavored event for RIFT‘s first stab at it, and I loved that the team used one of my favorite instances– Realm of the Fae– as a backdrop for a special little hideaway where you could go crazy and load up on artifacts. It was different. It was also a little, well, un-immersive. There wasn’t much fall decor in Sanctum and Meridian. Besides the random fungi to be found on trees and the mushroom circle portals, there really wasn’t much fall flavor to be had around Mathosia. The mounts were unfortunately also a recoloring of other mount models. It felt very rushed, overall, but after seeing how Trion spruced up Carnival of the Ascended and Summerfest this year, I was anxious to see what they would do with this year’s Autumn Harvest.
We got some new things, sure. We got a lot of new things, actually. But they’re all located on RIFT‘s in-game cash shop, also known as the RIFT Store. Cash shop items for holiday events can be great, especially for a game’s revenue. I understand that. But I really expected to see equal growth to the event’s immersion factor as well as growth to the amount of goodies that are obtainable.
The event changed so little, in fact, that I didn’t find it necessary to write up a new guide to the event this year. It’s exactly the same except for the new dimension, a couple new rifts, updated artifacts, and a boatload of new items that are purchasable via event currency and Credits. The few new achievements are, of course, directly related to obtaining said boatload. And while it’s possible to earn enough in-game event currency to purchase all of the items needed for the achievements doing the event dailies on multiple alts or spending in-game coin at the Auction House, I can’t help but feel that all of that takes away from the immersion factor of the event even further. A solid portion of the new costumes and fun items aren’t even purchasable except with Credits.
I want to port into Tempest Bay and see that Autumn Harvest has landed. I want to see players running around in cool costumes that dropped off that nearby rift. I want Meridian and Sanctum to be full of the same awesome-looking pumpkins that are purchasable for player dimensions. I want to see NPCs running around with the same awesome masks that Trion’s art team really did do an excellent job with. The new items themselves are fantastic. The fact that that’s all we got this year, however, isn’t.
To make matters worse, the coolest of the new masks, pets, and one of the two new mounts are only obtainable with random grab bag/lockbox items purchasable off the RIFT Store with either Credits or in-game event currency. The pets and masks that make up the bulk of the new achievements are only obtainable through these grab bags. They’re BoE, which helps, but again– how immersive is it really to stand in front of the AH NPC and search for the lowest prices? How is that celebrating the autumn season and harvest at all? How is that a break from the norm?
I appreciate the idea of event goodies being extremely random, but I don’t appreciate the fact that there’s no other way to get said grab bags except by using the store interface (or by purchasing items separately off the AH, etc.). Why aren’t the grab bags also rare drops from the new rifts? Why can’t they very rarely be obtained from completing dailies? Heck, why can’t they be hidden among the artifacts in Realm of the Autumn Harvest, but seen very rarely?
Some other very rare way of obtaining these items would add to the immersion of the event by a ton. As it is, the new goodies are separated entirely from the actual event. That isn’t good. That makes it completely obvious to the players that Trion simply copied and pasted the event from last year and concentrated fully on cash shop items.
One of the mounts can also only be obtained through a very random, new lockbox that’s only purchasable with Credits. Random lockboxes in a cash shop are fine, but as Trion adds more and more lockboxes to the store without giving players any alternative means of obtaining said items that are locked within, I can’t help but get a very Star Wars: The Old Republic-y vibe.
SWTOR‘s cash shop isn’t well-balanced. The immersion factor seemed to disappear entirely from the game when the cash shop was added. Instead of cool items being obtainable from doing a lengthy quest line, navigating a hidden temple, or beating a tough enemy a bunch of times while praying for something nifty, the coolest items are now a simple click away on a UI frame that’s covered in sale prices and lots of PR talk.
A free-to-play MMORPG’s development team needs to make money somehow, yes, but new items, gear, and content (even event fluff!) have to be available through both the game world and the cash shop. The content and items can differ between the two, of course, but attention needs to be given to both areas. There has to be a balance when it comes to what players have access to and how they access it. Otherwise, what are we playing here? A massively multiplayer online roleplaying game, or a 3D shopping app?
Guild Wars 2 does a pretty good job at illustrating a decent balance when it comes to this. Each new world event and twice-monthly update adds new content to the game and new items to the Black Lion Trading Company. Event goodies are obtainable through normal vendors (currency farming), the cash shop, quest rewards, and from random drops off event mobs. There’s a decent variety of goodies and accompanying sources in almost every event. Sure, sometimes the cash shop has the coolest items, but never all the cool items. And there’s always that chance of randomly getting something very awesome just by killing event monsters.
And that’s exactly what RIFT is missing out on for Autumn Harvest. That chance of obtaining something super awesome simply by taking part in the event and getting caught up in the moment. Getting caught up in the moment– that’s what MMORPG events are supposed to be all about. The fun factor. That “what if?” factor. The immersion factor. That moment where we get to take a break from the raids and the UI frames and just kind of relax and see what’s in store for us. When all that’s in store for us is to be found in the cash shop or in an AH window– I’m sorry, Trion, but something’s amiss. Let’s hope you do better for Fae Yule.