Saturday, August 31, 2013

PVD PAX Prime Recap

I managed to tack a single day of PAX Prime onto a trip to the Seattle to visit family - apologies to any readers who might otherwise have wanted to chat, I'd planned to post about this trip in advance, but the family vacation cabin rental turned out not to have internet access.  Anyway, it's not ideal to try and cram a show this large into a single day, but I accomplished significantly more than I'd expected.

The good - the community
As with my previous PAX experience, the best part of the gathering is the chance to see the people.  I managed to just stagger in the door in time to catch the MMO Reporter pre-PAX gathering on Thursday.  I'd met Chris back at PAX East in 2012, and this time I got to meet the rest of the crew.  In addition, I finally met up with Syp of Bio Break and various other projects. We've been chatting online through our blogs for five years now, and neither of us knew in advance that the other would be in attendance, so it was pretty cool to walk up to a table and get introduced.

These blog celebrities aside, it's always to be a treat amongst our folks.  I had some nice conversations with total strangers at this gathering, FFXIV's debacle of a launch party, and elsewhere in the show.  I also got a fair amount of swag - neither LOTRO nor Trion were in attendance with official gatherings this year, and they appear to have shipped their allotment of prizes on to the MMO Reporter shindig.  Good time all around.

The Bad - crowds, lines, etc
There's a certain amount of chaos that is inevitably going to happen when this many people show up.  That said, PAX Prime's bigger scale seemed to make for larger logistic snafu's than in the East in 2012. I showed up 30 minutes after the show floor opened, expecting to find the lines dispersed into the venue.  Instead, I was directed to a 20 minute line that went around the equivalent of two city blocks.... that ultimately deposited us back at the same place where we'd been ordered to go get in line, where people who showed up after we had were being allowed directly into the venue.

There were at least 200 people behind me in that line who also would have been better off waiting a few more minutes before they got in line.  I understand a need to spread out the crowd, but this absurdity felt like it was punishing those of us who played by the rules and did what we were told - if you're going to make people line up, it's only fair to let the people in the line into the venue first.

That said, this paled in comparison to FFXIV's launch party.  The game re-launched this week and had major issues with server load despite the experience from both the original launch and several beta/headstarts.  (See - Saylah and Keen for more info, I sat out the re-launch due to my vacation.)  It appears to only be appropriate that the party went at badly.  I showed up at the 3:30 PM "doors open" time and was number seven in line when the room was declared to be full for the developer panel - no additional people were admitted to the room during the panel even as folks began to leave.

You might have imagined that the developers could have repeated their presentation for the several hundred people in line outside, but this was not in the cards.  The activities when we were finally allowed into the room included a total of eight demo stations for the early game, a greenscreen booth for people who want to be photoshopped onto the game's Facebook page, and a massively long line for the chance to do a PUG raid encounter to win some t-shirts if your group was successful.  The SE people were admitting to each other that even folks who showed up when I did - over five hours before the end of the event - might not make it through this line in time, but still there were large numbers of folks waiting to get into the line when I gave up and left to spend my time elsewhere.  Ironically, this was my number one MMO to check out at the show and I would even have considered picking up a copy (they had them for sale, but on a cash-only full MSRP basis and no bonus swag for buying on the spot), so they really blew the chance to make a good impression.

The unfortunate, lowered hopes
  • Wildstar: By far the best experience I had at the show was at the Wildstar booth, which was my other top priority (and happened first because the FFXIV did not start until later in the afternoon).  They were handing out lanyards to anyone who signed up for beta, but the real prize was for playing the game.

    They had something like 24 stations up and running for timed 25-minute play sessions.  The options were the new starting area for the maniacal Chua race (though this was open to the entire Dominion faction for the demo) and a newer higher level area.  You were in for a bit of a wait - I waited around 40 minutes, which was also an opportunity to scout out what the other people were playing, and not bad return on investment as far as these lines go.  As if the play session for one of the most anticipated MMO's out there wasn't reward enough, there was a free t-shirt for everyone who waited long enough to get a demo station.

    I went with a Dominion Human Esper class, a ranged psychic damage dealer, in the new starting area. The nuts and bolts of the game are the standard quest-based MMO, with the addition of secondary objectives based on your chosen "path". Unfortunately, the combat was action-based, which is not an MMO trend that I'm fond of. Almost every ability for both player and enemy attacks is targeted on the ground, so combat requires frequent but uninteresting movement out of the enemy's target area.  I respect people who like this, but I don't feel that it adds real depth, just additional work.  Thus my best convention experience also seems to all but drop this game off of my watch list.
  • Assassin's Creed 4: For reasons that aren't entirely clear to me, Ubisoft has decided to make the next game in this series an open world piracy (that's 1700's era people with swords and boats who say "Arr") game.  It looks like a great game about pirates.  Unfortunately, the Order of Assassins are really ninjas, not pirates.  There is some stealth, but they did not show any actual sneaking up on people to assassinate them, and instead focused on naval ship battles, spear-fishing for sharks, and 18th century diving for treasure.  
  • WB Games Booth: The only Turbine game present was the new DC Universe MOBA, and it appeared that you had to sign up in a team to play a live televised match to be allowed to play it.  There was also the newest single player Batman game, which, fortunately, does not appear to focus on whaling and naval combat.  
  • Elder Scrolls Online: This was another lengthy line, and one I decided to bail out on due to the length and what I was seeing over the shoulders of the people playing.  It looks like the single player games that I declined to play over the years, so I guess that's a good thing.
  • SOE: SOE was in the house to talk up Dragon's Prophet, EQ Next, and surprisingly DCUO.  EQN wasn't playable, but it had a respectable following.
  • Square Enix: FFXIV was all off-site, but they had stations available for two HD re-mixes and the new Lightning Returns game.  Looked reasonable enough.
  • Next Generation Consoles: I'm not expecting to buy a next gen console at launch.  If I had, I probably would have tried to fit in the new Infamous title.    
Overall, I guess it's not a bad thing that there are so few major titles on my radar - more time to catch up on all the MMO's I'm behind on.  If I'd had more time I would probably have tried to catch the big MMO panel and TESO, but really I covered basically all of my high priorities.  

What are you all watching out of the show?  


Jason Etheridge said...

The highlight for me for PAX will be tonight's SWTOR Community Cantina (not that I'm going, being in Australia). I suppose that indicates my level of interest in the games being represented at PAX!

I hadn't heard much about Wildstar's combat, and your description certainly isn't particularly enticing. Then again, its WoW-like overly cartoony graphics had pretty much turned me off from the beginning. It remains unclear to me who they're really trying to appeal to: are they trying to out-WoW WoW? Bringing back 40-man raids isn't going to be nearly the draw they think it is, I suspect.

I played quite a bit of Oblivion in my pre-MMO days, but Skyrim had no appeal at all. From what I've seen of TESO, it's got some interesting ideas, but seems to be mechanically more like GW2 with a sub fee. And the (optional) first-person mode ("the arms") is grotesque. :-)

A shame that there's no LOTRO representation. I'd like to see what they've got planned for Helm's Deep. Though my interest in LOTRO took a heavy hit with mounted combat... I've been meaning to go back and try it since it got revamped recently.

Great coverage, sir. Good to read an objective viewpoint without being distorted by rose-tinted glasses!

Wilhelm Arcturus said...

On the developer panel thing, it sounds like PAX has the same problem as Comic Con (and other such cons), where people go to early, less popular panels in order camp until the panel they want to see shows up. People basically fill the room up and stay all day and screw you if you show up for a later panel.