I am a long time online game player (20+ years). My prime gaming years were marked by the golden era of MMOs with Ultima Online and Everquest. I've played almost every major MMO since that time with New World as my current jam. I'd be negligent as an MMO enthusiast if I didn't get some thoughts out on Ashes of Creation (AoC or Ashes for short) which is shaping up to be the great MMO savior we've all been waiting for.
First, I will admit that my knowledge of the history of Ashes is limited. It was a Kickstarter backed effort that also is funded (or secured in funding) by it's founder. I will be honest I just know him as Steven and from all accounts Steven is just like me: 20+ years of gaming and a passion for MMOs. Steven is super rich though...
I will further admit that I haven't spent a lot of time looking up details. So what I am going off of is some podcasts I've listened to (Ashes To Go by Studio Loot which is no longer producing new episodes and Ashes Pathfinders) and some reaction videos on YouTube like this one where Asmongold begs "please be good" before hitting play.
So far the things I've heard that I like
- The game will feature PvP and PvE
- The game will feature unique world progression where each server levels up differently
- The world will be huge (even huger apparently based on recent updates)
- The game will run on Unreal Engine 5 enabling top end visuals
Some things I am worried about
- There will be forced PvP that will be kept in check, supposedly, by a reputation/bounty system
- There will be individual servers instead of a megaserver approach
- They really like selling the promise of access to alpha/beta testing and saying "but we don't need your money" and taking years to produce said alpha/betas
Long development cycles don't really concern me; MMOs are complex. I am fine if people want to give developers money during the development of a game. I'd rather have that model than not having any way to concretely vote for the types of games I want to see made. Note: I am not an AoC backer at this time but I have backed other Kickstarter MMOs.
The more concerning items are the PvP and server bullet points above.
First, forced PvP is just a bad choice. It pains me to say that as my PvP blood goes back as far as I can remember typing that /kill command in my first MUD. The reality of the current market is that forced PvP is just an excuse for toxic behavior. Skilled players are not out in the open world of MMOs looking for fair fights to test their skill; they are playing ranked arena modes or avoiding MMOs altogether in favor of competitive games without the 1,000 hour /played requirement to gear up. What is left in open world PvP in MMOs is most often wolves looking for sheep. No amount of reputation or bounty system can change that fact.
Ashes does seem to have creative ideas with their reputation and bounty system, but I hate to admit that all of them are circumvented by the log out button. The game is not real life and no version of digital prison will stop the player that has become bored from screwing over every other player they can on their way out. I'll hold outside hope that I am wrong on this point but I expect a rapid reversal of open forced PvP shortly after the game launches (and will be surprised if it makes it out of beta with open PvP).
Note: I will agree with the AoC pundits that there are games out there that do mange to feature open forced PvP, but I'd argue most of those games are with captive audiences mostly in asian markets where there is often not much choice in game to play (i.e. like the golden era of MMOs for me). In western markets these days; the sheep simply leave your game for greener pastures and wolves hate when they have to fight other wolves.
In regards to Ashes plans for individual servers I will simply point to the challenges New World has had with the concept since it's launch or the struggles of World of Warcraft Classic. The gaming market is boom and bust; there will be significantly more players at launch than there will be a month later. No matter how good AoC turns out to be there will be a precipitous drop in concurrent players within the first few months. There is just too many other games for your average gamer to play.
Modern MMOs should not be launching with the concept that a player picks a server and that is their home. Single server technology, even with the might of cloud services like AWS, has a capacity of players it can handle. In today's streamer world individual streamers bring massive armies with them that will instantly cap out any server. That army will be gone tomorrow but then back on Friday when the streamer starts up again.
Take the streamer aspect out and you will still have the boom and bust population to deal with. And AoC is doubling down with their concepts that worlds and the nodes within level up uniquely based on what the server population does. It all sounds amazing but what happens when there is only ten people logging onto that server each day (a very real scenario New World faced going from 900,000 concurrent players down to just 15,000 at its low). The answer is server merges, but if the world is built so unique per server the idea of a server merge or transfer is painful to think about.
AoC will have to have some really detailed plans on how its going to handle new servers being spun up to meet demand and then be merged back together or it will be a nightmare of player frustration. Either they will limit total servers and we'll be stuck in login queue hell or they will have too many servers with too few players and the experience will suck (a massive multiplayer game without the massive or multi).
AoC may have some of the coolest ideas, systems, and gameplay we've seen in decades as far as an MMO goes, but I see real risk in the PvP and server question I pose above. Intrepid Studios seems to be taking it's time with the game so likely a while before we find out whether their plans for these items will work out. If somehow any of the team behind the game ends up reading this I hope it sparks some thought to these topics.