Field Journal: The true meaning of MMO holiday events

No, this doesn't belong on WoW Insider.
Field Journal is a bold and exciting new take on MMO journalism. Or the meandering ramblings of a chronic game-hopper. I haven't decided yet. Each week I'll be setting for myself a new "adventure" or "field trip" into a game to explore some aspect of it in detail. I'll be sharing my thoughts and experiences, especially on games without a dedicated column. Anything from the most obscure indie to the elephant in the room is up for consideration. There just has to be something in it we think is worth gawking at and talking about!

Given the timing, I wanted to kick things off with a look at seasonal events in MMOs. To make it special, I thought, why not tackle the events of a few games in one go? Oh how naive I was. Let me tell you, there's nothing like seeing the same flavor of holiday cheer over and over again in supposedly different worlds to strip away one's capacity for goodwill to all developers. Fortunately, there were a few bright spots.

So pretty, you'd never think it was made of rotting old pirate ships.We wish you a pleasant Winter Solstice-mas

I kicked things off with RIFT. Why RIFT? Because it was the game I had just reinstalled in preparation for a future column, and the Fae Yule event had just started that day. At first I ran around excitedly picking up gifts and obliterating snowmen on a twitchy, high-flying toboggan, only to realize I was much better off doing ordinary content like rifts for the Unique Snowflake currency. Cute reference, incidentally.

Things got worse when I started looking into seasonal achievements and the cash shop. These go hand in hand. Someone at Trion has decided it's a good idea to include achievements predicated on store purchases. I have no problem with achievements that can be achieved more easily by spending real money, but the idea of multiple achievements (including one awarding a mount if you collect all the pets from randomized grab bags) requiring it was a shock. That pulled me right out of the Christmas mood. I wasn't sure I'd be able to stomach coming back for the later phases.

Perhaps I would be better off seeking cheer in a totally different electro-punk fantasy world menaced by Lovecraftian god-dragons that includes a prominent public questing system. Much to my astonishment, Guild Wars 2 had some similarities in the feel of its Wintersday event. Fine, I wasn't surprised at all, but on the whole I do think it's a better version of the same thing. For one thing, the cash shop is handled much less obnoxiously, with a mere handful of seasonal items, none of which requires luck to get what you really want.

It also has a lot more actual content readily available. RIFT supposedly has some holiday-themed Instant Adventure content, but it was never available when I tried. GW2, on the other hand, has NPCs that send you to five distinct activities. I found myself greatly enjoying the PvP Snowball Mayhem, and the rewards seemed worthwhile for the time spent. On the other hand, the Bell Choir turned out to be a rhythm game with horrible controls. It was definitely not for me.

I didn't have the patience to put together a group for the Infinirarium or the Toypocalypse when I could be running back to take part in more Snowball Mayhem, but I did at least try the Toypocalypse by myself. Even alone, hopelessly outmatched by the time the second wave came, I could tell it would be a lot of fun to take on the bloodthirsty hordes of animate toys with wacky toy weapons. There was also the Winter Wonderland jumping puzzle, but I didn't have the days needed to master its nuances. There were still more events to check out!

QAPLA'!It's Winter all over the universe, in every universe

Trying to get as far away as possible from the first two, I set out in Star Trek Online as my fierce, amazonian Orion KDF captain to investigate the mad winter realm created by someone claiming to be the omnipotent Q. I wasn't convinced, given that he looked absolutely nothing like John de Lancie. Still, whoever he was he seemed pretty powerful, being able to send me and countless others from Qo'nos to his own bizarre Winter Wonderland (that name again, to the surprise of none) in a flash of light. (I later found out he's the original Q's son, but nothing I saw in the game itself suggested that.)

That place was strange. Original series Star Trek was not so strange. I was fighting evil snowmen with snowballs and gumball pistols, racing on foot over slippery ice against alien beasts and other players, eating far too many pies and saving a village of gingerbread aliens. I even got my very own gingerbread Klingon minipet for the first time I did that, which was frankly fantastic. Less fantastic was the horrid and constant braying of NPCs in the central area of the wonderland. They were so obnoxiously loud to boot. It was a kind of torture to spend time repeating the various activities to earn more goodies without the sound completely muted.

I hoped for something more normal in my next foray, and World of Warcraft's Feast of Winter Veil seemed promising for that. As it turned out, the event had not changed much from the simple and charming celebration of years ago. Gifts from previous years, including several I'd missed, were now available through various means, for which I was grateful.

The other significant change was turning the old Greench quest into a daily quest. The mean old yeti is now much tougher but doesn't technically require you to fight him at all. I know dailies get a bad rap, but I think this is one situation where a daily quest is exactly the right thing. The limited duration of availability and nonessential but fun rewards make it both less demanding and more enticing. Unfortunately, it wasn't quite compelling enough for me.

All of these events had one thing in common. Well, other than snow, brightly wrapped gifts, and candy canes. Four things in common, and the last was they all demanded more of my time. They didn't want to let me do everything on the first day and walk away with nothing more to be gained. The events were all clearly designed to keep me playing as much as possible at a time when I could have a lot of other distractions. They're rewarding, but they're not a gift.

Perhaps I'll find something different in the next few days. Final Fantasy XIV's Starlight Celebration has just started as I write this, the delightfully menacing Krampusnacht has also just arrived to the Secret World, and Neverwinter has its own ironically named Winter Festival. If there's enough there to talk about, I might continue this next week. If not, I'll be taking a look at something else in one of the games I've mentioned today.

There are so many weird and wonderful destinations to visit within the MMOscape, and Massively's Matthew Gollschewski hopes to chronicle them all for you every Thursday in his trusty Field Journal. Grab your camera and your adventurin' hat and join in on his next expedition, or just mail him some notes of your own.

This article was originally published on Massively.