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Ask Massively: The best and worst of PAX Prime 2013


PAX Prime is the last major western gaming con of the year, and we'd like to believe it's given us all something to think about as we head into a winter full of special snowflake games. Alas, PAX Prime this year seems to have left us all bewildered at best and underwhelmed at worst, at least when it comes to pure MMORPGs.

Now it's time to explain why. We're going to tell you about what was for us the most surprising reveal, the most disappointing offering, and of course, the best MMO in show. The ground rules for our discussion? They're basically the same as for E3:
  • It had to be a game or topic we can justify covering on Massively.
  • Every staff member was permitted to chime in (though not all did).
  • We stuck to three big categories rather than create so many that every game could "win" something, not that these are really awards.
Roll the dice!

The best and worst of PAX Prime 2013
Bree Royce: I didn't expect much out of EverQuest Next at PAX because of SOE Live's spectacular reveals just a few months ago, but the low-key press interviews and Landmark video still managed to be more compelling to me than the big flashy booths on the show floor.

Eliot Lefebvre: Best in show: Jeez, really? I can't in good conscience heap praise on any of the titles we normally cover here because it felt thin at best. The Elder Scrolls Online is still hoping that you really liked Skyrim, WildStar gave the same presentation that was given six months ago at PAX East, and Final Fantasy XIV is already out and dealing with launch week woes. If I have to hand it to someone, I'll shoot it to Final Fantasy XIV, just because Naoki Yoshida managed to strike an excellent balance between acknowledging mistakes and flaws while still maintaining enthusiasm. But I think the real points of interest were non-MMO games.

Jasmine Hruschak: The Oculus Rift and the number of smaller studios making use of it. I'm not sure if it's 150% where it needs to be for mainstream use, but my experience was real enough for my intense fear of heights to kick in. My knees shook and my eyes welled up with tears. I can't wait to see more MMORPGs designed with the Oculus Rift in mind.

Jef Reahard: I'm in agreement with Eliot here in that the entire event was pretty meh. I guess if I had to pick best in show, it would be EverQuest Next, but that's more because of what the game is attempting from a design standpoint than because of anything that SOE showed at PAX. I'm also keen on Guns of Icarus' adventure mode, but it wasn't really on display. The rest of the show's MMOs either don't interest me in the slightest or didn't bring their most interesting features to the con (looking at you, The Repopulation). I expected to be underwhelmed by Guild Wars 2, WildStar, and ESO, and I was. The FFXIV presentations didn't do a lot for me because I've already played my fill of the game over the past week and change.

Justin Olivetti: I think WildStar has this pretty locked down. While ESO might've had longer lines, WildStar had a more accessible booth, great presentations, fun swag, and a lot of buzz on the show floor. The only disappointment is that Carbine didn't use PAX to announce (as many anticipated) the final two classes.

Mike Foster: EverQuest Next Landmark. Every time we see more of Sony Online Entertainment's latest project, I get a little more hopeful and a little more excited. Watching Landmark in action certainly sparks something in the part of my brain that likes building and destroying things, and the way the SOE team plans to integrate Landmark creations into Next proper makes it a very cool project indeed. I am in love with EverQuest Next because it represents something we haven't seen in many MMOs since World of Warcraft stormed the scene: risk. Landmark is just a small manifestation of the enormous chance SOE is taking on a non-traditional design -- it could be amazing, or it could be a disaster.

Patrick Mackey: I'd be hard-pressed to give this to a game we cover because there was just not a lot of MMO presence compared to the huge volume of smaller indie games this year. I think Wargaming had one of the best presences at the con (better than Bethesda's, in my opinion), but it wasn't demoing anything truly new. I'd probably say that Smashmuck Champions was the best game on the floor of the games we actually cover.

The best and worst of PAX Prime 2013
Bree Royce: Wander came out of nowhere for me and reminded me a tiny bit of how I might think a Journey MMO might play. An MMO that puts a focus on true exploration (not just touring) and dumps traditional MMO combat is just about an insta-buy for novelty's sake.

Eliot Lefebvre: In a meta sense, the biggest surprise was how much stuff was being recycled from PAX East earlier in the year. As for actual revelations from the show, I'll give the nod to Landmark because it's interesting to see a company develop and release a product without knowing quite how people will use it. Yes, we've heard about it before, but the amount of freedom is still pretty stunning.

Jasmine Hruschak: That nothing particularly interesting was revealed in the world of MMORPGs. PAX Prime is usually a pretty big deal for news, but all of the studios I'm interested in just showed up and went, "We sure are still making this game. Yep. Gonna be a game. Definitely online. Other players. Video game. Yep. Makin' it."

Jef Reahard: There was absolutely nothing surprising about PAX Prime 2013.

Justin Olivetti: Probably the only genuine surprise I experienced was the news that Guild Wars 2 is putting its LFG system in the game in a couple of weeks. Lots of applause from the audience when that was announced.

Mike Foster: I'm finding it hard to think of anything that happened at PAX Prime this year that would qualify as a surprise. Mostly it was the same people we've been talking about for the last few months restating their cases or repositioning their games based on newly unveiled competition. I was interested to see how many studios are actively integrating the Oculus Rift into their projects, especially because I'm not super confident in the Rift as the type of thing that will go mainstream in any meaningful way.

Patrick Mackey: I don't think there was anything that really hit me for a loop at PAX. That's not to say there wasn't a lot of good stuff, just very, very few surprises. Really, the biggest surprise was not enough MMOs at PAX. Even ArenaNet (which is local) didn't have a formal booth (though lots of employees were there and they did host offsite events).

The best and worst of PAX Prime 2013
Bree Royce: For me, it was actually the low number of interesting panels. Usually I deliberately schedule our attendees around panels I want to hear about to make sure we get them covered, but there were relatively few MMO-relevant panels this round, even when compared to PAX East.

Eliot Lefebvre: The entire show. I freely admit part of this was probably my not being on the show floor, but this is the first year I can think of when I've looked out at the field of PAX coverage and found nothing that really sparks interest. The past couple of years, it's felt as if E3 has been shafted while PAX Prime gets packed with more stuff; this year it was the opposite.

Jasmine Hruschak: The convention overall. PAX used to be my happy place, the one weekend when I felt truly at home, but this year seemed different. Jostling and accidental shoving happens in a crowded convention hall, but my experience has always been much more polite. This year it felt like constant, unapologetic shoving and pushing. I overheard a lot of rude conversations. I intervened when I saw a woman getting harassed. I just didn't feel the warmth of community I have in previous years. But despite the overall feeling I did meet some fantastic new people, saw old friends, and had a handful of mind-blowingly wonderful moments. I very much enjoyed spending time with people outside of PAX, but for the first time in seven years, I did not enjoy actually being at PAX.

Jef Reahard: I would say the con as a whole, but that really wouldn't be fair because I wasn't expecting it to be anything other than what it was. I was initially disappointed at the lack of a Star Citizen presence, but that's actually a good thing because I'd rather the devs spend time and money on the game.

Justin Olivetti: Fewer MMOs on the exhibit floor. Many MMO studios were either missing entirely or hidden away at nearby hotels. If you were just visiting the exhibit hall at PAX, you'd probably come away with the impression that not many people were working on MMOs these days.

Mike Foster: I know I did this at E3, but I have to give it to The Elder Scrolls Online again. The team at ZeniMax still has yet to show any element of this game that proves it needed to be an MMO, and the overall design when compared to the other stuff due in 2014 makes ESO feel like the last gasp of the post-WoW MMO universe. I don't see how anyone can look at ESO and EQN side by side, know they're both coming out within the next few years, and be even remotely impressed with what ESO has to offer. Unless, of course, you're buying it just because it says "Elder Scrolls" on the box.

Patrick Mackey: Probably Infinite Crisis, sadly. I was hoping that a DC Comics-based MOBA would have a lot of potential, but it made a lot of missteps and doesn't set itself apart in ways that are good for it as a game. I know that Turbine put a lot of effort and energy into it (devs were shoutcasting matches of demo players, which was really neat), but it feels as though the characters don't fit the game. It tries too much to be like other MOBAs when it should really take its map design and make entirely new character designs that fit the maps better.

We're sure you all have your own opinions. So let's hear them in the comments!

What should you play? Where is the MMO industry headed? How does Massively operate? Has Lord British lost his marbles? Why is the edit button on a timer? Should "monoclegate" be hyphenated? Editor-in-Chief Bree Royce submits to your interrogations right here in Ask Massively every other Thursday. Drop your questions in the comments below or ping us at Just ask!

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