Friday, February 26, 2010

A good writer makes a big difference

The quality of the text associated with quests is one of the major criteria upon which I judge an MMO. I don't mind killing ten rats, as long as you give me an enjoyable back-story to justify it. The better MMOs will even communicate the lore of the game and set the tone of an area using quest text. For example, this text from a recent Allod's Online quest really jumped out at me:

"You know that creatures have arms made up of bones, muscles, and tendons, all dressed up in a flashy covering of skin? But what's the use? What's the use if they break and tear so easily? We Arisen, on the other hand, have much more practical arms made out of sturdy metal."

The Arisen are essentially undead cyborgs (think a Renaissance version of the Borg from Star Trek the Next Generation and you will be on track) . The text from that quest does a really good job of conveying the disdain that the arisen feel for most of their allies, and just how generally odd and creepy they are.

It's a lead in to a fairly standard "gather X of Y" quest. However, it also communicated something important about the setting of the game. That is a quest worth doing and reading in my mind.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Allod's Online: further impressions

I decided to try out an Empire character to see what the other side plays like, and I have to say I came away very impressed. In no particular order, impressions starting with my different play experience with the two sides, and broadening out from there.

- The Empire newbie instance is a lot more compelling that the League one. The set scenes where you are one the deck of an astral ship in the middle of the ether are especially impressive.

-The 1-10 quests on the League side are played pretty straight for the most part (not a lot of humor), and are set in an very typical fantasy setting (save for the oddball races, and the idea of allods). You could very well be playing Runes of Magic or World of Warcraft in the human starting areas. The 1-10 quests on the Empire side are set in a much more unique fantasy steampunk setting, and have a lot more humor in them. You could almost be playing different games the two factions feel so different.

-The Empire 1-10 area seems to have a lot more to it than that League side. However, the two sides seem to be aiming for such vastly different narratives that it may be entirely intentional on the part of the devs. An odd side effect of this is that the early League quests are actually generally a lot easier to get done than the early Empire quests.

-All that said, I don't mean to imply that there aren't some interesting sights on the League side:

-Dear sweet mother of god do summoners suck at first. When you hit level 5, in the name of all that is good in this world, put a point into the pet summoning skill. I was hating the class until I got it.

-Pets in this game seem to be nearly overpowered, at least at low levels. Based now on both a pink squirrel and a steam powered scorpion, they seem to pretty much massacre anything near your level. You can cast a spell or something if you like, but it's not really necessary. They are roughly as effective as a Beastmaster specced Hunter pet would be in WoW, if that frame of refence means anything to you.

- I believe Spelljammer (the AD&D setting) is the original fantasy source for the idea of magical ships sailing through the ether that connects worlds. Since then, at the very least, Allod's Online and the Chronicles of Spellborne have run with the idea. It's interesting to see an entire fantasy subgenre be borne in the PnP RPG fantasy realm and jump straight to MMOs without analogues in fantasy fiction being invlolved as ancestors or intermediaries.

-Oh yea, and here is my Empire chick with her pet:

It's not a giant pink squirrel but I'll take it.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Allod's Online: Impressions so far

Despite the rather dire news about the cash shop, I decided to try Allod's online. The ability have my character consist of three cute fuzzy guys is just way more than I can resist. I decided to record impressions as I go. As this isn't a twitter feed, I'm posting them all at once at the end of the night.

- Downloading the client now. They must have a lot of bandwidth for their download servers. Current speed 1,300 KBps. This would have blown my mind in the 56K days.

- The patch after downloading was super quick. 40 minutes for the client, and then less then a minute to get to the current version, yay!

-What the hell?!? Yeebo is already taken as an account name. Does someone from the global conglomerate play? [An aside, they just started showing up on Google about a year ago] Do I have a stalker? Crappity crap, I guess I'll have to go with an older acronym.

-Not only do I get play three short fuzzy guys, and not only do I get to name them all, but we start with a giant pink squirrel as our pet. This may be the best game ever created by humans.

-Team Grizlith, Yeebo, and Gigi is borne. Frita the giant pink squirrel rounds out our roster.

-The first quest is literally to kill rats. Presumably it's tongue in cheek . . .

-Holy crap, I love this game. I'm playing an animist, which means I am a ranged DPS that gets a pet squirrel in my choice of colors. Do not underestimate Frita, she will kick your ass.

In my first hour I have taken down zombies, a demonologist, and finally a giant elite demon. The game sort of cheated on the last battle, it was seemingly hard coded that I wouldn't go below 70 health. Regardless, the lore that has emerged from the quests I've done is really interesting. For example, I have learned what an allod is, and I've learned a lot about the psychology of the race I picked. If gPotato (the NA handlers of this game) can come up with a slightly more sane pricing structure for their item shop, they will have one of the best FtP MMOs on the market. As it stands, it looks like I'm in for a lot of fun until I hit whatever the soft cap for free accounts is.

Here is my team:

Hell to the yes!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Value for your cash: F2P versus sub based MMOs

Free to Play MMOs allow you to spend as much money as you feel like. FtP haters like to point out that this means the amount of money you can spend on a "FtP" MMO is infinite. To have the absolute best gear or have access to the very best content, you might have to pay hundreds of dollars. From this observation, they sometimes go on to make the blanket claim that FtP MMOs are more expensive then sub based MMOs.

In my experience, if you have self control exceeding that of a five year old, FtP MMOs are a usually quite a bit cheaper to play than sub based MMOs. A few example should illustrate my point.

Sub based examples:

Lord of the Rings Online:
$50 for the client, $200 for a lifetime sub (would have spent more than $400 on sub fees by now had I not gone lifer). $40 for the Moria expansion, $20 for the mini expansion.

Cost so far: $310.

World of Warcraft: started at launch and subbed for about two months. Box plus one month sub fee, $65. Got back into it again a few months later, played until well after BC. I think I played around two years. BC box $50, two years of sub fees $336 (I would sub in three month blocks). Got sucked in enough buy the WotLK trial to buy that expansion ($50), but didn't last past the free sub month.

Cost so far: $501.

FtP examples:

Wizard 101: the client is free. However only about the first 1/10 of the game is accessible for free. You have to pay to unlock later areas as you go. My main is about half way through the game in terms of total content available. However, the design of the game is such that it encourages alts. There are something like 36 possible primary and secondary magic school combinations, and all of them play at least somewhat differently. I have been playing for about two years now, and all I have ever needed is the first three worlds that I have bought access to. Note also that you can simply choose to sub and unlock everything for as long as you stay subbed.

Cost so far: roughly $30.

Dungeons and Dragons Online:
the client is free. Sufficient content to get you to level 12 (of 20 levels) or so is free. You pay for additional races, classes, and adventuring zones. I have been playing off and on for over a year and have yet to crack level 8 on any of my characters. All I have purchased so far is access to a new race. Like Wizard 101, you can also choose to sub and unlock everything for as long as you stay subbed if the FtP model really offends you.

Cost so far: less than $20.

Now lets say for the sake of discussion that I was super hardcore and needed to buy access to every single area in the two FtP MMOs to be entertained by them. The last time I checked that would be a grand total of around $100 in Wizard 101. That's lifetime access to the entire game for less than half of what a lifetime subscription costs in a sub based MMO, and a free client.

In DDO, that would not come as cheap. I am too lazy to log on and do the math again, but it was between $200 and $300 to get all the classes, races, and adventuring zones the last time I checked. Not exactly super cheap, but not really any more than you'd expect to pay in a sub based MMO in the long haul. Pluss you get to pick and choose what you actually want. Hate raiding? Don't purchase any of the raid content.

Aha, but what about all those awesome items you can buy in the item shop? I have yet to try any FtP MMO where you can't gear yourself out just fine with items you earn by playing. This is where "having more self control then a five year old" comes into play. More often then not the stuff you can get in ftP MMOs falls into three categories: 1. Fluff/ cosmetic items (ala the pets you can buy in WoW), 2. Convenience items (consumables, Xp boost items, travel items), and 3. Gear with identical stats to what you can earn in game, but that looks cooler.

There are FtP MMOs, where you absolutely need items from a shop to be viable, but in my experience they are the exception to the rule. The one caveat to this is that to all intents and purposes you are usually locked out of the endgame , be it raiding or PvP, if you aren't willing to spend some cash. As I hate raiding, and rarely enjoy PvP in MMOs, that doesn't really affect me. Besides that, I almost never make it to the cap in any MMO in the first place (I can list the exceptions without using up all the fingers on one hand).

It's also a bit of a playstyle issue. If, like me, you are mainly an explorer; FtP MMOs provide great value. You get to explore the mechanics of a new game and see a lot of the content for next to nothing. On the other hand, if you are a hardcore achiever, then I can see where stuff in an item shop would be like crack to you. Spend $5 and instantly become butcher...woot!

Regardless, I don't think that for an average player FtP MMOs are nearly as expensive as a sub based MMOs. Now that the developers of sub based MMOs are starting to blur the line by tacking item shops onto their sub based MMOs (e.g., the cosmetic pets in WoW, the Adventurer's Pack offered by Turbine in LoTRO, and the full on cash shops in Cryptic games) the line between the two business models is starting to get very fuzzy. The quality of FtP MMOs is also converging with that of sub based MMOs rapidly.

If the current trends continue, in a year or two the only difference between a FtP and sub based MMO will be whether you have to pay for the client and server access on top of whatever optional items and content you choose to buy. I know which games I'll be playing if and when we get to that point.

Friday, February 12, 2010

MMOs versus Music

When I solo in MMOs I usually run i-tunes in the background. Mainly I play electronica (from experimental to mainstream), or electronic pop bands (think Radio Head or Bjork). I was a dance monkey in my youth, and I still like to hear beats while I beat my foes with a giant sword (though my clubbing days did not in any way involve violence or giant swords). But I listen to a lot of random stuff, from world music to classical. Listening to whatever music I feel like while I run around makes soloing in MMOs a lot less grindy to me.

The music doesn't always help with my immersion, however. I can tell when I've hit a really good piece (to my tastes) because it takes me right out of the game. I stop caring about whatever I'm doing, I just want to listen. If I can port out to a safe spot I will. At the very least, I'll finish up my current combat as quickly as possible and run to a spot that looks safe. Sometimes I will log out altogether and just bliss out for an hour or so while whatever I am listening to plays out. That sounds alone can produce such rapture never ceases to amaze me.

[This post inspired by a recent encounter with Vivaldi.]

Friday, February 5, 2010

My history, my obsession with ranged DPS

I generally prefer to play ranged DPS classes. My first ever toon in an MMO was a Wizard in Everquest (Scars of Velious era) named Grizlith. He didn't make it too far. My friends were much higher level, and back then it was damn near impossible to solo a wizzy at low levels.

After that, I went on to a string of bolt casters in Dark Age of Camelot. I played up a Void Eldritch, a Runekeeper (I'm spacing on the spec line), and a Fire Wizard. Trials of Atlantis murdered DAoC, and I stopped playing MMOs altogether for a while.

[Insert utter obsession with Phantasy Star Online into this interlude. Class of choice: RAcaseal]

Everquest Online Adventures came out for the PS2. It got me back into MMOs, and my first toon was (surprise surprise) a Wizard named Grizlith. A Hobbit Druid with green hair named Yeebo was also whelped there. Though I didn't play it for very long, my obsession with ranged DPS classes was well established during my time in the game. Had Grizlith been an effective solo toon, I would have played him straight to the cap.

An aside:

EQOA is notable in that it provided quest based progression until around level 20. Back then quest based progression was unheard of. "Grind or die!" is how most MMOs handled leveling at the time. Even in EQOA, you ground your way up EQ style to the cap after 20. As far as I know, EQOA was the first MMO to clearly demonstrate that quest based leveling is a lot of fun. The clearest proof was that the game bit from 21 on (once the quests dropped off).

Back to the main story:

At some point Anarchy Online, SWG, and EQ II come into it. But the one that sticks out is WoW. And the main reason is that the Mage in WoW was the most skilfully designed ranged DPS I had ever tried in an MMO. Tons of damage at range, but you had to know how to mix long cast time and instant cast abilities to get the most out of it. Squishy, but with lots of neat defensive abilities to flee for your life if you got in over your head. It felt a lot like a bolt caster from DAoC or a Wizzy from various EQ games, but more dynamic. I was hooked . . . until I hit 60 and the game fell flat on it's face. It switched from "Everyone is welcome here :-)" to "Raid or Die!" within few weeks.

There is quite a bit after that I'll skip. Some of it may relate to this narrative, but it's hard to say. For example, I spent a lot of time playing various Blaster builds in CoH, and seeing how much damage a Defender was capable of if you specced them purely for offense. However, the next MMO that really sticks out in my mind is Lord of the Rings Online. As an instantiation of Tolkien's work, the game is impressive. And I am certainly a fan of Tolkien. However, I think that a lot of my obsession is related to how damn fun it is to play a Hunter in LoTRO.

The Hunter in LoTRO is an incredibly fun ranged DPS class. They do crazy damage on single targets, have a group runspeed buff, can teleport all over the global map at will, can lay down traps for crowd control, and can use tracking to find their targets faster than any other class could hope to. They sound overpowered on paper, but the fact of the matter is that, due to a lack of defensive abilities, they have trouble soloing encounters some other LoTRO classes can handle with ease. Powerful, but still challenging to play. Pretty much exactly what I look for in an MMO.