Monday, November 29, 2010

My WoW carreer begins and ends in the blink of an eye

I've been playing WoW for about four days, and my account has already been hacked. I did full system checks with Spybott and Avast, and changed my password to something horrific that I have no hope of remembering (I had to write it down) filled with numbers, letters, and shift key symbols. Even after all that, my password got changed while I was out with some friends at dinner tonight. My billing is now canceled. I may be able to get in for my last few weeks on December 1st. However, any time investment in WoW is starting to seem foolish unless I spring for a dongle. When I calm down more, I'll decide whether to dongle up.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Healers of WoW PuGs, I salute you

Last night I started mixing in the Dungeon Finder with normal questing on my new mage. The fact that it takes me so long to get a group as a DPS is actually pretty cool, because it lets me mainly work on quests and get whisked off to a group every 30 minutes or so. My job in a group is also easy as hell: hit stuff in the face with fire until it dies, and don't get aggro off of the main tank. It's been really rewarding, Grizlith now is running with several pieces of blue gear that make his quest rewards and/ or anything my pocket tailor can craft look stupid. On my first run, I was the only cloth wearer and got three items.

In my second run, I wasn't paying enough attention and got aggro off of a boss from the main tank by opening up with big spells when he was still winding up. Our priest did his best, when he shouldn't even have to be paying attention to my health, but couldn't keep me up. Once the boss was down, as the priest was rezzing me, someone called a vote to kick him from our party. It was quickly rejected, but holy I spazzed out and got myself killed, and one of the other DPSs immediately blames the healer. If that is the kind of treatment healers normally get in WoW PuGs, my hat goes off to anyone that has the patience to stick with it.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Obligatory WoW shattering post

After some internal debating, I decided to sub up to WoW for a month and see what the post shattering game is like. STO certainly has me intrigued, and I plan to buy the full game soon. However, the only way for me to try out the "new improved" WoW was to sub up.

I started a gnome mage named Grizlith. My first ever MMO character was a wizard in Everquest named Grizlith (a name I made up). Since then, I've recreated Grizlith in a variety of games. He was actually my first main in WoW. I got him up to the ripe old age of 62, and then decided I wanted a redo and deleted him. Soon after that I switched to horde on a different server, got a warlock up to 70 Burning Crusade era, and kind of forgot about him.

With the cataclysm revamp of WoW, I had a good excuse to re-roll him on my old alliance server. Poking around, it turned out I had all the alts needed to twink him to the gills. This chick is a maxed out tailor for her level:

And this guy is a maxed out leather worker for his level:

Because of armor kits, I was able to get Grizlith into cloth armor that has almost as much AC as plate mail would at his level. [As an aside, I defy anyone to get together a cooler looking set of level 20 leather than what Yarik (above) is wearing.] Grizlith also got lucky with drops, he ended up with a beer mug that went perfectly (low level stats wise) with a dagger that he got from a quest:

As to revamped WoW itself, all I can say is that I am stunned so far. The leveling game that I have seen up to 12 is substantially streamlined and improved compared to what I last played. I don't think I exaggerate when I say that Blizzard has achieved a level of polish that will be next to impossible for competing MMO developers to emulate. Almost every single quest in the old WoW has been replaced with something better. So far the storylines are more engaging and clearer than anything I remember.

The mechanics of quests have also been improved. Where before you would hit a hub with ten random quests, you now hit a hub with fewer quests but each quest directly contributes to the storyline you are playing through. Kill and gathering quests remain, but there are also now a large number of quests where you are doing interesting stuff like flying around in a plane and bombing foes or leading a robot around to clean up toxic sludge (two random examples).

Finally, class designs have been given a huge overhaul. I haven't messed around with all the classes, but the ones I have tried had (mostly) pleasant surprises. Like Anjin, I was really pleased with the redesign of Mages. Many spells have been updated or improved. For example, Arcane Missiles now can't be used unless it procs off of another offensive spell. Each spell you cast has a 40% chance to activate it. When it does become active, it cannot be you can use it in melee range. On even cons it's good for roughly half a health bar. In old WoW I barely used arcane missiles on my mages. Unless facing a foe resistant to frost and fire it rarely was worth casting. Now, it's one of my favorite spells.

I am not by any means claiming that "the new WoW" is a perfect MMO. It's still a shallow linear MMO lacking certain basics like housing and appearance slots. However, within the limited scope Blizzard has chosen to focus their game, post Cataclysm WoW sets a bar that I doubt any directly competing MMOs are going to be able to reach. This is some of the smoothest and most entertaining questing I've ever experienced. A five year old MMO that I was so burned out on I thought I'd never be able to play it again now seems fresh, engaging, and relevant to the modern market.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

I might actually sub to something

For roughly the past year I've been playing FtP games (in the broad sense of any game that doesn't require you to pay a monthly sub to log on) almost exclusively. LoTRO was still technically sub based most of the year, but since I bought a lifetime sub a couple of months after launch is was effectively FtP for me. SWG never got a sub out of me, I barely made it to the end of the trial. I also dallied with Age of Conan, but again never ended up subbing. Due to a billing snafu I ended up with two free months to play it, and that was more time than I needed. Apart from those, Allod's Online, Myst URU, DDO, Wizard 101, and EQ2X have been filling my online gaming hours. I've gotten so used to bopping in and out of games whenever it pleases me that I've been really hesitant to actually sub up to anything.

That looks like it's coming to an end soon. On Monday I downloaded and played the demo for Star Trek Online. I was underwhelmed (to put it mildly) by the tutorial the first time I tried it. However, I gave it another go with tactical (DPS boosting) officer and made it all the way through the first mission you get with the demo. While it didn't exactly blow my socks off, I saw a lot of interesting mechanics I'd like to explore more. I could get the full game up and running for only $20, and I may.

And of course, there is Cataclysm. As any one reading this knows, World of Warcraft has been heavily revamped as of this week. Even without buying the expansion there is an almost entirely new 1-60 leveling game in place now. I am very much tempted to pony up $15 to check it out. However, it leaves me with kind of an odd quandry. WoW isn't installed on my current PC at all. Do I do a fresh install on my current PC using Blizzards horrifically slow down loaders (the worst I have ever experienced with any MMO company since leaving 56K behind [Edit: as it turns out Blizzard has updated their downloader, the new one is amazingly zippy...12 gigs in less than two hours]), or plug in the toaster living under my bed that has the entire game installed? Further, so great is my WoW burnout that I'm not entirely sure that even a brand spanky new 1-60 game would be enough to keep me entertained. I made it all of two levels into WotLK the last time I tried it.

In any case, too many interesting options is not a bad place to be. In either case, less than what I spend in a bar on a weekend is at stake.

Friday, November 19, 2010

LoTRO News Tidbits

A lot of little news tidbits have been piling up around Lord of the Rings Online lately. First off, the next expansion has been announced, the Rise of Isengard. Ardwulf posted a preview video on his site earlier today. Details include a level cap increase and a major revamp of monster play, including a new PvMP zone. My experiences with monster play in LoTRO have always been a lot of fun, I'm glad to see it getting some attention after all this time. I also can't wait to see Isenguard and Orthanc.

In other news that I can't believe I missed, back in September it was announced that Radiance is going to be removed from LoTRO. All I can really say about this is "thank god." The radiance system single handedly made high end crafted gear and the gear you can earn doing PvP useless for end game activities. Not because the stats on Radience gear are really all that much better than other gear that's available, simply because they have a "radiance" stat that is needed for end game instances. The entire radiance system struck me as a baldfaced attempt to stretch the limited endgame content of launch Moria. Presumably due to the addition of scaling instances, such system is no longer needed in current LoTRO. Endgame options now abound.

Finally, the upcoming Yule festival activities are generating some controversy. An entire new town is being added just for the event, which I am very much looking forward to. The contoversy has arisen because it is possible to complete the main quest chain either via normal heroic options (feed the homeless, give money to the poor, ect.) or by being a complete bastard (e.g., destroying a man's source of income and then stealing from him). Some players that have tested the content on Bullroarer feel a quest chain which rewards you for being a selfish jerk is out of place in LoTRO.

I have mixed feelings about it from what I've read. The option to act like an evil bastard certainly goes against the feel of the rest of LoTRO. However, I think that choosing to solve a problem through kindness doesn't mean as much if you don't also have the option of being a selfish jerk. Being a hero isn't nearly as heroic if it's your only choice.

Edit (Update): Blue Kae and Syp also have posts up about Rise of Isenguard, and Massively published a story with many details not mentioned in Turbine's press release. One thing that really stuck out is the mention that the Legendary Item system is also being revamped to make it less random and focus more on player choice. While I am delighted that the system is getting a revamp, I have to say that it's about freaking time they did something with it. The current LI system is more like a really grindy take on roulette than what I envisioned when legendary weapons were first announced pre-Moria.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

EQ II: There's an awfull lot going on in the background

Before leaving town last week I had the pleasure of doing the crafting quests in New Halas on both the evil and good sides in Everquest II.


The evil quest line has you trying to ensure an exclusive trade agreement between New Halas and Neriak using mafia tactics. Spinning wheels are broken, cloth is trashed with acid, and bombs are planted. On my next alt through that zone, I did the good quest line and discovered that I was largely reacting to stuff my last character did. "Some asshole trashed all the town's spinning wheels, could you make some new ones?" I even ended up setting the trap that my first character fell into. Very cool.

Even more impressive, I did the evil quest chain for the second time on yet another alt, and the quest dialogue made more sense because I had done both sides of the chain. For example, my evil quest giver couldn't figure out why the demand for fine china didn't spike after I trashed a crate of china in a storage house. That would be because my good alt crafted replacements.

End spoilers.

The thing that strikes me about these interlocking quest chains is that 90% of players will never notice the care that has gone into them. First off, to do either chain you need to be into crafting and know about the quests. Nothing in game tells you that there is a quest chain you can do for free access to all the tier II rare recipes, much less where to go to get the quests. Even assuming you are a hardcore crafter and do the research to find these quests, what are the odds that you will end up doing both the evil and good quest chains? Much less evil-good-evil as I did them.

The attention to details most players will never notice is even more clearly illustrated by a wolf that lives in the New Halas crafting hall. His name is Hagley:

Having run past him on a string of alts, I noticed that he has several behaviors. If you run by him on an evil character, he will growl and bark as you pass. If you run by on a good character he will either wag his tail or sit and look at you. His name is also a reference. Hagley is one of the five Everquest Online Adventures servers. I also presume it's an Everquest (the original) reference that I'm not familiar with.

EQ II is (along with EQ and EQOA for that matter) full of neat little details that I expect most players will never notice. Personally, these things suck me in and make a game a lot more "sticky." I'm still playing and enjoying EQ II well past the month or so that most MMOs get from me.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Exploration versus progress

I am an explorer when it comes to MMOs. Not only in terms of lore and in-game geography, but also in terms of systems. I really enjoy exploring the mechanics of MMOs. In fact, once I learn all of the basic mechanics of any given MMO I tend to lose interest in it.

I spend a lot of time fiddling around with the classes and crafting professions, then get bored once I'm not learning anything new. In most MMOs you can learn 80% of the mechanics in your first few weekends, and then need to put in another six months or so to get to the endgame where new systems start to open up. There are very few MMOs that have kept me hooked long enough to get to that last 5-20% of the game.

Even in the rare ones that hook me for more than a month or two, I tend to make slow progress. My approach to MMOs is more like ants crawling out in all directions from a nest than a horse charging forward. I always want to see all the starting areas, which takes some time. However, what really slows me down is my penchant for having an interlocking and self sufficient fleet of crafters. For example, in EQ2X I currently have crafters that upgrade abilities for both casters and melee characters, as well as crafters that make bags, cloth armor, leather armor, and metal armor. I'm waffling over whether to use my recently purchased fifth character slot to make metal weapons or jewelry. I may end up buying a sixth character slot for my silver account so I can cover both.

Getting all those crafters up to the point where they can make useful stuff for each other has eaten up most of my playtime. Going on adventures and killing stuff is sort of a side activity that helps me gather the mats needed to keep my family of characters in the best gear that can be crafted. The only MMOs I've played long term where I didn't fall into this cycle were either MMOs that had an absolutely grueling crafting system (e.g., DAoC and EQ) or MMOs that lacked any crafting system to speak of (e.g, DDO and COX). In WoW, LoTRO, and now EQ2X I have fleets of mid to low level characters that make great stuff for each other, and mains that take at least twice as long to level as the mains of users that play these games linearly.

I'm certain that to some players of these games, my diffuse approach to progression borders on insane. Particularly to players that think MMOs "start" once you hit the level cap (?!?). However, it's fun to me and that's really all that matters. . . at least to me :-)

An aside: apologies for the lack of posts lately. I am traveling a lot these days. This is the first weekend I've been in town since my last post. Regular posting will resume towards the end of the month I expect.