Wednesday, January 25, 2012

LOTRO: the latest developments

Lot's of new content coming down the pipe:

Massively just posted a story that has a ton of interesting LoTRO news. The next full expansion will be called the Riders of Rohan. It will include mounted combat and raise the level cap to 85. Not very surprising so far, we all pretty much knew this was coming. However two items did come as a bit of a surprise: (1) players will gain the ability to use skirmish soldiers as companions while out questing, and (2) eastern Rohan is going to be bigger than Moria. On companions, I've become a big fan of full NPC companions both in DDO and now SWTOR. Leveraging the current companion system to add this feature to LoTRO makes sense, and should be a lot of fun. However, I also have to wonder how well it will work in a game that is largely already tuned for soloers. On the size of the coming expansion, Moria is a really big place. If the first Rohan expansion really is bigger it will be a heck of a lot of new real estate.

In the mean time, Turbine is on the verge of rolling out a new adventuring zone, the River Anduin. That's good news for me because I somehow managed to run out of fresh solo content half way through the last level on my main in LoTRO. I could finish the level doing daily quests, but if a whole new area is coming down the pipe I'd just assume wait a bit and hit the cap there. More generally, Turbine claims that they are shifting to a model of more frequent and smaller content updates, ala DDO or Asheron's Call. I personally would certainly prefer that to the current model where we get a couple of months worth of content every year or so.

The Turbine Store and the State of Crafting in LoTRO

I've also been meaning to comment on the fact that Turbine recently started selling armor in their item shop. Based on comments in this thread on the official forums I had assumed that it wasn't as good as gear you can craft, so it was really no big deal. However, based a comments on this post over at Bullet Points, over the weekend I logged in to check out the items in the shop and compared it to what I can craft on a maxed out Tailor. What I did not realize at first is that the gear in the item shop is for very low level characters.

The tier III item shop armor can be equipped by level 20 characters. Even critting one shot recipes, there is no way a tailor can make gear that good for a level 20 character. They can make gear that is on par, but not quite as good, for a level 22 character of any given class (keeping in mind that AC doesn't matter much at those levels). To get into crafted gear that is solidly better you are looking at critted gear for characters in their late 20s or early 30s.

While I'm not going to go on a wild rant about it, I have to say this has a several implications I don't like. First off, this is exactly what Turbine said they wouldn't do when FtP was first announced. If this gear sells well, expect to see sets for higher level characters in short order. Further, the fact that the gear is arguably superior to anything that can be crafted for characters of those levels is yet another sign that Turbine just doesn't care very much about crafters.

Crafted items for characters over level 50 have been marginal since Mines of Moria launched. With this latest move, Turbine seems to be signalling that crafters soon may not be the best source of 1-50 gear either. That said, even for 1-20 crafted items it's not yet the Apocalypse. The store sets only include a chest, legs, and boots. You still have to get gloves, shoulders, and helmets someplace, and crafters still make the best ones (barring the occasional epic from a group quest). However, there doesn't seem to be much stopping Turbine from putting full armor sets in the item shop if these new limited sets prove popular.

Edit (update): at some point today Turbine made an official post about the item shop armor issue. Apparently reactions have been stronger than they anticipated . . .

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Thoughts on the latest SWTOR news

The latest SWTOR patch apparently contained some serious cluster fornication for PvP players. Level 50 players are now looking at crazy ques to get into the regular battlegrounds due to faction imbalance and the general lack of level 50 players on most servers. Meanwhile, in SWTOR's open world PvP area Republic players are getting stomped on most servers. Unverified reports put Empire / Republic ratios at 2.5 to 1 or worse on most servers. An error in the latest patch that allows players to camp the opposing faction's respawn points is salt on the wound. Things are so bad that Bioware is urging players to avoid Ilum altogether until they can get things fixed. Finally, for a few hours today some players magically lost the ability to unsubscribe days before the first round of automatic sub-renewals is set to go through. Ouch!

While this isn't exactly Bioware's shining moment, I think it's a bit early to start dancing on SWTOR's grave. A lot of bloggers have been predicting doom for the game for months based on development costs that EA has already stated are bogus. 500K subs, even if you need them for a solid year to turn a profit, does not get you very far north of a development cost of 100 millon. I also kind of doubt that most players care a whole lot about the PvP situation at level 50. If a most of the players that wanted to do PvP had hit 50 already, the long que times for PvP battlegrounds that players are complaining of on the forums would not be happening. Personally, my highest 'toon so far is level 32 and I have yet to set foot in a battle ground.

The strength of SWTOR compared to most MMOs is compelling narratives. There are at least two completely non-overlapping story lines, the Sith quests and the Republic quests, and I personally plan to see them both at least once. If I wanted to rush to the cap and do PvP or go raiding, there are clearly better games on the market for that. If I didn't find the narratives I'm experiencing compelling, well again there are other games with much deeper mechanics I could be playing. I predict that players who "get" the storylines and RP aspects of the game are the ones who are going to stick around. Those that were mainly hoping for a new shiny MMO endgame to grind in will likely be gone by this time next month. Only time will tell if the players left are enough to make the game a solid success.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Played Lately: SWTOR

My lack of blog posts lately can be attributed to several factors. I was out of town for most of last month, doing real life things like hiking and hanging out with familly. Since I got back into town, I have also been obsessing so hard on Star Wars the Old Republic that when I get home from work I simply haven't wanted to spend an hour knocking out a blog post. It's odd to see my MMO addiction get in the way of my MMO blogging.

This view of Nar Shadda when I stepped out of the spaceport really impressed me. We're not in Azeroth/ Middle Earth/ Norrath any more, are we? I have found complaints about the graphics in SWTOR odd, even on my aging rig they are often stunning.

However, another contributing factor is that a series of short posts about SWTOR I did preliminary drafts of turned out to either be flat wrong, or at least oversimplifications when I got further into the game. In no particular order, here is my current take on several issues I almost blogged about earlier this month, but for the most part decided were non-issues by last weekend.

Giant gold statue of some famous hutt on Nar Shadda. Nar Shadda is ruled by hutt crimelords.

1. Slicing is still a good crew skill even post nerf. At launch slicing was basically "Print money" the crew skill. It lets you send out crew members to look for money, or to open up boxes of money you find while out wandering around. By level 16 I had more than twice the cash I needed for my first vehicle at 25 saved up, largely from running slicing missions. Obviously this couldn't last, and Bioware eventually nerfed slicing hard pretty hard. The money you can earn per minute is now something like a fourth of what it was. However, having spent so much time leveling it already, I decided to keep going and take it to 400. And I'm glad I did. Since I made it to Alderan I've been tripping over computer terminals, each of which has at least few hundred credits inside. Taking slicing as my third crew skill also kept me from spending cash to level something else. I'm currently well on track to have the 225K I'll need for my advanced vehicle training at 40.

In lieu of griffins or horses, swift travel is usually handled by aircars (though there is a big flappy bat thing that is used on Alderaan).

2. I still can't decide if crafting is pointless or not. I like the crafting system a lot. When you craft items, you can use them, sell them, or deconstruct them. When you deconstruct a crafted item you have a chance to learn a schematic for an advanced version of the item. There are usually two possible tiers of advancement. For example, breaking down green cybernetic implants can teach you to make blue ones with better stats, and blue ones can be broken down to learn recipes for purple ones with even better stats. Once you know an advanced recipe, you can make as many of those items as you like. All in all a neat system.

The problem is that it can take a really long time to earn the more advanced recipes. It's rarely worth the trouble to get to better than the blue version of a recipe. It is also incredibly easy to get gear on par with blue crafted gear just by questing. Admittedly, purple crafted items will often be best in slot for your level range. However, you wouldn't really tend to use any crafted item long enough to go to the bother making purple ones for yourself as you level.

Further, at level 50 I am hearing reports of gear that is easy to obtain which trumps any gear you can possibly craft. Like all too many MMOs, the crafting in SWTOR seems primarily a system for allowing you to inexpensively twink alts. I was really hoping for something more useful along the lines of launch LoTRO crafting. There, even crafted greens tended to make solo quest rewards look dumb (though that's sadly only true for character below level 51 in the modern game).

This is a view of part of Korriban, where the dark side jedi start.

3. Damn, Biochem rocks. The one crew skill I have no doubts about is Biochem. I originally took it because it's the crew skill that lets you make cybernetic implants, (oddly, Cybertech does not) and I was playing a cyborg. That aspect of it has remained useful, implants are rarer than hen's teeth as quest rewards for some reason. However, the skill also lets me make healing kits and stim packs (items that give hour long stat boosts) that are better than anything that drops in the game or that can be bought from vendors. That is a huge bonus, and I'm overall really happy with Biochem in its current form. I can't wait for Bioware to nerf the hell out of it . . .

Inside the sith jedi temple. One of my favorite things about Star Wars as an IP is that it seamlessly blends fantasy and science fiction sensibilities.

4. Money is not really very hard to come by. At one point I was looking at all the fees I had coming up as I leveled, looking at my bank account, and starting to panic. Between inventory slots, vehicle training, skill training, and ship upgrades you are looking at something on the order of a million credits in fixed costs on the road to 50. However, now that I'm into the 30s I'm finding that I make at least a few thousand credits an hour just questing and looting mobs. As long as you don't spend too much on your crafting as you level, I don't think fixed money sinks will be much of a problem.

All in all I'm still having a hell of a lot of fun in SWTOR. It's not for everyone, but it's my cup of tea for certain. I can see getting multiple characters to the level cap, which is something I've almost never done in previous MMOs.