Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Update on WAR: 1.06

The PvE still slightly bites. However the PvP has become even more fun. And WAR had pretty damn good PvP to begin with. The new system for forcing all three scenarios in a tier to pop seems to be working really well. Running all three tier I scenarios is a lot more fun than doing Nordenwatch over and over again.

Tons of Order players are also rolling the new tank class. Speaking from a pure Destruction viewpoint, scenarios are much more balanced and fun than I am used to. I'm used to handing Order their asses practically as if they were AFK. They are putting up a good fight now. Scenarios were roughly 50/50 in the tier ones I joined tonight. And two of them ended in stalemates because players were actively defending objectives. Boggling!! 1.06 has improved the game more than I was willing to hope for, I'm very impressed.

WAR on it's last legs for me

My WAR subscription is on it's last legs. I will very likely cancel at the end of the month. There are two main issues that I'm having with it.

1. Order sucks on most servers.

My favorite toon so far is easilly my Order Engineer. And he isn't any fun to play in PvP because Destruction is simply kicking our asses on his server. If you look at the top ten realm point earners per week on most servers, apart from the odd Runekeeper or Bright Wizard the top ten spots are nearly always destruction players. On the two servers I'm active on the top ten was 70% and 90% destruction the last time I checked. In scenarios I have yet to play on a server where Order wins more than maybe 1/3 of the time, regardless of which side I'm playing. And on the server that my Engineer is on, Order very rarely has even a single teir II keep.

Unfortunately, the server that he is on isn't low pop, so I can't transfer him off of it. I got up to level 17 near launch, got very frustrated and re-rolled destruction on a different server. That was fun for a while, but I have yet to find a class I enjoy as much as the Engineer (and yes, I've tried a Magus). I suppose I could find a server where Alliance is doing better and start over again, from scratch. However, at this point I'm pretty burned out on the teir I content. I've been through it at least six times on each side trying different classes.

I'm hoping that the introduction of the new tank classes will help out a bit with this. If things get even enough that I can start playing my engineer again without have my ass handed to me constantly, I'll likely keep playing regardless of the next issue. However if the real problem is that skilled players are more often attracted to Destruction than Order (this ceretainly seemed to be true of the Horde in WoW based on my experiences both in PuGs and Battle Grounds), I don't think it will help much.

2. PvE in WAR slightly bites.

There are several problems with the PvE in WAR that I don't think will ever be fixed. The mob density is too high in most zones, and the respawn rates are too high. This means that any character that can't handle mutiple mobs in melee range has a very tough time soloing. Good luck solo questing on a Sorceress, for example. It also means that to get anywhere you will have to kill dozens of mobs on the way, which gets to be very tedious. It makes the zones feel "crowded" and somewhat spoils the sense of immersion. What the hell sense does it make for a tiny forest patch that's jammed up with 100 hostiles to be 30 feet away from a quest hub?

This is compounded by the fact that the zones themsleves are somewhat small, and tend to be laid out linearly. I always feel like I'm in a ravine with invisible walls. More than any MMO I've ever played, the PvE zones in WAR are very obviously laid out with function in mind rather than to evoke a sense of being in a real place. The PVE in WAR is something you tolerate in betwen bouts of PvP, rather than something that is fun in it's own right.

WAR does have some of the most fun PvP around, but among the popular fantasy MMOs (EQ II, LoTRO, WoW, ect.) I'd also argue that it has the least engaging PvE. Public Quests are great fun if you can get a party together to do them. However, my experienc has been that no-one is running the PQs any more in most teirs. Even at launch, some off the beaten path PQs pretty much never got done. Now, even the ones that used to be popular are ghost towns. What we are left with is a system that lets a solo player grind through the first stage three or four times for an item. And it's tedious as hell. I'd rather just suit up in the PvP gear I earn in scenarious than mess around with that, even if some of the items you can earn are better than the PvP gear.

I'll be watching WAR until the end of the month. I'm hoping that things will change for the better with the X.06 and X.1 patches. However, I don't see how anything that's been talked about will make Order players suck less (in general) or the PvE improve drastically.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Is EVE a "better" game than WoW?

I started typing out a long winded response to this post over at Hardcore Casual (you can see a much snittier one further up in the comments), but decided I wanted to turn it into a blog post. One of the points made in the Hardcore Casual post is that, like McDonald's, the popularity of WoW says little about it's overall quality. However that misses the fact that popularity is one of a very few objective criteria by which competing products can be ranked.

For example . . .

Objective Criteria

Popularity: McDonald's and WoW win over most competing products.

Financial success: McDonald's and WoW win over most competing products.

Pooled ratings of professional critics: This is the closest thing that we have to an objective measure of "quality." However it cannot be equated to quality. The opinions of critics are also subjective, and are often overturned by the historians and critics of future generations. See the initial reaction to Stravinsky's the Rite of Spring, for example. When it get's right down to it, "quality" is always a somewhat subjective, and often context dependent. The best sport's car in the world is a useless piece of junk compared to a reliable jeep for many (if not most) humans.

In any case, McDonald's is a big loser in this category. Almost any town will have some place to dine that would be better regarded by food critics than McDonald's. However, here again WoW wins over most competing products. Few MMOs have ever received gamerankings or meta-critic scores in the ballpark of WoW.

From all of this we can see that WoW is superior to EVE (and indeed most MMOs) by several obvious objective criteria. But at this point the fans of EVE will be crying foul, because all of the criteria I listed depend somewhat on popularity and prevailing opinion. And we all know that popular things are rarely "the best" (unless of course by best you mean most popular, profitable, or highly rated by critics...).

So that brings us to . . .

Subjective Criteria (wherein analogies to food are dropped).

Innovation: Innovation is in the eye of the beholder. Any new MMO has some innovative features (if however minor), and many features found in past products. How do we weight the sum total of innovations in competing products? And what counts as an innovation, exactly? Does something have to be 100% new to be an innovation, or does an improvement to an existing system count? What about integrating old systems that have never coexisted in the same product, is that an innovation? What about bringing an off-line game concept online, is that innovation?

Many have argued that WoW is not innovative because it contains few core mechanics not found in previous MMOs. Others have argued that creating a game that is easy to pick up and play, that has solo friendly quest driven leveling, and is generally user friendly and polished is itself an innovation. That alone shows that there is no widely accepted functional definition of "innovative" when applied to MMO design. EVE is widely regarded as innovative. However, the single largest innovation is that the entire game takes place on a single server. And that's only innovative if you don't count MUDs.

Even if we accept that EVE is more innovative than WoW, is innovation really the most important factor in deciding whether one game is "better" than another? If that's the case, Puzzle Pirates and Endless Forest are arguably better than either EVE or WoW.

Quality: Again, it depends on what criteria you choose to apply. Even criteria that seem objective, such as "lack of game breaking bugs" can be hard to quantify. Some bugs clearly are game breakers, for example not being able to log on. However, some bugs are annoyances to some players and game breakers to others. Where do we draw the line?

More importantly, does quality include whether a game is fun? Since the primary purpose of most games is to serve as entertainment, I certainly believe it should. If so, quality is obviously subjective.

Value: Usually understood as the ratio of price to quality. However, quality is subjective.

Fun: The only criterion that matters to me in the slightest. And what constitutes fun is obviously completely and utterly in the eye of the beholder. One man's fun is another man's torture. See rep grinding in WoW and Mining in EVE.

So in summary . . .

By three obvious objective criteria WoW is a superior game to EVE. Of course by two out these three criteria McDonald's is also practically the best food in the world, right up there with bread and rice. By several subjective criteria, EVE might be better than WoW. Depends on who you ask.

You may be thinking that I am a fan of WoW at this point. That actually couldn't be further from the truth. A lot of the subjectives absolutely ruin WoW for me. I wouldn't log into WoW or EVE even if it were free, much less be willing to pay for the privilege.

The only point I'm trying to make, is that the only way a niche title with mediocre review scores like EVE online can be considered objectively superior to a game like WoW is if you think your subjective opinion is the only criterion worth considering. Of course, I suppose a lot of bloggers and message board ranters do feel that way.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Mines of Moria...Score

The launch of MoM has been as close to flawless as I've seen in an MMO. I have encountered zero bugs and no downtime at all, save for when they brought the servers down to launch the expansion. The new areas are visually stunning, as you would expect (we are talking LoTRO). The quest design in new areas also seems subtly improved, they flow better than quests in some of the old zones. The new classes and the improved trait system are also very cool. Warden, especially, is a ton of fun.

However, so far my favorite addition is the new legendary item system. Legendary items have a socket / gem system similar to many RPGs. On top of that each epic item gets random abilities from a huge list when you have it identified, giving it a somewhat Diablo vibe. As you use an item it "levels up" giving you points you can spend to improve either core stats (such as DPS) or the other abilities the item possesses (your choice). It's like a trait system for magic items. Every ten levels, an item also gets a new random ability added to in when you have it reforged.

Leveling up my shiny new epic bow and watching the DPS slowly improve has been incredibly fun. I can see myself spending months finding the bow with the perfect ability set for my playstyle. I honestly haven't been this excited about hunting down new items since I played Phantasy Star Online. That the whole system is imbedded in a kickass full featured MMO doesn't hurt a bit.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

On nostalgia

In a though provoking post, Wilhelm points out how much information access and user expectations have changed in online games since the days of MUDs. Information that used to be considered "spoilers" is now often found right on a officially hosted web site. In some cases, you can even access it in game. Even the most obtuse modern MMO gives you much more detailed information on what your abilities do than launch EQ ever did.

Wilhelm's post got a few "back in the day" and "these damn WoW kiddies have ruined MMOs" style responses waxing nostalgic about the dark days of launch EQ. I can't say I share much of that nostalgia. Tifa and the others do have a point. There is a certain sense of discovery that can't be found by using THOTBOTT, Questhelper, or the like to chart your every move in an MMO. However, I personally go for quest designs that strike a balance between intriguing mystery and clear logic. Launch EQ had that balance nowhere near right for my tastes. I honestly blame the rise of Alakazim and MMO spoiler sites in general on the absolutely piss poor quest design in launch Everquest.

Often you wouldn't be told what zone to be looking for a quest item in, much less where in a given zone. A lot of the quests were bugged out on top of that. Even if you did weather through one of the poorly designed clunky quests, usually you got much less XP and coin out of it than killing rats in the newbie yard for ten minutes would have netted you. In luanch era EQ, after doing maybe a half dozen quests the old fashioned way I pretty much stopped questing at all. Even when I later stumbled on Alakazim, the main thing that really struck me was what a complete and utter waste of time most of the quests were in Everquest. Other MMOs of the era were often no better. Save for the handful of quests that gave out magic items, quests in launch DAoC were usually much less rewarding than simply grinding camps.

Smelling the flowers is one thing. Flavor like books to read or NPCs that lecture me on the ins and outs of growing turnips are awesome, I really go for that stuff. I have read every book I could find in PoK, for example. However quest design as amateurish as an average MUD in a game I'm paying to play is not awesome. It's insulting. I'm honestly glad that WoW raised the bar in respect to quest design. You sure won't catch me getting all weepy over the hours I wasted figuring out that a mob I needed to farm in EQ wasn't even on the same continent as the quest giver.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

WAR: the clumping is getting worse

The server clumping in WAR seems to be getting worse. A lot of the servers are never getting past "low" population, and others servers have constant ques. I have three destruction characters on a low pop server between the levels of 5 and 8, and I may be forced to abandon them. It's getting harder and harder to get public quests done. At prime time there weren't enough players to do the first PQ in the Chaos starter area. We could get to the boss, who would promptly melt our faces.

Switched over to my high pop order server, and it was night and day. Rolled a new alt, and had a green bag and all my influence in the first PQ in less than 20 minutes. It was a total blast, and really made me think about ditching my existing destruction toons and restarting that faction on a high pop server. I can't be the only one that's feeling that way.

WAR's greatest strength is that it encourages you to group by making it painless, rewarding, and a hell of a lot of fun. It's begginning to look to me like that will also be the achilles heal of low pop servers, and perhaps the newbie game in a few months. The best parts of the game need a certain critical mass of players before they become accessible. It will be interesting to see what, if anything, Mythic does about this in the weeks ahead. I suspect that cloning servers isn't going to be nearly enough.

Friday, September 19, 2008

It's good to be crowded: the quest for green bags

I finally got around to trying some public quests in Warhammer online, and I have to say I'm very impressed. It's been covered in detail elsewhere, so I won't bother reiterating how they work. I will say that the descriptions I read did not convey just how much fun they are. Competing with other players to try and get the highest score in a PQ is a serious blast. The random roll that gets added to your score at the end also gives it sort of a Vegas vibe.

One thing that's really striking about the PQs is how badly they need large number's of players to work. Solo, you can usually only do the first part of one. Even in a very solid small party, you absolutely are not going to be able to take down the final boss. Six mans can take some of them down, but a safe bet is more like ten players.

If you can't take down the boss, no score tallies and no green bags. Which is actually the most fun part of PQs, they aren't nearly as fun if you can't finish them. This means that you need to play on a reasonably crowded server in a reasonably popular PQ or you are missing out on one of WAR's greatest assets.

The effect I'm seeing this have in game are twofold. The server populations are very clumpy. The popular servers have nearly constant ques, the unpopular ones max out at medium even during prime time. And on the ground in game populations are very clumpy most of the time. For every "chapter" there can be up to three different PQs to choose from. From what I've seen so far usually one becomes the popular one (usually because it's near a road or a quest hub) and the other two are completely ignored.

Mythic is taking action to address the server imbalances (or at least overcrowding), using a pretty clever method. Mythic doesn't seem to have any plans to incentivize out-of-the-way PQs, however there is a good chance that the problem will take care of itself. There is an optimum PQ group size where performing well is nearly certain to net you a green bag. Groups that are too small can't finish the PQs, and it can be hard to come out on top in a really big group. I can see players eventually spreading out on their own to try and find "optimum" groups, particularly on crowded servers. Mythic may have created an online experiment in optimum foraging theory, whith green bags subbing in as resources.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


As well as I can remember, in brief. Apologies for the rampant acronyms, I'm sure at least one entry is bound to lose any reader. Maybe I'll fix that at a later date, using links and such.

EQ: my first MMO, and if they were all as fun as launch EQ I'd still be playing mostly offline RPGs. Not so much a "game" as "paying to be bored out of your skull," online, with freinds. Tried several times to get into it, never made it past a month.

DAoC: the first MMO I actually thought was fun. The graphics, the setting, and the (for the time) forgiving gameplay had me instantly hooked. ToA sort of killed things for me. Went back for a while around Catacombs when classic servers were added. Still one of my favorite MMOs.

PSO: I count this one because I was pretty active in the community when it first launched on the DC. Some of my fondest online memories. Played it on the DC, then played the hell out of it again on the GC years later. I hate grinding in an MMO, but the mag system and diablo style drops in PSO make grinding not just tolerable but addictive. PSU was a huge disappointment. I consider PSO BB to be the definitive version.

EQOA: played this game for a few months. Despite the fugly graphics, found it to be in most ways superior to the game that inspired it. Much more casual friendly, class designs were interesting takes on EQ1 classes , and at low levels a lot of engaging and rewarding quests. Unfortunately those largely run out by the early 20s, and it becomes "grind or die, the game" just like it's older brother. After getting multiple characters to the mid 20s and stalling out, realized the game wasn't for me.

AO: came to it late, a well polished game by then. Really fun for about a month. Once I got bored with randomly generated door missions, I found there wasn't a whole hell of a lot left to do that I thought was fun. Not a big fan of grinding to level (despite how many hundreds of hours I spent playing PSO).

CoH: the most fun MMO that I had ever played...for a month. Sensing a trend here. Still my favorite character creation system among MMOs by a wide margin. Not only the appearance editor (which is legendary), but also the "mix and match power sets" way of rolling a character. Combat, character creation, and PuGs are about the best you'll find in an MMO, to this day. Unfortunately the game itself is horrifically repetitive.

EQ II: nearly hated it at launch. Didn't enjoy the adventuring game. Too grindy, too few areas it was safe to solo in. Liked the crafting, but grinding out sub-components really began to wear on me eventually. Got up to teir III scibe and quit. At least I was fabulously wealthy by then. Tried it again right after RoK. Vastly improved in nearly every way, one of the most solid PvE MMOs out currently.

SWG: first tried it between the Combat Upgrade and the NGE. I was not impressed. I'm not one for pure sandboxes. To me dumping a player in the middle of a bunch of systems and expecting them to make their own fun is simply lazy game design. Offline sandbox games have had good storylines to follow for years. See Fallout, see Morrowind, see Grand Theft Auto. Until developers figure out how to do this in an MMO, "sandbox" MMO developers can bite me.

Word on the street is that SWG is a good blend of open and linear design these days, but I haven't ever gotten back to it.

WoW: just about lost my mind playing this game, like everyone. Oddly didn't take the first time I played it. Basically choosing blacksmith as the primary profession on my first character meant that by the early 30s the game had fallen flat on it's face. I was dirt poor, couldn't make anything that was useful (or at least better than cheap AH greens), and couldn't conceive of having enough money to buy a warg at 40. Tried it again a few months later, and it took in a big way. Met some folks I still hang out with today. Fantastic experience, even if I think the endgame utterly bites.

LoTRO: the best class based PvE MMO for a casual player by a very wide margin. Delightful cohesive world, an abundance of well presented stories to experience, steady addition of new content, and a solid crafting system. Hunter is the best class in an MMO, ever. Bought a lifetime sub after playing for six months. Still playing.

Tabula Rasa: an action based MMO that runs like ass on a mid level PC is not a good idea. Liked some aspects of it, plan to try it again after my next PC upgrade (if it's still around).

WAR: too early to say, but very positive first impression.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Update on's pretty good!

I did finally manage to play Warhammer Online for a few hours last week. Even if their beta program was a big pain in the butt, I have to say the game itself is impressive. Great variety in the look and feel of starting areas, and a lot of fairly polished classes to mess around with. I'm a big "explorer," so that is appealing to me. Learning the basics of different classes and seeing new zones is at least 70% of the fun for me in an MMO. The first few classes I tried didn't grab me until I stumbled on Shadow Warrior. Plays a lot like a LoTRO Hunter, which to me is a good thing. Surprisingly good performance considering that my machine is absolutely at the bottom of the system requirements. I wouldn't say that WAR has blown me away so far, but it's certainly the most solid new MMO I've tried since LoTRO came out.

I didn't pre-order the CE, so I'm not playing WAR currently. However I am looking forward to messing around more with it in a few days.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

My impressions of WAR so far...or lack thereof

My PC is getting on in years, and I really need to see how the WAR client will perform on it before I commit to a box. Looked around at my options to get into the open beta, and they seem to consist of joining Fileplanet, or pre-ordering. If you have to pay money to get into the beta, it's not really what I would call "open." Oh well. Five dollars later I had a pre-order box from Gamestop and some sort of in game bonus item at launch if I decide to commit.

I get home and discover, to my horror, that there is no beta client in the box. Instead there is a starter pack and a set of rules for a collectible card game I will never play. Better than nothing I guess. Did my usual weekend of online and offline socializing, finally got around to trying to get the game started on Sunday.

In the box is a code to activate your beta account. Went to the Mythic WAR website and activated my code. Then followed the links to download the client. Those took me to Fileplanet, where I was asked to enter my beta key again. Entered my key again....and it had already been me...because Mythic's beta website is a confusing POS.

When you get to the beta access website there are three bullet points in a box, labeled 1-3. If you click the link in the first bullet point you waste your beta key. If you click one of the two links in the third, you use it correctly and get to download the client. I didn't realize the website was a puzzle game . . .

It was too late to get a CS rep on the phone, and I don't have time to wast on something like that during the week. Looked around at my other options, and all I could come up with was a Bittorrent download for the client. OK, grand. Started up the download.....and discovered that it would take at least two solid days to get done. Nine gigs on Bittorrent sucks. Ok, whatever, I'm in no rush.

Three days later, get home from work horribly late. The download is done. Hooray! Install the client get it patched up, and supposedly I only have to wait an hour for the servers to come back up. An hour later they are still down. Hit the Herald, and the time has been pushed back an hour and a half. "Screw that" and I crash. Get up a little after noon, thinking foolishly that I might get to run around and at least see what my frame-rates are like before I run out the door. The servers are down again, indefinitely.

My impression of WAR so far? Mythic does not have it's shit together for this close to launch. Yes I know it's a beta. Maybe my impression will improve once I actually get to log. But their system for getting into the beta sucks (is it open or isn't it?) and their system for downloading the client sucks ("Oh sorry, looks like you wasted your key..."). Server downtime timed perfectly to keep me from logging for another day is only the straw.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Much ado about nothing, the Runemaster

The details of the LoTRO Runemaster class have finally been released. I was skeptical when I read interviews where the designers said that the the Runemaster would be more "overtly magical" than the Loremaster. That was worrying, because I feel that the Loremaster already really stretches the lore pretty hard. We are talking a class that can summon beams of light down from the sky to smite their foes, conjure a giant glowing red ent to stomp everything in front of them, or unleash earth tremors that rattle your entire screen. How much more is Turbine planning to push it with the Runemaster? Tactical nuclear strikes from the backs of eagles?

Yeah, well, I think that was a bit of an overreaction. Turbine might be touching the pooch in a slightly inappropriate way, the same way that hugs from that one friend of the family made you feel slightly uncomfortable as a teenager but really never crossed the line. However, they are most certainly not screwing said pooch.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Aha, time to begin

This blog will mainly be about MMOs. If you like other stuff look elsewhere. Oh yeah, what's up with the name? Well, in short I expect this blog to be a bit more positive that what I see coming from some of the more established bloggers.

A lot of long time MMO players seem to have burned out on the Diku MUD design back when it was still text. I'm talking guys that seem to be waiting for some experimental (and likely somewhat EVEish) thunderbolt to streak down from the sky and show what MMOs could have been all along if most MMO consumers weren't so accepting, lazy, and myopic. The guys that were pissed when LoTRO wasn't pre-Trammel UO with a Middle Earth Skin. The guys that are currently pissed that WAR is a lot like WoW, only with a completely different tone, classes, world, and endgame (?!)

That's not me. I've been playing since the days of MUDs too (though to be fair virtual worlds didn't really catch me until EQ). However, unlike some vets, I feel privileged to be living in the time that I am. Those of us that are currently into virtual worlds are experiencing something that is well and truly new, as it emerges. We stand on the edge of a wave that has yet to crest.

Because of this, I’m not going to grouse a lot about games as they come out. Whether I like a particular game or not, it's part of the kinetic energy powering a new movement that we will all benefit from. Honestly, I feel like bitching about MMOs as a genre right now would be a lot like bitching about film in 1914, or bitching about the web in 1991.

I’ll slam individual MMOs for certain. However, I’m not so jaded that I get pissed at MMOs a genre every time “the next big MMO” fails to revolutionize virtual worlds as we know them. I feel like a good deal of evolution has to occur before the ground conditions are ripe for a revolution. And when revolution does occur, we'll be standing right in the middle of it (though we likely won't realize at the time).

Just wait, it’s coming.