Thursday, March 26, 2009

Hunter Nerfs in LoTRO

Along with a lot of kickass new content, the latest patch in LoTRO had some major nerfs for the most popular class in the game: Hunters.

I've always been a fan of ranged DPS classes in MMOs (i.e., nukers), and the Hunter is by far my favorite of the bunch (though Engineers in WAR and certain Blaster comboes in CoH are also way up there). They do a screaming ton of damage to single targets, are far from helpless in melee range, have pretty good crowd control if you specialize for it, and get fantastic travel abilities. A group runspeed buff in the teens, and then a series of group teleports. By the time you reach 60, you can teleport to nearly every zone in the game. As "taxi cabs with machine guns" they have no parallel. My main has been a hunter since the open beta, and I've rarely been as happy with a character as I am with her.

All that is why I saw the coming of the last update with a bit of dread. The primary role of Hunters, ranged DPS, got a huge nerf in the last patch. As nearly as I can tell something like a 25% damage reduction, perhaps more. At first I was horrified. However, now that I've had a couple of weeks playtime post nerf I have come to the conclusion that it's not that big a deal. I can still do everything solo I used to, and I still do very noticeable DPS in a party.

If I have any lasting complaint, it's that our stances outside of the high damage/ high threat stance have been rendered pretty borderline. A guardian that is on the ball can now hold aggro against a hunter going all out in their highest damage stance. Save for a long boss fight where power management might be an issue, there's not much reason to ever drop out of strength stance now. It seems a bit silly, and reduces the dimensionality of the class. However, on the whole still one of the most enjoyable classes in any MMO to my tastes.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Most MMO gamers like WoW more than your MMO: Deal with it

A lot of MMO commentators seem pretty hostile to World of Warcraft and the players that dig it. For example, Syncaine's popularization of the term "WoW tourist" to describe former WoW players that try out new MMOs, and then leave when they decide they don't like them as much as WoW. It sometimes feels as if the hardcore enthusiasts that have been playing since the glory days of EQ are at war those that came in on WoW and prefer it to other MMOs (newer or older). If there is indeed a war being waged, I would suggest that it is a futile one. The "sheep" have spoken, and they have won.

You can rant and rave and call WoW the "McDonald's/ Brittany Spears" of the MMO genre as much as you like. The fact of the matter is that the bulk of gamers that are willing to play $15 a month for a game like WoW better than any other MMO they've tried. The masses have spoken, and they like their MMOs easy, fast paced, relatively shallow, and with a very over the top design aesthetic. They don't care about the prose in quest text, they don't care about cohesive lore, they don't care how useful the crafting system is, and they don't care whether any attempt is made to blend zones together into a cohesive world.

What really brought this home to me was actually the most recent NPD chart. The number two selling MMO in North America in January was Warhammer Online, hanging in tough at number 14 more than two months after release. If these sales keep up, WAR will quite likely be the next sub based MMO to cross the 1 million threshold. Among the features it shares with WoW are (1) an over the top design aesthetic, (2) easy questing (red blobs on the map for cris sakes!), (3) fast paced leveling, (4) crafting system that yields many borderline useless items, (5) quest text that is (for the most part) utterly forgettable, (6) a world that sacrifices cohesion for playability.

I'm not saying that WoW or WAR bite (far from it), or that WAR is a clone of WoW (WAR actually has far superior PvP and very different class designs). What I'm saying is the features that they have in common seemingly embody what most MMO players want, at least based on sales. And I think it's about time we (i.e., the crusty MMO enthusiasts that have been playing since the glory days of EQ) all got over it and moved on. I'm really starting to get tired of MMO commentators that rail against the "mindless WoW masses" whenever the moderately-successful-to-niche MMOs they happen to like prove unappealling to the bulk of MMO gamers.

Most MMO players just don't like the same things as you. Deal with it.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Thoughts on book seven

Major changes coming down the pipe in book seven. Not going to do anything like a comprehensive review, but there are a few highlights that stick out in my mind.

1. Lothlorian.

All I can really say is hell yes. I also think that this content will be an important test case for Turbine. Until some time next fall we are all going to be sitting at 60. Even slow ass casuals like me that started when MoM launched have at least one 60 by now. Will this area be fun for us even though we won't be getting any XP? Since I went through Foreschel for the first time at 50 and had a blast, signs point to yes for me. However, I'll be interested in seeing how the community reacts.

2. Faster leveling.

To me the current pace of leveling in LoTRO seems to be about right, with the exception of the 30-42 or so doldrums. I have two alts that have stalled out in the mid 30s, one of which I actually enjoy playing quite a bit. If this will help me get over that hump with alts, I'm all for it.

I just hope that Turbine hasn't overdone things in other level ranges. Leveling to 25 or so flies by as it is, I don't think it needs to be any faster. For me 42-50 also seems to fly. 50 to 60 was a lot slower, but since that's the last ten levels I think it should happen at a measured pace. In addition, after hitting 60 with my first toon over the weekend I seem to have done far fewer than half of the quests in MoM. Especially with Lothlorian coming in, there really will be a lot more 50-60 content than any three characters could do and get Xp from.

3. Quest radar.

Some commentators are enthused about this feature. In other communities, it's less popular. I have to admit, I'm having a cranky old man reaction to this feature. One of the great things about LoTRO is the stories that emerge from the quest chains. If you simply follow little arrows around your map, you are going to completely miss out on that. Further, the kinds of players that a feature like this will appeal to are also players that I simply don't think are patient enough to get LoTRO. I'd really just assume most of them lose patience and move on by level ten or so. I'm enjoying the (by and large) mature and helpful community that inhabits LoTRO.

That said, clearly I am in the minority on this issue. The red blobs in WAR absolutely hammered my sense of immersion (of course the fact that most of the quet text was so poorly written didn't help much either), but most players seemed to like them. Quest Helper, which adds the same feature to WoW, is an extremely popular add-on.

And don't get me wrong. I'm not saying we should go back to the dark days of launch EQ. However, I personally feel that LoTRO has always nailed the balance between a sense of discovery and lack of frustration. Clearly Turbine does not agree, and has decided to move things more in the direction of WAR and WoW.

4. Creep enhancements.

The final big news as far as I was concerned is that creeps are starting stronger, it will now be easier to level them, and cheaper to buy new abilities. I think this is absolutely a needed change. It is currently a serious six month grind to max out a creep. There is no way it should take longer to max out a creep than it takes to run a new freep from one to the cap. Considering that the entire horrific grind has to be done in the same zone, the current requirements are insane. If Turbine really wants creep play to be a fun "RvR light" experience, then they need to make it easier to progress. Easier progression lures more players to try creeps, which leads to much more fun for all involved (warm bodies on the field makes PvP happen).

Now if only the PvP gear were on par with the Radiance gear, Turbine would have something really great going. The exact same stats, save without radiance, would be a good start. PvMP has always been a hell of a lot of fun. The problem with it currently is that you earn rewards steadily for about a month, and then your progress completely stalls out. Over and over again I have seen players lose their minds in the moors for around a month, and then get completely burned out on it when they stop making reasonable progress for the time they put in.