Saturday, April 24, 2010

DDO: Oooh, they got me

Dungeons and Dragons online has a sale going this weekend where you can get 6900 Turbine points for $50. It was simply way too good a deal to resist. Until now I've been pretty smug about the fact that I've barely spent any money in DDO during the past year that I've been playing it on and off. It's still not a ton of money, but more than I was planning to spend for certain.

I had already previously bought 32 point builds, the Drow elf race, and a couple of low level adventure packs. So I bought Warforged and a shared bank slot for my account. I'm still sitting on almost 6000 points. The optional classes don't interest me that much, so I'll be waiting for them to go on sale. I may pick up some more adventure packs since they are all on sale this weekend. I found a pretty good guide to them by Sirgog over on the DDO forums.

Regardless, I have enough points now to last a good long while. Good for Turbine that they got a good chunk of cash off of me, but from here on out it's unlikely I'll spend more. I'd be interested to know what proportion of DDO players fall into the "never spend anything," "spend $60 and they are done" and "spend as much over a year as a subber would" categories.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Combat in DDO, what SWG is trying for?

My time in Star Wars galaxies came to an end last weekend. I had some fun during my trial, but in the end the game simply wasn't polished enough for me to justify buying the client or subbing. The controls are not very intuitive. Even after two weeks getting used to them, they were really only tolerable. The graphics engine also is poorly optimized. Running the game on a rig that would have been an alien supercomputer when SWG launched, my frame-rates still bogged down in places. Finally, minor things like mobs shooting me through walls or quest chains bugging out started to get to me.

SWG has amazing depth, and if I could play it for free I'd probably still be messing around with it. However, it just doesn't have the polish I expect from a sub based MMO that's been out for seven years. Since my trial ended I've been playing Dungeons and Dragons Online again. Accounts of several bloggers of the Wednesday nights with Massively gave me the urge to fire it up. I restarted on Kyhber, and I've been having a lot of fun with a freshly minted Paladin there. Transitioning between SWG and DDO, one thing that really struck me is how similar the their combat systems are.

Like SWG, the combat in DDO is "real time" rather than turn based. Like SWG, you target a foe with your mouse and click (or hold down) the left mouse button to auto attack. Unlike SWG, hitting buttons on your hotbar (or a number on your keyboard) actives a special attack directly. In SWG, hitting a hotbar button maps a special ability to your right mouse button rather than activating it. The right mouse button is used both to move the camera and to activate specials, which makes it extremely easy to blow off specials accidentally. DDO doesn't have that issue because the right mouse button is used strictly for the camera.

It sounds like a minor difference, but for me it's the difference between swearing at my monitor and not thinking about the controls at all. Add in the dated and inefficient graphics engine SWG uses, and the whole experiences comes off as clunky compared to DDO. I can't help but wonder if SWG would be doing better if its developers had nailed real time combat as well as Turbine did [or perhaps not tried to jam real time combat into a game with an engine that wasn't designed for it . . .but that's a can of worms I prefer not to open].

Friday, April 9, 2010

Warhammer Online: a Requiem?

Via Broken Toys and Slashdot, it seems that Mythic had a billing snafu of epic proportions. Hit the links to read up if you care to. The short version is that, due to a glitch in a new billing system, thousands of customers were hit with subscription charges sufficient to nearly empty an average mid-month checking account. In many cases this caused checks to bounce and overdraft fees to be incurred. This is the second time this has happened to Warhammer Online subscribers (apparently something similar happened around December 2008), though in this case the effects seem to have been more widespread.

The news makes me a bit sad, because I have grave doubts that Mythic will survive the shittstorm they are about to experience. At the very least, I expect that they are going to see a big drop in Warhammer Online subs from this. I know there is no way in hell I'd keep subbing to a game that charged me $600+ one month by accident. I think Warhammer Online is a pretty good game (at least 1-20), and I hate to see the legs knocked out from under it by something that was obviously a coding glitch [one that would never have gone live with remotely sane quality control, I will allow].

I suspect that heads are going to roll, the already somewhat meager subscriber base will flee in droves, and we will never know what one of the most interesting recent experiments in PvP focused MMO design could have become.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Modern Star Wars Galaxies: an utter new player perspective

With my interest in LoTRO and Allods Online waning, I went out looking for a new PvE focused MMO over the weekend (URU continues to scratch my explorer itch quite well). At first I intended to take Star Trek Online for a spin. However, while looking for the best prices I found an all in one pack for Star War Galaxies for $20. SWG is one of those MMOs I’ve been meaning to try for ages, and the base game plus three expansions sounds like a heck of a lot of content for $20. So I’m currently doing the two week trial while I decide whether to spring for the full game and sub up, or go back to my original plan of STO.

The short short version of my impression so far is that the game tries it’s damdest to scare you off in the first few hours, but if you stick with it there seems to be a fun game buried under the dated graphics and clunky UI.

My first impression was that the graphics are horribly dated. However, by fiddling with the graphics options I was able to get them up to "pretty good."

Not astounding by any means, but pretty damn good for a game that is nearly a decade old.

[A random aside: using FRAPS will butcher your framerates more than any other game I've tried FRAPS with. Don't do it. If you want to take screenshots, hit "ctrl+Shift+h" Then hit "print screen" You can also set the format (jpeg to bitmap) and quality of your screenshots in the "options" sub menus.]

What came as an unpleasant surprise (to put it mildly) was the basic controls of the game. When you first log in your camera is locked to your mouse, making it extremely difficult to select objects in the environment and impossible to select abilities from your hotbar with the mouse. You can change this in the control settings, however you have to log out and back in for the change to take effect. The UI itself gives you no clue that you need to log out, I had to figure it out by trial-and-error.

Once you have the mouse pointer unlocked, a new problem rears its head. Each mouse button does two things, and the game tries to figure out which you intend by where the pointer is on screen. This can lead to “hilarity” such as activating an attack and pulling a distant mob when you are trying to move the camera around, or shooting an NPC in the face when you are just trying to see if you can talk to them. Within my first 30 minutes I was having a pretty serious attack of sailor mouth.

The whole system is very hard to get used to on a melee character (i.e., Jedi). However, when I switched to a Commando (a high damage ranged attacker with a powerful self heal) the system started to make a bit more sense. By my second hour I was only shooting things accidentally every ten minutes or so . . .

The tutorial area that you start in also seemed pretty amateurish to me. One minute in I’m hanging out with Han Solo, Chewbacca, R2-D2, and C3PO. I guess the idea is for the game to feel “Star Warsy,” but to me it just felt contrived. The first quest area also isn’t that well designed. It’s a lot like a Star Wars skinned WoW quest hub. It eventually has you running in an out of the same instance six times in a row. The impression I came away with after my first two hours was “like WoW, but in space and clunky.” The one pleasant discovery was space-flight missions, which were a nice change of pace from killing things on the ground.

Despite my bad first impression, I’m old school and have a pretty high pain threshold when I try a new MMO. I decided to at least make it down to Tatooine before giving up on the game. And there I got a number of pleasant surprises. First off, I got a free landspeeder in my choice of colors after a very short quest chain.

The structure of the quests also improved. You talk to a quest giver to activate a chain, and then head out and start working. As you get steps done, your quest giver calls you on your comm to give you the next step in the chain and wires the rewards to your bank account . . . because they have modern technology and can do that (amazing!).

Tatooine itself also feels much more like a real place than the intro station did. The intro station was an illogical and contrived feeling series of questing areas. For example, why is the whole top level filled to the brim with dangerous animals? Who the heck knows? Tatooine, on other hand, feels a lot like . . . Tatooine (from the movies).

At this point I've worked through the horrifically bad newbie experience, and I'm curious about the rest. According to my login I have 9 more days to figure out whether modern SWG sucks or not, to my personal tastes. I can see clearly that there is a good game in there. I'm willing to try and connect to it.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Last Word on Allods (at least for a while)

Lately my playtime in Allods Online has dropped to almost nil. I think the major issue that I'm having is that the pace of the game has slowed to a crawl. I realize that's a bit of an unfair assessment, since the level cap is 40 and I'm half way there. Levels don't exactly fly by in the 40s in WoW, or in the 30s in LoTRO after all.

However, the other thing that's making the game seem slow paced to me is that I haven't gotten any new general purpose combat abilities in ages. I've been using the same two buttons in 90% of fights since I was level seven or so. I do have a lot of neat situational skills, such as heals, a health drain, and a rezz ability. In fact, I recently got a plague heal ability that I really like. You cast it on one target and it bounces around among friendlies as long as there is a fresh target in range. You can heal a whole raid with it . . .very cool. I also have a great instant cast fear ability. However, situations where I need to use any of those abilities just don't come up too often, since I mostly solo.

I am still a bit curious about the PvP areas. But if I'm not having enough fun to log now, when I can quest uninterrupted, it's hard to believe that I will start having fun again when I enter an area where I'm at the very bottom of the PvP food chain. Regardless, I'm just not very motivated to push through those last two levels right now, and my spare time isn't exactly abundant.

I do not by this post mean to imply that Allods isn't a good game. It's a great game. Allods kept me entertained for a little over two months, which is roughly the same run I get out of the average sub-based MMO I try out. I can recommend without hesitation that anyone who isn't burned out on EQ/ WoW style fantasy MMOs should try it. It's one of the most polished FtP MMOs I've ever set foot in. The first ten levels on the Empire side were incredibly fun, and had a really intriguing Eastern European flare to them. I would say I was having good solid fun until at least the high teens. The game is going to stay on my hard-drive for certain, but for now I'm off to different pastures.

Magaera at level 20, with her pet robo-scorpion: