Saturday, December 31, 2011

Solo Progression

And this makes sixteen posts, next year I'm not going to make the resolution of trying to write more posts than the last because I just might go through several months of being fed up of MMOs, end up having to post several on the last day of the year again, and also I've been playing many more solo single-player games lately, especially Skyrim.

I want to pick up from the last post and continue banging out a few more thoughts about 'solo progression'. I think anyone rolling their eyes at the phrase, is missing the point at what it entails, it is not 'raid gear for casuals', and the whole notion of working harder (i.e. a time consuming grind) for the same reward that gets commonly suggested is wide of the mark too. It comes down to why it is fine that no matter what difficulty a player chooses in a single-player game, they get the same reward, and why that is derided as 'unworkable' in MMOs.

That why Skyrim is refreshing to me, I'm approaching it as a journey involving choice and that I'm fine with not having an optimal character. I'm avoiding the wiki altogether, which is necessary because looking up some things that I thought would be fairly benign leads to spoilers, ok so what was that tough mob I just fought, oh it was a dragonpriest, and look there are more of them, all neatly listed in a table with locations, had to quickly look away, or checking out the enchanting page to see how it works and scrolling down to find a guide to fully optimising my character. I made that mistake in Oblivion because as soon as I think about optimizing my character, a lot of the fun goes out of the game, but it's the routine approach for an MMO.

There is still progression in Skyrim, but it is tied to player choice about how they build their character, but also some mobs are just tougher. I'm now swatting wolves like flies but I'm still running away from trolls unless I've back-up because at the moment my character is all melee without magic, but I wouldn't change it because I've already planned a second character to be a magic user. Playing a game in my own way is a welcome change to themepark MMOs where there is usually a single progression track, a one-size fits all mentality.

[Rift] Ember Isles and Solo Progression

Ember Isles is now my favourite zone in Rift, it's a tropical island, dense jungle, obscured ruins, and some carefully designed vistas like the view from Ember Watch to the volcano in the middle of the island. It doesn't seem any bigger than the other zones, but it's more open and more intricate at the same time, being bound in by mountains the whole thing makes zones in MMOs all the more oppressive.

Ember Isles is not just a new zone or daily quest hub, it is a 'hard difficulty' zone designed for level 50 players. Going there like I was in quest gear was a little on the painful side, to put it in perspective I had about 4.5 k health, mobs had three times that amount and I could only take on one at a time, and quests where I didn't have to kill mobs were a welcome relief. Near a defended sourcewell is fairly safe, those invasion mobs seem to have lower health than the normal static mobs and I could always drag some of the normal mobs near a gun turret for some extra firepower. Being a rogue helped too.

The increased challenge was nice, I was chuffed to take out a stage 3 of a minor rift, but it's definitely a case of bring a friend, because it did get tiresome having to burn through those huge health bars. Even if a player was in the best of gear, is a raid tier 2 kitted player worth two not so well geared players, or are they? I'm asking because I've no idea about how steep that power curve is in Rift, but Trion has acknowledged this as a problem and has plans to lessen the gap somewhat by bringing the lower tier gear closer to the upper tier, like that will work out well when it is not tackling the root of the problem.

Rift has another problem with crafting rifts and well geared players taking all the participation, when stages end in a matter of seconds before less adept players have even cast their AoEs. The solution being mooted by Trion is to have rift mobs scale to gear levels, which was met with cries of 'how am I supposed to solo major rifts now?' and most telling of all 'what's the point of getting better gear if I can't streamroll through the rest of the game?' (and make it less fun for other players?).

It's a bit of a conundrum, having to raid to be able to solo an outdoor zone. I'm not averse to raiding, I like the idea of rift raids and 10-man slivers, it's gear progression that kills the fun rather quickly for me, though I had to quash the thought that if I worked a bit to get better gear I could enjoy the content on Ember Isles more, and that's exactly the point the game becomes a chore. There is planar gear that is about tier 1 raid gear, but the amount of Incribed Sourceshards needed is a ridiculous grind, looked at it and thought it was a nice idea that the gear could be upgraded up to three times but then worked out how long it would take to acquire all those shards for even a single fully upgraded piece and had second thoughts.

It's sort of depressing that most subscription MMOs seem to only thrive on gear progression, and there are very few alternatives. However, as soon as Trion extends the 'all new improved and expanded' Instant Adventure system to Ember Isles I may be tempted to subscribe for a month again.

[Rift] Brief Return

Trion was hacked recently and gave everyone three free days, even previous subscribers, which was an opportunity I gladly took because I wanted to see what Ember Isle had brought to the game. But first I'm going to describe two features that while not totally innovative, may lead to something really interesting if Trion are smart about it.

These are for all extents and purposes an upgrade to the wardstones found in the other zones, and they are found outside of quest hubs. They consist of a central objective surrounding by several gun and healing turrets, each of these objects can be repaired and upgraded four times, with NPC defenders spawn at the last upgrade. Invasions start to attack and there are repeatable quests to defeat 20 invasions. Pretty straightforward, but something I didn't know is that the more objects upgraded the more invasions that spawn, so in effect players can create scalable events on demand. 

To upgrade the objects players need to spend 4 planar charges, which are easily obtained by standing  in planar anomalies. These are abundant crystals found adjacent to the sourcewells that can be broken and begin to pulse, each pulse restoring a planar charge. A nice feature about these is that multiple players, no matter if they are grouped or different factions can take advantage of these pulses. This easy source of planar charges was something I looked for originally to make planar powers more useable, and it definitely works, even going to other zones I'm more likely to use the abilities because a full supply of charges is just a teleport away.

During zone events, four sourcewells out of thirteen are selected and must be defended, which with the upgrades is much easier than with other wardstones, it's rewarding too and people seem more willing to do it, which is great change. One of my concerns is that there is still 'tagging' but with not having experienced it enough, there does seem to be a looser measure of participation for the repeatable quests at least if not planar rewards.

Sourcewells, a precursor to some more dynamic events where all participation is rewarded, with players working together, grouped or not?

'Instant Adventures'

These are just quests, and Rift has never had the most exciting of quests to be perfectly honest, but these give the feeling of when there is a large group romping through solo content i.e. mobs explode and everyone is running around like headless chickens, so in a word, chaos. It is fun though and if I was levelling a new character 45+ (when these become available in Shimmersands and Starkmoor) these would be what I would choose over normal questing. I know that without trying them there is a lot of misconceptions going around about how they work, they are not like skirmishes in Lotro at all. A player brings up the IA menu, which consists of a choice of the two zones and a join button, the player is teleported to the zone and placed in a raid group, and a given a simple objective highlighted on the map. Once an objective is completed, the next quest pops up and either the group runs there or gets a teleport button if the new quest is a distance away.

At the moment the IA system doesn't mix well with rifts and invasions, I was in a group holding a wardstone during an event, and somehow a group doing IA got combined and it got a bit crazy with objectives popping up and a daily quest to finish 7 IA quests, that I'd picked up earlier was being completed for me even without taking part. When the zone event ended I could just teleport to where the IA was happening and finish my daily quest. I think this is where this system can go from being good to being exceptional if rifts, events, maybe some open world PvP was incorporated, or some occasional puzzles that slow down the group to communicate a bit more.

To sum it up, this feature is what WoW should be copying rather than skirmishes from Lotro. I have a soft spot for Rift because it does seem to have some good ideas like these, but they seem reluctant in taking enough departures from the status quo and differentiate themselves from the competition.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

[Lotro] Lucky Bags

With the recent release of Update 5, Turbine introduced Steel-bound lockboxes to the game, and it was changed for ever more! These are rare loot drops that require a key to open, this key is also a rare loot drop, but conveniently enough it can be bought for 100 TP in the store. Unsurprisingly, this has generated a lot of uproar on the official forums. On the face of it, it doesn't seem like that big of a deal, but typically this new features comes with a few 'bugs' (which if not intentional are highly suspect).

One 'bug' involves the inability to drag the lockbox out of your inventory to destroy it, with bag space being a premium in the game and with my completely unfounded belief that lockboxes may drop more often than keys, that has annoyed people and the 'official' work around is to try and sell it to someone more foolish, or email it to alts and allow it to be deleted. The other 'bug' is that supposedly some of the items contained within are poorer than intended, like one player shouldn't have only received one pink dye. It is incredibly frustrating for someone invested in the game to see a highly controversial feature added with these 'quirks' and not get fixed ASAP.

One of the main issues players are protesting is this notion that they are introducing 'gambling' to the game, which I don't necessarily agree with. Loot chests are always a random chance, but the inclusion of tokens or rewards that are divided equally, not to mention the positive feeling of defeating encounters overcomes the negatives of the RNG. I doubt the RNG will ever go completely from MMOs, getting tokens turns into a grind fast but having some extra random item drop in addition is enough to sweeten the deal (see the upsurge in raid skirmishes). But the problem about lockboxes is not the random chance, it's the minimum value that a player receives for spending 100 TP, and if there is one then it's being kept firmly under wraps. It's the difference between how 'lucky bags' and a scam are perceived. 

Lucky bags available nowadays are likely more expensive than 100 TP in monetary value, but they usually contain several items, and if a child is not enthused by the toy there is always the sweets and chocolates. If Turbine had decided a minimum value, say each lockbox contained some currency (gold, medallions, seals etc.), some consumable items (store exclusive potions, buff items, scrolls) and a cosmetic item (cloaks, clothes, dyes, that exclusive mount, and the highly desired creep skins that have gotten the PvMP crowd up in arms), one item from each category in each box is where I'd put a minimum value. Asking players to spend 100 TP for a chance of getting junk is not acceptable and people have every right to express their disdain, whereas at least if they decided a minimum value and were open about it and also revealed the chances of obtaining the other rare 'advertised' items, this feature would be more accepted. There is unlikely ever going to be good data available in the community because apparently no-one is opening these lockboxes except for some curious people who got stung once and thought never again.

In the end I don't object outright to these items in the game, I'll happily ignore them while playing but it's the poor conception and implementation that is really dragging my enthusiasm for the game down.

Friday, December 16, 2011

[GW2] The Mesmer Unveiled

So no surprises at all, and Arenanet even got in a jab at the minstrel concept.

When I was speculating before on the key concept of the class, I was working under the premise of having a class based on punishment but without hexes. I'm ambivalent on the way they solved the 'no hexes' stance, they did in fact end up with 'hexes' but they work differently to what came before, though I'm consoled by the fact that these 'pseudo-hexes' seem to work in a better manner. There was one skill revealed that fitted my desired notion of the class, a barrier that if an enemy crosses they are crippled and if an ally moves through they gain swiftness, I'm still holding out that there are more skills with dual purposes like that, but what Arenanet has come up in addition to that beats the expectations I had.

But first those 'pseudo-hexes', one is a new condition called 'confusion' that deals damage whenever an enemy uses a skill. The fact it is a condition rather than a hex is better for two reasons, most classes have a heal that removes conditions or an utility skill that removes them from allies, so condition removal is going to be quite abundant and eliminates having to dedicate a slot to hex removal. The second reason is that the condition is stackable, so one application might be tolerable, but 3 or 4 can really start to hurt, it's no longer all or nothing:

"As of right now, it can actually stack. This means that it does a small amount of damage with one application, but with many applications, it will definitely make someone think twice about attacking!"

The second solution is that they have created phantasms, which appear like a physical manifestation of a hex, so there is a phantasm called 'Backfire' that appears and does damage to the target whenever they use a skill. I like the concept of these entities that look like the caster but have a one-track mind, they seem to have one skill and only target the enemy they were cast on, and linger until they are destroyed or the target dies. The advantage of this mechanic over hexes is that they can be attacked and dispelled by anyone if they choose. I'm in two minds about their appearance, they are purple/pink, translucent shades of the caster, and don't look like clones (which are an exact duplicate of the caster) so their is no possibility of mistaking one for the other, but an appearance that is more unique with a distinct silhouette like a beautiful dream that shatters to reveal an ugly nightmare. The aesthetic of the mesmer is fine, but injecting a little bit of ugly through the phantasms to offset the butterflies and rainbows evident in other skills would be a welcome balance.

"Question: "Have you ever thought about using unique models for phantasms? Seems they aren't meant to be deceptive like clones, so you could make them look pretty vicious if you wanted to."

Answer: "yeah we started out that way, but it ended up being more confusing as it a lot of noisier to combat and made us have to find very different profiles for each creature, when we changed them to being "Duelist, and Mages" we could easily give them weapons and skills that would make what they are doing more clear when it was creatures we where a lot more limited on what each thing could do.""

The other mechanics introduced are solid, the precasting mantras, the pairs of clone skills that work in an inverse fashion, the potential requirement that mesmer players learn to act like they have poor AI routines, fun and games with portals and the shatter mechanic. Of all the classes I'd say the mesmer has the most distinct design, and I can say I'm starting to like it more and more, the 'shattering glass' effect won me over instantly.

In addition to the mesmer information quoted, a reddit AMA by the Arenanet team was a great source of other information, including previously unknown skills, reworks, discarded designs and design goals. and of course the closed beta reveal.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

[Rift] Fast Travel

I mentioned in my initial impressions of the game that fast travel should be a necessity, but I'd like to push that idea a little further.

One question that comes to mind, do sub games really need to give players the constant run around? Themepark games like WoW and Rift seem to be following the trend of streamlining the quest experience into the monotony of going from hub to hub with very little backtracking, having such linear questing requires a straightforward flow in traversing the zone so as not to annoy the player. Could fast travel be a feature to break up the linearity and allow quests to at least expand across a zone if not the world? And that's just questing, Rift's invasions are zone-wide and thus fast travel would be a boon.
The only counter-argument that seems to ever get thrown-up is that it diminishes the feeling of the world, which I always find ridiculous when it's the linear structure of questing and the static nature of the zones that are the biggest culprits. Players could always imagine that whenever they fast travel, it's like whenever a journey is described by a single sentence in a narrative, and nothing eventful occurred, the end.

The simplest solution for Rift, is clicking on the round symbols that are already on the map and instantly travelling to that hub. The cost should be a planar charge. On a sidenote, I had the same three planar charges from the time I landed in Freemarch until I was level 42, only recently did I buy the wardstone upgrade power and the other power that boosts your character against planar creatures, and found them useful enough to start spending planar charges on. If planar charges could be spent on fast travel as well, then these powers might be neglected. Storing up to 5 planar charges might be the solution, the planar charge consumable that can be bought for 500 planarite is a little on the expensive side for low levels. Some other restrictions to fast travel could be to prevent it if the ward stone is destroyed, on the other hand maybe allow free travel when the wardstone is contested. In relation to GW2 should they allow their fast travel for karma only, thus tying fast travel to their events system, rather than the easier to acquire gold?

That's the basic idea, to be a big idea, there should be an additional feature to go along with the fast travel system, a flare that creates a fast travel point that could be used by anyone on the user's faction. The flare would create a focus point, the first person to use it would get charged 1 planar charge and the person using the flare would be charged 1 planar charge as well, the port would then remain for a few minutes and could be used by anyone else for the cost of a planar charge. It could be limited to only being used in proximity to a rift, foothold or an invasion boss, on the other hand if you were using it for a group quest then the players are down a planar charge, and would have to find a rift to replenish the charges some other time.

I really like that it could lend some sociability to a system, even if it's just to signal that you are going to work on a rift, and nearby players see the ping even if they don't choose to fast travel, they could either travel by foot or just be content in the knowledge that other players are nearby working on the content.

Monday, September 19, 2011

[GW2] Little Wonders

So asura week has come and gone, it's always surprises me the amount of coverage these race weeks get, with other games not being so lucky as to get a single acknowledgment about their races. Then again a lot of depth is provided by various persons at Arenanet each race week, it's an example of providing a bit for everyone, while the lore and design articles may pass the bulk of the potential audience the videos are seen by many more. I'm greatly invested in the game at this stage, so every piece was interesting.

Am I going to be rolling one as main? It's still hard to say because at this stage each one of the five races are appealing, I don't think I can decide until I get my hands on character creation. As far as the 'little guys' in MMOs goes, the asura are much more intriguing than most. First thing is the origin of their architecture, basing it on EOTN, I'd have guessed there was south american influence but apparently it's in fact Hindu, which also suggests that they share their name with deities found in Hinduism. Their architecture certainly is impressive, especially seeing Rata Sum from a distance as below, but it has some tough competition already in the game. The notion that they wrought these impressive structures from the earth as monuments to their ambition is bewildering.

Their motivations for doing what they do, is the most intriguing thing for me, and why haven't a race of megalomaniacs destroyed themselves or the planet by this time. This is something that should become clearer interacting with this race in game, and the lore should be interesting and comprehensive if not initially then certainly when Quora Sum is released. The lore does seem to be quite expansive already, someone on the forums spotted that the asura protagonist in friday's story had a quote in the skritt article released previously.

It's impossible to describe asura as cute, the over-sized eyes and if they open their mouth not only do you have those pointy teeth but the snark, snark, snark and more snark spilling out ("Shut your talk-hole, bookah. Every time you open it, you drip stupid all over my floor.", although resorting to a racial slur such as bookah maybe displays some insecurity). Yet the animations were designed to be on the cartoonish side, and my favourite description of them:

"When I look at an asura—particularly one with the larger weapons—I see a character setting events in motion that are larger than himself, or unleashing forces almost beyond his control. If he were less arrogant, maybe he’d hesitate or hold back, but that just doesn’t seem like the asuran way."

The animation is comical and appealing, but it's an overused trope that the smart ones must be bungling boffins, unless of course they are the bad guys where superior intelligence just adds to their frightfulness and is another reason to crush them into oblivion. The Inquest, the evil fraction of the asura actually make a lot of sense with their organisation and preservation of knowledge, but of course they are depraved in their actions and hold up a mirror to the ethical actions of the other asura. Where that goodness derives from is a little unclear, by all accounts they should have tried to take over the world by now.

Arenanet pigeonholed themselves somewhat by sticking with these two restrictions: each profession can be all races, and that there is no difference between races in terms of game mechanics i.e. none move faster than others. Of course this is a pretty common situation in MMOs, but where are the games that there is a noticeable differences between races and not meaningless things like +5 skinning or +20 resistance to nature damage. The charr really should be the fastest moving when they go down on all fours, the norn should hit the hardest and the asura should have the smallest hitbox. An asura should look at tools and gadgets used by engineers and dismiss them as primitive before whipping out their dicrystalline etherizers.It does seem a bit of a cop out to say that some professions are rare for some races and that the players are exceptional individuals, I'll try for some semblance of realism in my choice at least.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

[Lotro] Exceeding Expectations

I had in mind recently a topic along the lines 'why is there expansions anymore?', with an expectation that the forthcoming expansion would be priced about 1500-2500 TP in the store, oh how wrong I was on that prediction.

However, I'm still of the mind that expansions don't work with the free-to-play model. For a start the 'expansion' is now used as an excuse to charge subscribers for content, when the big selling point of being a subscriber is that all content is available for free* (yes there is fine print to the contrary, it's a clause that makes the constant ads on the loading screens something of a joke). By all accounts the RoI 'expansion' amounts to no more content than the mirkwood questpack, two questpacks would have covered it, one for dunland, then another for the Isen fords and Isengard, 700-1000 TP each. I would have prefered this method of delivering the content, if not only for the possibility of getting more timely updates (Dunland in July, Isengard with the delayed instances in November), but also it splits the amount of cash required needed in two portions. I was under the impression that smaller content packages are what is attractive to 'pay-as-you-go' premium players, it certainly appeals to me, buy one now then months later when I get an interest to play again buy the other. In addition, it's a worrying trend that content that was supposed to be in a free update before the 'expansion' and also content delivered later than the release date of the 'expansion' are also termed expansion content, and hence subscribers can be charged for two-thirds of the years content this year.

It certainly is contradictory now that the 'second-class' premiums have the chance to get the best deal by buying the 'expansion' for cash, while players planning to buy the game with saved up TP are having the squeeze put on them because of lifetimers I'm presuming. Codemasters didn't help matters much for offering such a cheap lifetime deal just months before F2P launched, it wouldn't surprise if most players that migrated from Europe were lifetimers, me I couldn't afford the €75 or was that the cost in pounds. It can't be a simple matter for Turbine to come out and say they made a mistake in giving lifetimers points every month, they'd already provided ample bonuses when F2P launched and all content free* in perpetuity. If a lot of the players invested in the game are lifetimers, it doesn't make sense to piss them off while providing more appealing offerings to the more fickle premium crowd, but where are new incomes going to come from then.

I think I'm at the stage where I'm constantly shaking my head at the attempts to see how far gameplay can be divided up and a pricetag placed on it and that players still find acceptable. I pay for content, but the very existence of convenience items is particularly off-putting when there is no onus on developers to streamline and improve the base experience. It's just getting pettier and pettier scrabbling over scraps, with the ethos of 'if we make good content then players will pay us for it' lost to the wind and now it's 'if you pay us we'll make the game enjoyable enough and then you can buy the content to play to your heart's content'. At least Turbine isn't as bad as Funcom, who expect subscribers to pay for non-expansion content or aren't they? With the latest stunt I'm just not sure anymore. It's probably the strongest reason to hope GW2 becomes the top contender when it is released.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

[Rift] Take Two

I was in Rift beta. That's about all I can say on the matter, I got to level 8 on a defiant character, but my old computer was suffering under the strain so my experiences of the game were curtailed. With the recent half-birthday celebrations giving a week of free playtime and having acquired a reasonable powered computer I gave the game a more thorough trial. Initial impressions were positive enough that I bought the game for a tenner and subbed for a month.

I started off on a trial server, which I found to be a big mistake, it was the MMO equivalent of wandering around a ghost ship. I got to about level 14 before heading to Meridian, only to find it strangely devoid of life, NPCs don't count. I couldn't find any larger bags or any item at all on the auction house. Some vague recollection of having casted a glance over Rift news brought to mind that the trial servers are defunct and players can't transfer to them. Despite the undeniable logic that trial players should be on trial servers. The situation was very easy to resolve, just transfer my character to another server, which turned out to be such a quick and straightforward process, I ended up on a bustling RP server in minutes. As far as I could tell, only one high population server was unavailable but all the others were available. All sub games should have this functionality for free, no ifs or buts or please wait.

It's been about one week of my sub, and so far I'm still enjoying it. Questing is only tolerable, I can't take any more of this style of MMO gameplay, finding drops or quest items out in the world is alright but working through a zone quest hub by quest hub is not. The story is interesting enough, there is some quests that are marked with gold backgrounds which I root out and skip the rest, some places I take an interest in the story, other hubs I just skip. On the other hand I love collecting artifacts, attempting to find the cairn and the zone puzzle without cheating. I like the landscapes presented so far, not bland at all despite what I've heard, exploring them and attempting the achievements (especially the ones to find certain places, or jump off heights) is more to my liking than questing.

Rifts are still fun to me, the rest of the population might be ambivalent on occasion, but if I start working on one, then more than likely someone else will pitch in, major rifts are usually avoided. Invasions on the other hand are a different matter, in Silverwood they fire off all the time, and there is usually a few groups working together on them. I've taken part in a few in Stonefield, while there is plenty people who pitch in, there is a higher failure rate so the source stones are harder to acquire, in comparison I managed to kit out a guardian alt in the rare planar gear in Silverwood. There seems to be some new water rifts involving dwarves that are harder than normal rifts, unless I'm mistaken and they are not tied at all to the latest raid, hopefully Trion continues to add new rifts to fill out this aspect. I'd also love invasions to persist for longer when they fail, or for the boss to not despawn after a time, or to spill from one zone to another.

One of the things that annoys me is the lack of instant travel, recall abilities on an hour cooldown just don't cut it anymore. With GW2 out next year with instant travel to multiple places all over a zone and with no cooldown, Trion would be really remiss to not address it. For instance, last night I was working on an invasion in Stonefield, I was in a group of three and we closed three rifts and took down several invasion units. All of the wardstones save one were destroyed, and this last one was at the opposite end of the zone from us, there was never the chance to rally there for a last stand despite flicking the map and seeing about ten invasion forces on their way. Then when we pulled through the boss spawned down at that end too, it was probably designed that way. Even riding straight there, I got there with the boss almost down, merged with the raid, managed a few hits but never received an achievement for my efforts. It was certainly disgruntling, I suppose I must be content with the experience.

The soul system is a case of love/hate, even in beta I was of the opinion that they should really have cut down the talent trees. Is it really engaging to most players to decide the value of + 5% crit chance or +15% dexterity, when you are just starting off and don't have much dexterity it might seem obvious but when does it change, maybe the additional crit is always effective, oh you know what who cares. Or trying to determine the cumulative value of a bunch of talents is better or worse than another. I've always been of the opinion that talents should only be qualitative effects, I've seen the future and it's Diablo 3 and GW2. The ideal for me, is a limited set of abilities and then to add runes or traits that alter these abilities in a distinct manner, even giving an ability a new name. In addition, it would have been more interesting if while you pick three souls, only one could be active at a time, but you can swap freely at any time and adapt to changing combat.

On the plus side the roles feature is great, I've only just bought the first two and already have all three filled and would love if the last two were more affordable. Being able to switch up the style of play between different activities or situations or just for the sake of a change keeps things really interesting.

Will I be subscribing for another month, I'll just keep that under consideration for another three weeks, I'm hoping to see what expert rifts, crafting rifts, the hopefully soon to be released chronicles are about and the escalation of the current world event first to make my decision.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

[GW2] The Mesmer

Well seeing as everyone knows it is coming, I thought I'd jot down a few ideas about the form I think the profession is returning in.

It can be hard to define a profession that was previously built around 'punishment', but have it fit in a game where each profession has more versatility in the roles they can perform, oh and hexes are no more. Mesmers, more than any other class were annoying in the wide array of hexes they had, they might even have used some obscure, useless ones just to mess with my head because I could never remember what most of them did. So the basic mechanic of most mesmer skills is no more, what could they have in their place?

I'm going with the mechanic of 'if the enemy is doing X, then Y condition is applied and/or takes damage', and twinned with the more supportive mechanic 'if your ally is doing X, then Y buff is applied and/or gains health'. I like the symmetry, and it definitely makes for a much more complicated class, but fits with the goal of having the player actively looking at their surroundings and what the enemy and other players are doing than focusing on the UI. There could be some controversy with 'if the enemy is casting a spell, then they are dazed', which is in effect an interrupt, they said they were going to play down interrupts or rather the mechanic of an 'interrupt' is no more, but instead you need to daze, stun, knockback/down/up, so it is a distinct possibility.

What appearance would I give this profession, because I think more than 'mesmer' could fit that mechanic. Arenanet has talked about creating a wide range of archetypes in the game, so there is something pleasing to everyone. There is at least two commonly occurring classes in MMOs that prove quite popular, a martial-artist/monk and a bard/minstrel. It would be odd to see a monk return with limited ally healing, but I'll leave that right there. I'm more drawn to the bard archetype, for the reason that in GW1 most mesmers tend towards the theatrical! Although, bard is likely not the right word more a travelling performer, a player or a trouper. I doubt they would go the musical instrument route which I find a bit silly in most games, but rely on the power of voice, either beguiling enemies or empowering allies. I like the concept of paragon chants and the various names indicating what effect they will have, arias, choruses, ballads and lyrics.

The profession mechanic I'm leaning towards is 'Echo/Refrain', i.e. the player can choose to extend any of their skills for a longer duration. Did I mention I'm a big fan of paragons and looking forward to a potential revamp, so I may be a little biased. Illusions, seem to come up a lot as a suggestion but I don't think it is very likely seeing as it could prove very hard to create a workable mechanic around it. Conjure phantasm/nightmare are something that I'd rather see on a necromancer, like the shadow fiends they already have, and hopefully they'll get other more ghost like minions too. Illusionary weapons if implemented is going to be too like elementalists conjures, who can call a flaming greatsword down from the sky, which would be a hard act to follow.

I can understand why they are delaying the reveal of the mesmer class, the primary mechanics may still be up in the air, after they pigeonholed themselves by deciding against the use of hexes. Whether they are called curses, debuffs, etc in other MMOs, they are so widespread in their use that it's hard to imagine a class that probably should be using them but doesn't, well I gave it my best shot.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

[GW] One Dervish Army

With the EotN bonus rep weekend in full swing I was up that way when I thought I'd give the norn fighting tournament a go. It was mostly to unlock Xandra, but I was making proper attempts to finish it too, it's always been quite challenging to me without resorting to some gimmicky builds or to fill the bar with PVE skills and even then it is sometimes hit or miss to take down Magni. As I was on my dervish I was just trying out a few things when I hit on the build below, which really highlights the strength of the new buffed dervish i.e. fitting so much ability into a single bar.

From left to right: condition removal, blind spamming, hex removal + heal, knockdown + weakness, enchant removal, damage + heal, IAS and anti-knockdown. I was tempted by Armour of Santity but Shield of Force is good to quickly block Magni just after he uses Purge Signet, giving time to blind him again. Even as broad as it is, it could still only complete about 2/3 of the opponents successfully every time, and Magni was about 50/50, though in more skilled hands it would probably be a better ratio, someone who'd have thought to move away as he cleaned off the conditions. Funnily enough Melonni uses the same avatar, and it was really hard to take her down, watching out for mystic regen, to remove it before it undid my efforts. One opponent really stood out, Kisai with blinding surge, which I'd call a hard counter to any melee, even with conviction blindness could not be removed fast enough, at least she only appears in the first round.

Dwayna Vs Dwayna

Tried it on my necro later using the build below, it is a bit hit and miss but it tore through any melee and made Magni himself trivial. Still the dervish build was probably better balanced, and didn't need no PvE skills. At the end the question I'm pondering is that the biggest criticisms that people thrown at the dervish revamp is that there are bars that do far too much for a single character, and I'd agree but whats a good way to temper this newfound resourcefulness without nerfing the class back to where it was with only 1 or 2 workable builds. How do you even balance a profession like that?

Easy Mode

Before energy was quite tight upfront, but now there is hardly any energy problems, so some kind of reversal of the mysticism change, maybe flash enchants could be excluded or the full energy is expended but the longer the player holds on to the flash enchant the more energy they get refunded when that enchant is removed. It would encourage the player to put them up before they plan to use them and hold onto them a while before tearing them down. The armour issue where having just 1 enchant will give the dervish an additional 10 (blessed) + 12 (mysticism) armour, maybe the mysticism buff could give say 1...2..3 armour per enchant, instead of removing it in PvP completely, but not expecting it to make a comeback.

Another criticism that tempered my enthusiasm for the class is that it's a bit mindless to play, sure the spamming and tearing down of enchants is a bit frenetic but it's fun where before it was clunky. Even as a less hardcore player these still concern me, and how it all work out in the end. A dervish was my first character, but I've played more of the game as a warrior, but looking to make a change. I was playing both a ranger and paragon recently, I enjoyed the ranger and the paragon too though the latter is in a similar position to pre-update dervish, but the dervish is appealing now, so that's where I'll be focused with one eye on a paragon update and the other on more dervish nerfs to determine the profession I'll be spending time with in the future. Even though my playstyle is casual, playing a class that might be conceived as easy mode or overpowered or even the reverse in high-end areas is enough to dampen my affections for a class, even to the point that I'd be anxious going into casual PvP because of the stick I'd get. Nevermind I can try to put all that aside and enjoy the class for what it is at the height of it's power, in a game where I find it hard to settle on one class.

A Crowning Achievement
(I've never known any other class to
combine slippers and a dress)

Friday, July 29, 2011

[Lotro] The Thorough

A while ago a deed popped up for my warden upon logging on, and I was left scratching my head what it was connected with, shrugging my shoulders I logged off again, it was one of those quick checking in moments to see if everything was exactly how I left it. It was only this week that I figured out what place the deed was connected with, the name hadn't rung a bell. I was playing through volume 3 book 2 on my burglar and journeying to the Eregion to be sent after a kidnapped dwarf gem-cutter. And the same deed popped up upon finding this place (no I didn’t quite catch the name again) with a 'frightened hero' out front, then it struck me that when I was here on my warden I didn't have the Eregion questpack, so I had missed out on a notable deed tied to the epic story because I didn't have access to Eregion.

Why was it so notable, well getting a fair warning from my less brave counterpart, this place is the best kind of place to explore. It consists of two floors that are connected via multiple doors, with some tricksy parts where some doors can lead to single rooms up above or down below and disconnected from the rest of that floor, rooms with multiple doors, that sort of thing. It's not too hard to figure out, what is hard is making sure you find all 23 places for the deed i.e. being 'thorough'. The simple strategy I used was to pick one floor and work my way around trying every door, then swap to the other floor and connect the dots and try to spot areas where a door hadn't been used, still the last 2 or 3 took a bit of retracing my footsteps to fully complete the deed.

That side-quest with its nifty title for a reward kept my attention for a lot longer than the actual quest, it perfectly suits my personality to explore every nook and cranny for something interesting but on balance the deed is catering more for an achiever than a true explorer who might find delight in spotting some attractive area but often there is little additional content or treasure for taking the time to explore everything that looks interesting, sometimes you might encounter a 'rare' mob because you are going off the beaten track where they are less likely to be killed.

I must admit if I wasn't playing my burglar I probably wouldn't have been so enthused for the actually deed, which is why I leaning towards making him my main for the expansion. My captain has been parked at the dwarven town in Forochel for weeks waiting patiently to enter the mines but I've been there before and know it to be crawling with dourhands, the combination of no stealth, slow killing, confusing passageways and multitudes of mobs is so unappealing I think he may be there for a few more weeks.

The exploration deeds in the game aren't particularly engaging, sometimes like in the Trollshaws where ruins are spread around canyons it can get tricky to work out how to get where you want to go. Secret deeds like climbing the two towers in Mirkwood or the fishing hole in Enedwaith (which I've still not found) are a little more interesting, but not quite up there with eating a piece of old cheese I found in the barrows. The seven swords deed in Angmar was good because there wasn't a quest for guidance, but finding some guys sitting on their own in random places about the landscape wasn't really fun, and then the rewards, a title that wasn't 'of the seven swords' and a 6-man instance that there isn't the slight possibility of getting a group for seeing as it was in East Angmar.The solution is in the game already, walking through the epic book instance you see ghostly scences but they don't give much info, unlike say the flashbacks featuring Gandalf beneath Dol Guldor, but what if they had a bit more drama to them to piece together into a narrative and give clues to where a secret cache might be hidden or how to find some concealed passageways. Something that could be missed if you are not paying enough attention and that need a bit of thought. There does seem to be some light on the horizon with plenty of accounts for GW2 of players going off the beaten track and finding all kinds of events, objects to interact with and not being led there by the nose. Likewise, The Secret World is looking like it will incorporate plenty of puzzling, the need to pay attention to surroundings and spotting clues, with some of the story being played out before the players eyes if they are actively observing. I tempted to give Rift another go, because I never got very far in beta and they seem at least to have things hidden off the beaten track.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Lotro: Legendary Trash

Having just dashed through a few levels towards 60 during the bonus XP weekend, I ended up with bags full to bursting, and one type of item in particular stuck out: legendary items. Over 30 of the damn things I have to flog. There is a few problems with that, I'm premium and only have limited AH slots (5 to begin), but did make a purchase of 5 additional ones to see could I move some of this excess stock faster. When I levelled my warden through Moria a year ago, LIs seemed to sell a lot better, but now it's hard to even get 80s for them. Sure there was a surge in prices with update 2, while LIs above 60 still sell for reasonable amounts, before 60 I couldn't give them away quickly enough. My captain alt is running out of vault space with the damn things. I don’t think I'd have it in me to deconstruct them for a measly 1 relic, if it was 4 or 5 tier 1s, I wouldn’t be complaining at all about it.

I wrote previously on the inventory minigame in Lotro and some improvements have been made, plenty of stuff stacks higher (including hope tokens in the next update, finally!), racial armour recipes have become multi-output. Legendary trash remains the biggest annoyance. I would replace all LI drops, dwarf-tools and khuzdul tablets with a single item, say legendary shards/fragments (stack to a 100 of course), and then all the player has to do is bring the right amount to the forge-master and get a level appropriate LI. Crafters could still make LIs but the recipes would have cheaper shard requirements, as they are adding their skills and materials to the pot.

One other point of contention needs to be rectified, just the whole notion that to make the perfect LI, dozens of other need destroying. No really, vendor 20 SMs for dwarf-tools, get lvl 55 LIs, kill one or two lvl 65 mobs, deconstruct, repeat dozens of times and see how many extraordinary relics you end up with, 1 if you are lucky. Sure there is probably better ways to get relics (tier 4 fused relics, as long as you deconstruct and get 2). Then think of the new addition of levelling a LI to 30 then destroying it for a legacy scroll. It's a wonder that any LI remain in Moria at all, by this stage players have stripped it halls clean of anything valuable like a plague of locusts that they typically mimic.

I'll just wait patiently for the LI update that works like the skirmish soldier setup, i.e. you pick the item type, then it's appearance, damage type, damage bonus, legacies, relics, hit construct and out pops a perfect weapon, no need to be levelled (no ranks/tiers). I would have it so the player only needs to acquire the legacy/damage/bonus scroll once, click on the scroll to permanently learn it (not needing to fill storage with a bunch of scrolls). Bye bye scrolls of empowerment. Not holding out hope because the biggest concern the devs seem to have lately is how to occupy players’ time more than any other. I recently thought about putting together a javelin that had mainly minor legacies, thought a moment longer, then shrugged and went to do something more fun.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Lotro: Orchalwe's Mission, the best quest-giver ever!

Having spent the last week playing through the new content in Evendim, thought I'd jot down a few impressions. Firstly since I was playing the content on my level 38 captain who had done a lot of the quests before the update and then went back and did the new stuff it might be a bit of a fractured experience than someone with a blank slate and I avoided doing chores for hobbits.

I started at the new quest hub at the colossus, which had the highlight of a quest arc that allowed the player to access the top of the colossus for probably one of the best vantage points in the game. Most of the quests were formulaic but there was a greater use of mini-instances, including a single named mob which has an obvious advantage of avoiding players queuing for the kill.

Moving on to Tinnudir, the player is introduced to Orchalwe, the main protagonist so to speak for the rangers’ storyline. He sends the player first to the 'twilight estates', then Ost Forod, across to the Eavespires, the Way of Kings and finally he joins the player for a trek through Annuminas.

The 'twilight estates' were unused points of interest before, now they form part of a quest chain that gives a bit of insight about each one. The mechanic that leads the player around through each one is a book that automatically bestows and completes the quests as the player works through them. Also there is optional quests to find along the way, which can all be turned in at the end of the journey and don't have follow-ups. It's a nice mechanic and hope to see it more often, it is a nice feeling to be given an item and go out on a quest rather than running out and back with errands.

Ost Forod has a new storyline about a pact between the people of that town and the rangers. Except the story is not that well written. Plenty of sour notes, such as being sent out to kill brigands who used to be described as people down on their luck resorting to plundering tombs. The quest describes the task as chasing them off to protect the 'good' people’s livelihood, except in reality it is kill 10 of them. The main story is no better, it first has the player make good on the rangers promise to supply the townsfolk, and then the second half has the player help the townsfolk fulfil their responsibilities of securing the northern areas. And the player is left to think no wonder the relationship broke down if neither side can be arsed to honour their side of the bargain. In the end this arc reaches a climax on the island of Rantost with the Thief-takers Bane instance, which is now soloable.

There is a short detour to the Eavespires, which I mostly skipped, and the tomb robbers’ story is continued at the Way of Kings, having escaped the carnage the player and rangers inflicted at Rantost they row south and land at the most bountiful tombs in the land and make pacts with the Angmarims. There is a design trend that is evident in at all the quest hubs so far, that of the quest wrapper i.e. one NPC gives an overarching quest that involves the completion of several other quests. It's a nice way of organising quest content for players but it's a little boring to have quests at every hub being doled out that way. On the plus side there is some nice tidbits of lore here and the mini-instances are well used again.

On to what is probably the highlight of the new content for me at least, Orchalwe's Mission. Instead of a whole bunch of NPCs clamouring for attention, there is one quest giver of interest (we'll leave aside those other two old quests that don't lead to much and still have their outdated rewards), who gives the player the ability to call Orchalwe. Orchalwe is a essentially a mobile quest-giver than travels with the player, doling out quests at specific locations and is also a dab hand at killing mobs too, in essence he is the best quest-giver ever.

Besides two quests he gives the player when first summoned, one of which leads the player to six targets spread around Annuminas, there are also 13 optional quests that are triggered in certain areas most of which coincide with the main quest but a few are out of the way. It is a real nice way to encourage the player to explore, I found all the entrances to the 3 instances which I wouldn't have known otherwise especially now with 'instance join' and completed two exploration deeds too.

There is a few negatives, Turbine didn't pay enough attention to the difficulty, most players should be able to take on 3 signatures mobs with Orchalwe and his imba heals, with maybe a few close calls and cooldown use, but there is a few sticking points with patrolling mobs, 4 or more signatures and fast respawns that are impossible. The best solution at present for what is supposed to be soloable quest arc, is let Orchalwe and/or your pet aggro the mobs, run to the quest item, activate it and run away again. Having died a few times trying to get past one point in particular with a named signature, it was particularly galling to find the waypoint is outside the city and ensures a long run back to the action. And finding all 13 optional quests is just crying out for a hidden deed or something, a real missed opportunity.Hope there is more quest-givers like Orchalwe in the future, it does make for a refreshing change, than suffering the useless lumps at say for example Ost Forod.