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.