#TSW Monthiversary

My butchery of the English language truly knows no bounds.  Yesterday I pulled together the word “troubulation”, a mixture of troubles and tribulation.  Today I am either coining or stealing the term “Monthiversary”, because today is the one month anniversary of the launch of The Secret World.  It has been one great month, and was capped by the release of the first of the monthly content updates:  Issue #1 (patch 1.1) Unleashed.

EHMERGAHD!

TheSecretWorldDX11 2012-07-03 20-26-38-08I find it amusing that to date, I have yet to do one of my traditional “omg you have to play this” posts for the game.  I think the reasoning is twofold, firstly I was informed that it has become almost stereotypical for me to say something is the “best game ever”.  Looking back and my posts, and tweets and google plus ramblings…  I can see the pattern.  This game deserves so much more than one of my now clichéd “EHMERGAHD BORST GERM EVAH” post.

Secondly, I’ve come to the realization that it is so much harder to blog about something, when you cannot fathom stopping playing enough to actually write.  For the first few weeks after release, I simply could not be bothered to stop playing the damned game long enough to put words on paper.  So while I had topic after topic swirling around in my head, I’ve reached a level of obsession that I have not had since the early days of Everquest and World of Warcraft.

Never Judge a Book by it’s Author?

TheSecretWorldDX11 2012-07-04 22-11-28-41 (1)The Secret World has been an interesting experiment to me.  Funcom is a company that I had pretty much written off based on the fact that I never really enjoyed either Anarchy Online or Age of Conan.  So while all the trailers really played into all of my sci-fi/horror obsessions, I just did not want to believe that this company that had left a bad taste in my mouth, could produce a product I wanted to play.  I even had friends argue with me, about how frankly stupid it was for me to judge this company based on experiences from a decade ago.

I’ve come to realize over time that I am often very wrong, and I’ve never been so happy to admit it before.  After the very first open beta weekend, I knew I was hooked and would be for a long time.  I wrote up my beta weekend impressions, which apparently some thought were negative, but immediately afterwards I went out to the Secret World website and ordered my lifetime subscription.  The game brings something to the genre that has been sorely missing in the last few games I have played:  Copious amounts of “Fluff”.

Pen and Paper Experience

TheSecretWorldDX11 2012-07-03 16-53-31-91Playing The Secret World, feels like playing under every great pen and paper game master.  You know those GMs that take the time, to think everything through, and provide lots of handouts for the players?  Ragnar Tornquist is one of those game masters, and we are together playing one of the best “modules” I have ever experienced.  I know, there I go with the hyperbole again… but damnit it is true.  This game reminds me of every good tabletop gaming experience I had over the years.

Funcom and The Secret World team has created this living, breathing world that we get to go adventuring in.  Everything works like you think it should, you can look up addresses in the phone books, execute commands on the computer terminals, and in game references work like they would in the real world.  The world and atmosphere, just feel right, and there is a constant uneasy quality to everything you do.  You know you are treading in a world on the edge of oblivion, the music, the scenery, and the interactions keep you constantly aware of this fact.  On top of all of this the writing and story is simply amazing.

Oh the Tales They Tell

TheSecretWorldDX11 2012-07-07 10-45-25-06I know I went on at length about the story telling experience behind Star Wars: The Old Republic.  That game featured some of the best interactive storytelling I had experienced in a video game.  The Secret World really raises that bar, while SWTOR was good for a game, some of the dialog in TSW stacks up against some of the best novels I have read.  While I cared about my character and direct companions in SWTOR, I actually care about almost every character in The Secret World.  You never interact with generic imperial officer number 47 here, every character has a motivation, unique mannerisms, and a story that is worth finding out about.

With the first monthly issue, they are going back and fleshing out the tale of Carter, one of the most endearing characters from the Innsmouth Academy.  When I originally quested through the Savage Coast, this was one of the many characters I really wanted to learn more about and sure enough they are giving it to us.  I really look forward to learning more about the characters I have come to love.  There have been several nights I’ve been on mumble, with friends, discussing this or that character and what we thought of the outcome of a certain quest.  Of course, keeping our thoughts and opinions bottled up until everyone in the channel had completed it, often becomes painfully difficult.  But we have a firm no spoilers rule.

Proof is in the Playing

tacomemeI can blather on and on about my love of this game, and of the tacos.  But you won’t understand either reference completely until you’ve actually sat down and played the game.  Luckily for you, in honor of their first month, and the release of their first content pack…  they are allowing anyone at all to play for free this weekend.  From today, August 3rd at 4PM GMT until Monday, August 6th at 7AM GMT all players with a Funcom account can download the game, log in and try it out themselves. They are hosting a meta-game this weekend as well, where you can win a special in-game t-shirt and 1200 bonus points for completing 30 missions during the event.

So if you find yourself wandering what all the excitement is about, download the game and play it for a few days.  The truth of The Secret World, is that it takes probably 12 hours minimum gameplay for you to really grasp the complexity and intricacy of the game.  Saying that, I know now that this game will not be for everyone.  I’ve said it before, but the game is a niche game, and completely knows it is a niche.  I will not hold your hand, and tell you what you should be doing.  Often the developer takes an almost cruel pleasure in “trolling” the players, but behind all of this is an extremely rich gameplay experience.

You Have to Decide

TheSecretWorldDX11 2012-07-07 21-28-33-32 (1)I think a third reason behind me not doing a “Why you should be playing Secret World” post, is that for the first time in a long time I cannot say with any certainty that this is the game you should be playing.  The Secret World is a very personal experience, and each player will find things they like and dislike about it.  This is not a “shoot down the middle” and “target all the things” type game.  You have to work for your fun here. If you are looking for a theme park ride, expect it to try extremely hard to kill you in the process.

What I can tell you, is that the game is extremely rich and rewarding.  That the team behind it is extremely open to the community, and offers some of the best customer support I have ever seen.  I’ve gotten every single ticket I have opened answered in person by game staff, and in all cases within 15 minutes.  They have amazing folks supporting the community like Amber Skinner (@Morteia) and a Creative Director that constantly responds directly to tweets.  While there are numerous bugs, all of this and their dedication to keep ironing things out makes the game enjoyable to experience.

Ultimately, you are going to have to download the game, put in some hours of game play and determine whether or not it is right for you.

On SWTOR and F2P

While I anxiously wait on The Secret World to patch in the background, I thought I would take a few minutes to respond to today’s big “un-news” story.  Pretty much every news source from IGN to Forbes is reporting that Star Wars: The Old Republic will be going to the free to play model by this fall.  I am not really sure if this was any surprise, since in mid-june there was another similarly placed article hinting that Bioware was looking at the model.

Roar of the Crowd

What is also fairly unsurprising is the immediate upwell in the gaming community, including much wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth.  This really should shock no one at this point, and is really deserving nothing more than a polite “I wish them well”.  I know for me personally, the subscription fee was no barrier, and had nothing at all to do with my reasons for leaving the game.  I completely believe in the concept of voting with my dollar, and I have no problem supporting the causes I believe in.

By that token, I guess you can state that I just stopped believing in Star Wars: The Old Republic.  It was an amazing rollercoaster ride of riveting story.  But at the end of the day, there just was not enough content to hold my attention.  By the same token, I don’t feel a need to “Rage against the machine” and try and bring the game down.  I still have several friends playing it, and reportedly they are still enjoying themselves.

Enter the Pundits

I find it annoying that this move is being treated like the sign of something bigger.  On one side we have groups of players that are mad at the game, feel betrayed by it, and are already signaling this as the desperate act of a dying game.  On the other side you have groups chanting “death to subscriptions”, and ushering this move in as the beginning of a brave new era.  I tend to think this is the act of a company, doing what they feel is best for their product.  While this might be the highest profile conversion, it is far from the first, and likely will not be the last.

While I personally find the subscriptions a much more honest business model, Free to Play is not necessarily a bad thing.  I know at least in the case of the games I have played, the free to play status has done a lot to lower the barrier of entry.  I’ve seen the server populations bolster in Everquest 2 since the conversion.  While there are a lot more ruffians on my roleplaying server, the vast majority have been seemingly well mannered.  The only thing I am uncertain of, is whether or not these players actually stick around for the long haul.

Negativity and Zealotry

I think one of my biggest frustrations with this whole situation is that there will be so much negativity in the coming days from all the camps.  I realize this makes me seem like a hypocrite, because I’ve ranted about more than my fair share of games in the past.  If you look back through my archives you can see many an angry tale featuring my favorite boogeyman, the dreaded Blizzard.  I would like to think that over time I have mellowed.

I’ve reached a point where I am just tired of both the rampant negativity and zealotry in the community.  Do we have to hate all other games just because we are playing something different?  If we love a game, do we have to shove it in everyone else’s faces until they accept our choice as the “one true game”?  I guess I have reached a place where I am happy to play the games I like, but equally happy to hope the other games succeed as well.

We Need More Success

We have built a zero sum climate in massively multiplayer gaming, that really doesn’t need to exist.  While every game is in essence competing with the games that came before it, when did we start having to tear the others down?  I feel like in order to keep the MMO culture thriving, we need each one of these games to find their own niche, and their own kind of success.  Ultimately we have to redefine what success means, because there will likely never be another 10 million subscriber game.

I know personally I have stopped looking for a WoW Killer that will never exist. So long as we keep using that as the bar for success, we are setting every game up for a failure.  Maybe I have grown up a bit, but right now I am just looking for some enjoyment in whatever I play.  Currently that happens to be a mixture of The Secret World, Everquest 2, and World of Warcraft. 

While I have joked that “If you don’t like TSW, you have no soul”, I do not literally mean that.  Not every game, has to appeal to every player.  I think part of what has had me so excited about The Secret World for example, is that it is a very niche game, and seems to be happy with that fact.  We need more games that are OK with catering to a specific niche.  We as players, need to be okay with not winning the subscription race and playing the game with the most people.

No Free Ride

So I think this announcement heralds neither the doom of Bioware or the subscription model for that matter.  Players will always be willing to pay good money for good content.  Free to play, simply means that these companies are giving us the game, and hoping we like it enough to give them money in return.  Ultimately we the players have to fulfill that social contract and give them that hard earned money in one form or another.  If you don’t then honestly you are just a drain on that games community.  At the end of the day someone has to pay for it, because there is no such thing as a free ride.

#TSW Automatically Join Custom Chat Channels

Today is the big patch day, and I am having to pacify myself by listening to The Secret World soundtrack while at work.  We’ve had report from in game, that custom chat channels are now working again.  You have to rejoin the channel when you first log in, and then reportedly the tab stays bound.  That said, it is probably still safest to use the Auto Join script.

This won’t be a “real” post, but I wanted to throw together a quick howto for setting up the Auto Join scripts.  Credit goes to Scopique of Levelcapped for tipping me off to this existing in the first place.

Creating Auto Login

  1. Find your Secret World install directory, this is typically “C:\Program Files\Funcom\The Secret World”.
  2. If you do not already have a scripts directory, create one aka “Scripts”.
  3. Inside the “C:\Program Files\Funcom\The Secret World\Scripts” directory, create two new files:  “auto_login” and “auto_teleport” with no extensions.
  4. Edit each file so that it contains the following lines:
   1: delay 5000

   2: /chat join channelname password

I’ve found that in order to get this working correctly, you do not need the normal chat channel # sign.  When you log into the game auto_login gets executed, and when you zone auto_teleport gets executed.  If you have a chat tab bound to this channel, it should automatically pick up on the newly joined channel.

If I figure out a way to automate the re-binding of the Cabal tab on zone, I will update this post to include it.  For the time being it looks like 1.1 has not fixed that problem yet.

#TSW Fun with Shotguns and Blades

It has been several days since I finished the main storyline in The Secret World, and I have neither had the strong desire to play an alt, nor any sense of boredom and lacking things to do.  So far so good, if anything I feel even more fanboy-ish than I have been to this point.  Today I listened to the second of the Secret World live developer streams, and I am really pumped about the 31st update.

So while I am geeking out as a fanboy, I am trying really hard not to do so in an offensive way.  Honestly one of my biggest turnoffs with Guild Wars 2 in general, has been the army of militant fans that appear to bludgeon down anyone who might question that title.  I really want the TSW community to be different than that, so I feel hyper conscious about how my current love of the title might translate to the “un-initiated”. 

So while I might joke that not liking the game, means you have no soul…  I completely understand that the game is not going to be for everyone.  The Secret World is this awesome niche title, that a year a go I would not have thought could exist in the modern MMO market.  It is this odd intersection of Harry Dresden, Harry Potter, H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, Clive Barker and James Bond.  The world is almost tailor fit to the type of stories I love reading, but it will not be right for everyone.

Of Shotguns and Blades

There has been a lot of talk about builds lately amongst my group of friends.  For the most part everyone is branching out and trying to figure out what works best for them.  Overall the faction template decks seem nice, but in practice each of us ends up fiddling with things to suit our own needs.  Each of us seems to be building towards the deck we want the costume for, while creating our own custom made mix of abilities.

Personally I chose both Shotguns and Blades for pure geeky reasons.  I love using shotguns in any game that allows it, in Doom I made a beeline for the double barrel shotgun each time and never looked back.  In fantasy games, I must have a sword in my hand, and I am never quite happy until I am wielding one.  So giving me a game where I could do both, pretty much meant I knew exactly the build I would be going towards.  Even if it sucked, I would likely be playing this combination… but oddly enough it works really well together.

How the Deck Works

One of the cool synergies between both Blades and Shotguns is that both have a good number of abilities that either increase your chance of landing a penetrating hit, or doing something really cool when you do.  In addition to this, I have built pick up some claws abilities that make it really easy to drop a target into an afflicted state, which mixes nicely with a swords finisher that exploits this condition.  So essentially this deck is all about landing a penetrating blow, that starts a cascade effect.

The build works around three abilities for the most part.  First is Twist the Knife, that you will see below.  Essentially when you penetrate your target gains an ability that stacks to three, that increases all damage dealt by 3% for 10 seconds.  Each time you penetrate, it resets the stack timer.  To make sure we keep penetrating, I throw in the next ability:  Fatal Flourish.  Each time you apply afflicted you gain +30 Penetration for 8 seconds, which stacks to 10.  Finally I have thrown in the Bloodsport ability from the Claws tree, that sets and afflicted state anything you hit the mob.

Shotgun and Blades Deck

Blades Abilities

shotblade_four_seasons

Four Seasons

Four Seasons is the epic ability I have chosen for this deck.  Essentially it serves two purposes.  Firstly since this deck is all about starting a cascade effect when you penetrate, this allows me to land four guaranteed penetrates.  The second  purpose, is this doubles as an interrupt, since the fourth hit stuns the target.

 

shotblade_bamboo_cutter

Bamboo Cutter

Since most of this build is AOE based, I went with Bamboo Cutter as my melee builder.  This is essentially a low threat version of the Blade Torrent ability from the inner blades wheel.  This is pretty much my spam button when I can be near a target.

 

shotblade_clear_the_path

Clearing the Path

There are multiple good AOE and single target resource dumps in the blades trees.  I have friends that swear by Chop Shop, but for the purpose of this build, since I will be setting the afflicted state I chose this ability.  If you notice, this attack will automatically penetrate any afflicted target.  Which only services to keep the cascade effect going.

shotblade_flight_of_daggers

Flight of Daggers

Going along with the AOE theme, this epic passive causes 3 enemies near you to take a direct damage hit, and gain an affliction that deals damage over time.  This ability procs on every fifth hit, so you will be throwing out a ton of “daggers” as you go.

shotblade_twist_the_knife

Twist the Knife

This is really the ability that started the theme of the deck.  When you penetrate, you gain a stacking buff that when fully stacked increases all of your damage by 9%.  We want this stacked to three as quickly as possible, and to always maintain a full stack.

shotblade_fatal_flourish

Fatal Flourish

This is the ability that is going to make sure that you are penetrating by stacking a buff each time we apply afflicted.  It stacks up to 10, and each stack grants 30 penetration.  Since Bloodsport is making us apply afflicted each time we hit the target, by the 10th time we have struck the mob we will have +300 penetration.

shotblade_sudden_return

Sudden Return

This is one of those no-brainer fillers.  Each time I penetrate I deal a small bit of extra damage.  Build is set up so that I penetrate constantly, so this is just free damage.  When I need to swap things around for certain fights, this is one of the abilities I can easily drop without losing any real effectiveness.

shotblade_martial_discipline_regeneration

Martial Discipline and Regeneration

You might be asking yourself… “Bel, I thought you were DPS in this game, why do you have a tanking ability?”.  One mantra I have always lived by regardless of the MMO, is “Dead DPS do no damage”.  While this combination takes up both an active and passive slot, it is completely worth it.  Essentially every 45 seconds you can hit an ability that will greatly reduce the amount of damage you are taking, and heal yourself.  This ability has saved my ass more times than I can count, and often times is the reason why I can solo nightmare content.

Shotgun Abilities

shotblade_striker

Striker

This is my shotgun ranged builder of choice.  There are many builder options in Shotgun, but so far this feels like one of the better picks as it has a really good range.  Raging Bullet seems like a great pick, but in order to get the maximum effect you have to stay close range.  If I can be in range, I tend to be using swords attacks.

shotblade_sure_shot

Sure Shot

This is my all purpose ranged dump.  It does slightly less damage than Out for a Kill, the basic single target ranged dump.  However when I am grouping it comes in handy, since it has the added benefit of purging 1 detrimental effect from you, and 1 beneficial effect from the mob if the mob is in a hindered state.  I have other abilities that I can swap in and place the mob into a hindered state, namely swapping Flight of Daggers for Close Quarters that causes me to apply hindered each time I hit within close range.  When grouping, someone is usually applying hindered.

shotblade_scatter_shot

Scattershot

This is my favorite AOE builder so far.  Essentially it will hit your target, and 5 enemies within 5 meters of the target.  This is really useful for packs of mobs, and often times I can have the pack dead before they reach me if I am kiting them.  At the very least within a sword AOE or two they die.  Found this super useful in instance fights where packs of mobs spawn that the DPS needs to handle.

Fist Abilities

shotblade_bloodsport

Bloodsport

This ability is one of the three that really make this build work.  Anytime you hit a target, it becomes afflicted with a DOT that stacks up to 3 times.  Several abilities in the build rely on either applying afflicted or hitting an afflicted target.  This is the easiest way to make sure this happens.

shotblade_salt_in_the_wound

Salt in the Wound

This is another no-brainer filler ability.  Bloodsport causes me to constantly be applying afflicted, and this ability deals extra damage when this happens.  Once again this is basically free damage to the target.  Just like Sudden Return however, this is one of those slots that I can freely swap in other abilities as needed without losing build effectiveness.

Why I Love This Build

Aside from simply liking both Shotguns and Blades, and the visceral feel of using both, this build gives me a good deal of both survivability and versatility.  The Secret World is a game about constant movement, and during most fights I find myself shifting back and forth between needing to be close to the target, and needing to be at a safe distance from any point blank AOE.  This build gives me the ability to shift back and forth between ranged and melee without every having to stop attacking.

I like the feel of the cascading effect of Twist the Knife and Fatal Flourish working together.  As the fight goes on, I keep dealing more and more damage until the mob dies.  This has allowed me to burn through many encounters I just should not be able to take on.  I’ve managed to solo a good deal of the lair and nightmare content, so long as I take it carefully and stick to single and sometimes double pulls.

No amount of damage dealing however could really account for that.  The fact that I put Martial Discipline in the build gives me enough survival to be able to stay up long enough to finish off the mobs.  Last night in Elite Darkness War, I kited the boss for the last 50 seconds of the fight after everyone had died, and managed to pull out the victory.  I had to hit Martial Discipline twice, and take a healing potion, but I was able to stay up long enough to whittle down the bosses health.  Basically the build lets me tackle pretty much whatever I want to do, and with some careful planning survive.

#TSW: The Atmosphere

The Secret World has been out just shy of a month now, at least for those of us who pre-ordered.  At this point I have racked up roughly 170 hours, including some played when Raptr was not watching.  As of last night, I have completed the main storyline of the game.  I still have a good chunk of Romania to complete, but as we got into the last bits of storyline it was like reading a book that you just couldn’t put down.  I had to keep moving the main quest along to see the conclusion.

I am not sure what all I can say without giving anything away, but I will suffice to say I am looking forward to the monthly episodic updates.  To point if you divide it out, I’ve put in a bit longer than 20 hours of gameplay per zone.  All through Solomon Island, I was running about 35 hours per zone.  So why did my time spent in a give zone get shorter?  Well honestly the story just kept getting better, and I felt the drive to see the next tidbit all the faster.

As a result I’ve left a good chunk of content to go back and experience in every zone since and including Blue Mountain.  I have lore and quests to find, places to explore, and buckets of AP to earn.  I am still extremely happy with my shotgun/swords build, and as a result I am pretty much chasing down the various other decks now to get the outfits unlocked.  Currently I have Paladin and Puritan, and will likely finish out Executioner tonight if I get the time.

Normally this is the point at which I get the desire to start an alt.  Odd thing is, this time, the way that Secret World is set up, I feel like I still have so much more of the world to see and do.  I’m slowly working on getting the various Elite dungeons done with some friends, and am still miles away from being able to challenge the Gatekeeper and unlock Nightmare modes.  One of my guilty pleasures right now is running around the world, soloing Lair and Nightmare content.

I think more than anything the thing that is keeping me absolutely hooked is the lore and atmosphere.  This is the first time in a long time, that I want to know everything I can about the game world, its settings, and the characters.  So much of the game feels familiar to me, as I spent years playing the various World of Darkness games, renting B horror movies, and reading up on as much occult lore as I could get my hands on.  Stepping into The Secret World has been like discovering an old friend that I somehow neglected along the way.

I completely blame MMOGC for this post, because she talked about going back and watching the various trailers that were released for the game.  Of course I had to go back and do the same.  What shocked me the most is just how accurate a view of the in game atmosphere they give you.  Looking back I found myself noticing little places like the Horned God Bar in London, that how have become rather familiar.  This is the first time in a long time that a series of pre-launch videos give a really accurate portrayal of what the player can expect.

So now I will break for the gratuitous videos!

 

Everything is True Trailer

 

Dragon vs Hellspawn Trailer

 

Templar vs Revenant Trailer

 

Illuminati vs Failed Experiment Trailer

 

Tokyo Incident Trailer

 

Pre-order Trailer

 

Blue Mountain Trailer

 

Launch Trailer
If these videos don’t make you want to go home and play, then nothing likely will.

If you still want more of The Secret World, you should totally check out the Enochian Frequency podcast.  I’ve long been a fan of Petter Mårtensson and his podcasts Claims of the Normal (with Breki Tomasson and Arkenor Oakshadow) and The Three MMOsketeers (with Arkenor Oakshadow and Teppo Tastic), and this one brings the same kind of “not too hardcore, not too casual” mix to The Secret World.  You should add it to whatever podcast program you use and listen frequently (as well as to the other podcasts, though Claims is winding down sadly).  These are pretty much the only podcasts I try and make a point of listening to each week.

Assorted Secret World Tips

On June 29th The Secret World head start began, and from that point on I have been pretty radio silent.  I’ve mulled over what to post, but each evening when it came down to the decision of blogging or playing… the game has won out.  This is the first game in awhile I have had the burning drive to go home and log in each night.  At this point, it is a little far past the appropriate time for a launch impressions post, so I’ve decided to completely skew that and go in a different direction.

Quite honestly the game is just so much better than I originally expected it to be.  While it is most definitely not going to be the game for everyone, it seems to have nailed pretty much all of my triggers.  For years I have said that if a game ever released, that had as detailed of a world as Everquest 2, and a fun combat system I would be hopelessly hooked.  So far it is shaping up that The Secret World might just be that game. 

It still has some pretty major bugs, both in quests and the game client itself.  Right now the chat system is a complete mess, with all of your configuration settings for your chat tabs getting reset every time you zone.  Hopefully with times these growing pains will work there way out.  They have been releasing patches pretty frequently, and have set a pretty lofty goal of a new episodic content patch each month.  Only time will tell if they can live up to these.

Tips for a more pleasant experience

The Secret World if nothing else is a very unique and different take on the MMO game.  As a result there is a pretty steep and often times brutal learning curve.  There are numerous little things I have come across, or figured out that I think will ease the transition.  This is by no means an exhaustive list, but more some bullet points I think are worth mentioning.

Get Your Secondary Weapon Fast

Regardless of your faction, part of the quest line takes you to some sort of outfitter where you can play with the different weapons and pick your primary.  The combat system doesn’t really come into it’s own until you have two weapons.  Various combinations play off one another, and your builders build resources for both weapons at the same time.  You can get some quick burst damage by dumping both weapons at the same time.  The problem is that it might take you a bit to acquire a second weapon naturally through gameplay.  One poorly documented feature is that after completing your initial weapon quest, you can simply walk right back into the room and pick up a secondary weapon.  The NPC tells you that you can come back at any time if you want to change weapons, but it isn’t implied that you get to keep your original choice as well.

Melee and Ranged Together

One of the things I have noticed, is that this game seems to like to present you with conditions where you will need to melee down something, or kite something, and often times during the same encounter.  My friends who have chosen a melee/ranged combination like myself seem to be moving through the content pretty seamlessly.  However those who have chosen a pure melee, or pure ranged path seem to often times be gimped in some manner.  Being able to quickly switch between a ranged encounter and a melee encounter just seems to make life a bit easier.

Melee Paths
  • Blades
  • Chaos
  • Fist
  • Hammer
Ranged Paths
  • Assault Rifle
  • Blood
  • Elemental
  • Pistol
  • Shotgun

Personally I have chosen Blades and Shotgun, because it fits my personality and what I wanted in a character.  But any combination of ranged/melee seems to work fairly well.  Once again TSW seems to be a game that really hates pure melee characters, but I have noticed some limitations on the pure ranged characters as well.

Getting Stuck?

While there are still a few bugged quests out there, the vast majority of the time, we simply don’t know where to look for the answer.  The Secret World is a game that prides itself on forcing us to use our noggins.  So often we are used to the game providing us a trail of neatly placed breadcrumbs that end up in a very obvious answer.  TSW tends to give us some pretty general clues, and then relies on the player to apply some real world logic to determine the results.  It is really hard to give some non-spoiler examples, but if you were give a clue about a seat of power, you might end up needing to use a phone book to determine the street address of city hall.  Often times during these quests they expect you to use the in game browser to Google the clue, or look up results on Wikipedia.  In addition to the in game assets, Funcom has created a wide number of real life websites for the corporations and locations talked about in game, each of them littered with clues.  Before you give up and get frustrated, just make sure you are using all of the resources available to you.

Bags Getting Full?

The game really provides us a lot of options for storage.  First off, a good number of my friends have missed the fact that London has a bank.  It is located through the park, behind Pangaea and beside the Tabula Rasa fight club.  In addition to this, both your bank and bags have the ability to add more slots.  They start out rather cheap, and by the time you get to where I am at 130 slots, it is roughly 150k to add 10 more.  In addition to bag storage, I periodically compact by bags by breaking everything I am not in need of to crafting materials, and then upsizing them as much as possible.  Each crafting material can essentially be converted up to a higher level at a cost of 5 to 1.  If you need the lower level materials again, you can convert back at a slightly loss getting back 4 materials instead of the original 5.  I’ve habitually broken down everything I have gotten that I could not use myself, and have in general had plenty of materials to craft glyphs, weapons and talismans, yet still be able to afford repairs and travel speed increases.

Mobs Too Difficult?

If you encounter an area of the game where the mobs simply feel too difficult, there are multiple variables you can tweak to improve your performance.  The game seems to gauge difficulty on a murky scale of multiple factors.  Essentially you are likely being held back either by overall weapon quality, or your weapon and talisman skills.  One of the things I wished I had done from the very beginning was run my primary weapon, secondary weapon, and all 3 talisman skills all the way to 10.  Maxing your talisman skills gives you a massive buff in your overall hit points, and maxing your weapon skills greatly reduces the occurrence of glancing blows.  As a result you have better survival, and can kill your mobs faster. 

Any given weapon has two different skill paths.  In the example of blades, there is a damage path that increases the damage you deal, and a survivability path that heals you back a little bit now and then.  One of the mistakes I did early, was try and level both blade skills, both shotgun skills and keep my talismans even.  While it added a bit of survival, it simply meant I was slower to max out any one skill.  If I had it all to do over again, I would level shotgun damage, blade damage, and the 3 talismans equally until I maxed them.  I plan on going back and eventually maxing out the secondary skill for each weapon, but getting to 10 on any one has the effect of reducing your glances, and allows you to equip those higher level weapons.

No Shame in Farming

If you are still struggling, then likely it is the other side of the equation…. your gear.  At several points during my leveling I have found some sweet spots for collecting gear.  Each zone you encounter has a certain level range of drops.  Kingsmouth of example has QL1, QL2 and QL3 drops, Savage Coast is QL3, QL4, and QL5, and Blue Mountains has QL5 and QL6.  In each case there are some relatively easy spots to hunt mobs that drop the highest level loot in the zone.  I spent large amounts of time in each zone trying to fill out my gear before moving on.  In Kingsmouth, the best place hands down is the field near the junkyard full of Mud Golems.  You should be able to start soloing these pretty early on, once you learn their tactics, and they reliably drop QL3 gear or at least cash/runes.  In Savage Coast, the sweet spot for me seemed to be the Draugr just off the dock near Red’s bait and tackle shop.  These guys can be solo pulled, and pretty reliably drop QL5 greens.  Blue Mountain was a bit more difficult, but there are camps of Deep Spawn near the Agartha portal.  Several of these are easily single pulled, and pretty reliably drop QL6.

New Clothing

One of the big complaints I have seen against the item shop, is the impression certain players have that this is the only way to change your outfit in game.  First up, there are many ways to get new clothes without spending a dime on the cash shop.  There are many items that you can pick up through quests or through skill unlocks.  Dulfy has a compilation of all the items and how to get them, that she keeps pretty regularly updated.  In addition to this, there is the Pangaea store in London.  In it you can choose from hundreds of items, purchased using the in game Pax currency.  Dulfy has a nice compilation of the various fashions for women, but I assure you there are just as many cool looking options for guys.  It is reported that in the 31st patch, we will be seeing additional clothing stores, with hopefully more options.

Keep That Weapon Graphic

If you find a weapon that you really like the look of, you can keep that appearance indefinitely, it just takes a little work.  In every zone, there will be a camp (usually several) of Council of Venice personnel. These camps sell various items for the token currency you earn through completing quests.  This is a great way to get blue weapons and talismans, as well as various crafting kits.  In addition to all these things, there is a rather unassuming item they sell.

Casting Kits cost 30 tokens, and are used in changing the appearance of an item.  A word of warning, using the kit will consume the weapon you are “stealing” the appearance of.  Essentially you purchase a casting kit, and open your crafting window with Y.  Place the kit in the tools slot, and the weapon you want to take the appearance from in the materials window.  This will destroy the original weapon, but give you a blade mold in its place.  Finally take the weapon you want to apply the graphic to and blade mold into the materials window, just like if you were swapping a glyph.  The end result will be the appearance of the weapon you used to create your mold, applied to your current weapon.  I’ve used this process numerous times now to keep the Tyrfang appearance from Polaris on whatever I was using as my current blade.

Tacos are Tasty

Finally I have a super important tip, at least if you like Tex-Mex.  In the Haitian Market, which is located in the Darkside neighborhood of London, there is a vendor that sells Tacos.  If you have perused your achievements you will notice an achievement called "Tex-Mex T. Rex" for eating 7,460 tacos.  Thing is this is not just a vanity item, anytime you eat a taco, it massively buffs your out of combat regeneration for a short time.  Always keep a stack handy for those situations where you might be getting another mob any moment.  You can regenerate back to full pretty quickly while aided by their crunchy goodness.

The Illusion of Choice

Before this past week, I had not really followed the news about the Mists of Pandaria expansion apart from a mention here or there in my RSS reader.  So now that I am leaving the wow-free zone that I have created for myself, I am trying to catch up on all the tidbits of progress.  I admit, when I first got wind of the expansion I was just as bitter and cynical as the rest of the “kung-fu panda and pokemon” complainers.  I am not sure if it is the long leave, or the news I am reading itself but I am looking forward to it.

Never a Real Choice

One of the big complaints that did manage to invade upon my fortress of wow-less solitude, was the “dumbing down” of the talent trees.  When I first heard the news, like a good chunk of my friends, I was full of rage over them needlessly simplifying a process that already worked “just fine”.  I bemoaned switching to a system that gave up choice in favor of “hand holding”.  My talent trees should be tall and full of many widgets to click on, the way they always were!

I have come to the realization that despite the “illusion of choice” and multiple options, in each tree there was really only one viable path.  There are roughly 68 DeathKnights in my guild, and apart from  no more than a 5 talent difference, each us has almost the exact same blood tanking build.  For each class, and each tree, there has always been one spec agreed upon by the community to be head and shoulders above the rest.  So while it always felt like we had tons of options, in reality if we wanted to play on any serious level, we were going to go with the agreed upon path.

The thing is, this has been the case in every game I have played that has some sort of a talent system.  Rift added a bit more depth to the system, but the same winning combos were there as well.  This was so much the case that between my times playing it, they have added this nifty system that tutors you through speccing into one of these agreed upon paths.  This was a breath of fresh air, since with 9 potential talent trees to juggle per class, plotting a course became extremely arcane.

Freedom to Fail

The point of view I have eventually come around to is one that I would have argued until I was blue in the face a few years back.  In the end, all having a talent tree does is really give a player a chance to screw their character up to the point of being unplayable.  I had a friend, who shall go unnamed that decided to try and build a “Jack of all Trades” hunter in vanilla WoW.  Instead of focusing on one tree and then some secondary talents, he spread his points out evenly trying to pick up the best all all the early talents.

The end result was a character that had no glaring weaknesses, but no real bonuses either.  He could solo just fine, but when it came to running dungeons he lacked the raw damage output needed to support a team effort.  Believe it or not, I have seen many people make this mistake over the years.  The freedom of picking talents, also gives you the freedom to make characters that simply don’t work.  Ultimately the designers have intended us from the start to try and reach those top tier talents. As such when a winning hybrid spec exists it usually gets “fixed” to restore the balance.

Less is More

So in returning to what outraged myself and others, at face value the Deathknight talents are going from 41 points to only 6 points.  Initially like everyone else I thought to myself, my god they are watering these classes down.  Last night I copied my Deathknight out to pandaland and quickly found out that my assumptions were completely wrong.  In truth the new system is going to give us far more personalization while still remaining viable.

Just like with Cataclysm, when you first open an empty talent tree you are asked to choose a specialization.  Previously this just gave you whatever the signature ability was for your class.  Keeping with the Deathknight analogy, choosing Blood gave me Heart Strike, Veteran of the Third War, Blood Rites, and Vengence.  However my talents gave me all the other abilities that made tanking as blood viable, namely all those handy “oh shit” cooldowns.

What it took me a long while to understand, is that in Mists of Pandaria, when you choose a specialization you are essentially receiving with one single click that previous “optimal spec”.  Instead of getting those signature abilities from before, I receive 17 active and passive abilities that made up the golden path everyone chose.  What this really does, that has never existed to this point is set a clear baseline of abilities that one can expect every possible spec to have.  This completely takes the guess work of whether or not a player has some critical ability out of the mix.

Fluffy Goodness

Basically the talent points are now a series of decisions that occur at level 15, 30, 45, 60, 75, and 90.  Each of these decisions changes the flavor of your abilities, or adds new functionality to your class.  When I switched my Deathknight from Human to Worgen, the thing I really missed was the Every Man for Himself racial.  Previously in Wrath it was not terribly difficult to build a viable tanking spec that included the ability Lichborne.  However in Cataclysm, you had to give up some high threat talents and utility to get it.

With the MoP talents at each level you are basically making a choice and in essence sacrificing other abilities.  Most of the tiers, for the classes I have seen all are similar abilities with a similar theme.  In the case of Lichborne, I can take it as my level 30 pick, but I am giving up on having Anti-Magic Zone and the brand new Purgatory ability.  None of the choices really take away from my viability, but each shapes the flavor of my character.

So while at face value it looks like you have less freedom, in reality I personally feel like I have more than ever.  I cannot count the number of times I have respecced just to change one or two points.  That was the only real control I had, and in general I have had less than 5 points that could realistically be juggled.  This time I am getting to make 6 choices, each of which has some pretty significant ramifications.  I can be a tank with Bladestorm, or a Deathknight with AOE Deathgrip (Gorefiend’s Grasp), or Combat Rogue with Shadowstep.  I get to make these fun choices knowing that I am not trading my viability for flavor.

Ode to the Trinity

I have to say I am honestly shocked after writing this all out, that I am really looking forward to the expansion.  I made as many catty comments about it as the next person, but the more I read about the changes the more I like.  The funny thing is, I know I am contradicting things I have said I wanted in the past.  I have seen enough of the “post-trinity” games that I know that I don’t really enjoy them.  At the end of the day, I really like having clearly defined roles.

The main problem I have had with abolishing the “trinity” is that without them I feel like I have no purpose.  While this is great for soloing, grouping in games like Guild Wars 2 has been sheer and total chaos.  The classes that generally get hurt the most are the melee, and those are the only thing I have ever been interested in playing.  I cannot be happy unless I am sinking a weapon in monster flesh.  Playing a “finger wiggler” just lacks the visceral quality that I crave.

So when I would try and take on a difficult/elite/etc encounter with group members, this little scenario would play out.  I would run in and begin to attack, sword and board in hand.  Sooner or later I would pull aggro, and begin trying to back out.  Ultimately I would fail at shedding aggro and die while trying to heal myself.  The fighting to stand up would fail as well, since we are fighting a big monster and not easily killed by throwing stones at it.  At this point I rez, and try and run back into the action which may or may not be all the way across the current map.

Even in games that have blurred the lines a bit, without going into battle knowing your role it feels like every bad pvp experience I have had.  “Lets all run in and throw ourselves at the enemy, I am sure they will fall to one of our flailing bodies.”  I like knowing who is the tank, who will be providing dps, and who will save all our asses by healing us when we do something phenomenally stupid.  A well balanced party was the key to pen and paper RPGs and honestly it still makes sense for MMO grouping.

Solo Friendly

I think the nugget at the center of every “post-trinity” argument however is pretty simple.  Everyone wants to be viable in both a group and while soloing.  SWTOR tried to solve this by giving everyone companions that essentially turned you into an instant somewhat balanced group.  WoW has added in a lot more self heals, and other ways to save yourself when things are going wrong.  Ultimately, everyone wants to be able to play the way they want to play and still be viable doing so.  For me that is usually tanking, which I guess places me firmly as a pillar of the trinity. 

This post has rambled on a lot longer than I had originally intended.  I guess in hindsight I should have broken it into multiple posts, but at least in my mind all of these things are connected. I am still pretty shocked that I am looking forward to roaming around Pandaland.  What I have seen of the areas, I have enjoyed.  I will go on at length another time, as to why I feel Cataclysm failed whereas Wrath and Burning Crusade did not.  Suffice to say, I feel Pandaria will be a return to the world building experience of the first two expansions.  I am looking forward to exploring this new and beautiful world.

Rediscovering Dungeons

Here in Oklahoma it has been insanely hot and by Thursday it is supposed to be in temperatures over 107F.  As a result, I have been actively trying to avoid leaving the comfort of air conditioning.  This meant that this last weekend, I spent the vast majority of it logged into Argent Dawn in World of Warcraft.  The game still has a pretty firm resurgent hold on me.

Am I Really Back?

WoWScrnShot_062512_060314Honestly at this point I am still not 100% sure if I am really back, but I have moved from seven days of free time to actually paying for the first month.  I had planned on doing this anyway, just to make sure my friend got his mount, but I have to say I am already finding myself making plans for the future.  Right now I have a stable of sub 85s, and I admit I am looking forward to leveling them.

I spent the largest portion of the weekend working on Exeter, my Paladin.  This was actually my very first character in World of Warcraft, and I had grand ideals about playing it as a main.  Due to not being able to keep up with my friends, and the failings of protection paladins early on in vanilla, this never quite panned out.  But nonetheless the character has always had a special place for me.

When I last played the character over a year and a half ago, I had just started on Vashj’ir and decided to swap from Retribution as I played in Wrath, to full on protection.  With some minimal ability swapping, I was able to pick up the character pretty quickly and continue on questing.  I have to say the Cataclysm Tankadin is a blast to play.  I have given paladins crap over the years, even on this blog, but the gameplay is extremely infectious.

WoWScrnShot_062512_064918Over the course of the weekend I finished Vashji’r, quested through Hyjal, mined my way across Deepholme and finally reached 85 while doing the first few quest chains of Uldum.  I have no clue how many actual hours of play it took me, but with all the perks granted by a level 25 guild, it seemed like it just flew by.  Instead of watching my xp bar I found myself just following along the quests, and before I knew it I had hit the cap.

While I have complained about “kill ten” quests before, I have come to realize that at the end of the day I really do prefer them.  Having a traditional questing structure gives me a sense of purpose as I check things off my list.  When I have played more open ended games, like Guild Wars 2, I have felt like everything I did lacked that same sense of purpose.  As much as I had complained about the disconnected feeling of Cataclysm, the quest flow is pretty nice and has enough other kinds of quests to break the monotony of the kill tasks.

Grouping Should Be Fun

Screenshot_2012-02-22_22_19_17_638583When I left WoW originally it changed my game play deeply.  I went from being the center of each group as the main tank, to actively avoiding grouping all together.  I had developed a phobia of being needed at all, since I had spent the previous seven years responsible for the happiness of so many others.  I grouped when I absolutely had to, but the rest of the time I was off by myself and seemingly happy.

With the release of SWTOR, I gave grouping another try.  However choosing to level as a dedicated duo, left me feeling chained to having to play whenever someone else was online.  When it came time to run flashpoints, I just found them not as much fun as I remembered dungeons being.  I think in part, I just didn’t like the design of the Star Wars hard modes.  I don’t mind hard encounters, but I have always felt that they should be an endurance game, not twitch reflexes.

Many of the SWTOR hard mode flashpoints, just felt cheap and irrationally punishing.  Colonel Daksh in Maelstrom Prison for example, goes into this phase where you have to avoid getting in line of sight of him.  Essentially 2 or 3 times per fight, everyone in the group has to do an intricate dance avoiding being seen.  If you are seen at all, it is essentially a one shot death.  If you aren’t dpsing him fast enough, you also die from the incredibly short enrage timer.  As we wiped over and over to one thing or another, the attempts just ceased to be enjoyable, and given time flashpoints were just something I completely avoided.

Remembering It Can Be

image00211Thanks to the coaxing of my friend, coming back to WoW I have been grouping again.  I eased into it by duoing some old raids, until I built back up my tanking ability to some extent.  Once I got back into the swing of a heroic, including the “new to me” hour of twilight five mans, it felt like coming home.  Unfortunately it seems like we can only muster full guild groups on Friday or Saturday nights.  But those last few nights, have been some of the most enjoyable gameplay I have experienced in years.

Friday night we gathered up to work on various achievements, that each of us had outstanding.  We knocked out a couple still remaining from the Icecrown five mans, and then moved on to the redesigned Zul’Gurub.  ZG has always been one of my favorite places in Azeroth, and in vanilla I spent hour after hour there both tanking and healing it.  When I heard they were removing the raid and making it a heroic, I was extremely disappointed.  However, considering they went from a raid to a five man, they’ve done the zone justice.  While none of the fights are exactly the same, they each feel very similar in nature and still have a very epic feeling to them.

In an hours time, we had knocked out every available Zul’Gurub achievement.  While there really wasn’t much in the way of gear upgrades for anyone involved, we had a complete blast doing it.  I am remembering the side of gaming I used to love so much, but the circumstance of having to be both guild and raid leader robbed me of.  Running around with my friends taking down baddies, has re-awoken a piece of my inner child I thought was too jaded to ever feel this way again.

Well Rested Return

One of friends, mused that I just needed some time away from the game to get my perspective.  I think that honestly might be the case.  Too much frustration had built up, over too many things not directly related to gameplay.  Coming back now, I have a new pair of rose colored lenses and my buffer of bullshit has been emptied out.  I never thought it would be WoW I was returning to however.  I really thought with my recent return to Rift, that it would be the one that held my attention.  As much crap as we have all said about “pandas and pokemon”, I think the upcoming expansion will breathe some life back into the game.  I just hope that my return, others will be willing to give it a fresh start as well.

Nostalgia Wins

Of all the topics I thought I would be blogging about, it is pretty safe to assume this is the last one I ever expected to be writing.  However over the last couple of weeks I have been giving in to my nostalgia, and I feel like I need to come clean about it.  About a week before my birthday, I found my way onto the guild mumble, in the guise of helping a long time friend test their mumble connection.  It was not long before a few others showed up, and we had a lively little discussion going.

When you get a bunch of old friends together, sooner or later they are going to start talking about the “good ole days”.  While none of us were actively playing it, those cherished times were all raids in World of Warcraft.  Over the last year and a half, since leaving the game, it has pretty much been my regular whipping boy.  I’ve said so much, and blamed so many things on the game and its players, but at the end of the day we really did have some amazing times there.  It wasn’t long before I found myself accepting a Scroll of Resurrection, and reactivating my account.

Sealing the Rift

2011-03-15_062142 (1)I expected that much like reactivating Rift, this was going to be one of my short lived whims.  I had a good deal of fun wandering around Telara for about a week, before the same feeling from before had set in.  Rift is without a doubt technically superior to every game on the market.  It has every feature I could ever possibly want in an MMO.  The problem is that once again I find myself not really caring about the world of Telara and its two warring factions. 

What hooked me on MMOs all those years ago, was this always on and deeply intricate fantasy world to explore.  Norrath will always be my first love, with its interesting races, brooding gods, and vast landscapes.  I can remember spending hours, reading quests, trying to gather up every little tidbit of this rich world.  Years later I developed the same connection to the land of Azeroth.  The setting was already familiar to me, and knowing a little bit about it already, made World of Warcraft and its lore all the more addictive.

For reasons I don’t quite understand, I just can’t seem to develop the same connection with the races and world of Telara.  The game does everything right, and has every bells and whistles I could ever want in an MMO, especially now that they are adding mentoring.  At the end of the day however, I just don’t really care about my characters the same way I normally do in these games. 

Home is never the same

WoWScrnShot_061412_232732So in a fit of nostalgia I have been playing WoW once more, and I have to say I am enjoying myself quite a bit.  I think it is a testament to just how good a game it is, that I can return after almost 2 years, and a ton of frustration and bad feelings towards Blizzard, and be able to have fun.  I honestly had the intention of never playing the game again.  I had mixed emotions about trying to “return home”, and the ramifications that it might mean.

So much has changed, the guild I spent seven years building up is very similar, but it is definitely not the same guild I left.  Little things have changed, gone are a good number of the people I cherished the most, and with them some of the easy banter that used to go on in guild chat each night.  However, there are moments, especially on raid nights when some of the veterans show up, that things return back to “normal” for a bit, or at least the normal I remember.

In addition to folks that have moved on like I did, there are tons of new names and faces that I don’t know.  I used to pride myself on trying to know everyone in “my” guild, but truth is from the moment I passed on the hat that guild stopped existing anywhere other than my mind.  I think this is all the more noticeable by the fact that Argent Dawn once again is going through the pre-expansion doldrums.  The guild is still a great group of people, just not as outwardly friendly as it once was.

Normal is a moving target

WoWScrnShot_061712_000107I’ve hit on this multiple times, but the truth is while it feels like the guild has changed, it might simply be because I myself have changed.  When I was last wearing the green and black of House Stalwart, I was a burnt out Guild and Raid leader, unable to stand the thought of playing the game anymore.  I have realized that a good bit of that frustration that built up was because my reality was changing around me. 

When I built up House Stalwart into what it was, I was a relatively unhappy code monkey, working under a boss with a penchant for passive aggressive micro-management.  Nothing I did was ever good enough, and I felt like I had no control over my work world.  At the same time there was a good deal of turmoil in my personal life.  During a five year stretch, we lost something like 15 family members.  The first and worst of these was the suicide of my nephew.

Everything simply felt wrong, and out of control.   I think in a way I built up House Stalwart to be this stable, safe environment to hide out in.  Over time my life started to shift back into normality, I didn’t need my support structure as much as I once did.  I changed jobs leaving the constant stress, feelings of inadequacy and that horrible boss behind.  The problem is, I had built a guild full of great people who had come to need me that I did not want to let down.

The more responsibility I had thrust upon me in the real world, the less I wanted to deal with it in the game world.  So when I moved jobs, to one I had more of a direct role contributing to, I pushed back against being the main tank.  When I had a coworker leave, and have to pick up the slack and essentially do two jobs at the same time, I pushed back against raid leadership.  As I picked up some management responsibilities, I pushed back against guild leadership eventually left the game.  So it seems impossible to separate the frustrations I had with the game, from the changes I was going through outside of it.

Am I really back?

WoWScrnShot_061612_233953So over the last week I have been getting adjusted to the game again.  I find myself actually looking forward to going home and playing at night.  More than anything that is something that has been missing for awhile.  While I have found enjoyment in whatever I was playing, the actual drive to log in and play has been gone.  Now I think ahead about what I might accomplish each evening, and it is refreshing.

There is a question my friends keep asking that I don’t have an honest answer for yet.  I am not sure if I am really back, or honestly what being back even means.  I figure if I am actually playing a month from now, then chances are I will be playing for awhile.  I am enjoying this present trip down memory lane in the meantime.  Last night I soloed most of AQ40 and AQ20, then later duoed a good chunk of the Black Temple.  I am enjoying the experience of rediscovering this game I used to love so much, with no expectations.

I am having a blast playing my Deathknight, probably more than I have since originally leaving the game.  I am not really sure how to quantify it, but World of Warcraft does melee right.  I’ve played melee characters in roughly a dozen games since leaving wow, and in every case they didn’t quite feel right.  They either were too simplistic, too slow paced, or somehow didn’t truly capture the fun nature of swinging a weapon at a monster.  I have to think that it is all the attention to detail and smooth animations that make playing a melee just feel correct.

Future uncertain

Right now I am not sure what my gaming future will bring.  There are so many big games on the horizon, and I am sure I will play several of them. I am not sure if WoW will stick, or if I will just float along to the next big thing.  Currently I have access to WoW, Pandaria Beta, Guild Wars 2, The Secret World, Diablo 3, Rift and Everquest II.  So far however, the only two I am actually logging into are WoW and EQ2.  In each case, those are the two universes I am most nostalgic about.  I guess that no matter what I say or do, I will always love Norrath and Azeroth.  It has been just as shocking to myself, as it has been to my friends that I am back in WoW.

Rift: A Comfy Chair

This weekend I have spent most of my time reacquainting myself with the world of Telara.  While much has changed, it very much feels like sitting back down in a comfy chair, much the same as returning to Everquest II always has been.  A year has been a pretty long absence from the game, and in that time many changes have taken place. 

2012-06-03_214729The most subtle thing, is the fact that it seems the entire world has been given a face lift.  Granted the above screenshot doesn’t exactly show it off to the highest state, since I have been playing mostly on my laptop.  Everything from the character creation screen, to the world itself feels different from my memory, and from the screenshots I still have from earlier.  I’ve talked with Scopique off and on throughout the weekend and he felt exactly the same thing, otherwise I would have thought this just an artifact of not having been in game awhile.

The game as a whole is the same basic game it always has been.  It is a “wow-like” at it’s core, and is still the basic quest driven adventure it always has been.  However I have to say, everything Trion does, is carried out with the utmost of attention to detail.  So while the experience feels like a throwback, in terms of the games on the horizon and in beta, it is without a doubt the absolute best “wow-like” experience out there.

Bring on the new

2012-06-03_203556

I am not exactly sure how to quantify it, but the game as a whole feels much more fleshed out than it did at launch.  The game world back then, felt extremely spartan.  There are far more constructs in place to add some additional depth to the game.  Instead of leveling with some arbitrary soul choices, that you make through a series of quests, you are asked to choose a predetermined path.  Each of these paths offered, highlight some of the more common and well designed builds, but give you a feeling of purpose. 

Personally on my Guardian Warrior, I chose the heavily Reaver-centric tank build.  Each time you gain points to spend, the game makes suggestions of the best possible path to gain abilities.  So far, as a result it seems like I always have exactly the abilities I need, at the level I begin to need them.  I got my shield throw ability, right about the point I started needing to split up pathers.  On my high level defiant Rogue, I picked the Huntsman spec, and it ended up giving me a far more capable Ranger spec than I ever managed to create for myself.

Basically this seems to make the game far more digestible as a whole.  I’ve personally found myself spending a good deal of time on the two new trade-skills, Fishing (as seen in the image above) and Survival (think cooking).  This really was something missing at launch.  There was no functionality for creating crafted food, which forced you to rely on vendor bought food just to survive.  Not only is the food better and stat granting, but it has been a good cost savings as well.  At level 17 I have roughly 3 platnium, which is far more money than I can ever remember having in the past.

The mind numbing and annoying

One of the interesting things that has changed since I last played is the fact that the game is now apparently free until level 20.  This has had some pretty negative effects on the community, or at least what passes as a community at low levels.  As is custom in Rift, players are placed in a level gated “general” chat.  The level 1-29 chat channel is packed full of children, and with them mind numbing annoyance.  If the channel at all represents the future, we are royally screwed.

Luckily I managed to get into a very lively guild, The Gaiscioch Family.  So now my screen is filled with friendly green spam, and it is far easier to ignore the rabble.  I can imagine that paying customers long for the day they ding thirty, and move up to the next chat bracket.  On my high level characters, defiant side, the community seems very healthy and friendly.  So I am hoping that this is just something we can chock up to the fact that there are a large number of “non paying” customers at the low levels.

On a whim

2012-05-31_203839I re-subscribed to the game on a whim, and in response to news this week of the expansion.  After looking at the long list of features that had been added since I had last played a year ago, intrigued me, and with it I chimed in for a 3 month subscription.  I’ve had quite a bit of fun this weekend playing it, but I am sure as the week comes on I will go back to playing a good deal of Everquest II and Diablo 3 again.  I plan to play the game off and on and experience the Guardian content I never got to see.

The guild I am in now, seems really nice and always in action.  So I could imagine that if I leveled up I could experience all the expert content and even some of the raids if I so chose.  The big question is, that since I pretty much renewed my subscription on a whim, what exactly do I want from it?  I am generally happy to quest along, and do the occasional rift, so I assume that bring my happiness once more.

While the core mechanics work the same as when I got bored with it before, it feels like they have beefed the game up in the fluff department, which is what had been lacking for me before.  With the expansion comes player housing, and with the next patch mentoring.  Right now I am finding the Rift mobile client pretty addictive.  Through playing the scratch-off game, I have managed to win 10 or so of the purple rift currency.  So as a result I have all the best gear you can buy from the rare planar vendor.  So while it is a viral gimmick, you can actually really improve your gameplay just by playing it every hour.

A year later

A year after I left Rift, it has become a pretty great game.  Everything about the game, from the maps, to the nameplates, to the mobile client just exudes polish.  It is always funny to listen to general chat, and year people complaining as is the case with any MMO.  I think to myself, anyone complaining about the game that has tried to think of everything, clearly has never played a game with a roughly cobbled together UI and little planning.  I think much like Everquest II, the game is in its most playable state since release.  Unfortunately, just like EQ2, the people that hold a grudge against the game will likely never give it a fair shake.  Here is hoping that the expansion can rekindle the game for others.  I luckily have the ability to feed my whims, but it will take a bit more than that to bring in the folks that can only play a single game at a time.