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.

Bring On The Storm Legion

It is the beginning of a new month, and with it closes the #NBIMMO fun.  As a result Syp has posted a poll for the NBI Awards on Bio Break.  You can cast your vote in categories like “Promising Star, Game Specific” and “Most Interesting Angle”.  The categories have narrowed down the field with five blogs competing for each award.  I am not really sure how long the voting is set to run, but get over there are show all these new blogs some love.

Entering the Storm

There had been some rumors circulating about this, but yesterday Trion dropped a 100 megaton bombshell on the community announcing their upcoming feature rich expansion: Rift: Storm Legion.  The announcement of a new expansion is never that huge of a surprise. We have come to expect them roughly a year after release. However this is one of the most ambitious and feature packed expansions that I have seen in recent memory.  Some of the features include:

  • Two huge new continents, reportedly more than tripling the size of the existing game world.
  • Dual-faction island city of Tempest Bay.
  • Four new souls, one for each of the callings
  • Level cap raised to 60
  • Ability to “Instant Adventure” your way from 1-60 if you choose.
  • Greater variety of onslaughts, rifts, and events.
  • Seven new dungeons zones.
  • Three new raid zones.
  • A new single player Chronicle.
  • Massive colossus battles that supposedly effect the world in ways we have not yet seen.
  • Personal dimensions:  Guild and Player Housing.
  • New “Cape” inventory slot.
  • New Grandmaster tier of crafting.
  • New puzzles, artifacts, collectables, achievements, mounts, pets, titles and more.

The Past Year

screen_img3A little less than a year ago, I made on post on this blog titled “It’s Not You, It’s Me”, where basically I admitted to cancelling rift and outlining some of my reasons for doing so.  There are multiple reasons, some of which I have come to realize really were about me, and my lack of wanting to commit to doing any form of organized gameplay.  I can’t hold any game responsible for that, because honestly it has been an evolution I have gone through, from very serious raider, to very serious casual player.  Since then I have played a ton of EQ2, LoTRO, gotten bored with SWTOR, and been dabbling in Guild Wars 2 and Secret World betas.

The primary problems I had with Rift, was the lack of “fluff” the world had.  Nothing in Telara seemed to exist, just for the fun of it.  All things seemed to be tied to some purpose, or needed by the single questing patch per faction.  I enjoyed the game, but just ran out of things I felt worthy of doing.  There were plenty of collections and achievements that I could have gone after, and I had many factions I could be running dailies with, but when I ran out of quest storyline, I just ran out of things I was interested in.  Rift events were a blast, but after a point they also became old.

Trion Listened

screen_img5I can’t say that Trion listened to me, I don’t have the ego to even imagine that, but what I can say is that my entire guild seemed to go through the same gradual leaving that I did.  We went from having 50 active players, to 10, to 5, to none.  So while they may not have listened to me, I can tell they heard the community as a whole that wandered off, because in the last year they have been insanely busy.  I stopped actively playing the game sometime last June.  Here is a list of some of the major content achievements as taken from this amazing “welcome home” thread, for folks coming back to the game.

  • PVP Rifts.
  • Cross Server Looking For Group.
  • 3 “Sliver” 10 Man Raids.
  • Chronicles Solo/Duo Instances Added.
  • Planar Attunement Post 50 Advancement System.
  • Master-Mode Dungeons.
  • Support for player made Add-ons.
  • Ember Isle – New questing zone for level 50 characters.
  • Instant Adventures – LFG open world adventures.
  • Cross-Faction Auction House.
  • Rift Mobile App.
  • In-Game Character Weddings.
  • 6th Role Slot.
  • Crafting from bank.
  • Mercenary System to balance the sides in PVP Matches.
  • New Fishing and Survival Trade-skills.
  • New “Seal” crafted Inventory Slot.
  • Nameplates for mobs and players.
  • Streaming Client.
  • Guild Finder system.
  • Leaderboards.

Expansion before the expansion

screen_img6So in one year they have added an entire expansions worth of content already.  I’ve always respected the folks at Trion, and thought given time, they would turn the product into a really amazing place to be.  I subscribed for roughly a years time, even though I only played the game roughly 4 months.  I had faith in the team, and figured my subscription was a “donation to the cause” of sorts.  Seems like that “donation” has been repaid in massive amounts of hard work.  Even before the expansion proper launches, 1.9 is waiting in the wings and seems to fill up any of the remaining gaps in the game.

The two big things for me that are coming in 1.9 are Conquest Mode, and Mentoring.  Conquest promises to take us back to DAoC style 3 faction PVP.  I have long held the opinion that what is wrong with PVPin general, is the fact that games focus on the Red Vs Blue mentality.  I can remember in DAoC, the factions to some extent self balanced.  If one team was a bit stronger, the other two would temporarily gang up to even out the odds.  I think the Conquest mode will be a shot of adrenalin to a languid PVP culture.

If you’ve read my blog at all, you have heard me go on and on about mentoring and how great it is.  Literally this is the one feature that I think every game needs.  Being socially focused, it gets frustrating when new friends start and you can’t really help with out without absolutely steamrolling content for them.  This is really no fun for anyone, for you laying waste without consequences is boring.  For your friends, they end up just following you around aimlessly never actually learning how to play their classes.  When you can mentor down to your friends, and run the content for real, you get to relive the experience and do so with your buddies.

A Pat on the Back

It is so easy to focus on the negative things in the game industry.  Trust me there are plenty, and I have been a bitter ass for a very long time when it comes to the flaws in games.  That said, I feel that it is all the more important that we point out what is going right in the industry.  With the expansion, Trion will have added in every single one of the “must have” features I could even muster.  On top of that, it triples the size of its game world, and with that comes a flood of new content for players to experience.  Essentially they have answered the challenge posed by all of us who unsubscribed, and have done so in really heroic fashion.

I still very much love Norrath, and am having a blast still in Everquest II, but I almost feel like I need to resub to Rift just to applaud them for their efforts.  At this point I have been gone long enough that essentially I will need to completely re-roll to remember how the hell anything works.  That said I think I will be doing just that, and taking a tour of all the changes first hand. 

I had already decided that I would not really be playing Guild Wars 2 or Secret World anymore until the launch.  I played enough of the games to realize I liked it, so I don’t want to wear off that new game smell.  So between the ever present EQ2, Rift, Diablo 3, and piddling around with SWGEmu… I think I will have plenty to do for the foreseeable future.  It needs to be said:  Great job Trion.

The Secret World Impressions

[update]  The beta weekend continues Friday 5/18.

TSW_LogoScreenAt this point I have spent about 6 hours in total running around in Funcom’s latest MMO, The Secret World.  Up to this point I hadn’t really fully decided if I liked the game or not.  From what I am seeing floating around, seems like most people are having similar mixed emotions.  The game is an odd mixture of really good elements, and horrifically bad elements.  Up to now I wasn’t quite sure if the good were good enough to make me ignore the bad.

The Ugly and Awkward

TSW_Cutscene_stifflegsThe Secret World focuses heavily on the story of this dark setting.  The problem is, the cut scenes and voice acting that make up the otherwise well written story are tragically bad.  The motion of the characters are rigid and mannequin-like as then bend in impossibly puppet like directions.  The voice acting varies greatly between extremely well done, to tragically confused accents.

The saddest part about this is that the dialog is actually extremely well written.  The characters are interesting enough to make you take note of them and remember their names.  They weave a story of a world gone wrong.  Instead of giving it to you in a sea of quest text that you likely wont ever read, you have to draw it out of the characters a line at a time.  In traditional roleplaying game fashion, each question has multiple answers, and talking to the NPC yields different results each time.  When you have heard all the possible results, a green check mark shows up at the end of the prompt.

TSW_CutscenesStiffWristSo the game world is intricate and engaging, but you are forced to sit through a sequence of awkward cut scenes and often times lousy voice overs to get to the meat of the game.  In SWTOR you could skip through the voice over, and still be able to read the text by hitting the spacebar.  Unfortunately right now there is no option like this, and you are forced to make a decision between sitting patiently through the rough movies, or skipping them entirely with the escape key and having no clue what is actually going on.

TSW_CutsceneTaxiThe biggest detractor the game has right now is the fact that in order to get into any action at all, I had to sit through literally 45 minutes of cut scenes and fed ex quests in London before I could actually go do anything interesting.  I’ve heard this intro was unique to the beta weekend, and I really hope they either greatly reduce it, or remove it entirely.  Once you get to Kingsmouth the game becomes fun and interesting, but up to that point you feel like you are having to suffer through a mile of bad road.

The Really Good

TSW_DinerThe atmosphere of the game is amazing.  When you land in Kingsmouth you are surrounding by a town besieged by zombies and other things that go bump in the night.  Little gatherings of survivors fight to stay alive in the midst of the ravenous hordes.  The game feels like a really good World of Darkness gaming session.  I was expecting to need to roll 7d10 for Initiative at any moment.  It has been years since a game made me physically jump, and as I wandered around the small town, I jumped several times as a zombie horde rushed out of hiding at me.

TSW_MuseumThe game is pretty much standard role playing game fare, talk to NPCs, get a quest and them complete it by following on screen guidance.  Where the game differs greatly however is the fact that your standard MMO trope of batching up a bunch of quests simply does not work here.  The system really is designed for you to focus on a single quest, and then follow it through to its logical conclusion.  When you pick up additional quests they go into a 6 quest queue, but only one can be actively worked on at a given time.

TSW_QuestNoteI actually found myself taking notes as I played, trying to remember where I had seen quest objects in the world to interact with and accept the quest after I finished the one I was on.  I found a severed arm, a damaged pda, a suspicious body, forgotten mail, all beckoning me to figure out what exactly was up with each.  Over the hours of play, I have been working my way through a laundry list of objectives I found both from various NPCs and out in the “wild”.

Level-less system still has levels

TSW_AbilityWheelI went into the beta assuming this would be the case, but there is no such thing as a level-less system.  While there is no magical number that appears on your character, there is a mechanism in place that determines how well you perform verses the various mobs.  I have not entirely reasoned out how it works, but it seems as you gain more Skill Points and Anima Points you gain additional hit points.  So essentially, the number of points you have accumulated roughly equates to your level.

TSW_SkillWindowMonsters in the world have a “con”, just like they do in any other game.  White mobs are roughly equivalent to your own level, and Yellow are much harder.  I’ve heard there are other colors that denote different relations, but to this point I have not encountered them.  Normal mobs are marked with a dot, if you see more than one icon on their nameplate, it means they come as part of a group.  I’ve run into several mobs that are marked with a flag, and they seem to be some form of a mini-boss classification.

Atmosphere: Dice Included

TSW_InventorySo essentially you have all the same characteristics of a traditional mmo, they are just wrapped in a more pen and paper dynamic.  Honestly the entire game feels like it came from one of my late night Werewolf: The Apocalypse sessions, tracking down the taint of the Wyrm.  One of the first equipable items I got as a drop, were Dice.  I can see several different games here.  Parts of it feel like Matrix Online, other parts like Grand Theft Auto 3, and even others like the early PSX Survival Horror titles.

TSW_DefendBarricadeAs I walk down the foggy streets near the shore, I had multiple flashbacks to playing Silent Hill.  Honestly so far I have yet to see any reason why this game has to be an MMO at all.  The atmosphere is great, I love the town, the abandoned cars, and the crude fortifications the survivors have thrown up.  One of the early quests I did involved helping the Sherriff defend the barricades against hordes of oncoming zombies.  Each time a new wave would spawn in the distance, a “tornado” siren would start up warning against their arrival.

Forgettable Combat

TheSecretWorldDX11 2012-05-12 21-42-25-13At the beginning of this post, I mentioned that I had withheld my opinion on whether or not I was able to look past the bad and see the good.  As I have played the game more, around hour three, it started growing on me.  I can see the potential I guess.  The game is still very rough, there are a good number of awkward and confused things about it, but there is also a good deal of raw intricacy there.  Part of the reason why I love Everquest 2 so much, is because the game exudes depth, and even in one small coastal town I can see depth to spare.

TSW_ZombieCombatThere are going to be several folks that will be turned off as a whole by the game.  I’m nearing the end of at least one of the skill trees, and to this point combat is still wholesale forgettable.  I went with a blades build, that overall feels much like the Katana Scrapper in City of Heroes.  So far however, it seems like my PBAOE resource builder attack, is somewhat of an I-Win button.  I can run into a pack of zombies and just brainlessly spam it until I win a prize.

TSW_BigBaddieWhen I face bigger baddies, I have to use more or two other attacks, but overall the combat is pretty mindless.  So long as I am careful with what I attack, and watch out for drawn areas on the ground to avoid, I can pretty much defeat anything without much issue.  That isn’t to say that I have not taken more than my fair share of deaths.  Before I had the basics of the “con” system explained to me, I was trying to take down mini bosses and much higher level monsters that I could realistically handle.  The big problem is, nowhere during the tutorial does it ever explain how you should actually play the game.

The Rundown

TSW_GodBlessTheInternetSo far I really like what I see.  I like the look and feel of the world.  Unfortunately the game has a long way to go before it will be ready for the bulk of the MMO market.  By the large number of negative reviews I have already seen this weekend, the game is just accessible enough for most people.  Personally I am looking for games more like EQ2, and less like WoW/Rift/SWTOR.  So all the extra fluff this game has, really appeals to me, and I can look past some of the akward combat and cutscenes for the time being.

TSW_RoofWhat has me most concerned is the fact that this game is supposedly shipping in roughly a months time.  Based on the multiple alphas and betas I have participated in over the years, I see multiple months worth of solid work here.  If this title launches as it is, I am afraid it will fail to find a stable market.  I know now that I will likely play it when it launches, but I will also be playing EQ2, GW2, and probably others.  The game has to be a bit more polished than it is now if it hopes to win even my full attention.

TSW_Combat_MinibossI am looking forward to spending more time working through Kingsmouth.  I hope by the next beta, we see a good amount of polish applied.  I am really hoping that they can poke and prod and tweak everything to make the overall experience better.  They’ve nailed the atmosphere, and they have some really good writing, the delivery just gets lost in all the lousy animation.  Hopefully they will work on all of this, because I see a game that will be really fun if they do.

TSW_ArgarthaUltimately the final challenge will be in pumping out the content.  SWTOR was a fun theme park ride, but after riding the roller coaster to completion three times, I just don’t care to ride it any more.  The storytelling, voice, and cinematics were an amazing tour de force.  When the story is over however, there just was nothing left I cared to do.  The Secret World will have to find a way to avoid the same trap WoW, Rift and SWTOR didn’t.  The end game has to be something other than raiding, pvp and dailies.  Here is to hoping they find a way to make the game stay relevant once you reach the ultimate cap.

A Quiet Evening in Norrath

I have to say, it has been a fairly crazy week.  At work I have been dealing with a “brand marketing” company, as we try and stand up a brand new promotional website.  On the blog, the Newbie Blogger Initiative has kinda kicked me in the ass, and made me start trying to post some useful stuff on a regular basis.  In game, as I mentioned yesterday I picked up TERA on a whim, so I have added it to my rotation of SWTOR and EQ2.

Checking In On The Republic

Screenshot_2012-04-12_22_57_20_558931After spending the weekend in the Guild Wars 2 beta, and a good chunk of the week playing TERA, I felt like I needed to spend last night in SWTOR since the troops were getting restless.  Leading a guild in Star Wars has been an interesting transition.  I lead a very active guild in World of Warcraft for a little over seven years, so since the Star Wars guild is a combination of the same people, one would think I would be used to it. 

I have to say however, it has been an interesting experience.  I’ve talked about it before, but I really am not the same player that my friends knew and loved form WoW.  After being committed to raiding 3-4 times a week, I find myself having trouble even committing to running a dungeon as a group.  I’ve developed this resentment towards anything that ties me down, or forces other players to depend on me.

The Reluctant Guildmaster

Screenshot_2012-03-21_22_16_22_840230After several nights of piddling around in other games and a weekend of soloing while testing, coming back to SWTOR last night was a bit jarring.  I logged into a sea of tells, similar to like I used to get on a nightly basis in WoW.  Each person that contacted me, had been waiting patiently for me to show up again, because they had some real need of my attention.  But I have to say, it almost invoked a fight or flee instinct in me.  Instead of actually going out and trying to get into my new Chiss Smuggler, I wound up simply logging in my 4 characters all night and running slicing missions. 

I can happily report however, that the last patch did in fact seem to fix the slicing bugs.  I was able to make a meager profit from running high end slicing boxes.  When 1.2 came out, I ended up blowing through around 300,000 credits, trying to figure out a mix of lockboxes that actually was able to at least break even.  Our guild crafters really relied on getting materials from those slicing missions, so it will be nice to be able to provide them once more.

I’ve hit a wall right now in Star Wars: The Old Republic.  I have 3 characters at 50, each of them geared at least in purple mods in moldable gear.  All that is missing from my stable is a smuggler.  I made a push to do dailies on all three of my max level characters, and farmed up the 1.5 million credits to unlock the Chiss race I was wanting.  Problem is, I just can’t seem to push forward anymore.  At almost legacy 30, there really is nothing left for me in the system that does not involve prodigious amounts of credit grinding.

Norrath Calling

EQ2_000047After last night feeling very much like returning to a job after a vacation, and knowing that tomorrow would be spent on the road, I decided tonight I would relax over in Norrath.  Everquest 2 is one of those games I can always return to, and always find something interesting to do.  I seriously think there is more content in that game than I will ever be able to complete. 

I have a level 90 ShadowKnight, with around 300 AAs, so I could be off doing the new 90-92 content.  Problem being that I don’t really feel like doing anything that serious.  The rest of my guild seems to be moving happily through the content, and from all accounts it seems like the Withering Lands and Skyshrine are extremely awesome.  For whatever reason though, I just have more of a desire to play my level 80 Dark Elf Dirge, and my level 20 Froglok Paladin.

Belglorian of Marr

EQ2_000059Tonight I decided to log into my little frogadin, and take a trip to Stormhold.  Over the years this has been one of my favorite dungeons.  I love the way Norrathian dungeons are laid out, and anytime you give me one filled with tons of undead I am a happy camper.  Other games have pretty dungeons, but for whatever reason they don’t feel like something the mobs would actually use.  EQ2 dungeons are replete with kitchens, store rooms, audience chambers, and are populated with everything from the butler to the chef.  I honestly think this was why I liked Karazhan so much.  It was the only wow dungeon that felt like someone could actually inhabit it.

I’ve completely stacked the deck on my Belglorian, my paladin.  I picked him up one of Fippy Darkpaw’s swords during the chronoportal event.  In addition I have crafted some nice armor, including the level 20 reactant “of authority” chest piece.  Essentially my gameplay is to keep him locked at 100% AA at level 20 until I can get at least 100 AA levels.  Right now I am sitting at 45, and each AA makes life a little easier.  There are so many good level 20ish spots, and I find running around killing random stuff in Everquest 2 really relaxing.

I had a bad pull deep down inside of Stormhold, wound up getting two bosses and wiped.  I took a quick break to come over her and write something up, but I can hear the soft crackling of the braziers near the entrance in the background as I right.  It is softly calling me back, to come bash heads again.  I hope you all have a great weekend, mine will be busy chaperoning a college trip with my educator wife.  As a result not sure how much playtime I will actually get other than tonight, so I am planning on savoring it.

Guild Wars 2 Beta Weekend Rundown

gw020In all honesty I thought I would never be writing this post.  I got an opportunity to play the game last year, and what can I say, I really hated it.  The entire thing felt extremely “grindy”.  I felt clueless as what I should be doing and what I should be focusing on.  I went from heart to heart, and event to event, and would still end up having to go out into the fields and grind random mobs just to get to the next story element.

All that said, I was just honestly expecting too much for the state the game was in.  There has been so much obnoxious hype surrounding this game, and so many often times violently devoted fans force feeding the notion that Guild Wars 2 was the gaming Messiah.  After all of this, and after reading the Guild Wars 2 Design Manifesto blog post, I was expecting bottled magic.  When this unrealistic expectation did not appear before me, I rejected it wholly and had essentially written off the game.

What changed my mind

gw055I really hated the original Guild Wars, but even saying that I own two different accounts from two different attempts to play the game.  I expected to give Guild Wars 2 a chance, regardless of my pre-disposition.  With the very public beta weekend coming up, I went ahead and preordered the game to give it another chance.  Essentially I went into this weekend expecting the game to be horrible, based on my previous experience.

I allowed myself to play the game with a fairly clean palette.  What can I say, the game has grown on me.  I can’t entirely attribute this to my change of attitude, because really the game is in a much more polished state.  Previously most of the mobs were not even properly itemized, so that only added to the feeling of purposeless grinding.  This time around I allowed myself to wander aimlessly, explore, and work my way through the various objectives on the map in a much more fluid way.

The Strong Points

gw012Dynamic Mentoring:

This is by far my favorite feature of the game.  As you move through the world, and it is a huge one, your level is automatically mentored down to the content.  If you wander back in a level 4 area at level 15, you will be scaled down to level 6 or so allowing you to participate in events.  The best part of this is that you gain experience and karma similar to your native level.

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Auction House Anywhere:

This weekend there were some major issues with the Trade post system, but when it was working it was nice.  Essentially you can open up your commerce window, and buy and sell from the trade post anywhere in the world.  Once the bugs are ironed out, this will allow you to clear your bags of anything worth selling very quickly.  The only negative of the system, is that it is not terribly straight forward, and it takes a bit to figure out that you have to physically go to a trade post location to pick up your items and earnings.

gw007Dynamic Role Switching:

Early in the process, they have claimed to be abolishing the holy trinity of MMOs.  This is certainly true from one perspective, but I like to look at it slightly differently.  Each weapon set, gives you your first 5 hot bar abilities.  Each weapon combo, gives your character a completely different feel, and you can swap these out on the fly based on your situation. 

I tended to focus on a sword and board style tanky warrior all weekend, but my choice of main hand greatly changes the flavor.  From my shield, I gained hot bar slots 4 and 5, but if I equipped a sword in my main hand, I gained a good deal of mobility with a nice leap, as well as a powerful cleave.  If I swapped in an axe, I lost the mobility, but gained a strong 360 multi target AOE.  If I changed it out again for a Mace, I gained several new defensive abilities, including a really strong block/counter attack combo.

If I dropped the shield entirely, and equipped a two handed sword, it gave me a series of very powerful AOE attacks, perfect for playing a more dps role.  If I equipped a rifle, I had the ability to actually do powerful ranged damage.  To complement these weapon abilities, are a series of skills that you purchase with points earned by doing the various skill challenges spread across the map.  While there are still very clear tanky, dps, ranged, style roles, it feels like you have the freely to swap between them at will just by changing out your gear.

gw025Huge Detailed World:

I cannot emphasis this one enough.  The world is massive, and filled with tons of exploration candy.  I put on several levels by just roaming around aimlessly trying to unlock the various points of interest on the map.  A lot of times in these games, you sacrifice detail for size.  However every little corner of the map seems to have the same artistic care as the main hubs.  I found lots of little secret paths, stuff hidden under water, and plenty of other reasons to go off wandering.

I have a friend who claims she is part mountain goat, and she would have felt right at home in this world. If you can see it, there seems to be a way to get up there.  I’ve only actually seen a very tiny portion of the map in my roughly 20 hours or so of gameplay.  I’ve already seen snowy mountain peaks, lush forests, and murky swamps.  The best part of the world are the cities, they are more detailed than I have ever seen in an MMO.  They didn’t just get the city proper right, they got the surrounding land, and suburbs as well.

The Weak Points

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Limited To Original Server Choice:

This one is pretty massive to me.  When you first log into the game, you are asked to choose a server.  At this point there is no real way to fully understand the ramifications of this choice.  Essentially this server becomes your home server, and the only way to change servers is to pay 1800 gems (which if it follows standard cash shop trends equates to $18).  There is a system in place, that lets you play on other servers as a guest, but since this was disabled during beta weekend it is uncertain how limiting this will be.

Why is this such a huge deal?  Well this is just one of the ways the game is not super friendly to groups of friends that want to play together.  As a long time guild leader, it is always a struggle to try and get all of your members on the same server at the launch of a game.  SWTOR had a great system that let you preload your guild onto a server intact, but even with that there were a good number of stragglers that could not be bothered to sign up for the system.

As a result, even with that system in place it was a mess those first few weeks getting everyone re-rolled in the right place.  Essentially there is no re-rolling on a new server without an additional cash outlay.  This system is going to be a wholesale nightmare for large guilds, and will likely cause a certain measure of un-necessary fragmentation.  I know personally that I can afford to pay to swap servers, but not every member of my guilds can.  My only hope is that for a few weeks after release they turn on the home server moves for free.

gw005Overflow System:

This honestly could have just as well gone as a positive, but it has some rather crippling side effects.  When you load into your server, instead of placing you in a queue, you get placed into the Overflow system.  This is great because it allows you to get in and play immediately, but in essence it places you in limbo.  You are not really on the server as the rest of your friends. 

So if you are trying to hook up and play with other players, you can wind up in separate instances with no way that I could find to swap between them.  Since this entire system is a bit murky, I figure this is going to cause more than a small bit of headache.  All that said however, I applaud the efforts they have made to remove queues from gameplay. 

gw033No Golden Path:

This is what gave me so much trouble when I had played it last year.  You have series of instanced storyline quests that move the tale of your legend forward.  The problem is there is no clear path outlined for you to get from point a to point b.  If you were like me and went into this expecting the same basic quest construct as the rest of mmo-dom, you will likely find this as mentally jarring as I did. 

Guild Wars 2 essentially is a sandbox, much the same way as Skyrim was.  Quests exist out in the field, in the form of the various hearts on the map, but there is no guiding hand to make sure you go by and visit them all.  On your map, there is a completion score showing how many hearts you have completed, points of interests discovered, and waypoints unlocked.  I found that wandering around and exploring, took me across most of the major hearts and events, but I just had to change my mindset.

gw032Voice Acting:

This is something odd, because while playing this weekend I recognized a good number of the voices from SWTOR.  The male warrior voice, sounds like the same actor that played the Jedi Consular.  Another voice I recognized as the woman who says “Oh Spanios” during “Lovers” quest on Tython.  The problem is, the voice acting as a whole is not nearly as high quality as it was in SWTOR.  While some of the same actors obviously were involved, the delivery just feels a good deal more stiff, and forced. 

On the positive side however, the world is full of dialog.  As you walk through the cities there is often times a murmur of multiple conversations going on at the same time.  It really makes these areas feel more lived in.  The only place you really notice the stiff delivery of lines, is during the story quests, when you have nothing else fighting for your attention.  It wasn’t bad enough to keep me from playing, but it was noticeable.

The Takeaway

gw029As the weekend has gone on, the game has grown on me more and more.  Essentially I have adjusted my outlook to fit the game, rather than trying to mold the game into what I was expecting from other games.  GW2 harkens back to an older era of MMOs, where the focus was on exploration rather than following a pre-planned path. Will I be cancelling my paid subscription MMOs to play it?  Not likely, but I will be playing Guild Wars 2 when it releases.

Scarybooster put the game in perspective for me this weekend.  Essentially he said that he is viewing this game as competing with the other free to play experiences.  When you view it in that way, then it wins hands down against the other f2p titles.  The world is huge, engaging, and as you move through it you are in no way gimped for not having spent money.  When you look at the game like that, it is a complete no-brainer to buy.

For many players this game will be enough to make them cancel their subscription accounts.  For me, it just scratches a different itch.  I have no plans on cancelling either EQ2 or SWTOR for the sake of this game.  I am in the position where I can do that.  I think for your average player, this game will be enough for them.  The game is a much more polished experience today, than it was at the tail end of last year when I initially tried it.  So I have some hope that all the little bugs and annoyances will be given a thick coat of shine before release.

So all this said, I am taking back my opinion on the game.  I am officially “un-writing it off”.  I look forward to release, and look forward  to seeing how the  game progresses as we go through other beta weekends.  As we close out the weekend, I made it to level 15, after 20 or so focused ours of gameplay.  With 80 levels worth of content, and large chunks of it unique to each race, it looks like there will be more than enough content to satiate us.  Fun combat, lots of content, and no subscription fee seems like a win to me.

Ilum Republic Dailies: Speed Guide

I created this guide because I can do all of my Ilum quests in 15-20 minutes each morning as I am drinking my coffee.  However most of the folks my guild seem to take 30 minutes to an hour to finish them all up.  One of the biggest factors is the fact that if you do the quests in the order you receive them, you end up doing a ton of back tracking.  I’ve prepared a nifty map to illustrate the order in which I do the quests.  I skip the heroic, because after a point it really is not worth the effort it takes.

Your time may vary based on several factors:  how farmed the various camps are, your luck with RNG drops, and your current level of gear.  However in all cases this seems to be the best path for Republic.

ilum_speedquestingorder_sm

Speed Questing Order Rundown

Belsavis dailies are considerably more contorted, but I will be working on trying to create some semblance of a guide for those as well.