Bloodlust Pays Off

What’s Wrong with TSW?

TheSecretWorld 2013-06-04 22-55-41-12 There are a couple of really interesting posts by Sypster and Rowanblaze that talk about the problems with The Secret World combat system.  Mostly Syp’s post is him trying to articulate the way he feels about it, and then Rowan breaks down those points and tries to speak to each.  Combined they provide a really nice bookend and are extremely worth reading.  It is really nice to see someone try and put into words what is wrong with the combat other than “it’s clunky”.  I have my own love/hate relationship with the combat in The Secret World.  For the good I love how flexible the character build system is especially at lower levels, but there seems to be a point where all of that breaks down.

Like always, my little circle of regularly group mates rushed headlong into the content of The Secret World, and were starting in on Nightmare content only a few weeks after launch.  For the most part we found normal and elite content in The Secret World to be overly easy.  However facing nightmare content felt like slamming our faces into a brick wall at 60 miles per hour.  The transition was brutal and unforgiving and seemingly unfairly stacked against melee players.  I had managed to stubbornly limp my way through the Gatekeeper encounter with my Shotgun/Blades build, but when it came to nightmares I abandoned it quickly in favor of a pure ranged Shotgun/Pistol build.

The game went from being super forgiving and open to any build you could dream up, to being extremely punishing and narrow focused over night.  So yes while the combat is essentially an overly repetitive use of “wow rogue” tactics over and over until you finish the battle, it was the fact that playing melee was a detriment to my groups survival that ultimately did the game in for me.  We all return to the game to play the new content every now and then, but Nightmares were the point at which the game stopped being fun for many of us.  Our creative builds that were super personalized were force culled into the few builds that “worked well” for nightmare level content.

Bloodlust Pays Off

Screenshot_20140408_202457 Last night I had every intention of just quietly questing away in Elder Scrolls Online.  However I logged in to a message from my friend Tam, wanting to know if I was down for running some dungeons.  What can I say…  I am a sucker for spelunking my way through bad guys.  At the beginning of the night we were trying to figure out why I was a level ahead of them with the “dungeon” faction… aka the Undaunted.  We ended up sifting through our achievements and found that I had already hit the “kill 1000 monsters in dungeons” achievement and they had not.  I may or may not have issues with bloodlust, and as a result I have been tanking pretty much any dungeon someone asked me to.  We started off the night with Wayrest Sewers again, and honestly I was expecting a rough time.  However I found that I was able to split the packs much the same as I did the very first time I had run the dungeon.

I am guessing maybe in the previous group I had someone “helping” me by pulling something other than the one I was yanking with my chain.  This is a super important point that needs to be addressed, and while I covered it in my tanking post… I figure it bears underlining here.  When you are running these dungeons, let your tank pull and do not touch ANYTHING until you see the mobs run up at the group.  The way combat packs work in Elder Scrolls Online is that all of the mobs in a pack will aggro you, but not all of them will actually engage you in combat.  Touching them, means they will be doing so and you can quickly get overwhelmed.  Let the tank pull and watch to see what actually starts attacking you.  Then do not touch the ones that are just standing around cheering on the fighters.

I was not feeling like streaming last night, but I wish I had been… because after finishing off Wayrest Sewers we also ran the other two dungeons in the level 20 range.  Darkshade Caverns and Elden Hollow were both really awesome.  However in the case of Darkshade Caverns there is a bit of a surprise involved with running the dungeon that I really don’t want to spoil.  Darkshade had some of the coolest fights to date, and I look forward to running it again.  The loot seems to be improving as well as we go up.  Granted it is still fully luck based, but several of us managed to pull out blue set pieces from the dungeon, as well as the normal unique loot drops.  The lighting and effects in the dungeons are just superb.  Final Fantasy XIV had some really amazing dungeon encounters, but I have to say so far at least Elder Scrolls Online trumps them.

Oddly Oblivious

I guess right now I am simply preoccupied with Elder Scrolls Online, but right now I am pretty oblivious to the news coming out about Warlords of Draenor.  I still very much care what happens there, because even though we have this insane guild right now in ESO, there are still a batch of diehard Stalwarts that will likely never leave WoW.  I want the expansion to be awesome for them as much as anything else.  I have to say that the new Draenei female is nice… but not really the night and day difference that you see with the Vanilla model makeovers.  I guess the Draenei and Bloodelves were in a better state already than the previous models, so they were not quite so primitive looking.

I have been phenomenally bad at keeping up with my RSS feed since coming back from my grandmothers funeral.  I guess I rushed headlong into ESO, and have simply not come up for air.  Things have just been going so well over there that I have not needed additional diversions.  I am still listening however, and occasionally things creep into my consciousness about Warlords.  Story from yesterday was that MMO Champion got DDoS’d for not giving credit to the folks running the private servers where he collected the alpha zone screenshots.  Now all of those shots are down from the site, with a disclaimer saying that Blizzard had asked them to take them down.  While I can’t confirm anything about the DDoS, I am guessing the image take down is more related to that instead.

At this point I will be far more interested when someone I know actually gets into Alpha or Beta.  The rumors that I am hearing about the garrison sound intriguing and a fun minigame to keep me engaged in the expansion content long after I have finished leveling.  My real hope  however was that the garrison would be shared among all of your characters.  I have an army of tradeskillers, and it would be nice to have access to ANY of their trades, from ANY of my characters.  It feels like Blizzard is always one step away from making something really awesome.  For whatever reason they always stop just short of what I would like to see from them.  Hopefully we will continue to get more official news, since really at this stage in the alpha…  anything that gets datamined is mostly bullshit and likely to change before beta.

#ElderScrollsOnline #TheSecretWorld #WoW #TSW #ESO

WoW Needs a Gatekeeper

Content Gating

contentgating

One of the constructs from EQ that existed in the early days of World of Warcraft was the concept of content gating.  It still exists to a lesser extent but nothing like it did when there were formal quest requirements for entry to most of the raids.  These were extremely frustrating barriers, not because they existed but because they required the entire raid to complete.  Potentially the worst was the Vials of Eternity quest chain needed to enter Mount Hyjal.  At the time this meant that in order to run the Tier 6 content, you had to find a group willing to take you through the Tier 5 content in its entirety, as you needed drops off Vashj and Kaelthas the end bosses of the two Tier 5 raids.

At the time this posed so many logistical problems for raids, as you were left with two somewhat unsavory choices.  Firstly you could stop what you were doing in your current progression and run the Tier 5 content to prepare newer players for Tier 6.  This took time, and most raids already had pretty tight schedules as it was.  Secondly you could end up recruiting someone away from an already successful tier 5 raid, creating a farm team like scenario that caused so much bad blood between guilds.  The best possible scenario was to pull a player away from a raid that had died, but this was a bit of a rarity at the time.  Needless to say there was much cheering when the content gating systems went away in Wrath of the Lich King.

Must Be This Tall

you-must-be-this-tall-to-rideWhile overall removing these raid based requirements was a good thing, as greatly simplified the care and feeding of raids, it did however introduce a lot of unplanned uncertainty.  It was out of this uncertainty that things like Gearscore spawned.  Gearscore was a concept of creating an overall quality rating for a player based on the gear they had acquired.  The system was popular enough that with Cataclysm Blizzard introduced the iLevel system formally in your character sheet and began creating content gates based on this requirement.  For example currently you have to at least be iLevel 480 or higher to be able to do a Heroic Scenario.  The game keeps you from being able to queue for the content until you hit that magic number.

The problem is that the iLevel system of measurement is fundamentally flawed.  Gear acquired tells a raid leader absolutely nothing about the overall play ability of the player.  If you try hard enough you will be able to acquire gear regardless if you have the skill expected of that quality of gear.  This is why you see players in Siege of Orgrimmar LFR that are legitimately only doing 20,000 dps instead of the 75-100k dps you would expect from the 496 iLevel requirement.  iLevel is easy, so it has stuck around but it does nothing to tell you what to expect from a player.  As was proven in the past, skill is much more important than gear, and players who really know their class will always out perform those who don’t regardless of how much new shiny gear you throw at them.

WoW Needs the Gatekeeper

TheGatekeeper

The problem at hand is that people that are building raids have no non-subjective means of determining if a player is ready for the content until they have actually taken them into the instance.  You can drag underperforming players along, but you need to have players that are performing past the expectations of the content to be able to make that work.  The single best content gating mechanic that I have seen in any game came from The Secret World.  At the top of Agartha there was an encounter that is collectively known as The Gatekeeper.  He stands as the gateway to the nightmare level dungeon content, that drops the best gear in the game.

He presents to the player three tests, one geared towards Tanks, another towards Healers and a final one towards DPS…  which in my experience was the most difficult.  Each of them is a test of personal accountability and that you can perform what will be expected of you in the nightmare level content.  They are fairly brutal, especially coming from the overall easy Elite mode content before them, but they do in fact very accurately assess how well you will do in the Nightmare content.  Back when my circle of friends keyed for Nightmare mode, we struggled a bit, but we were still able to compete based on the skills displayed by the test.  Waren and I both prided ourselves for passing the dps trial, without switching gear and going after either the healer or tank trials that were seemingly a bit easier.

Essentially the trial was designed to make sure you could move out of things while still maintaining a certain level of dps on the boss.  These are the basic skills that any dps player needs in a raid encounter.  The player could retry the encounter over and over until they succeeded only then allowing them to move forward into the Nightmare content. I know personally it was exhilarating when I managed to beat the Gatekeeper.  I am certain I tried it some 20-30 times before I finally landed upon the way that I finally beat him.  Sure there were guides to doing it easier, but the players till had to execute well enough to be able to get through the encounter.  If you stepped in anything, you died instantly.  If you allowed an add to catch you, you died instantly.  If you failed to interrupt something, you died instantly.  Finally if you failed to maintain a certain level of damage…  you also died instantly.

Personal Endorsements

firstaidcard

Once upon a time, in another life I was once a Boy Scout camp counselor.  One of the things that happened every year during that first week before the kids arrived was that each and every counselor had their First Aid, CPR and Swimming Lifesaver certifications renewed.  In each case it involved some sort of skills assessment, the Swimming Lifesaver being the worst of these.  However each and every one of us passed it, and while we were cheered on by the rest of the staff each was a personal trial that we faced alone.  I feel like raiding should be gated by some sort of non-subjective skills assessment similar to this.  It sucks being the one to tell a player that they just are not good enough to be able to do the content.  Without hard facts as to why, it often feels like the leader is playing favorites or simply singling a player out unjustly.

World of Warcraft has already created a system similar to this in the Proving Grounds.  The problem is these are optional encounters and most players either don’t know they exist or since they are not required for anything…  they never actually go through them.  I myself have never done them, because they were not required for me and did not reward anything meaningful.  If they took this concept and somehow integrated it into creating a ladder to climb towards raiding, it would be extremely beneficial in the long run.  That has always been the problem with raiding in general, there is a nice clean linear path to climb to get from level 1 to 90.  However once you enter the endgame all this player guidance goes away.

The iLevel system tells the player that having the gear is enough, however in reality we all know that success in raiding is about so much more than just gear.  Having a similar endgame ladder to climb that even rewards pieces of gear to help the player progress would make what happens after you cap, so much clearer.  Additionally having one of these Gatekeeper like encounters that controls entry to the new content provides a very clear “you must be this tall” sign that players that strive for.  Sure it sucks because it introduces a “keying” process again, but in this case it would be one of personal responsibility, not of raid responsibility.  Additionally it would give those really good but also very timid players a boost of confidence if they knew that beating this solo encounter… where there is no one to judge them… means they will do just find in the larger group setting.

Other MMO Wants

This morning is going to be pure hell on wheels for me.  Not only is this my last day before our vacation…  but also about 10:30 last night I got a nasty surprise when I checked work email.  Apparently there is a big impromptu meeting going on today, at which I have to represent the department and speak intelligibly about everything we do.  How do you cram a million things into a quick talk that doesn’t bore all the non-technical people.  Also as a result I had to scramble around the house to find a pair of slacks that actually fits me.  Dropping 8-10 pants sizes in a few months tends to deplete the stock of clothing you don’t wear often.

Basically this morning I need to bang out this post as soon as possible so I can get into work and prepare for the event.  As a result I got up and around this morning at 5 am rather than my normal 5:30… here is hoping the time can be spent wisely.  I would normally just skip posting on a morning like this… but I am afraid that if I skip a day my routine will unravel and usher in yet another one of my 4-6 month lapses in posting. 

Other MMO Wants

On Monday I made my Ten MMO Must Haves  post and it kind blew up… as in it seemed to get far more traction than most of my posts do.  The only bad thing about it all… is as soon as I posted I thought of a few more items that I should have put on the list.  Listing Beards in the final slot was maybe not the most well thought out thing I have ever done… but in reality it is a metaphor.  Every player I know has one feature that they look for in the character creator.  My friend for example is always hunting for actual blonde hair… instead of the orange mess that most MMOs have.  That is one of the most important things to her, and just like me and beards… if it is not there she does not feel as close to the character.  Here goes a quick stab at the rest of a list.

1 – Mentoring

This one is huge, and I have no clue why I left it off the list.  I did the list as a whole on the fly Monday morning as I thought of things that I really want in every MMO.  Essentially those who are not familiar with the term, it is the practice of allowing higher level players to drop down to the same level as lower level characters.  The first game I ever experienced in was City of Heroes… and I felt it was absolutely revolutionary.  Eventually Everquest 2 added it in, and now Rift and Guild Wars 2 also have similar systems that have improved upon the base concept.  Essentially I want a way to be able to play with my friends… no matter how high above them I am.  I have a mantra that “anything that keeps you from playing with your friends is bad”.

2 – Single Server / Cross Server Architecture

Back to the mantra of “anything that keeps you from playing with your friends is bad”..  the traditional server structure is way too restricting.  If you have a small group of friends that all organize at exactly the same time… and pick one server ahead of time..  it is no big deal.  However if you have many different pools of friends, that you feel constantly torn between..  servers are pure hell.  This is the case with me… at any given point I have groups of friends playing a dozen or more games and on each roughly a half dozen different servers.  I have to unfairly pick and choose between who I play with.  Stop making me choose.  Let players communicate and group freely with any player who is playing your game.

3 – Single Account ID

This one has been massively controversial, but I have warmed to it over time.  If you scroll back far enough, there are even posts of me rallying against RealID, but again I got used to it.  The thing I want is the ability to create a single account id, like the later BattleTag system that is not connected to your real world identity.  Then let me choose which players to give that ID out to… and in doing so they magically get to see every character I have regardless of where I am playing.  Additionally it would be amazing if the system also allowed for friending single character names… for those individuals you need to have communication with… but don’t want to give them everything.  It is such a pain in the but to send your friends a long list of a dozen alts for them to add to their friends list each time someone new joins the game.

4 – Multiple Paths of Advancement / Endgame

The answer to the endgame should not always be Raid or PVP.  There should be something else… something a player who does not have the time to raid, or does not have the penchant for pvp can do to constantly better their character in game.  This could be something like the Alternate Advancement and Planar Advancement systems in Everquest 2 and Rift… or could be a series of epic quests that allow your character to obtain very slowly raid like gear like TSW has implemented.  There needs to be a way for players to feel like they are constantly evolving their characters.  It is when characters start to feel stagnant that players lose interest with a game and leave.  Help me not get bored with your game, by giving me lots of things to do when I hit maximum level.  Daily Quests are fine… but they are not a solution to anything.

5 – Alternate Leveling Paths

This is something that has mutated over the years, and I really wish there was a way to undo it.  When Everquest launched it had a distinct leveling path for each race in the game.  While some of them quickly merged together once you hit the second or third zone… they still started out as unique experiences.  When World of Warcraft launched, you had roughly three leveling tracks per race… and this still ended up giving you a fresh way to level your alts.  Now in games like Rift and SWTOR… there is a single track for every member of a faction… and as a result by the time you level your alts… you have nothing really to look forward to.  Give us multiple ways to get to the end of your game… do not penalize players for wanting to jump around and try new content paths.  I realize multiple paths of content takes more development time… but it also improves the quality of your game for players in the long run and makes alting far more sticky.

6 – No Faction Wall

This is a concept that needs die in a huge inferno.  This is without a doubt probably the worst seemingly permanent lineage of World of Warcraft.  The concept of setting up a red and a blue faction that are diametrically opposed and can in no way communicate is just a shitty way to create a game.  Again back to the mantra of… “anything that keeps you from playing with your friends is bad”.  If your friend has to sacrifice what he wants to play… for the greater good.. he will always regret at least somewhat the path not taken.  Additionally it is very easy for two friends who joined the game at different times to end up on opposite sides of the battle field. 

Everquest and Everquest 2 had the best faction systems in the game… in that no only could you communicate with any player freely, but if you so chose to… and with copious amounts of work.. you could raise your faction and be able to function as a member of those societies.  Additionally in Everquest 2 they gave the option of betraying your faction through a serious of quests and permanently changing your allegiance.  Faction Walls are just a non-creative solution to the problem of setting up PVP.  Rift probably did the best decision it ever did when it released the “Faction as Fiction” patch, making it so that both Defiant and Guardian could group, communicate, and guild freely.  Additionally they set up 3 new factions that were not connected to either of the original… which recruit players to fight battles for them.  This gave you three way pvp without having to make life restricting to your players.

Wrapping Up

This one is going to be extra short today.  I’ve spent thirty minutes digging into six more items on the cutting room floor that MMOs should have.  I need to finish getting ready and get into work so I can prep for the event.  I hope you all have a great day, and maybe this will jiggle loose some other ideas you have about what a “best of breed” MMO needs to have.  Tomorrow I am off, so my intent is to try and finish up the second part of the “How To Rift” series.

Five Favorite MMOs

Tomorrow is going to end up being a super busy day for me, as I need to run a few errands for work… so I am doing this post a little differently.  I don’t feel like I will have enough time tomorrow to bang out a post like normal, so  I am working on this topic tonight.  I thought it would be interesting to do a post about my top five favorite games and why I like them so much.  I figured i would do this in count down style with fifth leading down to number one…  of course you can just cut ahead but lets pretend it is a surprise!

#5- World of Warcraft

2006-04-20_182329_Resized_pic I went back and forth several times on what should be my 5th spot, but as I thought about it… for sheer longevity of me playing the game, I had to give a nod to World of Warcraft.  I have essentially outgrown the game, but it does a lot of things well.  I feel like WoW is the junkfood of MMOs…  so long as you do not think about what you are doing… it is extremely enjoyable.  I played WoW as my primary game for roughly 8 years, and during most of that was the leader of a large social guild.  I have so many amazing memories and have met so many life long friends out of the game.  All of these reasons are why it at least had to make my list.

Best Features

  • People – WoW is still the game that most of the people you know are playing.
  • Colorful and friendly graphics and a world that matches them.
  • Lots of systems that allow solo players to engage in group content.
  • Game overall is extremely polished, they provide a consistent experience.
  • Roughly a decade of content and a wide variety of activities to do.

#4 – Lord of the Rings Online

ScreenShot00013 Lord of the Rings Online is one of those games that I really enjoy every time I get the bug to play it.  It is extremely immersive and brings the player into the setting surrounding the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  I love the way that you are set up in the game as characters that just happen to be in the background of the activities of the fellowship.  Each step of the way you are doing events that are helping out the world, but also keeping tabs on the activity as the fellowship moves through the novels.  They do an amazing job of bringing the world to life and filling it with copious amounts of LOTR lore.

Best Features

  • One of the best communities – Landroval is amazing
  • Music system… you can play instruments in game, and players give performances regularly
  • Simple instanced neighborhood housing system
  • Hands down the best horses in any MMO… they move right
  • Breathtaking landscapes straight out of the novels
  • Intricate system within system… I admit it… I love deeds
  • Subscribing for one month permanently unlocks most features

#3 – The Secret World

TheSecretWorldDX11 2012-07-07 21-28-33-32 The Secret World is such a unique experience that I feel like everyone needs to play it at least once.  Not only it is a unique system, but it also has extremely different game play mechanics.  I have always been a fan of the whole occult and Cthulhu mythos, and this entire game is essentially a love song to H.P. Lovecraft.  It also has some of the best writing and storytelling, and additionally some of the most imaginative quests.  The only negative to me, is that it lends itself to very periodic and episodic gameplay.  Each time new content is released, I run in like a locust and gobble it up.  I believe enough in this game however that before its release I became a lifetime subscriber.

Best Features

  • Unique setting and amazing storytelling
  • Unique classless game play
  • All players can learn all abilities in the game
  • Nightmare modes are some of the most challenging content I have experienced in an MMO
  • Does not hold your hand… almost to a cruel end.  Very difficult quests.
  • No Subscription Fee – buy the box play forever
  • Single Server Infrastructure – play with anyone on any dimension freely

#2 – Rift

rift 2013-06-19 20-07-48-28 Rift is likely going to be one of those games I always cycle back to playing.  Essentially it is WoW, but improved in every conceivable way.  That is probably a massive disservice to the game to say that… but unfortunately that is usually what I think of in my mind.  Since the release on a monthly basis they have improved the gameplay so that it includes some extremely innovative features.  It has really engaging content that varies from epic quests to quick fast food push a button and get into the action features.  Additionally it just went free to play, and it feels like one of the better implementations.  The cash shop has a truly staggering number of things to purchase, but all of it is completely optional.  You can pretty much experience every bit of the content apart from the Storm Legion expansion… completely free.

Best Features

  • Most customizable out of the box UI that I have seen
  • Awesome non-intrusive add-on support
  • Awesome passive grouping content like Rifts and Instant Adventures
  • Most detailed housing system – you can literally build anything
  • Extremely flexible class system with ability to have more than 6 different specs
  • Great Wardrobe system allowing for tons of custom outfits
  • Extremely interesting and challenging raid encounters
  • Really fun holidays and in game events

#1 – Everquest II

EQ2_000020 The world I will always be the most nostalgic about is Norrath.  Everquest was my first real MMO experience, and it bit me hard with a vengeance.  The big negative however is it was very unfriendly to players, and caused a massive commitment of time to get anywhere.  However with the release of Everquest II, it took the world I loved and brought it into a much more player friendly frame of mind.  This is one of those games that I have played off and on since release.. and no matter where I am mentally… this is the one game I can always play even when I don’t really feel like playing anything.  I feel like EQ2 is the most underappreciated game on the market and has so much to offer players.  It just doesn’t look as shiny as other games, and the engine definitely feels dated at times.  The game takes of commitment to understand its systems, but you will not find a more intricate and rewarding game on the market (except maybe Wurm Online).

Best Features

  • 25 unique classes
  • 20 unique races
  • Massive scale zones, dungeons, and raids
  • More content than I have seen in any other game period
  • Massive epic quest lines…  one I worked on off and on for 6 months
  • Extremely detailed housing system with the ability to have 10 per player
  • Extremely unique crafting system
  • Guild housing that actually supports guild activities
  • Antonia Bayle is one of the best RP communities – Tons of Live Events

The Runners Up

There were several games that almost made the list.  I contemplated Star Wars: The Old Republic… because quite honestly it had some really engaging content.  It however has probably the most egregious free to play conversion I have seen, so its exploitive nature knocked it off the list.  I thought about Guild Wars 2, because there is something undeniably enjoying about the game.  However there are an equal number of issues I just cannot get past to really find it something I want to play on a regular basis.  Dragon’s Prophet is a game I am really enjoying these days, but I don’t feel like I have played it long enough to really give it a spot on the top five list.  Additionally Vanguard is a pretty amazing game, but I just have not played it enough to really know its ins and outs.

Essentially I picked the five games that have shaped me the most as a player.  I hope you enjoyed my little rundown and even more so I hope it inspires someone to give one of them a shot.  Of my list only World of Warcraft lacks a free to play option.  So I guess this is really telling about where we are currently in what is a viable payment model.  I find myself cycling between the two four on a regular basis.  Right now I am mostly in a Rift mode… but I am sure I will cycle back to the others before too much longer.

I hope you have a great day, and I hope you don’t mind the change in format.  I wanted to create this post, and I knew I would not have enough time tomorrow morning to complete it all.  Additionally I am busy tonight downloading things to load up my new laptop full of games.  So essentially I had time to kill and devote to this.  I hope I get all my errands in the morning done, and get to work on time.

Shinobi Jones

I am struggling with existence this morning.  I have always thought the saying “Thank God Its Friday” was a little trite, but I have been telling myself for the majority of the week “all you have to do is make it through Friday”.  I am not really sure what about this week has made it so stressful, but I am certainly feeling it.  It might be the fact that I know I am just about to be completely alone for a week as my wife has to go to a conference thingy.  Have I mentioned that I don’t really embrace change well?

The Hills have Dead

State-of-Decay-Watchtower

One of the games I have really been looking forward to on the Xbox 360 is State of Decay.  This is the open world exploration based zombie game from Undead Labs.  It was available as of yesterday on the Xbox Live arcade for 1600 points… aka $20.  Additionally it seems that Undead Labs is trying the failed 38 Studios approach of launching a console game and then bankrolling that success into a MMO version.  So as I look at the game, I am also in the back of my head thinking about how well this will work in MMO form.

Basically in a quick sound byte…  State of Decay is Dead Island but done better.  You are given a more interesting world to explore, populated with less random encounters and a stealth mechanic should you choose to deploy it.  I am about as subtle as a hurricane, so this is usually lost on me… but stealthier folks will love being able to sneak up on the shambling dead and get a silent take down.  There is a lot going on in the game, and most of it really good… especially for a Xbox live title.

The premise is simple, you are at a campground when the world falls to shit… and you and your friend Ed (poor bastard) agree to go around searching for survivors.  By saving other characters you essentially end up building a pack of stalwart zombie hunters.  I believe later on you can develop an enclave of survivors and protect them, building influence with each of them.  This influence seems to dictate the type of things you can do.

There are some really cool mechanics as you go out and explore the world.  One of the niftiest things is that you can at any point essentially fortify your position.  While this defies reason a bit, because as you fortify your position you magically brandish a hammer, nails and a stack of bedraggled board.  However this function allows you to protect yourself from zombies busting through windows to come attack you and the human target… Ed.  This will buy you more time to rifle through the bags and chests in an area to scavenge for materials.

So far I have encountered two kinds of undead.  The first is your normal shambling kind that if they hear you comes running but can pretty much be beat down with a bat easily unless they swarm you.  When I was searching the camp I discovered a maintenance shed that was guarded by a half dozen of a completely different kind of undead.  These were far more dexterous and had an almost demonic appearance with glowing eyes.  As a result these were much harder to take down… and quite honestly damned near killed me.  However as I said earlier… the game really rewards risk taking, because the maintenance shed was completely loaded with stuff to scavenge.

At this point I have not really played the game for very long, as I had some things I was planning on doing in The Secret World.  However the content I have played has left me wanting to play it more.  If you like zombies and you like Fallout style open world exploration… then I would give this game a look.  Additionally it has some pretty good voice acting and writing so far, even though I have not really experienced a lot of it.  As a whole it very much feels like Dead Island meets Fallout meets Walking Dead by Telltale.  If that sounds like an enjoyable combination… then you should totally check this one out.

Shinobi Jones

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Last night we lacked our quorum of five members, so nothing really coalesced in the game around a “group activity”.  Since I had not yet done the “Last Train to Cairo” sequence, I figured it was as good a time as any to go get my whip.  First off I have to give Funcom major kudos because this is hands down the best issue they have released.  The feel of this mission goes above and beyond everything we have experienced to date.  It makes me extremely anxious to see what seven and eight are going to be like… especially with seven supposedly having a 007 flair.

I am going to try to keep from spoiling any of the content… but essentially the mission pack is a wild ride of sabotage, puzzles, stealth, and the most epic train sequence you have ever seen.  All the while you have these great flavor references to the Indiana Jones movies.  This is made all the more surreal by the fact that of late I have been rocking a combination of the shinobi outfit… with the glowing draugr mask… to produce a ninja with glowing blue eyes.  Jones. Shinobi Jones…  with my subtle rocket launcher combat style.

As always the puzzles are extremely puzzling.  There was one deadly floor trap that took me over thirty minutes and probably a dozen deaths to get the hang of.  All of the risk however is well worth the reward, as you not only get your spiffy new whip… but also get a 10.1 epic helm in the process, as well as some currency with a new faction of the Council of Venice.  I have heard rumor that through the upcoming expansions, there will be similar 10.1 epic items, all designed as a way to ease someone into being able to do the NY raid content.  If so I fully support this notion of gear through truly epic quest sequences.

I really need to go back and complete the Tyler Freeborn sequence of quests, as I have left that one hanging as well.  Quite honestly I am sure there is a lot of content I have missed, as the only issue that I have fully explored was the first one, with the awesome prom night sequence.  Carter is still one of my all time favorite protagonists in this game, but after taking the train to Cairo…  I am starting to really like combo of Nassir and Said.  Quite honestly almost all of the content is extremely well written and memorable.

The Secret World has been one of those games that I fired up every few weeks and piddled around a bit in.  However it has been months since I had actually played the game seriously.  Each time I come back for awhile, I marvel at just how well crafted it is.  It still has some very rough spots around the edges, but they have improved a lot in the last year.  I hope that they manage to find that point of equilibrium at which they are able to continue producing introducing content, and as the same time sustain their work force.  The game always gives me some awesome experiences.

Wrapping Up

I have more things I could talk about, but honestly my head is killing me and I want to wander off and find some headache medicine.  Additionally it is already getting late in the morning, and I need to gather laundry for the cleaners.  I might do a few bonus posts this weekend, because I have a few ideas that need to congeal in my head for awhile before throwing out onto paper.  I hope you all manage to survive the coming work day, and that it ends up turning into a weekend quickly.  Ours is going to be dictated by preparation for my wife to travel, and by myself mental preparation for being alone for a week.

Lair of the Beast

Mornings are starting to become an exercise in cat juggling.  We have one cat that is significantly older than the others, and has special dietary needs.  As a result we have been trying to get her locked into the bathroom with us as we shower so we can feed her a can of special food.  The problem is… the other cats and her alike have now come to expect this.  So before I do anything in the morning… I have to shut her in the bathroom… go into the kitchen and set out some wet food for the other two cats… then return to feed her.  Hungry cats are very good at dive bombing your legs… making it extremely hard to walk when already groggy.

Bagmaker in Chief

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Over the last few weeks I have had quite a few friends become active over in Rift.  Other than answering questions and getting them into the guild I am in..  I have been trying to provide for their gear and equipment needs as well.  As a result I had set aside yesterday evening to try and farm up enough Lanzan cloth to make a set of 24 slot bags for Rylacus (or Rylakus as he had to go with in game…  apparently the other name has become popular).  It seems like I go through cloth like water, and the 14 bolts requirement is pretty hefty to be able to make a single bag.

I expected to be farming most of the night to make his set.  Funny thing is… apparently Rift has done the same thing that WoW did.  They have made it so that cloth drops so much faster when you are farming it on an outfitter than when you are on anyone else.  The only negative is that this meant I needed to do the farming on Belgrave my bag maker.  Since the release of Storm Legion, I made one small push to level him… ran into issues chewing through the mob hitpoint pools and have not really tried since.  As a result his specs were somewhat in a state of disarray.

I quickly pulled together a very rudimentary Ranger/Marksman spec and proceeded to start playing again like a WoW hunter.  Luckily this seemed to work better than the last time I tried it, and I could shred mobs and manage to keep my pet up at the same time.  Sure enough the drop rates were considerably better than when I had tried this little exercise on my warrior.  In roughly an hour and a half I accumulated enough cloth to make a full set of 4 bags.  Additionally I crafted Ry a set of 19ish leather gear for him to grow into, though since I taught him how to play the “scratchers” game he has managed to stay fairly well outfitted in planar goods.

I still want to find a time when both Rylacus and Thalen can be on, and anyone else we can manage to gather up.  Would be fun to run them through a couple of dungeons… even though Thalen is now over 50 at this point and Ry is not even 20.  I guess this is the reason why the mentoring system is in.  I think it will be interesting when Ry sees Rift dungeons.  So far it has been a very eye opening experience for him.  He has until now been pretty much a wow loyalist, other than a jaunt into SWTOR.  Now he finally gets why I say that Rift is hands down the best of the wow-like games.

The Keymaster

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After gathering up the materials and crafting some bags, I pinged my friends over IM and decided that we would make another push and finishing the Gatekeeper requirements for Rae.  Once again I was playing the part of Shinobi Belghast, and after checking her achievements… we determined that the only thing she was still missing was the achievement for Elite Hell Eternal.  This is one that we specifically avoided the night before last, because of the time commitment it took previously.  When we were running elites regularly, Hell Eternal had several bugged fights and usually took the longest to get through.

Fortunately all of the buggy moments have been ironed out and the experience was extremely smooth start to finish.  I really love the Hell series of dungeons and the story they tell.  I have always been partial to the writings of Clive Barker… and the story of Theodore Wicker definitely parallels some of these stories.  I could see this tale fitting as a footnote in the “Great and Secret Show”/”Everville” series.  Not to mention that the hell skinned weapons are hands down my favorite in the game… so I am always game to collect more of those skins.

I have been enjoying the Shinobi skin immensely.  There is just something fundamentally wrong with running around in a ninja costume with a rocket launcher strapped to your back.  It is this great juxtaposition, and pretty much represents what happens when I attempt to play a stealth class.  I attempt to sneak around and ultimately end up just pummeling the opposition with superior force.  There is something so satisfying about watching a rocket fly off towards the target, and this is all the more satisfying seeing a ninja fire it.

We wrapped up the dungeon rather quickly, and Rae was off to her date with the Gatekeeper.  We had set her up for the harsh reality that we experienced when each of us did the trial.  At that point, hands down the hardest was the dps encounter… and of the five of us… only 2 of us even attempted the fight.  Either they have nerfed the encounter a bit, or Rae is just fundamentally better than we were.  It took me 20-30 tries to get through the encounter, and Waren two days of attempts…  last night Rae managed to beat the Gatekeeper on DPS mode in less than 20 minutes.

Lair of the Beast

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Instead of starting in on the nightmares last night we decided to take an alternate path.  In our absence from being active in the game, Funcom had introduced quests for all the various monster lairs.  So we made our way to what we perceived as the “starter lair” in Kingsmouth.  Upon entering the burnt out region on the map, we were greated with a brand new visual effect announcing the lair.  The edges of the screen became roped in the veiny filth graphic and a title appeared in the center of the screen announcing the lair name (which I cannot for the life of me remember).

The lairs themselves are just as difficult as before.  We started off working on them with just 3 players… 1 tank, 1 healer and me as the single dps.  We were able to chew through the equivalent of “trash” but when we attempted to fight a Draugr they tended to rip us a new one.  Now this might have been that we were not quite used to the various mechanics to avoid… but in any case as we got our 4th and 5th player the experience became much more enjoyable.  Essentially the first two lair quests that we did were the standard kill and collect type fair, but it gave us a sense of purpose as we wandered around the dangerous area.

It was getting late when we wrapped up the first two quests… and picked up phase 2 of one of the quests and unlocked a harder one.  Since we were standing near the exit to the area… and based on the late hour… we decided to tackle the other two missions at a later date.  Previously when we had made an attempt at the various summoned lair bosses, the drop rates were abysmal.  They seem to have improved this, as we were getting a summon boss part on almost every other kill.  We designated one player to collect the bits, and he die an amazing impression of a pack mule throughout the night.

We seem to have slightly misunderstood the goals however, as we were thinking we needed to get all the parts of a specific kind of piece… aka Beta, Theta, Xi.  But it turns out that each monster is crafted out of multiple named pieces… and in any given lair there are 3 different monsters to summon.  We were feeling rather disheartened as we had 3 of one type, 2 of another, and the rest were singletons.  However I would be wiling to bet that after last nights journey, we should be able to summon at least one complete monster.  Hopefully we can get together tonight and give it a shot.

Wrapping Up

In the time off from The Secret World, it seems as though they have made a not insignificant number of changes to the game to tweak the abilities and the overall balance.  As a result I think we are all really enjoying the game more than we did before.  Each player has finally found a spec that they seem to enjoy, and of the five of us… only Ash has yet to completely abandon the concept of playing anything melee.  That is still a major shortcoming of the game to me, the way it unfairly punishes players for  attempting to melee.  I gave up long ago and switched to Shotgun/Pistol for instances over my beloved Shotgun/Blades.

If you were like us and had not seriously done much group content since early in the game.  You definitely owe it to yourself to give the elite, nightmare and lair content another look.  Our little group has been having a blast, and for the most part the game feels very fresh.  I find myself looking forward to getting into group content each night, and that has been a feeling that has been missing for a few months.  Anyways… the time is ticking on and I need to be really wrapping up instead of rambling more.  I hope you all have a great day and relight whatever spark has been dimming for yourself.

Making Horrible Choices

This morning I sit here typing as a truly insane torrent of rain pours down on our house.  Apparently over night this massive storm system has blown in, and the deluge we are experiencing is the end result.  Luckily the “T” word has not been mentioned at all, just lots of rain and the potential for flash flooding.  Still instinctually I turned to channel 6 or on digital cable… 706 and have been watching it as I get ready this morning.  This is a reaction to weather that is just engrained in Oklahomans from a little age… and even though I rarely if ever watch the evening news…  when weather happens I am glued to it.

Unplanned Adventure

Yesterday I was just feeling absolutely horrible, and while I made it into work… by noon I was wishing I had not.  I was suffering from what I tend to term “giblet” problems… everything just felt all wrong.  So I took a half sick day, and went home after I got out of an important series of meetings.  When home I pretty much went to bed, or at least laid down.  I ended up falling asleep and sleeping roughly three hours, and when I woke up I was feeling a bit better.

I got up and around and checked email… remoted into work and did a few things.  At this point my wife who is on summer break tells me that one of her coordinators called, and as a result she would need to go back to school this evening to pick up a text book.  Summer School starts today, and she would no longer have access to her room to grab it.  At first I groggily agreed, thinking man that sucks for her…  then she informed me that she was wanting me to go with her.

I quickly saw my evening going to absolute crap before my eyes.  I already felt horrible, but the thought of having to leave the house and go off on a jaunt just felt almost unbearable.  To her credit, we had a stack of errands that needed running… and her thought process was that we could just do them on the way to or from the house.  The negative part however is that her school is 45 minutes away on the exact opposite end of Tulsa.  She said we would do it later, but as time ticked past…  I ended up insisting that we leave as not to wreck the entire night.

Making Horrible Choices

This timing and path we ended up taking was a bad call on my part all around.  We ended up venturing out into the tail end of rush hour and wading knee deep into bumper to bumper traffic.  It turns out there had been a wreck in the middle lane of 169 at 51st street, and as a result traffic was backed up past 11th street.  What should have been an hour and a half trip at most, ended up being a three and a half hour slog.  All the while I am fuming that I even have to be doing this in the first place.  My wife gets an unbelievable amount of credit for dealing with me last night at all.  We bickered back and forth during the whole trip, but it could have gotten so much worse.

I was very much an asshole about the whole ordeal.  I felt like crap, my migraines have been getting worse, work has been stressing me out… and adding on top of that was getting drug back into the world for something that didn’t really involve me.  Had I needed to run get something from work, I would have just run in by myself and gotten it, I didn’t understand why I needed to be tagging along in the process.  All of this snowballed together to turn me into a bundle of unfettered rage… or at least angry sulking.  I was an absolute bear to deal with all of last night, and I greatly apologize for it.  Her thought process made absolute sense, but she is the logical one… I tend to be the one driven by my passions.

Making everything worse was the fact that we were both pretty hungry at this point.  She had not had any lunch at all, and the combination of both of us lead to a pretty crappy car ride.  The one glowing silver lining is the fact that we got to eat at Ron’s.  For those not native to Tulsa, Ron’s is this awesome chain of hamburger joints.  They specialize in several things, including the sausage hamburger… but my absolute favorites are their hot and spicy chicken and cheese tots.  Figuring it would put both of us in a better mood that is exactly where we went, and at the end of all the frustration it was truly glorious.  I had way more calories than I would have liked, but enjoyed every bite of the buffalo flavored ambrosia.

Defiance

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Between waking up from my nap and after doing some work that had stacked up while sleeping, and our horrible jaunt out into the real world I sat around on our amazingly comfy sofa trying to get “ungroggy”.  As a result I decided to boot up defiance and give it a spin for a few.  I have been sitting on a copy for awhile thanks to my early alpha testing ways, but have not really spent much time playing the game.  Honestly I had created my engineer, and gotten him to the Earth Defense force base… and that was just about it.

Yesterday I decided to start working through the first few quests.  I remember thinking in alpha that this was really not “my game”.  While there are definitely elements I like about it, I am just not much of a shooter person any more… and in fantasy MMOs I very rarely if ever play a ranged class.  All of that said there is something undeniably enjoyable about the game.  It seems to tweak what ever section of my brain that loves the Fallout series.  I feel like in order to really tap into this I need to find myself a shotgun, since essentially I play every Fallout game wielding a Combat Shotgun, or whatever equivalent that game has.

I wandered around for a bit and managed to knock out one of the quests that was horribly bugged in early testing…  the whole rescue men that leads to recover supplies from the hospital mission.  During testing this ended up with essentially endless waves of mutants spawning on top of you until you could no longer keep up.  This time around, while there were a lot of mutants that spawned… they were definitely a finite number.  The gameplay feels better overall, the game less laggy and the controls more responsive.

I hope as I move further through the content that I will find myself caring about it a little more.  Having watched the television show, I find myself actually caring about the game world quite a bit more.  The only problem I have however is that the starting missions feel extremely uninspired.  The mutants you end up fighting, seem like the most generic possible mob you could end up fighting.  I don’t care that I am slaughtering them, they are completely meaningless…  to fall back on the Fallout analogy… I found myself caring more about killing mole rats and rad scorpions.

There are some neat random side effects that happen, like saving EREP forces from mutants.  The only problem is that this loses all sense of urgency when you realize that this spawns in exactly the same place on a pretty regular interval and almost every time you ATV through the area… those damned EREP soldiers have been captured again.  I have yet to encounter an Ark Fall, so I am hoping that those will really spice up the gameplay as I love Rifts.  All it all it feels like something that I will play every now and then… just like Guild Wars 2, and Neverwinter… but not a game I will likely ever get seriously into.

Reaches of Inner-Outer Space

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I will admit that likely a good chunk of my bitchiness earlier, was the fact that I figured I would have lost my chance to continue on in The Secret World.  That by the time I managed to get home and watching IM again… that the Elite Dungeon train would have long left the station.  I really enjoyed Monday night, and was looking forward to being able to roll around as a prebuilt team of five last night.  It turns out that my friends had for the most part been patiently waiting for me to show up.  So as soon as I got home and fired up my laptop, they were beckoning me to join them in game.  After the ball of frustration I had just experienced, I was in major need for venting it all into killing random bad things.

Much like last night we started running the next few elites all in an attempt to get Rae the achievement needed to unlock the gatekeeper fight.  As a result we burned through Hell Fallen and the Facility, making short work of both.  We decided to skip Hell Eternal since it is an extremely long dungeon, and make an attempt at the Slaughterhouse since it is comparatively short.  I am not sure what it was… either that the fight had changed since we were last in there… or the fact that we were probably getting tired at that point…  but for whatever reason we could not push through the NKL-107 encounter.

After doing some research, apparently there is a bug currently in place that causes some of the buffs from nightmare to bleed into the elite version.  This also happened to us in the past when they rolled out the nightmare version of The Ankh.  We went from being able to roll through that place without issue, to not being able to defeat the final boss at all.  It was the same kind of feeling we had with Slaughterhouse in the robot fight.  Ultimately we needed a more reliable purge, which was not something we really had at that moment.  Both myself and Rae had the ability to do a 33% of the time purge, but this was just not regular enough to keep the tank alive with the nightmare buffs.

It was still a really fun time, and the best part is that once we finish these last two elites… Rae should be geared enough to face the Gatekeeper and hopefully survive.  Granted getting past him was a mind numbingly frustrating experience as a DPS, so it might take her awhile to come up with that magic formula that allows her to defeat him.  The fact that she picked up her 100% purge should make the fight overall easier, since I did it with only my 33% of the time purge…  and it introduced a random element into my success.  I really look forward to trying Nightmares again, to see if we are any better equipped to handle them than we were before.

Wrapping Up

The other awesome thing that happened last night is that I finally connected with Rylacus and got his two characters invited to the Outcast Misfits in Rift.  I am sure he will appreciate having some “green spam” while he is leveling, and it will definitely be easier to determine if he is actually online… or just playing the scratchers.  It is still pouring down insanely outside… and I am not looking forward to making a wild dash out to my car.  However the hour is getting later, and I need to be getting on the road.  I hope you have a great day… and you also can admit when you are being an asshole… more gracefully than I did last night.

A Secret to Everybody

So this morning I have fallen prey to one of my least favorite morning time scenarios.  I woke up naturally, and after realizing that the alarm had not gone off…  I attempted to go back to sleep.  Just as I was starting to drift back into slumber… the alarm went off rudely waking me.  I should have just gotten up as apparently my body thought my battery was done charging.  As a result I am mostly awake but the part of me that was trying to go back to sleep is still groggy and vengeful.

A Secret to Everybody

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My evening was absolutely nothing like I had planned… though quite honestly I had not really planned much of anything.  My intent was to go upstairs, eat some dinner and then get back into Rift or SWTOR.  However upon arriving upstairs I got a message form a friend asking if I wanted to be the 5th in The Secret World.  The best part about this concept was the fact that this was the core group that I experienced The Secret World with initially.  It felt like getting the band back together as it were.

Basically what has spurred this recent interest in TSW is the fact that they seem to have fixed blood as a healing spec, or at least fixed it enough to where it is enjoyable once more for our healer.  Previously we burned through the elites and started banging our heads against the Nightmares before our healer just could not take any more.  This is the ultimate Achilles heel of the Secret World experience, it goes from being super open to all possible specs and experimentation with new ideas…  to requiring this one certain thing in order to survive in Nightmares.

When I say we got the band back together… this is not entirely true.  The original five were nightmare ready and geared up in half purples.  This time around we have a Rae in place for Warenwolf, and as a result last night we had to start working through the elites so that she could unlock the Gatekeeper fight… and ultimately unlock Nightmare content.  This was a pretty good idea since none of us really know what we are doing anymore.  I have played Secret World once or twice a week, but I have limited that to my roflstomp sword/shotgun build.

The problem with higher level content is that melee is just not viable.  The Secret World is far too punishing to melee characters, and if you choose to dps as melee you essentially end up harming your group in the long run.  As a result I ended up abandoning my beloved blade/shotgun build for favor of shotgun/pistols in order to dps elites and nightmares.  Essentially last night was a matter of us all trying to remember what the hell to do with our characters.

Greenshot Down

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I am having to swipe images from other websites this morning.  Like a tourist without film, I thought I was snapping pictures all night… but not a single one of them turned out.  Awhile back I had switched from Fraps to Greenshot… and had pretty good luck with it.  However recently I have not gotten a usable picture from it.  When I attempt to snap a picture it acts like it is working, but the end result is either a black screen or a picture of my desktop.  I have been using Razer Game Booster as a backup… but for whatever reason it does not like The Secret World.  The above image is an example of what I am shooting… it seems as though for whatever reason it is alpha transparent.

The long and short apparently is that I am going to have to switch back to fraps and just deal with its idiosyncrasies.  The additional takeaway is that I really don’t have pictures from my adventure last night, which is a shame… because in theory I took some good ones.  I am completely open to other suggestions if you guys have ideas on a better universal screenshot program.  I prefer using fraps or something like that rather than the in game screenshot functionality, because it aggregates all my screenshots into one place.  This makes it easier to sort through when I am pulling together a blog post.

All Roads Lead to Rome

We burned through elites last night like a five player wrecking ball.  That was another problem we ultimately had with the Secret World end game.  You go from absolutely demolishing content in normal and elite mode… to having the bottom completely drop out from under you in Nightmares.  However the best thing about their content is the fact that they do not believe in trash…  and only place it in front of you if you are supposed to learn a mechanic from it.  Teaching players your game through the introduction of trash mobs is a concept that every game needs to take to heart.

I thought after the release of Cataclysm that Blizzard had maybe learned this lesson.  During the Baradin Hold fights, you learn the concepts you need from the trash leading up to the bosses.  The problem is, this is the one and only place in Cataclysm that they really do this.  Introducing players ton concepts with learning trash is far superior every time to throwing an encounter at them, and leading them to google it.  I will get off this particular soapbox… as the hour is getting late…  but this is seriously a concept that needs to be propagated.

Over the course of the night we cleared Elite Polaris, Hell Fallen, Darkness War and The Ankh.  I think we got Rae a few drops, and I myself managed to pick up 347 damage versions of the two weapon slots I did not have a blue for.  After all that dungeon grinding however, we decided we needed a break.  I thought initially we were going to just break up for the night, but Tam quickly suggested that we grab one of the newer investigation missions.  He remembered seeing one in the Haitian Market area of London, so we all headed back that way.

This is the point at which we remember why we really fell in love with the game in the first place.  The content is deep and creative, and leads the characters through a series of imaginative puzzles.  This investigation quest personifies why this game works and why players should be playing it.  I wont go into too many details… because spoilers.  But essentially you retrace the steps of roman explorers through Ancient London.  Make sure you brush up on your latin… or at least have a translator handy.

Wrapping Up

Last night made me extremely happy.  Returning to grouping in The Secret World was like picking up a familiar book and re-reading it.  While the mechanics have changed slightly, it is still the same solid game and story under the cover.  I really hope that in the coming weeks we can return to this world as a group more often.  I would really like to finish getting Rae geared, and through the Gatekeeper fight so we can get some revenge on all those nightmares.  I hope you have a great day, and too discover an old friend.

Reverberating the Praise

So honestly… I started writing this out over on a friends blog.  She posted something that resonated with me so much, that I just had to respond.  However as I cleared the end of my fourth paragraph, I came to the realization that I was not posting a response, but writing an entire damned blog post on her site.  Granted it is not unusual for me to rattle off a two or three paragraph response… but this was entering the territory of the ludicrous.

The Spinoff Post

I’ve been pretty lousy at keeping up with Google Reader lately.  So after a busy morning I sat down to read a few posts, trying to grind down the massive count a bit.  I know I have said this before, but my blogroll is literally what I read, so I try my damnedest to read each and every blog that I am in essence “advertising”.  It was to my pleasure that near the top of the stack, MMOGC had thrown up a brand new post. 

First off you have to go over there and read it right now, because it covers a topic that has become very near to my heart.  In her post titled “Funcommunication” she goes into a length how amazing Funcom has been at bringing us, the players, into the experience.  I have to say that I agree completely, and she managed to put it into words far better than I have done to this point. 

A Bigger Shout Out

I mean I have given shouts out to the Funcom staff in several posts, but I don’t think I have really covered the magnitude of the experience.  I’ve thought a few other companies in the past have done a great job interacting with the community, but that said Funcom has really taken it to the next level.  Players tend to have completely unrealistic expectations for games companies, I am just as bad as anyone about this.  However having this level of constantly interactivity, has been extremely humanizing.

So while we get frustrated about the bugs, seeing a constant effort to try and fix things makes the pill a little easier to swallow.  As a programmer I know, that you have to pull off a lot of layers of false assumptions about a bug before you can really get to the root of it.  In the case of the chat system issues, they were basically occurring in a way that could not be lab tested.  There is no real way to get hundreds of thousands of players to connect to your development server.

While it was annoying, and I am glad that time is behind us I cannot describe how much I appreciate being “kept in the loop” about what was going on.  So much marketing babble and spin works its way into patch notes and announcements, that it is really refreshing to see the equivalent of “we thought we fixed it, but I guess we didn’t, we are trying something else”.  No one is all knowing, and as a programmer we usually operate on our best guess.  When dealing with extremely complex systems, the wrong answers are often times more telling than the final solution.  Be it through the forums, live streams, official blog posts, or twitter, I am always impressed with the level of candor shown towards the community.

Amazing Customer Service

Another point that I have to harp on is just how great the customer service has been.  GC writes in her post:

Honestly? I was pleasantly surprised. On a Saturday evening, right smack in the middle of a busy celebration weekend, both my husband’s and my tickets were answered by a helpful in-game representative within ten minutes, and within another five we were all fixed up and ready to go. Let’s face it, bugged quests are irritating as all hell and no one ever likes running into them, but the sting sure is lessened by a prompt response and swift resolution to the problem. I was very satisfied.

Granted, based on the inevitable complaints on the forums, not everyone has been as fortunate. So maybe you can say that my husband and I just happened to hit the GM lottery.

I can say without the shadow of a doubt that she did not win the GM lottery.  It might be because of the level of evolvement with the community, but for whatever reason I have simply cared more about The Secret World than I have most games in the past.  Always in the past it felt like my petitions had little to no effect on the game world.  I am notorious for figuring out a work-around to avoid bugs, and then just ignoring the fact that they actually exist rather than reporting them.  In this game however I have been a bug reporting fiend.

So far it has not mattered what I have reported, be it a problem with geometry or the chat issues not actually being fixed…  I have always received a prompt and courteous response.  I’ve put in somewhere between five and a dozen petitions since launch, and in every case I have had a tell from a GM within ten minutes.  The vast majority of these times, it was far closer to five minutes.  In one instance, I reported a bugged encounter in a dungeon, and we moved on to the next boss.  The GM responded before we were through the first phase, and patiently waited for us to finish the fight so I could more properly respond.

I remember one night, I had petitioned a GM about a geometry issue or as I call them ‘”The Potholes” of City of the Sun God.  There are a few places in the world, with gaps that you cannot see before accidentally falling into them.  While I was typing up my petition, another player fell in the hole with me and used /reset to get out.  I could have done the same, and ultimately I did to free myself, but I figured that if I didn’t report it, it might not get fixed.  The GM took the time, and asked me to go back to the hole, so they could properly document the problem, and make sure it was on the list of known issues.  This little attention to detail really gives me hope for the future of the game.

Phenominal Community Team

I know specifically I have harped on this before, but if I am going through the process of making this post anyways, I have to take a moment to talk about Ragnar and Morteia.  Other companies have been involved with the community, but Funcom really sets the standard here.  They are constantly responding to players, and answering questions directly.  Maybe it is silly, but it feels somewhat awesome to have the Creative Director or Community Manager share your post with the community. 

Thing is it goes so much deeper than just rebroadcasting links.  It feels like we are getting let in on some secret, like they are leaking little bits of information to the diehard fans.  So when they answer a question, or hint at some upcoming feature we get all giddy with excitement.  MMOGC gives the great example of Ragnar talking about upcoming work from Peter Stormare.  I mean that is awesome, while he might not want to be known for this, I cannot picture Satan without thinking of his amazing performance from Constantine.  This man belongs in The Secret World so much it almost hurts!

Why This Matters

The Secret World still has a lot of bugs, and there are a good number of features that have been frustrating to deal with. In most other games, these would have been deal breakers, because the layer of clinical distance from the user community gave the impression that they frankly did not care about my gameplay experience.  Normally my tolerance for frustration is pretty low, I have trouble looking past a bad UI or controls to see the story underneath.  While I really like the UI and controls, you can read my original review of beta weekend and see that I was less than favorable.

So upon reading that, you might ask yourself what changed?  In many ways the game has changed drastically since beta weekend, and improved in almost every way imaginable.  But I have to say that a good chunk of why I can look past the rough edges at times, is thanks to my experiences with customer support and the community team.  They are the face of Funcom to me, and my regular dealings with them has allowed me to handle the quests going wonky, and getting stuck on geometry.  My frustration is always tempered with the feeling like they actually care, and are working to try and make the game a better experience for everyone.

Not Just a Love Song

So it is pretty easy to write this post off as a love song towards the company that runs the game I happen to be playing.  I mean I have rambled on for 13 paragraphs at this point, about my awesome experiences with them while playing their game.  For me it goes deeper, as bloggers it is so easy to dwell on the negative aspects of a game.  It is so much easier for me to pull myself away from a game I hate, to write an angry rant than to log out of a game I am really loving.  The problem is, all this negatively just turns into a wall of sound, where every opinion, dissenting review and frustrated plea becomes a indistinguishable from the mass of angst.

Instead I think we are better served spending our time, pointing out the things that are going well, the individuals that are in fact doing right by the community.  Each week it seems like we hear of another game flailing, another round of layoffs, and more pox upon the industry.  We need to highlight the good in gaming, and make sure those people feel appreciated.  So here you go Funcom, I really appreciate your efforts, and that of the amazing team that has created The Secret World.  While I am somewhat angsty, about not being able to get the nifty Steam swag, I wish you all amazing success with that new venture.

Good Job!

106 Miles to Chicago

It seems like the Secret World community as a whole is still coming down off the high that was the Monthiversary celebration weekend.  As a whole I think the weekend was a rousing success.  It gave several friends of mine time to get in and see if the game was for them.  I know of at least four converts, and two of those are now proud holders of a lifetime account.

Coup De Grace

Honestly I think the concept behind the weekend was a master stroke.  The 24 hour buddy passes are just simply not enough time to decide whether or not the game really resonates with you.  There have been some discussions in my cabal, namely between myself, MMOGC, and PaganRites… and the basic idea is that it takes at least 10 hours of gameplay for you to really “get it”.  That is to really understand why this game is so unique, why it is worth playing, and grasp the deeply intricate combat system.

Sypster over at Bio Break theorizes that the celebration weekend, is essentially a way to offer a “free trial” without actually saying those words.  I totally think this was the core of the weekend, it let anyone who has a Funcom account try the game.  But even more than that I think it was a great way of building customer loyalty.  While getting to your 30 quest mark, might have been a daunting task for someone brand new to the game.  For those of us who are veterans, we were able to easily cut a path through some of the easier quests.

As a result it also made Kingsmouth an extremely active place.  For all that activity, I was pleasantly surprised in the relative lack of “asshattery”.  People seemed genuinely helpful to the new guests inhabiting our servers.  I know I answered more than a few “newbie” questions, and in my time trying to knock out some of the easy quests, jumped in and saved more than a few overwhelmed players.  So while this was a great trial weekend for new players, for us veterans it became a really easy way to earn enough item shop currency for some spiffy items.  The positive is that there are very few items on the cash shop that cost more than the 1200 points you earned from the quests.  The only negative however is that they are in fact “bonus” points, and will expire in September.

A Mission from God

TheSecretWorld 2012-08-07 20-41-29-91

They’re not gonna catch us. We’re on a mission from God. – Elwood Blues

Over the last several days since the release of Issue #1, I’ve been on a mission that has completely consumed me.  Essentially I decided that while everyone was off doing the brand new content, and trying to get in their thirty quests for the celebration weekend, I would start my hunt to kill all the rares in the world.  I still have a long ways to go, and some of them have been rather maddening (Mr. Freezie I am looking at you), but I’ve made a pretty massive dent in the total.  I have no clue if I actually get anything for doing this, but it is one of those things that I am obsessing over.

So far I vanquished 27 of the 38 total “achievement rares” in the world.  Here are the ones I have found and destroyed (minor spoilers):

  • Nattfari – Draug in Kingsmouth
  • Mr. Freezie – Zombie in Kingsmouth
  • Soloman’s Omen – Undead Bear in Kingsmouth
  • Father Appleby – Undead Priest in Kingsmouth
  • Dunwich Road Horror – Mud Golem in Kingsmouth
  • Coach Roarke – Zombie in The Savage Coast
  • Lurking Revenant – Revenant in The Savage Coast
  • The Collector – Scarecrow in The Savage Coast
  • Umbral Brood King – Ak’ab in The Savage Coast
  • Penumbral Elevated Caste – Ak’ab in Blue Mountain
  • Algernon – Wendigo in Blue Mountain
  • Bastard of the Brine – Deep One in Blue Mountain
  • Billy’s Muse – Shadow Thing in Blue Mountain
  • Gronarch the Exiled – Sand Golem in Scorched Desert
  • The Lost One – Ghoul in Scorched Desert
  • Deathstalker – Scorpion in Scorched Desert
  • Ainn the Harbinger – Plague Golem in Scorched Desert
  • Corrupted Egyptologist – Filth Infected Cultist in City of the Sun God
  • Kiya, the Pharaoh’s Concubine – Tomb Guardian in City of the Sun God
  • Emissary of the Dead Nations – Ghoul in City of the Sun God
  • Cretaceous Shisocerca – Wasp in City of the Sun God
  • Village-Eater – Troll in Besieged Farmlands
  • Ursine Horror – Undead Bear in Besieged Farmlands
  • Demolisher – Siege Breaker in Besieged Farmlands
  • The Nameless One – Deathless in Shadowy Forest
  • Traitor of Basarab – Vampire in Carpathian Fangs
  • General Blasius – Filth Infected Human in Carpathian Fang

I won’t lie, some of these have already been a massive pain in the ass.  There was one specific spawn that I essentially camped most of the weekend, killing the placeholder every 15 minutes.  It took two full days of doing this off and on before the rare I needed spawned.  Others like Mr. Freezie and The Lost One, spawn in such high traffic areas, that essentially as soon as they are up they have aggro’d onto someone.  I am sure I will take a break before too much longer, since I too would like to se the new content. Up to this point however, I have had a blast tracking down all these dangerous beasties.

The Nightmare Begins

guardian

A few weeks back the little five man team I have been running with, finished all of the elite dungeons and with much effort especially on the part of the dps, managed to get through the Gatekeeper encounter.  I have to say, that even looking back the dps version of The Gatekeeper was insanely difficult, and I am still shocked I managed to get through it without lowering my standards and changing to one of the more standardized builds.  I still plan on doing a write-up for exactly how I managed to down The Gatekeeper as Shogtun/Blades, but I just haven’t had the time to finish it up.

Getting our Asses Kicked

As difficult as the encounter was, I have to say it really did nothing to prepare me for the difficulty of nightmare dungeons.  This week our little team finally started attempting the hardest mode of the dungeons currently available.  At first we decided to dip our toes into Darkness War, since so many of the instances have a number of little painful bugs right now.  We were completely overwhelmed by the amount of damage taken, and the amount that we needed to output.

After some regrouping, we decided to start working on the first instance, Polaris.  I think we were a bit gunshy in trying to assume that the first dungeon was going to be the easiest.  We attempted that login in SWTOR, and found out that honestly The Esseles ended up being one of the most difficult of the hardmodes.  Thankfully Funcom did not do this to us, and we’ve managed to make a pretty big dent in the dungeon.  It is funny that we are treating this 5 man as though it were a raid essentially.

OHGODSQUID

On our first night, we struggled our way through the encounters, learning the mechanics as we went.  All of us are pretty reluctant to try and look up strategies for the encounters.  It is so much more enjoyable to have those “aha” moments for yourself, than to try and do things the way someone else says you have to.  Honestly most of my raiding career was this way as well.  We invested in taking the time to find a strategy that worked for our specific groups makeup.

Last night we returned and had most of the bosses “on farm”, as it were.  We are still struggling massively with the “OHGODSQUID” as I refer to it.  I think towards the end of the night we were formulating some new ideas on how to beat the encounter.  Hopefully we will go back in tonight, make some adjustments and dine on some mutant calamari.  Then of course will come the real challenge, but I won’t go into it for sake of spoilers.

I Has Purplez

The awesome thing that makes the struggle worth it, is that pretty much everything in the zone drops much better gear than we have seen to this point.  So only going in and being able to kill a few bosses is completely worth the effort.  So far we have managed to outfit our tank in a number of really massive upgrades, and our healer in a new headpiece and weapon.  The amount of difference this has made has been significant, in the difficulty of the encounters.  They have gone from “OMGWTF” to hard but manageable with a lot of work.

Last night we got our very first purple dps item, and through the luck of random numbers I managed to win it.  So I have a little purple tint to go with my blue tones.  The funny thing about gear in this game, is that always before people would link the item and dressing room it, and there would be a chorus of “man that looks cool”.  In The Secret World, these items are just better stats, so in a way you just don’t get nearly as attached to any one item as you did before.

Honestly I am completely okay with this.  My emotions are wrapped up in my outfits, my cosmetic items, and the ability to mold any weapon to look like whatever happens to be my current favorite.  The talismans, simply become a means to an end, a way to perform better and make life easier on your friends.  Always in the past I was reluctant to upgrade out of full sets of gear, because I hated looking like an unmatched hobo.  But now when the gear comes down, with slightly better stats, swapping it out becomes a completely no-brainer.

Linkspam

Going to wrap up this post, since I have the development live stream going in the background.  I still have to give a shout out about how badass it is that they have been giving us a semi-weekly view into the inner workings of the game team.  In closing going to throw out a series of links.  There have been some great articles posted about the game, so these are definitely ones you should read.  Please note, not all of these are super positive about the game, but that is completely okay.  I’ve always said this was not going to be a game for everyone.

  • First up we have a review of the weekend by Kadomi at Live Like a Nerd.  She went into the game expecting nothing, but got completely hooked.  Talks about the “missing time” concept many of us have experienced while playing the game.  I swear it was only thiry minutes!!
  • GC over at MMOGamerChick, also a guildie, does a great write up about her post celebration “hangover”.  Great read, because really the weekend was so much fun it was draining.
  • Maeve over at Multiplaying, gives a great review of the game that has become her latest addiction.
  • Kotaku gives a pretty even-handed review of the game.  You can tell the writer actually played it in production, unlike some of the other reviews I have read.
  • Psynister and Fynralyl are a husband and wife duo that tried the game together this weekend.  While they liked some things, they were overall turned off by the game.  Both are well worth the read, because a lot of the things they mention, are things some of the TSW diehards love the most.
  • Rowan over at I Touched the Sky, posted a rebuttal of sorts.  Not in the sense of trying to state that Psyn and Fyn are wrong by any means, but to answer some of the points they brought up.  Also extremely worth the read.
  • The new episode of Enochian Frequency is ready to go.  I highly suggest listening to the podcast regularly especially if you are interested in the real world lore behind the lore.
  • Lastly I wanted to give a real quick shout out to Scarybooster and Feliz.  Feliz has created a beautiful new skin for Scaryworlds.com, I highly suggest you check it out and tell them what you think.