Ten MMO Must Haves

This morning I got up roughly 15 minutes before the alarm went off… and decided to that rather than be groggy later… I would go ahead and get up and around.  Right now I am kind of questioning that decision, since the bed seems like a really amazing idea.  I had a really spastic yesterday as I never could really decide on a game to play.  Since Final Fantasy beta was closed by the time I got up and around I ended up cycling through Everquest, Rift, Vanguard, and Defiance never quite sticking in any of them.  As a result I don’t have much excitement to talk about… and I am nowhere near finished with my second part of How To Rift… so I am going off in a completely different direction.

Ten MMO Must Haves

Basically over the years I have noticed several features that I expect most MMOs to have, and when they are not there it greatly harms my enjoyment for the long run.  I keep cycling back to the ones that do have most of the list.  Granted this is in no way a complete list, as I am sure there are things I have omitted for the sake of a clean number, but these are definitely all things I would prefer to see in an upcoming title.  These are not necessarily in order of importance… but more the order in which I thought of them.

1 – Random Events

Nothing breaks up the monotony of questing and killing mobs like a random army invading the countryside.  I have always liked when random things happen in games, I even like random loot so long as it is not something I need to progress forwards.  In the post Rift MMO world, I feel like random things happening in your world is an absolute must have.  When it is missing, the game feels extremely stale to me.  When it is done well, you forget what you are doing and follow along the flow of what is happening in a specific zone.  This should be events chosen from a long list of potential ones… not the same event happening over and over like in Guild Wars 2.  Their implementation did not serve to make the world feel alive, but instead made it feel even more like a carnival ride resetting itself every so often.

2 – Passive Grouping

I should be able to help other players out, and they help me without having to worry about whether or not I tagged the mob first.  Grouping should be something you do to hang out with people, not something you feel obligated to do constantly just to get through game content.  I feel as though simply touching a mob should give me credit for whatever that mob is required for.  Rift and Guild Wars definitely do this extremely well… but when I go back to a game that does not have it… I become a kill stealing asshole.  I just forget that mob tagging is an actual thing that is still in games.  If you do not have passive mob tagging… you are bad and should feel bad.

3 – Puzzles and Collectibles

I have the tendencies in me to power level myself to the cap and then get bored feeling there is nothing left to do.  If your game has little puzzles and collectible bits it helps to make me stop and smell the roses.  I feel for other players this becomes a meta game all in itself.  These systems all seem relatively simple to implement, but it seems like there is a greater return on investment as far as gluing a player to your game.  Rift and GW2 both have amazing examples of puzzles, and EQ2 has probably the most extensive collection system I have seen in a game.  I greatly prefer there to be something for me to always be on the lookout for, that offers interesting gameplay and forces me to stop quest grinding.

4 – Moveable UI Elements

This one is huge to me.  Essentially I will if given the option set my UI to look the same from game to game.  I like certain windows in certain locations because it helps me not have to think about where things are.  When you play lots of different MMOs this becomes something extremely important.  Additionally I find myself setting up all my hotbars the same… 0 is the interrupt key, 7 is my combo point dump, 5 is charge/deathgrip, etc.  As a result I really hate your game when you force me to play with your idea of how the UI should look.  No matter how much research you have put into your UI, it is not ideal for everyone… and as a result you should never force players into your chosen UI design box.  Make the windows unlock able and moveable  either through the default UI like Rift or through Addons like WoW.

5 – Map with User Defined Waypoints

This is another big one for me.  Navigating your world should be easy for the players.  I should be able to open my map, click a point that I want to travel to and then get some kind of directions as to how to get there.  This can be as simple as an Icon on the edge of the mini-map showing you the direction of your destination, or as complex as some sort of golden path or arrow pointing the way.  Additionally it would be really amazing if your system allowed player defined permanent waypoints.  That way we could actively mark whenever we found something cool in your world.  TSW does an amazing job of this.. and I have tons of little markers scattered through all my maps pointing to nifty things I found.  This is definitely something all games should emulate.

6 – Sortable/Searchable Bank and Inventory

First off let me say.. that the concept of physical bags with limited storage is something no one should ever do again.  I greatly prefer one big inventory space because usually with that comes the ability to sort, filter, and search the contents of your inventory.  Rift does an interesting hybrid model, in that they still have physical bags, but they have a sort and search functionality that makes up for the fact of having to juggle multiple containers rather than just one.  Trying to find things in your bags should not be considered a meta game… and you should help players out so they have to spend as little time doing this as possible.  There have been times I have logged into EQ2… looked at the state of my bags and logged out immediately because I did not want to spend the next 30 minutes clearing them out.  That game is the worst case scenario… but I have had similar happen in many other games as well.  Make your inventory system help the player rather than hinder them.

7 – Sell All Junk Button

If your game drops junk items from mobs aka “Greys” and you do not have a sell all junk button… you are a horrible person and should be drug out into the street and shot.  Nothing is more frustrating than going through your inventory and having to manually sell a bunch of trash items that have no real purpose for existing other than to give you some cash.  Better yet, don’t even drop the trash items and give us additional gold instead.  I think the running theme of the last two should be that Inventory Maintenance is not a fun meta game.  No one enjoys it, and all it does is make the player feel like they have just completely wasted their time.  I am completely fine with getting additional cash in lieu of junk, but if you do have junk… for the love of god make a sell all crap button.

8 – AOE Looting

Thank you Rift for creating this construct… and thank you modern MMO developers for having the common sense to say “damn, why didn’t we have this” and adding it to your games.  Nothing is more annoying than trying to select that one corpse from a pile of corpses that still has loot on it.  My OCD will not let me go without searching all the bodies… it is like I knew that if I missed one… that would be the one that dropped some rare epic item.  Again this is a cousin of the whole inventory maintenance is not a fun meta game…  neither is looting.  Better yet… all corpse interactions should be AOE as well… where the hell is my AOE skinning.  The first company to give me AOE skinning, herbing, and mining of corpses… will be a god in my eyes.

9 – Full Character Appearance System

Now when I say this… I am not talking about Transmogrification.  I could go on an hour long rant about how horrible that system is and how it is a half assed version of the good appearance systems.  What I am talking about is additional sets of character doll slots that allow you to directly override the appearance of an item with another item.  Rift has probably the best implementation overall right now, since you can have something like 12 wardrobe slots with ready to switch to outfits on the fly.  The only gotcha there is due to their own constraints they had to implement a shitty “transmog” like system for doing the weapons.  Players should never have to run back to a vendor to change their appearance…  stop making them do busy work.  I would love to see developers emulate the way the system works in EQ2, because you can literally change your appearance to anything in the game… no class restrictions.

10 – Facial Hair

I had a few other items I considered putting on the list… but honestly to me personally this one has to be here.  If your game does not have the ability for me to give my character a nice beard, especially a moustache and goatee combo…  I will hate your character creator and likely not play your game.  I have no clue why this is so important to me… but it is.  Namely I have seen the lack of facial hair in the Asian MMOs… but I struggled to find a look I could stomach in Guild Wars 2 as well.  Additionally I cannot stand the “pretty boy” appearance that some games have…  but I won’t go into that right now.  Please for the love of god when you design your character creator… make Facial Hair a slider…  not something that is attached to another attribute like hairstyle.

Wrapping Up

So there you have it… my ten must haves for a modern MMO.  Like I said, I am sure that it is not a complete list at all… and as soon as I post this… I will think of another 10 things that should have been on the list.  These however are the things that immediately came to mind when being frustrated with MMOs that do not have them.  I would be curious to hear about what your list is, and whether or not I have hit your key frustration points.  I hope you all have a great day, and I hope I manage to stay fully conscious all day long since I got up so early.

Bel VS F2P

I am breaking the mold yet again tonight and knocking out a topic that I have been kicking around in my head all day.  Quite honestly the topic is not my own, it was suggested to me by Syl of MMO Gypsy.  There is a really interesting discussion on this weeks Cat Context podcast between Syl and Liore about their feelings regarding free to play games.  I started the discussion up on twitter as well, because I tend to align more to Syl’s thought in that free to play is generally a good thing.

The Non-Believer

rascrnshot_20100912_010029

The funny thing is… I did not always have this opinion.  In fact there was a time I was pretty vehemently anti-free-to-play model.  I even believe at one point I wrote a blog post about the fact that I did not believe the industry pundits that all games would be switching over to free-to-play in order to survive.  I really disliked the thought of a pure free to play game.. and in part this was due to some bad experiences with early games in the genre.

My first real taste of the free to play genre was with the blatant wow clone Runes of Magic.  During one of my bored with WoW phases, I ventured out… downloaded it and tried to get into it.  The problem is, the game at its core was this fairly horrific grindfest, that could only be sped up by spending “diamonds” on the in game store.  It had some other fairly egregious money sinks in that most of the mounts that were available were “rental” only, giving you it for a fixed number of hours at a time.  Some of the only permanent mounts came from… you guessed it the cash shop.

Later on I had gotten into the closed beta for a pretty nifty game called Allods.  It was essentially a very unique looking russian/steampunky wow like game.  I played the heck out of it in beta and really enjoyed it, and was looking forward to launch.  Then towards the end of the test period they introduced their take on the cash shop.  I don’t remember a ton of details other than the fact that so many things were pay-walled behind real money transactions.  One of the mini-games i refuse to play in an MMO… is inventory maintenance… and the only real way to increase your bag space was through dumping cash into the in game store.

Both of these games served to give me an extremely negative impression of what this whole free to play genre was.  Combine with the fact that the servers I was playing on seemed to be entirely populated with kids… aka people unable to buy their own subscriptions to games…  I thought subscription gaming was the only way to maintain a thriving community.  As new free to play conversions entered the market, I would give them a spin, especially if it was a game I had played before.  Every time I would walk away disgusted by the horrible community I found there.

What Changed?

100728_12532_membershipMatrix

When Everquest 2 first launched its forray into free to play, I really paid no attention to it.  Essentially it held nothing for me.  Gameplay was essentially corralled off to its own dedicated server, so you could not play with your friends currently subscribed to the game.  Additionally the various tiers of access felt extremely punitive, locking away functionality behind numerous paid gates.  However after a period of time they decided to open up the free to play options on all servers.  This is the point at which I started to notice changes in the game.

Firstly the station cash shop is pretty amazing, stocking all manner of things from nice cosmetic armors, mounts, amazing houses, and various buff potions.  With my 500 station cash a month stipend from subscribing, I was able to pick up all sorts of things that improved my enjoyment of the game.  Additionally I noticed the server populations start increasing, and these players were not necessarily the “unwashed masses” I had seen in my earlier ventures into free to play games.  Some of these folks were really solid community folks, that just lacked the ability to commit to a month subscription.

The game was still extremely limiting for free to play players, but at least you got to play on the established servers with existing players.  The guild I was a member of saw a massive influx in recruits and at one point we had 20-30 players on some nights during the peak of this influx.  Additionally it felt like we were seeing a faster speed at getting cool features out to the players like the dungeon creator, eqemote, and new content areas like sirens grotto and skyshrine.  It felt like there was a new kind of free to play player that I had not seen before, one that just wanted to play the game without commitment and had no qualms about spending money at their own pace.

Eventually recently they have completely dropped all race and class restrictions from free to play players, and we have seen another big jump in people in the game.  There are still some functionality locked away, but the game is at its most playable state for a subscription free player.  The game feels more healthy in every sense of the word since the free to play conversation happened.  The cities are bustling, the zones have players available for grouping, and the brokers are completely loaded with goods.

Changing My Opinion

Cartel_Shop_Screen_cap After watching the transformation the free to play model has had on the Everquest 2 community, and seeing the numbers released at just how much better Star Wars the Old Republic has been doing since it made its jump.  I started to turn my opinion around on the payment model as a whole.  While there are still some pretty egregious practices going on, I think for the most part these games are doing better under the new pricing schemes.  I will always prefer the option to subscribe, but having free access to my characters gives me the ability to boot up a game I have not visited in months on a whim and spend a few days without feeling the need to fire up my account officially.

I feel like as the conversions happen, each game gets a little better at the model.  So far Rift seems to be the best conversion I have seen, in that they chose the route to give subscribers bonus “premium” perks… like increase in coin, token and mount speed.  Additionally they have taken the cash shop model to heard and provided hundreds of cosmetic armor available from day one.  Sure there are lots of questions about whether or not they took things too far… but really I don’t believe any game has come even vaguely close to “play to win”.  No cash shop has offered something so amazing that better cannot be attained in game through grinding out whatever passes as end game content.

Ultimately at the end of the day the real question is, do you want your favorite virtual landscapes to stay alive and well… or are you willing to see them suffer just to make sure they stay away from a free to play model.  I don’t think it is about success or failure anymore… but more about survival.  These games cost a significant amount of money to keep up and running and keep staffed.  These are old figures, but it was reported that between 2004 and 2008 Blizzard spent 200 million dollars on upkeep of the World of Warcraft servers.  Dividing that out it ends up at over 4 million dollars per month in upkeep and maintenance fees.

Granted most of the games that have gone free to play don’t have the number of servers or staff that Blizzard has, however I am sure it is still a fairly staggering amount.  If they can get 5 players that are willing to pay 5 to 10 dollars on cash shop items per month, instead of 1 player that pays their 15 dollar subscription fee, they end up well ahead and have more money to invest in the game.  The games that have gone to free to play seem to be doing well with the model, and that income gets invested in making new content.  When Vanguard made the switch to free to play, the influx of new money allowed them to invest the first month in half a decade in development.  As a result the players got the benefit in the first ever holiday event, and major server patch.

The Last Starfighter

WoWScrnShot_102411_170544 Right now realistically there are two subscription model games left:  The World of Warcraft and Eve Online.  Eve is kind a bubble in itself without any real competition in that space, however World of Warcraft has been losing subscribers on a regular basis of late.  After the successes of the Star Wars the Old Republic conversion, and if Rift ends up being as successful as it is looking just by the server activity and players returning with a vengence… I feel that before the end of the year we will at least hear about plans for a free to play conversion for WoW.  We know that Titan is a long ways off, and their development cycle has always been prodigiously slow.  They lack the hook of new and fresh content to keep players engaged.

I feel like the big announcement at Blizzcon will be a conversion to some form of a free to play model, or at least a tiered payment model.  There is a huge part of me that mourns the subscription era, but I think it has been shown that the hybrid model ends up wildly successful.  The folks that want those premium features are still willing to pony up for a month subscription, whereas the folks that are not wiling to have the monthly commitment are still going to buy the occasional doodad or account unlock.

For me the real takeaway is that whatever keeps these companies healthy, and keeps developers and support staff in their seats instead of hunting for jobs is going to be better for the players in the long run.  Right now it is seeming like the free to play model is doing that.  Rift for example has had to roll out a couple of new servers just to handle the influx of players.  Personally I have had at least 8 friends start playing the game again, with more waiting in the wings to see just how successful the first volley is.  When we are talking about MMOs that are not blizzard… we really are not talking about a lot of profiteering going on there.  Ultimately they are fighting for survival, and if the free to play model gives it to them…  I feel we are more likely to be able to keep playing the games we want to play.

Wrapping Up

This post ended up far more rambly than I intended it to.  I can’t say I am really passionate for or against the free to play model, but at this point I feel like i understand why it is occurring so frequently.  I love playing MMO games, it is the one thing I always fall back on.  I am in theory embracing free to play, because it seems like the most likely way for these companies to continue getting the money they need… to keep supporting the worlds I care about.  Ultimately none of these companies make these games out of the goodness of their hearts.  They need our money to make sure they can survive and grow, and at the end of the day… how ever that happens I feel is pretty much fair game so long as it isn’t done in an exploitative manner.

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.

A Whole New World

It is a relatively dreary day here in Oklahoma as the experiment rolls onwards.  I’ve been out into the world, gassed up my wife’s vehicle and picked up some breakfast for the two of us.  Lately on the weekends we have been going out and indulging our recent photography habit, but unless things clear up I don’t see that happening.  It rained most of the night, and still looks like the sky could open any minute so for now I am hanging out inside blogging.

The Wrong Leather

WoWScrnShot_042613_201501

Initially I had intended to get in some League of Legends last night, but within moments of logging into mumble Drathis announced that he had to leave and would be back later.  Knowing the normal schedule, Tam confirmed that he too would be leaving shortly to go dancing.  This left us with four players that could commit to playing, and instead of pushing it further I just decided I would pop into World of Warcraft and continue working on Lodin.  I really enjoy LoL, but it is really only a worthwhile endeavor for me, if I am hanging out with a full team of friends.

I picked up in the Jinyu village where I had left off the previous night and started going through the paces of questing.  It was around this time when my favorite Aussie turned Malaysian 3D Content artist popped by the voice server.  Banzai is coming off a big project for Nintendo, and as such finally starting to filter back out into society.  This is a normal pattern for him, he goes into crunch mode on some awesome new project… then pops his head up afterwards and mingles for awhile.

When I am talking, I tend not to be paying attention to what I am doing.  As a result I ended up happily indulging my bloodlust and skinning anything I could.  So after a few hours of talking about 70s and 80s “Giant Robot” anime… I noticed my bags were insanely full with Pandaria level leather.  Normally this would be a great thing… but unfortunately I leveled way faster through the cataclysm content than I had intended and neglected to level my leatherworking past 460.

I consulted my favorite farming guide and decided that I did not want to take the amount of time required to unlock the Molten Front content.  So as a result I was bound for Tol Barad.  It was around this time that Banzai filtered out off the channel…  damned time shift..  and silence fell.  Farming spiders over and over is pretty boring.  I managed to farm up about 70 savage leather before the boredom hit me.

Pandaria to Pandora

2013-04-26 20_46_12-Greenshot

My friend Warenwolf had been happily playing Borderlands 2 while I was off in pandaland farming up leather.  Every so often he would comment about some spiffy thing he got to drop.  I thought to myself… I like cool things dropping *sadface*.  The biggest problem with Borderlands 2, is that for whatever reason I never got synced up with my friends.  They are all out doing the mega super extended content, and I am still stuck at level 12 poking around doing lower level quests.  With the boredom setting in heavily, I decided I really should be over trying to catch up my Commando.

Borderlands has always been such a great concept, and the second one is so much richer than the first.  However wandering around killing mobs several levels lower than me wasn’t exactly a stellar cure for my boredom either.  I managed to knock out four quests, all of which involved wandering back through areas I had already beaten the bosses of.  At this point I need to do some research in how to skip ahead in the content to something that is actually challenging and fun.

I managed to hold out as I did most of a level and a half, but this is the type of game that was really made to be played as a group.  I will admit that my fetish for Jacobs weapons in all their steampunky goodness is still in place.  As you can see in the picture above, I spent most of my time with a single shot tommygun-esc Jacobs assault rifle.  However after an hour and a half I was still looking for something fun to occupy my night.

Difference a Spec Makes

2013-04-26_224721If you were following any of my tweets, you will know that I wound up over in Rift last night towards the end of the evening.  Based on the excitement of those tweets, it went extremely well.  While we are on the subject of tweets…  why the hell has no one else integrated a twitter client with their game?  Seriously this is one of the killer features Rift has going for it.  Rift truly is the king of the “WoW Clones”, and I mean that with the utmost respect… because they have essentially gone around and latched onto the best practices of everyone else in the  industry.

One of the things that always hits me, when I boot up Rift on my gaming machine is just how amazing the game looks.  The subtle features of the title are just gorgeous to look at.  Inevitably I hit /tweetpic and comment about this, and someone chimes in agreeing.  Again someone else needs to make a /tweetpic command… it is absolutely brilliant.  A few weeks back, I had been reading a blog post by Wilhelm on The Ancient Gaming Noob talking about how he was just having a hard time getting into Storm Legion.

This resonated pretty solidly with me, because from about 56 onwards it has been like pulling teeth to try and level.  The mob hit points increased at a rate that was far greater than either my dps or survival.  I had been leveling with somewhat of a forum sanctioned spec, that was supposedly the best survivability to dps ratio.  Even at that it was still taking me roughly half my life to chew through most even level mobs.  I really want to hit 60, and try some of the endgame content…  but essentially leveling through the higher content was pure torture for me.

In the same post, after I had chimed in another guy (pkudude99) came in behind me and posted a spec that folks should try.  This week Wilhelm made a new post talking about trying out the spec, and how successful it was.  After reading this, it had been in the back of my head to do the same and this present boredom was the perfect opportunity.  After about 30 minutes of respeccing, rebuilding macros, resituating hotbars…  I was off to Camp Cyclone in Morban.

I hopped on my white tiger and rode up to the first mob I encountered, a 58 Storm Legion trooper of some sort.  I charged into battle, and in within a few seconds I had torn the mob asunder and taken next to no damage.  In that moment, a game that had felt like an extremely soulless grind only an hour before had become a magical playground of bloodlust and dismemberment.  The spec was in fact amazing, and over the course of the evening I happily ping ponged back and forth between packs of mobs slaughtering them with a smile on my face.

I have mentioned that I have quite the bloodlust when playing a warrior right?  My happiest moments in games is when I am not paying attention at all to the objectives I am supposed to be completing, but instead just bouncing around the map killing everything that crosses my map.  This totally happened last night, and as the dust settled around my warriors feet I had somehow put on half a level and gotten three planar attunement levels.  I was a happy boy, but also noticed that it was almost midnight so I figured I should probably start winding down for the night.

Extremely long story short… if you are playing a Warrior like me, and found yourself losing a battle to the grind of Storm Legion…  I highly suggest you check out this spec.  Thank you Wilhelm and thank you PkuDude99 the author of the spec…  for pointing it out.

"Perfect Solo" updated for 2.1 Hotfix 7 changes

Slaying Saturday

It is day two of the experiment, and roughly an hour later I have another blog post about nothing.  Our hope was to be able to go out wandering today and take some photos, but looking out our window it looks extremely dark out there.  In fact I think I just heard thunder, so I am guessing that is off the menu.  I believe Neverwinter is now available for me to play, so I may indulge that for awhile.  Essentially I purchased the cheap package, to be able to get in and play the beta events out of curiosity.  Honestly if I could have refunded that purchase I likely would have.

I played just enough in beta to decide I didn’t really enjoy the game as much as I thought I would.  But now that I have access to it, it feels like a colossal waste not to at least try playing it again.  Maybe I will care more about my characters with they are not throwaways?  I honestly liked the Guardian fairly well, but the thing that kept getting on my nerves was the fact that forward momentum stopped as soon as you performed an action.  This just felt like a needless break in motion.  Ultimately I guess I was expecting it to control more like Skyrim, and less like SWTOR.

If you’ve made it this far… I hope you all have an amazing weekend.  Here is hoping to the skies clearing and us being able to get out and about.  Being about to get out on the weekends for some exercise and fresh air has been beneficial to my waistline.

The Grand Experiment

Over the years I’ve developed a certain false assumption about blogging.  For whatever reason I have felt that in order to sit down and write anything…  I had to have something exciting or somehow epic to write about.  This combined with the fact that I have picked up a plethora of design and managerial responsibilities at work, has lead to these massive lapses in content.  There have been multiple times lately that I have wanted to blog, but felt I had nothing really to blog about.

So instead of doing a massive “what happened to Bel” post, explaining all the shit I have gone through since September 11th of last year…  I am just forging forward into unexplored territory.  Usually I have a bit of free time in the mornings as I drink my cup of coffee, or as I try and wind down at the end of gaming each night.  My experiment is just to sit down and write about what I did the previous day…  even if I find it immensely normal and unexciting.

Cute and Potentially Disturbing

2013-04-25_174531As soon as I got home last night, I sat down and reserved the new Raptr reward pet for Rift.  I am really digging the rewards system, in that so far I have gotten some pretty nifty things through it.  Last promotion they offered the Dwarven Smithy Goggles that I had been coveting ever since they gave them out as a reward at PAX.  This time around they were offering a really bizarre in game pet that looks exactly like the Raptr mascot.  Pictured above, I am not 100% sure if it is really adorable, or really disturbing looking.  In game it almost looks like the various balloons that are available during the anniversary event.  In addition I am wearing the Stone Spaulders that are another promotion this time around.

I’ve used Raptr for years without much expectation for reward.  I just liked the fact that it was a really solid multi-protocol IM client that seemed not to tax the various games I was playing.  When they started giving me rewards for the games I played… that was just icing on the cake.  Yesterday I had used the /tweetpic functionality in game to post this shot on twitter… and I got a response from a live Raptr employee, which was a really nice touch.

The rewards presently available that you should check out…

The Monkey King

A few weeks back my friends managed to get me playing a game I had never played before, and thought I never would.  Over the course of the last few weeks I have been joining them almost nightly for 5 player games of League of Legends.  I had been absent from the game for a few nights, mostly because my internet connection has really gone to shit.  But I was coaxed back into the fold last night.

Once again my internet was being shitty, and I was warping all over the maps…  but I still enjoyed myself.  I’ve developed a particular affinity for Wukong, the Monkey King.  I really like leaping in an doing massing amounts of damage only to throw up a decoy and escape away into the shadows.  I am not particularly good at any champions so far, but I am mostly passible with Wukong, Garen, Darius, Shen, Alistair and Volibear.

There is a definite pattern with the champions I end up liking.  One of my friends… the one who got me hooked on the game has successfully created a roadmap of all of the champions he feels I will be happy with.  So far, one by one he has been right, with the exception of Blitzcrank.  After a warm-up map against bots, a 6th friend logged in and we decided to do 3v3 twisted treeline.

I had never done this map before last night, and while enjoyable… it really feels super claustrophobic.  The other bad thing I noticed about it is that if one side gets underfed…  it just snowballs as running around the map catching up on minion kills doesn’t really feel like a possible thing.  Even with the frustration, playing with friends is always fun… and it cracked me up as certain players definitely disliked killing their friends.

Classic “Home” Tour

WoWScrnShot_042513_210202WoWScrnShot_042513_221337WoWScrnShot_042513_214613

Finally the constant lag, and ending up in the wrong place… fighting the wrong thing in League of Legends got under my skin enough to cause me to call it a night.  One of the big things I do lately… is follow whatever whim happens to hit me.  While I cannot really explain it fully, I had a whim last weekend to play one of my oldest characters.  Lodin is the Dwarf Hunter that I spent all of classic World of Warcraft raiding with, and had neatly put to bed with the release of Burning Crusade and my transition to tanking fulltime.  I had made various attempts to level him in the past, but really never got any traction.

Over the course of the weekend I managed to push him from 75 to 85 and actually enjoyed myself.  One of the realizations I have come to is that World of Warcraft is the fast food of MMO gaming.  It is bright, and happy and very enjoyable… so long as you don’t think too much about what you are consuming.  It is the second part I always fail at.  I end up thinking about how half assed so many of their implementations are.  The transmogrification system for example is hands down the worst version of cosmetic items, in ANY game.

Since World of Warcraft is so much more of a casual experience than League of Legends, I figured I could tolerate the shit internet a bit better there.  While I have been super nomadic since leaving the game, the guild I founded back in 2004 is still extremely active.  I had intended to go out to Jade Forrest and continue my push to 90, but logged into the statement coming across guild chat “It’s Bel’s Fault”.  I assured the guild member that I am certain it was in fact my fault, but inquired exactly what was my fault this time.

Turns out they decided on a whim to run old raids to show a friend that was relatively new in the game.  Not that they actually needed my help, but a trip down memory lane is something I am almost always down for.  We proceeded to clear Karazhan, Magtheridon, Gruuls Lair, and ended the night taking down Kaelthas in Tempest Keep.  All of it was stupidly easy, and posed no representation of what it was like to do those instances when they were real… but it was still fun seeing it all again.

A Wild Blog Post Appeared

It is now 6:48 am, and I have run out of coffee.  I started writing at roughly 6:00 am, so it appears that the experiment worked.  I did in fact have enough time to prattle on about what happened last night.  I did nothing terribly interesting, but I did manage to piece together a narrative of the events.  Right now most of my gaming nights look just as spastic as this one.  I’ve been ping ponging back and forth between whatever games end up suiting my fancy.

Right now I don’t really intend to set down permanent roots until Elder Scrolls Online releases.  I’m currently plotting my return to guild leadership with that game.  In essence I miss the camaraderie of House Stalwart, and while I can’t be 100% happy returning to World of Warcraft and assuming the hat there…  I feel like ESO is the game we all want to play.  In effect I feel like I want to “get the band back together”.  I’ve tried this before in the past, but in all of those cases I tried my damnedest NOT to be the guild leader.  I wonder if those guild excursions failed, because I was not putting the same effort into making sure things were happening.

I could ramble on about this past for hours I am sure, but right now I know that pretty much everything for me until the release of Elder Scrolls Online is going to be “appetizers”.  If folks are interested, I have been using Tamriel Foundry as a way of planning for the Elder Scrolls House Stalwart instance.  I really loved the pre-launch guild building tools that were provided by SWTOR, and this gives a very similar feeling.  As always it is like pulling teeth to get any of the Stalwarts to actually sign up for anything, but we have 8 signed up…  and even more in the recently launched Google Plus community

Makes me feel all fuzzy inside thinking about the potential of the game and guild.  As far as the blog goes, I will try my best to keep this experiment up.  It seemed to work, and I had enough time to write a really long post.  I will attempt to keep writing even if I don’t particularly find it interesting myself.  If you have made it this far in the post… thanks for reading.

The Illusion of Choice

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

Never a Real Choice

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

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

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

Freedom to Fail

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

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

Less is More

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

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

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

Fluffy Goodness

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

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

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

Ode to the Trinity

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

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

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

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

Solo Friendly

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

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

Rediscovering Dungeons

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

Am I Really Back?

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

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

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

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

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

Grouping Should Be Fun

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

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

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

Remembering It Can Be

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

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

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

Well Rested Return

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

Nostalgia Wins

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

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

Sealing the Rift

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

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

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

Home is never the same

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

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

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

Normal is a moving target

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

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

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

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

Am I really back?

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

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

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

Future uncertain

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