#TSW Fun with Shotguns and Blades

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

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

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

Of Shotguns and Blades

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

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

How the Deck Works

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

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

Shotgun and Blades Deck

Blades Abilities

shotblade_four_seasons

Four Seasons

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

 

shotblade_bamboo_cutter

Bamboo Cutter

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

 

shotblade_clear_the_path

Clearing the Path

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

shotblade_flight_of_daggers

Flight of Daggers

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

shotblade_twist_the_knife

Twist the Knife

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

shotblade_fatal_flourish

Fatal Flourish

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

shotblade_sudden_return

Sudden Return

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

shotblade_martial_discipline_regeneration

Martial Discipline and Regeneration

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

Shotgun Abilities

shotblade_striker

Striker

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

shotblade_sure_shot

Sure Shot

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

shotblade_scatter_shot

Scattershot

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

Fist Abilities

shotblade_bloodsport

Bloodsport

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

shotblade_salt_in_the_wound

Salt in the Wound

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

Why I Love This Build

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

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

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

#TSW: The Atmosphere

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

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

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

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

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

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

So now I will break for the gratuitous videos!

 

Everything is True Trailer

 

Dragon vs Hellspawn Trailer

 

Templar vs Revenant Trailer

 

Illuminati vs Failed Experiment Trailer

 

Tokyo Incident Trailer

 

Pre-order Trailer

 

Blue Mountain Trailer

 

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

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

Assorted Secret World Tips

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

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

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

Tips for a more pleasant experience

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

Get Your Secondary Weapon Fast

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

Melee and Ranged Together

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

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

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

Getting Stuck?

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

Bags Getting Full?

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

Mobs Too Difficult?

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

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

No Shame in Farming

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

New Clothing

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

Keep That Weapon Graphic

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

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

Tacos are Tasty

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

The Illusion of Choice

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

Never a Real Choice

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

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

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

Freedom to Fail

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

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

Less is More

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

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

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

Fluffy Goodness

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

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

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

Ode to the Trinity

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

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

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

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

Solo Friendly

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

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

Rediscovering Dungeons

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

Am I Really Back?

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

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

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

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

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

Grouping Should Be Fun

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

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

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

Remembering It Can Be

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

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

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

Well Rested Return

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

Nostalgia Wins

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

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

Sealing the Rift

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

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

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

Home is never the same

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

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

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

Normal is a moving target

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

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

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

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

Am I really back?

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

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

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

Future uncertain

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

Rift: A Comfy Chair

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

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

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

Bring on the new

2012-06-03_203556

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

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

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

The mind numbing and annoying

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

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

On a whim

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

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

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

A year later

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

Bring On The Storm Legion

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

Entering the Storm

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

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

The Past Year

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

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

Trion Listened

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

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

Expansion before the expansion

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

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

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

A Pat on the Back

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

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

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

NBIMMO: Resources and Final Thoughts

#NBIMMO

nbilarge

Well apparently it is that time, the end of the Newbie Blogger Initiative month.  I think overall it has been a great success for the community.  Syp has a nice wrap up post, and a list of all the blogs and articles over on his site Bio Break, so rather than copypasta, I will just send you guys there.  Huge thanks to Syp for pulling this all together, and it cannot be sheer consequence that this all culminates on his birthday.  So in addition to the thanks, sending a bit Happy Birthday your way.

The Cutting Room Floor

I’ve had a stack of posts kicking around in my skull for the better part of a month, but my schedule has been insane so none of them actually made their way to paper.  However since this is still technically within the month, I wanted to throw together a post I had been meaning to for a few weeks.  Essentially without really meaning to, I have come at my posts from the stance of helping bloggers through some of the more technical aspects of hosting your own blog.

In the process there have been several items I wanted to talk about, resources I wanted to share, that have just been left on the cutting room floor.  Pieces of debris that never quite made it into a fully realized topic form.  So as a warning, today’s topic is going to be a bit more freeform than normal for me.

Gaming Tooltips

One of the coolest inventions of the post-wow world is the tooltip script.  Essentially multiple websites now allow you to easily add a script snippet to your blog template, and then when you link to a given website it shows a nice mouse over popup of the items description.  These really add a nice level of detail to your posts, your readers can see exactly what an ability does when you talk about it, without you needing to devote time to actually explaining it.  If you want to talk about a nice piece of loot, you get instant access to the stats without needing to come up with some arcane formatting for it.

The first website I can ever remember doing this was Allakhazam, but over time more and more websites have adopted the practice.  Originally it was pretty contorted to get this information into your website, but now most of these sites offer a simple one line script include.  It is likely that whatever game you play, has someone offering a similar service, but below are some of the more common ones by game.

Star Wars: The Old Republic

Torhead

Torhead offers for SWTOR the same level of support we are used to from WoWhead.  Updated constantly, should have pretty much any tooltip you would want to link to.  To include them in your site, just add this snippet somewhere in the header of your template.

   1: <script src="http://tor.zamimg.com/tooltips.js "></script>

The links that are produced look a little something like this:  Jolee Bindo’s Lightsaber

DarthHater DB

DarthHater really hit the ground running, and early on claimed a huge share of the item database traffic.  Does not seem to be nearly as complete as Torhead, but still definitely a viable option.  To include the links in your site, just add the snippet somewhere in the header of your template.

   1: <script type="text/javascript" src="http://db.darthhater.com/js/extooltips.js"></script>

The links that are produced look a little something like this:  Jolee bindo’s Lightsaber

KnoTOR

KnoTOR honestly seems to be abandoned, or at least they update extremely slowly.  I am including them however because they really had the nicest looking links available when it was being developed on actively.  To include the links in your site, just add the snippet somewhere in the header of your template.

   1: <script src="http://i4.knocdn.com/assets/tooltips.js "></script>

The links that are produced look a little something like this:  Jolee Bindo’s Lightsaber

World of Warcraft

WoWhead

Really as far as wow item databases go, the only one of any real significance at this point is WoWhead.  They came from out of nowhere and have continued to kick ass expansion after expansion.  To include the links in your site, just add the snippet somewhere in the header of your template.

   1: <script type="text/javascript" src="http://static.wowhead.com/widgets/power.js"></script>

The links that are produced look a little something like this:  Shadowmourne

Multi-Game Support

ZAM

The Allakhazam network has been around in one form or another since the opening days of the original Everquest.  They support pretty much every game that comes out.  The side effect of supporting everything however is that they may not support a specific game as good as another content specific provider.  However they are an add once, use many juggernaut for tooltips.  To include the links in your site, just add the snippet somewhere in the header of your template.

Supported Games
  • Everquest
  • Everquest II
  • Final Fantasy XI
  • Final Fantasy XIV
  • Lord of the Rings Online
  • Rift
  • Warhammer Online
  • World of Warcraft
  • Star Wars: The Old Republic
   1: <script type="text/javascript" src="http://zam.zamimg.com/j/tooltips.js "></script>

Some example links:  Sedition, Sword of the Bloodmoon, The Soul Reaper, Panzer Shield

Experimental

I wanted to include this one, despite the fact it is somewhat more experimental.  Ask Mr. Robot was an amazing resource for World of Warcraft gear planning.  They seem to have shifted focus over to Star Wars: The Old Republic, and with it they have a really cool item database in the works.  The integration process is not yet as simple as the others, but they have a blog post on integrating it with wordpress.  I personally have not gone through the trouble myself, but including this out there in case someone else wants to.

Those Amazing Fonts

nbi_fonts

Sooner or later you want going to want to do some work with interesting fonts, either to label images, or create logos for various post series.  The problem is the fonts included in windows are boring as hell.  Something a good number of users do not realize is that fonts are licensed, and the various font foundries have teams of rabid lawyers crawling the web looking for violators. 

The safest option is to simply stick to using nothing but freeware or open source fonts.  The big problem is, that if you type “Free Fonts” into Google you get a complete mess of sites that are sometimes a bit questionable at worst, and at best full of low quality fonts.  There are a few websites I have used for years, that have consistently high quality fonts.

Blambot

nbi_blambothttp://www.blambot.com

If you read comics at all, be they digital or print, chances are you have run into Blambot fonts and never knew it.  Personally I think they are the best font shop out there.  They sell their fonts for a pretty reasonable price, but even better they offer a good number of their more recognizable faces completely free.  All of the fonts in the above image are from Blambot, as are the fonts I use in the Tales of the Aggronaut logo.

DaFont

nbi_dafonthttp://www.dafont.com/en

While Blambot represents one amazing font studio, DaFont is essentially a massive search engine for awesome free fonts.  There are many websites out there that serve a similar purpose, but what sets DaFont ahead of the competition is the fact that it breaks fonts down into stylistic categories.  If you are looking for a fantasy font or a Sci-fi font, within moments you can instantly jump into long lists of similar styled fonts.  You are given a preview of the font in the main list, and can jump into a complete display of the entire alphabet for each.  They have a huge selection of open source versions of familiar type faces, so there should be something to fit any of your design needs.

Smashing Magazine

nbi_smashinghttp://www.smashingmagazine.com

I did warn you ahead of time, that this post was going to be pretty free form.  I am including this resource here because they do occasionally link awesome fonts.  More than anything this is just a great web design resource.  I have it in my RSS Reader and they cover everything from WordPress Tips, to Free Graphic resources, to of course great open source fonts.  If you are running a website in any form you need to watch this page periodically.

Software Resources

Gimp

nbi_gimphttp://gimp.org

Personally I am a Photoshop user, started using it somewhere around version 2.5 (circa 1994).  While it can do amazing things, it has an equally astonishing price tag associated with it.  It quickly becomes hard to justify the cost, if you are not using it professionally.  Luckily for the rest of the world, there is a great image manipulation software that is open source.

Gimp can do pretty much anything you will ever need to do from photo retouching, to painting, to really nice logo work.  It has a pretty rabid community supporting it, and there are plugins out there to do any manner of effects.  The biggest problem for me, is that coming from Photoshop, it has a very different user interface.  With the 2.9 release (not yet available for windows) supposedly it brings things more in line with the “Photoshop” standards.  However luckily for the Photoshop natives out there, there is a custom fork of the gimp project called Gimpshop.  Essentially it sets up the shortcuts and windows into a much more Photoshop like arrangement.

Inkscape

nbi_inkscapehttp://inkscape.org

If you are more familiar with vector graphics like Adobe Illustrator or Corel Draw, I have you covered too.  I am actually just starting to use this a bit myself.  I have been looking for a more simplistic vector program, and so far while I am still learning this one, it feels very robust.  I never actually learned Illustrator very well, and was a longtime Corel Draw user.  So far the controls and tools feel clean and familiar.  You have the ability to export your graphics as either an SVG directly for use on the web, or rasterizing it as one of many image formats.  Would have come in extremely handy back when I was trying to diagram WoW Raid strategies.

Windows Live Writer

nbi_livewriter

http://windows.microsoft.com/is-IS/windows-live/essentials-other-programs

I cannot express how much I love this software.  Writer used to be a stand alone project, but is now included as part of the Windows Live Essentials package.  While Windows Movie Maker is pretty awesome, the only part of this package I really use is Writer itself.  Essentially it acts as a WYSIWYG editor for your blog.  When you configure your blog with the software, it logs into your website and downloads all the CSS information for your theme.

If you look at the image above, that is side by side screenshots of my Secret World impressions post.  On the left is the site as I composed it in Live Writer, on the right is the site in Chrome.  This completely frees you from wondering what a given post will look and feel like when you publish.  The real money feature is the image manipulation.  You can resize the images freely, set the alignment, word wrap, margins, borders all without any manual manipulation.

Basically for me it frees me up to just write, without having to worry if it is going to look right or not.  Over the years I have noticed a good number of other bloggers using it.  People seem to either love it or hate it.  It supports a wide number of common blogging platforms.  I use it for example on my custom hosted WordPress, but I have also connected to a blogger and had equally good results.

Final Thoughts

While personally I have not participated in the NBIMMO as much as I would have liked this month, it has spawned an amazing number of quality blogs in the process.  Often times lately, my schedule has dictated that either I get to play the games, or write about them.  I more often than not choose to play, and as a result I go for weeks without posts.  Luckily however a good number of these new blogs have been extremely prolific.

I still think this was an amazing idea, and I hope as we officially exit NBIMMO month, the community sprit will continue.  While there are tons of us out there, we are at the end of the day a pretty small community.  I never would have started up my blog in the first place were it not for the great support of other game bloggers.  So I hope as time goes on, each of us can continue to offer support when others need it.

The Secret World Impressions

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

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

The Ugly and Awkward

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

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

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

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

The Really Good

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

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

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

Level-less system still has levels

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

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

Atmosphere: Dice Included

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

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

Forgettable Combat

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

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

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

The Rundown

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

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

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

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