The past week was hyper focused on a single goal… getting Belgaoh my monk from 53 to 100. The weird thing about this process is that once completed… I am finding myself drifting a bit without purpose. The above screenshot is unrelated to anything, but I thought it looked cool so you are getting it with this mornings post. Starting yesterday I begin finally running my stable of characters through the Broken Shore content. I managed to snag all of the toys, and troll shoes transmog from my single leel 100 horde character, and on my second time through on an alliance character successfully got the bonnet cosmetic item. I am assuming that tomorrow there will be a new step on the quest chain being patched in, and this time around we will actually do the moving of Dalaran to the Broken Isles bit. Tonight is our Final Fantasy XIV raid, so that means I will go into this weeks patch not having run Broken Shores on the bulk of my characters. At least in theory the content isn’t going anywhere so I shouldn’t feel that much of a rush to push through it. I think this content will essentially be the “welcome to Legion” content for everyone from this point on wards. I will say it was really strange buzzing right past the quest starter for Cataclysm, Pandaria and Draenor on the monk. I think I have all of the quests sitting in my log, because they are given automatically when you zone into Stormwind, but I am not sure when if ever I am going to do them. At this moment I am contemplating using the Timeless Isle port to get to Draenor, but then again that would mean I need to open up Pandaria to get to it.
Even though I have completed one journey to 100… I am finding that I cannot seem to quit the Invasion Event. A good chunk of yesterday was also spent running characters through the event trying to get the last few 700 items for each. I managed to finish off Lodin and Tallow last night, which leaves Gloam, Exeter and Belglaive all needing a single item slot. Belglaive is a little more complicated because I used that character to purchase the pet, and as a result he is still missing several of the purchased pieces of gear. I just need to run ANY instances on him to get that finished off. I do have his Glaives upgraded to 725, and I have started a second set mooching off of everyone else’s spare tokens to upgrade them for my eventual Horde demon hunter. I wish the other weapons worked like this, in that they were bind on account and you could pass them around as needed. Some characters I have gotten more than my fair share of weapons… and then others like Exeter have yet to see a single one. I have this feeling that ultimately it is going to be Ex my Paladin that I will continue to run events on, as I try and get three weapons for him. The other big thing that I need to accomplish before this event is over is to try and find the Demon that spawns in Orgrimmar and Stormwind and get a Fel Spreader toy. I failed to get one the two times I tried it yesterday, with the one in Orgrimmar bugging out and running back to the Doomsayer and fading.
The big thing I have learned over the years is that I have a lot of fun playing World of Warcraft, so long as I have a goal in mind. For example this last week has been a blast as I leveled my way through to 100 doing events. In theory I could pick a Horde character and start doing the same, but I don’t really have any that are nearly as close to finish as my Monk was. Doing the event without flight was a pain in the butt, and I am not sure if I want to go back to that frustration right now. If I was going to pick a character on that side of the fence I would probably pick my Warlock since I have really enjoyed playing my Alliance lock… and I have full cloth heirlooms. Similarly I have full leather heirlooms, but of the leather classes the one I am most likely to play… is the Demon Hunter, which is easy as hell to get to 100. I do however have the cash to just go ahead and outfit my plate heirlooms up to 100 and then push something else that I would likely play. My Orc Deathknight is sitting at 60, so flight is possible, even if it is a slow version. I might be fun to be able to use this event to play with one of the other specs like Frost or Unholy. If the next goal is NOT the event however… I need to pick something be it Mount Farming or Dungeon Achievements because so long as I can keep a list of things I want to do… I will be able to stay engaged in this game. I really am having a lot of fun being around all of these people again. It is a bit like a reunion, because everywhere I turn on Argent Dawn I keep running into familiar faces from the past. I know we have roughly a week until the official launch of Legion, and with that comes a whole new set of goals so I just need to keep busy in the meantime.
Off and on throughout this event I have used the “elevator” metaphor to explain how the experience bonus of the invasions has felt. It started off as a steady elevator, and then took a bunch of detours for maintenance. However at the end the final version felt like it was picking up speed as I finished the climb towards the top. The other day Devolore made a comment about this invasion that I think is worth sharing.
While I realize the goal of the event was not to level everything to 100… that is precisely what I set out to do. Before the initial change I managed to get my Priest from 92 to 100, and then turned around and got my Mage from 90 to 100. That left only my little monk that starting last Wednesday was sitting at only level 53. In the last four days I have finished the climb to 100, finally dinging off of an invasion last night after we wrapped up recording the podcast. It was a wild ride filled with pure madness, but overall it was an enjoyable one. This is the feeling I have been chasing for awhile, going into an expansion knowing that every single character on at least my primary server was ready to go and awaiting the next content release. There are a bunch of things I learned on the trip, and I took care last night to log some of my findings. The rest of this post is likely going to be a bunch of bullet points explaining what all I found out.
It took a total of 49 Invasions to go from level 53 to 100
I was wearing full heirlooms the entire way, so adjust accordingly
That makes it .95 levels per invasion completed
I saved 97 loot boxes while doing the even, 49 Blue, 48 Green.
This is what 97 loot boxes from the event looks like sitting in my bank. I saved every single one from the moment I started climbing from 53 to 100, in a large part because I wanted a bunch of information to be able to draw conclusions from. On a whim I ended up opening all of my Green chests first, and they my Blue chests… which caused me to notice a pattern.
Phase 2 – Small Legion Chest – Can Contain
Phase 4 – Large Legion Chest – Can Contain
In the course of the events I ran I got 118 items to drop from the chests, and around 2000 nethershards… but I was not keeping as good of track on that number as I did the others. As I opened the boxes I recorded the what dropped and divided up level 700, 710 and 720 drops in the hopes of being able to pull some percentages together on the chance of each.
Level 700 Item Drops
Helm – 9
Shoulders – 13
Chest – 10
Bracers – 11
Gloves – 11
Belt – 8
Pants – 9
Boot – 6
Weapon – 14
Coalesced Fel – 9
Level 710 Item Drops
Helm – 2
Shoulders – 1
Bracers – 2
Gloves – 1
Belt – 3
Pants – 1
Boots – 5
Level 720 Item Drops
Shoulders – 1
Belt – 1
Pants – 1
So in total I got 100 level 700 drops, 15 level 710 drops, and 3 level 720 drops. Using some quick and dirty math that means that I got a Warforged 710 item 12% of the time, and a 720 item 2.5% of the time. In any case… my Monk is likely going to be my best geared character once I complete the Broken Shores content and get my ring and trinket. Leveling through Invasions was often times frustration… but overall it was an extremely enjoyable experience. I would love to say I would do this same rough on my hordies… but with only nine days until the launch of Legion I just am not sure if I have that sort of grind in me. More than likely I will be focusing on filling the gear holes in my various characters, and pushing them all through the broken shores and follow-up content.
On Monday I wrote about riding this new Legion Event to 100 on several of my characters, and how holding chests allowed me to instantly have viable level capped characters upon dinging. At least the second part of that statement is true now, but sadly the first part… not so much. It seems yesterday they patched the servers to increase the spawn rate of events, but greatly decrease the experience gained from each. While this is technically a net gain… it is also a whole lot of busy work to gain it. Previously on my Monk in his 50s/60s I was gaining at least one full levels worth of experience from each event I participated in. So that mean’t every four hours, I could run two events with him and then still have time to swap in some other alts for gearing purposes. As of yesterday I was getting a little less than half of a level of experience per event participated in. That means during the same four hour window, there are now a total of six events, instead of two… and as a result if experience stays roughly half a level that means I gain 3 levels instead of 2 before. The gotcha however is that you spend almost every second of that four hours either participating in an event or travelling to the next one, and in my experience I had no real time to swap in that many alts to also attempt to get gear. Given how fast experience is gained through questing, it also feels like during that same four hour block I could probably do significantly better than three levels.
What made the “elevator” nice is that I could more casually swap in my lower level alts, and still have time to do the ones I was trying to get gear for. Now instead I have to make a choice between getting the gear from the event, or leveling. I mean I get why they did this, because they really want folks to focus on the gear and not the easy ticket leveling. I am just glad that I managed to pull my Priest from 92 to 100, and my Mage from 90 to 100 before the elevator broke. As a result I am tabling my Monk for the moment, at least until I finish getting all of the rest of my stable of 11 characters fully geared in 700 or better items from the event. Technically Belghast my Draenor main has the least stuff from the event, but he also has 700 or better in most of his slots already. Other than that my rogue really is the one missing the most gear, so I will be working on him next. Exeter my Paladin is missing a weapon, Lodin my hunter Shoulders, and Tallow my Shaman a handful of items. Instead of focusing entirely on the Monk I am going to work on getting these characters the last of the missing pieces so that they are in a better state to be prepared for leveling them in Legion. I have this feeling that 700 is essentially the place they are expecting us to be at for the new content, and even though we will be swapping all of it out for better gear almost instantly it should at least ease that transition.
I am hoping over the next few days to be able to reach a point where I am completely okay hopping off the event train. While it has been a fun ride chasing the skulls around the zones, I have to say I have neglected other important things during the process. For example I have yet to complete the Broken Shore quest chain in live on any of my characters. While I did it a bunch of times in Beta and have since seen the cinematics I missed… with the patching in of more quest content I feel like I need to get on the ball and start in with this. More than anything this expansion feels really different, and in a good way. I like the way that they seem to be easing us into the content with the invasion, and the head start into Broken Shore or the Demon Hunter experience. It feels like we are having this rolling soft launch more than waiting for the 30th to flip the switch and have everyone rush into doing exactly the same stuff. My hope is this is going to allow us to have a more staggered experience with different groups of people progressing through the content at different speeds. I know personally I will likely be starting the new content in Stormheim, but that is largely because it feels like this great big love letter to Northrend.
The biggest challenge however still yet to be solved is… I have zero clue what my main is going to be. There are a bunch of different classes that I really enjoy right now. I love Vengeance Demon Hunter, I think in part because of its mobility and the ability to get places due to double jump and glide which comes in super handy in the new content. I also am completely in love with Lodin my Hunter… because I am finally getting to play out that fantasy of being a melee hunter. Belghast and Belgrave are both strong contenders because well… I tend to level tanks first, but in both cases they don’t necessarily feel that new or fresh but more the same. I am also loving Tallow my Enhancement Shaman and Gloam my Outlaw Rogue… but they will more than likely be relegated to the back burner. The character that I love that I am shocked to admit it though is my Demonology Warlock. It is actually a really strong contender for getting leveled quickly, because I have enjoyed playing it so much. Now however you can see the problem… I am loving this game at the moment because I am loving a lot of my characters at the same time. There however has to be a first… and I am still completely up in the air as to who that is going to be.
The Rift resurgence continues and this time around I find myself working on tradeskills. Every so often I find myself stuck in a loop, that winds up with me leveling one thing like mad. The focus currently is pushing as many trade-skills up as I can manage… and honestly afford. I went into this little mission with roughly 1600 platinum, and as of last night I had dropped under 500. Please not this is just on reagent costs and pattern training costs, as I have been going out into the wild to gather materials on a pretty regular basis. The above image was taken on one of these many trips, this time to find Rhenium nodes in the Steppes of Infinity. I am not sure if this is even the best place to look for these, but I figured the highest level zone in Storm Legion would probably have the highest chance of these nodes. Currently I am working on Artificer which as of last night is I believe sitting at 360 of 450, but thankfully it was one of my lowest trades. When the game went free to play, one of the things that I spent a bunch of my “free” currency on was adding tradeskill unlocks to my main. The goal is to eventually turn Belghast into an omnicrafter, which is a term that is common in FFXIV but not possible in most games. Currently my trade-skill load-out looks a little something like this…
Armorsmith – 450
Butchering – 450
Foraging – 450
Mining – 450
Outfitter – 450
Runecrafter – 450
Weaponsmith – 450
Dream Weaver – 390
Fishing – 375
Survival – 375
Artificer – 370
So like I said Artificer is the lowest of my skills or at least the last of my “make gear” skills so I have been focusing on it. Fishing and Survival hopefully I will be able to level in tandem as I have done in the past. Dream Weaver I probably have more than enough material to start pushing it up there in level given that I salvage every single artifact that I get that I already have…. which at this point is a considerable number. The worst part of the artificer grind right now is trying to acquire gemstones which is namely why I am out in the Steppes farming Rhenium for those every so lucrative Heavy gem nodes. The only problem I foresee however is that a some point soon I am simply going to run out of money, probably long before I actually hit the goal of leveling all of these things. I am also lacking one tradeskill on this character, and that is Apothecary the one I have never actually successfully leveled on any character. At some point I will end up picking up one more tradeskill unlock and start working on that, but I think that will ultimately happen at a later date. The only real disappointment so far is that apparently this awesome 38 Slot Cosmic Bag pattern that I picked up can only be crafted with a drop from Tier 3 raid bosses, with no other way to acquire it. That is a bit of a kick in the pants…. but hopefully they will add it to the cash shop or something at a later date.
Low Key Activity
I think that after coming back from our whirlwind birthday weekend… I have just needed something super chill to do and crafting became that activity. The biggest problem is that if I keep on this course I am going to ultimately bankrupt myself. Tonight is going to be a night of fiddling with my desktop upstairs, because in theory I should have a shiny new graphics card to install. If I can manage to get that done in time I will probably end up participating in the FFXIV pony farm and miscellaneous activity night. If I do not get finished with machine upgrades until after the start time, I will likely just piddle around in Rift. I need to get back to doing some Intrepid Adventures because it turns out that they are still a pretty damned good source of upgrades. I also need to get some more Expert dungeons in, as in a perfect world I would do at least seven a week so that I get all of my currency bonuses. As far as raiding goes I am still up in the air as to what I want to do there. There are supposedly a good number of pick up raids, and I would love to see some of the content at least once… namely the new Comet of Ahnkhet raid. I would also love to get some of those bag reagents to craft up a few 38 slotters… but I would imagine that even now those items are in high demand. I wish they dropped form the Mind of Madness bosses in Intrepid Adventure, but as I have not seen one yet… I would assume that is not something that happens. For sheer gear acquisition Hammerknell seems way faster for getting cache drops, but then again that could simply be that people are just more used to those encounters.
At some point I also want to begin leveling my rogue, but in the past my key reason for doing this… was to have a bag maker. Since going all omnicraftery that reason went out the door so ultimately I need to find a spec that I can really enjoy. I somehow down the “grandpa build ” is still as effective as it once was for soloing content. For doing Instant Adventures I am currently running around as Marksman, because standing back and plinking tends to require less focus than getting up close and personal with the mob encounters. Similarly at some point I do want to level a character on the European servers, and I have gotten my Zaviel character up to 22. Right now I am largely just opening patron caches on him every day in the hopes of getting extra loyalty, but at some point I want to start pushing him in levels again. At some point I left the tracks and entered the Instant Adventure zone and it is unlikely that I will ever return to proper leveling with quests on that guy. The IA is a bit of a trap… in that the experience you gain seems so much faster than anything you can get while questing… but as a result it ends up with you being severely under-geared for your level. It also make sure that your tradeskills are woefully behind, and at some point I will have to go on a gathering binge to even begin to catch up. In any case… its been a little over a week now since my return to Rift and I am still finding so many of the things compelling. Even more so I have dove back into the community and am hanging my hat on discord, so if you have any interest in Rift I highly suggest you check it out as well.
It’s been a shockingly busy week for me, and most of it was completely unexpected. Monday through Wednesday I had my boss out, which means I get to not only be myself… but also him for all purposes. Which means my “general and administrative” time goes through the roof while attending meetings, and juggling things from the other managers in our department that need resources for this or that. On the gaming front I was equally busy, with Monday and Tuesday largely being either prep time for the raid or actually raiding. Then Wednesday night we had the World of Warcraft raid, and while it didn’t actually make I was ended up getting pulled into tank some Mythic Dungeons for Valor. So when I got home last night, that was the first night of the week when I didn’t already have something planned. After doing a round of exercises in our newly reclaimed home gym in the garage… I plunked down on the sofa and spent the rest of the evening playing The Division. A whole bunch of stuff happened that has greatly improved my outlook on the coming levels.
Firstly I did in fact move on towards the higher level areas, and there I started getting either upgrades for just green drops like crazy. The other big change is that I have started vendoring most of the stuff I get because I am simply not getting enough blueprints fast enough to be able to keep myself outfitted in crafted gear, namely not the weapons. Because of this influx of cash I managed to pick up a nice new marksman rifle, and a brand new LSW that have greatly improved my ability to kill things. The biggest splurge of the night was a purple chest piece I found on one of the vendors that has over 250 armor. At the end of last night I was just shy of level 17 and have been cleaning up on the higher level stuff. I unlocked a security tree perk that allows me to see all of the intel that I missed along the way once I complete all of the side missions for an area. As such tonight I will likely be poking around and picking these up for quick and easy experience boosts, and start cleaning out the low level zones again. I had been concerned about how roaming the low level areas meant I was only going up against lower level mobs… but then I quickly did the math and realized that the bulk of my experience is coming from quests and objectives… and grinding mobs is next to meaningless. I kinda miss the days when grinding lots and lots of mobs was a viable means of leveling… since that is ultimately my instinct anyways.
Right now I think my best path is to try my best to push through to level thirty. I want to run around and spend time in the Dark Zone, but I feel like that is largely useless until I get somewhere near the cap since the items dropping won’t be staying with me all that long. I also noticed that before I upgraded to the 15+ DZ area the mobs were dropping level 11ish gear which really wasn’t that useful. Now that I have moved up to the next tier, everything is way over my level and simply not doable without a group. The fact that you get zero leveling experience while in the Dark Zone really makes me want to avoid it at least until I have capped out my character. So as we go through the weekend I plan on slowly prodding along and picking up as many levels as I can. Now that I am almost 17… 30 seems significantly closer and given that I went from 15 to 17 in essentially a single night. Tonight I plan on picking up the rest of the intel that I missed, and then focusing on going back to higher zone questing. I’ve completely most of Central Park, and then will move on the higher tier zones after that. The side missions and encounters all seem to go pretty quickly, it is the missions that are ultimately the ones that I end up having to rez multiple times while doing.
The game is honestly much more difficult than I expected it to be, especially as a largely solo player. The gear really matters, and when I got the two new weapons I am using… I saw a massive increase in how successful I was in completing encounters. The thing I struggle with right now is how much I like to snipe and how hard it is to remain in cover when there are a bunch of mobs gunning for me. I’ve never tried the turret but I am contemplating using that as a way to draw fire away from me so I can get off a round of head shots to whittle down the opponents quickly. In truth there are simply a lot of time with the Rikers folks that I have better luck just bobbing and weaving in and out of cover while firing my light machine gun. Really it is the other snipers that are the bane of my existence, and the folks who fire off a heavy machine gun. Though the last is largely due to my impatience and not wanting to always wait for them to need to reload. I am still very much enjoying the game, I just wish I had more time to play it. I hope this weekend I will have some more time to just hang out and chill out on Sunday and can maybe get into some grouping time with friends also playing.
Some things changed between yesterdays post and last nights festivities. Firstly I largely abandoned the notion of playing a Monk tank, because I got to thinking about what my actual “goal” was. That goal being helping Grace get a foothold on my server of choice, and prepping her for eventual raid shenanigans. My general theory was that still the fastest way to do that… would be to push hard on running the outland instances as a duo… with me largely just wrecking thinks with thunderclap. We however lacked the finesse to realize that it seems like the absolute best choice here is to hang out at Hellfire Ramparts until the person you are pulling is around level 65 and thus qualified to run all of the various Outland dungeon quests. Without a doubt, after having done all of the lower level Outland dungeons…. Hellfire is the fastest and in theory you could run it fast enough to push up another character extremely quickly. Sure it slowed down significantly after she reached sixty one, but I think the completion bonus would have been enough to keep pushing forward. Granted we probably would have hit the instance lockout of I believe 10 instances per hour… and had to take a brief break here or there. Still I firmly believe that had we actually stuck to this plan… Grace would have been in Wrath of the Lich King already instead of just on the cusp of it.
All told for the evening we managed to push her from 57 to 67 before I simply lost steam. With the recent illness, I have also largely weaned myself off of caffeine other than my morning coffee. This also seems to mean that my ability to stay awake and keep doing the same thing without getting drowsy… has also been adversely effected. I want to say we started up the dungeon train around 6pm and finished up around 8:30 so I guess 10 levels in that time is not that shabby. Essentially we ran normal and heroic versions of Hellfire Ramparts, Blood Furnace, Slave Pens, Underbogs, Mana Tombs, Auchenai Crypts, Sethek Halls, and finally Shadow Labyrinth. There was a period of time where we had to chain run Slave Pens for a bit… which is pretty much the point we realize that we should have been doing that with Hellfire Ramparts instead. Now we simply need to push a little harder to get out of Outland and into Northrend… though if WoWHead is correct we might not be able to do Utgarde Keep until 69. That is the big thing we are realizing through doing this is the strange quirks as to when you can zone into a specific dungeon. They don’t seem to make much sense, and it feels like at some point they just decided to pick random numbers that don’t actually relate to the quests you are receiving. Basically I am realizing that the older content has suffered greatly for all of the redistribution of crap that happened in Pandaria and Warlords.
In other news I finally managed to get the Garrison mission that rewards the Coalfist Gronnling mount. I am honestly just not sure what I think about it… I mean ANY mount is a positive because it increases the total number of mounts I have and moves me closer to all of those achievements… but riding this thing…. it is ridiculously big. Warlords of Draenor has been the expansion of humongous mounts… from the Corehound mount from the 40 man Molten Core, to the Grinch Yeti… this is very much an expansion of irrational land yacht style mounts. As cool as I might think this mount is… I just cannot foresee myself ever riding it. When you ride around on it, the animation is in such a way as it feels like you are just about to fall off of the back… which strangely causes all sorts of anxiety in me. Regardless I am happy to knock another mount off the long list of mounts that I do not have. At some point I would love to get a group together and camp the various world mounts from Draenor, because as of right now I have ZERO of them.
If you have followed me for any length of time you realize I play an awful lot of games. One of those traits also involves going back and re-exploring games that I have long consigned to the dust bin. One of the challenges with this lifestyle however is trying to figure out what the hell you were doing some six months ago when you last touched a game. This morning I want to talk about a problem that most games have. As content is released there is often times no real thought about the folks that will come back to the game several patches behind. While there is generally one game that I stay up to date with, and that game currently is Final Fantasy XIV… the others sit in various states of completion with no real easy route back to where I last left off. What ends up happening generally is that I start a brand new character, because it is simply easier to start fresh than try and sort out the options open to a formerly “level capped” character. As a programmer it seems like it would be easy to create some sort of new features tool that lead you to what has been recently added to the game. Various games have attempted this, and honestly Final Fantasy XIV has one of the better versions of this technology… but it could still use a lot of work.
World of Warcraft has these quest boards in main cities that are supposed to lead you to the starting quests of new areas. The problem being that you level so damned fast in that game that you always are well ahead of the quest completion curve. The worst offender however has to be The Secret World. In that game every single quest is essentially repeatable, so even if you are up to date… it can be a challenge to sort out what quests are new in a given region. The last quest content I completed was the “Last Train to Cairo” from Issue 6, and even then I think I missed most of Issue 5 because I didn’t quite know where to start to find it. Now we are sitting at Issue 12 and I know I have a ton of awesome content waiting on me. As each has been released I have popped in to spend some of the lifetime membership currency that I gain each month. The problem being… without significant research on my part I have no real idea where to start to even begin trying to sort these out. I spend most of my free time consuming MMO content… and if this bothers me… it has to be an impassible wall to more casually interested players.
With the launch of Cataclysm, the World of Warcraft attempted to solve this problem by creating a series of billboards spread throughout the major cities that are designed to give you the start of a quest chain leading into new zones. The problem there is that you level too damned fast, and I constantly had a back log of these quests telling me to go to various zones that were less than optimal for my questing experience. While I applaud their efforts… I think all of these MMOs need to do a much better job at giving players advisement as to what they should be doing. What I envision is an optional box that says what zone you should be in based on your level and or gear, and provide a series of quest suggestions that you never completed. If there is a holiday going on, it should prioritize this and if you are at the level cap it should guide you to the next patch worth of content that you had not experienced. This would go a long way in making returning players feel welcome and relevant in the game experience. Considering I have done this dozens of times… I can tell you that returning to an MMO that you tucked neatly away into your past… is a completely overwhelming experience.
Firstly you have to sort out your bags, because I have not left a single MMO in a state where I did not have hundreds of items in my inventory with no memory of what was actually useful and what was simply dross that I picked up while killing things. Next you have to sort out your quest log, which also is never really left in a neat state. If you are the level cap you generally have a mixture of quests that you never completed and quests from whatever happens to be the current “daily” hub. Upon returning generally speaking neither of these is much use, but at the same time I find it just as hard to sort through my quest log as it was to sort through my bags. What I really want is some intelligence guiding my decisions. Present me with options of things that players in my level range are normally doing. Help me get back into your game, and set down roots again. It honestly shocks me that no game company seems to have thought this one through. There are a fixed number of new players out there, so many times established games are just trading their populations over time. Anything a game can do to make it more “sticky” for returning players has to ultimately help the bottom line.
Breakup on Reentry
Like I said Final Fantasy XIV does a decent job at this, but their own advisement window is greatly limited based on several factors. The biggest is that most of the items in the list are limited to the zone you are currently in. In the case of a returning player, they may or may not know what zone they should even be in. For years I have been trying to play Star Wars the Old Republic again. The problem being that I always end up playing on an alt character because it is simply too confusing to try and sort out what I should be doing on any of my three previously max level characters. My original instinct has always been to go to the space station hub for my faction. Problem there is that there were no sign of new quests. I have repeated this process dozens of times, until last night it finally dawned on me that I should maybe return to my starship. Sure enough waiting there for me was a quest chain starter leading me to Makeb. The problem being… that since it took me two years to finally find this quest it was anything but obvious, which tells me there is a problem with the way the systems are working.
What got me on this topic was yesterday some friends and I were listing off “must have” features for an MMO. Which got me thinking… that this is the one feature that no MMO really does a decent job of. Please someone out there… put some thought into the experience of returning players. The answer is not to ignore all of the content that came before. The answer is to help players go back and experience the things that they missed. As a result some sort of intelligent system is well worth the time it takes to build. All we are really talking is a handful of database queries based on a few parameters, and then returning the relevant items to a window. This would go so far into making returning players feel like they matter and are welcome in the game. I cannot count the number of games that I have reinstalled… only to leave after a single night of trying to sort out what it was that I was doing when I last played. In each case I “wanted” to play the game, but the game required more out of me than I was willing to give it. When this situation happens all I really needed was a breadcrumb to lead me to what I should be focusing on. On the positive side I did finally start the post release content in Star Wars the Old Republic, which is a thing I have been passively trying to do since the free to play conversion. I would really like to see where that story goes before the launch of Fallen Empire.
Normally this morning I would go into my new game picks for the coming week to serve as alternate writing fodder to Blaugust. However that is not going to happen because I am not really feeling like writing that post today. I am struggling right now with a mix of allergies and asthma that have conspired to make me miserable. One of the things about being sick is that you tend to surround yourself by things that feel comfortable or nostalgic. Just as there is comfort food, there is also comfort gaming… and when I feel like shit I find myself wandered off into games I have pushed to the side. Essentially when I am feeling my worst I am lease capable of dealing with the stress of interacting with other people. As such yesterday and last night I ventured into a realm where almost nobody knows my name anymore… Telara. Rift was one of my games of the week for this past week, and with it comes a series of problems. Namely when I log in I am staring at a bag and bank full of dimension items and crafting materials. I am not sure if you are the same as me in this aspect, but if my bags are a mess there are so many times I will log in and then log right back out because I cannot be bothered to fix that situation. Honestly if I don’t do something quickly in Final Fantasy XIV I will be nearing that point as all of my retainers are clogged and my inventory continues to get more and more semi-permanent additions.
With Rift however I finally did something drastic. Last October Rift released the Nightmare Tides expansion, and I still don’t have a character to the new level cap of 65. During this time I have been accumulating crafting materials from doing the Minions minigame, and quite honestly I have more than I will ever actually use. By the time I actually get around to hitting the level cap I will more than likely have just as much materials I do now. So instead I decided to reinstall BananAH and post every single crafting material on the Auction House. It cost a lot of plat to post everything, but luckily by the end of the night I had managed to quadruple the amount of plat I had going into this experiment, and there are still a bunch of auctions up there that may or may not have sold over night. The money gained was a side benefit, the real mission was simply to clear the shit out of my inventory. At some point I will do the same with the various housing bits, because there are some things I will quite literally never end up using in any design. With the bags clear however I finally felt like I could actually go out into the world questing, and it improved my outlook on the game considerably.
While the great sell-off took care of one issue keeping me from playing Rift, I still had another big one standing in my way. Rift has quite possibly one of the most complicated character creation systems, namely that for a given class you can have any combination of three different souls from a pool of ten potential souls for each slot. If my math is correct… and I would seriously question that… but I believe that gives us 120 possible combinations with a pool of 76 talent points to distribute between your three trees. What I am trying to say is that basically every time I decide to play the game it requires a bunch of research on my part to determine what the current “viable” builds are and what purposes they serve. To say that Rift changes a lot is an understatement… they are constantly patching the game and tweaking things and often times these have ramifications have effects that trickle out and make or break the last patches specs. The class that I tend to care about the most however is the Warrior, and while I have a level 60 rogue and a level 60 cleric… I tend to mostly focus on Belghast first and foremost. So over the last week I have poked around the Class Guide forums and stumbled onto one that looked promising titled: Warrior Solo Leveling (61-65). Luckily it was not too far off from the build that I had tried leveling with before, so I was able to tweak out my hot bars without much issue.
One of the big strengths of Rift is also one of it’s great weaknesses. The macro system is excellent and allows you to do some really interesting things with it. The problem being the game also gives you so many sideways and optional abilities that you feel like you are required to macro everything together for fear that you miss some opportunity for not having 32 fingers to hit abilities with. The big thing I like about this incarnation of the soloing build is that essentially I am really only using one macro, and all that does is chain a series of high cool-down single target abilities onto Empowering Strike. The combo point dump abilities are on my bar separately, as is the main reactionary ability that I hit after using one of them. The feeling is that things are less random than they have felt before when I have played a suggested spec. I am hitting buttons largely because I know what the effect is going to be, and because I want to use it at that moment. Sure I still have one single mixed bag ability, but it feels like it is less important than the things I am not macroing. The other big thing is that it seems like my survival has gone up significantly, which was a huge problem I had previously. I am still under level for the region I am hunting in, but I am wondering if that just means that I missed something important in the previous zone.
At this point I had a spec and I had clean enough bags to be able to venture out into the world. I had two ports available in Draumheim so I grabbed one and hoped that I had picked the right one. It seems that I did as when I landed there were numerous quests available. The zone is extremely cool with all manner of nightmarish abominations wandering around in the midst of the ocean that is being drained away. The coolest thing about Draumheim is that it seems to be a nightmarish echo of Telara. There are numerous places in the zone that represent areas from the game, for example there is absolutely a version of Meridian and Sanctum as well as a nightmarish version of Port Scion. Similarly I ran into a copy of the great toad-like Greenscale, who represented the aspect of hunger. When I first attempted to play Nightmare Tides I was not sure if I liked it or not, largely because I am not the biggest fan of underwater settings in MMOs. Now almost a year later the subtlety of the expansion is starting to sink in. It is less about us traveling to the physical plane of water, and more about us traveling into the physical manifestation of dreams and nightmares. Nothing in the zones are quite what they seem, and last night I ended up helping out a series of existentially confused hay bales… and I am not making that up… they are quite literally named that.
I still wish we had a more directed questing experience similar to the old world. I know they went in this direction as a way of distancing themselves from the standard questing format of MMOs, but personally I find it somewhat lacking. The story that is there is really good, but there just doesn’t feel like there is enough of it. Mostly it feels like you can’t get through the content by only following the quests. Instead of feeling like questing is optional it feels like I have to do every single quest, and do every single carnage quest that pops up when you kill any mobs… and still do some dungeons or instant adventures or you run into the situation I am in… where I am one to two levels below the content I am trying to do. The leveling experience is much less directed, and this is a change that went in with Storm Legion… but the end result in both expansions was me constantly wondering what I am supposed to be doing next. For most MMOs the leveling experience gets better over time, but I feel like Rift went in the opposite direction. I get it that quest content is fairly expensive to create, and without the subscription model they don’t have that stable source of monthly income to keep said quest content coming. The quests that are here however are really good, and one I did last night took me through a series of “computers” that showed little recorded vignettes from the past, all of them fully voice acted. I like all of the things they have done to make finding quests more interactive… but I wish we had more hub based quests as well to fill in the gaps in content. I don’t want it to sound like I didn’t enjoy myself however, because I absolutely did. I needed a game where I could be anonymous and lose myself in the experience of playing an MMO, and that is precisely what Rift gave me yesterday. I still very much love Trion and the team behind Rift, and it is one of the games I will continue to suggest people check out on a regular basis. I feel like they did the absolute best job of a free to play conversion that I have experienced to date, and I am willing to keep giving them more of my money. I am just nostalgia for the way that questing used to feel in Rift is all.
One of the questions left unanswered from yesterday was whether or not the game had controller support. On a whim I picked up my controller towards the end of one of yesterdays streams and I noticed that I could in fact control my character with it. Today I popped into game with the mission of trying to test this theory out. It seems that maybe they are working on controller support but that it does not actually work fully. I could control my character perfectly using both of my analog sticks, and if I hit the A button on my XBox 360 controller I could perform any of the normal actions that require the spacebar. However it did not actually seem to interact with the world, and pressing A when not hovering over an objective did not perform the jump action, which is normally the default action for spacebar. I went so far as to go into the keybindings section and it would not let me bind anything to controller presses.
Now of course if you wanted to go so far as to use Xpadder you could easily get this game up and running. It takes care of the toughest part which is getting the analog movement feeling right. My hope is that in subsequent patches it is going to add full controller support, and then this game is likely to increase significantly in enjoyment. Left button spammy attacks feel less spammy when done with a controller button. Since writing yesterdays post I have added another few hours worth of gameplay, and I have to say my verdict is still very mixed. I even talked about it a bit on last nights podcast. On some level I am feeling about this game much the same as I felt about Guild Wars 2 when it was in testing. There is something that compels me to keep trying to figure it out, but at the same time I find it extremely easy to stop playing after completing a single mission. The act of running a mission just wears me out, in a way that content in Elder Scrolls Online used to wear me out. Things are so ridiculously tightly packed that on normal solo missions you spend so much of your time mindlessly grinding through huge encounters.
This morning however I ventured into what seems to be another large shared cooperative zone, much the same as the very first mission in the game. It involved a series of around 25 smaller objectives that were scattered throughout the map. The frustrating thing about this zone in particular is that the objectives were super linear, meaning when I tried to do my normal thing and hop off the path… I missed an objective that I then later had to double back through the entire zone to go find again. As a whole though I have to say I like this style of zone so much better than the little instanced mini dungeons I had completed more recently. The game also feels better when lots of other players are wandering around, which greatly speeds up the amount of time it takes to burn through the various health bars of the bosses. This tells me that a lot of my frustrations was simply that I was soloing content designed for groups to take down. The fact that I could fairly easily solo content as a paladin, maybe points to that class being a little overpowered for this sort of thing? Then again tanks in most games are adept at soloing bosses that were originally meant for a group to take down… I am looking at you Deathknight.
The other cool thing about this region is that it seemed to be full of boss encounters that did not seem to be tied to a specific objective. There may be a quest that I missed somewhere that opened these up, but from what I saw there was a fire, water and wind warden. Above you can see me taking on the fire one. The only thing missing elemental wise is earth, which I did not really see while wandering around. I managed to get a few greens off these bosses, so my theory is they are just there to make your experience more interesting. The boss fights with other players helping were significantly more enjoyable, but I could still shield up as a paladin and whittle them down until I succeeded. There was only one single encounter where I even came close to dying. At the last minute a wave of players rushed in and helped me finish the boss off.
Combat Still Repetitive
All of this said… my problem with the combat still exists. It just doesn’t feel like I can do anything interesting with the encounters. I did add a new combo attack to my repertoire, and while I abused the hell out of it.. each individual fight still seemed to take a little bit longer than they should for the game to feel really “fun”. The mobs still suffer from the same problem where they tend to be one trick ponies, and keep using the same attack sequence over and over. There is almost always one thing that you should dodge out of, but other than that it is grind them down with your main attack until they are gone. There are a lot of things I do like however when it comes to the interactions with other players. This seems like a game where everything is open tagging, and if you are in an area and have dealt any damage to a pack… you seem to get full credit for the entire pack. Similarly if there is an objective, it seems like everyone can click said objective, and that seems to have changed from one of the closed beta streams I happened to watch.
As a result I found myself wading into a lot of fights that I did not strictly need to just to help out the other players. Unfortunately not a single one of them did I actually communicate with. There are a lot of ifs about this game, and I am not quite certain how much I will be playing of it. In theory I kinda dig the model of purchasing classes or having a slow tedious process of unlocking them. To some extent I wish I had gotten in on the ability to play the Berserker, because I think that might be a class I would really enjoy. I have heard that you can go to the training center and test drive all of the classes, much like you can test drive champions in a moba, so that might be one of the things I do next. At this point I have played around five hours of the game, and I have enjoyed it just enough to keep me coming back to try and find the secrets that I seem to be missing as to why this game is really fun. Ultimately there will be a point where I just give up on it, but I have not quite reached that yet. After all it gives me a bit of a diversion from leveling my Dragoon and gearing in Final Fantasy XIV. If you want to check out the last two videos I have posted since yesterday I will be embedding them below.
Port Naori – Instanced Dungeon-like Mission
Isola Digs – Open World-ish Shared Zone Mission
(was still encoding at the time of posting this… so might have to check back later)
Skyforge is one of those games that I have consistently been unable to decide if I am interested in. There are certain aspects of the game that I really like, but then again there are certain aspects that I am really uncertain of. [Edit] Having to rewrite a chunk of this real quick because I was under the false impression that this game was from a Korean publisher. I guess this is primarily a Russian game with the assistance of Obsidian an American company. I guess this explains why I could easily create a character I liked when I have so much trouble doing this in most Korean MMOs. [UnEdit] So I was pleasantly surprised that I could create “Belghast” or at least a reasonable facsimile. In the above comparison you can see the traditional old school “WoW Bel” against what I was able to create using Skyforge, and I am pretty happy honestly with the look and feel.
Last night I spent some time streaming my first few adventures into the game, and as such did not take a lot of screenshots. The result is you are going to end up with a lot of screen captures from my stream that include my little chat blocker box thingy. As the weird little man that is touching my face asked me what I think… that is ultimately going to be my mission this morning. I can’t really call it a review, since I have not spent more than a couple of hours playing it. I can however talk about my thoughts. There have been so many times I have missed out on a games open beta period only to kick myself later when I start to get interested in the game. Similarly there have been many games that I bought my way into… only to find out later that I didn’t really care for the game at all. Even though I am still very much engrossed in Final Fantasy XIV and spent about four hours playing that last night AFTER my foray into Skyforge, I felt I owed it to myself to give the game a test drive. Similarly if you are on the fence and looking to my article to give you some guidance… I highly suggest you just try the game yourself while it is free.
For those who have been around MMOs for awhile, you will remember a game that was discarded somewhere along the way called Imperator. Mythic games had originally planned on building its “Rome in Outer Space” title but quickly dropped the title when they got the license for Warhammer Online. After playing a little Skyforge I seriously wonder if someone from that original Imperator team rebooting this idea over at either Obsidian or Allods. There are only a few screenshots from the original Imperator team around, but to the right is one of the more interesting ones. From what I have seen of the world of Skyforge, it very much shares the same look and feel of a “Rome in Space” concept. To carry this even further the enemies and their leaders have a very “ancient egyptian” feel to them, which makes me wonder if we are going to see a lot more of these “high tech ancient civilizations” concept as we get deeper into the game.
The game does a decent job of setting up the story of how you came to have the powers you do and setting up a reason for why you can die multiple times and keep respawning. Your character is an Immortal, and just like in Highlander your powers do not manifest until you have died the first time. The introduction to the game is the story of how you died during what turned out to be a suicide mission. One of the interesting things about the game is that you play a fully armored character during the introduction and then choose your appearance later as you are telling your tale. While I may have missed it, it did not seem like I had a way to change my gender during this introduction. So I am wondering if that means that quite literally everyone is “male by default” until you get back to base and choose your gender and appearance. This did not bother me on a personal level, but I could absolutely see how this would really be a sticking point for some folks and rightly so. As you can see from the screenshots… the world is absolutely gorgeous and every little aspect of it feels highly detailed.
Since I tend to always play tanks in MMOs… I opted to roll the paladin. I am not sure if EVERYONE starts as one of three classes, or if this is just limited to the Open Beta, but I was limited to a choice of Paladin, Cryomancer and Lightbinder. These represent the tank, dps and healer essentially, and this is a game much like Final Fantasy XIV where you can swap your class at any given time. Unfortunately the Paladin is the only one of the starter classes that I have any interest in… there are really three classes in this game that interest me and that is the Paladin, Knight and Berserker. Now we are going to start delving into some of the negatives. Combat is similar to Neverwinter Nights which in itself is not bad. Essentially it is a combination of mouse clicks augmented by abilities you cast off keys around your WASD and numeric keys that tend to have long recast times. It uses a system similar to TERA in that your secondary mouse button is a variable combo ability.
As a Paladin my combos offered an impressive 360 degree whirl attack that you can see above, a single target lightning bolt, and a frontal cone slash attack. The problem being is that the combo system seemed to have a mind of its own. In Tera it related to a certain number of clicks… in Skyforge it seems to be tied somehow to your character animation. As a result I found it really hard to predict when I could hit a specific attack and always seemed to have the wrong ability available as my combo attack at the wrong time. Now this combo tree is something you can fiddle with freely and maybe given some time I could sort out how best to use it. However it gives the combat interaction a bit of a “sloppy” feel to its design. I find myself greatly preferring the ability to press a unique button for each attack rather than allow the game to sort all of that out for me. I know at least if I press the button, an ability will fire… instead here it felt more like the game was playing for me sometimes and I was simply mashing the attack buttons blindly.
I feel like all of the attacks were designed to look and feel impressive. For example the above screenshot is of me executing my finisher, that shows up when the mob is low on heath and there is a pop up window telling me to hit E to use it. It involves me throwing the mob up into the air and then a bolt of lightning or holy power or whatever it is that Paladins care about striking them back down to the ground. Again this felt like something I had to freaking mash E for whenever the mob was getting close to being low enough to use it… because my main attack seemed to run away with itself and I would get locked in a combat animation that seemed to be of variable length. The thing I keep coming back to is that maybe this game feels significantly better when played with a controller than with a mouse and keyboard. I need to sort through the settings and see if it supports my Xbox 360 controller because this might be an awesome offering to the console market more so than it is to the PC one.
Like I said at the start of this I have really not spent much time playing the game at this point. I got in yesterday morning and last night, and between those two play sessions I have completed two of the small instanced missions. After the second mission I went back to the main hub and got yet another one… and then decided that I was not really having enough fun to keep playing that night. That is a bad sign, for me personally. I love combat and combat missions, and if a game wants to throw me at kill X things… I generally eat them up like warm cobbler covered in ice cream. The problem is… I just found the combat boring and repetitive. I feel like maybe I am not grasping the “master plan” to its design but it really felt like I had to wail away at random with abilities and mash my shield whenever it was up to keep from taking damage. It really did not feel like there was much structure to the flailing about, and I found this frustrating especially compared to say the Cryomancer that I watched Jabberant play that seemed to have lots of strategy to it. It could just be a side effect of my being used to Final Fantasy XIV where every single key press feels like it has some importance behind it.
I’ve embedded my play session from last night so that you can see how the game looks and feels while moving through combat. I am not giving up on this game quite yet, but I will say my first day of play was “strike one”. Maybe it feels better as I go along, but I have a feeling that pretty much all of this game is going to be a Lobby/Instance approach with no real “open world” to go exploring. I might be wrong, and maybe I just have not seen “leveling zones” yet but the whole thing feels a lot like the way DDO did content, mixed with the combat styling of Neverwinter Nights. All of this said, since you can get in now for free and give it a spin… then I suggest you try it out for yourself. Maybe you will find it a refreshing experience, and not the boring and repetitive one that I found. Maybe I was simply in the wrong mindset, because yesterday was a really long day. In any case I am going to give it a few more shots this weekend to see if it does anything for me. Sometimes games take a bit for me to enjoy, and this might be one of those. In any case I am happy I gave it a shot before “buying in”. So far the verdict is pretty mixed, but I wanted to at least put my thoughts to paper for anyone who might be interested in them.