Bring On The Storm Legion

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

Entering the Storm

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

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

The Past Year

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

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

Trion Listened

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

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

Expansion before the expansion

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

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

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

A Pat on the Back

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

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

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

The Secret World Impressions

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

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

The Ugly and Awkward

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

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

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

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

The Really Good

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

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

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

Level-less system still has levels

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

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

Atmosphere: Dice Included

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

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

Forgettable Combat

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

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

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

The Rundown

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

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

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

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