Social Structure and MMOs

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I’ve talked off and on about Imzy, and how it is filling a niche for me at least that Google+ used to in that it allows for a sort of long winded discussion that twitter just simply doesn’t.  Yesterday I read a post there that made me realize something I had been trying to sort out in my head for awhile.  The vast majority of my gaming time is spent playing MMOs and I tend to have several that I am in various states of active in at the same time.  However I rarely if ever gain any sort of permanent traction in them, and after a few weeks of play tend to fade away again until the whim hits me to fire it back up.  I go through a cycle of curiosity that leads to excitement…  that leads to confusion and disillusionment that ultimately ends with me leaving once more.  I will pick up a game and for a few days to weeks it is going to be the most interesting thing in the world as I get adjusted to the systems and mechanics again.  However I always reach this point where an overwhelming sense of “what now” hits me.  When that happens I wind out going right back to whatever it is happens to be my core game…  which if we are being honest with me is an alternation of World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV.  I have been working on my games played during 2016… and decided to extend that out to all of the games that are easy to track thanks to my blog.  There is a clear pattern of when I start getting super excited about WoW I shift away from FFXIV and versa vicea.  There is of course some overlap, but you can see a back and forth pattern that emerges.

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So the question is then…. what do these two games seem to have that so many others don’t.  The answer was sitting there waiting for me to notice. I often talk about games having great communities…  but generally speaking this is in broad terms and extremely non-specific.  Most games have some excellent niches in them, but in the grand scheme of things that doesn’t really do much to add core enjoyment for me.  I keep returning to World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV… because those are the games that I have established communities in.  There was a time when I was willing to branch out and meet new people…  plunk myself down in a brand new game and start growing an entirely different infrastructure.  The community that I have right now… is in large part the result of me doing this over and over.  Each new game I go into I meet a whole new cast of people…  but at some point that began to change.  As I gathered a larger and larger core of players… I stopped looking outside to the community nearly as much and instead looking to my guild.  While I am still meeting a lot of new people… they are coming with the pedigree of knowing someone I already know and am familiar with…  which of course speeds up the social footnotes that come from meeting anyone new.

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Last night was a prime example of this happening, because we were raiding in World of Warcraft and had someone pop by and join….  that I had not personally played with in several years.  My personal community in House Stalwart within World of Warcraft seems to have this ability to stay evergreen… and always have a certain chunk of the population that is active and always happy to be there.  House Stalwart my guild has existed for twelve years…  in spite of my actions.  When I left WoW to start playing Rift I tried my best to burn down everything about the game… actively recruiting people away to play this new an exciting game.  I did the same thing for Final Fantasy XIV and Elder Scrolls Online… and countless other games.  However at its core… the guild still remains and not only that… but has remained viable for the purpose of doing interesting end game content the entire time. Similarly the Final Fantasy XIV guild… while considerably younger just seems to endure whatever boom and bust cycles we go through population wise, and in both cases….  I know that I can return at any point and will be welcomed back with open arms.  In truth I think pretty much everyone who has touched either guild feels the same way…  which is why folks are constantly showing up from out of the woodwork and reintegrating back into the core at least for a little while.

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So the problem that exists with nearly every other game…  is I just don’t have anything close to this infrastructure…  nor do I really have the emotional or intellectual strength to try and forge it.  There have been House Stalwart offshoots in damned near every MMO that has existed… or at least as a guild community we have chosen a specific server and faction to all roll on.  However for most… these interludes serve as a vacation from the game they were already playing… and after a break most folks wind up going right back to the familiar.  In a traditional MMO I need to have something that I am building towards, and that object on the horizon is usually doing interesting things with my friends.  So while it is absolutely fun to pop in and play Rift or ArcheAge for a weekend…  I find hard keeping motivated when I know I have no real facilities to do any of the big interesting things… other than pugging.  I am spoiled to be honest, and so many years of not having to PUG has soured my experience as a whole.  Any random person I encounter is somehow tarnished by the memory of all of the good times I have had with my guild throughout the years.  After generations of MMOs… this has lead me to be rather insular in my gaming habits and tending to return to the folks I already know and respect rather than trying to create something new.

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So now days I tend to operate in two modes.  I have the games that I am active in and have deep social connections… and the games that I slink off to when I need to limit my social connectivity and turtle for awhile.  I tend to gobble up whatever new content is available, and then happy drop that game by the wayside as I return to active duty again.  Games like Star Wars the Old Republic, The Secret World and Elder Scrolls Online are great for this role, given that they all have deeply engaging stories that you can find yourself completely lost in…  so much so that you forget that you are essentially alone in a crowd of strangers.  There are a lot of games that I think I would enjoy… if I had a similar stable infrastructure.  However at this point… to be honest… folks are pretty stratified in their gaming habits.  I can no longer really make an impassioned argument as to why they should abandon X game that they know and love for Y game that is new and different.  I know this boom and bust cycle all too well at this point… and while it is a hell of a fun ride, to some extent I am getting that fix elsewhere.  For me personally… the Diablo 3 season mechanism perfectly emulates the feeling of “unwrapping” a brand new MMO and rushing with your friends to level as quickly as you can.  This time however we all know it is perfectly fine to fade away once you have achieved your  goals…  because its a game we will all return to again and again as new seasons happen.  I have been the cause of so much frustration and disappointment in my gaming career…  that I guess in some part I would rather slink off alone… than get folks excited about yet another game that I am sure we will all abandon within three months time.  However that same instinct…  is what keeps any of these games from actually gaining traction.  What I realized this week when reading the post on Imzy is just how desperately I need that social infrastructure for me to be able to enjoy a MMO.

Breakup on Reentry

Returning Players

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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.

Content Advisement

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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

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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.

Games I’m Not Playing

Too Many Games

Skyforge 2015-07-17 06-26-06-26 Right now I am suffering from a problem, in that there are just too many games that I want to be playing and simply not enough time in any combination of lifetimes to actually play them.  Last night I downloaded and installed Skyforge, and gave it a quick spin this morning… and as interesting as it seems I just don’t know when exactly I am going to fit it in.  For the first time in years I have been relatively monogamistic in my gaming, and with the dropping of World of Warcraft I pretty much have all of my focus on Final Fantasy XIV.  Last night I ran dungeons with the guild and after doing my hunts managed to push my Dragoon to 56.  As a result the desire to get that job to 60 is real, because I desperately want to be able to fill more than one roll when it comes to grouping.

By the same token I really would like to give some time to Skyforge so that I can give it a shot for free, before plunking down any money on it.  I watched a bit of the MMO Show stream the other day as Jabberant played the game and I have to admit it peaked my interests.  Playing this morning it feels like a better version of Neverwinter, because the janky control scheme of that game was always a major detractor.  So now I get to juggle competing desires and figure out how to spend my weekend.  So this morning I thought I would write about the games that I am wanting to play but just can’t seem to find adequate time to devote to them.

Star Wars the Old Republic

swtor 2013-08-13 23-38-38-65 I have this strong desire to go back and experience the storyline that I have not yet.  Essentially I have not really played my main in this game, a Jedi Guardian… since launch.  Each time I go back I always end up playing alts because I am finding it really hard to get back into the swing of playing a level 50 character.  I know there have been numerous expansions since launch, each with their own storyline content… and I am struggling to get back into the swing of doing it.  Instead I mostly spend time playing my Light Side Sith Warrior, who has been stuck in the hell hole of Balmorra for at least two years.  So one of my gaming regrets is that I have not figured out how to make progress on my main and see the Makeb and beyond storyline.  Additionally I have this nasty habit of paying for a month, and then playing one day and never returning to it.  I’ve gone through this sequence at least a half dozen times since we left this game.  The draw of Final Fantasy XIV is always too strong to keep me playing there for long.

Wildstar

WildStar64 2015-06-06 17-47-43-40 On my second attempt at playing this game I reached a point where I really was enjoying what I was doing.  In fact there was a stretch prior to the launch of Heavensward where I was playing this one more than just about any other game.  I have an awesome group of friends in this game and I love the Black Dagger Society guild that I am in.  I had a blast roaming around the zones and taking down world bosses with them on a few occasions.  For whatever reason however I am just not logging in right now.  Once again the draw of Final Fantasy XIV is too strong, and maybe I just love our guild there too much.  This is on the list of games I absolutely want to keep returning to, but I doubt I will until a bit more of the shiny has warn off from Heavensward.  Right now I am in this push to reach a point where I have multiple useful jobs to help people with, and I think until I get there I won’t be happy playing much else.

The Secret World

TheSecretWorld 2012-08-07 20-41-26-17 I am woefully behind in my Secret World content, because the last update I think I played was the whole “Last Train to Cairo” sequence.  I know there have been multiple updates since then but I am just not logging in and playing them.  There are problems I have with this game that preclude me from really digging into the end game content.  However I have loved all of the story mission content that I have played and I keep meaning to poke my head in and do them.  I’m a life time subscriber, and I should have tons of goodies waiting on me… but generally speaking what happens is I log in and buy a nifty new outfit… then log right back out.  Of all of my gaming regrets this is one of the strongest because I really would like to find a way to play this game in addition to whatever game I am “maining”.

ArcheAge

ARCHEAGE 2015-06-14 14-36-32-10 Just prior to the launch of Heavensward there were several of us on the AggroChat cast that had a brief love affair with this game.  I want to find a way to return to playing this game on a regular basis because I don’t feel like I have consumed all of the good that I can get from it.  This is the game that I was told once I reached level 30 I would be in forced pvp areas.  While we are playing on Tahyang the supposed roleplaying server, I am 38 and have yet to encounter even another enemy player.  There is a lot of great PVE content in this game, and we found the dungeons to be among some of the rougher we had experienced since say Dark Age of Camelot.  I’ve logged in a few times since the launch of Heavensward, but never for terribly long because I keep feeling like I really should be in FFXIV gearing or helping other people gear.  I still have things I want to do here, so I need to figure out a way to play it as well.

Skyforge

Skyforge 2015-07-17 06-07-54-37 I talked about this as the start of the blog post, but I really do want to spend some time getting to know this game.  At face value it didn’t seem like it was going to be anything I would be interested in.  However after playing a brief few minutes this morning I think I might dig it.  It is action combat that still feels like an MMO.  Honestly I put Neverwinter in that same category, however there the combat just felt forced and janky.  The proof will be in the pudding as to how the Paladin feels once I progress it a bit further.  I admit the whole “switch roles at any time” thing is a huge draw for me, after getting used to that in Final Fantasy XIV.  I doubt this would ever be a primary MMO for me, but it might be a fun weekend diversion.  Ultimately I keep looking for a solid secondary game to have the duality that I did with Final  Fantasy XIV and World of Warcraft.  I have yet to find the game that seems like the perfect match, but who knows this might be it.

Elder Scrolls Online

eso 2015-03-16 23-59-44-25 The game that I least understand why I am not playing it… is The Elder Scrolls Online.  Everything about this game should be squarely in my wheelhouse considering the number of hours that I have spent playing games in the Elder Scrolls universe.  I have access to it both on PC and on PS4, and I had this idea that the console client would somehow revitalize my interest in the game.  The problem is… it hasn’t at all.  I feel like the problem I have with this game is that even though I have people moving around me… I feel like I am ultimately alone.  The other players are just a backdrop in part because I never see their names.  I think in part I am experiencing Beta regret, because after testing this game for a year there are previous incarnations of the game UI that I just enjoyed more.  If I could go back and play THOSE incarnations… I would probably be enjoying myself still.  When names over the top of mobs went away…  the world felt like it shrunk for me, and the game became more or less a single player experience.  I still would love to find a way to make this game that at one point I was so devoted to still feel enjoyable, but I just have not found it.

Developer Appreciation Week 2015 – Part 1

A few days ago my good friend Rowanblaze tagged me in his post about Developer Appreciation Week 2015.  To the best of my knowledge this event was actually started by Scarybooster, but I cannot for the life of me remember if I actually got a post in while it was going on.  If not then this is something I absolutely need to remedy.  This morning as a result my post is going to be a little contorted but I really enjoyed the format from Ravanel of Ravalation… so I am rolling with that.  Thus begins my super contorted and rambling Developer Appreciation Week post.

Funcom Games – The Secret World Team

TheSecretWorld 2013-06-04 06-15-22-12 This game is absolutely phenomenal.  I was lucky enough to get on board early and do one of the lifetime subscriptions and I have to say I have never once questioned that investment.  Knowing that it is always waiting there for me to return to the world of the Templars and the Illuminati…  makes me happy inside.  While there are a lot of interesting things about the game, the part that always floors me is just how well written the quests are in this game, and how well the whole cinematic feel of them works.  I greatly prefer silent protagonist games, because they allow me to substitute my own inner dialog into the scenes.  What is awesome about TSW is they manage to do this is a way so that the silence feels like an answer.  I desperately need to poke my head back in and try out the new combat changes, because the nightmare level content was ultimately what crushed the hopes of my group.  From what I hear a lot of these rough spots have been ironed out.

Square Enix – Final Fantasy XIV Team

ffxiv 2015-03-28 20-48-43-91 I am constantly amazed at just how damned good this game really is.  Every detail of the game has a loving care applied to it.  Once again it is the storyline that first sold me on the game.  It gave me a series of characters that felt like my party in a traditional Final Fantasy game… and then made me care about each and every one of them..  yes even Thancred.  What has kept me coming back however is just how good their content is, and how frequent their updates are.  I’ve heard that the team is only around fifteen people…  and that they are doing both the live patches and expansion development at the same time.  I am floored that they can manage to crank out a new patch every month, and major patch every few months…  all the while working on a brand new expansion?  The way they manage to make content remain relevant to the players is pure magic, because I really enjoy running low level content with friends… and making it feel like it matters again.  Last night they patched in the 2.55 content… and I am completely amped to log in and play it.

Turbine – Lord of the Rings Online Team

ScreenShot00004 If there was a list of games that I wish I played more of, Lord of the Rings Online would be near the top.  There is so much for me to enjoy in the game, even not factoring in the fact that I love the franchise behind it.  The gameplay is a bit of a throwback to an earlier era, and more than anything it has always reminded me a bit of a modern updated Dark Age of Camelot.  That said the part that has always stood out for me is just how well they have managed to create the world of Middle Earth…  everything is how I had imagined it while reading the novels.  There are so many moments like the above picture where I reach some fabled destination and I have to just stop and sit in awe that I am in this or that place.  Another strange thing that I love about this game are the horses.  They have the absolute best horse movement of any game.  As you are moving around the horse feels right, which adds so much to the feeling that you are in a living breathing world… and not just a themepark.

Trion Worlds – Rift Team

rift 2013-06-24 21-10-59-03 This was the game that finally came along and successfully dislodged me after playing seven years of World of Warcraft, and that in itself is no small feat.  What makes me love the game however is its class system.  I love being able to mix and match bits and pieces of class trees to make something unique that does exactly what I want it to do.  Especially from a tanking front, this game will always hold a special place in my heart because it was the first game to give me both charge and deathgrip in the same build.  The raid content was absolutely insane, and I greatly enjoyed the times I was able to experience it.  This is one of those games that I boot up every few weeks to poke my head in, especially now that it is free to play.  I’ve spent a lot of its four year history with an active subscription, and there is just something about the world that keeps me coming back.  With the impending release of the new Wardrobe system I am looking forward to popping back in and playing some more.  Trion was the first team to make me believe that a company could keep a monthly content release schedule, and through it all they have created some very impressive work.

SOE/Daybreak – Everquest II Team

EQ2_000009 Everquest II for me is a tale of the path not taken.  With EQ2 and WoW releasing at the same time, some of my friends went to EQ2, and I and the majority of my friends went to WoW.  That said this has been one of those games that I keep coming back to so that I can re-experience this ball of nostalgia that is Norrath.  This game has hands down the best world building of any game on the market.  I love the world of Norrath 2.0 with all its detail and quirkyness.  Sure it is not exactly how I remember it from the original Everquest, but that is part of the charm for me.  Every now and then you will be knee deep in a dungeon, and you will see some little call back that makes you realize “oh my god this is that place” that you recall from your memory, changed over time and presented in so much higher fidelity.  While I have issues with the combat system and likely always will… this is a game that I cannot seem to keep myself away from for long.  Even today EQ2 is a sort of comfort food for me… where I will hang out inside and vege out on the couch dusting off my Shadow Knight and exploring Norrath with new eyes.

To Be Continued…

I feel like I have so many developers that I want to show my appreciation for…  that I had to break these up into multiple posts.  Tune in tomorrow as I talk about several more developers.  Hopefully this will cause your own upwelling of nostalgia and end up with you posting your own thoughts in blog form.  If you don’t have a blog, feel free to use my comment space for that same mission.  There is so much negativity out there, that I believe completely in this notion of the Developer Appreciation Week.  Reach out and show your appreciation to those games you love.

Best Games I’m Not Playing

This mornings post is going to be a bit of a departure from my normal routine in that I am going to talk about some of the games that I really enjoy, but am not playing for one reason or another.  I guess with the recent news about Daybreak, it highlights the fact that there are so many games we hold dear…  but aren’t actually actively supporting by playing them.  As such here goes my attempt to write a post about the three best games I am not playing.

Everquest II

EQ2_000008 Like so many former Everquest junkies, I am in love with the  setting of Norrath.  I love its cities, and races and the aspect that I enjoyed the most playing EQ2 was how often times you would just see glimpses of the world that came before this one.  The folks behind the zones in Norrath 2.0 were exceptionally good at tugging on your nostalgia at just the right moment, while at the same time making something entirely new.  More than anything I think it was the scale of this game that made me fall in love with it.  I did not play it at launch, but a few months into World of Warcraft I took a break and joined my friends who did.  The world felt so much larger than anything I was seeing in Azeroth, and this sense of amazement through scale never really faded.  It felt so much more like a living breathing world.  This game also gave me one of my favorite playable races in any game… the Ratonga.  While often goofy comic relief I enjoyed roaming the world as my little rat shadow knight.

The problem is that each time I play Everquest II, I ultimately leave due to the same problem.  I absolutely hate the combat system with its largely unintelligible stat increases, alternative advancement point minutiae and what feels like three hundred different attack buttons…  that are largely indistinguishable.  The funny thing is playing my Shadow Knight was a key sequence of about twenty five attacks… and still to this day I can reinstall the game and play it entirely through muscle memory.  For me it is the gaming equivalent of chicken fried steak… that comfort food you return to over and over even though it is largely uninspired.  The problem is…  I will always return to it eventually.  It has my favorite world in any game, so full of life and mystery.  I just wish I could transplant that world into a game I enjoy on a technical level.

Rift

riftvolcano Rift was the game that pulled me away from World of Warcraft by giving me every single thing I ever said I wanted in a video game.  I spent a good amount of time playing Rift at launch and since release it is a rarity that I do not have an active account.  The problem is… I am not playing it.  This game is one that I want to love so badly, and I wished and tried so many times to transplant my WoW family into.  Rift is a game made up of extremely well crafted systems that are honed to lightning precision…  but have been assembled in the wrong order.  That is the best possible analogy that I can give you.  Have you ever walked into a house and felt that something was just off, and then spent the rest of your time in it trying to figure out exactly what it was?  There is something wrong with Rift, and I cannot figure out what is missing.

I have heard the complaint that “Rift has no soul” and as much as I have rebelled against that notion…  maybe that statement is right.  There is some spark that ties everything together that is missing in this game.  I will always keep returning to it, because there are lots of well crafted components that make up this game, but the overarching game itself lacks something.  With the Nightmare Tides expansion I came back and started playing more regularly, but it was not long before I realized that all I had been actually doing was logging in to play the minions mini-game.  Even now talking about this game I am getting the desire to pop my head back in, because it is like this puzzle I cannot quite solve.  I want to know why it doesn’t work, but never actually find the answer.  What I do know however is it is a game supported by a lot of awesome people, and while I am trying to figure it out… I absolutely do not mind funding their efforts.

The Secret World

TheSecretWorld 2012-08-07 20-41-26-17 When The Secret World was released, I thought that it was absolutely going to be the game I could settle in for the long haul.  I believe it in so much that I spent the almost two hundred dollars to purchase a “Lifetime” membership, after having missed out on that same opportunity for Lord of the Rings Online.  The experience of leveling through this game and completing all of the content was absolutely amazing.  It still has some of the most thoughtful and interesting quest lines I have experienced in any game.  The thing that broke myself and the rest of the AggroChat crew was the fact that behind the Gatekeeper encounter there loomed a giant wall.  When we began nightmare content, we came to the realization quickly that we were essentially “playing the game wrong”.  The answer to beating the content was for us to change our specs to something that the content wanted us to be.  Doing this would have destroyed the magic of the game, the fact that we could craft the characters we always wanted to play.

All of this said, it is still a game I think upon fondly, and still consider the lifetime membership some of the best money I have ever spent.  Content is released in “Issues” and while purchasing one of these gives you the main story quest… there is also a substantial amount of minor content that goes in with each of them.  Games are notoriously bad about pointing out things that have changed in the world, and The Secret World is no exception.  I find it a mentally daunting task to not only try and remember how to play my character each time I return, but also try and figure out what is actually new.  The fact that you can repeat almost every quest in the game only serves to make this more maddening.  The answer of course is to claw your way through copious patch notes to figure out what new elements were added, but instead…  I simply don’t play apart from logging in every now and then to buy a cool new outfit with my monthly allotment of in game store currency.

Fondly Remembered Loves

There you go, this morning in honor of Valentines Day I give you the games I love but am not actually playing.  I feel like all gamers have these games in their history.  I am curious what some of yours are.  Leave me a comment letting me know what game or games out there are you still smitten by but just not playing anymore.

Bloodlust Pays Off

What’s Wrong with TSW?

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

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

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

Bloodlust Pays Off

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

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

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

Oddly Oblivious

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

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

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

#ElderScrollsOnline #TheSecretWorld #WoW #TSW #ESO

WoW Needs a Gatekeeper

Content Gating

contentgating

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

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

Must Be This Tall

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

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

WoW Needs the Gatekeeper

TheGatekeeper

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

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

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

Personal Endorsements

firstaidcard

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

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

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

Reverberating the Praise

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

The Spinoff Post

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

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

A Bigger Shout Out

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

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

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

Amazing Customer Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phenominal Community Team

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

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

Why This Matters

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

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

Not Just a Love Song

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

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

Good Job!

106 Miles to Chicago

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

Coup De Grace

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

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

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

A Mission from God

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Nightmare Begins

guardian

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

Getting our Asses Kicked

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

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

OHGODSQUID

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

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

I Has Purplez

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

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

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

Linkspam

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

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

#TSW Monthiversary

My butchery of the English language truly knows no bounds.  Yesterday I pulled together the word “troubulation”, a mixture of troubles and tribulation.  Today I am either coining or stealing the term “Monthiversary”, because today is the one month anniversary of the launch of The Secret World.  It has been one great month, and was capped by the release of the first of the monthly content updates:  Issue #1 (patch 1.1) Unleashed.

EHMERGAHD!

TheSecretWorldDX11 2012-07-03 20-26-38-08I find it amusing that to date, I have yet to do one of my traditional “omg you have to play this” posts for the game.  I think the reasoning is twofold, firstly I was informed that it has become almost stereotypical for me to say something is the “best game ever”.  Looking back and my posts, and tweets and google plus ramblings…  I can see the pattern.  This game deserves so much more than one of my now clichéd “EHMERGAHD BORST GERM EVAH” post.

Secondly, I’ve come to the realization that it is so much harder to blog about something, when you cannot fathom stopping playing enough to actually write.  For the first few weeks after release, I simply could not be bothered to stop playing the damned game long enough to put words on paper.  So while I had topic after topic swirling around in my head, I’ve reached a level of obsession that I have not had since the early days of Everquest and World of Warcraft.

Never Judge a Book by it’s Author?

TheSecretWorldDX11 2012-07-04 22-11-28-41 (1)The Secret World has been an interesting experiment to me.  Funcom is a company that I had pretty much written off based on the fact that I never really enjoyed either Anarchy Online or Age of Conan.  So while all the trailers really played into all of my sci-fi/horror obsessions, I just did not want to believe that this company that had left a bad taste in my mouth, could produce a product I wanted to play.  I even had friends argue with me, about how frankly stupid it was for me to judge this company based on experiences from a decade ago.

I’ve come to realize over time that I am often very wrong, and I’ve never been so happy to admit it before.  After the very first open beta weekend, I knew I was hooked and would be for a long time.  I wrote up my beta weekend impressions, which apparently some thought were negative, but immediately afterwards I went out to the Secret World website and ordered my lifetime subscription.  The game brings something to the genre that has been sorely missing in the last few games I have played:  Copious amounts of “Fluff”.

Pen and Paper Experience

TheSecretWorldDX11 2012-07-03 16-53-31-91Playing The Secret World, feels like playing under every great pen and paper game master.  You know those GMs that take the time, to think everything through, and provide lots of handouts for the players?  Ragnar Tornquist is one of those game masters, and we are together playing one of the best “modules” I have ever experienced.  I know, there I go with the hyperbole again… but damnit it is true.  This game reminds me of every good tabletop gaming experience I had over the years.

Funcom and The Secret World team has created this living, breathing world that we get to go adventuring in.  Everything works like you think it should, you can look up addresses in the phone books, execute commands on the computer terminals, and in game references work like they would in the real world.  The world and atmosphere, just feel right, and there is a constant uneasy quality to everything you do.  You know you are treading in a world on the edge of oblivion, the music, the scenery, and the interactions keep you constantly aware of this fact.  On top of all of this the writing and story is simply amazing.

Oh the Tales They Tell

TheSecretWorldDX11 2012-07-07 10-45-25-06I know I went on at length about the story telling experience behind Star Wars: The Old Republic.  That game featured some of the best interactive storytelling I had experienced in a video game.  The Secret World really raises that bar, while SWTOR was good for a game, some of the dialog in TSW stacks up against some of the best novels I have read.  While I cared about my character and direct companions in SWTOR, I actually care about almost every character in The Secret World.  You never interact with generic imperial officer number 47 here, every character has a motivation, unique mannerisms, and a story that is worth finding out about.

With the first monthly issue, they are going back and fleshing out the tale of Carter, one of the most endearing characters from the Innsmouth Academy.  When I originally quested through the Savage Coast, this was one of the many characters I really wanted to learn more about and sure enough they are giving it to us.  I really look forward to learning more about the characters I have come to love.  There have been several nights I’ve been on mumble, with friends, discussing this or that character and what we thought of the outcome of a certain quest.  Of course, keeping our thoughts and opinions bottled up until everyone in the channel had completed it, often becomes painfully difficult.  But we have a firm no spoilers rule.

Proof is in the Playing

tacomemeI can blather on and on about my love of this game, and of the tacos.  But you won’t understand either reference completely until you’ve actually sat down and played the game.  Luckily for you, in honor of their first month, and the release of their first content pack…  they are allowing anyone at all to play for free this weekend.  From today, August 3rd at 4PM GMT until Monday, August 6th at 7AM GMT all players with a Funcom account can download the game, log in and try it out themselves. They are hosting a meta-game this weekend as well, where you can win a special in-game t-shirt and 1200 bonus points for completing 30 missions during the event.

So if you find yourself wandering what all the excitement is about, download the game and play it for a few days.  The truth of The Secret World, is that it takes probably 12 hours minimum gameplay for you to really grasp the complexity and intricacy of the game.  Saying that, I know now that this game will not be for everyone.  I’ve said it before, but the game is a niche game, and completely knows it is a niche.  I will not hold your hand, and tell you what you should be doing.  Often the developer takes an almost cruel pleasure in “trolling” the players, but behind all of this is an extremely rich gameplay experience.

You Have to Decide

TheSecretWorldDX11 2012-07-07 21-28-33-32 (1)I think a third reason behind me not doing a “Why you should be playing Secret World” post, is that for the first time in a long time I cannot say with any certainty that this is the game you should be playing.  The Secret World is a very personal experience, and each player will find things they like and dislike about it.  This is not a “shoot down the middle” and “target all the things” type game.  You have to work for your fun here. If you are looking for a theme park ride, expect it to try extremely hard to kill you in the process.

What I can tell you, is that the game is extremely rich and rewarding.  That the team behind it is extremely open to the community, and offers some of the best customer support I have ever seen.  I’ve gotten every single ticket I have opened answered in person by game staff, and in all cases within 15 minutes.  They have amazing folks supporting the community like Amber Skinner (@Morteia) and a Creative Director that constantly responds directly to tweets.  While there are numerous bugs, all of this and their dedication to keep ironing things out makes the game enjoyable to experience.

Ultimately, you are going to have to download the game, put in some hours of game play and determine whether or not it is right for you.