[GW2]What do you give the gamer who has everything? More progression!

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Someone is a bit enthusiastic about serving the Mad King

The Guild Wars 2 team have been wasting no time with pushing new content into the game. We have already seen a Halloween Event which included new quests, jumping puzzle, mini instance, mini PvP zones, and lots of cosmetic rewards. This weekend sees a slew of one off events and the introduction of a new zone (and free trials for the first time) and there is a new PvP map for sPvP also. Then there are the inevitable Winter/Christmas events which are doubtless in the pipeline.

But the latest announcement about this month’s new iteration of dungeons has been greeted with a 126-page threadosaur of outrage on the official forums. Why is that? Item progression. Entombed explains in more detail what the players are angry about. Some of his points look more valid to me than others – sure, a portion of the player base will care deeply about which site breaks the news but probably most don’t.

Truth is, in a game that was going to break open the MMOsphere by ditching all the conventions, this new content and gear looks very much like a traditional endgame gear progression. A new tier of gear is being introduced that sits between exotics and legendaries in terms of stats, and includes sockets for players to add a stat that will allow them to go further into future dungeons. Syp comments on the similarity with the unpopular LOTRO radiance mechanic.

And like the LOTRO radiance mechanic, none of this will impact on players who play the game more casually because they probably never had much intention of grinding cutting edge ‘endgame’ anyway. If I lack zeal for attacking Arenanet on this, it’s because I think their logic with the new content is sound. It’s just unfortunate that it goes against the entire spirit in which the game was sold.

To be clearer: The current dungeons are flawed, inconsistent, and not particularly fun. Let’s call it ‘inconsistently fun’; there are some cool encounters. There is also way too large a gap between exotic gear and legendaries, in terms of the amount of effort players need to put in. Legendaries stand at the end of an excessively long grind. Enough so that a player looking at the legendary requirements is likely to get sticker shock and end up playing the game LESS because they decide it’s not worth investing the time.

So a slew of new mini dungeons and introducing a tier of gear between exotic and legendary are both pretty good ideas. Introducing a classic MMO progression endgame grind into GW2? Nope, was never going to be popular. Particularly when the only way to get the gear is via dungeon runs. Particularly when players had become used to multiple pathways to gear so that dungeoneers, crafters, PvPers and dynamic event fans could all collect similar gear.

The outrage will get worse before (if) it gets better.  Yet still, Arenanet are putting a lot of effort into supporting their game with new content.

The problem with cosmetic progression

There is one huge sucking problem with the concept of cosmetic progression, i.e. letting players grind for gear that looks different/interesting/better rather than gear that has better stats. It is, “What if you don’t like the look of the grindy cosmetic gear?” Taste is subjective in a way that stat improvements are not.

And whilst you can transmute gear in GW2, who wants to grind dungeons so that they can buy some exotic gear with a new skin that they then transmute to looking like the old gear?

Does easier content make for friendlier MMO communities?

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A pretty WoW screenshot, being able to fly does give you a good choice for perspectives

It has become a truism in MMOs that behaviour in random pick up groups can be really atrocious. There will be elitist jerks urging everyone to gogogo, pulling extra packs of trash mobs themselves if they think the group isn’t moving fast enough, there will be people acting like idiots purely to annoy the rest of the group, there will be insults, aggression, rage quits,  intolerance towards newbies. It’s like a war out there, put on your kneepads and body armour before venturing into LFG!

It’s also widely held that smaller, more coherent communities tend to be nicer to each other. I’m not so sure this is always true, but guild groups certainly tend to be nicer and more successful because of being willing to work together.

And yet, while I’ve been running at least one heroic a day in WoW, and LFR raids every week too, I just haven’t seen much of the horrible behaviour that gives PUGs such a bad name. The worst I’ve really seen is people leaving the group mid-instance, possibly even mid-pull (which is bad behaviour, yes), and a bit of frustration on raid/party chat which is as often countered by people telling the speaker to chill. It isn’t just that I’m on a more chilled out RP server because LFG/LFR is cross server. Although the world boss groups (Sha of Anger et al) on my server have tended to be particularly chilled out and willing to welcome any warm body who is able to help, even when people are annoyed at being beaten to the pull by Alliance – which happens reasonably often because they outnumber us on the server.

So while it’s not possible to change human nature, I think PUGs have become nicer in MoP than they were in Cataclysm. While this isn’t great for having funny ‘it came from the PUG’ stories to relate in blog posts, it probably does mean that the player base in general is having more fun (where being in aggressive LFGs counts as less fun). The only factors I can put this down to are:

  • People who left because they didn’t like pandas were some of the really annoying folks so the game is nicer without them (I don’t really see why this would be the case but you never know)
  • The instances and LFR are generally easier in MoP and less dependent on every individual performing well. Easier content means that there’s less stress on a group. If people just settle down, chances are they’ll get through it in reasonable time.
  • Less odd trash pulls which need specific tactics (Shado-Pan excepted). If you are looking up instance tactics, they tend to focus on boss fights so making these the main content in instances means there is less for new players to learn.
  • The more hardcore players are still motivated to do regular LFG/ LFR for the tokens, but less gated by inexperienced/ bad players. ie. If you are a decent dps player, chances are you can pull a group through a heroic even if the other two dps get themselves locked out of fights, die in the fires, etc.

I also think Blizzard has done a good job of making the boss fights generally fun, even though the group difficulty is a bit lower. There’s lots of movement, add switching, things to dodge, and all the other stuff that generally switches games up from pure tank and spank fights.

But really, random groups need easier content to make up for the fact that they won’t have as much experience at working together, are less likely to communicate, and are likely to contain players of widely differing skill and experience levels. We’ve seen this in the GW2 dynamic events also – they’re easy, and there’s no group size limits, so any warm body is welcome. I am glad Blizzard have twigged this, because their group content is one of the strong points of WoW and making PUGs more fun for everyone (newbies and hardcore alike) is a huge win for the game.

Bashiok actually says as much on the official forums:

While you may go in with a ((random)) group and all learn something, that a specific mob needs to be CC’d, or a certain boss behavior to avoid a wipe, those lessons are more than likely out the window with the next group you’re matched with ((…)) and most people don’t want to spend every run waiting for everyone else to learn all those same lessons. That can just be a frustrating experience. So instead of trying to force a group of strangers to be so heavily coordinated (maybe even having to jump into voice chat) just to complete the first steps of progression, we reduce the complexity to a point where the random groups that are being put together can most of the time be successful without needing to be hyper-organized or educated on each pull. Instead, that organization is far more important for the organized content where random people aren’t matched together: normal and Heroic raids.

Do you think the WoW community has become more pleasant in PUGs in this expansion?

[WoW] The mastery curve, holidays, and it came from the PUG

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Hallow’s End is my favourite of the WoW holiday events. This isn’t just because the Headless Horseman talks in rhyme like a pantomine villain, but because it’s the only event which feels more meaningful in the game world than in real life.

In real life, Halloween in the UK is a  hodge podge which is currently drawing hugely on American customs. It is kind of taking off, but I think we have a much softer spot for the home grown Guy Fawkes Day with its fireworks, anti government themes and politically incorrect  history. It may not be the world’s greatest festival but it’s all ours, dammit.  In game, Hallow’s End is the holiday on which the Forsaken celebrate their freedom from the Scourge. (A fairly brilliant concept from Blizzard which keeps the spooky feel but fits nicely with the lore.) So as my main is Forsaken, it is quite meaningful to me. This screenshot shows the daily ceremony in the Undercity where Sylvanas walks out and gives a speech/ pep talk in front of the Wicker Man. You can see that there are a few other players standing around, even though I don’t think you get any buffs from watching the event. They just wanted to come and see.

As players, we are probably all used to seeing thinly veiled lore-based excuses for having Xmas events. Players like them. But I much prefer the approach that imagines what type of holidays the in game races might have, what events might they celebrate? LOTRO does a good job with these, tying their holidays to the seasons and harvests. Anyone else have favourite events with game-specific lore that just really works for you?

Yesterday you were the noob, today you are the master

In any MMO, you can imagine a kind of learning curve where you begin as an inexperienced player and end up achieving the sort  of mastery where random strangers ask you for tips about your gear/ playing style in PUGs. OK, in my dreams maybe, but every player takes a journey from feeling new and awkward and unconfident to feeling comfortable with the content, confident, and capable in their role. This includes collecting gear, exploring the zones and instances, learning the fights and learning the class.

In particular if you want to take part in group content at max level, there is a trial by fire where you start queuing for PUGs as a nervous, barely geared level 90. Then as you get more experience and better gear, you don’t feel so nervous any more. Your tanking/healing/dps is fine and you know it.

That learning curve seems to get shorter with each expansion, but I suspect that is partly my being generally familiar with the game. It is, however, one of my absolute most favourite parts of WoW. That sense that every dungeon run is exciting because you can still make daft mistakes, help your group narrowly avoid a wipe, or just barely heal a fight and keep everyone alive. And more than that, the sense that you are still learning something with every run, still hoping for that cool drop, still engaged with the content.

I know not everyone likes excitement or that skin of the teeth feeling, but I do enjoy the learning curve. I feel that with Spinks I’m pretty much at the end of it now, she’s geared for the next LFR when it turns up, is generally top dps in instances, and I have most of the gear I really wanted.  When I run heroics now, I feel far more laid back about it. DPS warriors hinge on the very basic fun of hitting stuff with big weapons and putting up big numbers and that never really pales.

The main alt this expansion is a priest and I’ve ended up taking her down the Holy (healing) path. This was initially because queue times were so short, but I also really enjoy it as a spec. It feels like a spec with a lot of depth, and though I can heal competently, I still feel that I’ve barely scratched the surface which is pretty cool.

Undergeared healers can be challenging to play because they tend to run out of mana very fast. I think the priest has particular issues with this, but since I don’t plan on raiding with her, I am reflecting that this actually makes the instance learning curve rather more fun for me. Or rather, it’s more fun because sometimes I have really struggled with healing an encounter, which makes it so much more rewarding when I can go back later to the same instance with better gear/more experience/better group and see that I’ve improved. I will almost be sad to be over geared on her.

But there are still Challenge modes ahead. I look forwards to more exciting razor edge victories/failures.

It came from the PUG

A couple of positive examples this week, both from instances where I was healing.

I had struggled to heal Shado-Pan Heroic, there are encounters where the group can end up taking a lot of damage without much warning. But I am getting better with practice, and also noticing how much of a difference it makes when players can keep out of the avoidable damage. This is something Blizzard are really pushing with the MoP heroics, and I think healers are in a good place to notice it. I realised I was getting more confident as a healer when after one of the boss fights in Shado-Pan, one of the dps who had died during the fight said “pay attention healer.”  And my kneejerk response was to say “no, you pay attention and keep out of the bad stuff.” And no one in the group complained, I like to think this was because I was right.

Another, similar, healing moment was in Jade Temple Heroic. One of the (dead) dps said to me “where were the heals” and I said “you need to keep yourself out of the bad stuff”. There was a pause, and he said “yeah sorry.” THIS NEVER HAPPENS (i.e. people apologising), BUT IT HAPPENED IN MY GROUP!! Cognitive dissonance follows.

I imagine that once I am overgeared I’ll be better able to heal people who stand in the fire, but I quite like the playing style where it’s just not possible to do that and  healing decisions have to be made based on keeping enough people alive to beat the boss, which means triage on people who just take too much damage.

[GW2] The epic and the mundane

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The one-eyed, one-horned, flying purple people eater flying overhead! And us looting the chest after the fight.

Yay! Arb and I fought a dragon in GW2! It was big and purple! There was loot!

Let me describe a typical dragon fight in Guild Wars 2 – bear in mind that the dragons are the big bads of the setting.

  • Arb and I go to a zone, there is lots of running around like 4 year olds on a sugar rush as we both get distracted easily by hearts, vistas, gathering nodes, events, and just about anything else.
  • Someone in zone chat comments: anyone seen the dragon recently?
  • Someone else answers: it’s due in about 10 minutes.
  • I say to Arb: Just like a bus timetable.
  • She says: Probably 3 come at once.
  • We get distracted by the prospect of a dragon in 10 minutes and head to the other side of the zone to find the appropriate dynamic event (probably involving getting lost, splitting up, one of us dying from falling off a cliff, and more gathering.)
  • We get there, yay! The event is starting, yay! Lots of other players turn up, yay!
  • The dragon arrives, keeping a better timetable than local buses. There may be some mechanics and strategy but we’re too busy saying “ooo! It’s big” to really focus on them. The dragons are pretty big and impressive.
  • LEEKS! Arb spots a veg node.
  • We hare off in the middle of a dragon fight to pick the leeks.
  • We get back in time to see the dragon die and get some loot, which probably isn’t very exciting but you might get a nice rune.

It is very  typical of the GW2 experience that you might run off to pick vegetables in the middle of a boss fight. Even though you know perfectly well the veg will still be there afterwards, because all material nodes are shared.

On this basis, I am naming GW2 as being neither a Themepark nor a Sandbox but a Playground MMO. Free Realms might be another example of a Playground MMO. In the playground, there will be lots of different activities on offer. They will probably be a bit disorganised. There might be a small sandbox. You can do whatever you want, although staff will stop you annoying the other children. Some activities will happen at set times (eg. storytime). I don’t find the game childish, but there is something very childlike about playing GW2.

Maybe it’s the focus on play and playfulness in the open world. It feels difficult to take the game seriously. Why else would you run off in the middle of killing a dragon to go and pick veg?

[WoW] Things the dungeon journal doesn’t tell you

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There are different ways for players to learn boss fights.

  1. Trial and error. Go in blind, figure out what you can, and if you fail then figure out why you failed and try something different next time.
  2. As above, but with addons that give additional hints (eg. Change targets now! Move out of the fire now!)
  3. Talking to other players. Get someone to tell you what you have to do.
  4. Read about it offline or watch a video tutorial.

Blizzard have tried to incorporate #4 into the game with the in game dungeon journal. This lists out the abilities (and phases) of the dungeon and raid bosses.

Shame it doesn’t mention that the middle of the floor disappears in the last phase of the Elegon fight, so if you don’t run to the outside, you will die. You might think this was key information. I assume this is intentional to make sure that players need to figure out the strategy – but if it is meant to replace looking things up offline, it doesn’t work.

Do you find the dungeon journal useful?

EQ Next to be “the largest sandbox MMO ever designed”

In 2010, SOE announced that they were working on a follow up to EQ2, code-named EQ Next. There was some muted excitement from Everquest fans, but after that we didn’t hear much about the project. Yesterday, John Smedley announced at SOE Live that they’d trashed their original design and now plan to bring EQ Next to market as a sandbox style MMO game.

I had been wondering whether Blizzard would end up taking this route with Titan (or going for a FPS MMO), as the trends simply aren’t towards large subscription MMOs and ‘more of the same’ isn’t going to cut it.

As it happens, with Planetside 2, SOE along with CCP’s Dust are both shaping up as good options for FPS MMO fans. And with this EQ Next announcement, suddenly a lot of old school MMO players will again be very very focused on what SOE is doing. I think this was a momentous announcement for them, it’s the day they became relevant again. And now Blizzard is on the back foot. Check out the link, there were quite a lot of announcements and statements about how they see the industry.

[WoW] It came from the PUG, and how the love of bling unites communities

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This is just a picture of Spinks standing around in a pub, but the detail on the interior furnishings in MoP is lovely. I think this is a Mah Jong set?

And so, with another WoW expansion, there is another rush of players into heroic PUGs so as to gear up their new level 90 characters. The instances on the whole are shortish and emphasise the boss fights, with minimal trash mobs between bosses. (Honorable exception: Shado-Pan Monastery, which does seem to have a fair amount of ‘trash’.) It does make for a different and more ‘theme park’ style of instance. But I am finding them quite fun and enjoying where Blizzard experiment with different types of mechanics, such as in the Siege of Niuzao, or the one where dps get fired out of a cannon. I am however now rather tired of Stormstout Brewery which I have been dutifully running once per day and still never seen the dps trinket drop from the last boss.

I haven’t tried any challenge modes yet, I hear they’re pretty tough and look forwards to getting round to it at some point.

I was also hoping by now to have some good anecdotes to share on “It came from the PUG.” Actually people have mostly been pleasant (or at least quiet) and reasonably well behaved, and willing to briefly explain boss fights if other players don’t know them. But there are a couple I’d pick out.

One was an instance of Stormstout where the first thing the Death Knight tank said to me when I zoned in at the start was “Are you going to roll on the dps trinket off last boss?” I said, “Yes,” and he left. This was in the morning, about 30 mins before the daily instance lock reset.

Since I’ve never actually seen it drop, I have no idea if tanks are able to roll need on the trinket. I’d guess that they can, because I could roll need on tanking gear if I wanted, and did get into an argument on one run where I rolled need on a one handed sword without tank stats because I thought it would be handy if I wanted to switch to dual wielding 1 handers.

So this is a player who would rather sit out altogether than take a 50% chance of winning an item if it dropped (which of course it didn’t Winking smile ), with the knowledge he could try again in 30 mins anyway. A lot of people apparently cannot handle the idea of a shared roll. I refuse to feel guilty about turning up to an instance with the intent of rolling for an item which is best in slot for me. I don’t personally feel strongly about people rolling need for off spec items, although the longer I go trying to get this trinket, the more pissy I am likely to be it does drop and I don’t win. I do wish there was a roll priority for ‘off-spec need’ which would take priority if and only if no one with main spec priority rolled need. i.e..  from top to bottom priority –> main spec need, off spec need, greed/disenchant, pass. Because I’d rather see an item go to someone who will use for offspec than sold to a vendor.

A more heartening PUG story was in a Shado-Pan PUG, where the group had wiped a couple of times on the last boss. One of the dps was going ballistic on a hapless warlock who hadn’t been focussing on the adds, and by going ballistic I mean serious anger management issues. The tank was a very placid player who told him/her to settle down and shut up, explained the fight patiently to the warlock and made sure they understood, and then we aced the fight. It’s not a very exciting anecdote, I admit, except to say that there are plenty of decent, mature players out there and it’s probably a good sign if your tank picks “the Patient” as his/her title of choice.

Bling bling, emergent behaviour

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The Blingtron 4000 is an item that an engineer can make, which doles out free gifts to everyone who clicks on it. It is quite expensive to make, requiring 4 Spirits of Harmony, Living Steel, Trillium, Blue quality gems, etc. So why would any crafter spend all those materials on something whose only purpose is to give free stuff to other random players? The only answer must be because it’s fun. But when you’ve spent that much effort making an item, you want people to notice, and to get some use out of it.

I noticed when one of my guildies set off a Blingtron, she announced in general chat where it was and most of the players in the zone turned up for their free gifts. (OK, a couple of them also got on their largest mounts and sat on top of the Blingtron to annoy everyone else, but they got reported.) The screenshot above was actually taken from an alt on a different server and faction. You can see again that he’s  put it in an accessible location and is announcing to everyone in range (this was in Stormwind) that they can come and get some freebies.

I find that kind of cool as emergent behaviour. It does bring players together, the engineer hopefully gets some social status and people might remember their name with good associations, and it’s quite fun to turn up and get a free random present from someone you might not even know.