[TSW, SWTOR, WoW, CK2] Well, it’s certainly been a week.

I thought today I might sum up some experiences I’ve had in games recently. This is mostly a quick fly though, just to demonstrate how incredibly /different/ some games which are nominally similar can be.

The Secret World

tsw

The Secret World had a free weekend, and sadly I didn’t have as much time in game as I had hoped. Partly due to watching the Olympics (on TV) and spending a day out in London (not to go to the Olympics because I didn’t have tickets), and also partly due to getting roped into some raids in SWTOR. So these really will be first impressions.

I like the game a lot, and as other people have said, the setting and storytelling is very engaging. For me there was a disconnect between “secret masters of the world. conspiracy theories.” and “welcome to Kingsmouth, here’s your shotgun. Go kill some zombies.” There is even more of a disconnect between the clever and immersive world building and a public channel full of “LF2M tank and healer”.  I’m also not sure whether I find that the combat fits neatly to the storytelling parts of the game – it’s common for RPGs to have this disconnect but the stylistic difference seems stronger in TSW. It just is a very disconnected game. All the individual bits seem good in themselves, but I liked the RPG/investigative parts so much more than the combat. Partly for that reason, this is absolutely a game that sings “single player or small group only” to me. Even more so than SWTOR.

But for all that, it IS immersive and engaging and I enjoyed how Funcom use the environment to drop clues to the player, as well as the usual “quest person marker” details.  I also always wanted to be an Illuminati, so there is that too. I also get a kick out of ‘take a shortcut through Agartha” and similar funky occult daftness; I love urban fantasy which this game does in spades. I didn’t have much of a chance to really check out any of the riddle quests so I’m still unsure whether I have the patience for that type of play or would get frustrated too quickly.

The screenshot above shows two of the other things I did really enjoy with the game.

  1. Blue hair. Apparently this is more of A Thing than I realised, since a lot of my twitter crowd mentioned that their characters also had blue hair. I do think it’s cool though. I also like how my character is holding the shotgun in the shot, her hands/fingers are actually closed around the weapon. Also was amused at being told I had good aim when I shot something. I am not a firearms person (to say the least) but I feel that using a shotgun at point blank range may not be a big aiming challenge.
  2. This shows a tutorial for the talent system. It’s a voiced video that steps you through how things work. Please could more games do this, it’s great.

Whilst I did get a good first impression from the weekend and would definitely like to spend more time with TSW, I can’t justify a sub at the moment. I just don’t have the time free in my gaming schedule. Maybe in a few months time. But I do want to go back.

SWTOR: All my raiding comes at once!

I think there’s a hidden switch in the communal mind of a new raidgroup that suddenly decides you are good enough (or needed badly enough) to be included in the main team. So I’m guessing all my practice with the Consular and generally being around and genial in guild chat has made a mark; this week I was invited to join the guild for runs in two Operations that I haven’t seen before: Explosive Conflict (Denova) and Karagga’s Palace. The raid leader was also really nice about explaining the fights, and the raids were friendly and patient. And we did clear them both. It was just a great gaming experience.

denova

These screenshots are from Denova, which is a very solid raid in my opinion. The encounters are interesting and well designed, there’s a nice mix of content, and they’re challenging without feeling that you are hitting your head against a wall. Bioware have done a good job with the raid content. Karagga is by far my least favourite of the Operations. The first and last boss are both thoroughly annoying (last boss might have been more fun if I had been on dps rather than healing).

My feelings about SWTOR seem conflicted at the moment. I do genuinely enjoy the game, but I’m not sure about its future. Whatever happens, I’m thrilled to have gotten the chance to play it, and to have met such nice players on both the guilds I’ve been in. This may affect how I view the SWTOR community in general, but even my PUG runs have generally been cordial and friendly. Dropping WoW last December to play SWTOR instead has been a really good decision for me.

In any case, this means that I have now seen all of the PvE content in the game, although there are harder modes for the Ops which we haven’t done yet. I’m not really sure what my next goals are, I enjoy raiding with the guys so will plan to keep doing that though.

Warcraft: Back for more abuse

I picked up a Scroll of Resurrection this week, and thought it would be a good opportunity to drop back into WoW and see whether absence makes the heart grow fonder. (The answer is: no, but it does give a different perspective.) My first impression on logging into Orgrimmar was of overwhelming chaos, noise, people all over the place, randomness on general chat. There’s so much going on and where is everything and heck, there’s so much of it. Like I say: overwhelming.

From what I can gather, the only new content since I last played (in December) is that the Darkmoon Faire has its own zone now. It looks cool and a bit foreboding and the music is good. The new Faire is (as with the rest of WoW), busy, noisy, overwhelming. There are quests which grant tradeskill improvements as well as rewards, and some minigames. None of the minigames looked especially interesting at first glance. There’s only so much designers can do with ‘whack a mole’ or ‘steer the vehicle into the other vehicle.’ This is a shame, because I would have thought a fairground would be ripe for actual vehicle minigames.

It was of course great to chat to my guildies again in game. They are a really good bunch, and have been the one thing I really did miss from not being in game. I did think it was a bad idea to agree when someone suggested queueing for one of the most recent heroic instances. This proved to be the case, and the complaints about poor dps started very soon into the instance. I do think there’s an issue with the game where everyone is studying your dps the whole time in groups using real time damage meter addons, even when they don’t need to. Anyhow, I didn’t stay long, I suspect my dps would have been OK but that’s not an atmosphere you want to learn new fights in.

This, incidentally is where WoW is utterly failing at the moment. If a reasonable, average player cannot learn a new fight in LFG and guild groups are unlikely to form (due to people either preferring the convenience of LFG or being tired of the group content) then your group game is basically dead. I’ve heard arguments that this will be better at the start of a new expansion when the content is new to everyone. I don’t entirely buy it; this may be true … for a week or two.  If Blizzard want to break this chain then they need to a) make the LFG instances easier, no complex boss fights that require a page of tutorial to explain the tactics or tightly tuned dps races and b) give players a chance to practice the fights on their own first. (I’m not arguing against hard instances, but I don’t think they are good LFG content.)

Before being put off grouping altogether, I then thought I’d queue for one of the original Cataclysm heroics. These are instances I’ve run several times in my character’s current gear before taking a break. There were no dps issues, but after one wipe the tank aggroed a pack of mobs while everyone else was running back (which led to another wipe). Here is a snapshot of the conversation that followed:

Me: Could you wait for everyone to get back before starting the next fight?

Him/ Her: No.

Me: Why not?

Him/Her: *pause* Because I like doing things wrong.

Me: OK, have fun then. *leaves group*

Maybe it’s because I’ve just spent time in SWTOR where I haven’t had a single bad group, but two poor PUGs in a row isn’t cool and shouldn’t be the norm. Anyhow, I will be hanging out in WoW for the next month or so. Partly because I feel I’d like the guy who sent me the SoR to get his (ugly) mount, and also because it’s good blogging fodder to come back with fresh eyes and gauge how WoW might feel to other returning players. Right now, I feel that I could happily never run another PUG in WoW ever again.

One thing to note for returners: Your spare justice or valor tokens are still useful, Blizzard regularly upgrade the gear you can trade them in for.

I feel I haven’t said much about good first impressions yet. WoW has an INCREDIBLE sense of being an actual world.  It’s buzzing, chaotic, there’s a lot going on and huge zones to explore.  So I went back to a quieter zone to do some daily quests that everyone else is probably bored with (or even forgot by now) to chill out and chat.

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Crusader Kings 2

This is such a big bonkers game, but it’s the best gaming crack since the original Civilisation. How can I be so drawn to a game which I am so bad at playing? My latest ruler did actually manage to win some wars, but I think I could happily watch the game play itself out without me really doing much. Still, I continue to read up about it and try different things in new games. I wanted to mention CK2 in passing as I’m still only scratching the surface but it takes a special sort of game to engender this kind of love from poor players.

Whatever happened to Lara Croft?

several_laras

So here are a few images of Lara Croft from games, film, and (at the bottom) the trailer for the upcoming Tomb Raider reboot game. I’m not sure why she switched from dual pistols to a bow either, must be the Katniss effect. And actually, in discussing the reboot, I keep feeling The Hunger Games as an influence. I’ll come back to this later.

However, the elephant in the room with Tomb Raider has now become comments made by the executive producer, Ron Rosenberg, with respect to Lara’s new backstory involving being kidnapped by island pirates and an attempted rape (she beats the guy up, kills him and escapes, incidentally).

“When people play Lara, they don’t really project themselves into the character,” Rosenberg told me at E3 last week when I asked if it was difficult to develop for a female protagonist.

“They’re more like ‘I want to protect her.’ There’s this sort of dynamic of ‘I’m going to this adventure with her and trying to protect her.’”

So is she still the hero? I asked Rosenberg if we should expect to look at Lara a little bit differently than we have in the past.

“She’s definitely the hero but— you’re kind of like her helper,” he said. “When you see her have to face these challenges, you start to root for her in a way that you might not root for a male character.

Who is this /you/ he is addressing? It looks as though it should be anyone who might play the game, except there’s some assumptions there about how people identify with main characters which look as though he’s assuming the player is male. That’s one of the reasons he got people’s backs up. Lake Desire has a nicely nuanced writeup on the Borderhouse explaining why she appreciates what the devs are trying to do and feels that the trailer does make her want to play the game, while acknowledging that there are some issues around assuming that female characters need to be seen as vulnerable so that players will think they are ‘feminine’ enough.

I am torn, because while I agree it’s problematic if every strong female character has to have a traumatised background and the male characters don’t, I’ve also enjoyed stories like Kill Bill and the city elf backstory from DAO which do feature badass protagonists who are rape survivors. There’s a place for that kind of story and if it’s done well it can be empowering for players. I’ve liked Blaxploitation films too, and I loved Pam Grier in Jackie Brown (maybe I’m just a Tarantino fan).

It is, however, something of a genre in itself and usually features strong revenge plotlines which aren’t really the pulp adventure of which Lara Croft stories are made.

The other blogger I was reading on this subject wrote about Lara Croft 3 years ago. Ms Pixel decided back in 2009 that Lara needed a reboot and discusses what SHE thinks needs to happen.

Lara was born during a time when sex in games and digital nudity were avant garde. Now it’s common place. Shed more light on Lara’s personality traits. She needs to become a full blown character that makes me laugh, cry, cringe, marvel and scream at the same time.  Full and impossibly flawed characters like Uncharted’s Nathan Drake and Metal Gear Solid’s Solid Snake have intense fan followings. Men don’t want to admit it but they’ve got a Bromance with Nathan and Snake that rivals the love affair they have with Lara. Women also love yearn for lovable characters. Gender doesn’t play that big of a role.

Get that, devs? Women also want /loveable/ female characters (or at least one woman does, and I don’t think it’s a half bad idea either.) Having said that, I think the devs here were gunning to highlight Lara’s personality traits. I just don’t know from that trailer whether loveable is really the personality trait that will shine here.

And aside from that, do we really want to see our characters beaten up, sobbing, and bleeding  (yeah scratch the bleeding, everyone does that)? Would it be possible to present the same story without making the vulnerability quite so front and centre, and focussing more on the aftermath and recovery?

Katniss is not Indiana Jones

My issue with the reboot is that I think the devs are mixing genres, perhaps unwisely. It isn’t impossible for a pulp action hero to get the grimdark makeover, it happened very successfully with Batman in the 1980s when The Dark Knight Returns was published. But some heroes, some stories, work better when they are left to their own strengths.

Lara was originally presented as a sexy female Indiana Jones, hence the tomb raiding. Along with that character type come the wisecracks, the keeping a cool head in a crisis, exotic locations,  falling into and escaping death traps, massive charisma, risk taking, and generally trying to be Harrison Ford. Katniss Everdeen (that’s Hunger Games if anyone hasn’t seen it yet) is more about survival and trying to be true to yourself and your friends in a world that is against you. It’s not quite the same. Katniss will never be a pulp action heroine (in fact, I’m still not recovered from having read book 3 in the series which is ultra grim).

However, much like Lake, I’m now quite curious to hear more about this game. Maybe I’ll pick it up cheap in a Steam sale in a few months time, if only to see how well they managed the storytelling. Shall we call that a win for the PR team?

[Diablo 3] In which I avoid all difficulty and reach max level

d3barbaxe

This is a barbarian warrior with her natural weaponry, a massive 2 handed flaming axe.  (If you are already bored of the D3 posts fear not, this is likely to be the last for awhile.)

What I love about this screenshot is that even after being zoomed in a few times, you can see the attention to detail in the graphics. Her fingers even close around the axe haft as if she’s taking the weight and stands ready to swing it at something (probably a demon), and when you think how small the character models are in D3, that is a lot of attention to detail. It’s also far better graphically than WoW, where I’m sure my warrior’s skeletal fingers did not always close around the weapon she was wielding.

So – level 60

I’m currently on Act 3 of Hell and my barbarian reached level 60 recently. The way difficulty works in D3 is that your character has two main attributes: damage and survivability. Your goal is to have enough survivability to stand toe to toe with monsters long enough to either kill them or land a few hits and then run off again. So I found I tended to swing between high survivability builds and high damage ones, depending on what type of gear I had available and whether I’d just switched up an Act. In a new Act (or difficulty) typically you have to raise your survivability as a priority before you can start focussing on bringing the damage up to match, otherwise you just die all the time. This is also a bit dull because chipping away at mobs slowly is not as exciting as big numbers and fast kills.

High enough damage will pretty much negate any combination of elite mob suffixes by the simple mechanic of CLICKCLICKDEAD.  Even those charming molten/vortex/firechains combos.

Hence my current 2 hander. Level 60- weapons with high damage are EXPENSIVE, going way beyond any interest I have in farming cash. Blue weapons, and particularly 2 handers, are far more affordable. With this setup I am barging my way nicely through Act 3 of Hell level and suspect I’ll be fine through Act 4 as well. The weapon made a big difference as I was getting bored of poking mobs politely with the equivalent of a knitting needle, at least they die fast now. I may not bother with Inferno.

The end game, such as it is, involves farming for gear or for gold to spend on gear in the auction house. If this is not of great interest to you, then really you might as well roll some alts, focus on achievements, or play with friends. (Or play something else.). There’s no special point having great gear unless you want to a) finish Inferno mode and/or b) farm more gear. I imagine the RMAH will see lots of use from people who do want to buy stacks of millions of gold so that they can buy high end weapons off the gold AH (expect galloping inflation at the top end once that comes online) but I’m honestly not sure I see the point. It’s not going to unlock new and brilliant gameplay or content. Meanwhile my blue 960dps 2 hander is perfectly good for Hell Level – better than good really – and cost me about 25k.

The other mechanic that helps you farm gear at level 60 is a buff called nephalem valour which only level 60 characters get. You get a stack of NV every time you kill a pack of elite mobs, it can stack up to 5 times, lasts 30 mins, and increases the chance that mobs will drop magic items. What was far more surprising to me is that NV doesn’t drop off when you die. I feel this goes against the whole ethos of roguelikes, but what do I know?

Ways in which I personally have made the game easier for myself so far:

  • Using the auction house
  • Grinding a couple of levels in a lower Act when I was having difficulty with one Act.
  • Hopping into a public group to get my kill of Belial in Hell mode. The group was actually really friendly, everyone was helping and ressing each other, and everyone  thanked the group afterwards. But if I hadn’t gotten frustrated after wiping to Belial ONCE in solo mode, I might not have done it. I do not think this is a testament to my patience.
  • Changing my abilities in combat. I didn’t realise you could do this until I tried it. Apparently you can change your gear in combat too (ie. haul on some +magic find gear just before a boss is about to die.)
  • Changing the batteries on my mouse when it started to get sluggish.

The auction house is the greatest of all these difficulty changers, because of the effect higher dps and resilience has on the gameplay. The AH also makes it easier to try out offbeat builds – I had one going for a while where I took abilities that increased the chance of mobs dropping health globes and wore a lot of gear which gave extra health on using health globes. It actually worked quite well.

It’s hard for me to gauge the longevity of the game. It is fun. It is fun when playing with friends or random groups. It does not require much thought. So even if you don’t have the stomach for farming Inferno Level (which I don’t) it may continue to be a cheerful device for chatting to friends over a few dead demons.

Farmville

The big issue with ‘endgame’ for D3 is that endgame for D2 was, frankly, tedious as all hell. It involved endless boss runs for loot. And they’ve sort of copied it but not exactly and with an auction house tacked on. The auction house effectively means that farming areas you are able to easily farm for magic items will never feel worthwhile (unless you are able to farm Act 3/4 Inferno). This was clearly not the intent, and players were probably intended to farm the areas they could manage until they got the occasional lucky gear up that would eventually let them progress. So I assume there are small chances of higher end loot dropping an Act before you’d actually need it.

But who is going to farm an area endlessly waiting for lucky drops if they can cash in and just buy something better instead? Someone with more willpower than me, for sure.

Instead, people will farm for gold, which is a lot easier and less random. But because it’s less random, it lacks the spikes of excitement that good loot drops provide. I think Blizzard could at least have tried to innovate an interesting item farming model. Let players unlock different areas in which to farm different items. Let them have more crafting drops to transmute existing items or rearrange their stats. Let them learn by trial and error which areas or mobs in the world are more likely to drop which types of items.

What patches will come?

Blizzard have a dev blog post up discussing Diablo 3. Interesting snippets are that 54% of hardcore players picked a female character (they don’t say what percentage of those are female demon hunters), and they’ve listed the most common runes used by level 60 characters, which include some head scratchers but what do I know?

They discuss their criteria for making tweaks and changes, including some of the nerfs that already came down the line.

Regarding the changes to Lingering Fog, Boon of Protection, and Force Armor: we determined these skills were simply more powerful than they should be, and we felt their impact on class balance and how each class was perceived warranted hotfixes as soon as we were able. However, we don’t want you to be worried that a hotfix nerf is lurking around the corner every day. If a skill is strong, but isn’t really breaking the game, we want you to have your fun. Part of the enjoyment of Diablo is finding those super-strong builds, and we want players to be excited to use something they discovered that feels overpowered

There is also some discussion around the difficulty of Inferno level and whether Legendary items are good enough or not. Of interest to anyone considering levelling up their blacksmith is also:

we’re looking to adjust the Blacksmith costs for training (gold and pages) and crafting from levels 1-59, and reduce the cost of combining gems so that it only requires two gems instead of three (up to Flawless Square). Both of these changes are scheduled for patch 1.0.3.

I think the main issue with Inferno (not having run it myself) is that the difficulty is similar to the difficulty in other tiers when you’re a bit undergeared. I remember thinking I was dying too quickly in Nightmare mode too until I hied me to the auction house. Just it’s much harder to overgear it at level 60. So really the problem with Inferno is not that it’s radically harder compared to the rest of the game, it’s that the difficulty is posed in exactly the same way as the rest of the game when endgame players might have preferred a more skill based challenge.

Farming Locations

A few thoughts on where is easy to farm for cash/items/xp in the game.

The Frugal Gamer has some ideas for places to farm in Act I.

In Act 2, I farmed xp in the Black Soulstone quest (lots of pacey dungeons).

In Act 3, I like the Rakkis Crossing area just before Siegebreaker (Siegebreaker Quest) as you get Tyrael along with you.

Finally some words from our sponsor

I have far too much fun reading the companion chat, even if it’s not especially stunning in itself.

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[Links] Day of Reckoning for 38 Studios, soloing in MMOs, Diablo 3, Sony won the console wars?

Scott Jennings writes eloquently about the week when 40% of the SWTOR team was laid off, and 38 Studios (makers of Kingdoms of Amalur, and with an MMO in the works) imploded very publically.

I think the direction that our industry is going – the incredible amount of money wasted by EA on what was essentially a roll of the dice that came up 2 and 3, and the even more incredible display of massive hubris and utter incompetence on the part of Schilling and his management team, is killing the very concept of massively multiplayer gaming.

Everything I have read about 38 Studios going tits up makes me think that the management were a bucket of tits. (Yes that is the technical term.) Implausible business plan, lack of auditing on cashflow, taking on way more staff than they needed or could support, dicking around with staff. Unsubject writes in more detail on the financials. The only surprising thing to me is that so many MMO bloggers have sympathy for them – MMOs get cancelled in pre-production all the time, we should be used to it by now. I don’t care if it was run by a rich sportsman with a dream or a lameass banker, they screwed up.

Or in the words of Kevin Dent at  Kotaku:

I have a theory that Harvard Business School basically set this entire thing up so as to demonstrate how many ways someone can screw up running a business. If this is the case, heartfelt congrats to the Crimson Halls, you owned it.

I literally could not invent more ways to screw up than Curt Schilling has with 38.

I can’t entirely agree with Scott about the effect on MMOs though, because big budget AAA MMOs were already pretty much on the outs. You can tell this because Michael Pachter recently said so, and he only ever makes predictions after the event.

One of the interesting things about this story though is that both Bioware Austin and 38 Studios put out pretty decent games that got some critical acclaim. Neither Amalur nor SWTOR are bad games, and both were reasonably successful in the market. Just their funding model needed more than ‘reasonably successful’ – in 38 Studio’s case it is because their management can’t handle simple maths and in Bioware’s case it’s because for some reason EA felt that ploughing unfeasibly massive amounts into the game was going to pay off. (Nice bonus for players I guess, because it does feel lush.)

SWTOR will be profitable, incidentally.  It will just take a few months longer than EA predictions and that’s why it is being seen as a failure. Whereas in fact it sold more boxes more quickly than any other western MMO in the market and has fairly decent retention figures for an MMO, even allowing for number massaging. In any case, they’ve just announced that patch 1.3 (which will include a random dungeon finder) is going onto the test server imminently and that they have plans to consolidate servers into super-servers, which are both needed updates.

Shintar shares some hopes and fears that she has for the new patch.

Anyhow, it’s sad for the staff, obviously. But we’re in a recession and MMOs are risky business at the best of times, and these things happen (especially when your management are a bucket of tits, which isn’t really the case for Bioware). Hopefully they’ll find something else swiftly. I’ll miss Stephen Reid/Rockjaw, he was a great CSM.

Soloing in MMOs

Keen also found time to muse this week about why people solo in MMOs (remember in my last incredibly wise words of wisdom to new bloggers I noted that soloing vs grouping was one of THOSE topics?), claiming that MMOs aren’t single player games. So why do devs want to try to mimic single player gameplay?

I am referring to the open and deliberate act of making a very core part of a MMO into a single-player experience as if the players were offline.

Bernardparsnip at Diminishing Returns reflects on players who might want some of the advantages of mas…sive games without the disadvantages.

I recognize that there is a demographic of players that want the benefits of an MMO – a persistent world, frequent content updates, a player-driven economy, opportunities for PvP and cooperative play, without the disadvantages inherent with playing with others.

Azuriel takes a different tack and wonders whether MMOs really do suck as single player games.

…in a very real sense I consider the average MMORPG these days as a much better single-player game than the average RPG.

My view is that we’re seeing traditional boundaries between single player and multiplayer games come crashing down around us, and players may not yet be sure exactly what they do want. This sense of wanting all the benefits of massive multiplayer games (like a vibrant player based economy and instant groups whenever you want them) without the negatives (like having to actually talk to anyone or rely on other players in any way) is very strong in the current crop of games.

I think Journey laid this out most neatly with having other players viewed as friendly but nameless entities, and Dee wonders if maybe the public quests in GW2 will have the same effect. But it won’t ever be the same as the sort of communities that more forced socialising will bring together, we could end up with people playing side by side but always on their own.

Ultimately I’d like to see more gating in future games, allowing players to build up communities of interest in games of their choice. What if I want to play EVE but without having to play with the more sexist, racist, homophobic players who seem to populate it (going by forum posts at least)? This is going to become more and more of an issue for anyone running online games in future, I suspect, as players lose their tolerance for playing with random dickweeds. (This will come to be seen as one of the negatives of MMOs that people would like to avoid.)

Zubon has a really smart post about how different games attract a different type of player and suggests people flock to games which seem to be populated with players like themselves.

But there is a flaw in his argument, which is how exactly are you going to find this out? If I search round EVE blogs and forums, I’ll find a lot of very aggressive posturing and the aforementioned sexist, racist, etc. language. But I do happen to know people who play EVE who aren’t like that, so it isn’t universal.

Similarly, WoW is so large that it probably contains communities of just about every MMO player type under the sun if you can find them. So characterising it as the McDonalds of MMOs isn’t quite true in terms of the playerbase. It’s more of a mosaic than a least common denominator known for poor but consistent quality.

While LOTRO is justly known for its attention to the setting, I’d also say it was a haven for more mature gamers and for RPers. But that was before it went F2P and it may have changed since then. So how would a new player know?

So while I think Zubon makes a good argument, it just places more emphasis on how /the community/ constructs explanations of what type of player different games attract and then communicates it. And bloggers bear a lot of the responsibility for this. When I write that my guild in SWTOR are laid back, friendly, casual players and raiders, people will assume this is normal for the game. It probably is! But you’re just getting one player’s view.

Redbeard tackles a similar topic from the point of view of new players in WoW at the moment.

If Blizz is serious about bringing in and keeping new blood, then they have to address the social issues in WoW.  This isn’t Pollyanna country, and it ain’t EVE, either.  People like to be welcomed and respected and tolerated.  If they feel the environment is toxic, they’ll move on.  You can’t expect a new player to blindly stumble through all of the social pitfalls and land in a good guild without guidance, and likewise you can’t expect someone to blithely ignore all of the social issues that some players bring to WoW.

Diablo 3

Clearly we haven’t had enough posting about D3 yet. I’m still having fun with the game but slowing down now that I’m in Hell level on my barbarian. I don’t know that I can honestly see this as an evergreen game I’d be playing months from now (especially if Torchlight 2 and GW2 and updates to SWTOR are coming out). The Auction House is definitely impacting on the game’s lifespan in my view, and they haven’t launched the real money AH yet.

Hugh at the MMO Melting Pot (who you should follow for excellent daily aggregations of MMO blogging) collects some more views on the auction house.

The Ancient Gaming Noob has played both Diablo 3 and the Torchlight 2 beta and gives a thorough comparison between what he has seen of the games.

Milady explains why she thinks Diablo 3 is a wellmade mistake.

They had many years to consider how to best mine money from their users, and Diablo III in its entirety is what they came up with. From Blizzard’s perspective, the gear barrier is there so you are forced to buy to continue; the barrier to grouping in Inferno is built so you cannot be too effective at higher levels, and are forced to grind on your own and buy loot; the enforced multiplayer exists solely to apply peer-pressure to your gearing up, so you need to resort to the AH to play with them.

Rohan argues that Elective Mode in D3 is a mistake.

Green Armadillo lists a lot of things that D3 is not and wonders if Blizzard were right to keep the name.

And Gevlon explains why he thinks D3 just doesn’t work as a competitive game.

Straw Fellow defends Blizzard’s decision to require D3 players to be always online.

Microsoft and the Console Wars

Microsoft may face a ban on imports of the XBox 360 into the US and Germany because of patent infringement. I assume they’ll settle with Motorola out of court, but it would be an amusing way to lose the console wars.

It would be nice to think that the patent rats nest might get sorted out sometime soon, but since there is no real sign of that happening, better hope your favourite manufacturer knows how to play the game.

And finally …

Berath ponders why there are so few gaming blogs focussed on shooters, given how many people play them.

Xintia explains why Bioware are great at telling stories but bad at designing games.

And Melmoth waxes lyrical about the general chat channel in TERA.

What was fascinating about the channel was that it had become a microcosm of the blogosphere: nearly every general topic that I’ve seen repeatedly touched upon over the past five or so years of blogging was mentioned in this one place, all in the fast forward nature of a back-and-forth conversation between people whose attention was invariably elsewhere. I quickly found myself privately playing Cassandra to any topic raised, knowing full well the future of each discussion, where the disagreements would come from, and the conclusions which would be drawn.

[Diablo 3] Things that should not happen in single player games

d3imperious

YOU SHALL NOT PASS – until the weekly maintenance is over

#1 Weekly Maintenance

You can get around this by creating a character on one of the other sets of servers (ie. EU, US, whichever the other region is) since they have different maintenance windows. But dammit, you shouldn’t have to.

Blizzard could have avoided so many of these issues by having a solo offline version and just making it clear that playing offline meant no access to AH, chat with friends, random groups, and even special online events or ladders if they want to go that way. Just make it impossible to use the offline characters in online or group play to avoid the cheating and a lot of people would have been much happier.

I also think they could have been more explicit (maybe a handout in the box) in explaining exactly what the online side meant in terms of access and gameplay.

#2 Being hacked

So reports are increasing about people having been hacked, and some of those reports imply authenticators were in place. It’s probably best to avoid random groups until this has been sorted out.

I can buy that hackers will be out in force any time a MMO/expansion/online game is released, but this is not something you would ever expect to see in a single player game.

What would D3 have been like if Bioware had written it?

  1. One of your companions would have betrayed you, probably the healer.
  2. You would have turned out to be the last of the Horadrim, or Diablo. Probably both.
  3. Your character would have been able to sleep with Tyrael. Or Adria. Probably both.
  4. Ranged classes would have been hugely overpowered. (Wait, maybe they already are…)
  5. At the end of the game, you’d have either to destroy Diablo, control him or make everyone a demon-human hybrid. Either way, you die and all magic in Sanctuary is gone forever. (Anon.) [G]Kill, [B]Banish, or [R]Bond With? (azaael)
  6. When Deckard Cain begins one of his stories you can use the dialogue wheel to choose whether to listen or tell him to shut up. Doing so earns you Heaven/Hell points. (bernardparsnip)
  7. It would have given you a character visual customizer! I’d have taken this. On the flipside, after Blizzard put the votes in for what color the stock female Demon Hunter should have, the fanbase splits over ‘Red’ or ‘Blonde.’ Wars are almost started. (azaael)
  8. Even MORE cutscenes! (azaael)
  9. 6th Character, the Shapeshifter Druid! Available for 12.99 on the first day. (azaael)
  10. Feel free to suggest more …

[Diablo 3] Some links: Barbarian builds, comedy, metacritic scores, Torchlight 2 beta

D3barrel

I forgot to mention yesterday how fun it is to destroy the scenery, not to mention the various barrels, in D3. I’ve seen regular barrels, water barrels and torture barrels – not quite sure what the latter ones are.

Anyhow, since loads of people are playing Diablo 3 at the moment I thought I’d share some links today.

Barbarian Builds

My build changes regularly, like every time I want to try out a new rune or decide to respec for more mobility or more survival or more fury or more heals on crits – you get the picture. There is an interesting interplay between gear and spec that I hadn’t previously picked up on, in that you do need a certain amount of survivability in the higher difficulty levels but you have some choice as to how you want to acquire it. So a highly defensive gearset might support more offensive skills. Or something like that, certainly as you gear up through a level there seems to be more scope to experiment with less defensive builds.

Anyhow, here are a couple of builds that other people are using in Hell/ Inferno level.

Dean’s Hell level barbarian guide

Writhan’s barbarian guide to Inferno level

Sooru discusses his build and play style in Act I of Inferno mode with a barbarian.

Players in general are being quite proactive about posting builds up on the official forums and I’m sure the same is happening on D3 fansites as well.

Comedy Plot Roundup

I found this in the official forums, there are plot spoilers but he’s not that far from the actual plot.

Asmodan: “Puny human! I am the evil master strategist and I show it by frontal assault with no vanguard and a demon in the larder. Fear my cunningivity!”
Player: “Now you’re making !@#$ up. Time to take the fight to you, if only to shut you up. Nothing personal, really. Besides, I can see the family resemblance to Belial.”
Asmodan: “Are you mocking me? ARE YOU MOCKING ME?! I tankrushed hundreds of noobs in C&C, I’ll have you know!”
Player: “Actually, that explains quite a lot. Up for a game of Stratego?”
Asmodan: “RAWR!”
Player. “I’ll say.”

Metacritic and the Problem of Crowdsourced Reviews

I’m all for freedom of expression, but when the haters rush the review sites it’s hard to get a meaningful review from crowdsourced sites like Amazon or Metacritic. Or in other words, yes I get that you hate the DRM but apart from that what is the game like?

Gamepolitics.com reports on the deluge of embittered critics on Metacritic. For sure it’s annoying when you can’t play a game you paid for, but some people like reviews to also consider the gameplay rather than representing a spike of frustration.

So at least pro (or even non pro) game reviewers still have something to offer, even if people hate their opinions too. Metacritic in particular is so vulnerable to this type of hate-bombing that it is losing any value it ever had as a review aggregator and instead is more of a – I don’t know – opinion survey? For a very specific set of opinions.

Patrick Garratt at VG247 wonders about Metacritic’s relevance. He also highlights Blizzard’s refusal to allow pre-release review copies which means that any reviews you read must have been compiled after release and explains why that could be a good trend.

I am quite curious to see what the more authoritative pro reviewers make of D3, and hopefully we’ll see more of this in the upcoming week. I enjoy it very much as a game (which is my personal bottom line), but it also has major failings that leave questions in my mind.

Torchlight 2 Beta

Runic rather smartly held a weekend beta for Torchlight 2 last weekend, with no NDA, so first impressions are scattered around the internet. My personal feel is that I plan to play it, but it will be really hard for me to go back to a talent tree based system after D3. I also love storytellling, even if it’s really cheesy, which is another point in favour of D3 for me.

(I know, my tastes in games are not cool Winking smile )

Pete at Dragonchaser is more of a fan of talent trees and feels differently. Even reading this I die a bit inside when he gets excited about spending 5  points per level on stats – I always hated that aspect of RPGs.

Arb waxes lyrical about her ferret, and that’s not a euphemism.

Here’s some discussion about the T2 beta from rpg.net

[Diablo 3] The good, the bad, and the state of the game (minor spoilers)

diablologo

So, I’m coming up for air from some serious bouts of Diablo 3 this week, albeit not as serious as the guy who already soloed Diablo on Inferno mode, or the guys from Method who killed him in a 4 man group on the same setting. That does seem quite fast given how difficult Blizzard touted inferno mode as being but I am sure it will still be plenty hard for normal players, especially since they’ll have had to play the game through three times before they get to pick that setting.

Meanwhile your narrator is on Act 2 of Nightmare Mode (that’s the next one up from normal) and has been playing a bit of co-op in Normal Mode with Arb. I’ve been enjoying it; Diablo 3 is a fun game, I am a sucker for the gothic grimdark Heaven and Hell themes, and there is a lot to like about it. In fact, there are many utterly and genuinely great things you should know about D3.

The Good

* THE CLASS DESIGN AND TALENT SYSTEM. This isn’t just good, it’s amazing. No futzing around with talent trees trying to decide if you want 1% extra block here or +10 resist vs undead trees there (that kind of fiddling is purely in the gear), instead you get to pick 6 attacks which will be bound to keys 1-4 and the left/right mouse buttons. Each ability is distinctive and has immediately recognisable effects on the screen and in play, and you get to further customise the ability as you unlock runes by levelling up. Finally someone has twigged that players want their choices to matter immediately and in every fight. That is what this system accomplishes. While Blizzard start you off with a balanced power set which involves one key for defensive spells, one for your long (ie. 2 min) cooldowns, etc., you can leapfrog this and just bind whichever powers you prefer by picking the Elective Mode (Options-> Gameplay-> Interface).

I’ve never been a fan of talent trees but I adore this system. I’m also fond of being able to respec whenever you aren’t in combat. It encourages players to experiment with some of the synergies and try things out, or respec to more appropriate skills after a boss kicks your arse. And you can tell fairly swiftly if a given skill set is working out for you or not.

Each class is fun, distinctive, and has some solid signature abilities which are thematic to the class. Moving away from mana and the associated mana potions was a great move too. It all works. This is Blizzard design at its finest and deserves to be widely copied.

* COMBAT AND LOOTING. It’s fast and furious, there’s lots of clicking, it’s Diablo.  I especially enjoy the physicality of the whole thing. When characters use their movement powers (ie. charge or leap on the Barbarian) they bound around the screen scattering mobs in their wake in a way that’s both easy to follow and strangely satisfying. When mobs or chests or barrels are destroyed, they throw out a veritable fountain of loot that lands with another satisfying crash on the ground. I also like how you collect gold or health orbs just by being in the vicinity.

I think D3 must have a design goal that the player never has to wander around for more than 20s before encountering some monsters. But that suits me.

* LOYAL TO THE ROGUELIKE ROOTS. There is going to be a lot of discussion with this game about what exactly makes a Diablo game into a Diablo game. Some of this is doubtless Blizzard being lazy, there’s no special need for a Diablo game to go Tristam->Desert->Mountains or reuse plot elements and NPCs into the ground. But there are definitely gameplay features where the game remains close to its roots in a good way. The random packs of mobs with randomly assigned abilities/ suffixes means that the game on harder modes rewards cautious and defensive play above pure damage. It also means there is a heavy dose of luck in exactly how difficult any random fight will be for any class/group.

That’s very much the way you play roguelikes. Sometimes the game throws you into a situation that’s just plain unfair – deal with it, that’s how procedurally generated games work. It drives you into developing a play style and character that is able to cope with the unexpected.

* GOOD USE OF ACHIEVEMENTS. I’m not the greatest fan of achievements but they do work really well here, there’s a good set of achievement goals for everyone from the casual player who is happy rerunning normal mode over and over again to the ultra hardcore.

I think it’s a nice touch that you get to see when any of the people on your friends list get an achievement. I liked it in WoW and I like it here too.

* SLICK MULTIPLAYER. It’s a fun game on multiplayer, and very easy to drop into one of your friends’ games and then teleport to them.

d3merge

* DIVERSITY. After the general fuss over the demon hunter (I still hate the heels) I’m really happy to say that D3 actually does make some good steps with diversity. In particular, Tyrael appears as a dark skinned guy, there’s some use of older characters (such as Cain, Adria, and the male Barbarian and Monk) and younger ones (the emperor) and it isn’t always the women who betray your character/s.

I’ve also shown images of the female barbarian (NM Act2)  and wizard (Normal Act 1) above, and I think they both look great without being stripperific.

It’s open to debate as to whether any of the PCs or NPCs are or could be gay. I actually think all the main characters are written to be sexless, and the enchantress and templar are just naive.

* GOOD USE OF BOOK SNIPPETS. I enjoyed the use of lore text via snippets of books, diaries, and journals that you find around the world, which are read out to you. I like that you can keep killing stuff while you listen. The actual game journal itself could have used being better designed so that you could search it more easily afterwards. Bioware’s codexes are good examples of how this could work.

* GOOD WRITING FOR COMPANIONS/ CRAFTERS. For me the best written parts of the game were the companion storylines, which are fed to you via snippets and short conversations as you progress through the game, Bioware-style. All those companions and the two crafters had solid story arcs and I rather enjoyed them. Yes, they’re stereotypes but that’s not really an issue for this game.

There is also some fun NPC dialogue on the various villagers and associates at your camp which changes between quests as the story progresses.

I did feel very Conan when I ventured out on my Barbarian with the sleazy scoundrel companion. It could have happened in a Robert E Howard book.

* ATMOSPHERE. I think this worked best in Act 1, but there is a definite atmosphere. I felt immersed, I wanted to know what was going to happen. I don’t think this game is as effective as Diablo 2 in setting up either the mystery or the terror of these vast unknowable good/evil powers duking it out over the earth. Back then, I was genuinely scared when I first encountered Diablo himself – my partner ended up sitting next to me and using the healing potions because I was so nervous of actually fighting the dude on my own. Maybe I’m a more hardened gamer now, and used to tanking boss mobs, or maybe they just don’t set up the terror like they used to.

The Neutral

* SERVICEABLE STORYLINE. The story in D3 does the job, but it’s patchy. Act 1 is generally solid. Act 2 is all over the place but picks up after you get the dead mage guy on board (I love his voice actor), Act 3 is slow but picks up a lot towards the end and Act 4 is fast but has some good set pieces. Like TAGN I wasn’t thrilled to find myself heading out for the same desert in Act 2 that I played in Diablo 2. It’s reusing old plot elements just a little too much there.

There are plot holes, noticeable when you find yourself thinking, “Wait, that doesn’t make sense,” or “How did my character know that?” The biggest one to me is from Act 1 where someone talks about the rarity of Nephelem to Act 2 (I think) onwards where everyone starts referring to you as one. I don’t recall that particular revelation taking place. It would have been better if it’d been part of the PCs backstory, included in the initial introductory video clip.

There is also some plot driven stupidity, noticeable when you find yourself thinking, “Curse your sudden and inevitable betrayal,” or “OK, I figured out who character X was within about 2s of first meeting them, why has it taken the PC and everyone else the entire rest of the act to do so?”

* NPCs mostly exist to open doors for you. I just thought I’d note that in passing. I liked the ensemble feel of Acts 1-3, with NPCs occasionally dropping into your party for a quest or three. It did feel as though you were interacting with them.

* The Auction House really changes the difficulty of the game. If you are regularly buying appropriate yellow gear from the auction house, you will be playing this game on a vastly easier difficulty rating than if you go it single player style and only use your own drops and merchants. I think this will definitely affect how quickly people blast through it.

* You will need to play defensive in higher difficulties. Ignore the tempting 2H weapons and amazing offensive powers, if you want to survive in the harder modes, you’ll need to grab a shield and spec defensively. This means lots of vitality. So really, the game isn’t as flexible as its billed. It’s not that there is one true spec for each class, I think they have more diversity than that, but defensive trumps offensive.

The Bad

* LAG. It’s just not right to have lag in a single player game. It directly affects the play experience and it’s built in. I don’t much like the always-online requirement, but where gameplay is affected I find it unforgiveable.

* THIS IS THE NPCS STORY. Blizzard do this a lot, in SC and in WoW also, and that is focussing so much on telling the story through the NPCs that it becomes their story. You are the hired muscle. It worked for them in WC because you were actually playing the story NPCs in the scenarios. But as soon as you introduce your own character, there isn’t really much space for it in their storytelling.

The final cut scene really highlights this. There isn’t even a closing narration from your character about whatever it plans to do next.  There isn’t much closure for some of the NPCs either. I get that there’s bound to be an expansion but the ending here feels rushed, and they could have done better.

* DIFFICULTY. It is partly due to the auction house but this game falls on the easy side. Admittedly I’ve only touched on the first two difficulty levels and I can see how it will ramp up, but there’s difficulty and then there’s difficulty. I’m struggling to put this into words really, but I feel as though there’s something missing.

* RANDOM EVENTS DISAPPOINT. I loved the random events during the beta, but those ones near the beginning of Act 1 are by far the most interesting in the game. After that, it’s mostly ‘defend this objective against waves of mobs’ or ‘kill these demons which suddenly appear.’ Blizzard have the ability in D3 to slot in some far more interesting random events and we know from WoW that they have the skills to design them. They just didn’t.

* HOW MANY TIMES DO WE WANT TO REPLAY THIS? The idea of having to replay the game several times in order to set a harder difficulty was fairly core in D1 and 2, but feels very dated now. It’s like having a MMO where the maximum level is 60 but they only put in half the zones and after that you had to play them again on ‘hard mode.’

It’s not that I precisely mind replaying it, but having four difficulty levels highlights the issue.

* INCOMPLETE. This game was released without the ranked PvP or real money auction house. The latter is due to be online sometime soon (I think they said 23rd May) and I have no personal interest in PvP in Diablo but those were two sizeable factors that appealed to large sections of the community. And they aren’t there.

Sooru (you should follow his blog if you are playing D3) rounds up some more areas where he feels that game lacks polish.