And … let’s talk about choosing characters in Rift!

rift_rift

How time flies when you’re having fun in betas. Before you know it, tomorrow is head start day for Rift and even though I’m run off my feet at the moment with flu (which sucks, don’t get it!) and various other games such as the Darkspore beta and Tuesday night Spreadsheet-Pirates I have been getting increasingly excited to play Rift over the various betas.

I respect bloggers like Tipa’s decision to avoid beta so that everything is new at release, but at the same time it has helped me to decide which souls I love and to get to know some of the people in my Rift guild, mostly made up of friends from LOTRO and twitter. (Incidentally, I disagree wholeheartedly with Ravious on the faction coolness factor on the grounds that … Defiants get to ride robo-mechanical-horses. It doesn’t get cooler than that!)

I was getting very confused over classes and souls until I decided to just try and remake a class I’d enjoyed from a different game. In DaoC, my sorceress was a master of AE Crowd Control, used lots of dots and lifetaps, could charm pets and had a run speed buff.

I ditched the pet idea instantly because I never really liked being stuck with a pet and started a new character as a Dominator/ Warlock. Suddenly it clicked. What I’m finding now is that I love the Warlock so I’ll use that as primary/ secondary in some kind of dps build and then maybe add Chloromancer/ Warlock as a main healer build. That still leaves the possibility of a heavy CC build for PvP.

In many ways, ‘choosing’ a character is wrong word for Rift character generation. Designing a character would be closer to how it works in practice.

I’m not sure why I am so hooked on casters in this game, but I have been enjoying it in beta immensely. Arb has been through far worse torment on deciding on a class and soul combo and I know she’s not the only one.

One thing I have noticed is that Trion has actually put a fair amount of content in the game for explorers. There are artifacts to collect and puzzles to solve in each zone. But you have to wonder what the point is when Rift Junkies has guides up to all the puzzles already …

Do you prefer to know this sort of information in advance to make sure that you don’t accidentally miss anything, or do you prefer to find it out (possibly alongside your guild)?

RIFT: To beta and beyond

RIFTlogo

If you read many MMO related blogs, you cannot have missed the fact that Trion’s new MMO, RIFT, has just dropped the NDA from its beta testers. And suddenly, 2011 is looking as though it could be a very good year for new MMOs indeed.

I did have a chance to check out the beta during the last beta test weekend, during which the Guardian faction was given a workout from levels 1-20. Since I really didn’t have much time to play, this isn’t going to even be a first impression post because that’s not really fair to the game, especially when so many other bloggers have commented in more detail.

Here’s a few links to previews:

  • Tipa at West Karana loves what she has seen so far and can’t wait to play. (I think it’s a shame that other bloggers have been jumping on her for being enthusiastic about the games she tries. What we need is more enthusiasm, not less.)
  • Oakstout liked the game and comments here on the crafting side of things.
  • Keen gives the game a resounding meh, but not because it’s bad, finding it too much of the same old same old.

Suffice it to say that I really enjoyed the first section of the guardian play area which covers levels 1-10. The quests are directed and yet there’s plenty of opportunity to wander around and explore too. The devs also take the opportunity to show off some off quests involving collections, items to use both in your bag and in the game world, mounts (you get to ride one, for a brief while at least), and events triggered on your presence as well as the usual kill ten rats (K10R) style. I suspect from friends’ comments that at higher levels (as is usual these days) the quests tend to be a bit less polished and a bit more K10R. The lore looks intriguingly different from standard fantasy types, yet still leaving room for elves, dwarves, and all the favourite class tropes. Mechanically it’s a standard MMO with some interesting quirks which won’t offer many surprises to anyone used to the hotbar selection method of combat

rift_dwarf3

 

 

I’m not sure which game engine they’re using but movement and turning in particular felt very responsive, and the graphics are lovely. This is one of the prettier versions of a female dwarf I’ve seen.

One of the interesting sides to the game is that you effectively get to build your own character class from different sub-templates called souls. So you might start with one of the base warrior/ rogue/ wizard/ priest souls and later on can add up to three extra specialist subsouls.

With this many potential combinations, it’s not clear to me yet whether Trion are taking the ‘lets try to balance them all’ or ‘some will be overpowered, some will be weak, take your chances!’ approach. I suspect it may be the latter, in which case I’d recommend people check the forums for which are the better combinations before playing.

The game also features Rift events, which bear some similarity to Public Quests in WAR. (I’m not against people being inspired by WAR, I thought it was a brilliant game in many respects and there are plenty more thoughts that I wish more games WOULD steal.)

rift_dwarf2

Bloggers have compared the game to Warhammer Online, to EQ2, and to WoW, which will give you a rough idea where Trion is coming from. It looks very full featured to me for a beta, with tabs for raid groups, and collections, and apparently there is some PvP to be tested in the next beta too.

I think there is definitely a market for a new EQ2/ WAR style fantasy MMO which is able to take some of the better ideas from existing gen MMOs. I also think Rift will be in direct competition with Guild Wars 2 (which will also strongly feature dynamic events and flexible class building). What I’m not sure of is exactly how large that market is. In any case, Rift is definitely one to keep an eye out if you’re interested in the genre and would like to get in on the ground floor. And the next beta event starts on Dec 29th. For what it’s worth, I’m looking forwards to playing the game again, so that has to be a good sign.

I do wonder whether “you’ll love it if you like that type of thing” is the best thing you can say about a new game, or the worst …

The long blogging road to Cataclysm, and other thoughts

I pre-ordered my copy of Cataclysm a few months ago, so the boxes should hopefully be arriving today. As a result, I wasn’t actually online at midnight with the digital download crowd.

It didn’t matter. The excitement was off the scale last night and it was fun to be part of it. For some reason on my server when there’s new content due out, loads of people like to go stand on top of the quest givers to obstruct other people. They started to pile on top of the flight master in Orgrimmar at least 2 hours before the expansion actually went live. You have to admire that sort of dedication.

One thing this launch does mark is the end of the long (very long) blogging road from the last big WoW patch, which is when Icecrown Citadel was released, until today. For most of that time, those of us who weren’t in the Cataclysm beta had very little new high level stuff to write about.

This was the point at which the beta players were able to churn out maps and guides and information for a thirsty audience. And they did, in vast numbers. People ran out and bought Cataclysm related domain names purely on the strength of that beta invite (I’m not linking because it’s tedious over-commercialised levelling guide stuff, but understand that there is an actual business advantage to be gained from having priority access to the content).

And everyone else was writing about what our cats did that week, or the WoW equivalent. Now for me, being shut out of the new content means the blog posts start to get a little random. I hope it’s been an interesting ride, it certainly challenges me to get my head together. And it means that when my copy does arrive, I’ll come to the new content fresh and hopefully it’ll be bug free.

In any case, I’d especially like to thank all the other bloggers who didn’t have beta access (particularly if you focus on WoW) for hanging in there through the dry patch. There’s no in game achievement for that kind of dedication but that’s partly the point.

Incidentally, when I logged in this morning, one of my guildies noted that he’d seen level 84s on the server already. I suspect they will be raiding by tonight. (For comparison, as I write this, the expansion doesn’t go live on the US servers for another hour.)

There is also a discussion thread on mmo-champion about the world first 85 (yes of course someone hit max level already).

So how big is Cataclysm exactly?

We know that previous WoW expansions have been amongst the biggest PC sellers of the years when they were released. And there’s no reason to think that Cataclysm will be any different.

But this year there is a difference, Blizzard offered a digital download option and it’s likely that a lot of players will have taken them up on it. So how will we get the overall sales numbers? That’s going to be an interesting news story to look out for this week, especially if Cataclysm doesn’t hit the top of the sales lists for retail sales (although I suspect it probably will as well.)

And lastly, what do you do when Deathwing comes?

cata_daydeathwingcame1 (Picture from ‘The Day Deathwing Came’)

Gaming News: Gamescom News (GW2, Diablo III et al), Skaven for Warhammer Online, Age of Empires goes F2P, Blizzard sues private server, 90% kids in the US play online games

It’s been a week of new trailers and press releases, as opposed to actual news.

One of the more interesting forum snippets that Player vs Developer picked up is that the majority of F2P players in Dungeons and Dragons Online don’t reach the endgame. I’m not surprised by this, given that the free to play model encourages more casual players who’ll tend to be less engaged with a game and probably more likely to drift away if it gets grindy. And also that we know that even in WoW, most casual players don’t get past level 10 in any case. But I also wonder how much of this is the model that allows you to unlock content for all alts at the same time. So once you have bought a few low level instances, you might as well level a few alts through them because … hey, you’ve already paid.

There are also rumours that Realtime Worlds (devs for APB) have found a buyer. Hopefully more news on that shortly.

Bits and Pieces from Gamescom

I thought the Best of Gamescom awards were quite interesting this year in that although Star Wars: the Old Republic was nominated for both best game and best online game, it didn’t win either. Guild Wars 2 won best online game of the convention, though. And that’s via voting from people who were there and tried the demos. I suspect that to be more of a judgement on the demos than anything else, but I really think that the Best of Gamescom category should be made up of games which already won their own categories. And maybe they should make the developers have a steel cage death match fight too.

Also any voting in which Gran Turismo 5 wins out over Kirby’s Epic Yarn is not reflecting my personal tastes so is largely irrelevant to me ;)

Blizzard turned up with some more information about crafting in Diablo III. Comments have noted seeing similar elements to WoW, but I suspect that’s missing the point. Or maybe it is the point. I’m looking forwards to hearing more about D3 at Blizzcon, it’s probably going to be the biggest ever PC game when it does launch. They also commented in interview that Cataclysm needs a couple more months before release.

Arenanet brought a video of Guild Wars 2 gameplay.

(edited to add: Yarr suggests in comments that people might find this to be a better and more informative link.)

There is also a Portal 2 trailer.

THQ also ruffled the Warhammer 40k fans by noting in interview that their upcoming MMO would not allow players to play as space marines from the beginning. I don’t really get why people are upset about this since inquisitors are way cooler!! *ducks the flames* but you probably won’t be able to play those either.

Bioware Mythic mention skaven, fans go wild

Mythic discussed future plans for WAR in an interview this week which mentioned ‘an RvR pack’ which would involve skaven but not as a standard race that players could play from level 1.

They expanded on this  in a chat session. There will be a new PvP zone, new renown ranks to earn, and a focus on open world RvR. We’ll expect more announcements on this fairly soon.

Age of Empires to go Free to Play

Microsoft is planning to release an online version of their popular RTS, Age of Empires. And it will use the free to play/ freemium model.

Apparently there will be levelling and quests and incentives to team up with other people. It will be quite interesting to see how this works out for a RTS game and why they aren’t going the battle.net route of matching opponents instead.

I suspect it’s easier to make and balance a cooperative game. And also, they’re keen to provide some permanence for your capital city which means that it can’t be nuked while you’re offline.

Blizzard sues private WoW server, wins $88mil

So the story is that someone was running a successful private WoW server, with a F2P type model. Blizzard found out and sued them. And was given a huge punitive award by the courts.

Lum notes that the private server had more players than most other MMOs out there, although I think that since it was F2P that most of them probably weren’t paying, or else registered to see what it was all about but didn’t play much. What is real is that the owner earned $3 million from the private server, and with that kind of money on the table, you can see where the incentive lies. And also why Blizzard pressed for a large award.

The question on the table is whether this indicates a large latent demand for WoW to go free to play. I suspect there probably are plenty of people who’d love to pay their way past bits of the  game they don’t want to play, and lots of others who think it would work out cheaper for them with a F2P model.

The kids are online

A report this week based on a survey of 5000 kids across the US showed that over 90% of ‘tween’ kids (8-15) play online games. My first reaction is to be surprised that 90% of kids in the US have access to game capable PCs or consoles and internet connections, so I’m assuming this survey is based purely on those in families which do have these things.

I mean, who gives an 8 year old an iPhone anyway?

More worrying was the facebook statistic:

Facebook is now the favorite website among tween (8-11) boys and teen (12-15) girls.

This is interesting because Facebook’s policy states:

  • No information from children under age 13. If you are under age 13, please do not attempt to register for Facebook or provide any personal information about yourself to us. If we learn that we have collected personal information from a child under age 13, we will delete that information as quickly as possible. If you believe that we might have any information from a child under age 13, please contact us through this help page.”

Yes, you can play facebook games through someone else’s account, but … I wonder. Or is it just that it’s the easiest website for kids to remember and to tell surveys if asked to name one?

EQ2 Extended in Open Beta, has a bumpy ride

The free to play version of EQ2 is now in open beta, so feel free to go try it.

But don’t buy anything (who buys anything in a beta? Honestly, people!!) if you already have a subscriber account, because you might accidentally lose everything. I’m sure SOE will figure out a way to give all the stuff back and fix the bug, but that one is pretty epic.

Having said that, it’s great that people actually do buy stuff in the beta because it helps to find these sorts of bugs.

Have you tried the Starcraft 2 beta?

So, it’s about a week now until the launch of Starcraft 2, which is undoubtedly going to be one of the big gaming events of the year.

I linked yesterday to reports that the game cost more than $100m to develop, and at least one commenter wondered what they had spent it on. (edited to add: this rumour has since been debunked.) One of the interesting comments made by Mike Morhaime in the interview was this:

We’ve brought in a lot of new players in the beta testing who’ve been playing ‘World of Warcraft’ but have never tried Starcraft

So it sounds as though just about every WoW player who opted into the SC2 beta will have had an invite. Players and bloggers have noted that beta testing phases have increasingly been used as marketing tools over the last few years, and here it is in black and white.

Alas, in my case the marketing may have backfired. I did try the game and thought it was fun. But after losing every single match I ever tried, I conclude that I’m just not experienced enough an RTS player to play this thing. And maybe not really motivated enough to spend hours reading guides and watching replays to learn from scratch.

My conclusion from my beta experience: Good game, will make a lot of SC players happy, but not for newbies. This could be completely wrong if the single player game (not part of the beta) actually turns out to have a top notch tutorial. But then again, if you are deliberately trying to get new players to try your beta, perhaps it would be a good idea to include the tutorial parts of the game …

So have you tried the Starcraft 2 beta, and if so, what did you think? Did it look as though it cost $100m? You looking forwards to release?

Gaming News: Changes at Cryptic and Mythic, Bioware SWTOR multiplayer demo, Steam Sale, World of Tank and Need for Speed beta

News is a bit thin on the ground this week, must be the silly season.

Crew Changes at Cryptic

Craig Zinkievich is leaving his role as executive producer of Star Trek Online. In his leaving letter, he says that he’s decided to take a break from Cryptic and focus on other things, none of which seem to be work related.

Hope he enjoys his break, whether it was enforced or not. The vacant position has been filled, but it’s hard to know what this might mean for STO. It’s not usually a good sign when the producer packs up.

Mythic changes name again

Mythic has changed its name again and is now Bioware Mythic, in a move which makes the actual organisation of MMO studios within EA very clear (ie. Bioware has not also changed its name to Bioware Mythic.)

They also this week finally completed the handover from GOA for running the EU servers. Remind me why we need special EU servers again? Aside from various beta shenanigans and a really awful website, I found GOA did a decent job on running the EU side of WAR. Bootae’s Bloody Blog agrees. Let’s hope Mythic can at least do as well.

SWTOR multiplayer demo

Some of the E3 reports mentioned that journalists had played through a multiplayer SWTOR demo which showed different classes taking up different roles. The official multiplayer demo trailer has now been released. Moon over Endor discusses this along with the rest of the E3 news.

Steam continues to demonstrate how to run a cash shop

Today is the last day of the infamous Steam Summer Sale. If you don’t yet own World of Goo then I do not know you! (Mount and Blade, and Portal are also awesome.)

Syp writes a plaintive post about all the great deals he was forced to pick up this week.

I snagged Gothic 3 and Thief 3, two games I always meant to try but never got around to. I might still never get around to it but at least they’re there on my PC now … or something.

Steam has basically eliminated the myth of the short tail for computer games. Older games will sell, they just need to be enticingly priced and easily available. There have also been some good MMO deals this week, including EVE and Champions Online.

A couple of beta announcements

Yup, struggling for news this week.

World of Tanks enters its closed beta. Sounds dull to me but it’s nice to see the genre expanding. Not sure what you do with your tank other than drive around in it and shoot other tanks – does that make for a good MMO?  But what do I know?

Need for Speed: World is also opening up its beta this week. It is technically an MMO, and to be honest, this sounds way more interesting to me than the tank one. At least with a racing sim, I see the possibilities in training up your car/driver/support team/ manufacturer. Either way, I’m definitely intrigued to hear more about this one.

Monster Hunter Frontier Online tops Japanese xbox sales

This was an interesting story from Massively. An xbox exclusive MMO has made it to the top of the sales charts in Japan. No mention of it being released abroad but with all the anxious discussions about MMOs on consoles, it’s interesting to see proof of concept.

Ask not what you can do for your guild …

Yesterday, the NDA on the Cataclysm beta was lifted so if anyone thought they weren’t getting enough information about that yet … expect to drown in it from now until release. If the sheer volume of data is overwhelming, then comfort yourself in the knowledge that many things will still change before launch day. So you could reasonably just save your energy and ignore it all until you get to play personally.

Top sites for info:

Comparing with the current expansion, the NDA for Wrath was lifted on July 18th for a Release date of November 13th. If Blizzard are running a similar timetable for this expansion, then they’re aiming for a release in late October. So maybe a couple of weeks after Final Fantasy 14 goes live on the PC (Sept 30th).

A look at the proposed guild perks

I’m right in the overwhelmed with data category but I was curious to check out some of the guild perks which are currently in the Cataclysm beta.

This is definitely going to change guild dynamics. And I wonder if actually these new guild abilities will encourage good practice and help guilds to differentiate themselves.

For example, some of the perks on offer will automatically pay money into the guild bank every time a guild member loots a mob. So what are guilds going to do with that cash?

  • You could pay repair costs for guild members.
  • You could pay out bank dividends every month (just divide the contents of the bank by the number of players.)
  • You could run a guild lottery – let people enter by paying in crafted or gathered items (ie. something useful) in return for a chance to win the monthly pot. I’m considering doing this for my little friendly guild.
  • you could provide guild members with consumables or even crafted goods
  • you could pay for mounts, or for starting bags for new alts
  • you could keep it all for yourself and your alts …

But the main thing is, a guild will be expected to do something with this new resource, and to inform guild members what they plan to do. Other perks include increased honor points (from PvP kills) for guild members, better results from gathering, reduced repair costs, and shorter hearthstone cooldowns.

The other one which caught my eye in the list was:

Chug-A-Lug (Rank 1): The duration of buffs from all guild cauldrons and feasts is increased by 50%.

We haven’t seen cauldrons for awhile. In TBC a cauldron was a type of resistance potion which could be used by an entire group or raid. So it looks as though guild alchemists will again be able to provide an entire group with a potion or elixir buff.

In any case, being in a guild with any or all of these perks is going to be quite a sizeable advantage for a player. And I wonder whether the perks and the push towards being guilded will make more people question what sorts of services they think a good guild ought to offer to members. Will people still be satisfied with what they get from their current guild, or will GMs be expected to offer more?