Heroic dungeons, and what is the optimal length for an instance anyway?

I’ve been reading an increasing number of blogposts from dedicated WoW players recently who are finding that the current Blizzard model of instances just isn’t working for them.

Understand also that it’s hard for someone who’s been so tied to a game to start criticising it, and trying to understand why it’s not so fun for them any more.

Kaozz writes:

Last time I queued I waited 40 minutes (as dps) for a normal instance and logged before one popped up. While they want to take the pressure off healers for ‘covering’ for other people by flinging out tons of heals- it still falls on the healers as they sit OOM holding the group up. Even if the dps was too low they will still get blamed in many cases. It’s not a fix. It’s not fun. It’s not harder, its wasting time.

Here’s the dirty secret of heroics this time around. A lot of people don’t enjoy them. It’s not just the difficulty, it’s the time and focus that they require and the fact that you can add quite a lot to that time if you have someone along who doesn’t know the place.

If you always run heroics with your guild and you’re all well geared, you’re probably thinking this sounds inane. Because they are quite smooth if everyone is well geared and knows what they are doing. This however is not the PUG experience.

And once you add really long queues for dps into the mix, it’s not surprising that people start to fret. Telling them all to play tanks or healers is AN answer but for all you know they might have tank/ healer alts and just want a break. I’m not sure how easy it is to organise runs on trade chat at the moment either, I hear people doing it so presumably it must work ok. So there’s one option.

Joining a larger guild is another option, but some people enjoy smaller guilds for reasons other than gameplay. It worked well in Wrath to be able to be guilded with RL friends and still run instances whenever you wanted via LFG. People, understandably, don’t want to be forced out of that mould.

lonomonkey adds his voice to the mix:

We’re all very casual, playing when we feel like it and when time allows. We’re not out for epics, achievements or guild levels. Yet, we do like the occasional raid and we do want to progress our characters with heroics for example.  We can’t do that anymore in Cataclsym since we’re a small guild that doesn’t always have five member ready to run heroics.

I suspect that Blizzard had something fairly special going in Wrath with the combination of quick instances and LFD. Maybe in a few months time the Cataclysm instances will be like that as well, but right now they aren’t. And once you have burned people out on a game, they may not be in a terrible hurry to come straight back.

Or in other words, the model of “start hard, and then nerf” is just going to lose casual players who happen to be in at the start.

The perfect instance length

In college, we’ve always been told that 45 mins is about the right length for a lecture. Longer than that, you can’t concentrate. Shorter than that, you won’t learn as much. If ours go on longer, we always have a 5 min break at the 45 min mark. So I think 45 mins should be the upper bound on instance length, even allowing for a few wipes. Possibly with some exceptions, marked clearly, for people who want a longer run and longer instances could have save points along the way.

But how can you measure the length of an instance? A well geared, well drilled team will demolish just about anything in a smooth run. A first learning run will always take longer than a farm run. Even Wrath heroics  took awhile when we were first learning them.

It is an interesting problem. But one thing is clear, there’s a demand for shorter easier LFG-friendly instances right from the start of an expansion, rather than halfway through …

[Cataclysm] Darkshore – How to destroy and rebuild a zone right

cata_darkshore

(Looks a bit less … purple …)

I must admit, I have never been a fan of Darkshore. It was a very long zone that required much running up and down. It contained one of the most hated quests in the old unrevamped Azeroth (Deep Ocean, Vast Sea). I’ve also never been fond of night elves, who never quite fulfilled their initial promise of being wilder and more savage than the priggish Tolkien inspired elves of standard fantasy fic.

But BOY have Blizzard done a number on that zone now.

cata_deadgriffs

Wait, I remember those hippogriffs and the flight master – what happened to them all?

When you get to Darkshore now, Auberdine is gone, swept away in a tidal wave caused by the Cataclysm. Your first quests are to try to help find and save survivors. If you’ve ever run the zone in the past, you may recognise some of their names. They’re the old quest givers and NPC denizens of Auberdine. You’re finding their bodies washed up on the beach, Some you can help to safety and … some you can’t.

The most poignant of the early quests is from one of the hunters you save who wants to know what happened to his beloved pet. (You may even remember seeing him and his bear in old Darkshore as a quest giver.) Usually in these types  “Please find my lost NPC!” quests, the prognosis for the lost redshirt isn’t good. In this case, Blizzard turn the trope around on its head to provide one of the more emotional questlines in the game.

And as for Deep Ocean, Vast Sea? It’s gone of course. In it’s place a quest that cheekily makes reference to it and allows you to take out a little mining robot and blow up zillions of murlocs – revenge for that old annoying quest, if you will.

Then it’s off to fight the horde with the help of tree ancients as your allies. Blizzard haven’t changed the shape of the zone but you now get some help with the travelling in the shape of night elf catriders who let you use their cats to ride up and down the zone.

But wait, you haven’t even started on the good stuff yet!

cata_greendragon_darkshore (riding a green dragon out of the emerald dream …)

Before you are done with this zone you will:

  • Meet some of the signature racial and Cataclysm NPCs (Malfurion, leader of the night elves)
  • Help fight elemental lords who entered Azeroth through the Cataclysm rift
  • Explore the ruins of Auberdine and try to bring some solace to both the dead and to the surviving refugees
  • Ride on a dragon.
  • Fight Naga lords (ditto)
  • Fight the twilight cultists and help to banish AN ACTUAL OLD GOD

In short, this zone is now the perfect introduction to Cataclysm, bringing in lots of the key storylines and introducing new players to fairly major lore concepts and villains who they will encounter again.

Not only that but it’s bitter-sweet for older players too, with constant references to the way the zone used to be, the old NPCs (both the ones who survived and the ones who didn’t) and the old quests as well, neatly tweaked to be fun in the 2.0 world. You will feel that the world really changed and that you are affected by it.

cata_aetherion

(spirits of the dead night elves help to fight off an elemental lord)

The only downsides are:

  • It’s still a bit of a pain to navigate. The path is broken up in the lower part of the zone which requires a bit of climbing, swimming, and creative navigation to get around. I don’t mind this, I think it is a cool way to make you really interact with the terrain in a way which long straight roads don’t allow, but some players will hate it.
  • It IS a brilliant introduction to Cataclysm. But when Malfurion tasks you with finishing the job of banishing the old god because he has to rush off to Hyjal, it’s hard not to think, “See you in …. 60 levels time …”. You will have to wait awhile to see the next part of that storyline, during which you will travel to both Outland and Northrend, even though your character knows that Hyjal is where the main action is.

If you’d like to see more of the zone, View Through Branches has a lovely photojourney through Darkshore, and covers it in more detail than I have here.

Gaming News: Roguelikes!, Kinect is a winner, should screenshots be exclusives?, LOTRO F2P is a winner too, pre-ordering gets complex, melee misery in Cataclysm raiding, Rift thoughts

I enjoyed writing a series of Gaming News posts on Sundays through the latter half of 2010, but did become very aware of how the gaming news cycles work and how non-news (like whatever random musings Michael Pachter pulls out of his hat) end up becoming headlines.

So I’m going to try to focus this year on stories that are actually news or have some interesting commentary that relates to current gaming news. Feel free to send me links during the week if you see anything you’d like to suggest! All contributions will be attributed.

Best Roguelikes 2010

Any fellow fans of Roguelike games out there? Andrew Doull posted the results of his Roguelike of the Year poll (981 people voted!)

Winner by quite a high amount, with a total 39% of the vote was ToME so if you are a fan of the genre and want to see what’s hot at the moment, go check it out. It’s F2P of course. No, wait, I mean it’s freeware, you can play for free and if you like the game and want to support it, you can donate.

Kinect ships over 8 million units, coming to PCs ‘soon’

According to Steve Ballmer (Microsoft’s CEO), they have shipped 8 million Kinect units so far. Winextra (the link above) do some figure checking and conclude that MSoft have actually sold 2.5 million units, the 8 million figure is the number that they have shipped to suppliers (figures for how many of those have sold are not actually in yet, they might all have done). In any case, this is an astounding figure for a controller which is still not very well supported with games and requires a large amount of room space to even set up.

I’m still hoping to see someone take a shot (sic) at making a Kinect based shooter, I think out of all the current genres that would benefit from being able to drop the controller, it’s sports/ dance games, FPS and ‘point and click’ adventure games that would benefit the most. But really the ball is in the developers’ court at the moment. There are probably some awesome things that could be done with it, as soon as people can imagine them.

And my gut feel is that the biggest Kinect application, in the end, will not actually be a game. Maybe it’ll just be people using it for controlling the TV, maybe Kinect Avatar will spark off a whole new slew of virtual world mania, but this way of interacting with technology is only going to grow and spread.

However, I still find it creepy to think that my computer might be watching me. It’s bad enough with the cat.

Exclusive Screenshots

One thing you will notice if you read professional gaming blogs/ sites is that there’s a strange cosy relationship that they sometimes have with developers. I’m not sure at what point money changes hands, but this is why you’ll see exclusive interviews, screenshots etc on sites that you normally would not touch with a bargepole (Ten Ton Hammer with your annoying popups, I’m looking at you).

The guys at Rock Paper Shotgun went head to head with this culture this week when they published exclusive screenshots from another site WITH ATTRIBUTION and got threatened with legal action for their pains.

Standard internet posting etiquette usually states that it’s ok to quote other sites as long as you link back to them. We normally consider this polite. But how does that fit in with the idea of exclusive screenshots? I think swiping exclusive screenies should probably be off limits but there is also a point at which you have to say ,”the internet just doesn’t work like that.”

John Walker at RPS commented, “”But really, the idiocy of publishers giving out adverts for their games like precious, secret jewels has got to end. It’s self-defeating, and it’s deeply tedious for the readers of every other site/mag in the world who want to know about a game they may want to play.”

It’s certainly tedious for readers to be directed all around the houses for information rather than just being able to pick it up from their favourite news feed. In fact, I’d rather be able to pick up my gaming news straight from the official site and my pet bug is developers (Mythic used to do this a LOT) who publish all their news as exclusives on random news sites rather than on their own.

LOTRO revenue triples since they went F2P

In an interview with Ten Ton Hammer (podcast interview, no transcript), LOTRO’s executive producer reports that revenues on the game have tripled since it went F2P.

That’s great news for Turbine, and it’s unlikely that we’ll see any figures from Codemasters to be able to compare the EU numbers (or see how much of an advantage Turbine had from launching their version several weeks in advance). So we can assume that they’ll continue to do whatever they are doing. More bizarrely marked horses for all!

Perhaps not such a great result for players who don’t particularly want to be spammed with inducements to check out the cash shop, especially if they are already paying by subscription.

Rage Quit Jane offers another analysis of F2P players, “Thanks Suckers” (for buying expensive shiny cosmetic stuff for real money and keeping the game going). The bloodsuckers she’s talking about are the new EQ2 race which is being sold at a premium to people who want one now, and will be offered free to subscribers in a couple of months time. Or maybe she’s just talking about SOE.

The complexity of pre-order offers

A couple of pre-order deals that made my radar this week are the slew of Rift pre-order special deals, and Dragon Age 2 announcing a DLC which is included free if you pre-order the signature edition – ie. only if you PRE-order, as opposed to last time where you got the DLC free if you bought a copy that wasn’t second hand.

Hawley ponders on this trend in more detail, nostalgic for a time when you could just go buy the damned game and not feel that you have to check every possible pre-order combo to make sure you got the best deal.

I think this is one of the downsides of F2P. Not everyone enjoys the process of shopping or having to waste brain cycles figuring out how to get the best deal on something commodity based like a game or book or film. Whilst it leaves a gap in the market for blogs or websites that can do the analysis for you, it isn’t really fun.

Obviously for studios it’s all about the bottom line, but I wonder if making a simple process (buy box and play/ log in and play) into one that involves complicated buying decisions is really a good thing.

Melee vs Ranged in Cataclysm, round 2, and 3

I mentioned a week or so back that I thought there was some imbalance between ranged and melee in Cataclysm instancing. Just to show I’m not imagining it, here are a couple more authoritative views, from raiders.

Paragon got the world first kill on some heroic raid boss last week (has anyone else totally lost interest in the world firsts?), and published a note together with the kill shot on their website.

Dropping out melee characters in favor of ranged ones has been a recurring theme throughout this whole raiding tier, but we hope that it’s over now with only the end bosses and Sinestra left. Here’s to hoping next tier of raiding won’t favor ranged by design. Maybe even go wild and give some incentive to bring in melee, too.

(Incidentally, it’s a sign of how mature a guild Paragon are that they decided to use the publicity which they knew they’d get from a world first kill to highlight imbalances they saw in the game.)

Karuki at World of Ming also writes a very well written, heartfelt post about the woes of playing a melee class (Death Knight in this case) in Cataclysm heroics and raids.

My experience is with heroics at the moment. And I’m getting pretty good now at staying alive *flexes at heroic Stonecore* but the cost is spending more time out of melee range and being more cautious of the mobs. Which is fine, but won’t make the numbers look good.

Also an ex-guildie of mine, who is one of the finest melee dps players I know, isn’t pleased with how dps warriors are working out at the moment. So that’s something to look forwards to.

Reactions to Rift

Out of all the reactions I’ve read about Rift and the Rift beta/s, these two caught my eye. Caveat: I think it’s a very fun game.

Abalieno @ The Cesspit sees connections between Rift and Warhammer Online, in terms of the game engine, the programmers, and other themes, and doesn’t think Rift compares well.

Wolfshead writes about how he thinks combat in Rift could be improved. I don’t think there’s even a remote chance that they’ll redo the combat system at this stage in beta, and it’s not broken in any case. But I really enjoyed his analysis of how combat is the main way we communicate with the game world in MMOs these days.

And one of the reasons I stick with WoW and keep coming back to it is that underneath everything, Blizzard made the basic combat experience very snappy and fun. PvD is wondering though whether some of the WoW classes/ specs are edging a little close to each other in play style these days.

Thought/s of the Day: Guild Rep in Cataclysm, and can you have too much of a good thing?

How are you all feeling about the new guild xp/ levelling in Warcraft?

Like any largish, active guild, we’ve been picking up levels at a reasonable pace and are currently somewhere between level 6 and 7, which I think is roughly where most other largish active guilds will be at the moment.

In a smaller guild with an alt, we haven’t quite reached level 2 but that’ll happen soon and people are quite excited about it.

I’ve seen posts wondering if there is any future for smaller guilds if the larger ones will have all the levels and reputation and achievements early. Whilst we’ll all get there in the end, an xp cap designed around active guilds full of high level players can feel overwhelming for a small guild of low level friends just starting out. I suspect strongly that Blizzard will do what they usually do and nerf guild xp in a couple of months or so, after the first rush of larger guilds have gotten to the max, and stopped obsessing about being first.

But one of the perks you get (at level 6 I think) is a 10% bonus to xp. Later on, there are heirlooms that players can buy which will add an extra 15% bonus to any alt who wears them. And if you have Wrath heirlooms too, that could be up to another 20% on top of that. (That makes 45% so far, if anyone is counting.) I think it’s almost guaranteed that there will be another way to get heirlooms in Cataclysm, probably involving badges in a future patch although these will probably be upgrades from the Wrath ones.

So imagine levelling a new alt with up to 45% bonus experience, and possibly rested xp, in a game where people have already commented that it’s easy to level out of a zone just from questing. I guess it’ll be great if you want to just rocket those alts up to max level.

In fact, since heirlooms are usually account bound, if you have one alt in a big guild that’s going to get the levels fast, you could even send the guild stuff to alts in other guilds, Or in other words, if you are big on efficient levelling, it makes sense to level all your alts in a big guild since you can take advantage of the xp and reputation perks without needing any guild rep (gained through instancing, questing, etc). But if efficient levelling was not your goal, then the guild perks might actually work against your playing style.

Another quirk is that you get a fair bit of guild rep from running heroics, and rather little from other sources. So small levelling guilds, even if they do get the levels, may still find that most members are struggling to reach revered or higher and buy the more desirable perks.

I’d say: nice try on the guild levelling. It still ended up being more tilted towards larger active endgame guilds, and I think a tweak to guild reputation earning would help more casual players a lot. There’s no reason why anyone shouldn’t be able to have high rep with their own guild if they’re committed to it.

Cataclysm Screenshot of the Day

cata_day7pic

(Oops, can’t remember if I’ve used these shots before.) These are a couple of pictures from Uldum, the Egyptian themed zone. It’s rather lovely. And … yes, camels.

The MMO difficulty curve

We had a couple of inches of snow here on Saturday. It’s a bit earlier than we’d usually get this much snow but hardly anything to get overexcited about. You’d think. Yet when I grabbed my weekly shop on Sunday, the supermarket looked as though it had been hit by a plague of locusts. I commented to the guy on the till that it looked as though the Christmas rush had hit. “You should have seen it yesterday,” he said. “After the snow.” And yet, by the time I went (a day later), the council had put grit down, the roads were a bit safer, and there was still plenty of stuff to buy in the supermarkets (in fact, they hadn’t had any issues with their deliveries anyway.)

Now that Cataclysm has been out for a couple of weeks, players have had a chance to try out the instances. They had been pronounced ‘challenging’ by most people on a first glimpse. Some have even ventured into heroics, and raid bosses have been downed too.

A couple of bloggers last week were writing about how difficulty changes over time. Tobold notes how difficulty in WoW eases off over time, and Gevlon discusses how his two healer tactic for heroics might be seen as a ‘sign of weakness’ by some players. (I suspect all new tactics will go through this stage, after which people start using it more widely and anyone who doesn’t is seen as a loser. Some people just hate new ideas because they are new.)

It’s an interesting time to watch the community, because after a gear reset, everyone should be starting out roughly equal. In practice, this means that after a crazy rush, the really hardcore guys are already farming the heroics that medium hardcore players are tentatively learning and clearing with their guilds. This is also the part of the expansion where players are exploring their identity a bit – who is ultra hardcore, who is merely a bit hardcore, etc. So there’s a rush into heroics because that’s where the progression bar is currently set. If you want to feel the hardcore buzz, the party is (temporarily) in Heroic Grim Batol.

And if anyone is curious, mmo-champion have a poll where people can vote on their easiest and hardest heroics.

And LFD is quite buzzing for normal Cataclysm instances, people are starting to experiment with speed pulls, no one bothers to explain the fight mechanics any more and most of the random groups I’ve had have been fine. (I don’t have the mental fortitude to try a LFD heroic yet.) More casual players are likely still levelling (or levelling new characters from scratch), although the levelling curve is relatively flat this time around.

It feels as if the player base in general has rushed through the introductory learning part of the expansion. LFD is definitely a factor in this. However, there are still a lot of new bosses in those instances, some of which do need some execution knowledge (do you kill the adds first? Is there a position requirement? Does a spell need to be interrupted?) so if random PUGs are tending not to explain then the quality of LFD will probably get worse (as the hardcore stop bothering with normal instance runs) before it gets better.

In fact, I think that in every successive WoW expansion, the adaptation period has gotten lower.

Is it time that heals all difficulty, or just gear?

Warcraft has always had issues with gear scaling. An instance that is designed to be challenging at gear level X will be much easier at gear level X+10. Other MMOs just don’t seem to scale gear quite as aggressively; the LOTRO instances in Moria for example are still quite interesting after you outgear them – and they’ve recently been tweaked to scale with level anyway. Blizzard could, if they wanted, make the difficulty less gear dependent. But … players enjoy being able to outgear content that was once challenging, and that’s the design choice they have made and it doesn’t yet seem to have affected the longevity of the game. The improved accessibility for non-hardcore players seems to outweight the hardcore guys getting bored.

So I imagine the current heroics will ease off a lot once everyone is in full blue heroic gear (iLvL 346 if anyone is counting). And then the complaints about the game being too easy will likely start up again. Then again, for people who preferred more chilled out runs, this is the point at which the game gets playable and more fun for them.

Point is, it’s part of the whole MMO notion that all players are thrown into the same game world together. So if the MMO gets very gameplay oriented, this brings up a slew of issues about how devs should design difficulty for such a huge range of player and playing styles. A game that was entirely designed around the hardcore, and also assumed that they’d always be in well organised optimised groups, would be inaccessible to the majority of other players. Totally inaccessible. And those same players will walk over any other type of content.

Grindfests, whatever people thought of them, didn’t really have this type of issue. Neither does PvP (it has different issues.)

Time and the difficulty curve

So what this means is that if you enjoy the increased difficulty, you do probably want to press into heroics quickly because they will become much easier. If you don’t, then don’t stress over it. In a few weeks things will have eased off, and meantime you can work on your archaeology or raise you reps in normal instances. The heroics will still be interesting, and there are some cool bosses in there.

Plus as more of the playerbase is ready to try heroics, it’ll be easier to get guild groups in less hardcore guilds, which will probably be more fun in itself.

But the fact that the playerbase adapts so incredibly quickly to the new content these days is an issue – whether it is to do with access to information, or gear, or easy LFD access.  And I suspect it’s the core reason why MMOs, as they become more gamelike, are becoming less compelling.

[Cataclysm] 7 ways in which questing has changed

Now that I’ve gotten my main to 85 and seen a large number of the quests in the game, I keep noticing that Blizzard have made some changes across the board to how the whole questing game works. Some are minor, some already existed in other games (LOTRO players will definitely recognise some of these), and others smooth and clarify the existing system.

Bearing in mind that Blizzard pioneered the current MMO trend of levelling completely via quests and were seen as fairly innovative even for minor tweaks like marking quest givers with a giant !, it’s interesting to see where they’re trying to take the ‘genre’ further.

I haven’t mentioned the increased use of phasing, since that existed before. Although it has been used to great effect.

1. No more annoying escort quests

I think players always found escort quests a bit annoying. You find a poor hapless NPC and have to escort it to some other place, during which time you get attacked by several waves of mobs and have to keep the NPC alive. These quests were always plagued with NPCs who ran ahead and got themselves killed, or kept going regardless of the fact that the player was fighting so you got behind, or just generally being annoying.

In WoW these days, this barely happens. Instead, NPC sidekicks are useful (sometimes to the point of massacring mobs before you get to lay a blade on them), amusing/ worrying, and ‘escort’ quests form some of the high points of the questing experience.

Who could forget that dopey druid in the Plaguelands who keeps transforming into the wrong forms? Or the undead ex-Gilneans in Silverpine who coolly murder prisoners after you have freed them ‘for being cowards and getting captured’.

2. More interaction with the world

I have noticed that Blizzard are trying to foster a bit more interaction with the gameworld. Yes, it’s never going to be Minecraft but for example:

  • The Hillsbrad quest that made me go ‘ick’ where you had to pick spider eggs from the backs of dead bears. In previous expansions, you probably would have looted ‘[spider egg] from the corpse. In this one, you have to actually click on the pictures of the spider eggs to pick them up. It’s a subtle distinction but a useful one.
  • The dragonmaw/ alliance daily quests where you have to loot foodstuffs from the burned out villages. Previously the food would have looked like giant sacks. This time, you can loot loaves of bread, fishes, and grain hanging from the ceilings. It feels more like rummaging through the houses to see what food they have left around.
  • Quests where you have to pick things up and deliver them are more likely to show your actual character carrying the item. (I know I’ve seen this but struggling to remember the actual quest.) LOTRO or WAR players will find this to be old hat, but it’s new in WoW.

3. Zone introductions

This is most marked in the new Cataclysm high level zones, but you don’t just run into a new zone any more. Instead there will be cut scenes, travelogues, and ‘something will happen’ to drop you right into the middle of the action. My character probably should never take public transport again, judging by all the shot down zeppelins, drowned ships, and captured caravans.

And yet, it makes the whole process of going to a new zone and discovering it for the first time more of an event.

In particular, the prelude to the Twilight Highlands in Azshara for Horde is brilliant. You have to fetch some of the soldiers out of the goblin fleapits where they’ve been spending their R&R, help get the fleet ready for action, and sit through one of the funniest sequences in the game, where a couple of goblin flight attendants convince you never to set foot on one of those flying deathtraps immediately before you have to leave.

And then there’s the actual flight, together with the fleet of zeppelins, and what happens when they get attacked in the air.

Yes, it’s on rails. But yes, it’s also really exciting. If you’re going to run a game on rails, this is the way to do it.

I think in general Blizzard have been considering how to make progression feel more meaningful. The quest in Vash’jir where you have to tame your own seahorse, Avatar-style, is a good example. Instead of just giving you the seahorse reward,  you get to play through some of the process of getting the sea horse.

Again, LOTRO players will find this to be old hat. They’ve had special racing and riding quests associated with getting your character’s first mount for years.

4. New ways to receive quests

Gone are the days when all quests were received by clicking on an NPC with an exclamation mark over their head. Some will pop up when you enter a location, others when you kill a mob for the first time, others when a new festival starts.

I particularly like the location based quests. They aren’t typically thrilling quests, more along the lines of “there are tons of boars here, you think it’d be a great idea to thin the herd”, but the notion that you could be exploring and find a quest for yourself rather than going back to find an NPC who wanted those mobs massacred is definitely a step forwards.

WAR players will find this similar to the way public quests used to be introduced. You entered the right area and the quest requirements popped up on your screen.

Similarly, some NPCs will let you hand quests in remotely (something which will be familiar to CoH players), saving you having to keep running back to them.

And instance quests now tend to be given out inside the entrance to that instance. There are still extra instance quests that you can get by finishing the zone outside, but the majority are inside the instances. Of course, the downside is that after you have finished the instance, you have to run back to the start to hand them in.

5. More dynamic questing

If you’ve been trying the Dragonmaw/ Wildhammer dailies, you will know that some of them are based around little villages which constantly change hands between horde and alliance. As a player, you can get involved with these skirmishes, and are encouraged to do so in order to get your quests done. In fact, if you find a village occupied by the opposite faction NPC and pull one of them, your own faction NPCs will run in to help.

So basically there’s often fighting between NPCs going on in these locations. New waves will turn up every 10 minutes or so after a village has been captured. And a player can take part either solo or in a group. I imagine it’s a focus for PvP on PvP servers too.

I am rather enjoying it now that I have a better understanding of how it works. I wasn’t so sure before.

6. Use of cut scenes

I know some people hate cut scenes but I love how Blizzard have been using them in Cataclysm, and I now understand what they meant when they were talking about a new approach. You will see your character, wearing the gear it is actually wearing. You will be talking to people, sitting on wagons, interacting with the NPCs in the cut scenes. And if the cut scene involves part of the gameworld where other players are around, you will see them too.

I think they’ve been beautifully done, and if you hate them then there is always the ESC button. Sure, they could be improved. There could be a way to replay or pause them if something comes up iRL while one is playing and you missed it. There are some bugs in Uldum where you may have to terminate a cut scene early.

But I found them very cool on the whole. I like seeing my character in the cut scenes! It makes me feel more part of the action. In particular, the dream sequence in the Twilight Highlands was very very effective.

7. Great set piece solo encounters

Blizzard have really been trying to work on the solo gameplay, in some areas. There are fights like Baron Geddon in Hyjal where NPCs encourage you to move out of the flame ring, and get away from your friends when he turns you into a living bomb (I tried to bomb an alliance guy but he ran away – boooo.)

There’s a particularly cool example at the end of the Twilight Cultist chain in the Highlands where you are fighting alongside Garona (one of the big name characters from the lore) in a fight which feels more like a raid encounter – even solo – than some of the earlier raids themselves did.

In Uldum, Blizzard have tried some innovative quests where you control armies of mobs, where you roll around as a flaming ball of fire killing evil gnomes, and where you paint targets for a tank gunner. They don’t all work brilliantly as gameplay, but it’s obvious that they’re trying to do something different.

Cataclysm Screenshot of the Day

cata_daypic2 Riding my seahorse through a kelp forest.

[Cataclysm] You don’t have to be crazy to do blacksmithing, but it helps

The price of ore seems to have settled as much as it is going to in the short term so I decided I might as well level up Blacksmithing. (If you are looking for a guide for levelling Blacksmithing, this is as good as any. The only place I disagree is that I’d make Pyrium Weapon Chains from 500-510.)

Every time I raise the skill by another point I feel like a prize idiot. It’s expensive in terms of materials, and you barely have any consumables to sell. I would never recommend this tradeskill to a new player. I have never seen any other blacksmith recommend it either. The only thing it really has going for it at the moment is that Blizzard didn’t put any higher level Cataclysm recipes for sockets, so if you just want extra sockets for your gloves and wrists, you don’t actually need to level blacksmithing past 400.

Especially when jewelcrafters make tons of gold, have lots of different gem cuts to sell, have daily quests and can also make really good trinkets for themselves. It’s not remotely on par. They also tend to drive up the price of ore, because they can make more money from it than blacksmiths can on the whole. This is why it’s a pain in the arse to have to share raw crafting materials with a more profitable profession.

Having said that, if you are crafting then you should be selling PvP gear at the moment. The new arena season has just started. This is about the only time you’ll get good prices for blue PvP gear so make the most of it. I sold some blue plate gloves for 2k yesterday. And don’t forget the weapon chains, which are fairly cheap to make too.

But I want to go back to the crazy material requirements to level blacksmithing. Obsidium, the lower level Cataclysm ore, has been in short supply recently. Blacksmiths require 4 pieces of ore to make 1 piece of folded obsidium, which is the base material for levelling blacksmithing to 500ish. So when you see a recipe that requires 20 folded obsidium, you’re looking at 4 stacks of ore. Oh, and it won’t sell for anything remotely near the cost of that ore because most people will realise that if they keep questing they will probably get a better quest reward eventually.

But wait, it gets better. Once you hit 500, you need to buy all your recipes with large amounts of elementium ore. Granted, some of them are PvP blues which sell well at the moment. Others are epics which all require truegold (available on a 24 hour alchemy cooldown) and chaos orbs (BoP drop from the end boss of a heroic), and lots of volatile element drops. It’s fine that epics are supposed to be difficult, but I wonder how many players  will be willing to pay the sort of prices that would incur. Mind you, someone just paid me 2k for some blue PvP gauntlets so who knows? Only one way to find out. (Incidentally, if you are a tank or melee dps, pick the caster epic recipes if you want people to run heroics with you to help get ‘their’ obs. If you are dps or healer, pick the tanking epics. etc.)

Bottom line is that for crafting professions at the moment – blacksmithing, tailoring, leatherworking – the material requirements to level the skill are pretty high. There are fewer zones than in previous expansions in which to compete with other gatherers if you want to gather your own. And volatiles in particular can only be farmed in a few places. So if you aim to make gold via gathering, expect a lot of competition. (Having said that, I am getting pretty good at the Obsidium circuit in Vash’jir.)

And also, Blizzard doesn’t really care that some professions are simply better than others for making gold. Jewelcrafting has been good ever since it was introduced. Alchemy looks to have been given some perks this expansion too, with the very desirable truegold transmute (in the last expansion, miners had the equivalent) and they also have options to transmute volatiles, and presumably will be able to transmute epic gems when those get introduced.

Anyone having better luck with their professions?

Cataclysm Screenshot of the Day

cata_daypic8

This was taken inside the Vortex Pinnacle, a 5 man instance which is all about the element of air. Those teeny black things in the middle are our characters running back after a wipe. It’s hard to really do justice to the scale of this place, it’s gorgeous.

[Cataclysm] A few thoughts on tanking and instances

(I will write a more inclusive view on Cataclysm when I’ve seen more of it. At the moment, I’ve been posting thoughts more or less as they occurred to me. There’s a lot to like, though. A LOT.)

I’ve had a chance to run a few instances now, mostly with my guild but a couple with PUGs also. I don’t feel I have the mental stamina needed to tank a PUG – but sometimes it ends up happening anyway. i.e. If the tank is really struggling with a boss and I know my gear is better I’ll offer to switch. This is not to say that gear is the be all and end all, but 30k extra health isn’t to be sniffed at either. We’ve been running normal instances. I’d suggest that unless you really are in a hardcore guild, consider running normals for awhile before you move into heroics. They’re plenty hard as it is, you can pick up some nice blue drops, and it’s a good chance to really learn them.

The good news is that threat hasn’t been an issue. I haven’t done any reforging, on the basis that I’d see how my gear held up first and then decide which stats might need to be boosted. Or in other words, in levelling quest rewards and a couple of blue badge rewards (I had some points going in to Cataclysm to spend), I haven’t had any need to reforge for more hit or expertise to tank normal instances. I don’t imagine it’s necessary for heroics either – only in raids where the bosses are higher level.

Second good news is that protection warriors do fine. Maybe we have to work harder than other tanks, maybe we don’t have the crazy self (and group) heals that paladins do (although victory rush puts up some big numbers) but I haven’t had any issues with either tanking groups, picking up adds, or holding on to bosses.

Having said all that, here are a few tips:

1/ Get used to using crowd control. It’s probably worth marking up any group where you are not absolutely sure what each mob does. At least while you are learning.

2/ Assume people in PUGs will not know what the bosses do yet so take time to explain (or make someone else explain) before you pull one.

3/ The good news is, you don’t have to do all the marking yourself. I’ve found that CC classes are quite happy to be asked to mark their own mobs, and they’ll also have an idea of which mobs are positioned most easily for crowd control too. Just assign each CC character a symbol at the start of the instance.

4/ Gevlon has noted that having two healers will help on encounters/ instances where more of the pressure is on tanks/heals than on dps. I haven’t tried heroics but encourage your healer to ask hybrids for help when they know a fight is going to be hard. We used to regularly do this in TBC (I remember on my druid asking shadow priests to switch to healing on a couple of fights in the Arcatraz.)

5/ Heroic leap is great! But … perhaps you don’t need to use it on absolutely every pull, and it will break crowd control.

Cataclysm Screenshot of the Day

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A couple of screenshots from Deepholm, the plane of elemental earth.  My screenies don’t really do justice to the amazing way the whole zone is lit.

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: Pirates of the Burning Sea goes F2P, Jedi Sage in SWTOR, EQ2 Vampires, Betas for Rift and TF2, LOTRO F2P tweaks

This week will mark the release of possibly the biggest PC game launch of the year. It’s also a game which will be downloaded directly by a large number of players (possibly even the majority) and will no doubt be showing up in a lot of Xmas stockings and making a lot of gamers, both casual and hardcore very happy, especially if the developer is up to their usual standards.

I speak of course of Bejeweled 3 (subtitle – what else can we do with a 3 colour match game?).

Joking aside, I love Popcap and there’s no reason not to think this’ll be great. I can see me buying a few copies as presents for gamer-friendly friends/ family. Plus it’s something to do while waiting in WoW server queues for Cataclysm.

Speaking of which, Blizzard have released a final release trailer for the new WoW expansion. It’s called The World Reborn and is a flythrough of some of the new stuff – that elemental plane of air looks incredible.

In other news, EA have announced that they will be looking to cut down their game output next year. I thought they said that last year too.

The post that caught my eye this week was Larisa’s discussion about why she’s not doing anything special to prepare for Cataclysm. This in an environment where hardcore players probably have all the maps and quests planned out from various beta information already.

RPS have also, astoundingly, finally found a writer who likes WoW to write about it.

Pirates of the Burning Sea launches F2P

Ever wanted to be a pirate, sailing the spanish main? Well now you can do it without a monthly sub in PotBS, it’s a pretty game and a rather different setting to most other MMOs on the market. There’s also quite a sandbox economy/ PvP vibe alongside the quests and naval combat and most importantly, characters can have the best range of beards I think I’ve ever seen in a game. I liked the female customisation a lot also, the costumes are just that cool.

Jedi Wizard gets renamed

The unfortunately named Jedi Wizard class is being renamed to Jedi Sage in SWTOR, following an online poll.

They also have a developer blog up this week about crew skills and crafting in the game. One of the things I like is that they definitely have a notion of casual crafters vs hardcore crafters and that each type of player should be able to get something out of the system. So casual crafters should be able to fairly easily make gear that is on par (or slightly above) drops, but there will be better gear available to be crafted by players who want to put more time into it.

I’m rapidly thinking that the crafting in this game is looking like one of the big plus points. I’m also getting fonder of the graphics, it’s not fancy but it doesn’t need to be.

New vampire race for EQ2

Well, at least they aren’t vampire elves. Arkenor says what a lot of other people are thinking, which is wtf SOE? (I’m more puzzled that he thinks this is a step towards becoming more like WoW which wasn’t especially vamped out last time I checked.) Having said that, maybe people would like a bloodsucking race. It’s certainly been part of fantasy gaming since at least original D&D.

But if you do want one, hang in there because it’s being given as a reward  for people who remain subscribed between Dec and Feb. What we don’t know is how overpowered it will be compared to the other races – a usual tactic to ‘encourage’ players to want one.

Green Armadillo suspects it will show up in the cash shop as a buyable race sometime later.

Beta Watch: Rift and TF2

A couple of betas that we heard more about this week. Trion Worlds’ Rift has a beta weekend event this weekend. It sounds from the website to be a very classic WoW-like MMO but with some interesting twists and lore. It isn’t a typical fantasy setting and the races and background look quite fun.  It also looks very pretty in screenshots.  There’s an NDA up to stop beta testers talking about it too much but expect to hear more about this game as it nears launch. Might be one to watch if you preferred vanilla WoW to the current version.

The other game with some extra beta zing is Team Fortress 2, for which Valve have opened a public test server where you’ll be able to try some of the new patch changes and give feedback before they go live.

Tweaks to the LOTRO F2P setup

The December Producers’ letter for LOTRO explains some of the changes they have made recently, including removal of radiance and changes in some of the pricing. For example, Lonelands is now free to all players whereas at launch of F2P, you had to buy access to the quests in the zone.

There are also going to be cosmetic pets.

As a player, the main take home message for this is wait as long as you can before buying anything because prices are tending to go down and more content being made available for free the longer you wait.

And also, if you do buy something, do so because you want it at the time and try to be sanguine about the notion that prices are likely to change later on.