Gaming News: Shattering hits Azeroth, Elder Scrolls 5 in production, Skills change in EVE, casting for Uncharted film, details on FF Agito XIII

As you can see from the subject line, this is a quiet time of year for gaming news. But there are some moves afoot to change that.

Bioware has already been issuing teasers for a new game announcement to be made after the Spike VGA awards, and now Sony have also announced that a new exclusive PS3  title will be announced then also (word is that it will be Uncharted 3, which probably blows Bioware out of the water.)

As predicted last week, there have been a lot of heavy discounting sales this week. Steam’s indie bundles have been particularly good value if you had any interest in some of the games, and their sale still has a few days to run. I picked up a copy of Audiosurf for approx. zilch a couple of days back, which has been good fun. Anyone else make any good sales buys?

Interestingly, Steam are encouraging people to make a wish list. When I tried, I struggled to think of many games to put on it, on the grounds that if I really wanted something I probably have bought it already. Not really sure what to make of that. Amazon is also entering the world of digital download, at least on their US site.

An article from Massively that caught my eye was about Wurm Online which has revamped its tutorial. WO is very much a sandbox game, I never had much time to play other than checking it out and thinking that it reminded me a bit of Tale in the Desert. But if that sounds like your thing, then this might be a good time to jump in.

The Shattering hits Azeroth

Phase one of the Cataclysm hit World of Warcraft this week, transforming all of the low level zones and quests and introducing some new class/ race combinations. The rest of the expansion (the new races and new high level zones and content) is what you will be buying if you purchase the expansion on 7th Dec.

There are no comprehensive reviews out yet, and I’ll be writing more about my experiences next week but the lower level game is now incredibly slick, story focussed, and bang up to date with lots of interesting ways to stitch the quest based play together. I’ve been impressed at the parts I have seen.  No one does this type of thing better than Blizzard and possibly only Bioware even come close. Or in other words, if you like themepark quest-led style RPGs, there has never been a better time to join the party. And Blizzard are sweetening the deal at the moment with some pretty good discounts on WoW and all of the existing expansions. Come on in, the water’s lovely :)

Also, Blizzard announced more details of the various Cataclysm launch events which see their dev team sent off around the world to host in different cities. London gets Ghostcrawler, and … does anywhere else really matter anyway? (Me, I’ll be in bed at midnight on 7th Dec.)

Elder Scrolls 5 in production

Eurogamer quote an unnamed source that Bethesda is working on a 5th game in the Elder Scrolls series. This would be a sequel to Oblivion, but hopefully not with the same dreadful levelling system.

Still if – as is likely – this is true, it means good news to come for fans of the single player RPG. Or is it? Various commentators have wondered if the new game might be an MMO. (I think this would be a pretty bad idea, but who knows?)

EVE Online ditches the learning skills

As you may know, EVE is based on characters learning skills. Currently, a whole batch of metaskills exist which make it possible to learn other skills more quickly. So a savvy player would train those up first and the save hundreds of hours in skill training time for future skills.

But as from an upcoming patch, this will no longer be the case. Learning skills are disappearing from EVE, and players who spent time learning them will get the skill points back – the link is to the official announcement and it has graphs and everything to explain why they did this.

Another entry on the dev blog this week touched on the issue of F2P and item shops. Short summary: they will soon be selling vanity items via some kind of a cash shop. We don’t know if the vanity items will also be craftable in game.

Casting announced for Uncharted film

It’s a sign of how weak the news has been that this even gets a mention here. But for those interested, Mark Wahlberg will play Nathan Drake (ie. the lead) in the film of Uncharted, and the producers are talking to Robert de Niro about playing his father.

This has caused a large amount of concern amongst fans who don’t think he fits the role. But that’s likely to have been the case whoever was cast, although my personal pick would have been Tom Hardy (Eames in Inception).

Final Fantasy Agito XIII

I think anyone could be excused for being confused about the various different games being touted around in the FF13 series. Some details about this one, which is to be a PSP game, have been released this week, but frankly I’m still confused. And I don’t think we’ve had much mention of FF Versus 13 (which I think was to be a fighter) yet either.

It was the year of fire, the year of destruction, the year we took back what was ours

When we last saw Spinks, she was standing at the raceway in the Shimmering Flats. But when I logged on after the shattering, everything had changed.

spinkscata2

She was standing on a small floating platform. The title ‘Raceway Ruins’ flashed up above her head. A look at the map showed that she was in the middle of a giant lake where the raceway had been.

cata_shimmeringflats

Undead being quite good at the not breathing underwater lark, she dived in to have a look at where the raceway had been. You can see the floating wreckage on the lake bed here.

spinkscata3

She swam across to a giant barge that was manned by both goblins and gnomes, and found that someone enterprising had brought both a flight master and some thanksgiving tables.

You can see why goblins are such famously good merchants, they really do think of everything.

Mrs Spinks goes to Orgrimmar

spinksbarrens

It took only a couple of months for the dream of settling down somewhere away from all the fighting and politics to run a small pub to die. Silverpine was, after all, packed to the gills with forsaken celebrating the fall of the prince of lordaeron with only emptiness in their hearts instead of …. whatever it was they were supposed to feel.

They were bad company and bad customers.

Polishing the bar for the 76th time that day in silence, the old warrior wondered privately if, in a sense, the lich king had won after all. There was never going to be a scenario where forsaken retired quietly to farm crops and raise children. Only silence, darkness, infighting, and waiting for the next inevitable war of aggression to divert the masses from any kind of civil disobedience. Repeat until dead. Again. Dark Lady watch over us.

She left the keys to the till with the uptight cellarman who claimed that he had once been a Baronet, in King Terenas’ day. “That’s nice dear,” she deadpanned. “Don’t forget to count the bottles on delivery day. I may be some time.”

It was a long trip to the Southern Barrens, where old battle companions had settled. The windrider flew silently, across green open plains. When Spinks arrived at the farm it was nightfall. She hesitated about going up to the farmhouse, instead watching shadows play across the inside of the curtains and laughter and warmth ripple out. It was no place for the dead.

After watching for awhile, she left, taking the long road through Thousand Needles to the Salt Flats. Another day passed, but neither she nor the horse needed to eat or sleep.

spinksracecourse

The racetrack was quiet, gnomes and goblins still busily competing to show off their engineering skills. No one there cared who wanted to bet on the races, living, undead, as long as their money was good.

Spinks bet on the goblins — “Always bet on green, at least I learned that from the orcs.” Sometimes she won, sometimes she lost.

It was some days later that the warlock arrived, his fine silk and brocades trailing in the dust of the desert.

“I hoped I might find you here,” he said dryly, steepling skeletal fingers.

“Congratulations, you get a special prize.”

“You may have noticed the earthquakes. Elementals are attacking, all over Azeroth. It’s been getting worse. They’re focussed on Orgrimmar. Garrosh has even called the horde to help defend – I know, couldn’t happen to a nicer orc.”

She eyed him, a flicker of interest in the depths of the sockets.

The warlock nodded silently to the unspoken question. “The inner circle asked me to find you. Mrs Spinks, we’re needed.”

Is this the end of the PC retail market?

There has been a lot of speculation this year about how F2P is the future of MMOs, and maybe of all PC Gaming.

But where exactly do bricks and mortar retailers fit into this model? The answer is that they don’t really. Cataclysm – likely to be the biggest PC release of the year – being downloadable directly from Blizzard on pre-order, is just the icing on the cake.

Sure, there will be many people who:

  • like boxes
  • trust the post office
  • have amazon/etc vouchers to spend
  • like saving money
  • don’t mind if their copy is a few days late
  • are being bought the game as a present so have to wait for the present-giver to turn up with it
  • aren’t able to take time off to play at launch anyway due to that pesky college/ work thing
  • want a collector’s edition
  • like standing around at midnight in a queue for hours dressed as a night elf because it’s social or something

But for everyone else, the ability to just download the new expansion in advance and be ready to go on the stroke of midnight is going to be hugely appealing. Especially in a genre like MMOs where getting to max level quickly is important for hardcore players. Those extra hours count (if you believe that the servers will be stable).

Clearly Activision-Blizzard will make out like bandits from being able to sell their game directly to players without having to pay a cut to retailers and distributors. Yes, the retail market is important for advertising but increasingly, that trend is diminishing.

Game Shop Nostalgia

And yet, I remember a time  …. a time when we would eagerly trek out to the specialist computer gaming shop to find out what was new on the shelves.

I remember one shop in particular, because it was near where my boyfriend (now husband) lived, somewhere in the great expanse of South-West London (“south west london nice part” as he likes to describe it, or “south west london miles from civilisation” as I would put it). The shop was down a narrow alley and consisted of one small room with white-painted walls which was full of shelves.

The shelves carried boxed PC programs. They weren’t stacked tightly so that all you could see were the titles, many were placed proudly so that the front of the box was on display. And boxes back then were quite large. Many of boxes contained games – some were years old, others new imports from the US – but there were also operating systems and various utilities or bits of business software. PC software at the time was very all-encompassing. When we went to the shop, it was a little, limited piece of geek heaven.

It closed many years ago. And the world has moved on.

Anyone else have memories to share about buying games in gaming shops?

How I’m playing Protection in 4.0

I’ve been experimenting a bit with Protection in the current patch. We’re done with raiding until the expansion and my desire to tank in PUG raids is approximately zero, so I’ve been running a few heroics. (Also mad props to Ele who said, “Lets try some heroics” and queued us straight up for HoR. This is what we call the ‘in at the deep end’ approach.)

Summary: The sky is not falling. AE threat is down across the board for all tanks, but warriors play hasn’t changed greatly. It’s mostly a few tweaks rather than a complete overhaul. Plus you can get some pretty amazing numbers out of Shield Slam. I’m still adapting but definitely still finding it fun.

The only way I adapt to less AE threat is by apologising for poor threat in random instances. But I don’t mean it :) And in Cataclysm when mobs start hitting harder I’ll get back into marking and requesting CC.

Live by the shield, die by the shield

The protection spec is now very oriented towards shield type moves, with lots of boosts for shield block and shield slam. It is now possibly to get some insanely large shield slam crits, especially if you tank in dps gear which you can also do now that we get crit proof from talents. Tankspot has a shield slam bragging thread so I know I’m not the only one who’s dazzled by the big numbers! If you want to test this then wait for a Hold the Line Proc, hit Shield Block and any of your dps trinkets, and then Shield Slam.

Feedback from healers is that I’m easy to heal. Feedback from dps is gogogo. Feedback from me is that threat is more of an issue, but I’m not finding it a major deal except in special cases such as the event in HoS where there’s no real time to build rage up – I think with more practice in managing rage I’d handle this better.

My current spec and thoughts on talents

This is my current spec. (The goal of this spec is to generate huge shield slam crits.) Many of the talents I discuss below are still being discussed in the community at the moment.

Blood and Thunder: I’m not enthralled with this one. Rend doesn’t generate a lot of threat anyway, maybe this would work better for Arms specs or in a raid but trash mobs in instances don’t stay up that long and Thunderclap + Shockwave plus some cleaves and glyphed revenges will be better bang for your buck than slinging rend around.

Incite: Heroic Strike is no longer spammable (thank goodness) and I’m still getting the hang of how to manage rage, but I still think this is more useful than blood and thunder.

Hold the Line: Parry is now your very best friend. Shame it doesn’t work on spells.

Shield Mastery: Reduced timer on shield block is nice. The rest is a bonus. Bear in mind you now use glyph of shield wall to increase the cooldown and increase the amount absorbed.

Shield spec: Not really finding rage to be an issue but need to put the points somewhere.

Bastion of Defense: This is your new anti-crit ability. Compulsary.

Impending Victory: I tried it and wasn’t really impressed with the numbers. Sounds cooler than it is.

Vigilance: Probably mostly a raid talent now, to be put on off-tanks. I find it useful to stick on the most aggro-y dps in heroics at the moment and then make good use of all the free taunts.

Thunderstruck: Way better for AE threat than blood and thunder imo. Note that it stacks three times but you have to spam Thunderclap to do that.

Arms: Field Dressing — this is why healers find me fairly straightforwards to heal at the mo.

Fury: Cruelty — Moar shield slam crits!!

(Blood Craze will probably be ace for levelling and I may swap points from cruelty to blood craze when the expansion drops. Unless I decide to level in Arms spec, which seems really really fun atm from my first forays.)

Glyphs

Warrior glyphs are pretty lame and you won’t get a lot of choice.

Prime:

Shield Slam (yay for more shield slam damage!)
Revenge
Devastate (will be your main filler)

Major:
Heroic throw: Heroic throw applies a stack of sunder.
Shield wall: Shield wall cooldown increases by 2 mins but it reduces a lot more damage (60% instead of 40%)
Long charge: charge range increased
You might want to glyph for cleave for better AE threat. Thunderclap (increases range) is another possibility but I’ve avoided that because of issues with breaking CC.

Minor:

Berserker rage: adds 5 rage whenever you use it. Handy for emergency rage generation

Battle/ Command/ Demo — increase range and duration of shouts. Pick whichever.

Warriors do however have the best named glyph in the game which is “glyph of bloody healing”, sadly it’s for fury though.

Rotation/ Priority

Very similar to usual except with less heroic strike. That is to say, protection uses a priority attack system and not a fixed rotation. I’m sure as we all get more practice we’ll get a feel for where it’s worth trying to fit HS in but generally use it when you have a full rage bar.

Shield Slam –> HS –> Revenge -> Devastate (single target)

Shockwave->Thunderclap-> Cleave (AE) (if you use blood and thunder you’ll want to weave rend in as well. Remember if you have thunderstruck you can stack the thunderclaps for more of a shockwave buff.)

Rage — shouts now give rage. Demo shout also still has some threat attached so you can shout and then charge for some starting rage. I like the berserker rage glyph for some extra emergency rage too.

Stats and Reforging: If you’re raiding it will probably be worth indulging in some reforging (if needed) to cap out expertise and hit. If you’re not, I wouldn’t bother, all the equipment will shortly be moot anyway. I haven’t done any reforging myself to gain extra mastery — not inclined to mutilate my gear until some number crunchers have worked out the optimal strategy first.

(You’ll notice that I have zero interest in gear optimisation but that I do quite enjoy experimenting with new talents and specs on my own. That’s my gameplay preference, and I’m glad for anyone who prefers things the other way around because I can steal their gear cribsheets later.)

So you want to be a raid tank in the next expansion?

As the dust from patch 4.0 settles, general consensus is that Blizzard have succeeded in making healing more fun, casters seem to be enjoying themselves and tanks are … having to work a bit harder.

This is very likely to mean that many people who tanked during this expansion will decide to pick a different role for Cataclysm, maybe a less stressful one that doesn’t require you to fight your whole group/ raid for much of the time. It may be that raid tank slots will be less hotly contested in future than they have been in Wrath because raiders will be so happy to have found a warm body with a shield/bearform/whatever DKs have that they’ll take anyone. But don’t count on it.

If you are one of the few, the proud, the crazy who are dedicated to assuming the role of raid tank, then you’ve come to the right place. Because the time to start your run at a raid tank spot is not after the expansion has launched (although you can do that too), it’s right now.

Spinks’ 3 Axioms of Raid Tanking

1. Prove that you like tanking and are good at it by … tanking. A lot. Use LFG to practice extreme tanking (because frankly if you can do it there, you can do it anywhere.) But for networking, focus on tanking for guild groups or PUGs who gather on trade chat. Any time anyone calls for a tank for a heroic (or raid if you are geared for it) and you have time, volunteer to go help them out. When the expansion drops, go help random people out with group quests in your zone; tank anything and tank everything with anyone and everyone. (A bonus to this is that you will get pretty good at your class and spec and pretty confident at your role too.)

This strategy works best for people who can put some time in online but even if you just have an hour or so, it’s enough time to yell, “Tank looking for friendly/ competent dps and healer to run heroics.” (You don’t actually have to invite everyone who replies, you can filter by whichever means you like.)

You’d be surprised at how many people will remember your name. Remember, tanks are scarce. Many players are also convinced that tanks are mean. So having access to a friendly, competent tank who likes tanking is going to get you onto a lot of friends lists. People looking for tanks for their raid groups WILL want to know that you like tanking.

2. Prove that you are reliable. If you do find a regular group, treat it like any group you actually care about. Turn up regularly, apologise in advance if you can’t make it, act like you give a damn.

3. Let people know that you’re interested in finding a raid tank spot for Cataclysm. People are not psychic. If you find a group you like, or people who seem cool, drop into conversation that you’re hoping to tank for raids. Again, if all other things are equal, people will remember when the tank they were counting on decides that they’d rather play their hunter and the backup tank switches to another server for PvP reasons.

On the front loaded nature of expansions

I have a post half written with some advice on getting to be a raid tank in Cataclysm. It’s based on my experiences with  raid tanking in Wrath, with some guesses about how the next expansion might differ. And while drafting it out, I learned a few things about how I feel about expansions.

First comer advantage

One assumption that flew out at me was the being there right at the beginning of the expansion. It’s much easier to get involved if you are at max level and ready to raid when most of the raid groups are still forming and still recruiting.

At the start of an expansion, the social structures are likely to be in flux. People are making plans right now, but even the best of plans can crumble when hit by reality. People will change their minds, they’ll decide they prefer a different alt or spec to the one they were planning, they’ll get seduced into different raid groups by charismatic raid leaders. It takes awhile for that to all work itself out, and that’s the easiest time to get involved.

Aside from the social side of things being less fixed, at the beginning of an expansion you get to learn the content alongside everyone else. In the past players have been more tolerant of mistakes or learning wipes, less critical of gear levels, more willing to work together. So even though the content itself was relatively harder, it was easier to learn through experience.

Of course, in the past we didn’t also have the random dungeon finder. It will be very interesting to see how that affects instance runs at the start of Cataclysm. I predict that again there will be an early advantage – the type of player who levels quickly (quickly here just means within the first month or so) are the keener ones who may also be the more hardcore. Or it may be that people will stick to guild runs and LFG will be a lonely place for awhile.

Front loaded content

Part of the issue is that an expansion contains a large amount of new content in a single push. All the new zones and levelling content as well as multiple 5 man instances leads to a lot of learning. First comers will have plenty of time to do this before the first content patch. Players who level later can feel pushed through the initial expansion content so that they can get to the current endgame. They’ll never get the content pace perfect. Hardcore players will always push through quickly and get bored. Later players will always feel either pushed into the endgame too quickly or else frustrated because the endgame is so inaccessible.

But for a brief shining moment at the beginning of a new expansion, the endgame is reset and everyone is on the same level. Lots of people want to buy crafted gear again. Levelling zones are busy and there is plenty of interest in group quests. People are chattier. It won’t last for long, maybe a few months, but once the moment is gone, it’s gone until the next expansion.

I have wondered before if there’s a way to stretch out this honeymoon period. But all I could think was to drip feed new players into the content a bunch at a time, which won’t make anyone happy. Or release smaller expansions more frequently, which would frustrate endgame players who prefer to relax into an endgame mode rather than having to relearn everything once a year.

Ultimately the only long term solution is more horizontal content, rather than more vertical, which would reduce the effect that progression in one area of the game would have in the rest. And in the very longterm? Maybe progression itself is one of the sacred cows that will have to be sacrificed ..