SOE joins Sony security-breach party, legendary weapons – good or bad?, and why can’t we have more villains like Loki?

thor-photo-tom-hiddleston3

Yes, another day, another gratuitous Thor link/screenshot. (ps. I loved this film.)

Tom Hiddleston’s turn as Loki is probably one of the best things about Thor, and this is where (after Marvel et al screwed up Doctor Doom in the Fantastic 4 films) we finally get to see a proper charismatic personal nemesis with some emotional depth and an agenda of their own in action as a supervillain. He’s also remarkably sympathetic even when at his most evil.

And this makes me wonder whether the next step after personal companions in MMOs will be the personal nemesis. Champions Online did make use of this idea but I was never able to figure out whether they’d actually managed to implement villains you’d love to hate as opposed to just recurring (and annoying) NPCs.

It also reminded me of why WoW just wasn’t ever going to be the same after Arthas died in Wrath. Maybe he was never going to quite be a /personal/ nemesis but he hit the right notes of being personal to many characters backgrounds (definitely so if you played forsaken like me), emotionally flawed, occasionally sympathetic if you rolled that way, etc. He was Warcraft’s Loki and no enormous dragon can replace that, however badass.

On another (but related) note, I saw a mage in Rift with a helm that looks just like Loki’s in the film, gonzo horns and all. It must be mine.

Another WoW expansion, another legendary weapon

One of the new parts of upcoming patch 4.2 is a new legendary weapon in Warcraft. If you are one of the two readers who doesn’t know, legendaries have become part of the WoW scene since vanilla, are class/ role specific and are always associated in part with raid achievements.

This time around the legendary is a caster staff which in addition to having good stats, will also let the user turn into a blue dragon (a nice perk). And of course, although it takes a whole guild to achieve a legendary, only one person can wield it.

This is also the first time that a 10 man raid will have been able to complete a legendary item. And with the increasing emphasis on guild achievements and rewards (your guild mates get a new non-combat pet when the legendary is completed) I wonder how many people are re-evaluating how well the group rewards compare to the individual rewards.

More and more the legendary is looking less like a perk for the raid team and more like a reward for being able to persuade 9 saps into helping you get a neato item. It’s a very different landscape from the time when helping your tank put together a Thunderfury would actively and clearly be a boon to your entire raid effort for the rest of the expansion. It will be interesting to see how much of the legendary can theoretically be put together solo, assuming access to PUG raids.

Having said that, it sounds as though there’s plenty of cool lore behind the legendary quest/s which hopefully the rest of the team should be able to experience also. Obviously only raid teams which have cleared the whole of the first tier content are invited, so that excludes the majority of players.

Bad luck, SOE players/ subscribers

Just in case anyone thought that SOE players (eg. EQ2. Vanguard, Free Realms, PotBS) had dodged the Sony information leaking bullet following the PSN disaster, think again.

All the SOE/Station sites were taken down for a while over the weekend and then returned with a security notice:

We are today advising you that the personal information you provided us in connection with your SOE account may have been stolen in a cyber-attack. Stolen information includes, to the extent you provided it to us, the following: name, address (city, state, zip, country), email address, gender, birthdate, phone number, login name and hashed password.”

I’d change my credit card also.

Dealing with Shadowmourne

With the latest WoW patch comes a glimmer of a new legendary weapon.

Legendary weapons in WoW have a long and ever-changing history, but have always been some kind of badge of pride for hardcore raid groups. They have also always been reserved for the largest raid groups in the game (40 man only in vanilla, 25 man in TBC and Wrath).

In vanilla WoW, they initially required rare raid drops, raid dropped materials which didn’t have many other uses, and lots of farming. Later in the game, the Staff of Atiesh tweaked the formula, requiring the deaths of the toughest raid bosses in the game, and a lot of raid dropped materials.

In TBC, the legendary weapons were just rare drops from the end bosses of the hardest raid instances.  Raid guilds would still be required to farm the raids for awhile and get lucky, and would still have the challenge of deciding who should wield the weapon, but the notion of collecting lots of pieces was dropped.

In Wrath, collecting lots of bits from raid bosses is the new black. Val’anyr required rare drops from Ulduar bosses as well as some hard mode kills. And what we know of the latest Icecrown legendary weapon – a two handed axe (spoilers behind the link) – it will require not only collection of special drops from bosses, but also a large number of crafting material drops. Guilds will have to decide whether to prioritise crafting items for lots of players, or saving them for a legendary weapon or two.

I’ve come to think that legendary weapons are deliberately designed as social challenges in Warcraft. We don’t get many of this type of challenge in the game these days, because it goes against the principle of greater accessibility. Grabbing one of these weapons needs the dedication and cooperation of a 25 man raid guild that is capable of hard modes over a period of many weeks. It isn’t trivial.

It also requires the guild to determine who gets the weapon, and when, and how without causing so much drama that the raid splits up before the weapon is able to be forged. That’s the real challenge of legendaries, and that’s why they are unlikely to be given out in a 10 man raid. You couldn’t make the social side challenging enough with only ten people, most of whom wouldn’t be competing for the same weapon anyway.

So, if you are raiding Wrath in a 25 man group, have you decided yet how to deal with the new legendary? Will it be a guild breaker for you? Have you considered that it’s best in slot for Death Knight tanks as well as melee dps who wield two handers?

A blast from the past! And why we won’t get any more legendary tanking weapons..

One of my guildies has finally finished collecting the pieces he needs to build Thunderfury, Blessed Blade of the Windseeker (don’t try saying that when you are drunk).

This was THE iconic tanking weapon during vanilla WoW. It was one of the few legendary weapons in the game, it looked great, and the special proc produced a massive amount of threat — at least at the time. Not only that but carrying a Thunderfury meant that were an important enough person to your guild that 39 other people had decided to help you get the weapon. If you were a raider, you may well have known the names of all the toons on your server who had a Thunderfury. And there likely would not have been many.

My guildie is really just getting the weapon for kicks now. It’s been outdated for years (they actually had to nerf it in TBC because it was better than some of the level 70 tanking epics). But it still looks great, and it’s still pretty meaningful to anyone who was around back in the day.

The shared topic this week on Blog Azeroth is Memories of the Old Days. So I thought this would be a good excuse to show off about how my first raiding guild got a Thunderfury for our main tank, and it also shows how the core of raid design thinking has changed since then. Not only in WoW but in MMOs in general.

Rise, Thunderfury!

180px-Thunderfury,_Blessed_Blade_of_the_Windseeker

The first thing you had to do to build your own Thunderfury was to acquire two rare drops from bosses in Molten Core, and this is back when it was a 40 man raid. They were called the Bindings of the Windseeker. To give you an idea of how rare they were at the time, it was not unusual for a guild to have been running MC for a year and still not to have both bindings.

Only after one person had both bindings could they combine them and then start the next stage of the quest, which required a drop from the last boss in MC (fortunately this one was a 100% drop). After that, you needed 10 Elementium Bars. Now, Elementium only drops from mobs in Blackwing Lair (the next raid instance, also 40 man at the time) and to get to them you need to have killed the first boss in BWL.

Why is that relevant? Because Razorgore, the first boss, was a notorious guild killer. The fight was geniunely a step up from anything your guild would have seen in MC and because it involved 40 players and vast amounts of mobs, disconnects were also common. After you’d killed him, you could sweep into the next room and try to grab as many of the little goblins as possible … while they were running away. If you were lucky, some would drop Elementium Ore. But then there was another problem … you had to smelt it and none of your blacksmiths would have learned that from their trainer.

Nope, the trainer for smelting Elementium was deeper inside Blackwing Lair. About three bosses deeper in, to be precise, and wouldn’t you know it, the very next boss Vaelastrasz was also a noted guild killer. (BWL is a great raid instance but the difficulty is front loaded). Assuming you got him down, and Brrodlord and Firemaw too, you could clear your way to the goblin who knew the secrets of Elementium. Then one of your priests could mind control him and use him to teach elementium smelting to any of your blacksmiths who wanted to learn.

This is the point at which everyone learns that each bar of Elementium requires 10 Arcanite Bars as well as the Elementium ore and various MC drops. An Arcanite Bar can be transmuted by an alchemist but each one requires one arcane crystal, which is a rare mining drop from thorium nodes. So someone needed 100 arcanite bars to make their Thunderfury, it’s a lot of gathering.

There may have been people mad enough to do it all themselves but usually the guild would help out and people would donate crystals and spare transmutes at this point.

When you finally have all those bits, the last part of the quest is a mild anticlimax. You have to go kill a world boss, and it isn’t very hard.

Back in the day, my guild was the first alliance guild on our server to complete the Thunderfury quest – there were a couple of more progressed guilds but they’d been unlucky with the bindings drops. We were unbelievably proud of the achievement and that we’d been able to get this thing for our main tank. He was incredibly proud too. Lots of people had helped with the mining and transmuting. Everyone had helped with the raid bosses and on the progression through MC and BWL that we needed. I think I did the mind control on the elementium-teaching goblin.

And all I have to remember it by now is this crappy screenshot (what was I thinking?) Anyhow, this is a shot of the summoned elemental prince that you have to kill for the last stage of the quest.

underfury

I don’t think any dev would require that amount of coordinated effort from a large guild to get a single weapon again. In a sense, it’s just crazy. And to put a tanking weapon that good into the game is effectively disadvantaging any group that doesn’t have access to it.

Because raids are so dependent on their tanks, you have to be a little careful with what upgrades you give to them. Thunderfury was an amazing weapon and I’m proud that my guildie was able to get all the pieces for his – it took a huge amount of dedication even though the fights are a lot easier now. But please never do that again.

Handing out the legendaries

Amongst all the information we’ve been seeing on patch 3.1 are hints of
a legendary weapon. Legendaries in WoW have been rare items, often with particularly good bonuses or abilities, that have required people to not only kill raid bosses but also enjoy the favour of the luck gods. They have also tended to be best in slot for the lucky recipient for the length of the whole expansion.

From what we’ve seen of this new legendary, it looks as though it will be a healing mace. It also looks at though it will require the would-be wielder to collect multiple fragments before they can assemble their prize, which are likely to be rare drops from Ulduar bosses (probably in 25 man mode, although it would be nice to have a 10 man version also), This sounds to be a similar scheme by which people picked up the Staff of Atiesh, which was a legendary from Vanilla WoW. Atiesh needed not only 40 fragments but also quest items that dropped from two of the hardest bosses in the game at the time. We’ll likely see something similar here.

I’m glad for our healers, but mostly just relieved that it isn’t a tanking piece so I can sit politely back on the sidelines and not get involved with any decisions about who gets to collect our fragments. Because if a raid wants to get the weapon into play as quickly as possible, they will need to nominate one person to collect fragments.

Most raids, probably including mine, will just nominate a raid leader (if they have one who is a healer). After all, they’re likely to be at every raid by definition and if you’re going to reward anyone, it might as well be the person who puts in the most work. I do remember that my old guild did this with Atiesh and no one else was particularly upset. I also remember that long after the event, we did agree privately that it would also have been fine to just let people blow all their DKP on the first fragment if they really wanted it. At the end of the day, you just want the thing to be in the raid and being used so as long as the recipient is wiling to keep showing up to grab bits, you’re golden.

With the healers though, it is more difficult. We do rotate healers, and effectively saying that one raid spot is always reserved for whoever is collecting the legendary will affect the others. So as well as not getting the ultra-cool weapon, they’re also less likely to be raiding at all.

I do anticipate drama. But it’s really not the worst thing in the world to not be working towards a legendary. For one thing, you don’t have to feel bad for taking a week off if you need to. For another, there will be other healing weapons in Ulduar, and you’ll probably get those upgrades long before whoever is collecting the legendary mace. And lastly, if you aren’t in a fairly hardcore guild, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to do the hard modes that the legendary will probably require.

Sometimes the best answer is to look past the shiny and take the best upgrade for the least effort, The legendary is unlikely to be it.

LOTRO: living the fanfic dream?

Lord of the Rings Online is a game that you either love or hate. This will largely revolve around how you feel about Tolkein’s world. If you love it, you’ll put up with the duller parts of the experience and revel in the fantastic parts. If not, you’ll spend a lot of time being bored and wondering what the fuss was about.

It’s an MMO that you have to treat as an experience as much as a game (ie. some of the gameplay leaves a lot to be desired, of which more later.)

Quick LOTRO update:

My runekeeper reached the dizzy heights of level 21.

On the bright side, she does seem to have come on in leaps and bounds as a soloer. still not great but I feel able to handle 2-3 mobs of my own level, and either win or survive long enough to get away. I still like the general class design but find some of the abilities a tad weak, I don’t really like the amount of time it takes to switch attunement from healing to damage. It’s really designed for use in groups, not soloing (a mob will probably be dead before you’re fully attuned for damage).

On the downside, she is now deeply ensconced into questing in the Lone Lands. It’s pretty dull, to say the least. This is your grandmother’s style of questing. “Kill 10 Lynxes.” “Now go back and kill 10 spiders.” “Now go back and kill another 10 lynxes.” “Now we’d like you to run from one end of the zone to the other and back again.”

People in general have been very friendly, polite, and literate. It’s a game that tends to attract an older, more cooperative crowd. I’ve been offered free crafted goods, help with quests, and company while I ran from one end of the zone to the other. Even the person who asked me for help in a low level quest in a distant zone was polite about it.

Enough Lone Lands, what about Moria?

my burglar

my burglar

So, bored of the Lone Lands quests, I was nudged by my guildies to log my old burglar in and check out some of the new content. She was last seen at level 50 stuck halfway through volume 1 book 8 (if you know what that means, you are probably groaning and remembering that quest).

Harbouring painful memories of the past, I decided to ditch the old content and head straight to Rivendell to pick up on the prelude to volume 2. Note: Volume 1 covers the storyline quests for the original game, Volume 2 is expansion content.

(If anyone is interested in comparing experiences, Zubon@Kill Ten Rats has been checking out Moria also, but unlike me he wasn’t lazy and finished off volume 1 first :) )

I spoke to Elrond who remembered me, touchingly,  and sent me off to help the fellowship prepare for their journey onwards. This led to a series of one man instanced quests in which I was able to go and talk to them, get chatted up by Boromir (any time Sean, your place or mine?), and was finally invited by Elrond to come and see them leave.

It’s well written and convincing and … yes, feels as though you’re there in the film with them. Gandalf even turns to your character as they leave and says that he wishes  you could come also, but they could only take 9. (Silly? Well, maybe a bit, but you’d have to have a heart of stone to be a Tolkein fan and not be even a little charmed at the conceit.)

There is no other game that offers this kind of experience. For all the great things that Wrath does right (and there are many), you feel like an adjunct to the NPCs. In LOTRO, even though you actually ARE an adjunct to the NPCs, you feel as though you personally are part of the story.

The experience is then somewhat dulled because you’re back to regular questing until you get to the next part of the storyline (ie. book 1). It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad.

Remember those ‘Kill 10 lynxes’ quests I was talking about in the Lone Lands? They’re back with a vengeance. And I grant a special mention to the Pembar questline that sent me back to the same half orc settlement no fewer than 5 different times, from 2 different quest hubs. Often to kill the exact same mobs again and again. That is what regular questing is like in LOTRO, with some exploring for traits thrown in.

I am very very lucky to have a wonderful sister who plays a Captain which means I didn’t have to actually ride down from Rivendell to Eregion — Captains can summon you around the world.

At any rate, I got around to book 1 which again was a brilliant, immersive and well narrated experience. It involved some nicely put together instances, side quests, and again I was deeply involved in the story. The writing is simply superb. Also, when an NPC gets grabbed by a tentacle from a murky pool and tells you to run — RUN!

But the best part is that at the end, you are presented with a legendary weapon of your very own.

Say hello to my little friend

The legendary weapons that level with you are one of the big draws of this expansion. And they are utterly brilliant in concept.

Your weapon gains xp any time you kill something (I am told there are special weapon xp gaining instances at max level also). It also has traits, which are similar to glyphs in Warcraft. Each trait typically affects one of your abilities. So for example, my burglar’s dagger increases the range on one ability, increases the crit chance on another, and so on. The difference is, when your weapon goes up a level — which happens very very fast at low levels — it gets some weapon xp which you can spend to either increase the power of one of its traits or increase its base dps.

Every 10 levels, you can go and have your weapon reforged, which gives it an extra trait. You also can occasionally do quests which reward you with a scroll of naming that lets you add additional abilities to the weapon, such as extra damage to a certain type of creature or a change in the weapon’s damage type.

Suddenly, those grindy quests became a lot less dull for me. I was levelling my cool dagger! And I’m told that eventually you get to name it yourself also.

I find this legendary weapon mechanic far far more fun than it has a right to be in practice. And it is my top pick for ‘ideas that WoW will nick for its next expansion.’

So, in summary so far

I think that Lord of the Rings Online is a game of extremes. They do some things brilliantly, awesomely, incredibly well … and others are painfully lacklustre. So how you feel about the game will depend very much on:

1. Are you so entranced by the good parts that you can overlook the dull parts?

2. How much do you like Tolkein’s worldbuilding? Have you ever secretly wanted to adventure in Middle Earth and meet the NPCs from the books?

To an extent, 1 is true of most games. Just in LOTRO the great bits are so amazingly good, and the dull parts are … amazingly dull.

And now if you’ll excuse me, my dagger is just a few kills short of level 11…