2 MMO assumptions that are getting flaky these days …

I am really enjoying levelling characters in SWTOR. One thing I personally get from levelling characters in a new game is a reminder about things I like or dislike about diku type MMOs. I like that when levelling, no one really cares about your spec or gear as long as you are helping the team (in PvP) or able to complete the instance (in PvE). And of course if you are soloing, no one else needs to care anyway. So it’s all about you figuring the game out yourself and trying out different strategies/ builds to see which you prefer. You are free to experiment.

I recall that back in the dawn of my personal history in MMOs, I happily ran PvE and PvP on the same character in (mostly) the same gear and if it was sub-optimal then I never noticed and never got called on it. When I first heard of people keeping multiple sets of gear (I think it was druids in WoW beta), I thought they were obsessive min-maxing crazies. That’s how unintuitive that playstyle seemed to me in those days.

Even in vanilla WoW when I was priest officer in a 40 man raid guild, when I personally was taking things a bit more seriously, I knew fine well that at least one of my healers raided in shadow spec because they couldn’t be arsed to respec after PvP (note: this was before the inspect function allowed you to check other people’s talent trees).  I could have called them on it, but we were doing fine and it was more useful that they turned up regularly. We cleared AQ40 with that team, incidentally. The main thing was that they switched into healing gear when they were healing, and that seemed to make the difference.

1. What if I don’t want to play the same character in PvE and PvP

I like playing melee/ tanks in PvE, but I prefer playing healers/ ranged in PvP. There, I admitted it.  I find playing ranged is just flat out easier, and playing healers in PvP is something I learned back in DaoC.

So the MMO eat-all-you-can buffet, wide-variety-of-content model doesn’t work too well for me in this respect. I like my Sith Warrior, but I don’t want to PvP on her because I’m not finding it fun. It’s not that I’m determined never to queue for a warfront with her ever again, it’s just that the PvP gearing requirements need you to grind this stuff and I don’t like the playstyle enough to do that. Clearly it won’t matter if I never PvP – I’m not a completist, I don’t care about the achievements and titles. If I miss out on PvP gear then I miss out on it.

I just don’t like that I have to choose between my preferred PvE type character and preferred PvP type at character creation. Sure, I could have picked a different class, but I’m finding the baseline assumption that at the beginning of the game you’ll be able to make that choice to be irksome.

In comparison, the space flight minigame is independent of your character class, so not dependent on your choices at the beginning of the game. I find that a more appealing model. I don’t want more flexible respec options, or complex Rift-like multiple talent trees to choose from, I just want to be able to earn PvP tokens for my account (ie. to buy PvP stuff for my warrior IF the PvP gear happens to be better for PvE than what I have) on a character I’d prefer to PvP on.

If that was in place, the PvP game could actually be even more separate and more developed from the PvE one. (The goal of having an integrated PvE/PvP game fits better for sandboxes anyway, once you have all your PvP taking place in instances then they might as well be treated as separate minigames.)

2. Stop tying the stats to the gear

There may be players out there who absolutely adore having bags full of gear and having to laboriously click through the whole set to change any time they change spec/ function in the game.

I do not.

Even with WoW wardrobe-like addons that make changing gear a one-click proposal, I resent all the time it takes to set up. I don’t have an objection to collecting the stuff (although it’s not my favourite thing in the world either), but the faffing around with inventories is not a high point of the genre. It would in fact make me happier if I could switch spec or role without having to touch my gear.

Or in other words, I wish devs would stop tying the stats to the gear so tightly. Either use stats that can apply equally to any role that class could fill, or else find some more creative way to tie the stats to the character. Let me change gear for cosmetic reasons only (ie. more similar to real life).

[LOTRO] Levelling an alt, and in which I discover tasks

ScreenShot00168Sunset in the Lonelands.  It’s always been a very pretty game …

I have been spending time with LOTRO recently; I can’t really explain why but it is my go-to game when I just want to chill out. Everything in this game seems to happen at a slower pace, questing is slower, crafting is slower, people wave as they ride past you … If WoW is a busy anonymous metropolis, then LOTRO is a country town where people just live at a slower pace.

My Warden is the first alt I’ve gotten up to level 30. I feel as though I’m on a roll, temporarily at least. It can’t be fair that my Warden gets to jet around the world (several teleport-like abilities that aren’t on a timer) where everyone else has to take the long way round, but it is fun. The class also has a very fun core combat mechanic which is based on using combinations of base skills to make combos that produce different results (ie. self HoT, heavy strike, buff to defensive abilities, etc). And because she’s a hobbit, she also gets a toned down version of burglar stealth as a racial, which is handy for sneaking past nasties if you are careful.

LOTRO itself is not really very alt friendly. There’s nothing stopping you from creating alts, but there are mechanics which encourage you to go deep into your characters, rather than rattle them up to max level via PUGs and have them outfitted in under a week. If you are a perfectionist, you can work on multiple different virtues which are levelled via a variety of exploration, quest, and killing grinds in every different zone in the game. Or you can spend more time on your crafting skills. Or work on those skirmish points. Or settle into a purely questing mindset, or focus on the epic storyline quests. Or grind a level appropriate rep, if the reputation based recipes or mount catches your eye. You probably get the picture: it’s a game which offers a lot of options, especially to levelling players. All of them are based on core MMO gameplay (so it’s not the game for anyone looking for something revolutionary) but to my mind it’s probably the strongest old school/ classic MMO on the market, beating out EQ2 due to having such a strong and consistent gameworld.

Levelling has been interesting because since this really is the first alt I’ve had at this level, many of the zones and quests I’m checking out are ones I literally haven’t seen for years (I levelled my burglar when the game came out.) Plus of course newer zones such as Evendim, and Forochel (which is one of my goals in the future.)

I have a permanent sub so I’m not able to really comment on the F2P side of things. Occasionally it intrudes into gameplay, “You have reached your task limit for the day, click here to buy more tasks in the cash shop,” but mostly it’s become background noise. Some of the integration works especially well. If you look at the cosmetic clothing screen, next to each item is a button for the cash shop for that clothing slot. If you click, it will bring up the selection of cosmetic items for that slot which are available to buy for cash (which is a small subset of all the cosmetics that are available via play.) It looks and feels very much like shopping for clothes in an online shop and makes it very easy to ‘try on’ the cosmetic gear to see whether it matches what you already have.

As part of the permanent membership, I get some free cash shop points every month and since I haven’t used these, that all adds up to a large wodge of spare points to spend. Turbine really do need to encourage permies to use up some of these points, otherwise they won’t be able to get any more actual cash out of us, and I think there is a lot of curiosity as to how much they will charge in points for the next expansion.

Tasks: Or what to do with your trash drops

Tasks are new since I last levelled an alt. All the main towns now have a bulletin board which offers tasks to level-appropriate characters. The tasks involve gathering trash drops from the local mobs, which you will probably be killing anyway if you do the local quests.

But intriguingly, it doesn’t matter whether you pick up the task before or after killing the mob. So if you roll into town with your bags full of slimy ooze, sharp claws, and patches of leathery skin and find a task that matches the trash, you can pick it up and hand it in immediately. If you still have any of your trash drops left, you can even repeat the task until you run into your daily task limit.

This is very close to the Bears Bears Bears offer in WAR, in which players were promised that if a quest giver wanted you to kill some mobs and you’d just killed them before accepting the quest, the quest giver would recognise that fact.

The main downside is that bag space in LOTRO is a precious commodity and so you can’t really wander around with unlimited amounts of goo, ooze, skin, feathers, etc just on the offchance you run into a relevant task board at your level. But it does feel a bit like a wandering game of snap where you roll into town and see if the contents of your bags match up to any of the task offers before selling up.

[WoW] Thoughts on levelling an alt, and poor Tyrande never had a chance

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Silithus was always empty, even back in the day …

I decided to resub to Warcraft for a couple of months after the last patch, I had some time due to the Summer, was curious to see the Firelands, and it’s nice to hang out with my guildies. I don’t expect to stay when the sub is up – it’s been fun but I don’t have the urge to do endgame any more. It may be that WoW will always be the game now for me that I go back to briefly when there is new content.

So one of the things I decided to do was level an alt. There were several low level revamped zones I hadn’t seen, and I was curious to see how the game played these days at lower levels.

So here’s a few notes on my findings, in list form:

  1. Some of the lower level zones are brilliantly well imagined. At least on par with the Cataclysm zones and probably with more engaging storylines and NPCs. You can tell a lot of effort was expended here, I hope people find time to go check it out. My favourite low level zones so far (as horde) are: Darkshore, Southern Barrens, Stonetalon, Thousand Needles, Silverpine + Hillsbrad, Badlands, and the Plaguelands. The higher level Azeroth zones, not so much.
  2. The levelling curve is off in strange and interesting ways, you can outlevel some zones by questing even without any heirloom gear or guild perks. Don’t expect to be able to keep up with crafting easily either, you’ll need to either spend extra time farming or buy materials from the auction house because the streamlined crafting that applies post-Cataclysm hasn’t been retroactively fitted to lower level crafting. ie. If you’re new, stick with gathering skills and expect to do a few extra circuits of some zones to keep them roughly up to where you are.
  3. The Goblin starting area is far better executed than the Worgen one (which is very on rails, even for WoW). Plus Worgen actually lose their starter zone to the enemy at the end so you’ll never see it again. Goblins lose theirs too, but get a shiny new capital city to explore and a whole level 12-20 zone with fun new goblinish quests.  Worgen get told to go help the night elves, “… and by the way you are now living in a tree.”
  4. Instance groups are much the same as ever, most are fine. The trend is for players to communicate less and less though. It seems far more likely for dps to go nuts pulling extra packs or for tanks not to wait for healers to drink. My suspicion is that the recent threat changes will eventually mean that there are more tanks and fewer healers – larger pulls without any extra survivability means more healing. The big problem with dps pulling unexpectedly is not the size of the pulls but that people often aren’t aware of any trash special abilities (eg. silence or fear) or reasons why you might not want to just grab everything in sight.
  5. Priests are fun, and Discipline is great. It’s a nice mix of situational buffs, heals, instants, group heals, and powerful single target heals.
  6. As a healer, you can pretty much get instant queues in Outland. I did a couple of quests to upgrade gear but other than that I’ve been sitting in Shattrath. Maybe this is the way of the future – sitting in a city and waiting for your instance/ PvP queue to come up – but I loved the world areas, it’s just that I have already spent years wandering around them.
  7. I’m glad I was resubbed for a few weeks before our guild meet. It’s great to meet people in real life who you know online and it gave me a chance to meet some of the guys who had been more active after I left.

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I had forgotten how cool the sky was in Outland …

We forget that Night Elves are supposed to be matriarchal

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Blizzard have been posting a series of short stories about the WoW faction leaders on their website. They’ve been fun.  (For my money, the Goblin one has been the best so far.) The latest in the series is about Tyrande, the Night Elf priestess who is also her faction leader, technically at least.

It has been controversial because the focus of the story is equally on Malfurion (her husband) who has also been taking a major role in game in the Firelands story and dailies. You might be excused for thinking that he was the important one and she was just arm candy. The writing is fine, but it would have been nice to have read about the badass female character as she was portrayed pre-WoW (or at least about why she changed and possibly even grew as a character).

I thought it was amusing then when seeing Tyrande and Malfurion together in game, as per the screenie, to see how much larger he is in person. He’s almost twice her size, which is a trick used in WoW to indicate that an NPC is a) more important and b) likely to be the target of a raid.

Still, the reason Night Elf society was matriarchal was because so many of the male druids were away (for thousands of years) in the Emerald Dream, so now that they have returned, there’s no reason not to switch back. It’s just a shame that this wasn’t reflected in the story, even just a little.

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

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(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.

[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

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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] Racing other players

One of the things that happens when a lot of players are going after the same objective, whether it’s a quest mob or a crafting node or anything of that ilk, is that people tend to get more competitive.

In WoW at the moment, if you log on at peak times on a busy server, you’ll often be waiting around with other players for a quest mob to (re) spawn. And people handle this in different ways.

I’ve played games in the past where players politely queued. Sometimes people will turn it into a race and see who can target and hit the mob first when it appears. Sometimes people will start inviting everyone into a group so that everyone can share the kill (this is the smart way to proceed really). On a PvP server, there’s often a bloody killfest to sort out priorities.

So if someone invites you to a group when waiting for a boss to spawn, accept the invite.

I was more amused last night when we were dogpiling on some mob whose name I forget, and one of the alliance foolishly turned on their PvP flag. (Argent Dawn is a PvE server so you can’t attack other players unless they do that, but as soon as you do you will get flagged too.) In short notice, everyone in the vicinity was flagged for PvP and the alliance got slaughtered. Then once the numbers were thinned so that the remaining people could actually see each other, we invited the other hordies to a group and got the mob jointly.

But despite all the talk about sharing kills and horde powah, I have an admission to make. I kind of like racing other people to mining nodes and quest NPCs. Especially when I can charge in and tag something quickly.

But shamans and paladins – when you target the ground area with an AE DoT? That’s totally cheating :P

Screenshot of the Day

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I may be the only player who doesn’t like the worgen starting zones. Too much “go here, kill 10 x, now go here, kill 10 y” for me – the goblin area is much more fun.

But darn if they don’t get the most amazing looking staves.

WoW: the new levelling experience

When the random dungeon finder was first introduced to the game, I described it as feeling like a sugar rush. OMG! Dungeon! Zoom zoom. Quick, don’t stop. Moar dungeon! No waiting around!

The new levelling experience feels like a concentrated version of the same thing. It’s fast paced, a lot of the old pacing elements (like travel time) have been cut back or removed, and you’re moving quickly between one awesome story and the next. Blizzard had said that they were keen to bring the Northrend experience back to Azeroth and that is what they have done. There are vehicles, cut scenes, cool storylines covering entire zones, interaction with NPCs, and lots of it.

The lower level game has also been tuned for newbies. It’s intended that a new player, without much experience of MMOs and possibly who prefers to solo should be able to work through the questlines and easily level enough for the next zone in the series.

So if you are whining about how easy it is, then maybe you aren’t the target audience. Maybe you have even forgotten what it was like to panic every time a mob attacked you, freak out any time you thought you might be lost, and not really understand how the genre works yet. Sit back and enjoy the ride, the stories and quests are still fun and we get our harder content in a week or two.

This means that anyone who does know the game, who does do instances and/ or battlegrounds will level very quickly. Even without heirlooms, my test hunter has been almost outlevelling content in her zones, and I preferred not to skip any because why miss the new stuff? Having said that, the warchief’s command boards in the capital city do a great job of directing you to a suitable zone for your level if you do get ahead and aren’t sure where to go next.

I think this does leave the question that if WoW (at lower levels) is too easy for experienced MMOers who like this style of game, where else should they be heading? Rumour has it that Blizzard’s next MMO is to be a MMOFPS so that will have zilch for people who don’t like shooters. I’d imagine you guys should keep an eye on Guild Wars 2, since I’m not sure Bioware is going for a difficulty based approach on The Old Republic.

Blizzard have obviously noted this as an issue, because they responded today by nerfing instance xp (1-60). So clearly they are committed to balancing world quest xp for newbies, and instances are an optional extra. There was a time when the instances were the absolute pinnacle of WoW, the one thing where Blizzard blew everyone else out of the water. They’re still fine (I loved the new Shadowfang Keep) but the emphasis now is on the questlines.

Anyhow, I rolled a new forsaken hunter to check out the undead areas. It still feels odd that I have to roll a new alt just to find out what’s going on with my own faction but hey.

Welcome to the new girl

My screenshots of Phedra are a bit patchy. My excuse is … I was having too much fun. I’ve tried levelling a hunter before and got rather bored of it, so thumbs up to Blizzard for the redesign. I’m loving my hunter at the moment,  messing around with all my traps in Survival spec. It’s also great fun in PvP.

I didn’t use any heirloom armour for this experiment, just an heirloom gun.

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Yup, it isn’t just LOTRO which features farm animals. These are some sheep in Gilneas. What was I doing in Gilneas?, you ask. Just an important mission behind enemy lines, don’t worry about it.

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(Hope the captions on this are readable). I commented earlier this week that the forsaken theme has changed a bit, less gothic, more ick. Silverpine (level 10-20 zone) is more of a war story in which you aid your faction leaders to put down a worgen incursion, but it isn’t easy. There has been some brilliant work put into this zone, and along the way the character gets to learn more about the history of the forsaken and possibly a few hints about their future too.

The picture on the right here is from what will quickly become one of the most loved/ hated quests in the game: Welcome to the Machine. Don’t read the comments unless you want the spoilers but this quest plays on the metagame and will amuse experienced MMO players. It’s like those double entendre jokes that are put into pantomines to keep the parents amused. I have no idea what a newbie would make of it. (More on this one in a future post.)

And you will later encounter the featured NPCs again in Hillsbrad as you keep questing. Warning: Hillsbrad also features one of the grossest quests I’ve done, which involved killing infected bears and harvesting spider eggs from their backs – rather than looting the mob as usual, you actually click on the eggs. (It triggered my grossout response, anyhow.)

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Hillsbrad is also the location of the Peacebloom vs Ghouls quests. If you’d been lulled by the ease of the quests up until this point, this is going to come as a shock because it’s quite tricky even for PvZ veterans. The singing sunflower is however totally adorable, if perhaps a tad inappropriate for an undead character.

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Oh, and I also got to ride on the back of one of those cool undead drakes that they gave to people for the ICC achievements.

The demise of the guild crafter

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Crafting skills were designed into games like WoW, EQ2, LOTRO etc to keep crafters busy and encourage players to interact. That’s why players are limited in how many tradeskills they can take on each character, to force some trading and interaction.

Enforced interaction has never been popular with the playerbase, but has given us some great community payoff. For example, in DaoC, crafting was such a dull grind that most players didn’t bother. The ones who did were very likely to be adopted as guild crafters, supported by the guild with materials in return for crafting items for the guild. Although I always liked this as an idea, it never really worked brilliantly (especially in games that didn’t feature mailboxes and auction houses). What if the guild crafter wasn’t around when you needed them? What if they were *gasp* busy? What if creating a masterpiece item took several hours in real time and a variable, unpredictable amount of materials, and you were tenth in the queue to have yours made?

Crafters felt wanted, but also stressed and hassled. Players felt frustrated. It was definitely an interesting experiment, but no great surprise that later games made things easier.

Now it is almost irrelevant that tradeskills are limited, because high level players often have alts with all the tradeskills that they need (this is as true in EQ2 as in less crafting friendly games). They just mail items around between their crafters when they need something done.

I wonder how much of a niche there can be for different crafters at endgame if bored players will level one of each craft anyway. Is it possible to make crafting itself into a more fun minigame, as opposed to the gathering/collecting side of levelling the skill.

Do you use guild crafters? Or do you prefer to level crafting alts yourself?