[Diablo 3] Blizzard, like Atlas, try to carry the weight of the world on their servers

You have to feel for the masses of single player gamers who loaded up their shiny new copy of Diablo 3 to be met with lag, server errors, and various bugs. And this is what passes for a HALF-DECENT MMO launch.


All you need to know about this game is that it will tug mercilessly on the heartstrings of anyone who lost their heart to Diablo 2.  All the gang are back: Deckard Cain, Tyriel, a blacksmith with an annoying accent, the Skeleton King, the Butcher, and a few new additions who you’ll probably wish would shut up so that you can get on with the serious business of exploding monsters in all directions.

Sadly, it doesn’t need innovative design or gameplay to make me happy when playing a Diablo-like game and they don’t really get more Diablo-like than this, so Blizzard hit the nail on the head with that side of things. Even down to the point of Act 1 taking place in grim gothic torture chambers and Act 2 in the desert. But if you like this sort of thing, it’s good clean explody fun and before you know it, several hours have passed and you find yourself pondering which weapon combination to try next or how that new rune will work out in play, where is the next waypoint and oh please will someone shut that companion up!

It’s uncanny really, I was just getting really wound up by the templar’s gormtastic moralising and cheesy combat comments (eg. “Evil has been REBUKED!”) and thinking, “You know, what my barbarian really needs is a sleazy thief sidekick who’ll spend the whole time trying to hit on me and any female associates “ and sure enough, Blizzard obliged. OK, that wasn’t quite what I was thinking, but the scoundrel is working much better for me as a companion than the templar who was a) annoying and b) NEVER HEALED. Or if he did I didn’t notice. Admittedly the scoundrel is Captain Obvious and says things like “that looks like a hard monster!” and “Yay loot!” (paraphrased, but he does talk about loot a lot.) It’s like adventuring with a sleazy version of Hawley.

It’s a slick game, I’ve been playing a Barbarian and have abilities that let me leap into a group of mobs, swing my axes around like a cuisinart and have things go flying in all directions. Simple pleasures. It’s like a fury warrior amped up to 11 and I’m not surprised that the guy who did the superfast run through normal mode picked a Barbarian. The multiplayer game is slick too, but we haven’t tried that yet since beta due to waiting on everyone’s copy arriving.

Arb expresses how sad of a panda she is that hers hadn’t arrived yesterday in her new blog that everyone should follow (it arrived in today’s post so hoping for a happy panda post tomorrow).

There have, as mentioned above, been a fair number of server issues. I think Blizzard seems to be getting onto these quickly but they did have a stress test, they did know how many pre-orders were out there, they should have really been prepared for this. Main issues I’ve faced have been “being put on US servers automatically and only realising after my first character killed the skeleton king”, “new character on EU servers didn’t get any achievements at all”,  bit of minor lag, difficulty connecting during peak hours local. A lot of these seem better now – my partner got put on the EU servers when he installed his copy last night, when I tried the game today I was earning achievements again, the gold auction house has been turned back on etc.

Note on selecting servers: It’s Options –> Account –> Servers

So if it is bugging you, have some tea and settle in, it’ll be sorted swiftly. Clearly this doesn’t take away from the idea that you should be able to play a game you have bought, especially if you intended to play it as single player. And if those servers are offline for maintenance, then just forget it.

Tobold notes that decent items for levelling are cheap on the auction house. I think he’s right and this will continue – if you don’t want best in slot but something nicer than your drops, it’ll be cheap to buy it in the gold AH. Ignore any advice not to sell magic items to vendors, it’s entirely possible they’ll give you a better price than either a) the cost of the disenchanted materials or b) than you’d get on the auction house.


(Yeah, my Barbarian is in that screenshot somewhere.)

Blizzard have pushed forwards the storytelling aspect somewhat, experimenting in particular with giving you voiced versions of stories via journal extracts and conversation snippets with NPCs. This I think works very well if you can get past the accent issue, I enjoyed picking up bits of journal and following up on companion/ NPC conversations. I also really like getting the stories and setting in a piecewise way. The story itself is not going to win any prizes for originality or .. err.. anything else but it does the job. It’s DIABLOISH dammit. I quite like the snippets of game background and setting, however annoying the templar is as a companion (there is an unwritten rule in RPGs that templars are always annoying btw, this is also true in MMOs and applies to players in templar related guilds as well as NPCs), the templar order itself is quite intriguing.

Sadly, having gotten used to Bioware companions I keep expecting mine to be able to sell my trash loot and have involved romances. Not that I’d want to romance any of them, there are mobs to smash!

As you progress in the game the difficulty does ramp up, and the random encounters and bosses in particular can become quite interesting. Wasdstomp has some comments on one of the Act 1 bosses where I also had to pause, respec, have a look around the environment, and then go in and whip its arse. Never let it be said there’s no reward for thinking about an encounter, just a bit.

Pop Tips for the Butcher: There are two healing wells and they respawn during the fight. The fiery areas will start to glow before they actually get set on fire. And I respecced for good single target damage. 

The music is also excellent and does a grand job of setting the mood.

And lets finish on some Diablo words of wisdom:


[SWTOR] Quest of the day, companion chat, and when is a ban not a ban?


I’ve mentioned before that I love the graphical sides of being in cities or built up areas in SWTOR. In this screenshot, my Sith Warrior surveys the departures board (I assume) in Taris spaceport.

Taris is interesting in many ways, especially to anyone who remembers it from KOTOR when you encounter the planet before [spoiler alert] it is turned into an industrial wreck. This game takes place around 300 years later, and although Taris is mostly a swampy ruined wreck, it’s been interesting enough that both Republic and Empire have forces there and there are some alien settlements also. It’s not an especially pretty planet, but gives the Bioware artists more opportunities to show their chops on wrecked out industrial landscapes. And swamp.

What I found enthralling is that my class quest here could be boiled down to “find and kill four named republic generals.” That doesn’t sound too exciting, and mechanically it is exactly what your character is doing. And yet, due to the writing, the quest presentation, music, and pacing, it included some of my most memorable moments in the class story so far.

I don’t want to give too many spoilers but one questline in particular sees you furiously racing against time to unlock a safe room inside a reactor that is about to blow up, after having unmasked a ‘fake’ general, and been jumped by republic troops who clearly have no qualms about running into a reactor that’s about to blow up just for the chance of downing a sith. The timer was down to 10s, the music was getting more exciting and intense, and a speech option came up. I said to my companion (Quinn), “Do you have any last words?” And he said, “My lord, you know how I feel about you.”

I laughed. Why can’t you ever say anything that romantic when we’re actually on the ship and don’t have 10s left to live?, I thought, although that option wasn’t actually present. I have enjoyed having Quinn around while questing. He does occasionally pitch in to suggest ideas, or comment on military plans that someone else suggested. Annoyingly, he’s always right. But that comment above came from left field, I was expecting him to have a smart suggestion.

But now I’m curious as to what other companions might have to say for themselves during quests and whether it’s comparable, or if Quinn is an outlier and the writers just liked him.


Because I’m a) really digging the game and b) am on holiday at the moment, I’ve been online much more than I usually would. There is a risk in Bioware-type games that once hooked, you can burn through the quests very quickly because you’re just that keen to find out where the story is going. I remember feeling similarly exhausted in Cataclysm-era WoW, because the quest pacing was fast enough that you could burn through content like a three year old in a sweet shop. And it gave me the quest equivalent of a sugar rush back then too.

I am already thinking that I may play another Sith Warrior alt, and take it more slowly next time, writing up each planet or questline as I do it with commentary.

Having said that, the pacing in SWTOR is generally fine (this is on a scale where LOTRO is glacial and WoW is superfast).  It’s a bit slower than WoW because of travel time, listening to quest mobs (if you don’t spacebar through them), and zoning in and out of your ship, and although some would disagree, I find that it gives you some slow time to appreciate the scenery rather than rushing questquestquest.

I have found the difficulty generally good in the game. I’ve been upgrading my gear via quests and gear tokens (which you get for planetary quests), and using biochem to keep myself supplied with healing and buff potions. I am enjoying that I can sometimes die in quests, but that when this happens, I can try again with a bit more thought and get through it. The end of chapter 1 was a particular high point and I died about 4 times in one part before I got the hang of it. Finishing that questline and picking up my legacy name felt like that much more of an achievement.

We’ve also had a chance to run some more flashpoints, none of which have really compared to Black Talon in terms of story. Which is not to say that they haven’t been fun. Plus you may meet some old friends in Boarding Party/ The Foundry which was split into two parts so as presumably to be more manageable for players. (I don’t think either is especially long but they work fine as shorter halves.) We’re still dual tanking them, although I’m now taking on more of the single bosses/ tougher mobs.

The bans, they burn

Top ‘news’ in the game this week was that some people were temporarily banned for doing something exploity in the level 50 zone with their low level alts. (The official explanation for this is behind this link.)

If you read the comments on the RPS story about this, you’ll see how quickly some players get riled up about this. And how people are able to (with a straight face, I presume) argue that innocent players who just wanted to test the limits of what the game allowed them to do are being HURT by this evil EA attitude.

But as an experienced MMO player, I tend to assume that ultra competitive players have a propensity to be obsessive cheating gits (as shown by every exploit in WoW ever) who are not satisfied with merely finding interesting loopholes and reporting them but will then go on and exploit them as if their lives depended on it until stopped, and if that ruins the game for other people then that’s seen as an added bonus. So colour me unsurprised when RPS later posted a more nuanced explanation, and were immediately accused by their readers of pro-EA bias.

What we get from this is that the readers of RPS tend to be twats. Or maybe it’s just that most gamers are twats (present company excepted, naturally), the jury is still out.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no issues with people playing competitively. But if something needs a fix that cannot be done immediately (ie. needs time to decide what the best way is to proceed), I have no issues with temporary bans being handed out while that happens as long as the players were given the chance to stop the offending behaviour first. Also I have no issues with people being banned for gold farming. And one of the good things about playing a sub game is that they usually have active CS teams to deal with this kind of thing, which I believe makes the game better and fairer for everyone else.

And now, here is two sith dancing (/clubdance is great)


Dragon Age (PC Version)! My first thoughts.

dragonagegraff1 Trust me, I’m a dwarf

Dragon Age is the game I’ve been waiting for ever since I started to play CRPGs, and I hadn’t even realised. In fact, I’d all but given up on ever having a computer based RPG that came anywhere near the nuances of a tabletop game. But I was wrong.

Bioware have learned a lot since the days of Baldurs Gate and Knights of the Old Republic – BG had a large game world and lots to do but never really grabbed me as a story. KOTOR leapt for the jugular with a character based storyline but made the player so much front and centre that it was almost embarrassing to play. I felt awkward knowing that the game was so blatently all about me.

In Dragon Age, you are the hero. You will do great and terrifying things, but there’s a whole world in this game and a lot of other people too. You will affect them, they will affect you.

The game is a solid blend of CRPG sections where you can explore the scenery, talk to other characters, do quests, and take everything that isn’t nailed down; and party based combat. Both sides of the game seem exceptional to me from what I have played so far. But the story and the immersion is where the game really shines.

The origins of the title are long intro sections for each combination of race/social background which ease you into your character and flesh it out a bit before the main storyline kicks off and you are taken away from everything and everyone you once knew. I’ve played through a few origins and thought they were all effective – although I can see how some might appeal more to different players. The mage background, for example, offers an insight into a life lived entirely inside the mage tower, with some moral and ethical dilemmas thrown in. But because of the moral choices, it doesn’t feel as streamlined as the city elf background where you’re given a fairly arse kicking revenge fantasy (no moral dilemma there!). The dwarf commoner is my favourite so far but none of the ones I tried were clunkers. They all worked at getting me to like my character and connect with it, and offering some long term character  based goals as well as purely quest based ones.

Voice work is great, although there do seem to be a lot of people who talk with posh English accents around the place. I’m a convert to voice work in CRPGs now, although I can’t imagine what sort of resources Bioware must have at their disposal. As others have commented, it is a little jarring that everyone except your character is chatting away – it makes them come across a bit grim, like the man with no name. But appealing voice work brings even the least convincing character models to life. The animation is also pretty good. I especially loved watching my city elf warrior heft a two handed sword around. I’ve seen people do real life swordplay with those and the moves looked right to me (none of this swinging it around your head like a rhythmic gymnast).

The heart and soul of the CRPG is in the companion characters who will join you along the way, and how your main character develops a relationship with them. There is always a danger in CRPGs that because the player is in the driving seat, all the other characters feel weak – they are always deferring to your opinions and letting you make the decisions. That does exist here, but they will also step up and challenge you when they think you are making a mistake. It’s not like having a full AI on board, but they do feel convincing to me as 3 dimensional characters.

For example,  as my dwarf rogue, I was commenting to my husband that I liked Alistair but thought he was naive and a bit of a tit. He said that as his mage, he liked him because he felt that they had a lot in common – they’d both been taken from their parents at a young age and sent off to an institution to be raised. So the character and conversation options were there to support both of those experiences.

The fighting sequences are fast paced, although you can pause the action as often as you need to, and can be as tactically deep as you care to go. Easy mode is a lot easier – you won’t need to pause the game too much and area effects won’t harm your party through friendly fire. Normal mode (which is quite hard in places, even after the last patch) requires more thought and hands on interaction. Although you can set programmable tactics for each character, mages need a bit more babysitting to get the best out of them. If one particular fight is kicking your butt and you get frustrated, you can change the difficulty to easy for that, and then back again afterwards.

Or just play it through in easy mode if you’re more about the story and the character than the tactical combat. That’s just as valid a way to play and I enjoy that the game gives me those options.

And really the one flaw with the character classes is that mages feel as though they have many more options. As a mage, you can have crowd control, you can nuke, you can have AE, you can heal, you can buff. Fighters and rogues are a little more one sided, although my rogue has some stuns and can set traps and throw bombs so I don’t feel restricted with her at all. The game is not set up to assume you always have a healer along, but if you don’t, take a lot of healing poultices and have one of the party train in herbalism (to make more cheaply).

And about the maturity? They’re not joking. Even if you ignore the blood and the entertainment on offer at the brothel (it’s all fade to black) or the options to romance your party (I can’t report on that since I’m having enough trouble getting them to stay with me at all, let alone anything more), the issues and moral dilemmas raised in the game are a step beyond most fantasy fare. How do you feel about casual in game racism? Would you kill a child if you knew for a fact that doing so would also destroy a demon? Free the condemned prisoner, even if you know he might kill again? This is a game where you will be facing those types of choices, and you’ll have to take responsibility for where they lead.

As if all that wasn’t enough, there are also achievements to unlock and lore to discover – Bioware have used something similar to WAR’s tome of knowledge where new pages open up to inform you of what you have learned about characters, items, gameplay, lore, and so on. Lore entries may also be expanded later as you find out more. I found that worked very well, although indexing it by number doesn’t make it easy to search.

My dwarf just hit level 10 with *cough* a fair amount of hours played and I feel as though I’ve barely touched the surface of the game. I’m thoroughly enjoying it, as you can probably tell. In fact,  I absolutely love it and will plan to spring for the warden’s keep DLC at some point, if only because I’m happy to have the chance to throw more money at Bioware for content of this quality.

Tell me about your character

Let me tell you about my character in Dragon Age. She’s a feisty dwarf rogue who began her life as a casteless commoner. She doesn’t take nonsense from anyone, she hates rules, and wants to do the right thing but doesn’t see why she should do it for free because that made you a sucker where she came from. Her story is of someone who came from nowhere and is struggling to learn what ‘doing the right thing’ really means.

When I compare notes with my husband, he keeps saying, “You’re horrid,” or “You’re evil” when I tell him about my dwarf girl’s exploits. But I’m not playing as evil, just as someone who doesn’t know any better and really really wants to try anyway.

Her companions aren’t very happy with her (except for Morrigan who she gets on with very well), and I think being motivated to try to stay friendly with them is probably having a good effect on her. I feel like I actually have a character that could change and grow through the game – it may not be Oscar winning material but it could be a solid fantasy pot boiler! To me, that lifts the whole game up another dimension because I actually feel as though I’m role playing.

So, tell me about your character?