[SWTOR] More impressions, is crafting broken, locating screenshots

There’s a dilemma that hits every gaming blogger when a new release comes out and you have limited time. And that is how much time to spend playing vs how much time to spend blogging about it.

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I’ve been playing a fair amount of SWTOR lately, and am unashamedly really enjoying the game. Particular high points so far have been:

  • Class quests. A storyline doesn’t have to be brilliantly original if it’s well told, and these generally are. Arb and I were up late the other night, reminding each other that we needed to go to bed … but just wanting to find out what the next twist in the story was. The storytelling is clever (or manipulative if you prefer) in encouraging you to relate emotionally to what is going on. For example, I found out my contact was under attack by my current enemy and stormed back across the city to let nothing stand in my way as I wiped them out – which is quite appropriately vengeful for a sith warrior really. One of my guildies  decided to switch from darkside to lightside because of lore and something that happened in his class storyline. Scott Jennings relates the point where he succumbed to the lure of the dark side. (I think he’s playing Sith Warrior and I think I know the part he means.) At the same time, no story is going to have this effect on a player unless the player is willing to immerse themselves and allow it to happen. If you hate reading, point out the plot flaws in horror films in the middle of the cinema, and think its lame to care about stories then you’re going to have a very different experience. I did also like the suggestion I read somewhere on rpg.net that if you are a Sith Warrior, any time someone gives you a quest you should have the conversation option to execute them for insubordination. (It would make for a short game, but a bloody one.)
  • Characterisation of NPCs. Not all of them, for sure, but the writing and voice acting means they don’t have to be just blobs giving out quests if you’re willing to go with it. I do also quite like my class companions, it might be different if you hated them. Grand Moff Kilran (in the Black Talon Flashpoint) also has the most punchable voice of anyone I’ve ever met. I so hope you get to beat him up at some point. We had more fun in that flashpoint when we agreed we all hated him and picked all the most belittling responses we could.
  • Companions. It’s funny how my responses to quests are affected by which companion is with me. Vette likes it when I tell quest givers they are idiots and give them lip. Quinn approves of being polite to quest givers, especially if they are empire military types. He really is a Young Conservative at heart so I doubt that romance is going anywhere – on the other hand he’s also really really useful and keen to help and offer advice and he gets amusingly tongue tied if you flirt with him. Plus he’s a healer.
  • Group quests: we’ve done some as guild runs, others with random people, but they’re a nice way to switch up the feel from solo questing if you feel like it. The rewards are also good, but optional.
  • Flashpoints: As above. The social conversation mechanic is fun in practice, and far less irritating than you might think from reading about it. I haven’t run all of the flashpoints so far, because the way they are laid out (you have to go back to the fleet etc) tends to break up the flow of questing. But it hasn’t been hard to find groups when I have wanted to, and it’s been fun to have content to run with guildies when we are feeling sociable.
  • Guild! It’s fun to be guilded with some fellow bloggers, some of whom I’ve never played with before. So I’m enjoying the socialising, hanging out on guild chat or voice chat.
  • The morality: This is bound to be vaguely controversial because the light side/ dark side choices don’t have much effect in terms of game mechanics and the general shape of the storyline won’t change much either. And yet, I think more about the stories and the choices I make. Some of them I see discussed more widely because players disagree with the writing. I hope at least one of the quests will be as discussion-priming as the demon possessed boy in DAO. And the fact that’s possible is why I love the morality meter. And because it makes me think more about my character and where she’s coming from (she’s a spoilt sith aristo who takes lightside choices because she /can/ rather than out of any deep affiliation. And yet, sparing people just because you can may be a step on the path to something better …)

Find the screenshot

If you are wondering where SWTOR puts its screenshots, check two things:

  • Under preferences, check what key is bound to the ‘take screenshot’ option, it may not be the one you are used to.
  • On WinXp, the screenshot directory is My Documents/ Star Wars – The Old Republic/ Screenshots

Is Crafting broken in SWTOR?

Here is the current issue with SWTOR crafting: there is one gathering skill that makes money as if it was going out of fashion, with no associated risk. It is Slicing. If you just want to make money and don’t care about making stuff, take Slicing as one of your crew skills and send all your companions off to find lockboxes all of the time. You will eventually make good bank.

It’s not that all the other craft skills are bad. Cybertech and Biochem in particular can make plenty of things that people will buy. I’ve made enough from Biochem (I can sell implants as fast as I can make them, nothing else really sells so far) to buy my speeder training et al so it’s not by any means bad, but you have to work at it. They just probably won’t make as much as you would from Slicing because you have to acquire materials and then take the risk that a) other people won’t buy your stuff from the auction house or b) competition will drive prices down so that you won’t make much of a profit.

Armormech, Synthweaving, Armsmech and Artificing all make plenty of nice gear that is at least as good as anything you will find elsewhere. But there is competition from quest rewards, PvP gear, and drops from flashpoints.

At the end of the day, it’s the lack of risk in Slicing – it’s guaranteed money – which makes it so unbalanced.

It will also be interesting to see the effects of Slicing on the market. There are fewer people crafting to sell on the AH at the moment because the game is new out, and lots of people take gathering skills (incl. Slicing) as they level. But the prices they sell at are set by the Slicers since they have most money to spend on the AH.

[Dragon Age 2] Initial Impressions

da2_act2 Hawke and companions in Act 2 – other companies please note how armour on women can look cool without showing lots of thigh.

I am a big fan of Bioware games, I loved Dragon Age Origins despite its faults, and I’m enjoying the heck out of Dragon Age 2.

Things I love about DA2:

  • I enjoy that it’s all set in the same city and that you WILL get to see how people, NPCs, and factions change and interact over time. Some of that will be connected to things you have done, and some won’t. We very rarely get this type of setup in games, it’s the holy grail of phasing in games like WoW, but single player games can do it better.
  • (Downside: It’s all set in the same city and surrounding areas. Areas do get reused. The city itself doesn’t really change all that much through the years, not as much as most real cities probably would.)
  • I like that in Act 1 I was an unknown noob in the city whereas by Act 2 I have an actual mansion in Hightown and some finery to wear (admittedly the finery looks like a school uniform but it’s not armour!) I’ve no idea what Act 3 may hold in store. It feels as though there is a simulationist element (e.g. you could imagine a game where you have to build up your resources in addition to doing the quests) even though there really isn’t.
  • I also enjoy seeing how actions I took in Act 1 are affecting people in Act 2. Some of this I think is fairly subtle but focussing in on one city does allow this type of storytelling.
  • I’m enjoying the writing, and in particular the companions are great. I don’t LIKE them all, but I enjoy them all as characters. Aveline is a particular winner and a character type we don’t see all that often – she’s a straight edge city guard who tries to do the right thing but isn’t very good at out of the box thinking. The scene where you try to help her chat up a fellow guardsman is painfully hilarious. Her banter with Isabela is also awesome. Varric is also possibly the best written dwarf ever.
  • (Downside: I’m not sure how great a character Hawke really is. Certainly she has a talent for kicking arse and taking names, especially on casual difficulty levels. I am having fun with her, but I keep feeling that the NPCs just seem like better characters.)
  • I also ended up with Anders (pictured on the left) as my love interest, despite the fact he’s quite possibly totally hatstand. Still, at least Hawke got to find out whether a wizard’s staff has a knob on the end :P I find that Bioware take their love interests terribly seriously in this game, it’s all twoo lurve and moving in together after knowing each other for a few years, and not so much a quick shag and then off for breakfast (I guess you’d probably have to play The Witcher for more of the latter.)
  • I enjoy the faster pace of the fighting and I have no issues about turning the difficulty down if a fight is hard. I like having the options and 2H warrior Hawke is rather awesome at mowing down mooks. (A handy talent since mooks seem to teleport into fights in constant waves.)
  • Does DA2 feel rushed? I’m not sure. Certainly there is a lot of resuse of areas, dungeons et al. However, it is supposed to all be set in the same city. I’d say possibly rushed but at the same time, what they were trying to do does work.
  • Giving the character a family to use as plot points does work. There is a whiff of the ‘dependent NPC’ to it all, ie. getting extra character points for having dependent NPCs whose sole purpose is to get into trouble and need rescuing or provide fodder for NPC enemies, but I feel that giving a PC more background in terms of friends, family, and other history does provide for some good story hooks.

One thing I’m not so sure about is what replayability willl be like. I feel as though I have been doing all of the available sidequests and I’m not sure how different it would really be on a second playthrough, even though playing as a mage might be quite interesting.

New betas, and trends in upcoming games

Truly it is the season of the year for game announcements, otherwise known as the convention season. This weekend will see another slew of hype, trailers, interviews, and competitions trailing excitement across the blogosphere like empty beer cans after a rock festival. Imagine the hype-mobile as a shiny tug boat, the initial wave of excitement as its wake, and then the game itself as a heavy old steamer being pulled along behind.

Anyhow, today sees a couple of new MMO beta announcements.

  • Go sign up here for the Star Trek Online beta. For my money, this sounds to be by far the more innovative and interesting game in Cryptic’s current stable, and will have you playing the captain of your own starship with crew of your own to train up as you boldly go where no split infinitive has gone before.
  • Ysharros and Arbitrary point out the intriguing Initiate Quiz for A Secret World, which also invites you to sign up for their beta. Secret societies and cabals, templars, illuminati, modern urban fantasy … a geek would need a heart of stone not to be even a little tempted by that.

LOTRO have also announced their new digital expansion, The Siege of Mirkwood. No prices announced yet but it sounds to be introducing enough new features that a charge would be reasonable.

A few common upcoming features

So here are a few of the upcoming trends:

Companion Characters — LOTRO will let players train up their own soldiers to fight alongside them in Mirkwood. STO also features crew members who the player can train. Guild Wars made great use of companion heroes and they were so popular that GW2 will probably continue along the same lines. And Star Wars: The Old Republic has mentioned in the hype that they consider companions to be very key to their play also. (I am particularly hoping for droids because you can’t really complain if an actual bot acts like a bot.)

Guilds are the new black — Cataclysm features a new guild levelling system. The Final Fantasy XIV developers were keen to show off their Guildleve system at Gamescom this year, which is a set of portals into instanced content that reminds me very much of the trumps in Amber. Now the FFXIV system is likely to be available from NPC-run guilds and WoW is arguably behind the times in allowing guild levelling but I think that guilds in general are going to be more than just a chat channel in future.

More social networking features — Champions Online gives each of your characters its own web page and lets you spam twitter relentlessly from in game, Blizzard is frantically updating battle.net to allow chat across games too, and if anything they are slightly behind the curve (I know SOE has been providing guild websites in EQ2 and Free Realms for awhile). We’re going to see companies exploring more ways to interact with the games when you aren’t logged in, whether it means tweeting your friends from work in character or using iPhone applications to manipulate the auction house.

More dynamic contentGuild Wars 2 will be introducing an Event system in which Public Quests spontaneously erupt in the game world and players are notified in case they want to go and join in. I think this is potentially one of the more exciting upcoming feature in any MMO and I’m curious to see it for myself. LOTRO is bringing in skirmishes with Mirkwood in which you can grab a few friends from anywhere in the world and go run some instanced and randomised PvE content (it sounds like a PvE equivalent of WAR’s scenarios, which I loved). Blizzard have not yet mentioned how they plan to use phasing in Cataclysm but I’d bet that we haven’t heard the last of it yet.

Different charging schemes — I mostly write about subscription based games, but it would be silly to assume that this is the way things will always be. Devs are realising that most people don’t want to play more than one subscription based game at a time and may be willing to pay a premium for permanent access. We’ve seen how popular the Champions Online lifetime offer was, for example. I wish sadly that WAR had a lifetime sub offer, I would have happily taken it at the time and I think it would have worked out well for Mythic.  RMT is another option that is on the table, and we’ve been seeing more and more different variations on how to make that one work (check out Relmstein’s micro-summary of micr0-transactions). I’m also intrigued by the notion that FFXIV may end up using a similar anniversary system to Japan (you pay for 30 days and that’s for actual time played, not calendar months) so let’s hope the EU and US marketing teams don’t talk them out of it.

More hype, prettier trailers. Still waiting for that Vampire trailer … hopefully tomorrow. I’ll look like a twat if I’m wrong though :)

And last but not least — although admittedly this isn’t a trend — Torchlight has an October release date, so is something else to look forwards to for the heartbroken Diablo fans who otherwise need to wait until 2011 for their next fix.