[TSW, SWTOR, WoW, CK2] Well, it’s certainly been a week.

I thought today I might sum up some experiences I’ve had in games recently. This is mostly a quick fly though, just to demonstrate how incredibly /different/ some games which are nominally similar can be.

The Secret World

tsw

The Secret World had a free weekend, and sadly I didn’t have as much time in game as I had hoped. Partly due to watching the Olympics (on TV) and spending a day out in London (not to go to the Olympics because I didn’t have tickets), and also partly due to getting roped into some raids in SWTOR. So these really will be first impressions.

I like the game a lot, and as other people have said, the setting and storytelling is very engaging. For me there was a disconnect between “secret masters of the world. conspiracy theories.” and “welcome to Kingsmouth, here’s your shotgun. Go kill some zombies.” There is even more of a disconnect between the clever and immersive world building and a public channel full of “LF2M tank and healer”.  I’m also not sure whether I find that the combat fits neatly to the storytelling parts of the game – it’s common for RPGs to have this disconnect but the stylistic difference seems stronger in TSW. It just is a very disconnected game. All the individual bits seem good in themselves, but I liked the RPG/investigative parts so much more than the combat. Partly for that reason, this is absolutely a game that sings “single player or small group only” to me. Even more so than SWTOR.

But for all that, it IS immersive and engaging and I enjoyed how Funcom use the environment to drop clues to the player, as well as the usual “quest person marker” details.  I also always wanted to be an Illuminati, so there is that too. I also get a kick out of ‘take a shortcut through Agartha” and similar funky occult daftness; I love urban fantasy which this game does in spades. I didn’t have much of a chance to really check out any of the riddle quests so I’m still unsure whether I have the patience for that type of play or would get frustrated too quickly.

The screenshot above shows two of the other things I did really enjoy with the game.

  1. Blue hair. Apparently this is more of A Thing than I realised, since a lot of my twitter crowd mentioned that their characters also had blue hair. I do think it’s cool though. I also like how my character is holding the shotgun in the shot, her hands/fingers are actually closed around the weapon. Also was amused at being told I had good aim when I shot something. I am not a firearms person (to say the least) but I feel that using a shotgun at point blank range may not be a big aiming challenge.
  2. This shows a tutorial for the talent system. It’s a voiced video that steps you through how things work. Please could more games do this, it’s great.

Whilst I did get a good first impression from the weekend and would definitely like to spend more time with TSW, I can’t justify a sub at the moment. I just don’t have the time free in my gaming schedule. Maybe in a few months time. But I do want to go back.

SWTOR: All my raiding comes at once!

I think there’s a hidden switch in the communal mind of a new raidgroup that suddenly decides you are good enough (or needed badly enough) to be included in the main team. So I’m guessing all my practice with the Consular and generally being around and genial in guild chat has made a mark; this week I was invited to join the guild for runs in two Operations that I haven’t seen before: Explosive Conflict (Denova) and Karagga’s Palace. The raid leader was also really nice about explaining the fights, and the raids were friendly and patient. And we did clear them both. It was just a great gaming experience.

denova

These screenshots are from Denova, which is a very solid raid in my opinion. The encounters are interesting and well designed, there’s a nice mix of content, and they’re challenging without feeling that you are hitting your head against a wall. Bioware have done a good job with the raid content. Karagga is by far my least favourite of the Operations. The first and last boss are both thoroughly annoying (last boss might have been more fun if I had been on dps rather than healing).

My feelings about SWTOR seem conflicted at the moment. I do genuinely enjoy the game, but I’m not sure about its future. Whatever happens, I’m thrilled to have gotten the chance to play it, and to have met such nice players on both the guilds I’ve been in. This may affect how I view the SWTOR community in general, but even my PUG runs have generally been cordial and friendly. Dropping WoW last December to play SWTOR instead has been a really good decision for me.

In any case, this means that I have now seen all of the PvE content in the game, although there are harder modes for the Ops which we haven’t done yet. I’m not really sure what my next goals are, I enjoy raiding with the guys so will plan to keep doing that though.

Warcraft: Back for more abuse

I picked up a Scroll of Resurrection this week, and thought it would be a good opportunity to drop back into WoW and see whether absence makes the heart grow fonder. (The answer is: no, but it does give a different perspective.) My first impression on logging into Orgrimmar was of overwhelming chaos, noise, people all over the place, randomness on general chat. There’s so much going on and where is everything and heck, there’s so much of it. Like I say: overwhelming.

From what I can gather, the only new content since I last played (in December) is that the Darkmoon Faire has its own zone now. It looks cool and a bit foreboding and the music is good. The new Faire is (as with the rest of WoW), busy, noisy, overwhelming. There are quests which grant tradeskill improvements as well as rewards, and some minigames. None of the minigames looked especially interesting at first glance. There’s only so much designers can do with ‘whack a mole’ or ‘steer the vehicle into the other vehicle.’ This is a shame, because I would have thought a fairground would be ripe for actual vehicle minigames.

It was of course great to chat to my guildies again in game. They are a really good bunch, and have been the one thing I really did miss from not being in game. I did think it was a bad idea to agree when someone suggested queueing for one of the most recent heroic instances. This proved to be the case, and the complaints about poor dps started very soon into the instance. I do think there’s an issue with the game where everyone is studying your dps the whole time in groups using real time damage meter addons, even when they don’t need to. Anyhow, I didn’t stay long, I suspect my dps would have been OK but that’s not an atmosphere you want to learn new fights in.

This, incidentally is where WoW is utterly failing at the moment. If a reasonable, average player cannot learn a new fight in LFG and guild groups are unlikely to form (due to people either preferring the convenience of LFG or being tired of the group content) then your group game is basically dead. I’ve heard arguments that this will be better at the start of a new expansion when the content is new to everyone. I don’t entirely buy it; this may be true … for a week or two.  If Blizzard want to break this chain then they need to a) make the LFG instances easier, no complex boss fights that require a page of tutorial to explain the tactics or tightly tuned dps races and b) give players a chance to practice the fights on their own first. (I’m not arguing against hard instances, but I don’t think they are good LFG content.)

Before being put off grouping altogether, I then thought I’d queue for one of the original Cataclysm heroics. These are instances I’ve run several times in my character’s current gear before taking a break. There were no dps issues, but after one wipe the tank aggroed a pack of mobs while everyone else was running back (which led to another wipe). Here is a snapshot of the conversation that followed:

Me: Could you wait for everyone to get back before starting the next fight?

Him/ Her: No.

Me: Why not?

Him/Her: *pause* Because I like doing things wrong.

Me: OK, have fun then. *leaves group*

Maybe it’s because I’ve just spent time in SWTOR where I haven’t had a single bad group, but two poor PUGs in a row isn’t cool and shouldn’t be the norm. Anyhow, I will be hanging out in WoW for the next month or so. Partly because I feel I’d like the guy who sent me the SoR to get his (ugly) mount, and also because it’s good blogging fodder to come back with fresh eyes and gauge how WoW might feel to other returning players. Right now, I feel that I could happily never run another PUG in WoW ever again.

One thing to note for returners: Your spare justice or valor tokens are still useful, Blizzard regularly upgrade the gear you can trade them in for.

I feel I haven’t said much about good first impressions yet. WoW has an INCREDIBLE sense of being an actual world.  It’s buzzing, chaotic, there’s a lot going on and huge zones to explore.  So I went back to a quieter zone to do some daily quests that everyone else is probably bored with (or even forgot by now) to chill out and chat.

wowreturn

Crusader Kings 2

This is such a big bonkers game, but it’s the best gaming crack since the original Civilisation. How can I be so drawn to a game which I am so bad at playing? My latest ruler did actually manage to win some wars, but I think I could happily watch the game play itself out without me really doing much. Still, I continue to read up about it and try different things in new games. I wanted to mention CK2 in passing as I’m still only scratching the surface but it takes a special sort of game to engender this kind of love from poor players.

[SWTOR] Datacron madness, and recruiting via PUGs

plus10holocronn

You have to admire Bioware putting in a special cutscene for the +10 Datacron of doom.

One of the explorer type things you can do in SWTOR is collect datacrons, each of which gives your character a small permanent stat boost. They are hidden in the gameworld – some are easier to find than others and they tend to get more tricky on the higher level planets. So for starting planets, you may need to just follow hidden paths, or explore just over the next slightly awkward hill to see that familiar glow in the distance and think “ooo, datacron!!” Later on, you may find yourself doing complicated jumping maneouvers, waiting for special lifts or mechanisms, or having to use special items that must be bought from hidden vendors in the middle of nowhere.

If that sounds weird then… yes, it is a bit weird. But when you go datacron collecting (probably with the aid of a guide), you will quickly realise that Bioware put a fair amount of effort into this aspect of the game. It isn’t for everyone, especially the parts with the more annoying jumps, but it is pretty cool to follow a complex set of steps to see a part of the gameworld that you know won’t be found by everyone.

Some datacrons require more than one person working together in order to unlock the door sequence that leads to them. This might require people hitting buttons simultaneously, for example. I have found that this encourages co-operation between random players — I was stopped the other day on Quesh by a guy who wanted help getting a Datacron for example. I said  “sure!” and he showed me where it was and what we had to do. But the +10 to all stats datacron that is hidden on the Empire/Republic fleet is the big kahuna, requiring at least four or five people acting in some kind of harmony to unlock. There are buttons to press, bridges to unlock, narrow girders to edge across, slightly awkward jumps, and areas where you need to use grappling hooks in a carefully timed sequence. On Empire side, you also have to suicide on a laser at one point.

It’s nuts. We did it in guild last week and people were saying that the datacron hunt was one of the more exciting/ scary things they’d ever done in a game. (This is probably due to the part at the end where you have some careful edging along girders to do, knowing that the rest of the team is relying on you being able to do it and if you fail they will have to go back to the start.) But finally you get there, to the last door. People cheer. You open the door and click on the datacron … and you get a special cut scene where all the different coloured datacrons dance around your character and you get your +10 stat boost. That was a great use of cut scenes as an extra reward for players who managed the thing.

I’ve said before that Bioware do include puzzles in some of the raids/operations and instances/flashpoints as part of their design. This is an example of how it changes the feel of the game. It was crazy exciting and fun, and we’ll do it again when Arb gets back from holiday sometime.

In which PUGs explain tactics to us

I’ve also mentioned before how we have picked up PUG members for our raids when we didn’t otherwise quite have enough people to fill out two groups. Previously these have tended to be well geared raiders who were ‘slumming it’. Last night we picked up a healer who actually hadn’t completed EV Normal before. Bit of a change there, we thought, not used to hanging out with players who are less progressed than us.

But sure enough, before we were very far in, he was also advising us on how to avoid some of the trash mobs and giving smart tactics for some of the others. “How did you ever get past this on your own?” he sighed, as I fell off a ledge and aggroed the pack we had just been avoiding. (Gee I dunno, maybe it’s my AWESOME DPS….)

We did clear the instance and get some decent drops for him (and for me, yay!), and left the parting comment that if he or his guild wanted to raid with us more regularly, we should stay in touch.

If anyone is playing in Empire side on the Nightmare Lands EU server and is looking for a chilled out guild that does stuff together including naked dance parties and  normal mode raids, feel free to check us out. Warning: there may be dick jokes on voice chat.