Wednesday, December 22

Rift Beta Thoughts

The NDA has been lifted so for what it's worth here's my impression on the first two beta events.

The game is faction V Faction, the two factions being Defiant and Guardian. Both have separate starter areas. The beta events covered levels 1-20, the first weekend was Defiant side and the second weekend Guardians.

The server set up allowed for choices of PvP, PvE, PVE RP and PvP RP. Always good to see RP servers among the list :)

You have to bear in mind that due to the level restrictions the areas where incredibly busy, for the first weekend this meant that the Rifts and Invasions became quick zerg fests, the second weekend however saw the introduction of a scaling mechanic which saw the rifts last longer and one massive invasion intent on taking over a whole zone. Sadly I didn't play enough (real life and the SW:TOR beta getting in the way) to test out the instances, next week should allow me to rectify that.

Character creation was ok but ended up with everyone looking like they are members of the same family, you're given a basic face with a few different 'features' and a slider within a triangle to set the shape of the face, several hair styles, the usual colour options and how tall your character is, it's basic and left me without a character I really felt I had invested in. There are three races to choose from, I have never been fond of dwarves and the elf like creatures had pointy ears you couldn't disguise and make small enough so I only rolled the human types.

I hated the Defiant starting area with a vengeance, felt incredibly walled in and claustrophobic, thankfully that area only lasted the first 5 or 6 levels, it felt like something in RoM rather than a P2P AAA MMORPG, it was a very disappointing start for me. Thankfully you leave this area into a more expansive zone very quickly. The Guardians had a much better starter area with horizons you could see but had the corniest voice over intro ever, thankfully Trion listened and changed that one, Trion are very, very good at listening.

The lore was mostly lost on me, I was killing stuff and sabotaging machinery with little motivation beyond the fact I'd been told to. Each quest had plenty of text and always with the option of 'tell me more' from the quest giver but after reading the first few I wasn't held and quickly reverted to just clicking through to start the quests and ignored the text (bad beta tester! *slaps self on wrists *). The game has a very good quest tracking system which means there was another reason not to read any quests beyond the basics given at the end of each wall of text. There are no voice overs or cutscenes. All in all they haven't done themselves any favours regarding the lore of Telara, you really don't need to get involved. As long as you get the basic gist of why Rifts and Invasions happen that's all that counts and that's all I fear the majority will get.

Quests are nothing that you haven't seen before and progression is very, very linear, no zones felt immense and your funneled through them as you progress, reminded me of the funneling in Aion, there are however collections (think EQ2) which could inspire some to do some exploring although the areas never felt big enough to inspire me to explore. In short questing in Rifts is the same old that we've seen countless times before with maybe the exception that at this stage everything is very polished. There have been lots of references to War and WoW in the beta community and I guess they hold true. The quests do their job of funnelling you through the content in a conformist way, fine for those wanting something similar to what they are used to but boring for those of us looking for something new, questing is certainly not next gen. Quest rewards are as expected, XP, moolah and sometimes loot. You must however bear in mind that you don't have to level via quests, you can level via rifts, invasions and grinding should you so wish, in fact I would recommend getting off the quest train occasionally and heading out for rifts and invasions even if you are enjoying the quests.

The graphics in the game are good but not impressive, somehow the art direction missed in creating something unique and immersive, I felt decidedly meh about the graphics. The dev team did do an amazing job on optimisation between beta events, the first weekend I had to tone things down to get decent FPS but the second weekend let me run things much higher with a much better FPS. The animations are let down in a few areas but most of the time I didn't notice them so neither brilliant nor appalling from where I was sitting, I'm sure a few will be improved on come release. The major cities for both factions where very dissapointing, way too small and devoid of any real feeling of a bustling town.

There are a few traps that Rift falls in to in so far as bad MMO mechanics go, spawn and boss camping was rampant, I hate having to hang around and try and beat other players to tag a mob to kill, thankfully the beta community was pretty friendly so groups would form on an ad hoc basis when it was obvious we were all spawn camping. Tagging is supposed to be first hit gets the kill, you have to remember not to use timed DOTs if there are other players around, if they get some DPS in before your DOT ticks they get the kill.

Crafting *deep sigh* is really boring, gather the mats, maybe add something you got from a rift to add better stats and watch the progress bar, there was no 'crit' mechanic so it was very much what you see is what you get. The quality of gear was OK but it didn't look like you could create anything better (or as good as) world drops and quest rewards at the early levels, it might improve at later levels but provided no incentive for me to level it up in order to find out. Very disappointing if you're a crafter looking for a worthwhile experience.

The 'meat and veg' of the game is nothing you can't find in most MMO's, it works and felt polished but offers nothing new. Time to move on to what Trion thinks makes this game next gen:

The Soul System
I'm going to start this one by saying that Trion have just announced that access to more souls and points to allocate in those soul trees will be available from the start of the next beta, another point raised by many testers was that there was no scope to feel like it was anything more than a fancy talent tree that can be found in games like WoW, come the next tests we should have the ability to play more with the system and see how useful it is in creating something unique for your character. The soul system allows you to have three soul trees for your build (you can also buy extra build slots so you can switch soul trees during combat). Characters choose their first soul from a choice of three very early on, my Ele went with Warlock which gave me a life leaching DOT, a skeleton minion and a basic DPS attack skill. The thing I didn't like was that all skills are on a global cooldown but they shortened that for the 2nd beta and added the ability to queue your next attack, again based on player feedback. The soul trees work by allocating points in to the top tier to boost or add skills, adding points in the top tier also sometimes unlocked new skills on the bottom tier. Skills are mostly unlocked by buying them from your class trainer at appropriate level gaps. I unlocked my next soul quite early on and went with Necromancer, the problem was with a limited level cap and a shortage of points to allocate it seemed pointless to spread those points across trees, see my initial comment about the devs plans to combat that. It looks like an interesting system I think each archetype has the potential to unlock 18 souls, that's a lot of combinations and screams balance nightmare at me. My initial impression left me feeling that it added no real depth at this point BUT further betas with more points and souls to play with will give me a better idea of how the system truly plays out, it certainly has potential.

As mentioned the initial experience was one of a player zerg fest, over incredibly quickly and you would be lucky to get any kills in, later as you ventured away from crowded areas and scaling was added and the difficulty was increased they became more fun, again nice to see players randomly grouping when these happened. Rifts and invasions are on your map, if you want to get involved you could keep referencing your map and keep an eye on your compass. The idea is that left unchecked they expand and take over the zone, including quest hubs but most I saw where over pretty quickly. Each rift has different stages to complete in order to successfully close it and stem the invasion, by taking part you are rewarded although as a healer your less likely to get rewards, Trion are looking at this and will improve the healers lot. Rewards from rifts are items that can be traded for weapons/armour aswell as other loot, xp, crafting mats and money. I seemed to miss out on the best rift experiences, poor timing on my part but the common feedback is that they are very similar to Wars public quests. Not as dynamic as what Anet are proposing with GW2 but still dynamic enough to make the world that bit more exciting. Rifts cause the landscape to change according to the rifts element, it was nice to see although a little rough at the edges, some smoothing between the rifts edge and the normal landscape would be nice, nothing game breaking purely aesthetic. The interesting thing about rifts is that all factions are against each other so having rifts of differing elements close by would cause in fighting between them and for PvP allow some fun if they spawn in enemy territory.

While gathering mats in a quiet part of the map I noticed a dark area moving in my direction, as it got closer it was obvious the landscape was changing around the moving mass and it was populated by some mean looking mobs, I'd stumbled in to the path of an invasion (again visible on your map and shows the direction the invasion is moving). Being solo and a little apprehensive I moved slightly off its path and waited to see how much of a threat it was, luckily for me this was a small invasion force of one boss and three mobs, feeling cocky my minion and I charged in, it got hairy at times but we succeeded thanks to the help of a few passers by, it was a nice feeling watching that dark path dissipate and the normal landscape return. Unfortunately I missed the massive zone invasion but I'm sure on that scale it would be great fun.

In conclusion I think the games most innovative features couldn't be gauged enough in these two beta events to see how innovative they really are and it does suffer from employing what some of us feel are stale mechanics which will tarnish a lot of peoples current views.

If you pinned me down and ask me if I would sub at this stage I would say no but I like the way Trion is reacting to players and I want them to succeed, I'll be keeping a close eye on this one and hoping it reaches a potential that is obviously there.

Wednesday, December 15

Blizzard Promote Bad Hygiene

Glider, in short, hides itself from the Warden software that scans the machines of Warcraft’s 10 million players for bots, thus allowing Glider license holders to play Warcraft while taking a shower in violation of Warcraft’s terms of service that prohibit bot use.

I mean, come on! People gotta take a shower some time!

But seriously, botting is bad. Don't do it. If you're so addicted to a game that you have to play it even when you can't play it, perhaps you ought not be playing at all? It's like those internet urinals. I always thought it a bit of a joke. I hope no one actually uses those.

Anyway, I found the shower bit a tad humorous and thought I'd share. Feel free to commence with the discussion on the morality, or lack thereof of botting...

full disclosure: this post is meant mostly tongue in cheek. the author in no way supports breaking the tos of a game, unless you can retire at a beachhouse in cancun from doing so... ;)