Thursday, January 27

GW2 - Guardian Revealed

As we knew from the snippet posted on pcgamer last week the fifth profession to be revealed is the Guardian, Anet posted all the info along with skill videos over on the official site.

Shield of Absorption

Faithful Strike

Zealot's Defense

Wall of Deflection

Hammer of Wisdom

onlinewelten have a nice interview with GW2's lead designer Jon Peters who manages to flesh out some more info on the Guardian and come up with this little gem :

"There are no ally targeted skills in Guild Wars 2."

For anyone with any doubts that Anet meant what they said about NO healers in GW2 this proves the point, healing will come from yourself, via AoE and possibly as bonuses from attack skills, it's a step in the right direction for me. Anets still provides a trinity but one that doesn't rely on class set up in teams. As the only obvious support class I have no doubts that to start with teams will want them in, it may well go from 'looking for healer' to 'looking for guardian' as the most repeated cry in group formations, that's a sad thought in a game that I'm hoping will strip away some conventions, says more about players than it does about Anet. When people get used to the idea that classes are capable of fulfilling each role of Anets trinity I hope that will pass.

More RIFT Beta blah blah

Last Beta I switched from Defiant side to Guardian and played with Kettle, a Dwarven Warrior.
Yes I know, technically she should be a Cleric and a Halfling, but a dwarf is close enough and I'd already been playing Naomi as a Cleric and with classes identical across the divide...

I'd gotten her through the Sliverwood (5-20) zone and halfway through Gloamwood and up to level 23. I'd been pretty impressed with Silverwood's general lay-out and how the quest lines were taking you along a tour of 80% or so of the map. Much more subtly than in Freemarch where for some reason I felt led by the nose and didn't feel much like exploring. Whereas on the Guardian side I did and didn't feel stiffled by the guided tour effect either.

There's ample opportunity to step off the beaten path, wander a bit and run into mobs way too high for you to defeat. Coupled with the Invasions this means you have to keep paying attention to your surroundings and I like that. Gloamwood,s a bit darker than Silverwood and the theme is one of Gothic horror. Spiders, zombies, Werewolves, vampires and a Hag to fight. The environment is wonderfully gloomy and made me pull open all registers on my videocard, which happily survived the ordeal. (I didn't try it with raid sized parties).

Gloamwood also is very tightly packed with a complex but comprehensive questline around a central theme / story arc. It also gives my Explorer side more of an itch than did Silverwood. It's a rather vertical place really. Several times I've found myself standing at what I assumed was the quest location judging by the minimap only to discover I was off by 50 meters, vertically. Caves, cliffs, buildings. They all give cause to wander about. I've also spent a fair amount of time figuring different ways to approach locations.

Most of all, I was having fun.
This Beta so far has had me not find a single bug to report, and I keep looking for them.
I have to say this game has the most technically slick Beta I've ever been in. On the other hand, they're adding stuff very late in the development cycle, given the release date. However, I'm not worried much, It's shaping up to be a very solid game. I don't know about longevity as of yet, but it should do well at launch, provided they get people to not all roll on the Shard with an already Heavy load, but even after having to sit in queue for 2 minutes after dinner I encountered little to no server-side lag. And that's a Beta server with highly detailed logs running...

This Beta saw a few new things. Improved Character Sheet. I have to admit I still think Rift has a window or two more than I'm happy with. Collections as a whole could be Character Sheet Tabs if you ask me. Much needed Inventory improvements (mainly taking things out of Inventory) have been added, though I would like to see them take another leaf of EQ-II and add dedicated bags (for Role 2 and 3 kit for example). The new Public Group system works well I think. You can toggle yourself to be a Public or Private Group, which in the case of Public means you'll see a "Join Public Group" button appear whenever you're near likeminded people, usually around an invasion or Rift. Once I found out it was using my Graveyard button's position and I could move it, no problems.

The main issue I encountered with it wasn't technical but player-social. Nobody speaks in this game, except in Regionsay. I actually noticed people commenting on the fight we were in using the regionsay chat. Local and Party are barely used it seems. Oh well, with any luck I'll find more local chatters come launch when I'll roll on a PVE-RP shard. For Trion it might've been a good idea to integrate voice-chat with the game though. Then again, I'm not sure I'd like to try that with the Public Grouping...
Public Grouping got me to see the Raid Group Interface as well. This is probably well engineered, but left me confused for the most part.

Stuff I Missed:
Questing is fun to do. I didn't get around to trying to group dungeons, mostly because the only vitriolic chat I encountered on Guardian side (outside of level 1-9 chat which you should turn off immediately) was revolving around dungeon groups. This did lead me to find an issue though. I'd gotten my last Plate chestpiece when Kettle was Level 20. While it wasn't much of an issue for her during her tweens, throughout her twenties so far she's received two to three armor and weapon upgrades from questing for each piece except chest-armor. Annoyingly, the Level 20 piece is one of those Plate-bikini's (yes, Rift doesn't have chanimail bikini's for Clerics but makes up for it in Plate...). So right now my main armor piece is whoefully behind my level. Not a good situation for a Tank. It's actually ok for soloing, I noticed I was primarily doing quests a level, sometimes two ahead of my own whereas most Mages and Rogues tend to be on same level quests and Clerics one level lower than current. For grouping I'm badly equiped though.

Checking the Auction house I saw the situation echoed. Lots of green drops of every ilk but no chest-pieces. It appears to have been a deliberate choice of Trion to reward chest-pieces through group efforts such as grouped dungeons and warfronts. Meh. It wouldn't be so bad if someone were crafting the bloody stuff. But I couldn't find any crafted gear on the Auction Houses, so either people aren't crafting or trading in Guilds and other private venues. I did notice some Regionsay bartering taking place now and then, which leads me to conclude that one auction house per faction in their main capital maybe isn't the best design choice they made?

Maybe tonight I'll try some grouped dungeons or warfronts :-)
Talking about capitals, they're confusing. The strong vertical element is one thing, but while less confusingly layed out than the Defiant capital, Sanctum is annoying in other ways. It's essentially three concentric rings with one place where you can switch rings. A trip to Sanctum typically requires me to visit all three in order to visit Trainer, Planar Goods/Collections traders, bank and auction house. Mini Map and Major Map both aren't that helpful in cities and for the first time in a long while I found myself missing a Gameamp community (only with better tools) around a game. I'd have absolutely loved being part of an Amp-like community for this game. I just can't stomach the manure piles that are "Official Forums" anymore. So many people giving out plain wrong tech advice, so many people out just to be as nasty as they can be to each other, e.t.c. Ah well. I'm a minority I guess, but I do miss the (mostly) friendly, moderated mayhem of Amp at times like this.

Rifts and Invasions:
Back to the game though. The changes to Invasions/Rifts seem to work out, though we flunked the two Zone Invasions yesterday. The first was simply a case of not enough people bothering with it for some reason. The second one failed for a more interesting reason. We'd completed all but the last objective, slaying the named Boss 'Norima' (I think). People started asking where she was in Regionsay and were directed to one of the last Death Rifts in the deep south of the zone by others. A few minutes later the zone-wide UI overlaid messages were screaming from help at Gnarlwood, a spot roughly North of Center. Most of the defending forces simply ignored repeated pleas for help from the beset Gnarlwood and were stumped when the Invasion Quest failed as Norima achieved her objective with her last squad of baddies. I guess an unsubstantiated rumor fostered by an anonymous source is always more compelling than official notification from the game system itself :-)

Still, people will learn this, eventually, I'm sure. I'm still a bit worried about player population after the first wave though. While Invasions now scale and can be tweaked, the beginnign area's may still end up rather empty after the first big wave. But maybe Trion, who's very good at lending leaves from succesful models and not just WOW's at that, can take a hint from Turbine and make the game partially Free-to-Play after a few monts. While there's still a veneer of FAIL attached to mixed P2P/F2P games in certain loudmouthed sectors, but the way Turbine does it is actually a win-win situation. The early levels (minus high quality gear) are accessible to froobs, which has the huge advantage that your paying customers when rolling an alt aren't faced with that deserted feeling in post-launch starter area's as there's still plenty of people running around. Mostly froobs yes, but I for one consider that a more pleasant experience than having to grind mobs or be forced into a fixed group to level up as the interesting content is too hard or too slow to do alone.
Needless to say, I suspect the Free-to-Play move on Champions Online which got finalised and announced this week has more to do with Damage control on Fail than Win, but they shou;d've done that before launch if you ask me.

Anyhoo. Loving how the game shapes up. Scarlet Gorge, which is a shared zone apparently is shaping up to be as well designed as the previous two and even more vertically challenging. (Spent 20 minutes looking for the way down before I spotted other players using an elevator) I haven't bothered with Gathering or Crafting on Kettle much, when I reroll her post-launch this will change (gathering at least is fun) so I can't really comment on that. Geek's less than happy comments on it have not helped. I'll stay clear of it for now. Kettle's nearly at level cap now, 26.something and I think I'll stop playing her when I reach it. Not that I Must Have XP For My Trouble, but it seems like a good point to switch back to Naomi or roll anew.

Souls and Roles:
I've found I am not very experimentative with Souls.
With both Naomi and Kettle I picked three Souls and somewhere in their tweens decided I didn't like one of them. I'd focus on two out of the three and swap out the third around level 20 then slowly build that one up. I tried switching Kettle from Paladin/Warlord/Void Knight (Tank/Buffer/Anti-Mage) which are all defensive souls to an offensive combination that included a Pet on her second Role. What I found was that it's not much fun to switch Roles at 20 and have to learn its intircacies all anew. My PWV build's got 15-18 buttons to mash (though I keep intending to fiddle with Macro's as there are definite sequences) under specific conditions. I have to know which buttons to mash when, for maximum effect. I'm sure that my second Role (which had more skills on my hotbars) is just as intircate, but I couldn't get into it at all.

Why is this so different from Guild Wars where Build switching is a must?
Well, I think the 8 vs 16+ skills on the bar may have something to do with it. Also Guild Wars Prophecies is one long tutorial in using varied builds. Only the most stubbornly refusing to learn didn't have a grip on Builds by the time they enter the burning isles (they'd be stuck at Thunderhead Keep) but sadly even that F2P game had to dumb down their initial content for rare solo players in an empty landscape. Rift doesn't really tell you to try different Roles. It's not as integrated into the central game system as it was with Guild Wars. It's clearly an added feature to compensate for PVE / PVP builds or solo and grouped/raided builds. But the main game doesn't invite you to experiment, which will feed the FotM Builds I fear. I've already noticed that with dozens of variations possible, a lot of gamers "enforce" the UnHoly Trinity (second generation, so Tank, DPS, Healer rather than Tank, Crowd Control, DPS) onto themselves and others.

Sunday, January 9

Rift pictorial

Nature Rifts look so beautiful at first

That was my Quest Reward giver...

Nice vista in Stonefield

The Guardians have the better weather magic

Fightin' Demons

Fightin' Trolls (I bug reported my trousers)

Kettle arrives at Sanctum to be greeted by fireworks

Defiant invasion of our Quest Hub.

I'm in between the rock-fellas

Vanguard style name-tags have their issues

Charging in!

Victory :-)

Monday, January 3

My take on Rift

After a long afternoon and evening of catching up with Phè during which I held discourse to the effect I'd become a tad anti-Beta off late, the reason being it adversely affects my playtime/enjoyment post launch, I finally accepted FilePlanet's insistent begging and signed up for the third Rift Beta. I'm glad I did. My experience with the Beta was all out positive for the most part. A lot more so than I was expecting after Geeky's last post which I'll sum up to a "so-so verdict". In fact, in terms of performance and technical workiness it's one of the best Beta's I've been in.


First thing you see after shard selection (which didn't contain an RP server this time) was Character Creation. This was the first pleasant surprise. Though I didn't feel much inclined to go for the non-human races for some reason, I'll probably agree with Geek's opinions if I think about it, I found myself liking the level of detail I could adjust. It's obvious from the start that there's a single avatar skeleton which is shrunk down vertically for the dwarfish race and stretched out for the ogerish one. The fact you can't change your shoulder-width, leg length or boob size doesn't bother me as it means Trion will be able to include more interesting and detailed armour not totally dependent on body mesh. On the other hand, it's something which may yet be incoming for another Beta. For me though, the level of detail in this Beta was enough.

I did not like the facial tattoo's/markings which while not as cruddy as Age of Conan's still feel artificial to me. They're a quick-win as they're mono-colour easy to generate patterns that help give a face some unique distinctiveness. They're a too obvious clutch for me though and besides, there's a reason there's relatively few facial tattoo's in any of Earth's cultures....

Trion's graphics engine reminds me of a mixture between Warhammer and Lord of The Rings. Probably more the latter than the former. It shares some art-style with Warhammer, mostly in the American concept of what medieval architecture should look like (Tudor) and the colour palette. Level of detail and lighting effects are very similar to LoTR though and therefore a step up from WAR.
Art style is also a curious mix of both Western and Eastern style MMO's, having played primarily Defiant I didn't get to see the Guardian capital, but at first I felt some of the Defiant architecture jar with that of the locals but after a while it grew on me. They fall in the same mistake every MMO level designer seems to make and that is to A) use curved brick patterns and then B) consistently align the texture the same way so that the curve becomes a compass direction no matter which way the road's curved but other than that I thought it was a decently smart mixture of texture re-use and variety of models. I do hope there's a bit more variety post Level 20 though. If I still see the same ruins at level 40 it might become a tad dull...

The Interface was another pleasant surprise to me.
It’s rare to see it so well thought out and so far worked out at this stage of Beta. The Tutorial Hints as well were vastly beyond what I’ve gotten used to pre- and post- launch. Customizing the panels is a bit unusual but workable after you get used to it. Still some things to fix in there like the currently fixed positions of the mouse-over tool tip and the character sheet. There were also some bits which were locked child elements and could as a result only be resized in proportion to the mother panel.

The Inventory looks like it’s still a work in progress. It works as is, but with the multiple bag setup it’s begging for specialty bags like EverQuest-II, and some other MMO’s I can’t quite remember just now, has. We’ll see how this develops. I did pick the Crafting class that needs a better Inventory system than any other and didn’t get around to actually craft much.

My main peeve with Interface is twofold but related. The Hot bar initially provided is big enough for about one sixth of the skills you will eventually acquire using three Souls. Given that some skills are passive always-on affairs and there is some unavoidable redundancy between Souls you will probably end up needing a mere 4 additional bars filled with skills and things like potions.
I’m never a fan of rows upon row of buttons to mash, especially not if as is the case with Rift you can’t mess around with key bindings but also when only the bottom bar has been integrated into the UI and the additional “floating bars” have no window dressing whatsoever. I’m picky. Either make them all part of your UI or allow me to drop the window dressing on my “primary” hotbar.
In both Vanguard and Age of Conan I’d made extensive modifications to the original key-bindings and I really really missed that in Rift.
Maybe the in-game Macro system will help with some of these issues as I did notice a tendency to take actions sequentially.

Which brings us to gameplay. For a Cleric, Rift is mostly your average button masher MMO. I briefly tested the rogue class which had a bit more complexity in that there were finishing moves and a build-up system. The Soul system as used in this Beta seems to work. I picked out a nice combination of Souls for my cleric and decided to change it around level 13. With the Roles allowing you up to three builds to swap between there’s plenty of room to experiment or for a healer cleric to have both group and solo builds. The game has three main gameplay modes it seems: Classic PvE questing which while mostly filler content isn’t quite as dull as I expected. Quest stories are decently written and I actually found myself checking them occasionally.
Yes for the most part it’s go here or there and kill X of mob Y or click Quest item Z at locations A, B and C but off late I’ve come to think that maybe the call for better more in-depth Quests may need to be put on the same pedestal as the call for intelligent AI. Just like people want the illusion of challenging AI’s rather than the actual thing, any Quest more complex than the Kill ten Rats, collect, deliver and escort quests results in a lot of people finding them frustratingly hard. Much the same as mobs which actually run away and gather their friends to fight you.

The other two game play options are Rifts and PVP. I didn’t try the latter so can’t comment on it at all. Since this Beta had beefed up Rift activity I did partake in those quite a bit. They’re very reminiscent of Warhammer’s Public Quest system but without the fixed positions. Just like the PQ’s a Rift goes through 3-5 stages. Unlike the PQ’s they don’t have a written storyline but are semi-randomly generated. What I missed most from the PQ’s was an auto-grouping system. Without that I fear the Rift experience will always either be a chaotic brawl or Guild/Raid dominated, which is a shame I think. There’s a lot of incentive to group at a Rift, but at the same time there isn’t. It’s odd really. I quickly discovered that my Cleric’s contribution was determined by how much healing I put out. Not how much healing I accomplished. Meaning if I healed 10 hit-points by casting a 100 hit-point heal I’d be credited for healing 100 hit points. This was clearly a system still being fine-tuned and I hope they’ll get it as balanced as Warhammer’s was. As I understand it, for DPS dealers it’s whoever hits the mob first gets the kill and the credit. Hopefully that’s going to change into the way my heals should work. Applied Healing (the 10 points) and Applied Damage (what actually comes through soak/armour) and maybe Damage averted for Tanks?

I really enjoyed playing the Beta. A lot of the things that still need to be fixed/improved I have confidence in that they’ll be fixed or improved. My main concern lies in a fatal flaw of Warhammer’s design and Beta testing concept. Their Public Quests were very, very population density dependent, and so are the Rifts. I did notice some evidence that they’re not totally neglecting low population possibilities (fewer Rifts during low pop times, possibly some friendly NPC spawnage) but I also saw some definite Beta behaviour in that L20 characters would rush in to assist with lower level Rifts and Invasions. How often will we see an L20 come assisting overwhelmed L12’s who stumbled onto a L15 Invasion when those L20’s aren’t artificially kept near?