Sunday, January 29

Postcards from Eberron

Just a quick post with some screenies I took in DDO over the last week.
I particularly liked the subterranean Bugbear / Kobold village.
Well, except for the residents trying to kill me every step of the way.

DDO's moved from just Dungeons to several outdoor areas as well now. Like rooftop chases and Farmlands, but overall the game stays true to its name :-)

Wednesday, January 25

Postcard from a weekend in Telera

I like Trion, they've come across as listeners and responders, they've been great at updating and working on the game since release, it was also a smooth one: Trion done good IMHO.

So when I got offered a free weekend in Teleria I took that in to account, there was new content to explore, had some time on my hands and after the dissapointments of SW:TOR I just wanted to play an MMO and have some fun. I'm pleased to report it worked well for me and now the free time is over I'm missing what I haven't explored....When the next patch comes in (or maybe sooner) I'll pick up a months sub. They got me in their honey trap.

All wasn't lush in Teleria, I transferred from the RP server, very few people around and in Meridian all I saw was static characters, obviously in a queue for warfronts or dungeons. A problem of both community and the lack of anything to support social activities in cities. But on with the good.

Here's the highlights of what's new since we left and a few from what's to come.

Lore driven dungeon content for one (well geared) or two players. As it stands there are three to choose from, are repeatable once every 24 hrs, give some nice loot and provide good experience towards Planar Attunement (the alternate advancement system).

Chronicle of Attunement
is available at lvl 50 and unlocks the Planar Attunement system. It's set in an instanced version of the capital and has some nice use of voice acting. It's a short story about celebration, the gift of attunement, unwanted gatecrashers and finally the celebration of your heroism again. Like it or not, in MMOs of this nature heroism is what we are all about, Vailare isn't complaining.

Vailare being cheered by the crowd for his great taste in shoulder pads.

Receiving the gift of attunement
Gatecrashers arrive courtesy of Regulos, giving you plenty of opportunity to prove your heroicness again. Kill the lvl 52 trash and a few level 52 Elites and get to the end boss, a fun encounter that keeps you on your toes. Of course the story side loses it's meaning on the third run but it's still a good, quick source of cash, crafting mats, gear and XP.

Not Vailare but some other hero (or should I say Guardian scum *grin*) facing the boss.

Hammerknell: Runes of Corruption
Using part of the raid instance from Hammerknell your tasked with finding a scouting party and defeating a king. Played solo it has few challenging encounters, Watch for patrols (on a short leash) and the groups of three. Sadly the use of item buffs makes the first boss and final challenge a walk in the park. It requires timing and a decent build to pull off. Worth repeating for the loot.

Vailare about to face the first boss
A lucky drop from Hammerknell

Greenscale's Blight: The Fallen Prince
Greenscales Blight raid instance is the setting for this. hardest to solo, I couldn't get past the boss whose guards turn in to werewolves, they hit long and hard while she buffs them. A real challenge but thanks to the soul system I didn't give up but I started developing builds. This dungeon made me appreciate the nuances of the class system again, I had three builds with two
classes in common and a third unique, all allowing me to approach the encounter in a different way, for PvE it's a great system.

Chronicles are a good use of available content and the loot is good enough to encourage repeatable play (Plaques of Achievement for dungeon gear are part of the reward). First times through the stories aren't bad either. There's a new one coming in the next patch.

Other new repeatable content
Instant Adventures are non-instanced, timed mini quests of kill x of this or click x of that. Set in Shimmersands or Stillmoor they are for solo or groups (up to raid size). Your transported to an area and receive your first timed quest, these increase in objective size as you progress. I never got to more than stage three of an adventure, didnt have the time. The xp reward is excellent and some nice drops to be had too. There's also a new max level dungeon I didn't get to see on Ember Isle: Caduceus Rise. There have also been additions to their 10 man raids otherwise known as 'Slivers', never done one, again no comment.

Ember Isle
Sadly didn't have a lot of time to explore or complete many quests. It's a large zone, bigger than the others. Mobs are lvl 52, half decent gear is needed. Looked nice, that's all I can say, looks worth exploring further.

Planar Attunement
The alternate advancement system is progressed via xp after lvl 50. In brief, it offers elemental 'trees' to advance. Choose an element best suited to your character (went with Fire for my mage) and gain small, incremental bonuses in stats, elemental resistance and get the ability to open rifts of the element you chose. There are three 'trees', the other two were locked, I have no idea how those trees progress. Seems a nice and simple enough system, should provide longevity if you want to max all your builds.

Rift still suffers from its small world size and lack of replayability but there have definitely been good steps taken to increase longevity. I like the soul system, if you don't go looking for cookie cutter there's plenty of scope with it, I also enjoyed the 'on the hoof' casual grouping for zone events, I came away having had alot of fun in a solid themepark with new content I thought worth exploring. Stat chasing and gear grinding isnt for me but Rift is sure giving you plenty of ways to do it.

A little bit more

I bit the bullet and signed up again, have to say no regrets. Ember Isle is great, its size encourages exploring and it is worthwhile. Lovely to look at and I still have about a third of the map covered. Mobs are around lvl 52, as a well geared mage I'm pushing soloing two mobs, bring in a third and death is very likely. Interesting quests and a challenge to be had amongst some very lovely scenery.

Th new patch has made some useful changes, you can use mats directly from your bank while crafting (Just like SWTOR), seems Trion continue to look for and take inspiration from what works in other games. Artisan marks (from crafting dailies) can now be exchanged for Master Marks at the rate of 500 to one, I had thousands so I was able to invest in one of the new recipes. That recipe required I buy two new master recipes from two trainers at a grand cost of 50 plat', not cheap, NPC bought ingredients aren't cheap either but imagine my horror to discover the new crafted mats are on a 20 hour timer, it's going to take six days to craft my new robe!

A new chronicle set in the raid instance at Stillmoor was introduced, thats four chronicles now, combined you can spend a good two to three hours alone on these if you insisit on clearing every mob in the Stillmoor one. I'm still having a blast playing these.

Gear progression has been simplified, a good thing. For PvP it looks like a move to skill being more important than gear. Dungeon modes have been streamlined but I've been playing solo so far.

Trion continue to impress, I could write more but there are dwarves in Hammerknell waiting to die :)

Wednesday, January 18

What is missing?

So I have given up on SWTOR for now. And in stead I have had fun the last two days playing a completely desolated City of Heroes and Bastion. But games are fun. But here I am sitting at work and there is nothing game related I can or should do. Nothing to research, nothing to read or comment. I am actually forced to do just my work.

My mind wondered off a bit, and I realized that that is one of the biggest problems of SWTOR (and Rift before that). The game is made too perfect. There is no need to discuss it, to share screenshots, to argue its merits, or maintaining some sort of loot sheet. They are as clear cut and dry as a little game like Bastion. You play them for a while, and then you go do something else.

In the Heydays of Gameamp I lived City of Heroes 24/7. It is not actually the game but the community that made the game. I didn't even played with Ampers that often. Fallen Earth got that back for me for a while, but I didn't play it enough to feel part of the community. That is/was more my fault than the game. In Rift and especially in SWTOR everything is cut out for us. No need to argue over anything. Even looking up stuff on Wiki or Zam is rarely needed.

So what is the solution? Make games mechanics obscure like in Anarchy Online? I think for a part that is something I would like. The period I played AO this year I had a lot of fun making a clever custom spreadsheet. And there is plenty to research about obscure quests and items. I even joined a clan to boost my social activities in game, and via the clan forums. But it showed the game is getting old. The forum was mostly dead, and in game it was about tweak this and advanced option that. And I just had nothing really to say to that, so I went off to do my own thing. Pretty much being alone in and outside of the game.

I would like to blame it on not having enough time anymore, but I don't think I am playing less than 5 or 10 years ago. Mostly it is that it adds no entertainment value anymore for me. The social types in MMOs seem to have become mostly the e-peen types that want to show off their knowledge, money or prowess. I have no business at all with them. But I am sure there are a whole lot of people like me out there. We all love to socialize over our 10 killed rats.

The answer must be that we do that while trying to achieve something that will take us months to complete. Short term quests work much better solo. But what goal could there be in a game that I would be interested in to spend months on? For me personally player housing or guildhall are wasted fluff. Although it was a good goal in Vanguard for our guild. Maybe a house is it, but then really in the idea of a real town. Not just some artificial area with unconnected buildings you never want to visit.

And it is essential that it is not some sort of grind fest thing. The e-peens can get their whatever, and I will go play a different game. Me doing my bit should be meaningful for the larger group, and at the same time meaningful for me personally. A real village could be it.

But maybe I am just dreaming here. And what does it matter even what I think? It doesn't, but I just needed to talk about my favourite hobby. My hobby of talking about massive mulitplayer video games.

Monday, January 16

Yet Another SW:TOR review

I couldn't resist stealing the title :) It is not much of a review. More ramblings from my head.

The game is up and about for a month now, and that should be enough time for me to know whether I like it or not. It has it good bits and bad bits. As a game I like it, as an MMO it is rather uninteresting. I wish it was a single player game, without a subscription.

I pick up nearly any quest I can find while walking around. That means automatically that I will also get the [Heroic] missions. I have run a quite few of them together with some random people. It was not a bad experience at all. The players ranged from dead weight to done-this-20-times-before. I don't think I have dealt with any real jerk. But I didn't get anything positive out of it either. Each heroic mission I've done was about getting xp and clearing it off the list. It didn't add anything to main reason I play the game, and that is immersing myself in being a badass evil intelligence agent for the Sith Empire. I felt like I was teaming up because that is what you are supposed to do in an MMO.

Although it is silly, I started to avoid teaming up completely. Abandon the heroics, and just do my thing alone. I like the environments I am walking around in. I also like my character, the way she moves, fights, looks and talks. My companion is even cooler. She says and does some of the more memorable gaming experiences. But it sits kind of wrong with me that I am playing this game for 10 pound a month. Why am I not playing Mass Effect 2 or Portal 2 or any of the other 20 Steam games I have bought the last year or so?

The answer probably lies a bit in what makes an MMO different from a single player game (SPG). An SPG has a fixed beginning an end. An MMO is an escape from reality with an alter ego. This is a bit blurred though. In an MMO I do start at level 1 and the journey ends when I reach the level cap, so in a way there is an end. But in an MMO I can create a new alter ego and the world starts over. You can't do that in a SPG. When I play an SPG I start with the intention of finishing it, and if I don't I (usually) won't ever return to it. So along those same lines if I would stop SWTOR now, will I pick it up again later like I've done with other MMOs or if I quit now that is the end of it?

I am feeling some guilt towards my agent to just drop her and never see her again. So I continued playing on Saturday. And I am having a good time. I do want to see what other worlds are out there. And I do want to know what the Empire has in store for her. But it is all a bit more in the same way I want to know what happens in the next episode of Hollyoaks.

On Sunday I played City of Heroes with my usual group. We played through the latest Signature Story Arc. It was a lot of fun. I also played Bastion and had a lot of fun with that too. I enjoyed both those games more than I did SWTOR on Saturday. Is it compulsive bahaviour that I can't let go of SWTOR just yet? It could also be guilt towards MMOs in general. It has been my biggest hobby these past 10 years. I just have to enjoy SWTOR!