ArcheAge – Next Thing?

I like to read Eri’s Healing the Masses posts on ArcheAge.  I say this because I have absolutely zero interest in any open PvP game and her posts remind me a heck of a lot of my early days in UO (before split).  I get why people enjoy it, I do.  It’s like people who eat mustard with eggs.  I mean, what’s with you people, it’s mustard?

ArcheAge seems split into 2 games.  The 1-30 PvE themepark of sorts.  Then the open world game at 30+ that tries to merge PvE with PvP.  It makes the world a more dynamic and living place and to be honest, I don’t mind a bit of the rush that goes with it.  Some areas are off limits, or provide better rewards if you can get through.  Armadas of boats running docks is a cool thing.  Faction wars are even better.

What sucks about open PvP is greifing, where the play of one person causes more financial harm than they bring in.  And in a F2P game… this barrier is incredibly low.  I remember when Diablo3 came out and people were mutli-boxing gold runs.  I saw one guy who had 200 VMs running gold runs, pulling in a few million per hour.  With the RMAH, it was an EASY money laundering system.  D3 was B2P, where you needed the license of ~$60 but making that back from RMAH was a pretty simple affair.  I know I made a few hundred from it.  AA being F2P, with zero up front cost and tons of bots makes the D3 issue look juvenile.

And I haven’t even begun to talk about the actual hacks.  Bots that automate actions are one thing.  Hack that teleport, grief and replace client data are a great way to destroy an entire game in a few short days.  Neverwinter had an infamous Caturday that cause the devs to roll back the economy for 2 days.  WildStar had teleporting resource bots for 2 weeks. You couldn’t hit a node in any 35+ zone (thank goodness for housing plots).  ESO was lucky, it only had armies of bots camping dungeons and spamming for gold.  That AA has a hack that auto-detects house decay and allows for an auto-placement before the house goes splat is ingenious.  That everyone playing the game had to endure an anti-hack tool that does nothing is ridiculous.

All this hacking produces more gold, which artificially inflates the economy.  If something used to cost 5 gold, now it costs 20.  And it gets worse every day.  This makes for an artificial barrier of entry for any new player and ages the game’s economy.  But it doesn’t put any money into honest player’s pockets.  It just isn’t a sustainable economy but you can’t expect a rollback!

The absolute worst part about AA is that Trion has zero control on the code. No matter what you post or report, Trion can’t do squat.  They can report it overseas, sure, but so far that hasn’t given any fruit. If I was sitting in a Trion room right now, I’d be sweating bullets watching the leeches destroy a goldmine of money and pushing more and more paying people out the door.

This year has been such an interesting one for blogging about MMOs.  It’s like there were no lessons learned at all.

WoW – MoP Update

In continuing with the previous string of posts, my Hunter is 88.5 now and that’s after completing the majority of Jade Forest.  I’m trying to think back to the last time I went through this process and I’m pretty sure I hit 90 after the Jade, Karasang, Valley and parts of Kun-Lai.  I’m pretty sure I’ll hit 90 before unlocking the farm, so 1.5 zones or so?  I’m thinking that the new leveling path has you spend <2 zones per expansion to get through, which seems a rather large waste to me.  Let me explain that a bit more.

BC’s best zones were not the starting zones.  Shadowmoon Valley and Netherstorm were great.  Terrokar was ok and now I don’t think you even set foot there.  LK’s starting zones were solid enough, though Borean Tundra was the better option.  Sholazar was great (lore!) but Icecrown and Storm Peaks were simply amazeballs.  Cata’s zones all stunk up something fierce, with maybe Mount Hyjal being ok.  Let’s all forget Uldum.  MoP’s zones were a mixed bag.  Jade Forest was/is good.  Then it was a rough going until Townlong.  Dread Wastes without a flying mount is still a nightmare.  While I understand that the story flows from zone to zone, it would be a neat trick to have ALL the zones open per expansion and just flatten out the experience.  Use scaling or whathaveyou to keep those zones active.  GW2 does this pretty good.  It sucks missing the ride that some of these zones provide.  It just seems weird where a game would knowingly make you avoid 75% of the content.

Back to the Hunter.  I specced Beastmaster as it was traditionally the leveling build of choice.  WoD’s ability pruning and standardization of pets is not making BM that much fun.  Sure, I can use a Molten Core Hound as a pet but his only unique skill is a damage shield.  All my cooldowns are pet related, which makes it suck something fierce when I don’t have a pet.  And there have been a half dozen quests now where I don’t have access to a pet, meaning I have 2 skills to damage an opponent.  It’s like fighting unarmed.  I think I’m going to try Marksman.

Hunter pets have always fascinated me.  Now with a streamline, there are 11 types of buffs provided by various pets. So have one of that buff type and you’re good.  I’m collecting a bunch now, since the stable cap has gone up to 50.  In fact, I found a Spirit Beast in Jade Forest that I wanted to try capturing.  And that ended up killing me in 3 hits instead.  I think once I hit 90 and spend a bit of time on the Timeless Isle (alliteration?) I’ll go back and collect some friends.  I did do something similar at the tail end of Cataclysm, where I collected dozens of pets.  I think I’m around 200 or so now, avoiding all those that required 1000+ kill farms.  There’s just some OCD aspect about collecting that I think many of us can relate to.

While I still have a DK in the wings, and a max level shammy and monk, I think I’ll be sticking with the hunter until WoD comes out.  Who knows I might actually buy the expansion too.

WoW – Patch 6.0 Impressions

Rohan beat me to it but I share similar points.

First off, and I think I mentioned this in the past, I sub to WoW for a month or two every 2 major patches, including expansions.  So I saw the start of MoP and then I saw 5.2 (Thunder Isle) and then 5.4 (Siege of Ogrimmar).  I think it was less than a month for both of the patches but a solid 2 for the MoP launch.  Value for money and all that.  Plus, I have little intention on raiding, due to time constraints and 2 kids.  (Kind of the reason I am not subbed to Wildstar atm…, what with 2 50s and 2 others in their 30s).

Pre-amble.  I have a 90 Monk, 90 Shaman, 86 DK, 86 Rogue, 80 Mage, 86 Hunter, 60 Paladin (through RAF boosting no less), 30 Druid, 5 Priest (bank alt) and zero Warriors (because they suck).  Also, I really miss the ability to sprint and double jump.  You don’t realize it until it’s gone but it makes travel on foot that much more fun.

Heirlooms

Back to WoW.  Last post I mentioned a lack of changes to heirlooms.  Well in actual fact it’s a little worse than I had thought.  Heirlooms are bought through 3 methods.  Justice Points (now gone), Darkmoon Faire tickets (1 week a month) and Trial of the Crusader (which if my math is correct, 7 days of dailies for 1 piece of gear).  JP vendors are gone, so not quite sure how that’s going to work out.  The reason given was “due to unsure prices and to avoid buyers remorse”.  Let me break that particular point down for you.

Justice Points were dungeon currency.  It was maybe 2-3 hours of dungeon runs, very easy to do in order to get an item.  I would hazard to call it cheap even, at least the easiest of the 3 methods.  So even if it were to be some nominal amount, say 500 gold per item (guild heirlooms are 2500 IIRC), then it begs the question what they expect the new value to be.  It’s hard to imagine them being cheaper than current.  So you get into conspiracy theories of Blizz pushing their “buy a level 90 boost”.  I dunno, the entire thread just seems like really bad PR on a core part of their community (the one who actually bothers with alts).

On the flipside, experience was drastically normalized.  I had an 84.5 Hunter on logoff, and on logon, had an 84.99999 Hunter waiting.  MoP experience gain is ~50% higher than previous, if not more.  Cataclysm should be around the same path, making heirlooms a very quirky item.  I think I might be able to do 80-85 in 1 zone now.  Will have to try with my Mage at some point.

Combat

Ability pruning was a pretty frigging big deal for a Hunter.  I’d guess 25% of all skills are gone.  As a BM, that leaves 2 buttons for main rotation (Cobra Shot and Arcane Shot) and then some pet cooldowns.  It is quite strange.  Good strange mind you, as I had hotbars within hotbars.  It was an episode of Pimp my Hunter.  The UI is much cleaner.  Plus with 6.0, every mod broke something, so I’m playing vanilla.

The stat squish is massive, I think my ring is like +15 or some such.  I will say that a stat boost itself is less noticeable, as the scale from base is flatter.  Hmm, let me try that again.  Before this patch, your base damage was a factor of your level and base stats.  Base stats at 90 were nothing really, so each piece of gear you added was a tremendous boost to power.  A decent ring might give you 10% more.  Now it seems that the base value is higher and that gear provides less benefit, let’s say only a 7% boost from the same ring.  What this means is balancing is much easier for Blizzard as the player power variance is smaller.  It also means that player skill is more important than before as you will have trouble “out gearing” a situation.  That’s a paradigm used in Cataclysm, to disastrous effect on subscriptions… so time will tell.

Reforging is gone.  Enchanting is barely there.  Jewelcrafting took a hit.  None of the Professions provide any combat benefits.  Haste windows are gone.  Snapshotting is gone.  It seems like every corner of customization was cut pretty deep.  Ask Mr Robot is going to need a new job I’m thinking as the game is currently heavily simplified in terms of stats and rotation.  The complications added are now mainly around player skill.

But do I have the same amount of power as before?  I’ll say yes for the time being.  The leveling power curve was well-adjusted.  There’s no more “in between expansions” power gap either, so that’s nice.

Art

New player models, which by consequence also means no character models in some scenes as they weren’t programmed?  I dunno if it’s a bug or not but me + parachute = no character.

Bunch of UI changes too.  Items you can click are highlighted with an outline, harvesting and quest nodes.  Quest overlays are more informative.  Hunter stables can take 50 pets (up from 10 last I checked).  Aura alerts are still there.  Some icon changes.  Icons in bags are different, in particular when you are at a vendor.  Junk is clearly tagged, though there still isn’t a junk button.  Overall a solid improvement (based entirely on the mod community I might add).  I’ll still mod the UI though – if only to control the button size ratio.

The models are a bit more fluid in their movement and the style is somewhat consistent with before.  The eyes though, they are hollow.  It’s like uncanny valley over here but then again, how often do you look at someone’s eyes in WoW?

Also, they are 10 year old models.  The game looks like it was made 10 years ago, in particular due to the fact that MoP had no new capital city.  If WoD has as new Shatt to play around in, maybe it won’t be as noticeable.

Crowd Control

This is an odd one for me since I played 8 years of a Rogue and was stun-locking when you were still in diapers.  Pretty much any stun effect that disables you and still allows an enemy to attack you is gone.  The ones that get you out of combat but break on damage are still in.  Interrupts are still there with their original cooldowns as are root/slow effects. For combat, I have half the damage control tools I had previous, which means I am taking more damage and need to time my skills to be at the tail end of a cast.  It’s balanced by the fact that many “casters” require to stand still now to get a spell off, so there’s some delay in damage output.  Still, it’s a new way to play and I’m curious as to how the crowds will adapt.

Overall Impressions

I will be honest here and say that I expected more rather than less.  There are massive systematic cuts to combat and player customization, which is like 90% of the game content (excepting Pet Battles).  I used to write guides for games and this expansion would have me cut at least a quarter of it.  Players have only a fraction of the tools they had before, which is quite jarring.  It’s a real “back to basics” push and I can commend it as it’s something I try to do in my own job.  The game feels familiar and different at the same time, which is what you want in an expansion.  Now let’s open this red door…

Changes are a Comin’

The first bit of news relates to Wildstar.  Megaservers are coming next week, so you’ll be able to find people to play with again.  Yay!  Also, Drop 3 & 4 are being combined and targeted for November.  It’s making it hard to figure out what is in and what is out of scope of that change.  The Reddit feeds are good enough to try and keep track but there’s still some mystery to be had.  Of interesting note, January is Carbine’s timeframe for “solo friendly” content.  I could write for miles about that topic.  MILES I say.  But in short, delaying all your content until after WoW and SWTOR have launched their expansions is an odd play of hands.

WoW is dropping patch 6 today, which is the precursor to the actual expansion.  This includes all the system changes but not the actual new content (zones, dungeons, level increase, garrisons, etc…).  So you get to see item squish, removal of guild levels (yay!), removal of reforging, changes to glyphs (you now get a bunch at default), removal of some difficulty achievements, a new group finder (not LFG/LFR), the new Flex raid model, massive class balances, new stats, new character models and just plain cleanup.  Though they are removing one type of Anti-Aliasing that was a GPU hog, in order to accommodate the players with scientific calculators.  It’s a rather significant downgrade to fidelity, if that means anything to you.

You can read the link for all the notes and there are plenty but the core of the matter is that this is the stage-setting patch for the expansion – where Blizz applies the final tweaks to the system to make sure that the swap from Beta makes sense.  I fully expect the raid scene to take a dive for 2 weeks, a few emergency patches and a trainwreck of “I can’t faceroll anymore” posts to result from the squish change.

What I find odd as lacking, is a revamp of the heirloom items or experience normalization that typically happens near expansion time.  Where 1-85 is pretty quick (you can do 80-85 in 2 zones), the experience from 85-90 isn’t up for debate.  It’s arguably a fun experience, at least compared to the junk of Cata (thank goodness for flying) but if they are selling level 90 characters… then you’d think there’d be some QoL changes to this experience as well.  I am expecting some post soon that changes that to everything working until at least 90, at least by 6.1.

Quick math… level 25 guild + heirlooms until 80 = 60% increase to experience from quests and kills.  Which also combines with rested experience.  And these items are fairly easy to acquire (except the ring…damn that fishing derby).

I am quite curious to see how all these changes play out.

EDIT: I am putting dollars to donuts that Blizz implements a system similar to SWTOR’s Legacy framework, or Marvel Heroes’ Synergy section.  And therefore completely removes the existing Heirloom function.  And for 6.1.  Any takers?

Shadow of Mordor – Quick Hit

Recent release on Steam (and I guess some other platforms), Shadow of Mordor is an interesting take on the LOTR lore.  I’ve got about 20 hours in, says I’m near 80% done so I figure it’s time to put my thoughts to words.

SoM plays a bit like Assassin’s Creed and the new Batman games.  A mix of stealth assassination and darn sweet combat controls, mixed with some sandbox open-ended gameplay.  Well, that last part is much more sandbox than I had thought, in that there are only 25 or so “quests” for the core story, a real fraction of your playtime.  You need to complete the main story quests mind you, in order to unlock the 2nd zone, Power Struggles (that further unlock skills) and to actually unlock particular skills.  I did none of that for the first 2 hours and had a blast.

There’s stuff to find, slaves to free, Orcs to interrogate and a slew of side quests.  I did all of that until my map was empty (and I ran around a few times to see if I missed a spot) and then I decided to start the main quest.  A few of those in, then it unlocked more side quests.  Rinse and repeat for 20 hours and there are a small handful left.

The quest is so-so and really only peaks if you have any interest in LOTR.  The idea is neat but the execution just doesn’t work out so well.  It’s just an excuse really to move the mechanics along, which seems like a wasted effort.

There’s always a compromise when it comes to sandboxes and actual levels.  The power curve is really quite hard to balance.  I’ll use Skyrim as an example.  Some parts are death at low levels with bad gear.  Go back after you have triple fireballs and things turn to cake.  SoM has this issue in the first zone and in the second as well until you unlock the Brand skill.  It is very easy to be overwhelmed and die until you get that.  I died a solid 50 times, trying various strategies out.  Once you get Brand though… the game just takes a massive challenge dump.

Brand is an ability that converts an Orc to fight for you.  You can use it in combat (after a small combo) or stealth attack someone with it.  If you Brand all the archers in a given area, then activate them, it’s a shooting gallery.  Like 5-1 odds gallery. But hey, you only really unlock that at the tail end of the core story, so it’s not too big a deal.

The controls are decent enough, and responsive.  Combat is super fluid, even more so as you unlock more skills (particularly the dodge/stun combo).  It’s very fun to jump from one enemy to the next, using decent timing to get the perfect strikes in.  It’s a solid jump up from Batman.  The assassinations are also well done, and the quests to get there aren’t “follow this guy in the bushes for 45 minutes, fail and restart”.  So that’s sweet.

That's a BIG dog.

That’s a BIG dog.

You have a melee weapon (sword), a ranged one (bow) and a stealth one (dagger).  They each have strengths and can be comboed with each other in combat strings.  You can unlock rune slots for each, which is sort of like a perk for the item.  Say, 50% chance to heal when you have a critical strike.  There are different tiers of perks too, and if you Brand then threaten a boss orc, you get a better chance at a rune.  But they also get more powerful and get a posse.

And now we get to the Nemesis system.  There are normal orcs, up to 15 captain orcs and then 5 warchiefs per zone (2 zones).  Each orc has strengths and weaknesses.  Some are immune to melee, or get stronger if there’s fire, or fear these direbeasts.  You don’t know any of this unless you interrogate orcs too, so if you catch one cold, you can be trying for a while to figure out how to attack them.

If you kill a captain or a warchief, another orc can take their place.  Orcs can kill you and get promoted and get more powerful.  Orcs can kill each other, or recruit other orcs to increase power.  And it’s all dynamic, so you’re never seeing the same orcs again.  Well that’s not true.  Say an orc kills you, they will remember it and taunt you next time they meet you.  And sometimes an orc you think you killed just comes back with scars.  And that’s where the real open-ended gameplay comes from.

See, if you Brand all the captains, you can then Brand the warchiefs.  Then you get a few of them close together and use another skill to kill all Branded enemies.  BOOM, rain of runes.  Then speed up time a bit and more Orcs come back.

I am impressed.  The Nemesis system is where the real meat of the game is and it’s truly innovative.  Smooth controls are the other part of the foundation and combined provide a really enjoyable experience.  I’m kind of thinking that this is the new model for open world gameplay with combat mechanics.  It’s really well executed (pun intended) and worth your dollars.

WoW – Interesting Dev Credit

In somewhat interesting news, it appears that Jay Wilson, mr Diablo 3 lead , is listed in the credits for WoW’s next expansion.  I posted a bit about this gentleman in the past.  He left D3 for an unknown Blizz project, though any executive that leaves that type of position, usually doesn’t do it in the middle of sweeping changes, at least voluntarily.

I’ve been more than vocal on D3’s original implementation.  The AH was a good idea with a horrible implementation.  It impacted the rest of the design.  Itemization was broken until D3 launched on consoles.  “End game” didn’t really exist until a year after launch.  So yeah, I think the game is Blizzard’s worst received game at launch ever but that they stuck with it and today’s game is really quite good.  It’s telling that the company still takes value in the brand and one of the reasons they are still on my “must buy” list of developers.  It takes FOREVER for change, but changes happen.

Oddly, this reminds me of Hellgate:London.  Flagship launched a decent ARPG but made some missteps in terms of end game, or at least long term appeal.  Plus the dev cycle for patches didn’t really work.  The meat here is that Bill Roper, then lead of Flagship, got a bunch of ex-Blizzard folk to help out.  That didn’t really work mind you and Bill became a game albatross.  He showed up at Cryptic during the Champion Online and STO days and hoo-boy did that go over like a lead balloon.  He’s working at the cash cow Disney Infinity now though, so good on him.  Bill took full blame of Flagship and honestly, he did try hard to get it going.  I think this has more to do with fan investment in the product and just sheer disappointment that it could not succeed.

Jay though, he’s a slightly different beast.  Maybe it’s more along the lines of an open-mic issue where he was simply ill-equipped to handle the issues or that the ship was simply to big to correct after launch.  Some may be aware, but D3 underwent a rather massive design shift in combat mechanics about 6 months before live.  I would easily argue for the better as everyone has always been positive about the gameplay experience.  The other stuff though, maybe it was a lack of experience or understanding, but in the end nearly all the other systems were removed/replaced/updated.  AH is gone.  Smart loot replaces the insane RNG of strength on wands.  Stat balance changes itemization.  Lengendaries are actually legendary.  Multiple end-game options. Social tools.  Ladders and seasons.  Tons of stuff.  And I pin this on him as he was the lead.  You want the title, it comes with the ups and downs.

So maybe Jay just went back to what he does well, building core systems and not the overall architecture.  It’s certainly behind closed doors, without a need to interact with the playerbase.  There are very few good jacks-of-all-trades, maybe a few dozen in the entire industry.  I know in mine you could fit them all into a bar.  It would certainly be interesting to see where he’s at now and how he feel the transition has been.

#WoW – Flex Raids and New Features

The previous post related to my opinion that Warlords of Draenor is bringing very little to the table.  Thinking on that a bit, I realize that WoW’s strongest foot forward has generally been mid-patch and not expansions, with a few exceptions.

Blizzard makes good stories and solid art.  Expansions focus on that and while there are certainly exceptions where the story is horribad, the vast majority is solid if not exceptional given the tools they have at hand.  My opinion here is that time travel is often a poor device for story telling as a premise.  Sci-fi always succeeds when the story is about the people and the context is just there for flavor.  I’m curious as to how WoD will handle that given that the “wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff” is pretty hard to manage without causing a bunch of retcons.

Blizzard is quite poor at new but really good at updating existing systems.  The resistance requirements from vanilla turned into attunement for BC which turned into gear score later on.  40 man raids turned into 25 and 10, and then Flex.  LFG was a list originally, then automated, then LFR and now a near feature for feature rip from an exiting game mod.  Questing has undergone some big iterations, with the Cataclysm model of stories and MoP’s cinematic/integration story approach.  Leveling curves have been normalized.  Itemization has gone from 4 stats, to 16, to gems everywhere, to gems nowhere, to 8 stats and now RNG stats.  Talents went from the Diablo 2 model, to massive cookie cutter trees, to a rather homogenized flat structure with minimal variance.  Heck, some systems are so poorly thought out they just cut them from the game – reforging is one clear example.

Even the “new” stuff they put it was done in other systems first.  Transmogrification existed in many other games – LOTR and RIFT in particular – and those systems are still better than WoW’s (also in D3 now).  Pet battles is a direct rip from other MMOs and a clear link to Pokemon.  Proving Grounds was done in TSW first and in that game, it’s used as a gating mechanic as it should be.  Brawler’s Guild is an extension of that, with mixed results.

The point I’m trying to make is that Blizzard’s first kick at the can is usually not that hot, if it’s a departure from what’s out there now.  If they are applying incremental improvements on existing systems, then yes, super.  And this is ok.  They have millions of people playing a game, finding areas that they can optimize.  Blizzard has maybe 100 people on system design?  The law of averages says that Blizzard is going to lose.  Any dev would.  My issue is in the amount of time it takes for this beast to change course and actually find what works.

I think that WoW does 3 things better than other companies.  It tells better stories.  The Pet Battle system is best in class.  And Flex raids are the way forward.  It took a mod and a fan site for them to realize that Pet Battles could actually work and if I recall from stats taken in game, there are more people who participate in that activity that any type of raid (LFR — Heroic).  Its’ really rather well done, through a simple interface that’s had some iterations over time.  WoD is bringing new pets, no new systems.

Flex raids are next, or more generally, scaled group content with group caps.  When WoW was on the incline or at least stable in terms of population, the group caps were manageable (after they dropped from 40) but sub-optimal.  The LFR system stemmed from the idea that less than 10% of the population raided in Firelands (<1% heroic) and it made sense to expose more of the story.  LFR numbers were crazy, something around 80%+ of all max level players participate and regular raids were still very low, under 10%.  MMO Champion has all the stats by the way, just lazy to link to dozens of posts.  So Blizzard had an issue.  Clearly people wanted to raid but such a massive drop between models was causing issues… what was the problem?  LFR provided a way to complete content with a variable amount of people, and the system just filled in the holes to reach the thresholds.  The problems with LFR were obvious.  Random people do bad things and it was a “roll of everything!” mentality.  How to get the benefits of LFR (variable groups) and lose the downside (asshats).  In comes Flex.

Flex was added to provide people with non-faceroll content (somewhat on par with Normal) with a variable group of people they knew.  Getting 10 people is still not obvious but having 16 means that you don’t have 6 people picking up snacks for 5 hours while the rest is having fun.  The new Flex system will be applied to everything moving forward except heroic content.  I mean, it’ll be called Flex Heroic but it’s the same challenge as today’s normal.

Here we get into the themepark & sandbox debate.  Themeparks can only fit X people on a ride and rarely will they start without the ride being full.  Sandboxes can acomodate any number of players.  EvE, AA, Darkfall, UO all work with any number of people.  SWTOR, LOTR, FF14, WS and every other themepark can only fit X people.  It’s somewhat interesting that WoW is first out of the gate for a variable themepark size, catching up to 15 years of since UO first did it in mass market…but hey, welcome to 2014!