Skyforge

I’ve been out of commish for a bit.  Off work til the start of the fall.  Just way too much work and a rather nasty case of burnout.  Ugh.  So most of the past few weeks has been about resting up.  It’s an odd thing, something a little wonky with the body.

In that time, I’ve filled the time with other things.  I’ve started painting some miniatures from my various board games, starting with Star Wars Imperial Assault.  I forgot how much time each one would take… around 30-60m per from start to finish.  That’s a fair chunk of time but well worth it.

I’ve also popped some time in FF14, hitting 60 with my White Mage.  I’ll write about that a bit later.  I also decided to try out Skyforge, which is in open beta but if you can read through that lie, it’s launched since it’s taking your money.

Business Model

Free to play, though I’m a bit confused as to the model.  Progress is based on getting crystals to move across a character progression track.  If you subscribe, you get 50% more crystals/credits while playing, which is a rather big boost.  The kicker is that there’s a weekly cap on the amount you can get, so you’re really only buying time to get to that cap.  And the cap doesn’t scale with your “level”, so it’s much harder to get at the start of the game than later on.  Otherwise, you can get an alternate currency for small upgrades, nothing too big.  It’s possible to play the entire game for free though, as I’ve yet to see anything that would be completely locked out to non-paying players.

Combat

It’s more or less Neverwinter but with crappy auto-attacks and more classes.  Movement and positioning is rather important.  It’s smooth but there are certainly bugs.  I’ve died from single shots more than a few times.

Interestingly there are 3 roles, tank, DPS and support.  DPS is what you’d expect, though a little low on stuns for my tastes.  Support gives out shields and there are no heals.  I cannot understand any group-based game that doesn’t have heals or stuns.  Tanks are the same, using temporary shields and taking a beating.  They are HP sponges, not tanks.  In solo based game play, it works ok.  In the 3 man content, you can get by since the damage is manageable.  In 5 man play, there are some serious balance issues.  Tanks have it easy, DPS really are the weak point since support can’t ever top anyone off.  And because the game is more or less a free-for-all up until group play, most DPS are pretty bad at what they do.

Avoidance is a really important part of the game, with really big hits coming from big enemies, bosses with 1 shots too.  There are tells to show it’s coming but with a ton of particle effects, sometimes it can be hard to track.  Plus the bugs, where tells won’t show.  I miss telegraphs.

So if you ignore 5 man content, it’s pretty good.  But the entire end game is 5 man content (and eventually larger group content).  Ehh.

Progression

There are 2 ways to progress – the Atlas and through Prestige.  The Atlas is a node-based progression map, one per class and another shared across all classes.  You unlock nodes with colored crystals, which you get from completing content.  Think FFX’s progression model.  The scaling is a little odd, where you have nodes with +7 and others with +75. Moving across the class-based Atlas unlocks more skills and talents, allowing some customization.  I will say that of the 2 classes I’ve played, the actual skill unlocks are poorly balanced.  Talents aren’t too bad though.  Moving across the atlas enough to unlock another class is about 2 weeks worth of work.  You can try out classes in a simulator but actually taking 2 weeks, or even a month, to play the class that you want seems odd.

Prestige is gearscore, plain and simple.  All content is gated by Prestige.  You can also unlock Prestige counts through the Atlas. Just like gearscore, stat balance is not taken into account.  It has less issue at lower score levels but at higher ones… wooo it’s a big deal.  As a tank, I went up ~5% of Prestige while I also upped my Health by 20%.  It made a world of difference in gameplay.  Low end game play is around the 3K mark, with mid-game coming in around 5K or so, once you unlock group content.

Further to this, since Prestige gates all content, it also acts as a level.  This puts a barrier between players while leveling.  Scaling is coming, which is good.

MMO or Not

It’s a lobby game with extremely limited chat and group functions. There’s a guild system, called Pantheon.  There are more than 4 people in the shared zones but group zones are limited in size.  The main town has everyone standing under a giant globe.  I like Neverwinter’s model of distinct zones, which brings some life to the world.  Even Marvel Heroes has more MMO to it.

Art/Style

This is high marks.  The game looks great and is only 10 gigs.  There’s enemy variety, colors, good music and the locales are neat enough.  The sci-fi fantasy setting really works here, with a bit of a tech/wizardry setting too.  Bosses are fun to watch and the screen is often filled with effects.

Overall

This is a launch and I have found dozens if not hundreds of bugs.  Most are innocuous, but there are plenty game crashing bugs and combat bugs that just kill you outright.  There are also some rather significant balance issues that need to be worked out.  The Kinetic and Witch/Warlock classes are miles beyond the others in terms of DPS output.  Classes on their own lack diversity in skills and balance.

It looks pretty and plays smooth but  it’s a solid 2-3 months out from being ready for the prime time.  It fits the drop-in/drop-out market, which isn’t one I’m a big fan of.  There’s a semblance of breadth but no depth.

Life is More Than a Box of Chocolates

I had mentioned a few months ago that I was going through a rough patch at work. I had stopped blogging and gaming for a while.  Things were pretty bleak for a solid bit, then things started to get better.  I am taking the month of August off, and planning to spend it with my family.  They are the ones who got me through that mess and the reason I get up in the morning.

I met my wife to be at a stag & doe.  It seemed like everyone there knew that we were supposed to meet there.  I was nervous and anxious but she still stuck with me.  Even our dates were a mess for me,  I was simply out to lunch that I was meeting such an amazing woman.  A bit more than a year later, we moved in together, then a year later we got married.   Up until then, that was the best thing that could have happened to me.

A little while on, we had our first daughter.  I had never been so proud of what we made.  A bit later, another daughter.  I can picture both days like it was yesterday.

For all the ups and downs, my only stable factor was my family.  I love my dad to death, but it’s not one of those open emotional relationships.  My brothers and sisters aren’t as close as we should be and I don’t talk to my mother.  I’ve always been out to the side, but that changes when I met my wife and had kids.  I love coming home to giant hugs and smiles.

These past few weeks have been exhausting.  I am having a hard time juggling everything and its put a strain on all sorts of things.  I thought I could scrape by the next few weeks, to end out the month and re-ground myself.  I don’t know if I can make it though.

We all went to a pool party yesterday.  Seeing my kids with nothing but smiles and getting to spend a lot of time with them was great.  It really brought to home why I work, and what I’m missing by not being around as much as I’d like.

My wife and kids are out of the house for a bit and I don’t like the empty nest feeling.  Never have.  I need the noise and bustle.  I need the laughs and the hugs.  Life has thrown me so many curveballs that I thought I could handle them all and keep moving forward.  The silence here is deafening.  I hope their trip is a short one, I need their hugs.

FF14 – Clown Suit

Oh, how quickly we forget how games love to throw you under the bus when you had super cool looking armor, then make you dress like a clown…  Do all devs have this desire?
ff14 clown suit

I’ve completed the first few starter quests in Ishguard, enough to be on the quest that will give me a flying mount.  A few particular notes about this so far.

The FATES are “broken”.  In every ARR zone, FATES are run everywhere.  It’s rare you see more than 3 up at any given time.  N. Thanalan is on farm mode right now.  HS zones, every fate is up, all the time.  I found one that was a single target boss-like enemy.  We started pretty much when the clock started and ended up being 4 people trying to take it down by the end.  We failed the timer and I was on full-time healing duty.  The HP scaling doesn’t work (SE admitted this), their damage is significantly higher than ARR and the experience/time spent is less than half of previous content.  I’m guessing this wasn’t so much an issue when people were doing MSQ to get to 60 but now that people are trying to level alts, then it’s really a quite glaring issue.

The quests are better, in terms of pace and quality. I like house Fortemps.  Ishguard has a whole Game of Houses (which I claim GRR Martin has heavily borrowed for GoT) jive to it, which is a fair bit better than the lack of flavor in the previous 3 capital cities (Ul’dah was so-so).  The duties (contained personal quest zones) are larger too, instead of just battle arenas.  It’s cool.

The art/music is quite impressive.  I’ve always been happy with the FF series for both, but this expansion improved a lot.  Well, the clown suits aside. The enemies look better, the zones are amazing, Ishguard is massive… it all works well.  Plus, everyone has buckles.  Ain’t FF without a bajillion buckles.

The combat is more or less identical, if not a fair amount more difficult.  I am in decent enough gear, able to solo large chunks of ARR content.  HS basic enemies seem to be twice as tough.  I’m not really looking forward to my first dungeon.

Picking up the new classes isn’t terribly involved but playing them with what they give you is.  I have no alternate jobs and only a few spare pieces of strength gear.  When I picked up the Dark Knight class, it gave me a weapon, a chest and pants.  I needed to find pieces to fill in the rest.  And as with any expansion gouging is present – the gear for level 30 tanks is about 30x the price of gear for level 25 tanks.  So for the price of one level 30 hat, I was able to fill out my entire slot set.  I played as a DK for the first combat quest, to unlock Darkside.  I failed it a few times since I played it as a DPS until I realized it was designed to be played as a tank.  Once I did that, it was a cakewalk.  (Side note, I usually play a caster, so the GCD isn’t that big a deal.  It is when you play melee, very weird pace change.)

I like the content presented thusfar.  I think in general, it’s an improvement of what came before.   FATES need some number tweaking, there are some balance/bugs that need to be sorted out. As a whole?  This is certainly one of the smoother/slicker expansions I’ve gone through.

Alts and the Way Forward

Alts.  The primary purpose of an alt is to provide a different experience due to the limitations of the primary character.   This is extremely applicable to class-based and level-based games, as the experience of a level 10 monk is much different than a level 40 wizard.  Skill-based games are a little different, depending on how they apply their cap.  Ultima Online for example, only allowed you to max out a subset of skills, while EvE allows to you max everything, if you play for 10 years.  People still end up specializing in skill-based games.  There are other reasons to play an alt, but these are really the most common ones.

The kink in this thought is the concept of an avatar, or a player representative rather than a character representative.  In 99% of games this is your game account, where you gain access through the character selection screen.  FF14 is the clear outlier, where a single character can complete all the content – alts are used for either cosmetic reasons (race/sex) or to play on a separate server.  All the game share a similar vein, where content is gated.  The warrior in WoW is generally separate from the Cleric – aside from pets, mounts and achievements.  FF14’s levels keep content separated, but quest progress is shared across the various jobs.  I’ll pick 5 games here to see where the similarities and differences lie.

WoW

After reading a bit more on the 6.2 dev Q+A for WoW had my thinking wheels going for a spin.  First though, I certainly can appreciate the candor in the responses.  Aside from the raiding progress, it’s fairly clear that the entire expansion had some serious core issues that were not addressed until 6.2.  (That certainly begs the question as to what they actually did for the 20 months between SoO and 6.2).  The second thing I noticed is how alts are mentioned as being the sort of evidence of many of these issues.  Rep grinding, garrisons, dungeons, professions and gold making are all linked in some form to alts.

Most telling is that using alts solely to farm gold (essentially just a 5 minute log on/off, and a weekly craft) is pretty clear that there are core issues with the content.  It means that the content available is of such poor quality that no one bothers to do it again, and that it has no relevance to the playerbase.

Rep grinding only being available from killing enemies is clearly a bad move.  It takes a long time to get through that and it’s eye-bleedingly boring.  6.2 addresses that.  So did the MoP rep commendations.

Garrisons were designed to be self-contained, in that you could level a character to 100 without stepping outside your gates (I did something quite like this with my Rogue).  Aside from companions and unlocking expansions to the garrison, there was no need to leave.  You could fully level and gear a player through the missions.  And supplement your main character with tons of gold from those missions.  I was making 500g per day in 5 minutes, with weekly spikes due to cooldowns.

Dungeons provided zero incentive to run outside of the story progress.  All the gear was supplanted by LFR or garrisons.

Professions were gated behind daily/weekly cooldowns, and could be done entirely in the garrison.  You’d complete as much in 1 minute as you would in an hour.

Wildstar

While there are more links between the characters in Wildstar (pets, mounts, linked housing) there’s still an issue with alt progression.  Unlocking raiding is still gated on a character basis, rather than a player basis.  Reputation grinds are there, locked behind daily quests that do not get faster with alts and gate items needed to do top end activities.  I do hear tell that both of the items are being changed for the F2P conversion though, so there’s some light at the end of that tunnel.

Crafting has cross-dependencies, more than most games, but still not terribly relevant once you get to veteran dungeons.

Ultima Online

Ok, I’ll admit I’m stretching back in time here as I haven’t been active in 10 years.  I did play (very) actively for a long time though, and made a habit of selling 7x GMs on ebay.  A typical account would have a miner/armorer/weaponsmith, a mage hunter, a tank, a treasure hunter and a house crafter.  Each filled a particular niche of the game, and each had dependencies on the others.  Due to the quick ramp up time of each skill, it was a relative simple matter to swap between characters at any given time.  And since there were no levels or content gates, a brand new character had access to the exact same content as 7x GM.  Their ability to excel at that content differed mind you, with is something EvE has in common here.

Rift

Rift is an outlier as it’s the mid-way point between distinct classes and distinct characters.  There are only 4 classes in the game, and each class can play each role (tank, heal, DPS, support) to relatively similar degrees.  It is certainly a different experience skill-wise to play a Rogue versus a Mage, but they still fill the same role, which is not the case in most other games. Most other games let you play 2 roles (DPS+other) for all the characters.  Crafting is different though, as you’re limited in which skills you can pick up.  There are few cross-dependencies though, so there’s little boosting of a primary character.  Planar attunement is even shared across all characters, which is a great incentive to play others characters.

FF14

This game shakes up the status quo and yet, maintains portions of it.  Content is gates through 2 mechanisms, level and progress through the main quest.  You only have to do the latter once and then it’s available for any other job on your character, assuming you have the job level to do it.  So my 51 White Mage has unlocked (most) everything before Heavensward, but my level 30 Dragon Knight can only access content available for characters 30 and below.

In an interesting twist, there’s a benefit to leveling multiple jobs through cross-class skills.  If my WM where to level a Black Mage to 26, he’d gain access to a skill that makes anything instant cast (like resurrection).  Crafting is similar, where there are clear benefits to raising everything to at least 15 to gain access to a host of skills that improve quality and future progress.  In fact, most crafting skills have a dependency on others, so either you have a really diverse guild, or you need to step up with your own materials.

Does an alt provide a benefit to the primary character?  Certainly.  But nearly all the content consumed by that alt is relevant to the player more so than the character.  All the jobs benefit more than the single one being pushed through.  And that’s a rather significant design shift compared to the rest of the market.

If you do have a “true” alt, in that I mean a separate character, then you’re in the same bucket as other MMOs.  It’s like you were a different person altogether, which is highly discouraged.

Sharing Alts

I would hazard to say that the shift away from distinct alts to shared alts is going to get more pronounced as games mature and come to market.  Or at least the game play would move away from a specific character and move to the actual player.  While level-based games will always provide some sort of gate to content, the majority of the game should be open to all alts once unlocked on a single character.  Having to “prove” yourself again and again makes little sense, outside of arbitrary padding to game content.

Impulse Buys + FF Update

It was my birthday last week.  One year older, though in truth the date itself never means much to me in that fashion.  It’s nice to see family mind you, but it’s not like I move the hand on some death clock.

It’s also an interesting fact that as you get older, it gets a ton harder for people to figure out what to get you as a gift.  I would say that time and a solid experience are the best things, at least in the grand scheme of things.  I don’t need another mug, but a day off? That’s sweet.  A night out?  Great too.

Of course, there’s always cash.

Impulse Buys

I’d been thinking about getting a couple items for a while, and with the birthday cash, I picked up my tablet and made the buys.

First, a top end coffee maker from Bonavita.  I had tried coffee from a friend’s place who had this machine and it was by far the best home brew I’d ever had.  I had bought a Tassmio single brewer a while back, and even though that was good, it was costly and wasteful.  I’m not a coffee snob, I’ll have a cup of freeze dried at 5am to help wake up but I also like to have a great cup from time to time.  Plus, I wanted something that can serve more people too, as my 10 year old $20 machine was horrible.

Second, in the winter I had seen Star Wars: Imperial Assault in a local game store.  Miniatures + board games + cooperative play?  And add Star Wars?  Hell yes.  Apparently it’s a slight upgrade and skin job on Descent, which I already own and is pretty darn good.  Looking forward to setting it up and playing a few rounds with the little ones.  Oh, and some paint jobs on the miniatures will be fun too.  Did I mention STAR WARS?  Just checking.

I guess that’s not really impulse, since I put some thought about it for a while.  Truth be told, I usually spend a LOT of time researching something before biting the bullet.  This one was pretty quick.

Even more quick was the delivery (that is such a poorly written sentence).  It took 3 business days to get to my door, direct from Amazon.  I do not understand how brick and mortar stores work anymore.

ARR is Complete!

First, the quests in 2.55 are just face painting.  It’s like the entire patch was just cinematics, and a LOT of cinematics.  The last 2 quests, I’m sure that was 45 minutes of in-game cutscenes total before I was able to set foot in Ishguard.

There were certainly highlights in those scenes but in traditional FF fare, there turncoats, smug bad guys, dead bad guys, an escape by the heroes and potatoes just standing around.  Of all those things, the potatoes are the most irksome.  (Side note, FF14 doesn’t have blood or death on-screen.  Which makes it hard to cut a guy in two, but they did it.)

But what’s a potato have to do with anything you ask?  Ok, you probably didn’t ask that but here goes.  A potato is a character who provides next to no value in a given scene, outside of frustrating/confusing the audience as to why they are even there in the first place.  It’s like a combination of a Red Herring and Chekov’s Gun.  It’s just a lot of SMH – but hey, that’s what FF does best right?

I made it off to Ishguard and tried unlocking the 3 jobs.  I started the 2 quests for Machinist and Astrologian but they require me to visit the old lands for some stupid reason that makes no sense in the context of lore.  They hate the other side of that gate, why would they send me there?  Dark Knight I unlocked though, even if it wasn’t terribly obvious how to get it started.  Neat intro to the line too.  I’ll have to spend some time on the market as all my lower level gear is meant for magic-users.

I think that’s about 2 weeks of playing, to get from 43 to Heavensward.  If I’d hazard a guess, it would be 2 weeks or so to get to 43 in the first place, maybe a bit more depending on your love of cutscenes and the duty-finder timer.  All mandatory content for anyone buying HS today without an existing character.  I can certainly see that as off-putting.

#FF14 – Nearing the End

So Close I Can Taste It

Inching a bit closer!  The start of patch 2.55 is all cinematics and rinky dink walk over here, and talk to someone.  6 of them too!  And the subtlety is pretty much gone, time for the big moves.  I got far enough in (popcorn and all) to unlock the last MSQ raid, Steps of Faith.

This one sets you against a dragon, Vishap, who’s walking across a bridge to knock down a door – essentially a DPS race, with a few cannons to help out.  I don’t mind a DPS race but an entire raid focused on one makes you wonder why it exists?  I mean, it looks neat and it’s the first time you’re actively fighting something that much larger than you.  Cripes, we fit the entire raid under the dragon’s belly.

Compared to the previous raid and the dozen or so wipes, I think I cast Cure about 5 times, and just used regen here and there.  95% of the rest of the time, I was in Cleric stance and just DPS.  Clerics aren’t super DPS either, I think I do about 200ish.  I’d guess a pure class would be double?

Have I mentioned how healers have it awesome?  Instant queue for this one again.

Anyhoot, unless I’m mistaken I have 2-3 fetch quests left, then about 30 minutes of cutscenes before Heavensward.  The downside is that the intro cinematic of Heavensward spoils a fair chunk of what’s coming.  The upside is that the MSQ is filling in the blanks and it’s pretty well done.  At least by FF standards.

Final Fantasy Lore

Let’s face it, Final Fantasy is one of the largest IPs on the planet for gamers.  Aside from Warcraft and Star Wars, it’d be pretty hard to find the next in line.  And I don’t mean character, that’s clearly Mario.  I mean the entire world/lore/history.

The neat thing about the FF series is how all the games are set in their own world but share common elements.  There’s always some sort of crystal, summons are always going to be present, character classes are nearly always there, and you’re always going to find Cid, Biggs, and Wedge.  The art style is almost always buckles and zippers and layers, with a side of crazy hair.  Moogles and Chocobos.  It’s not really a FF game without those pieces, though some took a while to make it into the series.

Even the combat basics have been pretty common across.  Sure, the Active Time Battle (ATB) has come and gone but the concept of slow, methodical thinking before actions has been there since the beginning.  Even FF13’s “just press A” mechanics were stalled by a bar that needed to fill up to execute moves.

That’s certainly one of the draws with FF14, how the archetypes and tropes of the series are used throughout.  The story pacing, the maniacal/plot hole enemies, the constant exposition, the humour, the stupid fetch quests, and the cuteness.  At any time where it thought the content felt “off”, the next moment it was back on track.  It’s rare enough to find a game with this much content that’s able to maintain pace/cohesiveness for such a long period.  I’m certainly more and more impressed as I move along.

#FF14 – Crysalis Down, Story Update

Finished Patch 2.5 content, so only 2.55 left to do.  I will say that as the game progresses, the content gets better.  The story is more engaging and the dungeons/raids are a heck of a lot more crazy.  Each Patch seems to unlock 1 dungeon and 1 raid, plus some neat story bits.

Patch 2.4

Patch 2.4 gave me Snowcloak and Shiva to run through.  Snowcloak was a pretty neat dungeons, especially the bigfoot fight where you hit him with snowballs.  The entire group was new to the dungeon and we decided not to read up on it.  After about level 40, there are no more tank and spank fights.  If you don’t catch the mechanics, eventually you’re going to die.  But the ramp up time to learn is fairly lenient.  Learning on the fly is fun, even more so when the mechanics are intuitive enough to grasp – at least in dungeons.

Shiva was a quick run, though there was a wipe due to not killing the adds.  As a general rule in raiding, it’s “don’t step in the bad stuff, stay close to get an AE heal and kill the adds”.  At least of the majority.  I will say that that fight was incredibly neat to watch, and her ultimate is amazeballs.

Patch 2.5

To start 2.5 I needed to clear Ifrit, Titan and Garuda on Hard Mode.  I guess these guys were hard at some time, because they were each twice as easy as when on normal mode.  More skills available makes a heck of a difference, and item level too I guess.  Once that was done, I gained access to Keeper of the Lake and Crysalis.

KotL was pretty neat for the first 2 bosses.  The last one, holy kidney beans, AE city.  A massive dragon head, the floor nearly permanently on fire and then 2 smaller (still large) dragons to take out.  It was the best fight I’ve had in an MMO in a long time.  Superb.

Crysalis though, that thing is a pain and extremely dependent on player awareness.  Massive hits on the tank that I needed to pre-cast for.  Then about 30 floating balls everyone needs to tag, in a specific order to avoid taking too much damage.  If not enough are flagged, then the boss does a massive AE (again, need to pre-cast).  Then more AE from the boss, so everyone needs to be fairly close to take the AE heal (which most ranged classes don’t get and stay super far away).  Finally, he teleports you into some odd version of the moon, where meteors hit the ground for ~75% of my hit points, so the 2 tanks needs to run under them and take the blow.  Miss 2 and it’s a wipe. It took a long time for the tanks to coordinate this properly.  Nearly 10 runs.  People were chipper throughout and very happy when it was cleared.  (Can I say how rare that is?  8 anonymous people and no one was a jerk?)

It was a sad ending to this chapter though, story-wise.  There are clearly some set-up elements in place for 2.55 and I am super hyped to go through that part.

Content Stays Relevant

I think one of the highlights of FF14 design is the duty roulette system.  Every piece of group content shows up in this LFG/LFR system after you’ve completed it once (and 90% of it has to be completed in the story).  It’s split up across low level, high level, elite, trials, story and guildhests (learn-to-dungeon), with each giving a significant exp bonus every day, and some currency for gear to boot.  This means that all the content remains relevant to everyone.  You might have a level 59 in a level 20 dungeon (scaled down of course) because he wanted the EXP bonus for doing it.  This also means that the queue times are fairly steady, depending on the role you run.  Tanks are instant, Healers are near instant for dungeons, ~4m for a raid.  DPS, well I feel sorry for you guys.

And there’s no dev resources to re-jig something to stay relevant.  I don’t get served some sort of warp-of-time dungeon like it was new content I should be happy about.  Instead, they make a new dungeon.