WoW – An Experiment

First off, I’ve been sick for what amounts to a month with a chest cold.  Turns out it was bronchitis and even with anti-biotics, things don’t seem to be improving much.  It’s worse when I talk and since my job is mostly talking, I’ve taken a few days off work.  Lungs are on fire after a coughing fit and woo, is that not fun. Hope this clears up before the holidays.

Leveling Without

Sort of stemming from Murf’s post, though predating it somewhat, I wanted to test the limits of the WoD garrison mechanics.  The requirements for this are a level 3 Barracks (for the 25 follower cap), level 3 Salvage Yard (for the large crates), a level 2 Dwarven Bunker (for follower items), and a level 2 Inn (for the headhunter for more followers).

Two particular tests mind you.  My Monk hit 100 the long way, capping off in Nagrand.  My Druid took the side road, hitting 100 in Spires but heavily supported through Character Experience missions.  100 is the bare minimum to do run the experiment, since you need a level 3 Garrison.

Ok, so that aside, here’s the details.

  • Ensure an even spread of skills across all followers
  • Have at least 1 follower with a scavenger trait (triples garrison resources)
  • Avoid any tradeskills (replace with the Headhunter in the Inn)
  • Avoid any bodyguards
    • Exception here is Leorajh.  Max him up so you can use the garrison table anywhere.
  • Load up the bunker on orders, to get follower gear
  • Run all level 100 missions.  They give a large crate.
  • Upgrade followers with your items, focusing on getting 3 to 615, then 3 to 630 and then 3 to 645.

After that is set up, then you need only run every mission that has player gear.  They stick around for a while, so only run them with your best followers.

Here’s the result on my monk after a few weeks.  If you see an Agility weapon, then it hasn’t updated to my healing spec.  I’m at ilvl632 right now and I’ve never stepped into a heroic dungeon or a raid.

My druid only hit 100 last night but here’s his workup so far.

So far, the only piece of gear I haven’t got from missions is rings and off-hand items.  Everything else can come from there.

It’s an interesting experiment to see how far a character can go.  I wouldn’t say it trivializes the rest of the content, given that you’d likely be better off just running dungeons.  It does however, remove the social aspect of the gearing treadmill which I’m not a super fan of for the genre.  We’ll see where this ends up.

Predictions Retracted

Ok, so maybe not retracted but at least reset somewhat.  Wilhelm started it.  These folks followed through

My original prediction post is found here.  First, the resolutions to see how I did.

  • More cross-links to other blogs.  There are some amazing ones out there and networking is a good thing.

Ok, this one was an up and down.  It could have been better but it was a marked improvement over 2013.

  • Schedule blogs.  I find I write/post in a flash and might have 3 in a day.  I need to schedule them to cover other days.

This was well done.  I think I averaged 4 posts a week for the year and near abused the schedule button.

  • Get 5 posts a week.  I think this is doable.  It will be hard what with work ramping up worse.

4 is close to 5 right?

  • More indie games.  I play 3-4 AAA games a year.  I have not been disappointed in some time with that schedule.  I play about a dozen or so indies.  Some are great, some are the complete opposite.  Still, new ideas come from those games and they need more support.  Plus, I can get all hipster and say I played it before you.

You know, on the PC I didn’t have much success with this.  On the Android though… ok not much more success there either.  Transistor is likely the stand out this year for me though.

  • More videos.  I did a lot of videos for Neverwinter.  In fact, if you google Neverwinter my blog is in the top 10 for some reason.  I need to do more.  I really enjoy it.

I’ll admit, I am horribad at videos.  It’s mostly due to crappy upload speeds making it a 2 hour affair for any decent length video.  And really, you need to know something worth a video is coming up cause who needs a floating 10g video file that you then need to cut into pieces?  Again, crappy internet to even make Twitch an option.

Predictions

The Elder Scrolls Online – Going to go F2P within 6 months.  It will play exactly like a multiplayer Skyrim, which is what people want, but they don’t want to pay $100 a year to do.  PvP looks the most promising but knowing Bethesda, there are going to be some massive bugs/balance issues.

It didn’t hit F2P but the rest is pretty accurate.  PvP was the highlight for most people.

Wildstar – Most likely to retain subscription model and likely to pull players from the themeparks around town.  The MMO aspects seem interesting, while the gameplay less so. Player/guild housing is going to be a big bonus.

This one was wrong.  While I did say that the focus on raids was stupid, I had underestimated the sheer lack of development of anything but raiding.  6 months later, still hasn’t found ground.

FPS – CoD and BF are going to continue their dominance over the genre and launch as complete messes next year.  People will still line up like sheep to play.  It’s why you have an xbox/PS amirite?  Firefall finally gets its act together and launches.

I think this was as accurate as I could be.  The launch of Halo last month is a pretty good example too.  Firefall did launch!  And I dunno where it’s at, which isn’t so good.

MOBA – LoL will continue to lead the top.  Infinite Crisis will finally launch but only target a niche audience.  SMITE will take another chunk.  DOTA2 will be a solid #2.  We’ll see the first few mass audience e-sport games from this genre.

Everything true.  MOBAs are barely making it out of beta these days, which tends to indicate a mature market.

RPG – The continual demise of the genre will continue with our only hope the indie/kickstarter bunch and a few JRPGs.  It will continue to be integrated into every other genre.  The “purity” of the genre is lost but since every game and their mother has RPG elements today, I see that as a win for D&D folk everywhere.

Ok, outside of Dragon Age Inquisition (out of left field), this rung true.  I did like Sony’s double F-U to FF7 fans.

Adventures – 2014 is the year of the adventure game.  2013 gave a clear message that story and personal involvement was a massive hook in today’s “instant gratification” mandate.  Adventure stories are some of my best memories of the 80s/90s and technology has evolved enough to make it super intuitive.

While there were quite a few games in this category, I wouldn’t say it was the year of adventures.  Maybe the year of stories with a fair bit of combat.  I’m finding the market to be more bi-polar with age, FPS on one side and RPGs on the other.

Mobility – Everyone and their mother has a smart phone or a tablet today.  In addition to the Steam box, I see a new distributor/game link happening on mobile devices, similar to the PS4/Vita & WiiU.  Games will have online portable versions.  Public transport will return to the days of Gameboys going “beeboop, beeeyoooop”.  It’ll be great.

Hmm, hard to judge this one.  I take the bus every day to work and there are way more people gaming now than before, so that’s a win.  But there’s no real new distributor.  I also think that Android has finally figured out how to make the platform work properly as the games are near on par in quality/time as on iOS.  That said, the mobile market is saturated with way too many F2P (or rather IAP) games.

MMOs – LOTRO gives up.  Neverwinter makes a pile of cash.  Rift goes down to 2 servers.  EvE loses subs to Star Citizen.  WoW drops to 5 million.  SWTOR does a 180 and launches content players actually want to play.  FF14 hemorhages massive player base when TESO/Wildstar launch, stays subscription.  EQL/EQN launch and fall flat. SotA somehow manages to pull through and deliver.  WoW-WoD launches, sells record amounts and then has a massive crash as everyone realizes they’ve done it before.

I think LOTRO sort of threw in the towel with the last expansion and Turbine cuts.  Neverwinter indeed is raking it in. Rift had an expansion and seems to still be strong.  EvE was a slow start then changed to a 6 week patch cycle, which seems to be pleasing most.  SWTOR did indeed turn around after the crap of GSF and launched expansions people wanted.  FF14 did take a dive but recouped something fierce, is the shining example of how to do a themepark MMO today.  EQ stalled at the gates.  SotA is MiA.  WoW did sell like crazy and hit 10m subs.  The crash will be told in January given it launched so late.  It is, rather unanimously, the same game as before.

Overall

Pretty solid I guess overall, with Wildstar and ESO being the outliers.  While there were certainly some great games, the social aspect seemed to take most people’s attention.  Gamergate showed both how stupid and how bright gaming culture had become and had left to go.  I think the new trend though, is going to be ratting out kids to their moms. That always seems to be a hilarious story.

SWTOR – Yavin 4

I finished up the quest content for Rishi and Yavin now, and I hit 60 just at the tail end.  Once you “complete” the main storyline, a few dailies open up that need to be taken down to unlock the final battle.  Spoilers but not spoilers, you get a prelude to fighting Revan and it’s pretty sweet.  Harder than I had expected as well and my gear was pretty friggin’ good.  I can imagine how hard that fight would be if I was 2 levels lower, as many people who didn’t do the prelude portion are surely at.

A few things from the entire leveling process.  First, the story had some highs and lows.  The new NPCs are solid enough, with some ties back to Marr and Saetele.  It was well linked together and Revan as a bad guy, is a solid thought.  The Rishi storyline was a little odd, in that I was fighting these little peons compared to the actual revanites.  It’s kind of like asking Vader to take care of some Jawas… didn’t make much sense.  Yavin was straightfoward, an assault on the Revanite forces.  But the zone itself is the centre piece of all Star Wars fiction in the public eye.  I mean, they count years in BBY (before the battle of Yavin), so you’d think this would be a big deal.  Instead we get 2 jungle sets and 2 temple sets.  Maybe more will come later.

It's the best shot you're going to get of Yavin

It’s the best shot you’re going to get of Yavin

The combat changes are pretty welcome.  Everyone seems to be more mobile, which works well with the added telegraphs.  Timing is a little off mind you but it’s workable.  The power curve seems rather in the player’s favor as I didn’t die once (Makeb was a bad time overall) and even the gold NPCs weren’t any hassle.  Champs could be taken with a little thought.  It’s an odd shift which makes for much faster gameplay.  Very WoW, and that doesn’t fit so well for my tastes.

I will say that I like the discipline system.  It makes it easier for the devs to balance (WoW had nothing on SWTOR hybrids) and makes it easier to swap between specs.  The utilities barely grant any powers so it’s hard to make a bad choice, which is a nice switch from WoW’s super-obvious-which-talents-to-pick style.

The art is good, minus the pirate hats.  I rather enjoyed the new sets and to see the style grow over the years.

Now that I’m 60 I think I’m going to finish off some things I’ve always wanted to do.  Pretty up the stronghold, max out companion favor, get Legacy 40 and unlock Treek, get HK-51 (which should be soloable now).  Maybe run a few operations in Story mode as well.  Going to be fun.

SWTOR – Rishi

I took my Powertech through the Prelude quests and the experience was pretty similar to my Sorc.  Mind you, my Sorc has a pretty sweet AE attack and simple rotation compared to a Powertech, so it was more about finding a new rhythm.  New set of gear (BIG jump, from ~126 to 168ilvl) and 1.5 levels.  I think that’s the largest benefit from the prelude actually, since the first few quests on Rishi give you a new set of gear (complete with pirate hat).  1.5lvls in about an hour’s time is a nice deal.

Off to Rishi though.  Of interesting note, Rishi has class trainers, comms vendors, tradeskill vendors but no auction house or bank terminals.  Auction house, fine.  Bank though… that’s a really odd thing.  My bags filled up within an hour, easily, especially with an entire new set of gear to equip.  I looked high and low, no luck.

Perhaps this is the same on Yavin, but Rishi quests are a different mold.  Ignoring class quests, as I’ve only see part of one (and it’s cool so far), there are main quests and sub quests.  The main plot line is well acted and makes sense.  It’s fun.  There’s a lot of go over here, then come back, then go where you were but a little farther involved and that’s a bit less fun.  What with no transport to get there but your own feet.  Sub quests come in 2 flavors, dailies and one time shots.  Both don’t have any voice over, just a quest box which you hit accept on.

This is very weird.  Up until this point, every single quest (I’m sure there are near a thousand overall) have been voice-acted.  That’s 16 voices (4 classes, 2 factions, 2 sexes) per quest for you, then the NPC dialogue.  I had guessed at the investment required and wondering if it was worth it, in particular for those smaller ones that no one really cares about.  I mean, how much exposition do you need to kill 10 birds, right?  So, in the end, I don’t mind so much.  The quest text has the necessary exposition if you want it.  The quests themselves are incidental.  And if this helps Bioware release content on an accelerated timeframe, then I think it’s a fair trade.  No other game on the market does this, so…

I’m level 58 now, which I found out was a “skill bonanza” level.  Every so often in SWTOR, you reach a level where instead of having 1-2 skills to train you have 10.  Thank goodness it’s free!  I’m a few hours into Rishi, only the first subzone really, of what appears to be 4.  The plot is cool, I get to be a badass pirate and ruin people’s day.  There’s no skill changes that I’ve seen so far, just bigger numbers.  A new solo-flashpoint as well, which was extremely challenging, though for reasons unrelated to my skill.

The penultimate bosses, a male and female, jump in and out of this arena with an edge into a lava pit.  Of course there’s knockback.  Of course my companions will follow these two in and out of the arena.  It took 5 tries to not bug out.  The last boss, Torch, was a pretty sweet fight.  Maybe more of the zones are like this but I found there to be a ton of movement required to get through it.  There just seemed to always be a red circle somewhere to avoid.  Sorc aren’t very mobile (at least Lightning isn’t so much) so it required a bit of skill juggling to pull off.  I can only imagine how that would work in a group setting.

I know a lot of games are aiming for more action oriented combat.  There’s a fine line to be held here though, as your system needs to support it.  And let’s be honest, the Hero engine is a piece of garbage that’s as responsive as a drunk sumo wrestler.  FF14 was smart enough to put in a 2.5s GCD to combat the server lag.  SWTOR balance is going to need some work to not make too onerous for the players.

More pirate work to go.  More explosions too.

SWTOR – Solo Flashpoints

Given that I had only subscribed on Nov 7th, I missed the first week of the Shadow of Revan expansion.  Good news is that I saved about 500k in credits in that week as now skill training is free.  I wouldn’t have minded a nominal cost but training costs from 1-55 are (were) huge.  You started the expansion broke, for the most part, unless you were a fairly active player.  Heck, you needed to be a subscriber to have enough credits in the first place to pay for it all.

Which rolls into the part I think SWTOR does well, and that’s introduce new content and smooth our the power curve.  There have been 2 leveling plateaus so far, one at 50 and one at 55.  The current leveling process works up until 50 but the Makeb portion was punishing without the right gear.  If you were just using leveling gear, you’d be behind by 50-70% in terms of stats.  So Makeb now has a GSI buff which makes sure you have the stats to make it through.  And if you complete the content, then you’re given the gear for a pretty decent 55.  Smart.

The SoR expansion also does this, as they’ve assigned the baseline to a certain gear level.  If you don’t have it, then you can do some solo flashpoints (the Forged Alliance quests) and get a full set of top level 55 gear to get you ready for Rishi.  It’s a great bridging mechanism that allows players new to the game keep pace on the stats treadmill at all times, without massive peaks and valleys.  Before the WoW stat squish, every expansion had massive power jumps between them.  There are mechanics in SWTOR to mitigate it, which is smart.

The flashpoints themselves are cool, as I never had the chance to do them previously.  You’re given a GSI droid who can DPS/Heal/Tank and makes it rather hard for you to die.  Everything outside of a boss was a faceroll for me (though I was in gear better than Makeb quality) but it was a cool experience nonetheless.  Each boss had some interesting mechanic – shield swap, stuns, massive telegraphs, movement debuffs.  As a mechanic, I think this is pretty neat.  There’s something to be said about soloing old dungeons and challenging yourself.  The droid they give you simply allows for you to experience the content without that challenge, assuming you came in a bit late.  I mean, I realize it’s simply a bridge and won’t be applied to other dungeons, but there are possibilities here.  Old operations come to mind, as the power scaling in SWTOR is a fair bit different than say, WoW.

The story around these flashpoints is pretty neat too.  It’s split into 3 pieces, and I’m not sure if there was an original delay between them all.  I won’t spoil too much but suffice to say that Forged Alliance is pretty obviously an alliance between the Republic and the Empire.  It’s all a setup piece for the expansion, so there’s a cool reveal at the end with Revan.  A few characters are introduced during the run, including a pretty funny combo of a wookie and droid meshed together.  There’s only a single decision point in all the 3 quests that seemingly would have impact, so I’m curious as to how that rolls out.

It really is something when you play a game and you’re the central character.  The final cutscenes in WoW lately have been other people.  Heck, my Alliance Monk’s final scene in Nagrand was 2 orcs fighting each other.  My character has never spoken a word.  It’s like watching a movie for the most part.  I think that’s why I like garrisons, cause I’m the focal point for once.  SWTOR scratches that story itch something fierce.

And for those who say you can only do a story so many times, I think that depends on the quality of the story.  The “choose your own adventure” books, I’ve read hundreds of times as a kid.  I’ve watched Blade Runner and Fifth Element at least a 100 times each.  LOTR books/movies I’ve done a ton of times.  Golden sci-fi, Hitchhiker’s Guide, Star Wars (4-6), Futurama…plenty of stories where I’ve enjoyed the experience multiple times.  SWTOR really has a story quality issues.  Some portions are amazeballs but they are not the typical story.  I really enjoyed the 12x boost because I could focus only on the quality (-ish) stories, the ones where the most time was invested.  I didn’t have to kill 10 bears.

I’m enjoying my time and that’s all that really matters.

Dragon Age – Play Shifting

A few levels deeper into Dragon Age Inquisition now, 8 I think it is.  To sum briefly, the Hinterlands stink because your character stinks.  I’ll explain.

In RPGs, there are two types of power curves.  A statistical one, where you get better armor/weapons and the dice roll bigger numbers.  This is offset by the enemy also getting stat upgrades.  It usually evens out in the wash, assuming both are the same level.  This is linear growth and you see most of this in MMOs once you’re at max level.

The second power curve is skill based. You get more skills as you level and DA:I gives you a new one every single level.  And because the game is cooldown based (with some resource management), the more skills you have, the more powerful you become.  Combos start being viable.  Superior skills become available, including AE attacks that incapacitate opponents.  It’s one of those paradigm shifting things, where the gameplay suddenly shifts. And it’s not like the enemy suddenly gains more skills, as they are more or less locked depending on their type.

An example.  My warrior just gained enough skill points to use both single and AE taunts, with enough additional skills to survive the damage from all those attacks.  This means that they can successfully funnel all attention to themselves while the other 3 characters, all decked in a pile of AE attacks, mop up the floor.  1 level previous to this, closing a rift could be hard because of all the stragglers and lack of a tank.  Now it’s like a cake walk.

And I’m not even level 10 yet, what with advanced classes further building niche skill sets.  There are rogue builds out there that solo dragons on nightmare difficulty.  That’s not even a thought in my mind at lower levels.  This is an odd change compared to other level-based games, where the power curve is incremental.  MMOs have more levels, and therefore a normalized curve.  Right, a level 5 typically has the same time to kill (TTK) that a level 80 has.  The jump is when your stat power curves up at max level due to gear, not skill.  There might be one or 2 skills while leveling that change your playtstyle, but not every level.

Yet in DA:I, it’s practically every level.  It’s enjoyable too, since the play pattern changes as I progress.  It’s not the same buttons for 40 hours, in some crazy dance (which is why I dislike the AC series and like Shadow of Mordor).  There’s some progress to be had and it’s actually noticeable.  I’m interested not only in the story (which has ups and downs) but the actual mechanics of this RPG.  It’s fun!

Final note for those with DirectX crashes.  First, update your drivers to the beta versions.  Yeah, no game should require beta drivers but whatchagonnado?  Then, set the game to windowed fullscreen.  That should stop most crashes.  Finally, set the Mesh option to anything above Medium.  That get’s rid of the plastic hair.

WoW – Proving Grounds are a First Step of Many

I want to talk a bit about proving grounds, or rather the gating mechanic that some games use for top-tier combat.  There are a few examples around but I think most would agree the shining example of this mechanic is TSW’s guardian fight.

The main purpose is to ensure that a player understands all the mechanics and how they interact with each other.  If you have an interrupt ability, then it should be something you know how to use.  Defensive and offensive cooldowns should be a part of it.  Realizing that numbers, or the power curve, can allow you to ignore certain mechanics but the top level challenge should actually be challenging.

TSW’s deck format ensures that people have to slot the appropriate skills to get through an event and doesn’t put in major barriers.  Everyone has access to all skills, so there’s really no excuse.  When everyone has the tools, then you can have a single bar for people to reach.  Or rather 3, tank, DPS and heal.

WoW’s proving grounds are a bit like this but there’s a considerable gap in ability sets between the various classes.  Sure, they all have an interrupt but the mechanics are different.  Rogues use poison, warlocks are DoTs, DKs are offensive blasts and so on.  Some focus on AE, some focus on ramp up damage.   And that’s just DPS.

Healers and tanks are a completely different boat.  Some healers are really only able to heal tanks, others are on AE.  Some tanks are sponges, some are ninjas.  Some cooldowns just don’t line up.  And we won’t consider the NPCs that the game gives you to complete these tasks as some suffer from, uh, missing a few cards in the deck if you catch my drift.

Then there’s the fact that proving grounds were built for MoP and that combat has changed a bit for WoD.  Situational awareness is more important.  Target swapping happens a lot.  Massive damage spikes are gone.  Proving grounds were also a mid-expansion addition, so the power curve was all over the place.  WoD has people coming in at very similar ilevels.

While asking for silver for roles is a good idea, the actual value of that silver is debateable.  Silver DPS doesn’t need any interrupts, which I find strange.  It doesn’t require any burst.  It does require some movement to avoid a slow-moving ball of amber and to stand behind shielded enemies.  The actual DPS check is hard if you’re not an AE focused class, mind you.  Healers should be required to dispel, not heal through it.  Tanks, well, even solid play isn’t a super solution for so-so AI.

I’m not saying proving grounds are the be-all and end-all.  I am saying that if that’s the only baseline for entry into heroics, and all 5 people barely got to that point, you’re going to have a bad time.  In their current state there’s still a fair amount of tweaking necessary to accurately reflect a role’s requirements and the actual combat mechanics in WoD.  There’s a ton of potential here.