Combat and Art Styles

Pegging off Tobold’s post on appropriate art style, I think it bears mention more than just a couple games.  And I won’t really go into what looks better because that’s a very subjective argument.  This is really about the practicalities.

We have WoW art style, with distinct character outlines since the start. However it’s moved away from tab target to smart target, and red/blue markers on the ground. WoD will finally have target outlines as well. It’s evolved.

Neverwinter, a LAS/action game, uses outlines and AE effects given the mouselook aiming features. It’s a more realistic art style, making it damn near impossible to find someone in the thick of things. BUT, since it’s soft lock and AE for nearly everything (including healing), it works.

SWTOR uses cartoon style graphics for a seemingly endless supply of humanoids. I found it a mess in regular PvE but the group instances aren’t too bad as the character types are often different. Plus tab targeting helps drastically.

FF14 uses tab targets and a full skill bar, though in reality few skills. The art style is VERY unique and it’s fairly easy to spot individual players, let alone NPCs in combat. In fact, you rarely have more than 2-3 enemies at once. Of course, with a requirement for focused combat and targeted attacks, this is vital for success

FF14 - Ifrit

ESO is LAS + mouselook. Many attacks are AE or smart target. Every frigging enemy is the same though. PvP turned into meat walls of AE spam because you can’t focus target effectively. It also means many skills lose all value if they aren’t multi-target. Plus everyone blends in together and the background. So it’s less about aiming and responsiveness as it is about mashing AE attacks and hoping the numbers are in your favor.

Big Boy

Big Boy

Wildstar is LAS but tab/free target combat. Everything has an AE target as well, making aiming very important. Plus the character diversity helps you quickly ID the players in the field. The more quickly you can make an assessment, the better your odds.

That's a big gun

That’s a big gun

I guess it boils down to offense vs defense. A more realistic game favors defensive style of play and 2 types of skills. Either you spam and get lucky or you cross that skill gap to “elite” and run amok. FPS shooters I think show that well.

A more cartoon, or rather distinct character set, provides more offensive options as you can’t really hide. Everyone knows who you are and you have more information to make the right decision. It removes the skill gap and includes progression.

I wouldn’t be able to say which has the higher skill ceiling as that is more game-specific. It’s certainly an interesting topic.

Neverwinter – Icewind Dale

I make no secret that I am a rather huge D&D fan.  I don’t get the chance to play the tabletop version anymore but the world and rules have always fascinated me.  Neverwinter has that near perfect combination of lore/structure and action-oriented combat to keep me coming back.

Expansion #3 is out today, Curse of Icewind Dale, and it seems to be adding a fair bit of content to boot.  Raids, dungeons, a new campaign with daily quests, new paragon path for the Ranger, a new profession (Black Ice) and dynamic group content (aka Public Events).  While there is some vertical progression, as the game uses a gear score, there’s actually a fair amount of horizontal progression as well.  Experience is no longer “wasted” and you continue to gain “levels” of a sort.  These give you points to allocate to your active skills.  You can’t slot more skills, you just have more skills to choose from.

The previous post spoke about the 3 phases of ESO.  Neverwinter has 2.  First is the leveling aspect, from 1-60.  You have access to companions, customization, foundry (awesome), dungeons, skirmishes (5 minute dungeons) and a whole slew of other features.  Phase 2 starts at 60 and adds 2 things.  First, elite dungeons and raids, where the gearscore/skill requirement is a fair bit higher than before.  This is the typical end-game for themeparks and the time commitment is manageable.  Second are campaigns, which are themed daily quests with gates.  Pretty much what 1-60 gave you, you’re just limited to about 1 hour’s worth per day.

This new expansion seems to add a few more 1-60 things to do without the need for typical end-game progress, which is pretty darn good.  I know that breadth doesn’t equate to depth but we’re not talking about a game that is aiming a whole lot at the latter – it’s an action RPG after all.  I do know from my experience in the dungeons/raids that you need to be attentive to what’s going around.  Proper stat allocation is also pretty important but that part is rather hard to gimp yourself with, due to core mechanics.  SWTOR’s customization (and WoW’s now-dead reforging) provided way more options than Neverwinter.

It’s free, there’s a ton of content.  Give it a shot.

The Weekend Approacheth

I know they say April showers bring May flowers but it seems like it’s raining every other day here.  With 2 kids suffering from cabin fever due to a near 6-month winter, good weather is sorely needed.  Fingers crossed that Mother’s Day is sunny so the kids can leave my wife alone.


I am short on gaming time, with under an hour per night, if I can get a night.  Neverwinter does scratch an itch with their daily quest progress.  I can do Sharandar and the Dread Waste quests in about 30 minutes with my Cleric.  I have noticed that a Cleric deals, oh, about half as much damage as any other class but I am quite literally impossible to kill.  I also have a Guardian (tank) who is quite good at soaking up damage but wow, Cleric in Neverwinter are a solid choice for the solo player.

Also have a Rogue (mid 40s) who is a ton of fun to play but has trouble on elites or long fights.  I made a few AH purchases and my “gear score” went up by 50%.  That made a difference.  Anywho, it’s like playing a 3d arcade game really.  Scratches a heck of an itch.  Plus, for a F2P game, it doesn’t scream “give me money”.


Open beta has started, which is a good thing for anyone wanting to give it a shot without forking over some dough.  Plus, you get access up to level 30, which is more than previous beta had.  I think I’ll try a couple more classes up to level 10, see if there’s another option out there.  Right now though, my sights are on a Chua Esper.  A squirrel that shoots birds.  Come on, that’s cool!

Recent patch had a fair chunk of fixes, including the GW2 overflow server concept.  I am really hopeful this becomes the defacto launch practice (outside from mega-servers like ESO)  Nothing worse than trying to play on the same server as your friends only to see “server full” or “queue ETA is 1 hour”.

1849 – Android

I like city building sims and this one takes it to the frontier using a scenario approach.  Rather than the delicate balance of self-sufficiency, 1849 requires you to continually trade in order to keep your folk happy.  Some scenarios let you log, others only let you hunt.  So each is unique in a way.  The hardest part is juggling the housing, and employment ratios.  Sometimes I prevent upgrading just to save me the hassle of too much unemployment, then an increase in crime.  Suppression for the win!

I’ve played a bunch of tablet city sims, they are all F2P money grabs of some sort.  This one is an actual sim, with a $5 entry cost, with what I expect to be a solid 50+ hours of gaming to boot.  It’s rare enough to get a decent tablet game (last one was Room 2 for me) so I highly recommend it.

Continual Content – Gated Dailies

Themeparks have to give you a reason to run the ride again and again.  There’s a carrot somewhere that makes that switch in your brain go, “ok, one more time”.  Way back in the day, this was more or less organic – run a dungeon.  Eventually it turns into formal quests as we know them today – dailies.  For a very long time, this was mostly about money.  Free cash!  Just jump up and down!  Then this became a reputation grind to get items.  Just 18 more dragon eggs before you get a new shoe.  Then we reached a really weird stage where dailies were the precursor to more dailies. Hello Golden Lotus!

Dailies were also typically capped in terms of how many you can complete in a day.  Not only are the individual quests on a timer but you could only do X amount per day.  The reason for this was three-fold.  First, this was a massive money tap that could be exploited easily.  Millions of gold entered an economy per day unchecked.  Second, they often rewards reputation scores for better gear – which was vertical progression.  If you could do them all, then you would be progressing very fast.  Third was the natural gating requirement of time.  The game should last Y amount of time.  People would (and did) burnout.

Using WoW as a solid example, dailies went through many iterations and nearly all based around expansions.  From BC to MoP, there have been different flavors.  The main driver, or success if you will, for dailies is an alternative progression path.  Certainly, given the choice people will naturally take the path of least resistance.  Dailies however give you a chance to “quickly” make progress through alternate means.  The tabard/daily quest reputation grind made sense.  It fit both playstyles.  The “only-dailies all the time” approach of MoP put in an artificial gate that could not be bypassed.  Don’t get me wrong, I like the cloud serpent faction as the quests were related to the outcome.  Pat Nagle progressed through fishing-related activities.  Golden Lotus had (before 5.4) no purpose other than to gate access to 2 other (and more rewarding) reputation grinds.

SWTOR takes a slightly different approach in that “zones” have daily quests that share rewards.  Tokens/progress is made.  This supplements the raiding/dungeon game with modifications.  There’s a fair amount of horizontal progress as well (customization).  It works for me.

Neverwinter is an odd mix.  Daily quests reward Astral Diamonds based on activities – been there since day 1.  It works in that the rewards are the same, regardless of the content consumed.  Most of that content is social so, more people doing things together = good for the community.  The last 2 expansions added “gated dailies” where the rewards are not item based but content based.  You complete a few and get access to new dungeons.  A few (a lot) more and you get passive stat buffs that are not gear related – you keep it forever even if you get new items.  You complete more and get a better chance at loot.I like that this is daily and gated but that brings me to the final daily hiccup.

If you miss a day, you miss a day of progress.  Missing a raid means you have, usually, another shot in the week (assuming the timer is a week).  Miss a dungeon, then run 2 the next day.  Dailies are the only content with a short expiry.  I personally think it would be great if you could “store up” daily quests for a period of 3-4 days, or perhaps have the rewards reflect that “store”.  Have it run at a reduced ratio too, say 25% per day missed.  I know a game wants a hook to have you login often but unless that game is offering off-line progress (and an interface), then after a while you just lose interest.

If I knew that after a long weekend I could come back and make some additional progress, even reduced (which would be double daily rate based on the numbers above) I think that would motivate me to login and spend more time.  Especially if it related to gaining access to new content (and not items).

Patch Day!

Both Marvel Heroes and Neverwinter are having kitchen sink patches today.  Well, maybe a bit less on the former.

Marvel Heroes, as I’ve mentioned in the past, has some problems with core mechanics and less to do with balancing.  Patch notes try to address a bit of that.  I don’t get why you need to login to see patch notes…  Anyhoot, they are upping the drop rate of heroes and costumes (I’ve seen a total of zero in about 60 hours, even though I’ve played the entire game with +drop gear), fixing some rather large combat bugs and adding more grouping to end-game content.  1) is cool.  2) is badly needed. 3) doesn’t even come close to addressing the problem of longevity.

Remember DCUO when it launched?  Everyone could reach max level in a day or two, then had nothing to do (raids were sort of in but broken).  Well, Marvel Heroes is the same except you’re not at max level.  You can complete all the content in what seems like 5-6 hours and get to level 25 or so.  With a max level of 60, you’re looking at about an extra 100 hours of grinding the same content (about a dozen dungeons) and no rewards from it, because itemization is more or less broken past level 30.  Yay?  There’s a tremendous, massive, gaping lack of incentive to keep playing as there’s no tangible progress.  I don’t change my appearance, I haven’t changed items in over 10 levels (I’m at 37 now), I haven’t had a new skill in 7 levels either.  The most “optimal” run for me right now gives me 5% of a level in about 7 minutes of work.  And I have 23 more levels of this to go.  Eh…there’s just no real carrot.  And honestly, 20$ for another character, which is basically another skin, is crazy pricing.

Neverwinter on the other hand has content a plenty but lacked balance.  This patch is a true kitchen sink.  Grouping is being fixed, threat, class balance, enemy difficulty, bugs, crafting, display… you name it.  I had tried a fair amount of Tier 1/2 dungeons, with friends and random folk.  As a Cleric, I just simply died after 5 seconds of combat due to threat mechanics.  Not only is that changing but the tank class is getting an across the board boost of 35% to threat plus a few more tools.  Maybe the game will actually have a trinity rather than just the current damage/healer paradigm.  If they get it right, I think it could be seen as the standard for F2P games from now on since it’s the only one that I know of that hasn’t been retro-actively made F2P but instead designed that way from the start.  Fingers crossed on this one!

PS.  For those looking for a decent ARPG, free to play, massive amounts of depth and challenge, try Path of Exile.  They are open beta, they are taking money but it feels more like Minecraft open beta than anything else.  I think it’s one of the best ARPGs out there, personally.  Here’s a picture of the skill tree, no joke.

Path of Exile Skill Tree

Path of Exile Skill Tree

Neverwinter – Kitchen Sink

Holy cow Batman, what a patch! Cryptic is officially launching Neverwinter on the 20th of June. That means it’s “super mega patch” time!

I really like the game but there are some significant issues that need addressing. Threat is seriously broken for both healing and tanks.  The grouping system doesn’t pick the right balance of characters and if someone drops, it’s impossible to add a new person.  The auction house UI needs some serious work to actually find anything. Enemy difficulty is all over the map, but mostly it’s boss encounters that need tweaking. I can’t say the systems themselves are broken, just in need of some serious balancing.  You know, exactly what a beta is for.

Well, it looks like Cryptic got the memo because the patch notes are out in a new blog post and they are massive. I’m talking MMO expansion pack massive. Obviously there’s a lot of future testing needed but the overall message is clearly “we heard you”.  It’s been a very long time since I’ve seen a dev even bother to address half the things Cryptic is aiming for. /hats off

I’ll be waiting for it to hit the live servers before taking another dive but if this patch addresses the concerns listed above, it might just be my go-to MMO for a long while.

Consequences and Challenge

Death in Marvel Heroes is an odd thing.  It happens through mostly lag up until you’re done the main missions, so a lot of people will never really see it – and if they do, people around them have 3 minutes to revive them.  That part makes sense to me.  Neverwinter puts a debuff on you once you get revived that way, the timer is shorter too.

If you play alone however, say in the mission terminals at the end, death is a different beast.  Scaling here reminds me a bit of Rift, where the mechanics of the game prevent you from doing content too far above your level.  3+ and you get an experience, damage intake and damage output penalty, starting at 20%.  You will get 1-shot.  Dying does two things.

First, it brings you back to the last checkpoint.  Sometimes this is the door to the zone, sometimes (like in Castle Doom), it’s invisible markings on the map since the map is so darn big.  Second, if leaves every enemy at the state they were when you died.  Boss at 60% hp when you died?  He will be when you get back.

Doctor Doom last night was 4 levels above me, took 5 minutes to kill and he killed me 8 times.  While I was happy to beat him, there was missing that “perfect run” feel that you get in other ARPGs.  Could I have done him in a clean run?  Maybe not last night due to skill lag but it certainly felt possible.  I remember trying to kill Belial in Diablo 3 for a few days in Inferno.  It was extremely frustrating.  Dying here had a repair cost plus a full reset of the boss himself.  Finally I got lucky and he died and I never wanted to see his face again.  The consequences here were such that I never wanted to play that part again.

I will be trying Doctor Doom again, hoping to improve.  It becomes an analog test with varying degrees of success.  I can improve on that.  Belial on the other hand, I was ready to punch through the screen.  When I beat him, it felt more like a digital switch – either I won or I didn’t.  When I did, I never felt an ounce of challenge in him again nor a desire to even attempt it.

I find it a difficult balance to show people “hey, this is tough but when you get through it’ll be worth it” and “hey this is tough, let’s pull out your hair”.


Marvel Heroes – What Early Access?

You may or may not have heard that Marvel Heroes is coming out soon.  June 4th is the launch date.  Live.  Similar to what Neverwinter did, there are founder’s packs available.  $200 gets you every character, a few bucks in game and access 7 days early.  More on that in a bit.  $60 gives you 5 characters, less bucks and 4 days head start.  $20 gets you 1 character, pennies and 2 days head start.

A lot of people harp on Neverwinter since it’s in open beta and not truly “launched”, even though it’s taking in money.  The advantage to this model is that you can take down the servers daily to patch things up – which they are still doing.  The first few days were a mess but now, the game is quite playable.

Marvel Heroes on the other hand…they’ve been up a total of maybe 20 hours out of 72?  They are down right now and have been extending the downtime since 6AM this morning. When you promise access to a “launched” game on a specific date and are unable to deliver, this causes problems.  People, for some weird reason, take time off work and other duties on launch day to play the game like maniacs.  It’s pretty textbook OCD if you ask me but hey, to each their own.  When you say you’ll do something for money and then YOU DON’T, then there are going to be issues.

This reminds me of when UO launched and the servers were horrible to start.  There was plenty of downtime and for a few years, daily maintenance.  The box the game came in said 24 hours available, so out came the lawsuits.  EULA’s since then prevent that from happening.  That being said, today word of mouth is much more deadly than a lawsuit.  If the vibe out of the gate is negative, the game is going to tank hard.  RIFT has a positive beta and (ok) launch, did great for a long time. DCUO did not and tanked.  TOR isn’t much different here.

Maybe from this point forward there is no early access.  Maybe it follows Diablo 3’s concept of staggered entries (which itself had bad PR due to length).  Maybe you just soft launch and if people want to buy founder’s pack, sell them non time-sensitive features.  It’s obviously harder from a buy-to-play perspective, but in the F2P model, soft launch the crap out of a service to make sure there’s quality.

Launch day can break a company.  It’s impressive that companies are still repeating the same mistakes from 15 years ago today.

Neverwinter – That Could Have Gone Better

I bit the bullet and bought some more epics for my Cleric last night.  That got me to the 8300 gearscore (8328 I think I had) to give the Tier 2 dungeons a shot.  Queuing for a T2 dungeon was instant, even without a dungeon delve active.  Load it up, unequip all my gear to address the threat bug (go naked, re-equip) and look at the party.  2 wizards, 1 rogue and a great weapon fighter.  No tank.  Well, this should be fun.

We died on the first pull.  Not like a little died but more along the lines of stepping in dog poo wipe.  I let the party attack then put my Astral Shield down.  5 seconds later, everything but 1 target are on me.  I used a lot of potions that fight but still died. Without a healer, the only character than can survive for any amount of time is a well-played Rogue.  That wasn’t enough here.

Tried it again and this time we made some progress.  The wizards remembered that they were called Control Wizards for a reason.  They kept things together, the GWF and Rogue took care of the damage and I healed.  We couldn’t just run up to enemies either, we needed to pull them to us to avoid the natural chain pulls that occur in the game.  Aggro ranges are odd.

We get to the first boss, some guy with a mouth for a head.  That’s got to suck.  Anyways, he has 3 spawning pools around him that continuously spawn adds, 4 at a time.  So not only do you have a giant mouth attacking you, there is like a dozen enemies at the same time.  Threat being non-existent without a tank, I died a few times.  We somehow had the boss teleport to our spawning area and that let us kill him and move on.  Weird bug.

Moving on, we get to see more and more of these giants who deal 75% of my health in a single hit.  Fun!  There were some absolutely insane pulls on this trek and my hat is off to the group for surviving it.  Very impressive.

Then we get to the last boss.  He’s a super mega giant with 2 friendly giants around him.  Plus some other trash. And there are what seems to be 4 portals in the room that summon Berserkers.  If you don’t know what these guys are, they start off weak and once they hit 25% hit points, they hit like a convoy of Mac trucks.  I can heal 2 of them at once but 4, plus 2 giants, plus a boss?  What?

First attempt was ok, we killed one giant them got swamped.  Second attempt we tried to nuke the boss. I put Astral Seal on the boss, which causes players to heal when attacking.  That turned the ENTIRE ROOM on my butt and I died within 15 seconds.  Third attempt was tying to clean out a side of the room, no luck there.  Did I mention everything respawns in the boss room when you die?  No?  Anyways, we wiped a solid 6 times and everyone was out of repair kits at the end.   Healing isn’t the problem, threat is.  And it’s a massive one.

See, I’ve been spoiled by WoW and every other LFD tool in existence.  Games have 3 roles, tank, healer and DPS.  A LFD tool should fill in those slots appropriately.  That a Cleric is the only class that can heal and that a Guardian Fighter is the only class that can tank, you would think this would be simple to implement.  Healer/Tank + 3 anything else.  I mean anything.  Worse is that if someone leaves your group, you can’t replace them.  Aghhh!

Guild runs are cool but I have yet to find a guild that runs more than 2 teams at any given time.  And because dungeons are long, you could wait an hour or more for a team to be ready.  LFD with a premade group and people to fill the slots makes sense.  Just for the love of pete, please make sure there’s a tank and a healer or just don’t make a group.

Neverwinter – Tanks but no Tanks

Le /sigh, horrible pun.

Given that there wasn’t a dungeon delves active last night during my session and I had sat in the queue for 15 minutes as a Healer, I swapped to my second character, Asmira the Guardian Fighter (/tank).  I used the Gateway service while leveling and once you hit level 10, you can craft.  Getting to level 10 takes about 2 hours from creation so I did that a while back.  Crafting has one particular field, Leadership, which gives in-game experience, cash and rough astral diamonds.  People who hit 60 on day 1 used Leadership (plus real money to speed up the training) to get there.  Leadership can also give you access to crafting materials that sell decently.

On top of it, after level 11, you can pray to the gods every hour.  This gives you some experience and every day, 2 different types of tokens.  If you miss ~48 hours of praying, you lose all of 1 type of currency (which has a max of 7).

Right, so I play my cleric almost daily.  During that time, I also log in the tank to pray to get the tokens and for the experience.  Realize that I did not kill a thing or do a single quest after level 10 and using this daily prayer and Gateway/Leadership, my tank was sitting at level 22 last night and had ~100K in Astral Diamonds.  Sadly, he had no cash so no mount.

The advantages to leveling offline are pretty clear, you skip a fair amount of content and the early levels, especially before 30, are somewhat unbalanced due to a lack of skills. I can live with that.  The downside is that you are undergeared by a fair amount.  As a ranged player, this ins’t a big deal.  As a tank – not only are you taking way more damage than you should but you’re hitting with a toothpick at the same time.  Not a great combo.  Thankfully the AH is there and people post at stupid low prices.  Quick gear up.

Now for actual play.  Oh wait, I need to assign 12 skill points and redo my layout.  I like that part. Do I ever miss the old talent trees of WoW, where each level you actually got something, even if it was a small increment in power that nobody noticed.  I got to press a button!  I digress.  The tank needed to get a companion, so a healer was in line.  Off I go into the wild!

And then I died.  Forgetting about combat advantage (don’t show your back), how to block properly, how to NOT knock people into another side group and a bunch of other details that I never really needed to worry about as a ranged healer.  I dusted myself off and went back to work.  This time I pulled everyone to me, circle strafe and all that jazz to get them lined up, then AE attacks for the win.  Worked out pretty good if I do say so.

Small instance was next and these always end with a boss.  Bosses as a healer are fun, you just sit back, heal from time to time and whack a mole.  Adds come around, tank picks them up, you AE or knock them into some hole.  Bosses as a tank are a test of patience.  You’re dealing little damage, the companion ain’t much better and once the adds spawn (they always do), you need to take them down before they take down your companion.  I think this is a good thing, in the end, as it forces tanks to understand HOW TO TANK multiple creatures at end level.  I remember leveling my cleric and I found that the higher I got, the better the tanks got.  As if the leveling process weeded out all the bad ones.  It’s just not possible to reach max level as a tank without a solid understanding of the mechanics.

It’s certainly a different paradigm.  My Cleric, as per the videos I’ve posted, does everything to avoid the big hits and red circles.  My tank however, is so damn slow, she needs to block to get through them.  Going from “get these damn things off me” to “why won’t you attack me you bum!” is a fun change of pace.

Now if only the game could find a way to teach DPS to play smart. -er.