Thursday, November 27, 2014

Talador, Leveling Dungeons, Tarren Mill vs Southshore

Talador

A welcome return to form after Gorgorond. This was a solid zone with some interesting quests and lore. It was very nice to see the contrast between WoD and TBC here. I'm up to level 98 now.

Heh, about a year ago I asked what happened to the Alliance paladins? It seemed to me that the Alliance story had lost a lot of its identity when the major paladins dropped out of sight during Wrath. This expansion we got a new Alliance paladin in Yrel, and the story picks back up. Coincidence? I think not.

Leveling Dungeons

I've done the first three leveling dungeons as Holy. They're okay. Short, quick dungeons with reasonably interesting bosses.

However, I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that--as a healer--I strongly dislike active mitigation. My job is to keep the tank up, and active mitigation makes healing a weaker (lower-skill) tank a much harder job than it really should be. All three tanks seemed very squishy to me, and I had to chain cooldowns constantly to keep them up.

You could tell it was playstyle, because after a wipe the tank suddenly becomes much easier to heal. Why they didn't play like that in the first place, or why they are chain-pulling like crazy, I don't know. It's incredibly annoying to see a tank's health falling rapidly and to know it's because the tank is playing improperly rather than anything I'm doing.

Honestly, I think Blizz is cruising for a Cataclysm-style unhappiness effect, at least from the healer perspective. The environment doesn't have the one-shots of Cataclysm, but I think healing will turn out to be unreasonably hard for random groups, and will need to be buffed. How they're going to do that without damaging the balance of pre-made groups will be interesting.

Tarren Mill vs Southshore

This is a temporary battleground for the 10th Anniversary. I've played it twice, and I think it's a lot of fun. It's very simple, just a straightforward zerg between the two towns. No unique mechanics to learn, which is very refreshing. I've won once, and lost once. The loss was very close, about 5 points.

The first time I played as Retribution, because I didn't realize you can't switch specs inside the battleground. Melee is at a bit of a disadvantage in these types of zergs, but I tried to pick off stragglers and run in, do some damage and throw a stun, and run and back out. The second time I healed.

I really like the catch-up mechanic. You start as a Private when you respawn, and every 10 kills you rank up and get a tiny buff to damage and healing. However, killing high ranked players nets you more points. The team in the lead usually has more higher-ranked players. This makes it easier for the team behind to catch up to them. It's an elegant, natural system. It's also a very nice nod to the old PvP ranks from Vanilla.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

"This is EVE" Trailer

CCP put out a new trailer for Eve Online, and it is really good. Warning: this trailer has a lot of swearing.



As befits a sandbox game, the focus is squarely on the players. I really like that they included a middle section with non-fleet activities like transporting goods, industry, and mining.

It's interesting that CCP did not shy away from the strong language and Eve vocabulary. The focus is on the emotions behind the voices, and not really what the voices are saying. There is no real effort to make the video "accessible". I think this was a good call, as it adds to the authenticity of the video.

It's notable that the usually fractious Eve community absolutely adores this video. As well, it seems to be working for CCP, as new character creation in Eve is up significantly.

I also think this trailer taps into a truth: that we play MMOs over other games to play with other people. Lately it feels like the genre has forgotten that, that it is more important to "mediate" between players. That the default is that playing with others will be a bad experience, and all the new dev effort goes into systems to mitigate that bad experience. This trailer takes a bold stance against that line of thought, unabashedly declaring that playing with other people is fun.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Gorgrond Questing, Garrisons, Sub Numbers

Gorgrond Questing

I was out of town for most of last week, so I have not advanced much farther. I did finish Gorgrond. I'm not sure what I think about choosing one quest path based on which outpost you build. It felt like you only got half the story.

I chose the Sparring Ring and ended up being sent to the north. Overall, Gorgrond was decent but not really memorable. I did like seeing alternate-Rexxar and his animals.

Garrisons

I really like Garrisons. I like them a lot more than housing in other games. For me, I really like the way different parts of the Garrison work together to produce things. Housing very often feels so static me. You place a chair and then you are done. But with the garrison, the mine produces ore which feeds the jewelcrafter. Lumber gets turned into resources. NPCs are dispatched on various tasks. It's a lot more SimCity that normal housing, and I think that makes it more attractive.

I also really like how Blizzard brought back old NPCs to help populate your garrison. The best was seeing Maybell Maclure-Stonefield and Tommy Joe Stonefield. I've mentioned before that I love that quest from Elywnn Forest, and it was really well done to see the results.

Sub Numbers

So WoW is back up to 10 million subscriptions in time for the 10th anniversary. There's some pleasing symmetry to that. Also, no wonder the servers melted.

I wonder how much of a role Elder Scrolls Online and Wildstar played in this. I think there were a fair number of players who were burned by both those games, and they may have retreated back to WoW, the comfortable, dependable game.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Warlords of Draenor Launch

Warlords of Draenor was released on Thursday. As is tradition, the servers promptly melted. Thursday and Friday were pretty bad. The few times I was able to get in, the lag was so bad it was nigh-unplayable. However, the server maintenance Saturday morning seems to fixed most issues. Aside from queues on the high population servers, everything seems to be going well now.

All in all, it just emphasizes that one should never take time off work for the launch of an online game.

My paladin, Coriel, is level 93 now, and I've done the first Alliance zone: Shadowmoon Valley. It was a pretty good zone with a decent story. I like the mix of quest-driven gameplay combined with more open "Timeless Isle"-style activities like rare monsters and treasures. It's the best of both worlds, and it's always exciting to see a skull pop up on your mini-map.

I must admit that I was caught off guard by how central the garrison is to the leveling experience. It's well done, and I think does a very good job of establishing your character's role in the expansion. I rather like how all the NPCs call you "Commander".

I really have no idea what I'm doing with the garrison, but hopefully it's working out. I like recruiting new people and sending them on missions. It's simple but very well done.

I also like the randomness as applied to quest rewards. It's neat that green quest reward can randomly upgrade to blue or purple. It's a very good use of randomness.

A very bad use of randomness, on the other hand, is the Draenor Perks system. My first Draenor Perk for Retribution was Improved Forbearance. As I predicted, this was very disappointing.

All in all, WoD is going reasonably well. Blizzard says that demand was much higher than they anticipated. Which I suppose is good for them. However, I can't help but think that the lesson that will be drawn is that "SAVAGE! Orcs, orcs, orcs!" is what the players want. And maybe that is what we want.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Mists of Pandaria, in Review

Overall, I thought Mists was a pretty good expansion. It never quite pushed over the line into "great" though. This was one expansion that I really did not do a lot in. I never raided seriously, and I ended up leaving WoW at the beginning of this year.

The Good:

  • Initial questing - I thought all the initial zones were very well done, and quite interesting.
  • The Pandaren - Everyone expected a joke race, but the pandaren turned out surprising well.
  • Patch 5.1 - I really like the way the story was woven into the dailies in this patch.
  • Thunder Isle - Another good zone.
  • All Raid Instances - All the raids were pretty well done, I thought. There were no tiers that were distinctly disliked.
  • Flexible Raiding - An outstanding innovation.
  • Legendary Questline - I really liked this questline, and how it worked over the course of the expansion.
  • The Farm - I really enjoyed building the farm and those series of quests and dailies.
The Mushy Middle:
  • Dailies - I know that a lot of people would put this in the bad column, but I think that is excessive. The dailies were very optional, in my mind, and were fairly fun to do if you did a faction at a time or so.
  • The Isle of Time - I didn't really like this zone, but it seemed like a lot of other people did. I just prefer zones with stories, rather than random wandering around. Basically, if I wanted self-directed gameplay, I'd play Eve or another sandbox.
The Bad:
  • Pacing - Each of the early patches should have had an extra month, and the last patch should have been a couple of months shorter. The length of time Siege of Ogrimmar was current was way too long.
  • Spoiling the End Boss - I think the biggest mistake Blizzard made was revealing Garrosh as the end boss before the expansion even began. They should have done their best to keep it a secret until 5.3/5.4. I think revealing it so early caused people to overlook Pandaria itself, instead focusing on the ultimate end.
  • Excessive Focus on the Horde- Orcs, trolls, orcs. This expansion was too focused on the Horde side. There is a whole other faction, Blizzard.
There was a lot of stuff I didn't try this expansion. I didn't do any challenge mode dungeons, or any raiding other than LFR. Basically, I was super casual. But the Pandaria core of the expansion was lots of fun. However, the pacing and later focus on the Horde weakened the overall experience.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Jedi Consular Done!

This post contains significant spoilers for the Jedi Consular storyline in Star Wars: The Old Republic.

I finished the Jedi Consular story yesterday. I played as a Light Side female Jedi Shadow tank. I used the 12x promotion, so I leveled strictly by class missions.

When you see most rankings of the TOR stories, the Consular story is often near the bottom. I disagree with this. So far, the Consular story is my favorite Republic story. It's not as good as the Agent story, but it's solidly in that second tier with the Jedi Knight and Sith Warrior.

However, I can see why some people don't like the Consular story. It's focused inwards, on the Jedi and the Republic. It's all about healing and diplomacy. I actually liked it a great deal. I really liked the hints of history in Chapter One. And then slowly building your alliance and armies in Chapters Two and Three. Corellia was very well done too, as you got to see the payoff of your recruitment efforts.

As well, I do not think think that going Dark Side works with this story. It really feels that you have to be Light Side, to unironically embrace the Jedi code and philosophy.

There are other minor criticisms. Tharan Cedrax is an excellent character, but his "Did you know I'm a pacifist?" is excessively annoying. I know he's supposed to come off as somewhat annoying, but there is a line, and the overuse of that phrase crossed it.

The main villain was very predictable. But even so it was very well done, with a nice twist.

The story also does suffer slightly from early choices constraining the future. It would have been nice for some of the characters from Chapter One, especially Yuon Parr, to come back in later chapters. But because killing them is a Dark Side option, they don't appear again, even though you saved them if Light Side.

Those are pretty minor criticisms. Overall, I thought it was an excellent story. However, I also think that it is not the best story to do first. It works really well as a later story, because of the perspective it provides on some of the later planets, especially Belsavis and Voss.

Force Persuade

If Obi-wan Kenobi had not been the one to use Force Persuade in the first movie, do you think it would have been considered a Dark Side action?

After all, you're literally overriding the mind and will of your target, forcing them to obey you. If you had put a shock collar on them and forced them to obey by threatening shocks, there would be no doubt that is Dark Side. Is Force Persuade so much better?

Maybe Force Persuade is really a Dark Side action. That makes for an interesting perspective on Obi-wan, with him being a little more "gray" than he first appears.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Thoughts on Overwatch

At Blizzcon, Blizzard unveiled their latest game: Overwatch. This also marks the first new world from Blizzard in 15+ years. Thank God.



So here are some quick thoughts on Overwatch:

  • The key element to take away from Blizzard's new world is that in the future, the moon will be populated by intelligent gorillas.

  • This new world is not dark. It's fun, vibrant, maybe even joyful and hopeful. I think that's a very good approach to the FPS scene. Most FPS games are on the darker side. Even "funny" FPS games like Duke Nukem, Serious Sam, and Team Fortress 2 go for more cynical, mordant humor.

  • I really like how Blizzard announces games with hands-on playable machines available. It's a really strong gesture of faith in their product. It's not empty hype or vaporware. Instead the hype is being generated by the regular people who actually got to play the game.

  • As to actual mechanics, things look good. People seem to like the responsiveness and control, which are vital to the genre. The different heroes seem to play differently and synergize well. There also looks to be a hero for most every playstyle.

  • The single most important design decision might be the mechanic Blizzard chose to leave out: an XP bar. Almost every game these days has some form of leveling or progression, or earning money to purchase weapons. Blizzard just goes old-school and eschews progression entirely.

  • Will I play Overwatch? I will try it out. However, the last couple of first-person games I played made me motion-sick, so I've avoided those types of games for the last few years.
All in all, Overwatch looks like an impressive addition to the Blizzard family.