Sunday, October 19, 2014

Republic Makeb Thoughts

It's almost time for a new expansion in The Old Republic, so I've finally finished the Makeb story line on a Republic character. I completed it on my Jedi Knight (Sentinel).

The new GSI buff stations that boost your gear level make Makeb much easier. I once accidentally logged out in the middle of a mission far away from a station, and when I logged back in I did not have the buff. The rest of the mission was much harder. I had to switch from a dps companion to a healing companion to finish it.

It's pretty clear that the Republic story line should be done first. It comes earlier, and a lot of the mysteries are cleared up when you go through the Empire story line. The Republic story is also a lot more straightforward than the Imperial story, being a regular rescue mission. Albeit a rescue mission for an entire planet.

The only hard fight was the final battle, and that was mainly because I kept getting one-shot right at the start of the fight. Once I figured out that I had to start the attack from a different location, it went smoothly. Of course, this probably more due to the GSI buff than any skill on my part.

I would rate the Republic story lower than the Imperial story. The Imperial story was a bit stronger, the NPCs (especially Katha Niar) were more interesting, and the conclusion was stronger. Plus Darth Marr is just awesome.

I think the villains for both stories were a bit weak. For one thing, they didn't really have any personal contact with your character until the very end.

Overall, Makeb was an "okay" story. Nothing really amazing, but nothing really wrong either.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

FFXIV Expansion Announced

FFXIV announced it's new expansion, Heavensward, today.

I really like how FFXIV embraces its killer mechanic, class changing on the same character, in its trailers. Apparently that warrior started as an archer in 1.0, then switched to warrior at the end of 1.0 and start of 2.0, and now is going for dragoon.

Dollar for dollar, I think FFXIV is the best value in the MMO market today (at least for themeparks). Every 3-4 months they drop a substantial content patch.

In fact, there's one patch (2.4) scheduled for the next few weeks, and maybe even another patch (2.5) before the expansion. 2.4 has a new raid instance, multiple new dungeons, and even a new class and job (Thief and Ninja). And most importantly, more Inspector Hildebrand!

Although, this patch did produce a lot of teasing for dragoons (melee dps lancer type class, the elite warriors of Ishgard in the lore, and with a reputation for dying in fights):
Why hasn't Ishgard won the war against the dragons?  
It's because all those dragoons spend 1000 years wiping. Don't worry guys, we'll kill the dragons for you. 
{Raise}{Do you need it?}

Friday, October 17, 2014

Abilities Per GCD in FFXIV

The discussion in the previous post brought to mind how FFXIV handles abilities and GCDs, which is slightly different from the norm.

GCDs in FFXIV are longer than other games, 2.5s instead of the standard 1-1.5 seconds. However, FFXIV expects every class to hit a button each GCD in their main rotation.

For classes with instant attacks, like melee classes, this usually means that the actual attack takes up a slice of that GCD, and gives the player a small amount of time to move their character. This is important, because melee characters need to move between the back and flank of the target during the rotation.

However, classes in FFXIV also have a set of off-GCD abilities. Because of the way animations work, you can effectively use one off-GCD ability per GCD.

So each GCD can have a max of two abilities. You're guaranteed to press at least one, the main rotation ability, but only some GCDs will have the second ability used.

You could model this with two GCDs (though I suppose they technically aren't "global" anymore). Some abilities trigger GCD 1, others trigger GCD 2. There are no empty GCDs in track 1, but there are some in track 2.

I think this method is pretty good. You get into the rhythm of your main rotation, each ability coming 2.5s after the last. But there's lots of empty space to throw in cooldowns and specials. As well, you can't trigger all your cooldowns at once, but have to space them out. The biggest downside is that classes can seem very slow at early levels, where you only have track 1 abilities.

On the whole though, I do like FFXIV's approach to GCDs. I especially like the longer GCDs. It slows the game down a bit, makes it a touch more forgiving. I have never been a fan of the way Haste speeds up the game by messing with the GCD.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

"Player-sexual" NPCs

At the New York Cantina Event, Bioware announced that the romance arcs in the upcoming Shadows of Revan expansion will be "player-sexual". Bioware defines this as: "if you are a player no matter your gender you can romance [the non-player character]."

I disapprove of this.

Oh, I don't care if the NPC is gay or straight. If Bioware wants to include a gay NPC, that's fine by me. If the romance is heterosexual, that's fine as well.

What I object to is defining the NPC's characteristics in terms of the player. An NPC's characterization should exist independently of the PC. Otherwise, the NPC feels less like an actual character, and more like a reflection of the PC, a mere object to fulfill the player's fantasy.

As a silly example, imagine if at the beginning of the game, you were asked "What is your favorite ice cream?"  Later, you meet the love interest in the game and she goes, "My favorite ice cream is [player's favorite]." That's rather odd and narcissistic. The character should have her own opinions on ice cream.

There's a really good example of this in the Imperial Agent story line. Watcher Two is one of the main supporting characters. She is can be romanced, but only if you are playing a human male. If you're playing an alien, you get shot down. It's part of her character that--as awesome as Watcher Two is--she's an Imperial to the core, and still bound by the prejudices of her culture.

It's okay for an NPC to change in reaction to the actions taken by the player. But the change should be a reaction, driven by the existing independent personality.

Of course, we know why Bioware is choosing this path. It cuts down on the number of characters and permutations required, while still allowing everyone a romance option. But I think it makes for weaker characterization, and leads to a lesser and overly player-centric story.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Abilities Per GCD

How often should a player be hitting a button? Should the player be pressing a button every global cooldown (GCD), or is it better that some GCDs are left empty?

I've been watching forums for a while now, and it seems that the trend is for people to demand that every GCD has to be filled. But that leads to a problem with certain archetypes.

Consider 10 GCDs. Let's say that each class is designed to deal 1000 damage after 10 GCDs. If every GCD is filled, then each button press contributes an average of 100 damage.

But say you want a class that does big hits. With an ability that does 400 damage.  That means the remaining 9 buttons only do 66 damage. So you're spending button presses on many weak abilities just so you can have that one big hitter.

There are ways around this of course. For example, the small ability could boost the large ability, so a portion of that 400 damage is really attributable to the small ability.

But overall, it seems easier to design a class that doesn't use every GCD, or has abilities that cost multiple GCDs (casters, usually). If you only used 5 abilities in that 10 GCD window, your heavy hitter could do 400 damage, and the other four still do 150 damage, which is more than a class that fills each GCD.

Then the problem with empty GCDs is that filling them with anything becomes a viable means of increasing damage. The usual route is to throw in AoE abilities, like Retribution paladins did with Consecration.

SWTOR provides all classes with a very weak filler ability that does not cost resources (or even grants resources), giving the player a button to press when they have nothing better to do. I'm still not sure it's better than just having the player wait for the extra GCD.

Ultimately though, is a class with empty GCDs a viable playstyle anymore?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Patch 6.0 First Impressions

I bit the bullet and resubscribed to WoW. Here are my impressions of the new patch.

Character Models

The new character models look pretty decent. They still look a lot like the old models. The major differences I've noticed on the human female model are the eyes and the running animation. The eyes seem much bigger and brighter, more like "anime" eyes. At least you can change your face in the barbershop now.

The running animation also looks a little different than I remembered. It may just be a case of more moving parts though.

Ability Pruning

The ability pruning is pretty noticeable. I had a lot of blank buttons on my hotbars. But all the important abilities are there.

Inventory Changes

Warning! There's a new button to sort your bags. I accidentally pressed this button in my bank, and it wrecked my carefully laid out system of having specific bags for specific items.

Stat Squish

The stat squish is both noticeable, especial when you look at armor, and forgettable. The numbers seem to work, and general combat in the open world worked pretty much like normal.

Initial Warlords Questline

The new questline is pretty decent. There are some changes to the way the quest tracker works, which was surprising at first. As well, quest goals are pointed out with great detail.

Another new thing came with a quest to plant flags in certain locations. Before, you would go to that location and click a flag item in your inventory or on your quest tracker. But now there were golden outlines of the flag in the location. When you clicked on the outline, your character planted the flag. I cannot decide if this is a better or worse way to handle these types of quests.

Upper Blackrock Spire

I did the new UBRS. It's pretty short, ending at roughly where the Rend Blackhand encounter used to be. There are some nice call outs to the old UBRS. It feels incomplete, but it may just be a teaser for the full dungeon at 100.

New Healing Model

Healing-wise, I don't know. I don't think the numbers for healing are quite right at 90. For one thing, it didn't seem to make a lot of difference whether or not I used the expensive, fast heal, or the slower, cheap heal. It would also have helped a lot if the tanks had pulled slowly. The first tank pulled everything in the first room, we wiped, and then the tank left the group. Then for some reason the second tank left in the middle of the last boss fight event. Luckily we got a third tank quickly, and successfully finished the fight.

Healing is a lot weaker than it used to be, but it feels like damage still comes in at a higher rate. Or perhaps tanks have a lot more control over how much damage they take. I'd notice that the tank would take crazy damage, but then take very little when they were at low health, while I was trying to frantically heal them back up. Or with the DK tank, suddenly the tank would gain 30% of her health back, but it wasn't from one of my heals.

Basically, as a healer, it felt like the tank had more control over her health than I did. I am not sure that is a good thing for group mechanics. The bargain is that the tank controls the mobs, I as healer keep the tank up, and the dps kills the mobs. This feels like it breaks the link between healer and tank a little bit.

I guess we'll see how it works out at 100, though. I may also be wrong about why the tank's health dropped fast some of the time and slow at other times. I thought it was the tanks starting to use active mitigation more, but it may just have been random or the tank using her regular defensive cooldowns.

Monday, October 13, 2014

WoW Patch 6.0 Tonight

WoW's 6.0 patch comes out tonight with the new character models, stat squish, and class changes. There's also the pre-expansion content, including a new version of Upper Blackrock Spire.

I'm still undecided on whether to re-subscribe or not. I do kind of want to see the new content and the new changes to healing. But I'm not super-excited about it either.

What changes are you looking forward to?