#Neverwinter Open Beta

 

Neverwinter

Over the weekend, I decided to give Neverwinter, now in open beta, a test drive and see how it was playing and how the gameworld was shaping up.  Apparently, I’m liking it… a lot…as a good chunk of my weekend got sucked into running around city and surrounding environs!

In true D&D style, I began by rolling up a character, a cleric in my case, and fortunately for me and my horrible luck with any kind of randomness, I had the option to keep tumbling the dice until I was happy with the weight distribution of my stats. I picked some presets on the skins, and jumped right into the game. 

The controls are akin to Tera, in that you have WASD for forward/strafe movement, but your turning is done by mouse. Number of abilities are limited as well, a trend that seems to becoming more and more popular, although you have a wide range of skills to choose from as you progress, as well as latent talents that provide buffs to stats and skills. It’s been a real boon to be able to swap skills in and out depending on whether I’m soloing or doing group play.

I was thrilled to see text for quests again. The questgiver will be happy to regale you in audio with the same information, but it’s lovely to be able to run up, read a quest, and keep on moving instead of being transported into some 30 second cutscene. Quest directions are still liberally painted all over your screen from the maps to a glowing trail of goodness that makes it almost impossible to lose your way while you travel. Even when you have to change districts within the city, there’s a pretty blue arrow that lets you know what quests you have that are continued in which district, so if you’re as bad with names as I am, you don’t have to write yourself notes because you can’t access your quest log.

In addition to questing, there’s plenty of things to do. Crafting comes to us in a SW:TOR model where you send your happy minions off to craft/collect materials, although you can also collect materials in the world if you have the right kind of kit and/or personal skill to harvest the various types of nodes. Dungeons, skirmishes, and PvP are also available and you can queue for them simultaneously or individually depending on what you’d like to do.

One of the most innovative and D&D-esque feature is the ability of players to create user content, called The Foundry. These quests are available in-game via bards and message boards, and quest-creators can cash in on their creativity with rewards from players. Foundry quests aren’t modded, and thus must conform to the game rules; however, that is part of what makes them so interesting. You begin foundry quests/campaigns in-game, and the characters/scenes act as any quest that you gain from the developer created content–no heading out to the menu or warping off to some obviously “created” environment. While there are still bugs associated with play in Foundry quests, the potential for a really hands-on environment is just stellar.

And one of my favorite features? No hiding your UI when taking screenshots. Just click “Print Screen” and it’s all taken care of folks.

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All in all, Neverwinter looks like it’s got a lot of great things going for it, and with the free to play model, it’s gonna be a no-brainer for me to have this one in the library.

 

#TSW Buzzing Along

imagesCAX2BT8XRecently The Secret World joined the massive hordes of MMO’s that have switched over to a F2P model. For 30 bucks, I figured it was worth checking out, so I spent a day downloading and started myself a new character. While I can say that there are many minor annoyances which I will get into later, TSW definitely lives up to the fun, and I can only say: I wish I’d picked it up sooner.

Since I got to shoot a handy assault rifle in my introduction to the game, I figured I’d stick to that, and set myself up a Templar gunslinger and started exploring. There’s a ton to explore, and I really enjoy stumbling across pieces of lore as I roam across the landscape. With plenty of main quests, side quests, and the dungeon or two under my belt, I thought I was flying pretty fancy. Until I discovered that I didn’t exactly have a game-plan for my skills, and absolutely no idea what the hell I was doing.

You see, you get these fancy scroll wheels which are awesome. You can have up to 7 active and 7 passive abilities, and through expert management and some luck you can create a powerhouse for anything imaginable.

TheSecretWorldDX11-2012-05-19-03-41-27-52

Unless you suck yourself into a survivability build which can’t damage a kitten, but isn’t exactly a healer either. And you never take the repeated hints from the loading screens to equip a secondary weapon. Oops.

So I rolled a new character thinking I could give myself some much needed time to re-evaluate. And when I did I discovered this *cough, cough* completely hidden panel on the left of my ability screen with all kinds of nifty starter builds to get me started. This time, I’m not finding myself sucked into some metaphorical jackrabbit hole of possibilities because I’m choosing to pace myself. Stick to the main build until I’ve firmly mastered enough other skills to create myself  a complete (and hopefully) effective build. And if not, I can just load my starter deck back up. Yay!

I’ll admit, I still haven’t found a use for a shop yet except as a repair depot, but hopefully that knowledge will come to me one day. Until then, I’m currently working on mastering the crafting system, an on-the-road do-it-yourself creation shop that can be done in the comfort of any glade that you’ve cleared of the minions of shadow.

My only major gripe is the amount of time I spend criss-crossing various locales as I pick up new main quests while completing side quests, and really…isn’t there a way to coordinate these?! I’m also a little spastic in my fear that I’ll overlook some vitally awesome quest that happens to be lying in the mud somewhere, or buried under a decaying carcass, but I’m busy enough thus far not to be too anal-retentive and actually find a quest database to cross reference my completed list with all the possibilities.

The other thing I’m having a bit of trouble with is the numerous (and male-oriented) quest scenes. While I think it’s cute that so many women desperately want to make me lose focus through sultry inneundo (good luck with that ladies), it does get old after awhile. Why isn’t that cute cowboy trying to give me an affectionate shoulder squeeze and suggesting after all this mess is cleared up we can start a nice ranch somewhere, huh?

All in all, it’s a really enjoyable game so far, and has a wonderfully gritty, modern feel. While I can’t say I’m home, it’s definitely a step in the right direction!

On Healing in Mists

As I was thinking about this post, I really wanted to talk about the mana cap and the effect it had on healing. But really, you can’t talk about the mana cap without talking about healers in general and the expectations we hold as players and raid members when it comes to the role of healing. Is healing fun, or just necessary?

I was first exposed to healing in BC. I was a tankadin, and while my raid team loved me, it just didn’t always make sense for the consecration maker to tank every fight. We had other options, and so I not only became a switch hitter, I became an off-spec healer. To say that I hated paladin healing would be an understatement. I did not understand how people enjoyed hitting button one or button two in response to falling health bars. I think I aspired to be such a great tank in part to avoid ever having to heal anyone ever again.

Wrath changed my perspective on healers. It wasn’t that I loved paladin healing–I didn’t. But I finally got around to leveling a priest, and lo, it was awesome. I played holy, I played discipline, and there was so much variety and fun to be had, that I finally understood why people would want to do this whole “healing” thing.

A lot of things that appealed to me as a tank appealed to me as a healer. Healing is a dynamic role that requires a good understanding not only of the flow of the fight, but of your fellow players, and their foibles. While you might be tempted to fall into a rotation, there are plenty of times when you chuck the rotation and do something on the fly. I feel a personal responsibility for my playmates.

What I hate, and when I know something is horribly, horribly wrong is when I have to be the savior. Sometimes it happens. Sometimes it saves an attempt. But it shouldn’t happen. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a tank, dps, or healer: all can play a vital role in saving a bad attempt, but it should not be the norm. I just want to perform my function to ensure that my raid team meets success. Nothing is more satisfying than a clean, well-executed fight.

healing_team

Because of how I feel about healers, and how they relate to a healing team, I’m of two minds on the healing cap issue. Overall I think it’s a good thing. Having a cap requires me to be what I consider a good healer: a player with a good understanding of my tool-box, well-prepared with a game plan for tackling major healing issues during a fight, but able to adapt and work with my team to cover mishaps. I really think it’s very difficult to heal well if you are responding to health bars, and don’t have a fundamental understanding of the mechanics of a fight. Being proactive is essential to providing excellent and consistent healing to your team.

The reason I’m not totally behind the mana cap is the amount of dead time that incurs over the course of a night. It’s hard to always be casting if you must conserve mana for peak times in a fight. While it’s great to have areas where you’re really pushing the envelope, it sucks to have to stand around twiddling your thumbs because it’s the only way to have the oomph you need at the right time.

The restoration toolbox also plays a role in why I’m uninspired by the mana cap at this point in Mists. The only real decision I make with my spells are whether I have enough mana to cast a Rejuvenation, or whether I should hold back. The new mushrooms are so lackluster I only plop them down if I’m 1) twiddling my thumbs and 2) I don’t expect the melee group to move at all.

For the most part, I agree with other restoration druids about the state of the class even I raid in a 10, and not 25 setting. Having two spells I never use anymore (Nourish and Healing Touch) and a band-aid burst spell that does pretty much nada have not really improved the efficacy of our class, and lead to a rather dull time over the long haul. While I don’t need a spell for every occasion, I’d like a bit more variety in the choices I have to make.

So far, I’m giving Healing in Mists a rating of Neutral. I’m not dissatisfied per se. I feel like the mana cap could be a good way to keep healing interesting up until the end of the expansion, preventing healing “bloat” by requiring healers to make decisions about their spell choices. On the other hand, having to stand and regenerate mana during a fight sucks. Having a limited toolbox is likewise uninspiring. I’d love to see a better balance between mana consumption and casting availability, and for the love of Elune, give me tools that are relevant!

Appearances

Back when I was playing the Realm Online there was a dye feature. You could tell who’d been playing the game awhile as they’d be running around in flesh colored robes and wielding a huge purple stick. Dye color was a status symbol, the earliest wave of tier gear. Looking back, I think dyes were so popular, not for their fad value, but because there was such a limitation on clothing style and personal appearance. It was damn near impossible not to see yourself every screen as you wandered around the landscape.

I wasn’t very good about using dyes myself. You could pretty much be guaranteed to find me with a black suit of something chain-mail like. I’ve been pretty poor about keeping up with my own appearance in general. I did spend a ridiculous amount of time trying to track down my swashbuckling hat for my red mage in Final Fantasy, and various tiers during my time in Warcraft, but I could always argue that I did it for the stats. My lack of interest in actually bothering to transmog gear would back this up…

If it hadn’t been for Guild Wars 2. From what I’ve seen so far, there’s not much variation in actual gear appearance from class to class. As a hunter, I tend to get dusters and tall boots (no heels, thank you very much) and call it a day. However, the variation in coloring is dramatic.

 

While I don’t change my colors every single day (honest!) I do swap around my color palette quite frequently as the general outline and shape of my clothing changes or I just get tired of the same old thing. There’s three things that I really enjoy about the way dyes, and appearance in general have been adapted in GW2. One is the ease. The pane above is from my character screen which I can access at any time, anywhere in the world. It makes fiddling with my appearance intensely gratifying as I can instantly do a wardrobe change.

Another thing that is fairly fun, if very random is the discovery of the dyes themselves. They are a simple lootable item, but you literally have no idea when, where or how your color palette will turn out as you start a new character.

The last thing isn’t really dye specific, but I have found to be quite shocking: I have yet to see a clone of myself. I haven’t exactly chosen a look that’s out of the ordinary–I’m a freaking blonde bombshell, right? Yet, I haven’t seen another player with my exact look (even if I’ve seen my hairstyle now and again). While much of this has to do with the character selection process, I think the bulk of this has to do with clothes.

Like I mentioned earlier, there isn’t actually that much variation in cut of clothing style by class. Hunters tend to have one style, guardians another, casters a third. And while the first thing we notice about another character is their clothes, it’s very hard to peg someone as a certain level or progression point in the game, or even to find a matching set of clothes from one player to another.

 

 

The dye system is an integral part of this unique appearance of players in game. Each item of clothing can be dyed in several fashions which allows for very distinct looks from player to player. While I could live without this feature, and I have in game after game, the ease of access makes it a very fun addition to getting a new item. I never have to look like a multi-colored vagabond unless I choose to. I think the downside to this array of color options is the very lack of variety in actual clothing design. I can imagine that item styles are limited in order to handle the variations in color schemes and body types that a person may choose.

However, after having the heavily detailed armor styles of WoW and the simple but color rich gear in GW2, I think I would take color customization over fancy epaulets in future games. Because of the cumbersome time/gold sink that is transmog, there is a lack of variety from tier to tier among players, resulting in a homogenization and twinning that can take away from the immersion of the game. It wasn’t until I didn’t find a twin of myself that I realized how fun it can be to be unique, not because of accomplishment per se, but just because I am unique, a player with singular tastes and sensibilities.

[GW2] Social Aspects

Although Syl’s recent article on Guild War 2’s end-game have absolutely nothing to do with my subject, they did remind me that this is a post I wanted to write. I’ve seen the argument (sorry I’m link poor on that one) that the on-the-fly-fellowship model improves the social life of the MMO.

How does that work? How does not having to communicate make you more social? How does it make you connect with other players? It doesn’t. In the *almost* month I’ve been playing GW2, I can count the total number of things I’ve said in a chat channel on one hand.

Now, I’m willing to take the bulk of the blame. I’m very happily wandering around the world and discovering little nooks and crannies. I’m sure there *is* some way to actually scroll in my text box, but I haven’t taken the time to figure it out. What can I say, I’m a little anti-social on a good day. When I have been social in MMOs, it’s primarily been the result of group content. I had to communicate to function in a group setting.

While I don’t have any quibbles about not having to be social in order to enjoy an MMO, I do have a major quibble with saying that I’m enjoying the “social life” of an MMO. Auto-grouping doesn’t encourage me to do group activities and it sure doesn’t encourage me to actually interact with my fellow players. While I have enjoyed the group encounters I’ve taken part of, the absolute self-reliance that players are encouraged to embrace has left gaping holes in the mentoring you often see in new MMOs.

Let’s look at one of the encounters I took part in. The boss did a stomp. If you weren’t dodging during the stomp, you died. Pretty simple. You could spot the new people by the ring of death surrounding the boss. Since we’re not a “group” in the traditional sense, it doesn’t really matter to the bulk of people that these folks are dying. We’re all self-reliant, they’ll figure it out or just die a lot, right?

Chatter in the area was either:

  1. Melee can’t do this fight (lies! I was melee!)
  2. Rez me (it doesn’t matter that I’m right under the boss and you won’t actually have time to rez me before the stomp again)

 

It was rather frustrating to be a part of. Since it was my second time at the boss, I’d figured it out, and actually had enough time to look around and see the circle of death. I realized how nice it would have been if someone else would have done what I did: explain how the fight works. Moving on to new zones and new encounters, I saw this pattern repeated again and again. Sure, people were talking, but it was generally the same crappy bullshit you get in any forced group. As much as I’ve complained about having to struggle to form groups, or to keep groups together, the very fact that I must depend on other group members for a minimum set of time made me want them to succeed. As a result,because I was invested in my fellow players, I’ve formed a lot of great relationships in a multitude of different communities. Now that’s what I call being social.

The GW2 model, at least for outdoor auto-group type raiding doesn’t make me invest in others, which means I have less reason to want to talk to them, help them, or form relationships with them. As a result, I fail to see how we can say that the GW2 model encourages socialization. It might encourage you to enjoy “group” content, but that’s a story for another day.

The Story Thus Far: Storytelling in MoP

When Blizzard announced they were going old school and bringing back the Alliance v. Horde rivalry that initially fueled the game, I was a little worried. One of the nice things that we’ve seen over the years is a real improvement in how WoW chooses to move our personal storylines, and those of the main characters, forward. The Battle of Angrathar the Wrathgate was an absolutely awesome moment in the time I’ve played the game, and how do you do that if there’s not an end-game in sight?

Now that I’ve wrapped up Jade Forest, I wonder how I could have been worried. Just because there isn’t a label on the back of the box saying “EVIL BOSS #2438 SHALL DESTROY THE WORLD UNLESS YOU BECOME AN EPIC HERO AND SAVE US ALL” doesn’t mean that Blizzard doesn’t have the end-game in mind.

And I’ve decided, I’m glad they didn’t. I like the mystery and the sense of discovery as I run around Pandaria. As much as I loved Wrathgate, I do distinctly remember how much I hated Arthas showing up all the time and while I stood there with spittle running down my chin as my fight or flight response went into overdrive and decided NOT DOING ANYTHING was a great idea.

I don’t even mind doing chores for monks and killing monkeys. I mean, I’m a hero right? But like one character so sweetly pointed out:

Hey, hero person. How about you help me with this non-hero stuff so I can decide whether I trust you with the really important jobs.

I like that I’m figuring out what the problems facing the realm are along with my newfound (and desperately trying to get you to like me here!) allies. I like that I don’t know what to screenshot, because I don’t know if that figure I just met is REALLY important.

Even better is when you’re wandering around the world and find out something you already thought was cool, is like *really, really* cool once you get far enough along in the story.

So I’m still not sure what ALL THE EVIL is going to be, and I’m ok with that. Judging by the story thus far, it’s going to be awesome.

 

Why a Sequel?

This probably isn’t the best time to be doing this discussion since MoP is 3 DAYS AWAY! Almost 2 weeks ago (I really do keep up with my blog list… honest) Matthew Rossi discussed whether a sequel is really necessary for World of Warcraft. After all, Everquest did it, and it look what happened: World of Warcraft took a big ‘ol bite out of the MMO market during the transition phase.

I’m not a guru when it comes to subscriber numbers and what makes an MMO sink or swim. Things that many people usually cite such as graphics, character models, new races, and the like have been and continue to successfully be updated with the expansion / patch model. However, at this stage of the game, with the number of years not only myself, but countless others have spent in the game, I can see at least two advantages to having a sequel instead of an expansion.

The Journey Begins

When’s the last time you started a brand new character with the intention of reaching max level? Contemplating doing that for MoP are you? Me too. You know how excited I am about it?

I’m not.

Oh, I’m excited about having a new race to play. I’m excited about the new zones. What fills my heart with dread is those 70+ levels where I’m slogging through the same ol’ quests, scenes, and annoying slow-downs that I have for the last several years. Add the horrific balancing issues as a leveling character and you’ve got a very unenthusiastic player–one who actually likes to level.

Now you might be thinking:

Expansions can fix that! Just look at Cataclysm!

I call bullshit. Were there new quests? Yes. Were there “structural” map changes? Sure. Was there a deep fundamental change to the vanilla quests and scenes? I can’t make myself say yes.

I leveled a few characters through the new vanilla. You know how many times I went to a hub expecting a wonderful new set of quests only to discover everyone I talked to had me doing the same shit, just in their now destroyed crib? A few too many for me.

Although there was enough “shiny” to get me through the zone, we’re not talking about complete transformation. Add onto that BC, Wrath, and now Cataclysm, and that’s a lot of zones that I’ve seen the backside of a few too many times to get really excited about.

I want a sequel so I can not only reset my level, but so that the entire leveling experience gets a reboot too.

A Time Machine You Say

If Cavern of Times taught us anything, it’s that time travel is… complicated. Blizzard has made some pretty valiant attempts to allow players to mingle with their past and future selves in an effort to flesh out the Warcraft universe. The longer the World of Warcraft franchise moves along, continuing to pop out those expansions, the more cumbersome and confusing all these converging story and timelines become.

Although you can successfully show the progress of time through events like the one for Theramore, or the new digs going up out in Westfall, it simply isn’t as effective as wiping the slate clean.How would you like to be a new player trying to fit the Argent Tournament into any meaningful context? You wouldn’t, because it only makes sense in the context of the expansion itself. As more expansions get tacked on, so to do we get more of these weird events that are isolated in time and space and pretty damn irrelevant to the next “story.”

And how do these time changes affect us? Time *is* moving forward, yet Jaina still looks like she’s 16, and I sure don’t look any older. How does this view of progressive time affect our ability to connect to the gameworld, the figures who inhabit them, and our own characters if time stands still for the *actors* but not the land itself?

Final Thoughts

I really enjoy and want to see Warcraft be a vibrant and successful universe for years to come. However, I also think that Blizzard is backing this Universe into a corner with the way they have handled their expansion model. By creating new lore every expansion complete with “current” events, they are continually causing cracks in the cohesiveness of their universe from level 1 – level xx. Add to that the increasing level cap, the lack of sufficient and meaningful revamps of the earlier expansion zones, and the game is encouraging players to only experience end-game content. Players are leveling their 10 85’s through the new content, or make a single new character for the novelty, but fail to remain engaged in the content from 10-80 (soon to be 85).

A hard-reboot, a sequel, might not be the answer from a business standpoint (good luck getting a few million people to wave goodbye to their virtual selves in order to set up shop in a new locale) but I think it does have benefits for the title long-term.