State of the Gaming

I almost stopped playing World of Warcraft. “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.” I’m even back on the raid team. Both GW2 and TSW have fallen by the wayside. Diablo III I still dip into occasionally.

The surprise is resurrecting my SW:TOR account. A few friends started playing it again recently when it went F2P. I logged back in and quickly decided that the F2P restrictions were too harsh (even with my preferred status) and so re-subbed. I suspect part of my problem when I stopped last time was burning out on my main story line due to trying to push it too hard. I’m actually enjoying all the little side story quests now!

RPG I’m in one game with a second starting soon. This is going to be a stetch on my time a bit with my calendar having four days of gaming in a row:

  • Sunday: WoW Raid
  • Monday: World of Darkness
  • Tuesday: WoW Raid
  • Wednesday: Burning Wheel

Two RPG a week is definitely enough, and if I find the four day run too much I will drop one or both of the raid days.

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TSW vs. GW2 – Part #1 – PvP

Some time ago I pre-purchased two games. The Secret World and Guild Wars 2. I played them both a little bit in beta weekends and from launch. However, only one has me firmly in its clutches. Why?

The Secret World has failed. Or, at best, is clinging onto a much smaller existence than was originally hoped for. I was following this since I first caught wind of it. Two things stood out for me: three faction PvP and the broad skills rather than deep levels and multiple classes approach to character progression.

As it turned out I didn’t even step foot into PvP. By all accounts it devolved into follow the zerg objective swapping. Whilst not a fan of PvP I usually at least give it a go in any game I play. However, TSW got this wrong from the outset by placing the three factions together in the world with no obvious friction between them. For me, this made PvP pointless. It made it a meta-game. Why head into the instanced PvP to fight against people who earlier I was grouped with for a PvE instance? For me, PvP has to mean something. I had this with DAoC and its realm system. WoW has never had it. I have hopes that GW2 will be more like DAoC in this respect.

GW2 gets the PvP right. Their WvW set-up owes an awful lot to DAoC. However, they neatly sidestep the faction/class balance issues that DAoC had by pitting servers against each other rather than factions. Warhammer dealt with the issue by having mirror classes on each faction. Lets be charitable and assume that was successful. Where Warhammer went wrong (which is pretty unforgivable given it came from the same firm that gave us DAoC) was in only having two factions. WoW showed us that this simply doesn’t work. There will always be a more favourite faction, and throw server transfers into the mix people will head towards the more heavily populated servers which are winning. Three factions on the other hand have some level of self balancing. When one server gets ahead then the other two will often ignore each other and concentrate on the shared threat. Hence why I was pleased with the following exchange in guild chat:

Me: Are we pwning in WvW then?
Them: We were, but now its 2 vs 1!

It’s not all roses though. The GW2 WvW zones have population caps on them, to stop the servers melting no doubt. This means that there are queues. And the queues are very long. The existence of any queue for WvW makes the traditional call to arms an impossibility. This will either make keep defence unachievable, or lead to a split between PvE and WvW whereby WvW guilds simply spend the whole time in WvW. Keep defence is important, otherwise WvW will devolve into win trading which makes the whole thing a bit pointless once again. Given the way the GW2 server populations are managed, with the overflow system for PvE, I worry that this is creating a big problem for WvW which by its persistent nature doesn’t fit the overflow mechanic. So only a fraction of the server’s population can actually get into WvW. As well as spoiling the call to arms possibilities this could also drive people away as not being able to play such a big, and fun, part of the game is frustrating.

Of course there is always the structured PvP. I played some of this on one of the beta weekends and found it pretty fun. However, for me I think it is largely meta-game and therefore of little interest. This was always the problem I had with WoW. PvP there has no in game meaning. The fact that you’ve won or lost just means you’ve got more, or less, of a resource that is entirely personal. What’s worse is that you still get resource even when you do lose, albeit in reduced quantities. Meaning that time spent is the only real differing factor. And we all know how much time a lot MMO gamers, myself included, can devote to their gaming!

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Try not to waffle

I’m going to try and take something Tobold said recently to heart and treat this blog more like a diary of my gaming thoughts, rather than trying to write glowing reviews and pages of useful information.

So here goes.

The Older Gamers: Following up on a recommendation from a good friend possibly over a year ago now I’ve joined The Older Gamers community. I’ve yet to actually meet up with anyone from there in game, and unfortunately discovered that the Tera division (which is why I got round to signing up in the first place) is based on a US server. Still, it’s a big, active community and should hopefully provide chat and discussion for any games my RL friends aren’t playing. Without having to resort to ‘official’ forums and fight it out with trolls and other forms of online dicks.

WoW: Committed to annual pass until November. However, the game is boring me now. I’m enjoying not being committed to two nights a week to be part of a raid team. And besides, I have no interest in heroic mode raiding. Give me more content, not hard modes any day.

Tera: I’ve joined a big active guild and getting into this more as I play it. I am really enjoying the active style of combat and have done some group stuff in the first instance now. There’s still the problem of being the only one of my RL friends playing this and the Korean grind nature of some of the game, but it is very pretty and much fun. Which is kind of what you want from a game!

I was slightly surprised to discover that as well as the grind applying to crafting and gearing up it also refers to the lack of quests in the Korean version of the game (at least post level 20). That never seemed an issue when playing DAoC. The quest system of WoW changed that and had become the de-facto model for western MMO. I say had though as having experience the renown hearts version in GW2 I think that works a lot better.

The Secret World: Having pre-purchased a lifetime account on a whim I played a day in the beta last weekend. I must admit I liked the ability wheel setup. I tinkered with by build of 7 active and 7 passive abilities quite a bit and easily had enough points over the day to mix and match between 3 weapons (pistols, hammer, blood magic). I did get a bit frustrated with some of the puzzles on the missions but wasn’t completely blocked ever.

Diablo III: Managed to beat the first boss (Error 37) about 24h after release. So far I’ve barely scratched the surface. The Witch Hunter felt a bit dull with the plink plink of arrows. Plus she came across as a hard nosed dullard. So I tried a Barbarian instead. After much smashing and body parts flying in all directions I think this was the right choice!

GW2: I’ve been really excited and following all the hype for this. I had a good time on the beta weekend clearing the first human zone with a Guardian character. However, having played more Tera and some The Secret World, my gut feeling currently is that the combat system in GW2 is very basic. That said, all I’ve really done so far is solo stuff or events with so many people around it is just button mashing FTW. I’ll need to give small group instanced stuff a try to see how things pan out with no tank/healer roles. Tera has the same style (and better I think) of active combat, but also retains tank/healer roles. Fortunately there’s so much more than just the combat system to GW2 and the hope that the WvW combat lives up to the hype.

 

 

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Back to WoW

So it turns out SW:TOR didn’t hold my interest for long. The general blogosphere seems to agree that it is a good single player story wrapped up in a medicore MMO, and I can’t argue with that. It does do the Star Wars universe very, very well. The joy of finishing character creation and getting the fanfare and scrolling text was pretty awesome.

Ultimately though, I got bored with the questing and found that whilst I knew maybe a dozen people playing the game, we were all playing at different times or different servers or different factions. I think one of the biggest things I get out of gaming is playing with other people, so yeah, not very rewarding.

Other WoW distractions have included Skyrim, Kingdoms of Amalur and a re-visit to Borderlands. Of these, Skyrim held the most interest and is something I will possibly continue to play as a background activity. But its a solo game and I find I can’t keep the level of focus required to keep active.

I’m still not raiding, at least not as an official raider, in WoW. I might be tempted to raid seriously again come MoP. However I do enjoy the freedom of not having 2-3 nights a week committed, and I’ve little to no interest in heroic mode raiding, which doesn’t fit very well with the guild raid team focus.

Fortunately there is still plenty to keep me interested. I’m plugging away at my Paladin who will be my 7th max level character in a mere 24 levels time. I’ve done some social/alt raiding on some alts and paying more attention to gearing them up through LFR and valor points. I’ve so far avoided my DK tank though as I find it a much more stressful role.

On the horizon we have Diablo III in under a month, GW2, The Secret World, and the MoP expansion for WoW. I got in early on the beta (before most of the crowds) and may post some thoughts about that but it feels too early and I expect lots of things to change quite a bit before the end of beta.

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A Long Time Ago…

In a galaxy far, far away. Yes, I have succumbed to the dark side. And the light side in fact. I have been playing Star Wars: The Old Republic.

Is it WoW with lightsabers? Yes. Is it just WoW with lightsabers? No. The MMO mould is pretty much unchanged: classes, talent/skill trees, action bars, cooldowns, roles. SW:TOR doesn’t bring anything new to the game in these main respects. So what is the lure? There are three things drawing me away from WoW:

  1. Temporal – SW:TOR is in the levelling bubble stage of its development. There are many people levelling up characters for the first time. This means that all areas of the game are well populated. Given the MM nature of the game this is quite key. The WoW levelling bubble burst many years ago now and largely the only people you see about are those you are automatically grouped with via the dungeon finder. Somewhat soulless.
  2. Thematic – Sure, WoW has a lot of lore. But there’s never really felt like a story, and I’ve personally not played any other Warcraft games. Whereas I’m of an age where I saw Star Wars on release in the cinema. I’ve grown up with Star Wars. I still have a somewhat threadbare Star Wars duvet cover in a cupboard somewhere. SW:TOR really does bring that world to life. (more on this later hopefully)
  3. Personal – Whilst I have formed some great friendships with my fellow guildies in WoW, nothing quite beats playing alongside people you know and see regularly outside of the game. Nobody I know from that latter category is still playing WoW, whereas several have picked up SW:TOR.

Is this the end of WoW for me? Who knows. I’m at least “on a break”. I suspect this will turn out to be permanent though. I’ve not found going back to games after breaks particularly rewarding in the past. In the meantime I hope to follow up this post with some commentary on the similarities and differences between the two games, and what I think works (or doesn’t) in each.

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State of the WoW

I think I’ve found the flaw in Gevlon‘s recent arguments about hard working and time in MMOs (WoW specifically).

The flaw stems from the underlying assumption that all the players are equally capable. That the difference in achievement is simply down to the amount of effort they put in. The poorest performers are the ‘morons and slackers’ who either don’t understand the game properly or can’t be bothered to learn.

I don’t deny that there are ‘morons and slackers’ out there. I’ve come across DKs trying to tank without Blood Presence on. We’ve all seen the stories of hunters in INT gear and warriors in cloth gear. The problem is that these examples are outliers. They sit at one end of a normal curve with the other end populate by, well, here comes the other flaw…

Lets go back to that assumption that everyone is equally capable. So from the game mechanics themselves we can deduce a theoretical maximum output, be it DPS, HPS or mitigation. We can surmise that with enough ‘hard work’ everyone will get to within a percent or two of the maximum physical achievement of that output. How then do we tune our encounters? How do we provide these people with a continuing series of challenges?

There are two problems with this. Firstly, how do we tune the encounters? If our target market is achieving within a few percent of optimal that doesn’t leave us much leeway. Tune it lower and it becomes too easy for them. Tune it higher and it becomes impossible. Tricky. Secondly, what does new content look like? Given we’ve already hit the optimal path then it is just the same tank and spank encounter with different skins.

So, we can see that non-gimmick fights are an issue for people at the top of the game. Interestingly enough, from this it follows on that it is actually easier to provide tank and spank content for the majority of players rather than the best players. We can look at the distribution of ability across our player base and tune fights accordingly. This gives people two routes for progress: get better gear, or get better skill. Both of these, as it happens, come from time played.

This does of course come back round to the ‘no-lifer’ issue. People who play more progress faster and further. We’ve just seen the reasons for this: the capable people hone their skills to beat the encounters, the less capable people get better gear to beat the encounters.

Gevlon dislikes the dance; the gimmicky nature of fights. I contend that this is a natural evolution. We’re already at the point where there are enough people getting within a percent or two of the optimal output that something extra is needed to fights beyond the tank and spank to challenge them. This isn’t even new. Even classic WoW had its own dances. I remember “You are the bomb!” and wiping because someone hadn’t moved. TBC had Lady Vashj; arguably one of the best boss fights in WoW whilst at the same time being all about the dance.

I think the problems we are seeing in WoW now is that it is actually incredibly difficult to create encounters that cater to the sliding scales of competency people bring to the table. Both in terms of output optimisation skill and learning the dance skill. I imagine a graph with output optimisation on one axis and dance skill on the other. You’ll be wanting to optimise stuff for the top right quadrant. Except that knocks out 75% of your players.

You can now see how and why Blizzard come up with differing difficulty levels and encounter nerfs. For the people working on heroic Firelands, the normal mode T11 is fairly trivial now. In fact a lot of the dance can be ignored due to over-gearing. Yet there are still people out there happily playing the game and wiping in that content. Some of those are ‘morons and slackers’. Others though just aren’t as capable gamers.

That said, I’d still rather see new content for extra difficulty rather than heroic modes. To me it feels like heroic modes are catering more for just the very best players. Unfortunately I’m in the group just behind them. Just about finishing normal modes but often finding heroic modes just that little too hard. If we had the next tier available then the heroic people would be working on that tier’s end boss whilst we were starting out. The jump from normal to heroic feels too much like a step function than a gradual progression.

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Call to Arms

Some time ago when I first started this post I was going to rant about the ratio of tanks needed between the levelling game and the raiding game (notably 25s). Or how tanking is more difficult than healing or dps. Or how the tank usually has to take on the burden of instance guide, and marking up mobs. Since then Blizzard have pedalled some more and made it clear that the extra bag rewards will be BOA. It’s difficult to say whether this is back pedalling following the initial outcry or merely a clarification of the original intent. Either way it is an important distinction. It means those of us who play cloth or mail wearers or physically can’t tank can still potentially use this feature via alts to have a chance at the same rewards for out mains.

So, if you can’t beat them, join them. I switched one of my DK’s specs from Frost to Blood. I had a quick read up on EJ for spec and glyph advice plus a heads up for the how to play. I also hit up MrRobot and sorted out optimal enchants and reforging. And off I went into my first normal 5man. And …

DK tanking as blood in Cata is much easier than frost was in LK. Based on my limited experience of some 5-mans. I’ve already managed to tank a handful of heroics, both in guild groups and pugs. I still maintain tanking is tougher than other roles though. There’s an expectation you’ll know which way to go and how to handle every pull, from marking mobs up if CC is needed to the kill order, interrupts and turning mobs away from people. As DPS and healer I’ve been able to just follow everyone else and stand behind stuff if I’m melee.

The actual tanking though? Much much easier than healing was at the same progression point. I think I’ve only used some of my cooldowns once. My main issue is being a bit low on threat generation and not always picking up strays quickly enough.

As to the Call to Arms? It hasn’t been as prevalent as I thought it would be. Whereas I figured it would be up almost constantly, reality has it that I’ve only picked up two bags so far. Netting me a bunch of gold, a flask, a  Deviate Raptor pet. Seeing as I have that on my main already that netted by another 900g.

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Rift

So I gave Rift a try recently. Mostly due to being under the weather and finding myself with some spare time on my hands. I doubt I have much more to add that bigger and better bloggers than myself haven’t already covered. But I’ll try anyway.

Yes, it is like WoW. The thing is, that statement is entirely unhelpful. There are oodles of games out there like WoW:

  • Fantasy 3rd person MMORPG.
  • Subscription payment model.
  • Levelling based progression.
  • Quests.
  • Two faction consensual PvP.

If anything I would say Rift is more like Aion. Graphically it is closer to Aion than it is to WoW. The back story also shares similarities: two factions split from one origin, fighting each other and a common foe. The user interface is closer to Aion than it is to WoW. Though it is more flexible, having a layout mode (like WAR only well implemented). The crafting model is almost identical, only without the annoyance of Aether collection.

One of the strong comparisons being made with WoW is how slick it is. How polished it is. Frankly, this says more about the sort of shoddy workmanship gamers will put up with if this is somehow a selling point!

So in what way is Rift unique?

Continue reading

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Can’t Stop the Pop

Following the recent patch and buff to PW:S I switched my offspec back to Disco from Holy. And then promptly logged off. However, last night I got pulled in to BoT as a healer so I got to try it out in anger.

I’m feeling much more confident with disco healing now. Partially this will be down to better gear, even if it is focussed on Shadow spec. We started with Ascendant Council. I stuck with Inner Will, kept PW:S on both tanks and PoM on cool down. Then in P1 it is Smite spam for Atonement on the frost boss ready for the fire shield and Archangel, Inner Focus and a PoH on each group. For P2 PW:S and PoM are mostly sufficient with the occasional Penance. I was surprised to find myself hitting P3 with over 80% mana. In P3 it is bubble spam, PoM, the occasional Flash Heal and of course Divine Hymn at the last. Simples.

Of course that took us about 8 wipes to get right. Keeping the two bosses health level in P2 seemed tricky and our first couple of goes in P3 we suffered from excessive chain lightning due to being overly bunched.

The rest of the night was on Cho’gall. I did get to DPS on a couple of attempts but we lost people so I went back to healing. A different fight though this one. Rather than just using Smite spam to get stacks ready for Archangel I was using it continuously. I’d toggle Inner Fire on and Smite spam. Then when Rapture was available I’d toggle back to Inner Will for a PW:S and PoM and then back to Inner Fire and Smite. Weaving in Archangel, Inner Focus and a PoH to cover for raid damage. Sadly whilst we got into P2 a couple of times we haven’t got that sorted. A kill is imminent though.

Whilst I’m still #3 for healing, there’s no longer much in it. Paladin tops the meters as main tank healer and the shaman obviously has better raid healing. But I’m feeling in a much better place about my healing. The ability to swap easily between Inner Fire and Inner Will is really nice: use the former for Smite + Atonement heals and switching to the latter for shields and PoMs. For quick spot healing the combo of Penance (for Grace) followed by PW:S and hasted Greater Heal is really nice too.

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Holy Rusted Metal Batman

So my last post was all about going Shadow main spec. Does that mean I’ve given up on healing? In my mind I had. However we’re still kind of struggling off and on for healers on our raid nights so I got asked to resurrect my offspec and pitch in. We were starting on Magmaw at the time and it was suggested I go Holy and I figured why not. Couldn’t be any worse than Disco. And it wasn’t. In fact it was pretty much just as bad.

However, it wasn’t all doom and gloom. As it turned out I was healing about as much as the resto druid we had, both of us well behind the holy pally. This was still enough to get the kill and move on. Even though the numbers were low I was reasonably pleased with this as it was my first time Holy since Vanilla and first time playing with Chakra.

Since then I’ve healed a few more fights. Most notably break 10k hps on Halfus. This boggled me and was a bit of a breakthrough point (though I’ve not come close since). I was struggling after a couple of attempts and then got a piece of advice from one of our other priests (a social who raids occasionally). The advice was simple – alternate PoH on each group and use PoM and CoH on cooldown. I was amazed at the difference it made and managing not to run out of mana on the fight!

I’m still sticking with Shadow mainspec but I’m going to pay more attention to my Holy offspec now. First thing I need to do is sort out UI and keybindings for efficient use of Chakra. Specifically – swapping between the AOE and single target modes for efficiency.

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