Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Complaining about Free Things

I know that we, as a species, often like to complain.  "Oh my back hurts," or "oh that person is so mean" or "oh I've been stabbed, why won't anyone help me?!"  Complain complain.  Star Trek Online is currently celebrating its 4th anniversary by giving away free stuff to anyone who can be bothered to log in and claim it. Stuff that normally costs real money to acquire.

Free ships for all!
And people are complaining.  Sure, the vast majority of players are simply saying thank you and moving on (bravo), but there are still a minority of players that have taken to the forums to complain that the free stuff they've been given for free with no obligations, is not the free stuff they wanted, or as cool as they'd have liked.

Just . . . stop.  Please.

What is it about human nature that forces some of us to complain about anything, everything, even (especially?) things that simply don't matter at all?

It's almost as bad as writing a post complaining about people who complain . . . oh . . . wait . . .

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

I want to Dota but I am a Noob

You want to Dota 2, but you're a noob?  It's ok, don't be afraid.  I've been playing for a while, and I'm still a noob.  Thankfully, there are ways to play the game that don't involve being painfully humiliated by your "peers", there aren't really that many jerks out there anyway, and there are a few simple things you can do to avoid total noobness.

Dota 2 is a MOBA, or multiplayer online battle arena, game.  The short definition of a MOBA is a game in which two teams face off on a map with the goal of destroying the opposing team's base.  Most of them include non-player creatures (creeps) that move from each side's base to attack the opposing side, and the destruction of said creeps is a primary source of gold and experience for leveling up the player controlled heroes.  League of Legends is currently the most famous example of the genre, but the original Defense of the Ancients mod of Warcraft 3 is what got everything started.

If you've never played before, Dota 2 now offers a fairly solid training course in the game itself.  It will familiarize you with the controls and some of the mechanics in a stress-free environment.  Play the training levels, it'll help. I wish they'd been there when I was starting.

I'm going to assume you understand the basics of RPG-like games, of gaining xp, leveling up, earning gold and buying items, etc, and that you know how to start the game, jump into a bot match, and pick a character. With that in mind, I think the single most important thing you need to learn when starting out is the concept of "last hitting".

Every time an enemy creep dies, if you are close enough to it your hero will gain experience.  However, gold is only awarded to the hero that lands the death blow on the creep, or the "last hit".  Doing so also gives more experience than just being nearby.  So if you get lots of last hits, you will make lots of gold and get lots of experience.  If you don't get any last hits, you will make small amounts of experience and no gold at all.  Last hits are key.

What you absolutely do not want to do is wade into a pack of enemy creeps and auto attack until they're all dead.  If you're by yourself, you will take a lot of damage.  If you have the support of allied creeps, you'll get very few last hits.  In the early game, timing is everything.  What you actually want to do is follow your allied creeps, allow them to engage the enemy creeps, and when an enemy creep has just a sliver of health left, attack it and get the last hit.  If you attack too early and don't kill the creep your creeps will finish it off. If you attack too late, the enemy creep will already be dead.  Timing is very important.

The opposing heroes will be doing the same thing.  Rather than just stand around waiting for last hits, you can try to harass the enemy heroes with your abilities.  Keeping them low on health will force them away from the creep line, and starve them of vital experience and gold.  Note, however, that using your auto-attack (right click) on an enemy hero will cause nearby enemy creeps to switch targets and attack you.  Harassing the enemy is important, but you have to be careful.

Another important thing to keep in mind is hero selection -- some heroes are much harder to play than others. Personally I think ranged heroes are easier when starting out than melee heroes, as you have more time to respond to what the enemy is doing, and tend to stay out of immediate danger.  It's also important to know the role of the hero you choose -- many heroes are "carries", designed to dominate the enemy team in the end game, but typically quite weak in the early game.  Each team only needs 1 or 2 carries at most. A team with 5 carries is probably in trouble.  The Library tab inside Dota 2 defines the roles for each hero.  If you're playing by yourself, a carry is fine, the bots will do their best to support you.  If you're playing with others, see what they've picked before you pick.

The other key thing to be aware of is building items. When I first started out I didn't understand that every big item in the game is built from a number of cheaper items.  You don't need to save up 5,050 gold for that Bloodstone, you just need to buy each piece that constitutes a Bloodstone, and once you have them all, they transform into a Bloodstone.  Never ever ever "save" money for a big item -- you should be buying or upgrading items every chance you get, from small things in the early game, to expensive things from the Secret Shop in the mid to late game.  The more items you have, the faster you can earn gold, and the faster you'll get that big item you really want.

For a detailed schooling, you should read this: Welcome to Dota, You suck.  It has almost everything you could ever need to know about how to play, in great detail.

Another great link is the Dota 2 wiki, which provides overviews of all the heroes and good tactics to use with them.  It also provides detailed explanations of some of the mechanics, such as the difference between Pure damage and Physical damage.

Learn the game, practice, and before you know it, this could be you!


No, no, I'm kidding. Don't be that guy, Witch Doctor is only that good with careful video editing . . .

Monday, January 27, 2014

It's been a long time . . .

It's been a long time since I posted anything, and I'll admit I'd pretty much given up on this whole "blogging" thing.  Job changes, life changes, lack of free time, lack of motivation, and a bit of a feeling of ennui with the state of gaming.

I think I'm in a stable work position for the time being at least (I'm on job #5 since 2011), the newest addition to the family is 10 months old and starting to quiet down a bit, and I seem to be slipping into a somewhat typical gaming routine again.

What am I playing?

  • Dota 2 is my current "go to" for quick gaming sessions, and I have two friends I dragged into it as well.  Despite having nearly 300 hours played, I'm still a relative sucky noob and too cowardly to play against other players.  It's a bot life for me.  The amazing thing about Dota 2 is that after nearly 300 hours I still learn new things.  I'll be posting about Dota 2 for sure.
  • Star Trek Online is my current relaxing MMO of choice.  I'm playing it solo or in random groups, but I love collecting ships and the relatively relaxed pace of the game.  My current favorite is a Voth Bastion piloted by my Gorn Engineer.
  • Guild Wars 2 gets played now and then.  The whole living story thing really turned me off the game though.  I was really only interested in playing a couple of times a week, but that wasn't enough to keep up with the living story, and once I fell "out of the loop" my interest took a nose dive.  I'd love an expansion that opens up Elona or Cantha, with new classes, new mechanics, and new dragon enemies, but supposedly they won't be doing that.
  • The Banner Saga, Shadowrun Returns, and X-Com: Enemy Within get played in short bursts when I only have one hand free because the other one is holding a sleeping baby.  Both are turn based games with lots to offer.
Most of the time though, it's Dota 2. It's simply too accessible, and with at least one friend along for the ride is a lot of fun.  Strangely I mostly end up playing MMOs when none of my friends are around . . .

What am I looking forward to?  I'm not sure.  I want to like Wildstar, but the action combat has me cautious, as does the over-the-top silly nature of the game.  I'm not sure I want to play a cartoon.  Everquest Next? Maybe, but there's not enough concrete information yet.  Elder Scrolls Online? No thanks. I've never been able to get into any of the Elder Scrolls games since Morrowind -- I doubt ESO will grab me either.  I am somewhat hopeful that the Diablo 3 expansion will make Diablo 3 a better game, removal of the auction house was a great start, and a proper weapon and shield type heavy armor fighter is appealing to me too.

There's surprisingly little on my radar for this year though, so I'm hoping to be surprised.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Guild Wars 2 - A Primer, Part 1

Guild Wars 2 is on the horizon -- not next month, and maybe not the one after that either, but soon.  Many people are interested in the game who have no experience with Guild Wars and the rich lore that Arenanet has built up over the past seven years.  That's a real shame, as the lore plays a big part in understanding and enjoying Guild Wars 2, and seeing all the ways in which the new game is connected to the old one helps make it feel more like a world and less like "just a game".

So in this first post I'm going to try (emphasis on try) to give a brief overview of Guild Wars lore from the perspective of the three campaigns plus the expansion, the coming of the Elder Dragons, and where Guild Wars 2 sits in relation to all of this.  Note that my knowledge is not encyclopedic, and there are bound to be omissions, errors, and inconsistencies, but it should serve as a reasonable overview for someone new to the game.

Guild Wars Prophecies

Guild Wars Prophecies represents the original release version of Guild Wars.  The kingdom of Ascalon, on the continent of Tyria, populated by humans, comes under attack by the savage Charr, large feline humanoids with a real hatred for Ascalonians.  When humans arrived in Ascalon centuries earlier, they drove the Charr into the mountains.  The Charr tribes are broken into four legions - Ash, Blood, Flame, and Iron.  Led by the shamans of the Flame Legion, the Charr adopted new gods (the Titans) and were taught powerful fire magic that they used to raze Ascalon.  Fiery meteors rained from the heavens and turned Ascalon into a wasteland almost overnight. This became known as The Searing.  Although Ascalon lay in ruins, King Adelbern, Prince Rurik, and many citizens were still alive, and the strongest of buildings still stood.  The Charr legions were coming, however, and it seemed unlikely Ascalon would survive.

Prince Rurik advocated retreat to the kingdom of Kryta to let the people of Ascalon survive and recover, and hopefully someday come back to retake their homeland.  King Adelbern refused to leave however, or seek succor from his hated rivals in Kryta.  Rurik and Adelbern split, with many citizens following Rurik into Kryta (along with the player characters) while the King, most of the army, and many of the remaining citizens stayed to fight for their homes.

Prince Rurik died crossing the mountains to Kryta, but most of the fleeing Ascalonians survived and were given sanctuary in Kryta in villages between Lion's Arch and Divinity's Reach.  The sorceror-king of Orr cast a spell that halted the advance of the Charr towards Orr and Kryta, but the aftershocks of doing so caused the kingdom of Orr to sink into the sea.  This event became known as The Cataclysm. The players were then drawn into a battle against the mysterious Mursaat and their human White Mantle pawns, a long series of battles that don't have too much to do with the Guild Wars 2 setting (as far as I know).

Meanwhile, back in Ascalon, King Adelbern and his forces are losing.  The Charr surround Ascalon City and lead a massive assault to end the human occupation forever.  Driven mad by desperation and the death of his son, King Adelbern unleashes a terrible curse that kills every Charr for miles around the city . . . and rips the souls from every human in the country, binding them to guard Ascalon from the Charr for eternity.  This became known as the Foefire.  These Ascalonian ghosts still occupy Ascalon centuries later in Guild Wars 2, and see all living beings who enter Ascalon as invaders to be killed, whether they be Charr, Human, Sylvari, Norn, or Asura.

Guild Wars Nightfall

Guild Wars Nightfall is the third campaign in the original Guild Wars, and starts on the continent of Elona, far from the conflicts in Ascalon and Kryta.  Most of what happens in Nightfall has little effect on Guild Wars 2 except for it's conclusion -- Spearmarshal Kormir, Commander of the Sunspears, absorbs the remnants of the fallen God of Secrets, Abaddon, and ascends to godhood, becoming Kormir Goddess of Truth.

Whether in response to this event or something else (I'm not sure), the six human gods retreat from day-to-day interference on Tyria and leave humanity to fend for itself.

Guild Wars Factions

Guild Wars Factions is the second campaign in the original Guild Wars, and I'm currently playing through it now so don't have full knowledge of it yet.  I'll expand this section after I'm done.

Guild Wars: Eye of the North

Eye of the North was the first (and only) "expansion" for Guild Wars, adding a new story and explorable areas onto the Prophecies campaign.  Eye of the North does a lot of set up for Guild Wars 2, introducing the Asura and Norn races, as well as spending a lot more time with the Charr and their society.  In pre-searing Ascalon, players met a young girl named Gwen.  Eye of the North takes place a decade or so later and Gwen has grown into a bitter young woman who hates the Charr for killing her family and destroying her home.  She becomes leader of the Ebon Vanguard, a non-aligned military organization dedicated to resisting the Charr.  Human history looks on Gwen as one of its great heroes, while the Charr see her as something of a villain. (She was a hero, suck it you furry bastards).

The expansion campaign involves the emergence of the Destroyers from deep beneath the earth, powerful beings that are driving the Dwarves and the previously unknown Asura from their homes. The players travel all throughout Tyria attempting to enlist the aid of the various races in the battle against the Destroyers, even the Charr.

As part of this battle the Dwarven race essentially destroys itself, all Dwarves transforming into beings of living stone to be a bulwark against the Destroyers for the rest of Tyria.  The Dwarves still live, in a sense, but ceased to be a race as we know it (and is why Dwarves are not a playable race in Guild Wars 2).

The adventure culminates in a battle with the Great Destroyer, and while the players and transformed dwarves are victorious, it is later revealed that the Great Destroyer was simply a champion of the Elder Dragon Primordus, and a herald of his imminent awakening.  The destruction of the Great Destroyer delayed Primordus' awakening for decades, but it was only a temporary victory.

The Elder Dragons

In the years between Eye of the North and Guild Wars 2, the Elder Dragons awakened from their slumber and went forth to terrorize the people of the world.

The first dragon to awaken was Primordus, who claims mastery over fire and stone and drove the Asura from their homes.  He still dwells in the depths of Tyria and sends his minions out to conquer all that he can.

Forty-five years later Jormag woke up, lay claim to the icy north, and drove the Norn from their homes.  Many Norn were corrupted by his coming and chose to serve him instead of fight him.

Fifty-three years after Jormag, Zhaitan rose from the depths of the ocean and brought the lost city of Orr with him along with countless undead minions.  Zhaitan's territory has cut Tyria off from Cantha (the setting of Guild Wars Factions).

Finally, over a century later Kralkatorrik awakened north of the Charr homelands and flew south the to Crystal desert.  His passage corrupted everything he passed over, turning it into crystal, even living beings.  Those afflicted by his corruption sloughed off their flesh and became living crystal, homicidal minions of Kralkatorrik.  Kralkatorrik's territory has cut Tyria off from Elona (the setting of Guild Wars Nightfall).

Guild Wars 2 starts a couple of decades after the emergence of Kralkatorrik.  No mortal army has ever successfully attacked an Elder Dragon.  All those that have tried have been slaughtered without mercy.  Barring a return of the human gods it's unclear how the dragons could ever be defeated, but this will presumably be the ultimate task of players.

Good luck . . . I think we'll need it.

Preparing for Guild Wars 2

If you're thinking of playing Guild Wars before the release of Guild Wars 2 to learn the lore, the best thing to do would be to play the Prophecies campaign followed by the Eye of the North expansion.  If you have time after that, play Nightfall and then Factions.  Prophecies and Eye of the North are the key campaigns though, as Guild Wars 2 takes place on Tyria and many of the characters players will encounter are descendents of the NPCs in Guild Wars.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Trying this again

So, finding myself with a little more time on my hands due to yet another job change, and a little more interested in talking about things with games like Guild Wars 2 and Diablo 3 on the horizon, I'm going to give this whole blogging thing another go.

My plan for the next few weeks is to focus on Guild Wars 2, provide basic overview information for people unfamiliar with the setting and style of Guild Wars/Guild Wars 2, and then get into some more in-depth analysis of mechanics, pros & cons, and where I hope the game ends up going in the future.

Plus, I've been working on a personal game design document for a GW2 spin-off (just for fun) that has gotten me delving more deeply into the setting (Arenanet, call me, Kickstarter combo!)

;)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Hiatus

Between work, family life, and more games than I can shake a stick at, I'm finding I simply don't have time to update this blog very often, and when I do I don't feel terribly inspired.

So I'm going to put the blog on hiatus for the time being, until my schedule and/or motivation improves.

So thank you for reading, and hopefully I'll be back eventually.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Transwarping through Star Trek Online

Although most of my time is still being spent meandering my way through The Old Republic, when I feel the need for a break from blasters and lightsabers I've been exploring the options provided by phasers and photon torpedoes.  Yeah, not much of a change thematically, but the gameplay is vastly different as is the structure of the games.  I've been dealing with fantasy settings for years, I can handle a glut of sci-fi for a bit.

The new Odyssey class, free to everyone during Anniversary event
Star Trek Online is about to celebrate it's 2nd anniversary (this Friday) and just recently went free to play.  I played the game at release . . . briefly.  It was interesting, but plodding and ultimately unsatisfying.  Some of the systems they had in place just didn't work, or worked in a way that made no sense, or worked sensibly but were worthless.  The ship combat was pretty darn good, sort of Pirates of the Burning Sea in space (I LOVED the ship combat in PotBS, but that was the only thing I enjoyed about the game) but the ground combat was an abysmal mess of sluggish controls and slow painful combats that could leave a player wanting to tear their hair out . . . or maybe their eyes.  I'd say it was actually worse than Pirates of the Burning Sea ground combat, plus it was buggy as heck (I lost track of the number of times my away team members beamed under the surface of the planet leaving me to try and solo a ground mission).

After two years of additional development, the game is much improved.  I'm not sure that someone logging in for the first time in a long time would immediately recognize all the differences (other than being bombarded with a swarm of system messages and character updates from two years worth of patches), as most of it is actually fairly subtle, but the game just plays a lot better, is far more player friendly, and provides a much smoother gameplay experience overall.  Below I'll give a brief overview of each major system.

Ground Combat:
Sniping in shooter mode
Ground combat is still a bit of an ugly duckling for
the game, and I still dread missions with lots of ground combat sequences, but it's vastly improved over the release version.  Mostly it's just much faster.  Enemies seem to have far fewer hit points, or the damage of weapons and special abilities has been increased dramatically.  Either way, you can get through the fights quickly and that's great.  They finally added the ability to set your basic attack to autofire, an omission that made switching from space to ground combat jerky and disjointed.  It's extremely nice to not have to click that button over and over and over and over.  Unless, of course, you switch to the new "shooter" mode for ground combat.  I've tried it, and it's not bad.  It's an over-the-shoulder 3rd person view with a targeting reticle, sort of like Mass Effect.  You shoot with a left mouse click, alt-fire with a right mouse click, and melee with a center mouse click.  It actually makes the basic shooting combat much more fun, but I found it much harder to use special abilities, so I've generally stuck to the "rpg" mode.

Space Combat:
Space combat is still great, I don't think they've changed it much at all.  It's possible they've made low level space battles easier --I'm not really sure as it's possible I just know more about the game and do better now.  Of course, that means if you hated it before you're still going to hate it now.

Skill Gains:
New skill screen
They've completely revamped the ground and space skills that you spend your skill points on, combining or eliminating categories, clearly marking what the skills do, and providing player characters the ability to train bridge officers with rank 3 combat abilities if they spend enough points in certain skills.  For example, rather than having a skill to increase phaser damage, another to increase disrupter damage, a third to increase plasma damage, and so on, there are now two skills -- one to increase energy weapon damage and one to increase projectile (torpedo) weapon damage.  You also don't have to choose which type of ship to increase your skills in, you just get better at captaining ships.  It makes increasing your combat potential independent of the  equipment you find, craft, or buy.  You just get better, and that's a great change.

They've also greatly narrowed the number of ground skills, consolidating things into a few sensible categories.  You are now forced to split your point expenditures between space and ground skills (3/4 for space, 1/4 for ground) which prevents you from being an unstoppable monster in space combat that couldn't kill a Klingon blood flea on the ground.  Another sensible change.

Crafting:
I have not experimented with the new crafting system, but I know they've completely revamped it at least twice since launch.  The launch version of crafting was really quite stupid, so whatever it is now, it has to be better.

Sector Space:
One of my gripes with the launch version of the game was Sector Space, the candy-coated abstraction of interstellar space was nothing short of painful.  I understood why they did it, and what they were trying to accomplish, but it grated on the nerves and was extremely immersion breaking.  In the current version of the game you can turn the overlay off, and even if you leave it on it's much more subdued than the original version.  It's still not what I'd really like to see, but it's an improvement for sure.

PvE Content:
The missions themselves haven't really changed, but how you get access to them has.  There's a whole new interface that pushes content to the player rather than you having to flail about trying to figure out where to go or who to talk to.  The main storyline missions are provided in order through this interface, and it can also be used to queue for group PvE or PvP combat.  The game also has events that run for an hour starting on the hour, and the current event is detailed on this screen, along with information on how to access it.

Overall it makes for a much more pleasant leveling experience, and remains useful at the level cap as you can use it to re-run old missions, join task forces, etc.

The Foundry:
Another feature I've yet to use is The Foundry, a tool used by players to create missions for other players much like City of Heroes' Architect.  I understand that there are also daily missions with real rewards that involve running Foundry missions (as in Daily: Run Foundry Mission 0/1).  Sounds like good stuff, and I'll check it out eventually.

Free to Play:
Obviously the biggest change is the switch to the Free to Play model, and I have to say Star Trek Online probably has the most generous F2P scheme of any game that's made the switch.  Free players are not denied any access to any content at all (unlike City of Heroes), or relegated to only playing certain "builds" (unlike Champions Online).  Instead, free players are limited to only two characters, have a cap on the amount of credits they can store, smaller inventory, and don't get all the free bridge officers, ships, and duty officers that subscribed players get.  However, they can easily get those things using the cash shop, so it really is a case of choosing between "pay as you go" and "all inclusive".  Free players are barely second class citizens here, they're simply paying a different way.  I can easily continue playing my Vice Admiral character without paying a dime, and not miss out on anything.  I can only assume the difference between the Champions Online model a Star Trek Online model are a result of the acquisition by Perfect World Entertainment.  I never thought I'd be thanking PWE for anything, but they've overseen a great F2P transition.

Overall, I think Star Trek Online has come a long way over the past two years.  It still isn't a game for everyone, but if you'd thought about trying it, or tried it but didn't quite like it, now is a great time to give it a go.  The game is free, and heck, if you log in between February 3rd and 6th, get a character to at least level 5 and run a special mission, you'll get a free ship.  Sure you can't pilot it until level 50, but it's still a free ship that would normally cost $10-15 in the store.  You can't beat free, right?