Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Not dead, just derailed

Due to circumstances beyond my control my internet access has been limited to about 1 hour a day.  I therefore have a choice between playing games, or writing about games.  As I can't very well write about games if I'm not playing them anyway, I'm not writing.

I hope to rectify the situation in the coming weeks, and get back to writing rambling posts with no real point as soon as possible!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Sequel Syndrome

This past weekend I finally got around to finishing up Dragon Age: Awakenings, the expansion to Dragon Age: Origins.  It only took a little prodding from a friend (just a little!) and my continuing status as an MMO nomad.  It's amazing how much time you have for single player games when you don't have a persistent world eating up all your free time.

As I finished the expansion I couldn't help noting that, despite its many flaws, I still enjoyed Awakenings more than Dragon Age 2, the sequel.  Thinking about it some more, I had to admit that this is a fairly persistent trend for me, made disheartening by the fact that so many developers are making so many sequels.  Following are some games where I've noticed this 'sequel syndrome', where I really liked the original but felt the sequel was a letdown.

Mass Effect -- I loved the first Mass Effect.  It's easily one of my favorite Xbox 360 games of all time, and one of the few long RPGs that I seriously considered multiple playthroughs of, and did nearly get through the whole thing twice (fairly unusual for me).  I eagerly awaited the sequel and . . . didn't really like it that much.  It's not that it was a bad game, it's just that to me a sequel should be like the first game, only with more, better stuff, while ME2 seemed like the first game with stuff stripped out.

Starcraft -- I played the original Starcraft to pieces.  It was my first exposure to multiplayer RTS gaming, and my college buddy and I played it a LOT.  I've been eagerly awaiting the sequel since the moment I finished the third campaign, and for years it seemed like Blizzard had abandoned Starcraft and I'd never get my wish.  Finally Starcraft 2 was released in 2010 and . . . it was Starcraft with only one campaign and updated graphics.  It was a good, solid game, but even after 10 years it didn't seem to improve on much from the original.  What took so long?  Where are the zerg and protoss campaigns?  Couldn't they have at least added a fourth side?

Command & Conquer - C&C was my first RTS, and it was amazing.  The AI was pretty weak, but finding ways to exploit the AI was half the fun.  It was memorable and exciting and was one of the most recognized names and gaming for years.  None of the sequels have ever come close.  I'm not really sure why.  They seem like they should be good games on paper, but the magic just isn't there.  I've never finished a C&C after the first one, even though I've played them all except the most recent one.  I gave up on the franchise after C&C 3 (which wasn't a bad game, it just didn't do it for me).

Everquest - Everquest was my first true MMO.  I don't doubt that my fond memories are tainted by a great deal of nostalgia, but the fact that the game is still going strong twelve years after release says a lot.  Don't get me wrong, I hated EQ as much as I loved it, maybe even more.  That was one of it's strengths though, it's ability to evoke an emotional response from the player one way or the other.  I was excited for EQ2 as a result, and jumped on EQ2 instead of WoW in late 2004.  However, EQ2 was flat.  Dull.  Uninspiring.  It didn't make me love it or hate it, it was just there.  My stay in EQ2 lasted only a fraction as long as my stay in EQ.

Morrowind -- I quite enjoyed Elder Scrolls: Morrowind.  It was interesting and fun to explore the world and all the options available to my characters while following a clearly defined path of progression through the game.  I know I'll be in a minority here, but I couldn't stand Oblivion.  It was vapid and aimless, lacking any real sense of purpose to get me hooked into the game.  I've restarted Oblivion at least half a dozen times over the years, and never managed to stick with it much past the emergence into the open world.

Dawn of War -- Dawn of War is my favorite modern RTS.  I like the Warhammer 40k setting (as my half-painted Space Marine army languishing in storage can sort of attest) and really enjoyed this RTS with reinforceable squads, big vehicles, and hero units.  I bought every expansion, and loved the wide variety of armies you could choose from.  When Dawn of War 2 was announced, I had high hopes for another fun RTS romp.  Instead . . . I'm still not sure what Dawn of War 2 is.  I feel like the game largely consists of selecting your handful of units and carefully moving them across the map to a boss fight.  Then do it again.  And again.  And again.  The path you take is often confined and linear, and there didn't seem to be much decision making to be had.  There were also far fewer armies to choose from, even if they did add Tyranids.

It's not all bad though, there have been sequels I loved more than the originals.  Diablo and Diablo 2 are prime examples, where Diablo 2 really did take everything that was good in Diablo, expand upon it, and make it even better.  Diablo 2 is an example of a sequel done right.  I sure hope Diablo 3 is a Diablo 2 style sequel, not a Starcraft 2 style sequel.  System Shock 2 was better than System Shock, Master of Orion 2 was better than Master of Orion, and each of the Warcraft sequels (2 and 3) were better than the games that came before them.

The thing I notice about my list though, is that the sequels that were good are all old.  They're games in the decade plus old category.  Has the industry lost the ability to make good sequels, or am I just stuck in the past, a product of my 90s gaming roots, unable to see modern sequels as improvements rather than devolutions of interesting games?  Fallout is a good indicator here.  I loved the original Fallout, and didn't think Fallout 3 was really that great (again, not a bad game, just not great).  Yet Fallout 3 had enjoyed success beyond the original Fallout's creators' dreams.  Clearly Bethesda knew what they were doing when they created Fallout 3.  So maybe it's me.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

WoW - Mists of Pandaria

The blogosphere is alight with the rumor that World of Warcrafts's next expansion will be called "Mists of Pandaria".  The rumor is based on the fact that Blizzard recently trademarked "Mists of Pandaria", a move that has typically heralded their next expansion.

I have two thoughts when it comes to this.  The first is  why assume it's for an expansion?  For all we know this could be a mobile game with a loose WoW affiliation, an iPad app, or their next attempt to make an adventure game in the Warcraft universe.  Blizzard has more than enough resources to work on multiple projects at a time, and just because they haven't really branched out to date doesn't mean they never will.  With WoW subscriptions continuing to decline (down to a "mere" 11 million now) Blizzard really has two options -- give fans something they want to keep them playing WoW, or diversify into other projects and increase the number of revenue streams.  While the former is certainly possible, the latter is too.  Blizzard, for all that I rag on them sometimes, has a history of trying new things.  After all, this is the company that went from making real-time strategy games to the most successful MMORPG in history.  Everyone thought they were crazy when they announced WoW, but (credit where credit is due) they clearly knew what they were doing.

Assuming MMO-Champion is right and this is the next expansion, I can see it working out pretty well for Blizzard.  Adding Pandarens to the game would be massive fan service, and I think WoW probably needs some serious fan service right now.  Plus, an Asian themed continent would give them an entirely fresh setting to create for players that would feel far more like an expansion than a rehashed Azeroth with a handful of new zones.  Add a slew of Asian inspired new equipment from katanas to lacquer armor and watch the drool overflow news sites and forums.

As other bloggers have suggested, have Pandaria be an island continent being invaded by Naga (or something) and the Panadarens have sent envoys to both the Horde and the Alliance for help.  Both sides send armies to try and court this new potential ally, and Pandarens are available as a playable race to either faction.  Heck, make the Pandaren a new race specific Hero class and kill two birds with one stone (new race, new class).  Would it have the "epic conflict" feel of Wrath and Cataclysm?  No, but then maybe the next expansion shouldn't.  If every expansion features a world destroying danger the "danger" will cease to generate any sort of emotion in the player.  This may have already happened, and might be part of why people are leaving WoW much sooner after an expansion than usual.  "Oh, another, bigger bad guy is here to destroy the world unless we raid 672 times and defeat him.  Except if we don't, nothing happens."  *yawn*  By making a more relaxed "interlude" expansion, they have the potential to build up more interest in the next world destroying expansion (Return of the Titans?).

Plus, you know, if they time it right they could do cross promotions with Kung Fu Panda 3.  Free World of Warcraft "Po" non-combat pet with every ticket!  What?  I'm not cynical . . .

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

World of Warplanes - WoT Integration? has yet to reveal much information about World of Warplanes (WoW . . sigh) beyond the fact that it's in development, will feature three classes of aircraft, and will share gold and free experience with World of Tanks.

The three classes of aircraft seem to fall into the categories of air superiority, multi-role, and ground attack.  What I'm curious about though, is what will be the use of a ground attack aircraft in what sounds like a dogfighting game?  They won't be very useful unless there's something on the ground to attack  One possibility is that there will be objectives on the ground that need to be protected by the air forces, airfields or factories or whatever, and destroying the enemies building/buildings/base will result in victory.  Maybe.  That would provide a clear role for each type of aircraft -- ground attack go for the bases, air superiority escort ground attack, and multi-role provide escort or supplemental ground attack capability as needed.

However, that sort of role was traditionally filled by bombers more than ground attack aircraft.  The ground attack role was more often used to support ground forces, such as tanks and infantry, by destroying enemy tanks and artillery. just happens to have a game that stars tanks and artillery, and the games will even be sharing some resources (and presumably the same game engine).  I wonder if they could possibly be hoping to integrate the two games, such that ground attack aircraft are able to have some sort of impact on WoT battles.  It would be interesting, but I'm not really sure how they'd do it.

Presumably the area of battle will be much greater in World of Warplanes than WoT.  It will be pretty silly if it's not.  One thing they could do is create an area on the WoW map that represents the WoT battlefield that's being interacted with, and entering that "square" on the map zones the WoW player into the air above the WoT battlefield and gives them just enough time to attempt one strafing run.  Teams would be randomly assigned, with WoW team 1 allied to WoT team 1, and WoW team 2 with WoT team 2.  Victory in one battle gives rewards to players of both games on that side, and it's possible for the air battle to be won by one side and the ground battle won by the other.

I think the biggest issue with this would be for the poor WoT players.  They'd have no way to influence the air battle, and no real way to defend against attacking aircraft, making them fairly passive punching bags as far as the air forces are concerned.  That may be fairly historically accurate (in the absence of anti-aircraft weapons) but won't make for fun gameplay.  I suppose my first theory is much more likely, but the second one could make for some interesting options if can figure out how to do it right.

I wish they'd release some more definitive information about the game than "we have planes, and they'll fight!" but I know that will come in time.  Anyone heard any concrete news, crazy rumors, or have their own wild speculation?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

This whole Diablo 3 real-money AH thing

I don't really care.

I think that sums it up, but I'll go ahead and explain a little.  The Diablo games have always been about killing monsters, leveling up, and getting loot.  Lots of loot.  Bags and bags full.  Unfortunately, a lot of that loot is completely useless to the character that acquires it due to Diablo loot largely being tailored towards certain classes.  This means item trading has always been a big deal.  In Diablo 2, some people eventually decided that there really wasn't anything they wanted to trade for their Uber Scything Axe of the Apocalypse and that they'd rather just have money instead.  It turned out there were people playing Diablo 2 who would rather pay real money than try and find something worth trading.

This had no effect on the majority of people playing the game, as PvP only occured for people who wanted it, and most people played solo or with friends and never even saw the people spending real money for Diablo 2 items.  Diablo is not a persistent world game, so you can't have the situation of item farmers camping a mob and denying others a shot at the loot.  Every player (or group) gets their own instance of the world and their own shot at getting loot.

Diablo 3 is legitimizing the item trade with two auction houses -- one using in game gold and one using real cash money.  There is nothing forcing you to purchase items from either of them, let alone the real-money version.  Unlike an MMO, there is nothing forcing you to play with people who have geared themselves up with real money.  This is pay-to-win light, VERY light.  Especially since, unless they change this for Diablo 3, items have stat requirements to equip them.  If you don't have the stats you can't equip it, and if you're a level 1 you can spend all the money you like but it won't let you equip that gear.

All the cash AH is going to do is allow players to do what some players would do anyway, and give Blizzard a cut.  I'll be spending all my gaming time solo or with friends, so what other players choose to do is of no concern to me.  If I get any good items I can't use, I might even try and sell them to recoup the cost of the game itself.

This sounds like a big deal on the surface, but only because we've conditioned ourselves to consider buying items in MMORPGs as bad, and because nobody has done anything quite like this before.  But Diablo 3 isn't an MMORPG--if it was, I'd probably have a different opinion on this, but it's not, so it barely registers higher than purchasing a DLC for Dragon Age that includes new, more powerful weapons.  Whatever.

SWTOR: The death of KotOR?

The other day, a friend of mine (hi, there!) mentioned her sadness that Star Wars: The Old Republic pretty much ensured there would never be another Knights of the Old Republic.  I'm not entirely sure I agree with that, because in almost every way that matters, SW: The Old Republic IS Knights of the Old Republic 3.  If you think about the features and gameplay offered by the KotOR games and compare them to what SWTOR offers, it seems like we're getting KotOR 3 plus online gaming, rather than something like World of Warcraft derailing the Warcraft RTS franchise.

Some of the features to think about:

  • Companions - check
  • Romance - check
  • Epic storyline - check
  • Crafting - check
  • Dark/light side choices - check
  • Multiple classes for multiple playthroughs - check
  • Gear upgrades, etc. - check
  • Class specific quests - check
  • Star Wars setting - check
  • Interactive dialogue - check
  • And so on.
Additionally, SWTOR will add things to the KotOR formula, such as the ability to play in groups, instanced dungeons, PvP, and ongoing content updates that will keep the game going for years.  The flipside of all that though, is that it will be an MMORPG, almost certainly require a monthly subscription, and there will be no clear cut "the end".

Still, from what I've heard it should be possible to play the game almost exactly like KotOR and just ignore all the multiplayer aspects if that's what you want.  Sure it won't be as pretty as a KotOR 3 probably would have been, but in many ways I think it will offer the core of what KotOR 3 would have been.

What do you think?  Will SWTOR be similar enough to KotOR to scratch that same itch, or is it just going to feel like WoW in space and be a big let down to fans of the single player franchise?