Thursday, October 27, 2011

Optimizing the fun away

Well, since everyone else has been going on about the talent revamp coming in World of Warcraft’s next iteration, I thought I’d chime in with my opinion too.  Of course, that was a week or two ago, so I’m late to the party (as usual), but so be it.

As someone that’s a fan of games like Rift and City of Heroes that allow a lot of options and freedom in character building (for class based games), it should come as no surprise that I find the removal of talent trees in WoW little short of abhorrent.  I’ve long complained that Blizzard has been dumbing down WoW and taking player choices away, but they’ve really gone all out for the next expansion.  Making one whole choice every level (WoW talents pre-Cata) was too much, making one whole choice every few levels (WoW talents, Cata) was also too much, so now players will have to make one choice every 15 levels.  Fifteen.  You will make exactly nine meaningfully character development choices over the course of your character’s career – race, class, role, and six “talents”.  That’s it. 

My tongue-in-cheek graph abstractly shows what I think is behind this:

Not a real graph
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, and I’ll keep saying it until they pry my Intel Cyber-sphere Neural Interface from my withered dead hands – good character development and investment in ownership requires making meaningful choices while advancing the character.  Allowing for meaningful choices can, in fact, mean allowing for “bad” choices.  Ideally “bad” choices are merely less optimal, but the mindset in a game like WoW is that anything below optimal is bad.  Blizzard clearly agrees, and since Wrath has been endeavoring to remove bad choices.  In other words, less optimal choices.  The end result of which is no choice at all.  Optimal, by definition, is the one best way to do something.  If there’s only one way, there aren’t any choices.

If you want to bore the living crap out of me, give me a game with no meaningful choices, where everything is predetermined.  When I first played WoW back in 2005, it’s biggest selling point for me was the talent system.  It allowed far more character customization than most MMOs out at the time.  I tried all sorts of things.  I tinkered.  I had fun.  The Burning Crusade felt like a solid improvement on it.  I played with lots of  sub-optimal specs, trying to find the one that was the most fun.  I don’t min/max for effectivity, I min/max for enjoyability.  I don’t care if spec A does 10% more damage while spamming one spell over and over than my spec B complex rotation of silly abilities and half-working synergies.  I don’t care that I hardly ever use that heal I spent talent points to get and could be doing more damage without.  But Blizzard cares, and they’ve decided spec B is stupid.  Everyone should use spec A.  So rather than risk people like me playing with spec B, they’ve removed the choice entirely. 

While Cataclysm had already built the coffin (my highest level character is 81, I just couldn’t get interested), Mists of Pandaria will be the nails.  Big, heavy, industrial strength nails built to withstand rust, pressure, cutting force, and weak-willed MMORPG bloggers.

Give it a few more expansions and all WoW characters will only have one button on their hotbar.  It’ll be a big red one called “Win”.  You press it, and you win at whatever you’re doing.  Anything less would be sub-optimal.

Chronicles and Experts

Over the past couple of days I’ve been dipping my freshly fiftied rogue into some of Rift’s endgame activities, Chronicles and Expert dungeons.  When I say dipping, I mean it, I’ve done one Chronicle twice, one expert dungeon, and attempted a second Chronicle (unsuccessfully) a couple of times.

First up, Chronicles.  I did the single-player “introductory” Chronicle that is essentially your reward for reaching max level.  You enter your own instanced version of Sanctum with fireworks going off, NPCs cheering you by name and kneeling as you approach, etc.  The dialog was a bit cheesy, and if the NPCs really knelt every time some ascended schmuck reached level 50 they’d never stand up, but it was nice to feel like “hey, the NPCs noticed!”  Something goes wrong of course, and you end up fighting a bunch of level 50 bad guys that are swarming over the city.  It all culminates in a boss fight against a giant monstrous death creature with nearly 70,000 hit points.  In contrast, my rogue is just shy of 5,000.  It was an impossible fight, but the boss charges right at you when he spawns in, so there wasn’t much I could do.  Round 1 went to the boss, no question, but I soul walked and tried again.  Having time to see what was going on rather than getting charged, I realized that the boss didn’t attack normally.  All of his attacks could be avoided by moving out of the way, at which point the fight became nothing more than a protracted dance of me dodging around until an opening came to attack.  Eventually the boss went down and I cleared the instance.  The rewards were pretty good, a nearly epic quality rare weapon, and a very nice leather breastplate.  Overall, a decent experience.

The next day I ran the same one again.  Without the quest based rewards it ended up being a lot of time for very little return, and of course I’d seen it already so it wasn’t terribly engaging.  I decided to try one of the other two Chronicles, both of which are “recommended” for 2 players.  I’d been soloing group quests for ages though, so I wasn’t too concerned.  I should have been.  I was able to solo the normal packs and patrols without much trouble, but I couldn’t solo the bosses, even with consumables.  Someone in better gear surely could do it, and I bet my cleric would have a pretty good chance, but my rogue couldn’t pull it off. 

Although you can queue and be automatically grouped for dungeons, that function doesn’t seem to extend to Chronicles.  I’ve never seen anyone looking for partners for the Chronicles.  Which means either people only do it with guild mates/friends, most other players have the gear to solo them, or people just aren’t using the content at all.  I have to admit to being a little puzzled – why would you go around advertising your new “solo” instances, and then only make one instance that is solo, and two that require duos?  The next time I play I’ll bellow in chat for a partner.  We’ll see how much I get laughed at.

I think the Chronicles would have been better off as content tuned to the hard end of solo play with the option to bring a second person if you really want to.  They could do that by simply nerfing the mobs and bosses by a small amount.  Overall I’m kind of disappointed with the Chronicles.  I hope they add more solo ones in the next patch, or retune the 2 player ones, OR add the ability to queue for Chronicles and automatically pair people up.  If I could almost do it as a solo rogue, two players of any role should be capable of clearing it.

On the flip side was the pure group content – Tier 1 Expert Dungeons.  Overall I was pleasantly surprised by the experience.  There was no drama, no dps e-peen stroking, no gear questioning, spec querying, or bossing around.  No rage quits and no real complaints about us going too slow.  Maybe that only happens in the Tier 2 experts.

I went as a Bard of course, I haven’t gotten a position in a dungeon group through the queue as anything else, ever.  I don’t mind though, as Bard is pretty interesting to play in dungeon groups, and can be unbelievably beneficial, especially in groups like the one I had last night.

We had a mage healer, which is not bad in and of itself.  He was pretty squishy and managed to die on a trash pull when the tank’s taunt failed.  Luckily my Bard was there barding away, and had just enough healing to keep the tank alive for the fight, then rezzed the healer after the fight was over.  After a few more battles the healer declared he was changing specs to get more dps and help us move through faster.  He had been primarily Chloromancer, but switched to (I believe) primarily Necromancer, though he didn’t bother to summon a pet (I have no idea why).  The reason I think he went Necromancer is that his health suddenly started going down ALL the time, whether the mobs were hitting him or not, and Necromancers have a big heal spell that drains hit points from the caster to heal the target.

I started to have to focus on healing almost all the time, as now the healer’s hit points were constantly dangerously low, and he was trying to dps so not always paying very good attention to everyone else.  The healer died a few more times as we worked our way through the dungeon, but each time I was able to use my various Bard cooldowns to burst heal through the fight and keep everyone else alive, then rez the healer.  We did wipe once when the healer got himself killed early in a boss fight and I couldn’t heal strongly enough to make up for it.  Bards have pretty weak heals, but they’re group heals and easy to use.  Not so good against the focused firepower of a boss though.  I soulwalked and rezzed the whole group from that one too.

If I’d been playing a dps role instead of the Bard, we would have wiped at least 5 times.  If anyone had dared complain about my dps I would have laughed my head off at them.  The Bard may be a stagehand to the healer’s rock star (all work, no glory), but it was very satisfying to know what a key role to our success my little Bard played.

As to the dungeon, it was Foul Cascade, one I’d done a few times while leveling.  It was actually pretty interesting.  There were more bosses for one thing, some of the boss fights were different than on normal, and there was a huge encounter at the end that was completely different from the normal version.  It was interesting, and has me wanting to check out the other experts to see how they differ as well.  There was plenty of loot all around, but I don’t really care about that.  I’m not “gearing up” for anything, I’m just playing tourist.  Still, I think I’ll do a few more.

Overall, my impression is that Rift’s “endgame” is in better shape than WoW’s was, but could really use more Chronicles that are solo accessible.  I like the idea of them, but the implementation needs more work.  There's also way too much grind, but then endgames seem to require grind to last more than a couple of weeks, so I guess that's just par for the course.

Monday, October 24, 2011

At the Cap

Last night my rogue in Rift hit level 50.  I hadn’t really intended to push it, I was just questing while waiting for an uncooperative dungeon queue to pop.  I got in a groove though, and being fully rested with a Veteran’s experience vial caused the xp to start adding up fast.  Before I knew it, it was late and time for bed . . . but I was about 10% from level 50.  I pushed on and finished up a little while later, portaled back to Sanctum and took care of some business.

First off, I have to say hitting 50 was pretty underwhelming.  Admittedly it’s pretty underwhelming in most MMOs, after all, you’re not “done”, you haven’t “won”, you’ve just entered at the ground floor of the next stage of the game – end game.  I donned a silly purple hat (from the current world event), spent an ungodly amount of money training up skills, crafted myself some new armor and . . . that was about it.  My guild has long since become inactive (I really ought to find a new one) so there weren’t even any congrats to be had.  I’ll go cry some big wet tears in a corner or something.

Tonight I’ll give the Chronicles a go, which was my primary motivation for getting a character to level 50 anyway.  Hopefully they’re interesting, and the “recommended” tag of two players for everything but the intro one is just that – a recommendation.  After that, I’ll try and do a couple of T1 elites just to see what they’re like.  I’ll probably end up going as a Bard, so likely no one will laugh at my dps.  Still, I have no intention of grinding the endgame here, I just want to see the sights and then I’ll essentially be done.

The new post-50 advancement feature, Planar Attunement, looks pretty darn bland.  I think the basic idea behind it is sound, but the implementation is just another grind for fairly minimal rewards.  I think the idea is that it’s just a bonus reward for doing the things you’re already doing (grinding elites) rather than something to do for itself.  That’s . . . ok I guess, assuming you’re interested in grinding out all those dungeons in the first place.  I know the Chronicles are intended as a way to advance Planar Attunement without doing endless quests or dungeon runs, but there are only two of them!

I can’t help but contrast it to City of Heroes’ post-50 advancement, Incarnate Abilities.  Incarnate abilities make your character not just more powerful, but cooler as well.  My tanker can do things that no pre-Incarnate tanker could do – summon pets, toss huge aoes, exceed the enhancement cap on his defensive abilities, etc.  For CoH, spending time post 50 advancing the character feels very rewarding, and they haven’t even finished adding in all the abilities yet (only 5 of 10 are done).  There’s still a lot of upwards potential.  In Rift, I can spend a great deal of time to make my stats a bit better, but that appears to be it.  Meh.

I’m glad I finally got a character to 50, but I’m just going to tool around for a bit and then go back to playing my Cleric.  If he ever makes it to 50 I’ll probably be done with the game until they release a major expansion.

Speaking of which, shouldn’t Rift be announcing an expansion soon, or are they going to follow the Blizzard method of releasing one expansion every two years?  While Rift does release far more free content than WoW does, it mostly seems to take the form of the World Events which are a little formulaic to be honest.   

Friday, October 21, 2011

RPG Death Penalties

I responded to a post on the Path of Exile forums and found the topic stimulating enough to want to share it here. The question was what sort of death penalty Path of Exile should implement.  In the likely event you don't know what Path of Exile is, it's a F2P action-RPG currently in development that clearly draws a lot of inspiration from Diablo 2.

Here is my take:

I don't think death penalties have much of a place in action RPGs.  You are almost certainly going to die at some point.  You are probably going to have times where your particular class/build/gear is at a distinct disadvantage against particular foes and die a LOT.  Having a penalty on top of that can get frustrating fast, especially if it's something that's going to contribute to you continuing to die (lowered stats, loss of gear, loss of xp/levels) or is so painful you'd rather log off than keep playing.

You never want to put your players in a position where they'd choose to stop playing because it's no longer fun.  They might not come back.  Earth and Beyond had one of the silliest death penalties ever -- an xp penalty that faded while you were logged off.  If you died, your best bet was to log off the game and come back tomorrow.  How's that for incentive to play?  How's E&B doing these days?  Yeah.

Rather than a penalty, why not do something different?  Maybe you are stuck in the netherworld and have to complete a random puzzle to outwit Death and return. Or a mini game.  That might get tiresome if you have to do it a lot in succession, but still, it would be different.

Or maybe you appear in the spirit world as a spirit, and have to fight your way out using ghostly versions of your skills and equipment, and can earn xp (but no loot) by doing so rather than losing it.  Death becomes a learning experience, and a player stuck fighting enemies too strong for them and dying over and over will have the opportunity to level up while recovering from death (assuming they're dying a lot) and maybe overcome the enemies.

The real penalty of a death in a game is loss of time.  That loss can be expressed in a lot of ways, from losing xp or gear to suffering a stat penalty that slows you down.  The end result is always the same -- a loss of the player's time or progress.  There are plenty of ways to inflict that loss of time without generating frustration at the same time.  The simplest is to force a respawn further back in the game and force the player to run back.  Sometimes simple is best, but it would be nice to see something more inventive here.

What do other people like (or dislike) in death penalties for RPGs?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Course Laid In

Sometimes I really think Blizzard should consider changing their name to Glacial Entertainment.  They’re monolithic – pervasive and powerful, but terribly slow, and their dominance is being melted away by the changing gamer climate.  Yes, I’m actually just bitter that Diablo 3 still isn’t out, and more to the point, that a year after release we still haven’t seen the next campaign for Starcraft 2.  It’s just a campaign!  Not a whole new game!  I’m still irritated that the game didn’t ship with 3 campaigns to begin with, that I’m going to have to pay extra to get the missing campaigns, and that the one I want the most (Protoss) is being done last, which means by the time Blizzard finally drags the Protoss campaign into the light of day several years from now the already retrograde design of Starcraft 2 is going to seem utterly Neolithic next to the RTSs of the day.

Ok, now that I’ve gotten that out of my system it’s time to get to what I really wanted to talk about – Starcraft 2.  I still play it on occasion, despite its creaking antiquity (graphically it’s modern, gameplay-wise it feels about 10 years old), and one of those occasions was this past Tuesday when a friend and I played a couple of co-op multiplayer matches while waiting for the Titan Quest group to form up (it never did).

The first match was my friend (playing Terran) and myself (playing Protoss) against two medium A.I.s. (Protoss and Zerg).  Ooh, mediums, how scary, right?  I said I played the game, I never said I was good at it.  We were on a map where both players on a team start on the same plateau with a single ramp leading up, so my friend focused on defenses (which Terrans are better at anyway) while I focused on building up troops.  The first coordinated enemy attack wiped out most of my troops and most of my friend’s defenses.  Oops.  Still, we rebuilt, and the second wave of attacks broke upon the bastion of our defenses like a squirt gun fired at a brick wall.  I moved my troops down to an expansion, and started to get established.  Then the A.I.s attacked our main base again, and without my troops they broke through and started trashing my friend’s base.  I sent my troops north while building a huge pile of photon cannons to defend my expansion.  I saved my friend’s base, and left my troops there while he rebuilt.  So of course the A.I. attacked my expansion, and cut through my turrets like they weren’t even there, forcing me to send my troops down to the base to save it.  I saved the buildings, but lost all my workers and had to rebuild.  Thankfully my friend’s base was rebuilt and I was churning out troops for a second army and sending them to guard the entrance to our main bases.  Long story short (too late!) I spent most of the game getting almost, but not entirely, crushed by the tag-teaming A.I. until my friend built up a fleet of Battlecruisers and wiped them off the map in an unending hail of laser fire.

The second match went much the same, except the tag-teaming A.I. didn’t merely almost crush me, they spectacularly crushed me with multiple waves of Marauders (both A.I.s were Terrans) that I simply couldn’t hold out against.  The first wave of Marauders destroyed about 80% of my defenses, but was repelled.  The second wave of Marauders that came 15 seconds later started tearing my base apart.  My friend sent reinforcements, a handful of Marines, who got torn apart by the Marauders but at least distracted them long enough for me to build some more troops and finish them off.  A minute or two after that, a massed wave of troops from both A.I.s swept into my base and wiped me out.  My friend and I both figured it was over at that point, but wanted to see how badly it would end.  However, with the easy meat Protoss wiped out, the A.I. didn’t seem to know what to do.  They’d probe my friend’s defenses, take a few losses and . . . run away.  Over and over.  If they’d pushed like they did against me, they would have won, but they didn’t commit.  So my friend built up a fleet of Battlecruisers and wiped them off the map.

The events of our matches left me with a few thoughts.  Do Battlecruisers have any weaknesses?  They sure don’t seem to.  Once my friend had enough of them (5+ seems to do the trick) they were literally unstoppable.  I know that the Protoss equivalent, the Carrier, takes more resources to bring to full power and is extremely vulnerable to direct attack.  The Carrier is a great unit, and I like it, but it seems more balanced than the Battlecruiser.  Is there some weakness the ship has that the A.I. just doesn’t know to exploit?

The other thing was that Starcraft 2 doesn’t seem to be very supportive of the “combined arms” concept of army composition.  It almost always seems like you’re better off picking a single decent unit and spamming as many of them as you possibly can.  You run the risk of building a swarm of troops that can only attack ground targets and then encountering an enemy that has a huge air force, but in general it seems to work better.  Of course, if you can build a swarm of units that can attack anything (like the Battlecruiser) you’re pretty much set.

I still like Starcraft 2, it can be plenty of fun.  But in this day and age the throwback nature of its gameplay continues to be a letdown.  I mean, grouped units still move in dis-organized clumps where you easily end up with fragile artillery style units in the front and all your melee units in the back.  Other than SC2, I haven’t played an RTS in years that didn’t put your troops into a sensible formation when you move them as a group.  Come on now, really?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Now Playing

I’ve been quiet lately (again) as I’ve started a new job that has (thankfully) kept me much busier than the old one.  I haven’t had much time to spare for writing, but I hope to rectify that over the coming weeks.

For now, just an update on what I’ve been playing lately.

Rift:  Still playing Rift casually and still enjoying it.  When I originally came back to Rift a little while ago I had intended to focus on leveling a mage, because the mage seemed fun and I was bored with my level 44 rogue.  Eventually I got a little tired of the Mage’s squishiness and relative inflexibility (most mage roles are dps) and decided to work on my cleric, my original main.  I discovered I was really enjoying my cleric, but then patch 1.5 hit and I wanted to see the new Chronicles solo story instances.  I logged in excitedly after patch day only to discover Chronicles are only for level 50s.  My cleric was level 27.  My rogue was level 44.  I want to see the content, and my rogue can get there a lot sooner, so I went back to leveling my rogue.  He’s now level 47 and I’m enjoying his bladedancer spec more than his old one.  Plus, barding for instances is relaxing yet appreciated.

City of Heroes:  Despite my protestations of never playing this again, I’m playing it again.  I brought my tank out of retirement to do Incarnate content, and have been enjoying the alternate advancement it offers to max level characters.  Getting raid groups has been easy and running the content has been amusing enough, if a little brain-dead.  I think City of Heroes is best in small groups.  Too many people and it just turns into non-stop zerging, too few and it gets tedious. Still, my tank is now level 50+2 (counts as level 52 during incarnate trials), can summon temporary combat pets, drop a nasty ranged fire aoe, and debuffs his foes with every attack.  A couple more runs should net him a clickable team buff on a timer.

Titan Quest:  My Tuesday night gaming group is currently playing Titan Quest.  We played for the first time last Tuesday and had a good enough time that I think we’ll likely do it again.  We all made it to level 8 and chose our second class.  One Spirit/Storm, one Earth/Nature, and then me, Dream/Defense.  I figured we needed at least one person to sit there and take all the hits.

Hellgate:  I gave this a try over the weekend, as it’s been re-released in the U.S. as a free-2-play online game (to those not in the know, it was originally Hellgate: London released by Flagship Studios as a hybrid single player/multiplayer game).  I had hoped that a couple of years of refinement by a new developer might have resulted in a better game.  I was sorely disappointed.  I can’t say much about this game except to not waste your time with the download.  Experience gain is about 1/5th of what it used to be, putting it squarely in the “asian grinder” category.  It also appears they took an English game, translated it into Korean for the asian release, and then translated it BACK into English for the U.S. release.  It’s utterly riddled with “engrish”, typos, and other errors.  Run away.  Fast.

Age of Empires Online:  I can’t decide whether I like this game or not.  On the one hand it’s a decent RTS game clearly evolved from the Age of Empires lineage, and is much more reminiscent of AoE 2 than 3 (and that’s a good thing).  On the other hand, it has “leveling”, quest based gameplay (no skirmish mode that I can find) and severely limits your access to technology and game modes based on your level.  Whereas in an Age of Empires 2 game you’d reach Age 3 or 4 in a single game, it will take weeks or more of playing to “unlock” those eras for play in Age of Empires Online.  Also, of course, for a game that requires you to be online, the “multiplayer” functions of it are anemic at best.  When a friend and I tried it, we ran into a host of oddities and could only tag along with one another on quests marked “co-op”.  Despite that, I still poke my head in now and then for some relaxing RTS gameplay.

World of Tanks:  I still hop on and play now and then, but nothing like I was a few months ago.  I like the game, I think it’s solidly built and a lot of fun.  However, I’m pretty happy with the tanks I’ve got, so feel no great drive to earn experience for new tanks, and I’m tired of the deathmatch only gameplay.  Once they introduce different maps with new objectives (something they’ve said they’re working on) I expect I’ll play the game a lot more.  I mean, come on, tanks!  How can I resist?!

Android Games:  I’ve tried both Battleheart and Great Little War Game on my Galaxy S II and like them both well enough, though GLWG is more fun for me despite the cheesy dialog.  I find controlling characters in Battleheart somewhat difficult as my fingers are apparently too fat to select them accurately, and if one character gets behind another I can’t select them at all until I move the other one away, which can be painful if you need to heal and can’t get at your healer.  I much prefer the clear screen and turn based nature of GLWG.  It has a decent Advance Wars feel to it, and I played those games to death.

Betas:  None.  Come on, really?  I used to get in betas all the time.  Up until a few years ago I was almost constantly beta testing something.  Now?  Nothing.  I think it’s a sign of how our hobby has grown, that the pool of potential testers has grown so large vast numbers of interested people will never even get the chance.  I don’t consider a pre-order beta to be a real beta, it’s more of an advanced demo (not that I’m in any of those right now either).

Monday, October 10, 2011


In my new job I'll be working to support the GDI.

If I have to battle flame tanks, I quit.

Seriously, sometimes being a gamer makes real life feel weird :P

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Burden of 50/50

As I’ve mentioned previously, some friends and I have been playing World of Tanks as a platoon of 3 and tearing it up in the lower tiers.  Although we’ve had some abysmal matches, for the most part we’ve been doing pretty well.  Having three people coordinate over Skype can make a big difference, even if we’re not especially good and running around in flimsy, crappy tanks.  We almost always manage to get at least one or two kills apiece, which in my experience is pretty damn good.  We currently have a 60/40 win-loss ratio when grouped, but that will probably degrade over time as we run into more experienced players in the higher tiers, normalizing eventually to the expected 50/50.

Which, to one of my friends, simply isn’t good enough.  He plays games to relax and have fun after a long day of work, not be a punching bag for other players.  He made the apt observation that in a PvP game like WoT, his fun is no more important than that of his opponents.  The game is balanced to hand you as many losses as victories, as many deaths as kills.  It’s perfectly fair.  But he doesn’t play games to be fair, he plays games to have fun.  He works at work, he wants to play when he plays.  He likes the game, he likes the tanks, the progression, the combat, the battling as a group.  He just doesn’t like the PvP combat model.  If WoT had a PvE mode, we’d be golden.

I couldn’t disagree with him, his point was perfectly valid and sensible.  World of Tanks involves a lot of suffering.  A lot.  It hooks you, though, with the occasional shining moment of awesome, where you have a fantastic match and sweep your enemies before you like chaff before the wind.  That’s not exactly a common occurrence though, and you’re not likely to get there until you’ve had a lot of experience with the game.  Playing just one day a week though, that’s a lot of frustration to learn through, and a pretty sporadic reward structure if you might go weeks at a time without that really rewarding match to keep you hooked.

So I have to wonder, is there an “ideal” amount of time to devote to WoT to keep your blood charged with victories without grinding your bones to dust with defeats?  What category of player expresses the most satisfaction with the game?  The ones who play 10 hours a day?  The ones who play 10 hours a week?  Is it a simple case of more is always better, or does enjoyment to time spent map out to a bell curve?  It’s easy to say someone playing 10 hours a day must be highly satisfied, else they wouldn’t play so much, but it could just as easily be someone addicted to the game and/or obsessed with being the best rather than someone that just really enjoys the game.

PvE games are quite simple – the more you play, the more you’re rewarded.  More level ups, more loot, more money, more achievements, etc.  A game like World of Tanks though, you get those things, but you also get more losses, more frustration, more screaming at your monitor that there’s no-way-that-punk-medium-tank-was-able-to-destroy-your-heavy-while-sitting-behind-that-rock-you-cheating-bastard.

I’m still an average World of Tanks player at best, and my own interest has fallen off in recent weeks in favor of single player games or PvE MMOs.  I would gladly pay full box price for a PvE campaign in World of Tanks, something where you fight through battles on the side of a particular nationality against AI opponents, with varying goals besides just “kill all enemies or cap the flag”, perhaps with scripted events even.  I’m sure I could sell my friends on it too.  The PvP matches in WoT are fun, but there are only so many deathmatches you can participate in before it gets stale.  I know for me, my satisfaction index would go up along with my time played if I could switch to some PvE gameplay when the PvP gets too frustrating.  

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Looking for a good multiplayer game

Some friends and I have arranged to meet up one night every week for some guaranteed multiplayer gaming.  Our work and family lives have made it hard for us to meet up at random like we used to, so we picked a time and day where we would try to meet up and game together like in “the good old days” (or whatever).

So far it’s been going great, with one exception – what to play?  We have, by default, ended up playing World of Tanks a fair bit, because it’s easy to jump in to and happens to be just perfect for three people (the maximum size of a platoon).  However, it’s not really the sort of gaming we want to do (PvP), especially for the long term.

We’ve tried a couple of things that haven’t really stuck, like Dragon Nest.  We’ve been poking at City of Heroes, but one friend’s install became corrupted after the last patch, and the other hasn’t been able to access any of the characters on his old account.  So far we haven’t been able to get all three of us in there at once, and interest is rapidly waning.

What we’d really like is an action RPG.  Diablo 3 would be perfect, but of course it’s not an option yet.  Torchlight 2 would work, but again, not available.  Diablo 2 is just too dated, not to mention we already played it to death back in the day.  I’ve looked at Din’s Curse as a possibility, but it’s not exactly grabbing me when I go to Soldak’s website.  We’ve all played Titan Quest before, and it’s a possibility, but something new would be nice.

So, any suggestions?  Any good multiplayer action-rpg games out there that I haven’t already mentioned?  I don’t think genre matters that much – fantasy, sci-fi, whatever.  Something that can be had on the cheap would be preferable, and it has to be playable on PC (the only system all 3 of us have in common).

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

City of Heroes - Incarnation

Over the weekend I finally got to experience some of the Incarnate Trials – City of Heroes answer to endgame raiding.  It took a little bit of effort to get there, and for anyone else coming back for City of Heroes Freedom I’ll give you my hard-learned tip: don’t use the LFG tool.  It suspiciously looks like it’s intended to help you look for Trial groups, and maybe that was the developer’s intention.  The players have, as they so often do, subverted the original purpose into something else.  The LFG tool doesn’t help you find groups, it just teleports your existing group into the Trial.  So the way to find an Incarnate Trial group is to travel to the Rikti War Zone and spam in broadcast that you’re looking for a trial group.  Eventually you’ll get invited to a team that’s forming up to run trials.  So far, it’s been hassle free.  Nobody has said “OMG noob, you don’t have all purples and haven’t run this 1127 times before?!”  If you’re level 50 and capable of activating at least one of your powers, they’ll take you.  Why?  Because the more people who participate, the better the rewards are for EVERYONE.  Eventually, the League (a league is the CoH equivalent of a raid group, consisting of multiple “normal” groups) will be full, or close enough, and the leader will use the LFG tool to launch the selected trial.

I’ve now experienced three of the four Incarnate Trials – Behavioral Adjustment Facility, Lambda Sector, and The Underground.  I have been fortunate to mostly be teamed with experienced players who know what they’re doing and leaders who could keep things moving, knew the best way to do things, and had no problems with explaining things to helpless newbs.  That’s a good thing too, because unlike typical raid content in a lot of games where you can just keep battering at it until you win, Incarnate Trials can be failed, and once you fail it’s game over for that attempt.  The Behavioral Adjustment Facility (BAF, I won’t even tell you what that does to my DAoC honed acronym sense) and Lambda sector both fell fairly easily with strong groups and an experienced leader.  The Underground was much, much, harder, and the League I was with that time probably ended up wishing they had fewer players who could only activate one power.  We wiped on the second boss for over 20 minutes until time ran out and the trial failed.

Despite The Underground being a dismal failure, it ended up being one of the most productive trials I participated in and unlocked both my Judgement and Interface Incarnate slots.  That’s what the trials are for, earning “Incarnate” xp to unlock your special Incarnate slots, and collecting the special components needed to create the special abilities that you place in your Incarnate slots.  Incarnate Abilities are the only real method of progressing your character once you reach level 50, short of investing huge amounts of time into creating the best enhancements (gear) possible.  The bonuses provided by this alternate advancement are not insignificant either – a fully invested Incarnate level 50 is vastly more powerful than a fresh level 50, just like the difference between a new max level character in WoW and one that’s fully decked out in the most powerful raid gear available.  Well, maybe not quite that pronounced, but distinct, all the same.

Case in point, the Judgement slot.  The Judgement slot allows you to add a new superpower to your arsenal, an extreme damage area-of-effect attack with a long cooldown.  The “long” cooldown was considerably less than I expected, only 90 seconds.  The “extreme” damage though, no argument against that.  Every 90 seconds my Tank can now incinerate a lucky target and up to 23 of his friends with a blast that will one-shot minions, severely hurt lieutenants, and seriously dent bosses.  It’s a game changer.  All by itself it trivializes a lot of non-Incarnate content.  You know what though?  I think that’s great, that’s how it should be.  A level 50 has no real reason to do “normal” content, so why shouldn’t it be trivialized?  It’s relatively meaningless to the character after all.  Much like raiding, the main point of accruing Incarnate abilities is to make running the current trials easier, and the harder trials possible.

As to the trials themselves?  Well, as a melee character I can’t say they were a blast.  Interesting perhaps, rewarding definitely.  Fun?  Maybe.  The game ends up battling itself here, as melee characters have to be right up front with the hordes of enemies, but that requirement means you can see very little aside from a wall of mobs and players surrounded by constantly flashing special effects, and you can’t move freely since City of Heroes uses collision detection.  I think they’d be more fun as a ranged class where you can see what you’re doing.  However, I did enjoy the content, appreciated the rewards, and intend to do more when time allows.

The biggest issue at this point is they need to release more trials.  There are only four so far, of which one at least is very hard (The Underground).  It takes multiple runs of the trials to unlock each Incarnate ability slot (I have now unlocked 3 of the 5 currently released) and get the materials for a basic ability, plus many, many more runs to upgrade those slots with more advanced versions of the abilities.  Four trials do not provide enough variety.  I’m sure they’ll release more, presumably when they release new slots for unlocking, but the sooner the better.  I sincerely hope they don’t limit the Incarnate content by making it paid.  The last thing you want to do is limit the players available to participate in content that demands large groups.

Still, my overall feeling is that it’s not a bad endgame.  Is it great?  No.  Is it too grindy?  Yes.  Is it a model other games should aspire to?  Well, maybe.  It’s certainly accessible.  I couldn’t (currently) hop into WoW and hope to raid with the ease I can in CoH.  It’s not something I’d want to do every day for six months though.  Rather it feels like a nice way to top off a character and go “now I’m done”, far more so than simply going from level 49 to 50.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Android Games

Today I should be getting my first ever Android phone, the Samsung Epic Touch 4G.  It seems like a good phone, and has every feature I could possibly use, with the dubious exception of global roaming.  If I travel internationally in the time I have the phone I'll miss that option, but that's hardly a make or break feature.

Anyway, to the point!  I don't know much about Android OS games really.  What are some good ones?  Something a little more in-depth than Angry Birds.  How about RPGs?  Strategy games?  Final Fantasy tactics clones?