Friday, September 30, 2011

Star Wars: The Old Repbulic - Companions

Today I want to talk about the companions in SWTOR.  I’m a bit late to the party (what else is new) as the blogosphere went on about this for a couple of days a few weeks ago and then went silent.  Still, it’s my turn now, and I’m hoping to go into a little more depth.  I’d also love some commentary, as my information is pieced together and quite possibly not accurate, as I can never remember to check official sites when I’m at home and can’t access them when I’m at work.

Hi!  Will you be my friend?
Bioware recently revealed that companions will be unique to each class, and that each class will earn five companions (plus a ship droid) over the course of their adventures.  Only having five companions to choose from for your character sounds pretty anemic, but you have to consider there are eight classes, so Bioware is creating (and voicing) 40 companion characters.  That’s a massive investment of time and far outstrips the effort they’ve put into companions for any game they’ve made to date assuming, of course, that each companion is at least as fleshed out as the ones in Mass Effect or Dragon Age.

You meet your companions over the course of your class quests, so finding them shouldn’t be hard, but you don’t get them all at once.  While there is a good variety in the roles your companions play, I hope the order in which you get them is sensible for each class.  As in, I hope the Jedi Consular doesn’t have to wait until level 40 to get a tank companion, or the Sith Warrior has to wait until level 35 to get a healer.  I’m not sure if there’s been any information about that yet, but I sincerely hope companions are awarded in the most complimentary order.

Unlike DA and ME, you can only have one companion with you at a time.  That makes a certain amount of sense, I suppose, since the setting is Star Wars, and if you think about the movies many of the “player” characters had a partner of some sort, but not a gaggle of flunkies following them everywhere they went.  While companions can be brought with you for group content, it sounds like they take up a player slot (much like Guild Wars), so if you have enough player characters to fill a group you won’t have any companions.
From what I’ve read, it sounds like you do not get the level of control over your companions’ skill development that you do in Dragon Age or Mass Effect, but you can control the type of skills they have “equipped” through the use of kits.  The kit you equip on your companion will determine which subset of skills they use.  How much variety exists isn’t terribly clear, but it does suggest that you can have two players of the same class in a group use the same companion but get different results.  I’d rather have full customization like in other Bioware games, but something is better than nothing.  I’ll take it.

I wish I was green
Visual customization of companions will be possible, both from the basic skin/hair/etc. side and clothing equipment.  Thank God for that.  Anything less would be a disaster, with seventeen clones of the same character standing around while their owners go shopping.  The Clone Wars haven’t happened yet!  Guild Wars can get away with it because you hardly ever see someone else’s heroes (companions), but in a persistent world like SWTOR it would be pretty miserable.  I hope the customizations are significant.  If all you can do is change hair color or skin pigmentation it’s not going to make much difference.

Companions will not be controllable directly.  At all.  They will be entirely dependent on their AI, though players can set tactics for them much like in Dragon Age.  Still, I can’t even count the number of times I’ve had to switch to direct control of a companion in DA/ME to stop them from doing something stupid, so I hope the AI is very, very robust.  Presumably we’ll be able to unsummon companions if they get stuck (something you can’t do in DA/ME) which will help a little.

Companions level up, but are always one level behind the player.  I’m assuming it will work much like the other Bioware games, where all companions earn XP whether they’re in the active party or not, so we won’t run into instances of players grinding out xp to level their tank companion because they were using their dps companion for 40 levels (been there, done that, thanks WoW!).

You know you want to date me.  I've got head . . . things.
Romance – yes there are romances possible your companions.  Of the five companions available to each class, there is at least one male and one female capable of being romanced.  Strangely, not all classes are created equal in this regard.  Most classes have two options (1 male, 1 female), a couple have three, but the Sith Warrior can romance all but one of his/her companions (4 options).  Who says using the dark side of the force leads to hate?  Become a Sith Warrior and wow the ladies with your giant . . . saber.  Or, you know, mind control.  Whatever.

That’s pretty much an overview of what companions are, but what do they do?  Apparently they do a lot of things.  They tag along on your adventures and will heal, tank, dps, or die for you.  They lurk in your personal space ship and craft for you.  They run your errands (do your laundry, mend your clothes, make you dinner) and they just generally assist you.  Perhaps most importantly, they interact with you. They’ll comment on your decisions, participate in cutscenes, give you quests, comment on places you visit, both act as a moral compass and be swayed by your own morality choices.  They won’t just be pets, and that’s kind of the point. 

I was originally pretty grey on the idea of companions, but if Bioware can deliver on all their promises I think they’ll be a nice addition to the game.  As someone who tends to play late at night when sane people have gone to bed I’ll appreciate getting a little more interactivity out of the game.  At the same time, only being able to use one companion at a time means I won’t be soloing any flashpoints and will still have reason to find groups and play with real friends.  Hopefully the fact that everyone has a “pet” available at all times means content can be a little harder and more diverse.  All quests can be group quests.

Here’s hoping.

Thursday, September 29, 2011


Had a big post planned on SWTOR, but am not feeling much passion for writing at the moment.

Maybe tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Why the Dungeon Queue Hates Me

I mentioned recently my feeling that the Rift LFG tool has had a deleterious effect on the game’s community and the way people interact with each other in game.  As exhibit A, I would like to recount a recent adventure in Darkening Deeps with my cleric.

I logged in to Rift and after doing the event dailies found I had plenty of time to run a dungeon or two.  I didn’t feel like shouldering much responsibility, so I flagged myself for DPS or Support.  I queued up, and went about my business while waiting to get in.  After smashing a handful of mobs with my huge 2-handed hammer, I was whisked away to Darkening Deeps.

Upon zoning in I found myself the 5th member of an otherwise all guild group.  I breathed a sigh of relief, as guild groups are generally solid and I couldn’t screw things up badly enough all by myself to disrupt a solid group.  We had a warrior tank, a cleric healer, a rogue ranged dps, and a mage ranged dps.  Plus my cleric as Inquisitor/Cabalist/Warden, dropping nukes, debuffs, dispelling, and spot healing.

We blazed our way through the first couple of pulls, and things were looking good.  Then right after starting the fourth pull, the tank disconnected.  The healer tried to heal the tank, only to have the entire pack switch aggro and go for him.  He went down in a pile of goblins, and it all went downhill from there.  We wiped.  We made our way back and did some easy groups of enemies while waiting for the tank to come back.  The four of us weren’t having much trouble, seeing as we were now prepared and both the mage and rogue were using pets to tank.  I offered to switch to my tank role, but nobody was interested.

After nearly 10 minutes the group leader voted to kick their guild member from the group.  We requeued with the tank role vacant.  We worked our way down the other ramp, knocking off group after group of goblins.  Things started to get harder, and I again offered to switch to the tank role.  This time the group agreed, and I swapped out to Justicar.  We reached the bottom of the ramp and the first boss, still just 4 of us.  The mage went afk.  We waited for him to come back.  The queue popped and granted us a tank.  We all confirmed our roles . . . except the mage.  The queue expired, we lost our tank.  The guild mage remained afk. 

The group leader was getting antsy and suggested we try the boss with the three of us.  I thought it was suicide, especially as my cleric was on the low end of the level range for the dungeon, but what the heck!  Let’s go!  We actually did it without much trouble at all, though it was a pretty long fight with only one dps.  We finished up and rolled for loot.  The mage was still afk.  The group leader voted to kick his guildmate from the group, and requeued us.  We got lucky and got a new tank and replacement dps right away.  Finally!

The tank came down to the ramp right away, the new dps lingered at the entrance. We went ahead and started up again, battering our way through the next few set of mobs.  The new dps was still sitting at the dungeon entrance.  Our tank pulled the next pack just as the healer decided to run back to the entrance and guide the dps down.  The three of us died, but were rezzed when the healer came back, new dps in tow.  Oh well, big deal.

We proceeded through the dungeon to the second boss, and easily downed him on the first try, no deaths, not even close.  Smooth and professional.  We made our way to the third boss (the nasty spider boss) and wiped hard.  The healer used his Soulwalk and started to rez everyone, announcing that he was doing so.  Four of us were back in front of the spider boss, except for the new dps.  The healer cast another rez.  I cast another rez.  Nothing.  Then suddenly the new dps entered the dungeon.  Back at the top.  He had run back, despite being told to wait for a rez.  We collectively sighed and waited for him to run all the way back to us.

We tried the boss again, and wiped, except for the healer who somehow managed to get clear.  He started to rez everyone.  Soon, four of us were back in front of the spider boss, except for the new dps. Both clerics tried to rez him repeatedly, group members were shouting hysterically in chat to accept the rez and not run back into the instance . . . and the new dps entered the instance, back at the start.  I think the healer cried a little.  We waited while he ran all the way back down again, several group members trying to impress on him the need to just wait for a rez.

We tried the boss again, and wiped, again.  I used my Soulwalk and started to rez everyone.  The new dps didn’t take the rez.  He walked through the entrance again.  The group leader voted to kick him.  I’d barely even read the message before the rest of the group had booted the guy.  We requeued, and got a mage dps replacement instantly.

We tried the boss again, and wiped.  Nobody released.  Nobody had Soulwalks left.  After a few minutes of silence, nobody moving, nobody even chatting, I quit the group.  Enough was enough.

And then there was the time a group my mage was in wiped and the healer didn’t want to run back (the rest of us did), and instead decided to wait for his Soulwalk to recharge.  “Just 8 minutes guys” . . .

Thank God for kick votes.


Saturday, September 24, 2011

Old Republic Release Date

So the official release date for Star Wars: The Old Republic has been posted here.

Gosh, that date seems awfully familiar, where have I heard that before?

I'm now making predictions, $5 a pop.  Ask away!

Friday, September 23, 2011

City of Heroes . . . wait, what?!

Didn’t I quit that game?  Forever?  Wasn’t I all “been there, done that, pfft, whatever”?  Said my goodbyes and everything?  Yeah, I remember that too.  I also mentioned something about it taking a major revamp of the game for me to bother ever looking at it again.

So, City of Heroes: Freedom.  A major revamp of the game.  Conversion to a F2P model.  Reworking of low level content and power accrual.  More stuff to do at max level.  New shinies. 


I may not be interested in subscribing to CoH ever again . . . but for free?  I have all those characters . . . all that history.  And, you know, free.  Like any good American I can’t resist a bargain, and “free” is the best price you can find on anything, ever.

So of course I re-subbed for one month of VIP access, which I will let lapse and try the F2P version when F2P is turned on.  Currently the CoH:Freedom content is on the live servers, but F2P access hasn’t been turned on yet.  There are some significant perks for VIP players during the “head start” period, such as discounts on items in the store (and VIPs earn points every month they’re subscribed), one of which was 90% off a 6-pack of server transfers.

Despite my ennui when I tried Going Rogue (I’ve still never gotten a character all the way through Praetoria) and my inability to even log in during “free” weekends, CoH:Freedom has done something I didn’t think was possible—it’s made CoH fun again.  The low level game in CoH is the best it’s ever been, and I love making alts.  I have dozens.  Making those alts fun to play instead of a tedious chore of leveling to “the good part” is huge for me.  Granted my view is a little skewed because any new characters I make come into play with a slew of veteran perks, but still.

Travel powers are now possible at level 4 and have no pre-requisite, and getting to level 4 hardly takes any time at all.  No more low level trudging around the city.  This is how it should have always been (and indeed, in beta you could get your first travel power at level 6) and I can’t believe it’s taken them this long to make the change.  There are also several purchasable powers from the store that aren’t as good as the “true” travel powers, but are quite serviceable and don’t cost you a power choice.  They unlock for every character on your account, so buy one and never worry about travel powers again if you like.

They also added a few new powersets, which combined with the continued proliferation of powersets between Archetypes means that your Archetype choice is really about playstyle, and not access to a particular flavor of power.  Once upon a time if you wanted to sheath yourself in fire and slash things with a flame sword you had no choice but to be a Tanker.  Now you can do that multiple ways, and can choose the playstyle you want to go along with it.  Power proliferation has been going on for years, but I think it’s reached the point now where almost everything that makes sense is available to each Archetype.

You can now make any of the 10 core Archetypes (Tanker, Defender, Blaster, Scrapper, Controller, Brute, Stalker, Mastermind, Dominator, Corrupter) as either a Hero or a Villain, right from the start.  If you want to play a heroic Corrupter, you just do it.  You don’t have to level to 20 in Praetoria.  You don’t have to start on one side and use the morale system to switch sides.  You can still do both those things if you want to, but you no longer HAVE to.  I’m always in favor of having choices.  Limiting player choice limits player fun.

Galaxy City as a starting zone no longer exists.  All new characters go through a new tutorial that is short, to the point, and much better than the tedious slog of the original tutorial.  During the tutorial you choose if you want to be a Hero or Villain, and get dumped into the starting zone for the appropriate side.  For Heroes, that means good old Atlas Park . . . except this isn’t the Atlas Park veterans will remember.  Instead of going to an Origin specific contact who gives you origin specific missions against a particular enemy group (all science origins used to fight Vahzilok, etc.) you get sent to a new contact who gives you story based missions that incorporate the mission mechanics added with Going Rogue, and have you doing more than just going into an instance and clearing mobs until you’re done.  It’s hardly revolutionary, but it’s well done, and keeps things moving well for the first few levels.  You unlock more missions in the new arc every 5 levels (I presume, I unlocked the next set at level 10).

I made a heroic Corrupter with the new Beam Rifle and Time Manipulation powersets, and have really been enjoying the game.  Much to my surprise.  Beam Rifle is the ranged powerset I’ve always wanted.  Energy Blast should have been it, but the mix of smashing/energy damage, the bubbly graphics, and the irritating sound effects kept me away.  Beam Rifle is, well, energy damage done right.  I wish it wasn’t a weapon power, but otherwise it feels right and satisfying.  Time Manipulation isn’t as fun as I’d hoped, but it’s still interesting.  Both powersets have internal synergy.  Beam Rifle has Disintegrate, which places a damage-over-time effect on the target.  Other Beam Rifle powers have additional effects when hitting targets affected by Disintegrate, and can also spread Disintegrate to additional targets.  Time Manipulation debuffs can cause other Time Manipulation debuffs to work better if the target has both on them at the same time, a synergistic stacking effect.  These sorts of synergies make the powersets much more interesting than the simpler powersets that shipped with the original game.

We’ll see how long the game can hold my interest, but it’ll be F2P shortly, which kind of takes the pressure off.  If I get bored I wander off for a while and lose nothing.  I think the F2P conversion has the potential to really increase the content that gets added to the game, especially when it comes to hard to design things like powersets.  They rarely added powersets in the quarterly updates because of the development time involved.  If they can sell new powersets on the market for $8 each though, that gives a clear return on that development time.  We’ll see.  Maybe they’ll finally be able to work on more epic Archetypes too.  I’d gladly pay for that.

Overall, I’d say City of Heroes is in the best shape it’s ever been, and I’ve been following the game since early Beta.  Many games can’t really claim to be more fun than they were at launch *coughWoWcough* but I think City of Heroes can.  Hats off to Paragon Studios for doing a good job, and really giving the impression of working hard to balance player desires with the company’s need to make money.  After all, in the long run, the best way to make money is to make your customers happy to spend it.  Just, no $25 sparkle ponies, please?

Rift LFG Tool, a few months in

As someone who played Rift from beta through a couple of months past release, took a break, and then recently picked up the game again, I feel like I have a clear view of the “before” and “after” when it comes to the Looking for Group (LFG) tool that Trion introduced several months ago.  I haven’t experience a gradual shift, but rather a stark contrast.  One caveat – my experiences with the tool have been solely as a leveling player, I do not have a max level character and have not attempted to run end game dungeons using the tool.

First off, the dungeon finder component of the LFG tool does have a good side.  Since it isn’t dependent on your location within the game, I’ve gotten to experience the dungeons buried in Defiant territory that I had never seen before.  That’s a big plus for me, since my main goal is to experience as much of the content as I can, and the LFG tool has helped with that a lot.  Previously, getting access to the opposing side’s dungeons was time consuming and people rarely did it.

Unfortunately, there aren’t many other positives.  Certainly the time to find a dungeon group has gone down since the dungeon component went cross-server, but it’s still not stellar unless you’re a tank (yes, just tank, unlike WoW there does not appear to be a healer shortage in Rift, just a tank shortage).  I have waited in the queue for entire play sessions without ever getting a group (as dps/support).  Granted that’s improved since I transferred some of my characters to a higher population server (love the free server transfers, great feature for a population dependant game) though I’m not entirely sure why since the tool is cross-server . . .

However, I don’t know that the total time to find a group has really decreased much, it’s possibly even increased, especially for leveling characters.  Why?  Nobody broadcasts their desire to form dungeon groups anymore.  With the LFG tool, the pool of characters available for any given group are solely those that have actively chosen to place themselves in the tool, and only those in the appropriate level range.  Before the LFG tool, a level 24 character could broadcast that they were forming a group for a dungeon, and a level 50 player who heard it could decide “hey, you know what, I think I’d rather do that, let me grab my alt.”  You don’t get that now, because the level 50 player has to pro-actively choose to not play their main and then place their alt in the queue.  I briefly used the tool before it went cross-server, and because of this exclusion effect it really didn’t work at all.

The actual experience of running the dungeon has become much more WoW-like, but I’m not sure if that’s the fault of the dungeon queue or just the inevitable result of most players having already seen the content dozens of times before.  The majority of the random group is almost always interested in rushing through the dungeon as quickly as possible, and woe betide the newbie who wants to do things like the dungeon specific quests, let alone read the quest text.  Groups will usually do the quests without too much grumbling, but you can practically hear the players tapping their feet.  I think the speed run mentality might have something to do with the stacking of rewards at the end of the dungeon and the relatively poor itemization of leveling dungeons.  Most bosses only drop a couple of different items, and certainly not enough to provide an option for each calling.  Finishing the dungeon though, gives everyone a piece of random, calling-specific blue loot, the only thing of real value to anyone who has run the dungeon more than once.  Thus, speed runs.

I can’t say whether the Rift group/raid portion of the LFG tool works or not.  I’ve tried using it a couple of times during zone events, but have never been placed in a group.  In fact, it worked against grouping up because it causes you to be excluded from open groups – you don’t even see the interface if an available group is nearby.  In the end, it seems to be much easier to find a raid group for rifts by just running around to rifts until you find a group to team up with.

I’ve also tried using the quest aspect of the tool, similarly without success.  Granted, very few of the “group” quests in Rift that are part of the leveling content actually require a group, a good build can handle them solo.  This is probably why nobody seems to really be using the quest group finder portion of the tool – you just don’t need it.  Granted, the chances of more than one or two people in a zone being on exactly the same quest as you at the same time are pretty small at this stage of the game, even on a well populated server like Faeblight.

Do I think the LFG tool has been a failure?  Not exactly.  It does what it’s supposed to, and has more features than WoW’s Dungeon Finder, but I think the very nature of such a tool is in many ways self-defeating due to the isolating effect is has on players.  Players no longer need to communicate, they just push a button and wait.  As many bloggers predicted (you know who you are) this has a negative impact on server community, and even guild cohesion.  Max level guild members don’t have much inclination to help low level players run dungeons when they can be told to queue in the LFG tool instead.  People don’t broadcast that they’re looking for groups because they get told (sometimes rudely) to use the tool.  In the end, for all the benefits they seem to bring, “dungeon finder” tools seem to dramatically shift the attitude of the players from that of an MMO/server community towards the feel of a single player RPG with a multiplayer lobby.  It happened in WoW, now it’s happened in Rift.

Still, if someone gave me the choice between Rift with the LFG tool and Rift without it, I'd choose Rift without it. I'd rather have a server community that tried to work together and succeeds at putting groups together less often than a tool that results in an uncommunicative community participating in silent speed runs of dungeons nobody cares about anymore.  Unfortunately, the genie's been let out of the bottle and there's no putting it back now.  Trying to remove the tool at this point would probably be disastrous, so I'll just have to impotently wish it had never been implemented in the first place.  Oh well.