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Patch 4.3: “Loving the Lore” or “Hating the Lore”

September 20, 2011 15 comments

I didn’t think I would like WoW again, but the leveling game has been so well improved, I can’t help but marvel at the fluidity of it all. I am also trying something new altogether. I played a Dwarf Paladin for nearly six years, always on the Alliance side, on the US servers. Now I am on the EU servers, playing an Undead Mage, trying out the horde faction. And I have to admit, despite being primarily a solo journey, I am very pleasantly surprised by the ebb and flow of level progression in the lower levels. I am level 38 now, and so far it’s been a blast.

But I am digressing. Patch 4.3 is around the corner. The heroes of Azeroth must once again band together to defeat a worldly threat. And although that has happened countless times before, this time, things seem a little different:

Pros

  • The lore in Cataclysm has a very fluid structure. The story lines flows from starting zones into adjacent and non-adjacent zones, and at least until level 60, there seems to be a harmony to the central narrative.
  • The story takes into account the hero’s progression (that’s you). Arthas has been killed, and Cataclysm areas (both 1-60 and 81-85) consistently allude to the fact that he no longer threatens the world.
  • This progression is further taken into account with the lore for the three 5-mans and the raid encounter in patch 4.3, as the Al’Akir, Ragnaros, and Deathwing’s immediate family: Lady Sinestra, Onyxia and Nefarion have all been struck down. The forces of Deathwing have dwindled.
  • You can’t just kill Deathwing, he has contingencies in place, and he seems to have thought of everything. Even traveling to the past to recover the Dragon Soul to defeat him is impossible, and you must first travel to the future to remove said obstacle. In short, the lore is tied together very well in the four new instances.
  • You get to see the future, what Azeroth will become, should you fail.
  • You get to see the events 10,000 years in the past, events that shaped the today of Azeroth, events that we always heard of in lore conversation, or read about in books. But now you get to experience them first-hand. You fought Illidan in The Burning Crusade, but this time you can with alongside him, you know, before he turned into a massive dick.
  • Transmorgification: Hooray!

Cons

  • There will be three difficulty levels. Blizzard has already started nerfing the Ragnaros encounter. They also say that after the top seed guilds have downed Deathwing, he will be toned down as well. This is all part of the macro-strategy Blizzard is deploying to ensure that a large percentage of their player-base gets to see, experience and vanquish endgame content. I have mentioned before why this strategy may be a mistake, but it appears Blizzard will not change gears in content design in this expansion.
  • Despite the content re-design, Outlands and Northrend were left untouched. So at level 10, when the lore for the Undead storyline is speaking of Arthas being killed by the heroes of Azeoth, at level 70+, you will face him again in Northrend. Lame.
  • There are whole new bosses in the raid encounter, allies of Deathwing that we have never heard of before. That is a little weak. We played Cataclysm for nearly a year, systematically eliminating all that sided with Deathwing one after another. After so much, we get six new bosses thrown at us, ones that (mostly) never entered the fray before.
  • Benedictus was a minion of Deathwing all along? Oh come on!
  • Transmorgification: Couldn’t you have released this feature a little sooner? Only took you seven years!

“Se7en Favorite Gaming Moments in 2010″ or “Yes I Know This Post is Late, Shut Up!”

January 20, 2011 Leave a comment

Note: I know this post is very late, but hey, I started putting it together about two weeks back and constantly got sidetracked. The following are some gaming moments in 2010 that had me sit back and just marvel at the developers for putting together such incredible set-pieces.

Mass Effect 2 – The Ending Sequence

Despite a lackluster final-boss (what the hell was that all about anyway?), the ending of Mass Effect 2 was one of the greatest moments crafted in any game ever made. Granted the final cut-scene had zero input from the player, but you could see all of your actions over the course of the game reflected in that sequence. The fate of your teammates, crew-mates, and even your own survival would be revealed in a cut-scene that was crafted out of the very choices you made throughout the game. The final cacophony that leads to Shepard’s breathtaking leap of faith was the icing on the cake. Topped with a stellar musical score and superb dialogue, the ending of Mass Effect 2 continues to live on in memory as one of the most powerful video game endings in history. I had goosebumps!

World of Warcraft – Killing the Lich King

Nearly eight years in the making, the final blow to the Lich King was a triumphant moment in 2010. Even since his betrayal at Stratholme, and subsequent departure from humanity, every Warcraft fan prayed for the day when we would stand toe-to-toe with the arch-villain and sink in his fine-honed blades. Now I didn’t get to experience the moment on my main character, and I wasn’t there for the three week struggle against the fight that led to the eventual kill, but the moment was nevertheless cathartic. We had killed Arthas, and all was right with the world.

Little did we know…

StarCraft II – Fight To The Death

StarCraft II had very intelligent missions. I don’t think I have ever played a pure RTS where I never felt like I was playing an RTS. Allow me to explain. StarCraft II, for all intents and purposes, is a true RTS. You collect resources. You build a base. You pump units. You annihilate the other side. However, despite the fact that you do this in nearly all missions, each mission felt different and played out in a distinctly different tone. In each mission there is some gimmick or some additional obstacle that you must overcome to advance, and the RTS underpinnings are silently turning in the background, almost as if you aren’t even playing an RTS. When the truth of the matter is that you are playing an RTS all along! Do you see? Oh forget it! One of the most memorable moments in 2010 was a Protoss mission.

SPOILER START.

This is the final Protoss mission, a vision of the near-future where all intelligent life in the universe is being systematically annihilated. The Protoss make their last stand, with the Zerg pouring into a massive base from all directions. Your job as a player however, is not to win. Your job is to lose. You need to hold out the assault for some time, but eventually it will overwhelm you no matter how you do it, and then you need to fight till the last Protoss is alive, including the most iconic figureheads of the enigmatic race. The winning condition, you see, is to fight till the last Protoss and this eventually lose the base. That is awesome. I had a blast in that mission, and I had adrenaline pumping through my veins as I tried strenuously, albeit foolhardily, to stand my ground. Well done Blizzard, well done indeed!

SPOILER END.

Red Dead Redemption – Rescue my Wife

Red Dead Redemption was a jewel in the gaming line-up of 2010.

I am riding on my horse down the dirt-path carved into the terrain by frequent travelers. I am minding my own business, on my way to meet a new contact who goes by the name of Irish. I am contemplating if I should just fast-travel to the location; in retrospect, I am glad I didn’t exercise that option. You’ll see why in just a second. Suddenly, I hear someone in the distance say:

“Please sir, would you help me? They’ve taken my wife!”

I pause, wondering if this was a mission marker that I missed on my map. The rider who has sought my help turns up as a blue circle on my mini-map. As I contemplate my response to this stranger’s query, he simply takes off in one direction, eager to get to his wife. As the blue circle grows distant, I get a message on my screen suggesting I follow the rider. I think a second longer and decide to follow the poor guy, and see what this random encounter has in store for me.

The man rides at top speed down bushy knolls and grass highlands for a little bit, and then he stops short of a posse of hooligans. His wife sits atop a horse, with a noose around her neck. Before I can even so much as gauge the situation, a firefight breaks out. I take out my trusty Winchester Repeater, and over the next few seconds, gun down the three perpetrators.

Then I realize I was too slow. They have already killed the husband, who lays crumpled next to his dead horse. I look over at the wife. The shooting has scared off the horse atop which she sat, and she is hanging from the tree branch. I panic. I run over to her increasingly limp body, but even as I am closing the distance I get a message on-screen that says matter-of-factly: “The victim has died.”

I am utterly devastated. Had I been a few seconds faster, both in the decision to follow the man and in the shootout, I could have saved their lives. I know they are digital beings in an artificial world, but the sense of loss is still palpable.

I came across this encounter a second and then a third time. The second time I ignored it altogether, because it was late and I just wanted to finish one last story mission before calling it a night. The third time I immediately followed the man, this time to a different location, with the kidnappers using a cart as cover, and the wife already hanging. I managed to save the husband, but the wife perished. The husband collapsed at the hanging, limp body of his wife and wailed.

A few things to remember:

  • The mission was completely optional
  • If you chose to take on the quest, you simply followed the husband, there was no mission log to keep track of the mission, and no prompt saying that you were now on this mission. In fact, you could abandon course at any point and just go your way if you so chose.
  • There were multiple outcomes: you could save both husband and wife; you could save just the wife; you could save just the husband
  • In any of the scenarios above, you weren’t penalized for failing (unless you take into account being emotionally penalized); if you failed, that family was dead, you were responsible for it, and there was nothing you could do to change that

A living breathing world indeed.

Lord of the Rings Online – The Joy of Deeds

In 2010, I also returned to LOTRO, after a brief stint with the original beta and a briefer stint with the live game. The game seems to be much more streamlined and the option to play for free is extremely tempting. After finishing the starter area for elves, I was questing near a lake when something popped up on my screen: “New Deed Unlocked”, it said. I was confused. Since I had not played the game in so long, I had no idea what they were talking about. When I looked it up, I realized how that tied into Turbine Points, and how much I actually enjoyed the idea of pursuing deeds to not only earn rewards, but also Turbine points for the store. As I have mentioned on a few occasions, I have a penchant for completing every last objective, title, achievement and knick-knack a game throws my way, so the discovery of deeds was a very joyous moment for me.

Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood – My First Kill Streak


The third major installment in the series featured several improvements over the previous iteration, the most significant of which was offensive combat. Instead of sitting there with the block button pressed, you could actually attack offensively at will, and killing an opponent allowed you to unlock chain-killing enemies in rapid succession. When I first came across this ability, I couldn’t figure it out. The in-game prompt, and even websites where other people had posted their frustrations with the mechanic, suggested that I press LS to kill the next victim. I took me a whole week to realize that “press L2″ does not equal “press L2 down”. You simply had to swivel the stick in direction of the opponent you wanted take out next, preferably close by, and then execute. The first time I accidentally figured this out was during a rescue mission where you engage a large army of guards to buy Catarina Sforza some time to get away. That first kill streak was orgasmic, because once I figured it out, I took out over 30 guards in a series of quick, fluid and outright sexy maneuvers without having to play defensively.

Alan Wake – The First Miniboss

Alan Wake was not on my top list for games in 2010, mostly because the game became too formulaic with its gimmicks after the first hour or two. That being said, it had some truly eerie and at times downright creepy moments. One of these moments was the final ‘boss fight’ at the end of Chapter One. This was the being that zipped around at a frightening speed, only to stop a mere few feet from you, when your eyes haven’t even adjusted to the sudden change in momentum, and attack! That was a terrifying encounter, and set the mood for several of the following hours of gameplay. Aside from Dead Space, that is the only game to date that truly shivers me timbers!

That’s my list, what were your favorite gaming moments in 2010?

“Se7en Favorite Games of 2010″ or “Sheppard Plants Assassins Northrend Explosions Protoss Bada-Bing-Bada-Boom!”

January 3, 2011 3 comments

Note: Sorry this is a day late, I got caught up in some work stuff / my cat swallowed a hairball / my dog ate my blog post.

2010, much like everything else in life, had it’s ups and downs. The gaming industry continues to grow, and with growth comes more variety and better quality games. On the flip-side terrible games also stick out like sore thumbs when juxtaposed against lauded AAA titles. All in all, I had a blast in 2010 playing video games, and despite some fairly horrid titles, botched reboot attempts, and sub-par production values in some otherwise solid titles, I was quite pleased with what the industry had to offer.

I didn’t play as many MMOs in 2010 as I did in the years prior. I quit Eve Online. I finally said goodbye to World of Warcrft, despite a stellar new expansion (I was in the beta). I started dabbling into LOTRO and realized it was a completionist’s wet-dream, and I have been having a blast on my novice Elf Hunter (yes, I know that race/class combo is real original). I tried out Perpetuum and was turned off by how similar it was to Eve Online in terms of systems, UI and looks, and how much it paled in comparison in actual execution. I also tried my hands at World of Tanks, a game that really took a lot to get used to, and so far it hasn’t been entirely disappointing. SynCaine’s ramblings finally made me cave in to Darkfall and I have been getting my ass kicked ever since. But all things considered, I spent the least amount of time with MMOs in 2010, especially when you contrast that against 2-6 hour daily sessions with World of Warcraft and EvE Online in prior years.

At any rate, the following are my favorite games of 2010, in no particular order:

Mass Effect 2

What a stellar experience this game was. I found myself thinking of the game weeks after I finished it, always intrigued by what could have happened if I had played a particular fight with another set of allies using different tactics. Mass Effect 2, of all the games I have played in 2010, had the most powerful ending I have experienced in a video game, despite a terrible “final boss” fight and holes in the story regarding the final set pieces. Mass Effect 2 gave me goosebumps, and I am ever thankful to BioWare for making such a fantastic title. It speaks volume for a title that has quite a few flaws, but those flaws completely pale in comparison to the rest of the package.

Related posts:

Starcraft II

This game is the primary reason my MMO habits suffered so greatly in 2010. (The other reason being a lack of interesting MMOs to play in 2010 – just my opinion, disagree all you want). Twelve years in the making, this title had the kind of hype that eventually leads to inflated expectations, which, inevitably deflate with rancid disappointment because no title can live up to such high hopes. Starcraft 2, however, shocked fans and critics alike when it launched, not only meeting, but in some cases exceeding expectations. Couple this with the fact that the title shipped with no LAN support despite resounding disagreement from the core fan base, and that this is only a third of a trilogy that will be released over several years, and still the title did so well both commercially and critically. The single player campaign was phenomenal, and there was a hardly a mission where I felt like I was playing an RTS. It was immersive, innovative, the missions were varied and featured a plethora of objectives for you to accomplish and the production values were incredible. It took me nearly 40 hours to get through the single-player portion of the game. But the multiplayer is where I find myself losing hours on a daily basis: 386 hours to be exact (that’s over 16 days in real-time – sheesh!). I love the 1v1 match-ups and a friend and I have been tearing through the 2v2 rankings for several weeks now. This is a game I will be surely playing well into 2010.

Related posts:

Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood

Talking about completionists’ wet-dreams, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood hit the (digital) shelves in November. I have already shared my thoughts on the title, so I will spare you the re-iteration, but suffice it to say AC:B was hours upon hours of fun, featuring huge improvements over the previous titles, and kept me happily occupied for days.

Related posts:

Split/Second

A racing game? Yes, I was surprised as well. A colleague at work first recommended this title and then demanded that I play it. I have never been a big racing sim fan, so I was a little skeptic. But then I lost a bet the following week to the same colleague and my “punishment” was playing this title. God I wish all punishments could be like this. Expecting a racing sim with questionable production values and a botched, convoluted “career mode”, I was completely blown away (pun-intended) by what I saw. One of the most satisfying games I have ever played, Split/Second is a fictional reality TV show in the ‘near future’, where drivers compete on tracks laden with explosives and traps. These obstacles can be triggered by any of the drivers as long as they have power, which is earned through air time, drafting and drifting. There was no major car customization, no excessively ‘real-time’ mode, just the directional pad, an accelerator, a brake and two buttons for small and large explosions respectively. It is deceptively simple and shockingly involved and deep. You can win/lose in the final few moments, and the music is so well done, it actually gets your adrenaline pumping for those final precious few seconds of a hard-fought race. Check it out if you haven’t yet, and look on YouTube for some of the soundtrack.

World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King

My love-hate relationship with WoW continued to grow/dwindle in 2010, but finally fizzled out towards the end. Despite the fact that I am no longer playing it, I had a lot of fun playing WoW casually in 2010. I learned what it was like not to raid for 4 hours a night, 4-5 days a week. I learned the fun in creating and pursuing your own little goals, such as going after a particularly elusive reputation, or earning the Chef’s Hat. I ran heroics with strangers and 10-mans with old friends and guildies, and I had a blast. I was also in the Cataclysm Beta from quite early on and played it for nearly three months. I experienced most of the new content and enough of the revamped world to know what Cataclysm had to offer. Eventually I realized it wasn’t enough to keep me around, but I had a great time nonetheless. And who knows, maybe I will find a reason to go back at some point in the future.

Related Posts:

Plants vs. Zombies

PopCap hit gold with this title. This game seems so simple on the surface, but as the levels progress and the various types of zombies and plants unlock, it turns into one of the most complex, strategic and exhilirating titles I have had the pleasure of playing in recent memory. I was initially skeptic of the title, Bejeweled and Peggle (the other smash hits from the developer) aren’t exactly what you would call my cup of tea. So imagine my surprise when I played the game and realized what an incredible experience it was. Not that the title needed any additional critical acclaim, but it has now been immortalized in WoW as a series of quests in the Hillsbrad Foothils starting with Brazie the Botanist.

Mafia II

And finally, we have the crime drama. The game didn’t get very high reviews from most gaming authorities, getting an average rating around the mid-70s. I am not disagreeing, I don’t think it was as good as it could have been. But the original Mafia, a game I played start to end three times, holds a special place in my heart. And even though the characters didn’t have much cross-over between the two games, I loved every minute of Mafia II, even the abysmal driving controls and the long rides between mission points. Mafia II didn’t live up to its predecessor, but it was a hell of a ride, and I am glad for it.

Honorable Mentions

  • Metro 2033: Great game, supremely atmospheric. Horrendous AI that breaks the game in my opinion.
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops: Excellent single-player campaign, especially when juxtaposed against MoH. Awful PC multiplayer ruined my experience.
  • Borderlands: Released in 2009, I kn0w, played it well into 2010, lots of good DLC content, had a blast.
  • Darkfall: SynCaine was right, it is difficult to go back to WoW after experiencing Darkfall in all it’s brutal, unforgiving glory, still learning, still trying to wrap my head around it.
  • Machinarium: Actually can I have eight favorites of 2010? Yes, it’s that good.

“Avoiding the Cataclysm” or “Off the Beaten Path”

December 6, 2010 10 comments

I have played WoW for a long time.

I remember the day I went to get it in snowy Ithaca, NY. Best Buy had already run out of copies by the time I got to the store. The clerk told me they will get more copies within the week and that he was sorry. I left the mall quite upset, it was Thanksgiving break, I wasn’t going home, and I had nine days of vacations with a few other international students in the dorms. As I sat at Pyramid Mall’s entrance, waiting for the local TCAT (Tompkins County Area Transit) bus, I looked to my left and realized they had opened a new target store in the area. The bus wouldn’t be here for another 15 minutes, so I just decided to meander around inside, get a little warmer.

Lo and behold, as I traversed Target’s empty aisles, I came across the game section and to my surprise, there sat nearly 20 unsold copies of World of Warcraft, all new and shiny, waiting for their new (soon-to-be-addict) owners to take them home. I picked up a copy, giddy with excitement and rushed home as quickly as I could. I opened the wrapping, and inserted the first of four discs to start the installation process. the installation took nearly a half hour, but that gave me enough time to go over the game’s gorgeous manual (yes, there used to be manuals kids, and yes, we used to read them).

I leveled a Hunter to level 20. Then I switched servers and leveled a paladin to level 60. I took over a guild. I raided Molten Core and Blackwing Lair. I conquered Ahn’Qiraj and sat on C’Thun’s throne. I wandered the hallways of Naxxaramas. I was there when infernals fell from the skies in the Burning Crusade. I was there when the Lich King emerged in Northrend. I was there through all of it, raiding, PvP’ing, fishing, farming and manipulating the Auction House to damn near gold-cap a character.

Now it is time for Cataclysm, and although initially I was very excited about the expansion, I find now, a day from launch, that I am OK with not playing it on launch day. I am OK with not playing it a month from now. Actually I am OK with not playing it at all. This isn’t because I don’t enjoy WoW, or because I am sick of it. I just think after six years of a love-hate (primarily love) relationship, it is time for a clean break. It is time to find something else to occupy my time with in the long-term. It is time, put simply, to move on. And although I am half-tempted to follow the 10 things to do before you quit WoW list by Elitist Jerks to the letter, I think it’s better to make a quiet exit.

There is the new EVE Corp by Massively’s Brendan Drain. There is the Perpetuum’s free month, courtesy of Chris Cavelle. There is Rift’s beta. SW:TOR, The Secret World, the free-to-play version of Champions Online and Jumpgate Evolution are being crafted as I write this. There is so much to look at now, and so much to look forward to. And as much as I love WoW, there are 12 million others who can band together to take down Deathwing. I will be over here, off of the beaten path, trying out something new.

“Dealing With the End of the World” or “Four Weeks to Cataclysmic Events”

November 9, 2010 1 comment

This was bound to happen. We are exactly four weeks, unless my math is off, and it usually isn’t, from the release of Cataclysm (EDIT: thanks for the confirmation, Tobold!) The blogosphere is abuzz with opinions regarding the end of Wrath and the pending beginning of Cataclysm.

A lot of things are now happening in the player-base simultaneously.

The End of End-Game Raiding

First and foremost is the boredom, either brought about because your guild has been farming endgame for a while now, and there is literally nothing left for you to do anymore. Or because they never got to end-game, and they are so close to “greens that are better than purples” that they see no point in raiding. In any case, fewer and fewer people are motivated to engage in end-game raiding, especially if the primary motivation is loot, because said loot will be obsolete in less than a month.

The Lazy Subscribers

Another is a sense of lethargy for some players, regardless of their endgame persuasion, they are just tired of the existing grind and just need something new. This group includes players like me, who, for one reason or another, just cannot bring themselves to play another few months leading up to the sparkly new content that will once again spark their interest. I let my subscription run out about two months prior, not because I had conquered all content, or because there was nothing left to do. I got tired of two things. First, the inability to raid with my friends because my geographical location is nine hours ahead of EST. Second, because despite my love for WoW, I find myself increasingly aware of the endless grind for better gear. Once you make it to level 80, the only way forward, especially in PvP is to farm more loot. Whatever the case, I won’t be back before Cataclysm.

The Overzealous Overachievers

This is a special band of individuals who go into hyperdrive mode when an expansion nears. They have neat little lists of all the things they want to accomplish before the new content hits, especially if the new contents changes or removes some of the older contents. The list items range from normal (explore all the kingdoms) to completely luck-based (obtain a raptor mount from Zul’Gurub) to the utterly insane (Complete LoreMaster when you never even touched one of the two vanilla continents). These are the people that (probably) spend the most amount of time in the pre-expansion hit world.

The Biggest PvPenis

And finally, PvP explodes as more and more players are logging on primarily through force of habit, only to realize they haven’t much to do online, and then join the BG queue to fill that void in their hearts known as pre-expansion blues.

Opinions Abound!

Everyone is talking about the expansion in one context or another it seems.

Syncaine has a post up about the differences he sees between Ultima Online and World of Warcraft, the most prominent of which, it seems to him, is the tendency for WoW to “prevent bad things from happening to players”. In the interest of partiality, it should be said Syncaine’s opinions notwithstanding, he hasn’t played WoW in quite some time. I remember the older days of vanilla WoW, when everything was blatant and well-pronounced grind, and while I understand where Syncaine is coming from, I would much rather prefer the, uh, I suppose hand-holding for the lack of a better word, than corehounds that spawned every 18 minutes, and running UBRS 40 times to get your guild keyed for Onyxia.

Spinks wonders whether the WoW formula will eventually cater only to the ultra (turbo?) hardcore raiders, and more people will continue to dip briefly into F2P titles before something else half-interesting comes out, endlessly repeating that cycle. I do agree with this point to an extent, but I think it needs to be refined a little. I don’t think people get tired of raiding, or WoW would have died out in 2005. I think people get tired of raiding the same content, a phenomenon to which Blizzard has consistently responded with new content patches introducing new instances and/or expansions.

Psychochild, as usual, has an incredibly well-thought out post about the problem he sees with the MMO industry today. Although his list is comprised of some very broad concepts, what resonated with me a lot more was Wolfsheads comment underneath the post. He says:

“You’ve made some great points! For me, the big culprit is unambitious and risk averse game designers — they create the rules and they set the agenda. The buck has to stop with them. They are the slippery pied pipers that the players follow via a steady diet of rewards and incentivized gameplay.

People are simply experiencing MMO fatigue. I believe MMO bloggers are just echoing the dissatisfaction of the MMO community in this regard. This is a complex subject and there are many forces at work which are contributing to the general malaise out there. Just as the Roman Empire fell due to many reasons, so too are MMOs in decline for many reasons. Here are a few off the top of my head:

1) Lack of Choice – Where are the quality niche MMOs? How is it we live in a 500 channel universe for television but we only have a few AAA+ MMOs to choose from? Obviously, good MMOs cost a heck of a lot of money to create. We’ll have to wait this one out while the costs to produce MMOs comes down much like what happened to the music business where anyone with a computer can produce a studio quality album.

2) Lack of Innovation – Players are bored with essentially the same content (dressed up as “new” expansions) being offered to them. There’s a reason why most TV series — even good ones — don’t last more than a few years. There’s a reason we don’t use cell phones that are 10 years old too. Unless you are selling toilet paper, every business must innovate to stay alive.

3) Lack of Player Freedom – MMOs have morphed into big budget single-player video games with Hollywood cinematics that have more in common with Zelda and God of War than Ultima Online and EverQuest. Players must stay on the rails. The story always ends the same. No deviation. Also, where is the dynamic world we were promised years ago?

4) The Rise of Demographics and Metrics and Based Design – MMOs are now designed to appeal to the widest possible demographic. While this is good for the bottom line and there are some good things about this, there are also a lot of negatives such as dumbed-down gameplay, welfare epics, etc.

5) Convenience Based Design that Panders to Time-Starved, Short Attention Span Gamers – This is all about money and related to #4 above. Instead of the player conforming to the virtual world, now the virtual world must conform to the player. The result is solo friendly MMOs. Travel is almost instantaneous and rendered pretty much meaningless via portals and dungeon finder tools. Loot means nothing as well as it basically grows on trees in most MMOs.

6) The Death of Community – Thanks to solo friendly MMOs, people barely chat anymore and why would they? Community and playing online with other people was one of the big selling points of MMOs years ago, now it’s just a marketing ploy. What community is left is dominated by vulgar jokes and general idiocy on the Trade Channel.”

I particular like point # 5, that convenience-based design which panders to time-starved, short-attention-span-gam- have I talked about Larisa’s post yet?

Larisa, being Larisa, instead offers a list of reasons why WoW is still one of the greatest things to happen to gamers and nerds (a double-whammy category that I am a proud member of, as is, I am certain, Larisa) worldwide. A lot of her points are personal, unique experiences, but then again, that is what online gaming is all about: experiencing the same world through the lens of the people we interact in it with, and through the lens of our own distinct backgrounds, ideologies and experiences.

Quote of the Day: “Greedy Goblin’s ‘Pitiful’ progress'” or “Most Guilds Suck Hard”

August 13, 2010 2 comments

The surprise came when I checked out wowprogress, to see how much our pitiful “progress” worth. It’s #23545. Our 8/12HM on 10-man it’s #21529, out of 61900 guilds. It means that about 2/3 of the guilds have not progressed as much in 25-men as us. But the real surprise is that our page contains PP kill too. We did not kill PP on Wednesday, but enough of our members did it in various /trade pugs. So we are less progressed in 25 men than an average trade pug. Since we are in top 1/3, you can’t say “it’s because you just suck”. It means that 2/3 of the guilds are worse than a trade pug in 25 men progression.

- Gevlon

“Why We Blog” or “A Love Letter to A Name”

July 2, 2010 2 comments

My post the other day on what WoW can learn from RDR seemed to illicit an interesting spectrum of comments. The responses ranged from complete agreement to thinly veiled resentment. Although I find it odd that the responses were so varied in scope and context, I was pleased to see that the people who wrote them were not only civil, but that they had very carefully and lucidly articulated their arguments. There was an actual discussion on the issue, a clash of ideas, a symphony of thoughts. Kiryn’s response was particularly interesting and then along came “A Name” with the following:

“This is the same gimmick as the Spiderman games. You wander around, someone yells for your help, you go save them, or not. Basically the reason more people don’t do this is because after you’ve saved the wife from hanging once, for no reward to speak of, you just don’t care anymore. Fact of the matter is, half the time these random quests get you accidentally killed while you’re on the way to do something far more important, like chasing live bounties or pursuing getaway bandits.”

Then you have choice, or more importantly the illusion of choice. One could argue that MMOs are filled to the brim with choices, you could level in any direction you wanted, in any particular order, siding with any of the many factions. If you are on a quest, that quest dictates where you must go and what you must do. But you are at least afforded the option of choosing which quest you finish, and which one save for later. In the same vein, if you are pursuing bandits or live bounties, and you come across a random quest, you have a choice. You can weigh the options and decide for yourself which mission you wish to attempt. You may think the former is far more important, I would respectfully disagree. I think helping the poor bastard and his hanging spouse is more important to me, and I would change course to engage in the random mission instead.

“Basically its just crap. Your whole basis for this writeup is years out of date, played out, and entirely useless unless you find a game developer willing to put out random CHAINS, which then affect the WHOLE GAME, and cause something to be SUBSTANTIALLY DIFFERENT once completed. Furthermore, they should never show up again. If I save some dude’s wife from hanging, I never want to see that quest again.”

You feel that the only way random quests will work is if they are done in chains. Again, I respectfully disagree. You feel that things should be substantially different when you complete the quest, and again, I disagree. Consider WoW. In the thousands of quests you are likely to have completed thus far, how many have made a substantial difference to anything? In Northshire, despite millions of human rogues, mages and warriors fireballing and hacking their way through the near-hapless diseased wolves, the wolves still remain. In Loch Modan, despite the fact that you saved the dam from the Dark Iron Dwarves and their Seaforium charges, they are still an ever-present danger. In Blackrock Mountain, you vanquished Blackwing and his seven minions, but the very next Tuesday (and every Tuesday since), he magically reappears, and threatens the world again.

You claim that once you save the husband and the wife, you never want to see them again. What of the daily quests in WoW? How many have you completed? Which ones have you done regularly for reputation gains or items gained through higher reputation? That doesn’t annoy you a lot worse than a random quest in which you have to save a family from marauding bandits? What about the Kill Ten Rats cookie-cutter quest mechanic. Shouldn’t you, by definition, be sick of MMOs because regardless how how creative they manage to make the monster, at the end of the day, killing precisely 10 of them is what will do the trick. Except it won’t, because somehow it never does.

The point is that you cannot claim my argument to be at fault or being “just crap”, because the current MMO design does not facilitate substantially changing world events through player (inter)action. A random quest chain does not have to bring about game-altering changes for it to be effective. I think you and I are suggesting the same thing but in separate capacities. There needs to be impact in MMOs, some form of a tangible reminder that what we did mattered, and wasn’t just a mechanism for experience gain so we could move on to the next (non)crisis. And in that I agree, if I rescue that husband and wife, I don’t want to come across them again. In fact, it would be nice if the next time I visited a major city, I find them selling fruit on the streets, grateful to me because without me they wouldn’t be alive or have each other. That small gesture right there would be enough of an impact for me, it doesn’t need to be substantially game-changing.

“Also you compare RDR, which is basically a single player game with no substantial multiplayer or MMO content and only the re-playability you can come up with yourself, to WOW, which currently entertains 11 million people at the same time, changes every 2-3 months, constantly re-balances and reinvents itself. Why do the quest givers stand in the same place giving the same quest? Cause you can only do it once, but the game is shared with the other 10.999 million people still, several thousand of which may be on your server at any one time. There are around 4-5000 quest in WoW. If even half of them were randomly encountered (Which some are actually, in the form of drops from monsters you just happened to kill) you would spend your whole life just LOOKING for them.”

First, the topic of the post was not: “Why WoW needs to be more like Read Dead Redemption”, the topic was “What WoW can learn from Read Dead Redemption”; it is like when I suggested that WoW adopt the spawn mechanisms from Borderlands, because they made more sense in an MMO context than mobs appearing out of thin air.

Second, I understand why quest givers stand in one place and why player experience should be generally similar; but that does not mean there cannot be any randomness involved. By all means stick to what you know best, hell stick to what we as players know best. But at least give us the option of randomly coming across a flaming wagon under attack with kobolds and their goddamn candles!

Finally, You stated there are about 5,000 quests and WoW, and then made an argument around the premise that “if half of them were randomly generated…” This is where I disagree, I think that would be a nonsensical number of randomly generated quests. Consider Northrend. Each zone has roughly 80-100 quests. Even if 10% of them were random, it would give the game a flavor it currently lacks, and it would still allow players enough content to level through even if they never came across (or completely ignored) every random encounter. My point wasn’t that random quests should be forced on the player population. My point was that there should be a choice for doing them, if you so please.

“Gevlon Will Appreciate This Level of Stupid” or “Spiked Greatstaff of Stupid”

June 23, 2010 Leave a comment

If you can believe it, this is item 1 of 17 purchased in the same exact manner that day. It's a small turnover, but its adds up quickly... unless of course you come across a high-value item for cheap... (see below)

The second example is part luck, and part uninformed idiots on the Auction House. As you can see, net profit is 4,450 gold per hilt bought low and sold high.

“The Biggest PvPenis” or “Static vs. Dynamic”

June 20, 2010 7 comments

Returning to WoW

Since I came back to WoW, I have enjoyed a few key features introduced since I last weathered Azeroth’s tribulations. The Dungeon Finder is one such tool, and though I will religiously do a 5-man daily to accumulate those precious Emblems of Frost, the novelty wore off after a while, and the unused 400 Emblems of Triumph in my backpack became enough of an indication that the Dungeon Finder tool had outlived his functionality for my main.

So I started looking for alternate means to enjoy various other aspects of WoW. One of these was the leveling of a new character, a mage called Septimus (he was created originally as a bank alt on the 7th of July, 2007; hence Septimus). That too has it’s charms, as I am taking the time to explore each story and side-quest in WoW, trying to take in the breathing world before Deathwing comes along and fucks everything up.

Arathi Basin and The Burning Crusade

One other element that I have dabbled into with increasingly frequency is PvP. I have played World of Warcraft off and on for almost six years now. In those six years, I have PvP’ed during those lull moments in the game’s history, with varying degrees of success. It started with AB-premades. Our guild had killed C’Thun 4 months prior. We had 7/15 on farm in Naxx-60, and with The Burning Crusade looming around the corner, raiding became more of a chore with every passing day. People stopped showing up, those that showed up didn’t have their heart in the game. I was beginning to feel like I was losing all semblance of a cohesive guild identity. At first I was comfortable with the idea. After all, The Burning Crusade would necessitate that we remove 15 players from our ranks as it supported the 25-man raid structure and not the 40-man raid structure. But then I saw less than 10 people log on a primary raiding night, and I knew something had to be done.

And so the Arathi Basin farm group was created. There were close to 25 of us, rotating in and out, depending on who was online at the time, and we started learning the ropes of Arathi Basin. In the beginning one or two days, the battleground was a sweet and sour experience. We 5-capped a game, which gave us great confidence and momentum… to survive and regroup after we were 5-capped a few games later. By the end of December 2006, we were rampaging through Arathi Basin. The raid was divided into 5 parties as follows:

  • Group 1: Stables – 1 individual (preferably a rogue or cat)
  • Group 2: Lumber Mill – 3 individuals (two DPS, one healer)
  • Group 3: Gold Mine – 3 individuals (two DPS, one healer)
  • Group 4: Blacksmith – 4 individuals (three DPS, one healer)
  • Group 5: Hit Squad – 4 individuals (three DPS, one healer OR four DPS with a hybrid class that could heal moderately).

Tim Buckley cracks me up!

The function of groups 1-4 is fairly obvious. They would cap their targets and stay at the node to defend. The work, however, was cut out for the Hit Squad. They would ride with group 4 (Blacksmith), and depending on the scenario, several things could happen:

  • No (or light) opposition at Blacksmith, Gold Mine and Lumber Mill fight in deadlock or leaning towards us – charge Farm
  • No (or light) opposition at Blacksmith, Gold Mine or Lumber Mill in trouble – hit the respective node (if both in trouble, hit Lumber Mill) and reinforce
  • Heavy opposition at Blacksmith, reinforce Blacksmith team

The Hit Squad basic function was to serve as a traveling band of miscreants, bringing death and destruction to any and all challengers in our four primary nodes. If we secured all four nodes, then we would call up four additional reserves (1 from Lumber Mill, 1 from Gold Mine, 2 from Blacksmith), add them to the Hit Squad, and all eight would endlessly hit Farm, even if it meant endless deaths, because as long as you kept the enemy focused on holding the Farm, the pressure was taken off of the other nodes. In extreme cases or really dumb opposition, we even left just one person to defend each node, with eleven individuals taking on their farm. If we got four nodes in the first 90 seconds of combat, we normally ended up with a 5-cap win.

If, however, the Horde was moderately organized, and we could get only three nodes, the focus would be to get Blacksmith, Lumber Mill, and Stables. Lumber Mill, especially with the distance slider turned up, served as a warning system for the other two nodes, a liberty you cannot enjoy with the Mine. The groups would remain the same, except group 3 (Gold Mine) would split, with one member from the group reinforcing Group 1, 2 and 4 at Stables, Lumber Mill and Blacksmith. The Hit Squad would continue to reinforce nodes as needed or bum-rush into certain death at Farm, or utter uncertainty at the Gold Mine, the objective being to keep applying pressure to the Horde-held nodes so they never got a chance to attack ours. In a game like that we got a lot of HKs, and almost always came out with a 3-cap, drawn-out win.

The group had to be very tightly controlled and the slightest deviation from the plan could mean the difference between capping or losing a node. With such strict rules for PvP, morale management was a fairly major aspect of the pre-made. I had to rotate people between nodes to try and ensure everyone would see each node as everyone got cycled through it. While I tried to make it fun for everyone, I didn’t enjoy it as much because of the sheer level of organization that went into it. That is part of the reason I have such respect for Gevlon’s now-defunct PvP project and Bee’s notion that PvP cannot be fun.

Our win:lose ration over the course of 5 weeks of Arathi Basin PvP was 108:3. We lose 3 games in all, and we lost all three in the first two days.

PvP and Wrath of the Lich King

I can’t afford to do the afore-mentioned any longer. Partly because I am no longer the GM of a guild with 200-odd members. And partly because I simply can’t be bothered to lead anything anymore. Being a guild leader for three years does that to you. That being said, I have been PvP’ing with increasing frequency in the last few weeks, and it is remarkable how much more complex the game has become since those early days in Arathi Basin.

I started small, participating in a few Wintergrasp battles. And that was important, because it taught me the importance of group strategy and resilience. I got absolutely slaughtered by any rogue that could sink his daggers into me. More times than I care to remember, I was stun-locked from 100%-0% with both my lolbubble and trinket on cooldown. After that I invested my 1,500 or so Stonekeeper Shards and accumulated honor to get myself a full set of PvP gear, getting my resilience just above 900. I do much better now, and I can’t recall the last time I was stunlocked 100%-0% by an undead rogue named “Afkbathroom” (you bastard).

From there I went on to queuing for random battlegrounds. I know it is hard to believe, but up until three weeks ago, I didn’t even know what Island of Conquest or Strand of the Ancients looked like. I also started a 2v2 team called ‘Turban of Vengeance’, an homage to my old beloved guild, ‘Cross of Vengeance’. My partner in crime, Valisa, is a veteran PvP’er with several titles and accolades under his belt. Our initial run was last week, and in 14 games, we were 8 wins to 6 losses. Not bad for the first week, I think.

But the one thing I have noticed consistently in PvP is that no matter how many times you run a battleground, it is never the same. Every time you enter the skirmish, the experience is different, there are no pre-determined set of abilities that the boss character uses, there are no rules, there are series of events that define the experience (e.g., Kel’Thuzad will sodomize you at 35% health etc.) Each time I enter a PvP zone, I am unsure of the outcome, I have to react to the situation dynamically and on the fly, and I have to respond to threats in a logical manner, not in any pre-conceived pattern dictated by static variables and triggered by player actions. And in that, I completely agree with Christopher Cavelle’s assessment, that “the true test of any player’s skill is pvp”. I have been a PvE player for a very long time, and I know I am a fantastic healer. But there is just something about the dynamic, volatile, utter madness nature of PvP that piques my curiosity and gives my e-peen an e-boner. And in all bluntness, PvE, in my humble opinion, does not even come close to the sheer level of skill needed to be a capable PvP player, especially a healer.

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