Thursday, July 28, 2011

Further Trials of Telon

I've been continuing my unlikely trial of Vanguard and I'm definitely seeing some things that I like, but also some things that I don't.  A few comments at the two week mark, which would probably be the end of the line for me if I had to pay the full $15/month to continue:
  • Vanguard is not afraid to kick the solo player's rear.  My Disciple is supposedly one of the tougher solo classes out there, but I've died in quests as early as level 5 because quests will not hesitate to swarm players with additional mobs.  On the good side, it's nice to be challenged, and this increased difficulty can help encourage players to actually group while leveling.  On the downside, even when making rapid progress I've occasionally been ganked by rapidly respawning mobs, which could start to get frustrating when the death penalty (exp?) kicks in at level 11.
  • Interestingly, Vanguard does not appear to be that hardcore about travel.  I'm supposedly going to have access to a mount shortly after I get out of the newbie Isle.  There are also flying mount rentals - in lieu of the AFK-autobird, players can rent a gryphon with a five minute duration.  Arriving safely and within the time limit remain the player's responsibility.  There also appears to be some sort of teleport system, though I can't use it yet.  Whatever the case, I think they've got a good balance between trivial travel (like we see in WoW these days) and prohibitive travel (where you might not be able to do what you planned to solely because it would take you all night to get there). 
    Even the newbie zone has rental flying mounts.
  • I'm really enjoying the non-combat questing options; Vanguard offers both crafting and diplomacy quests, and it's always refreshing to see a game where not every problem is solved with a sword.  That said, neither is perfect.  The Diplomacy minigame is just involved enough to keep me focused on the actual gameplay, and away from the text panel where the actual conversation is going on.  I'm also often struggling to actually find the NPC's I'm supposed to talk to, which is by design but which also gets old. 

    The crafting is better, though I definitely feel that there's a lot I'm learning by trial and error.  Unfortunately, one of those things is that I appear to have chosen the wrong specialization, Blacksmith, under the mistaken impression that my Disciple wore heavy armor.  I'm probably going to stick it out to crafting level 10 as a blacksmith to complete the newbie storyline and then either start over with writs on the outside or leave the crafting to the profesionals.

  • The quest system is definitely more like what we had back in 2009 than today.  Questgivers do have punctuation over their heads, but their locations are not automatically tracked on the minimap.  Instead of brightly lit highlights of exactly what to kill on each point of the map, players can expect a compass heading to the correct general area at best, and sometimes no guidance at all.  On the less fortunate side, quest items on the ground are often small and hard to see.  I suppose this contributes indirectly to difficulty, since you may be around longer looking for stuff and therefore have to fight more mobs, but overall you're fighting the camera more than the mobs.
I haven't gotten off the newbie island yet, and I've heard that I'm going to have to find a group in order to do so, which could turn into a deal-killer.  In some ways it's encouraging that I did not make it to the end of the trial area, albeit with detours into Rift and Runes of Magic, within two weeks.  Then again, I still haven't seen enough of the game to be sure that I want to invest money - and more importantly time - in it, which is a problem when that's precisely what I have to do to learn more. 

Fortunately for my little goblin, I was heading back to EQ2 Norrath anyway, and I decided that I could somehow eke $5 worth of entertainment out of upgrading that subscription to the SOE-wide Station Pass.  My guess is that quality of life for solo players will start to outweigh the novelty of a new, old-school open world to explore, but I'd like to at least get off the darned island before I make that call. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Mob to Quest Exp Ratios

One of the things that was really striking to me during the recent Rift retrial was the ratio of exp per mob kill to exp per quest completion. 

At level 38, I was getting about 800 exp per kill with rested bonus (400 if/when I ran out) and about 3600-3800 exp for turning in your average quest.  For the traditional kill ten rats quest, this means that a third of my exp came from the quest reward, a third from the mob kills, and a third from rested exp (a mechanic that I think is out-dated, but that's another discussion).  Sometimes, you might get 2-3 quests in the same camp of mobs that you can complete simultaneously, which makes the situation a bit more favorable to the questing, but factor in travel times and Rift is a game where you can actually level faster by grinding mobs (especially with a good AOE farming build), rather than questing. 

On the opposite extreme sits Runes of Magic, which I jumped into over the weekend for a double exp event.  At level 52, a mob kill was ringing in at maybe 300-400 exp (doubled for the weekend event), and quest completions are worth closer to 80,000-90,000 (i.e. 200 mob kills per quest complete, as compared to 10).  This steep curve exists in part because the free-to-play ROM has a cash store item for resetting the daily quest limit, and therefore does not want players bypassing quests. 

(Interestingly, there's an argument to be made that bonuses to item drop rates are actually more significant than bonuses to mob kill exp, because the latter is such a small part of your progress, while the former gets you daily quest items that can be turned in for much larger awards when your cap permits.) 

Where to peg this ratio is an interesting decision.  In some ways, mob kill exp is almost incidental to other forms of gameplay - whether you're questing, harvesting, or just trying to cross the road, you will probably kill some mobs somewhere along the way.  In that context, though, it seems especially odd for Rift - which was intended to showcase spontaneous rift and invasion content - to weight the incidental kill so heavily. 

There's a balance to be struck between rewarding players for doing this content with a nice exp boost (though honestly I didn't find that I got much exp for minor rifts or even zone invasions) and not pushing them out of the level range for the quests they're working on.  Then again, Trion will have some unhappy players if the coming AAXP mechanic strongly favors grinding non-elite mobs over daily quests, rifts, or other things that players actually do at level 50. 

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Limiting Preorders to Limit Queues

Both Gordon @ We Fly Spitfires and the Sypster see a conspiracy to create artificial demand in EA's alleged decision to limit pre-orders of SWTOR.  Syp writes:
"BioWare’s position is that this is somehow to limit the number of people for early access, but yeah, it doesn’t hold water.  There’s no reason to limit supplies of digital products unless you seriously cannot facilitate all the players for it (which I doubt since the same game’s going to have to facilitate the same number of people at some point) or you want to increase demand."
In fairness, marketing departments never met a controversy they didn't like, but there is a legitimate reason to limit pre-orders: ensuring that your server team knows how many servers to bring up on headstart launch day. 

When the marketing department offers access to headstart day as a bonus for paid pre-orders, they create an expectation that pre-order customers will actually be able to access the servers on pre-order day.  The problem is that headstart day is the one day in the entire life of the game when absolutely everyone online will be stuck in the same zone or handful of zones for newbies.  For this reason, games that use the traditional server model routinely set lower population caps for that first day. 

(Games where everyone logs into one server and then gets sorted out into as many copies of the newbie zone as are needed do not have this problem - I'm not sure which model SWTOR uses.) 

Players who opted to pay in advance for the pre-order rather than waiting to see the reviews understandably feel that they are not receiving the access they paid for when they find themselves waiting for hours behind hundreds of players in the queue.  Thus, word of mouth goes negative, and in many cases the game ends up with too many servers as the team adds more than they need in response.

In fact, I can think of one major, successful MMO launch that offered a paid headstart but that did not end up with the incorrect number of servers as a result - LOTRO.  The reason was a deadline; players got to keep their characters from open beta, but only if they pre-ordered. Thus, Turbine had the luxury of knowing precisely how many servers they needed, and never had to merge a single server. 

If EA is making a mistake here, it is probably that their cap is too high, assuming that there is a real cap to begin with and that they don't lift it altogether in response to the controversy. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Rift Re-Trial At 40

I made good use of the Rift Re-trial week, advancing my Cleric from 36 to 40 with most of the quests of Moonshade Highlands as well as the portions of the world event I could get at.  Overall, it was a good experience that leaves me reasonably convinced that I could enjoy another month or more in Telara... but not in a huge hurry to take that trip right this minute. 

Soul Survival
At Magson's suggestion, I respeced the Cabalist build I'd been experimenting with into the famous AOE-grinding Inquisitor/Justicar.  I agree that the Inquisitor is obviously more powerful and effective - I pulled multiple mobs, somehow failed to Vex enough, died, ran back, and still leveled way faster in this build than any other I've tried because the build literally kills four mobs as fast as it kills one.  I actually had a lot more fun playing the less powerful Cabalist, perhaps precisely because it felt weaker.  This is the downside to the highly flexible soul system - some builds will simply be objectively better than others, leaving the player to choose between interesting and effective. 

Aside: part of the increased leveling speed may have been due to the encouragement to kill more mobs just because I could.  At my level, a mob kill with rested exp was awarding around 800 XP, while a quest completion was worth upper 3000's.  Where I previously tried to pull carefully to minimize time spent in combat with extraneous mobs, with this build they were simply free exp and cash. 

I did finally pick up the cash to purchase my fourth role slot, which means that I can now tank, heal, nuke-DPS or stab-DPS on the same single character, if I ever wanted to.  I don't know that I'll ever want to tank, but I suppose it's good to have the option.  My guess is that my four specs after my next round of respecs will end up being:
- Nuke: Cabalist/12 Justicar/ remainder Sentinel
- Melee: Druid/12 Justicar/remainder Shaman (or possibly 31+ Druid/12 Justicar/14+ Shaman)
- Healer: 31+ Purifier/12 Inquisitor/Warden (amount of Warden TBD, I like to have either 12 Inq or 8 Cab for mana regen abilities, and the other stuff I get for Inq feels more interesting)
- Tank: Full Justicar, most off-tree points to Shaman, undecided on a third soul

Unfortunately, the soul system has left me feeling that I'd happily trade in eight reasonably well implemented, versatile and effective options that I'm not that excited about for one option that I really get excited to play, as I have in LOTRO, WoW (twice over), ROM, and EQ2.  If Rift's 32 souls were instead 32 classes and I had to pick just one, it likely would not be any of the eight Cleric souls.  Because I chose a calling, rather than a class, I've ended up in an odd situation in which the healer is probably the most interesting of my four roles; not the best fit when my schedule keeps me primarily confined to solo play, with only the occasional zone invasion where it is actually useful to switch over from a hybrid DPS role that can off-heal into a real healer. 

Four Roles: I can has them.
Roads Diverge
The challenge for Trion is that it's a crowded marketplace.  The month of WoW I picked up to finish the proto-drake and my second level 85 lasts for another day or so.  I've got some more Vanguard trial time, which will likely determine whether I sub up for EQ2 alone or pay for the Station upgrade to juggle both games.  I'm in no huge hurry to LOTRO right now, but there is an expansion arriving at some point in the fall, and there are other games that I'm also not paying a sub for. 

Then there's Rift, a high quality, well-polished game that's quietly getting better with more features almost every month, but somehow always seems to come up number 2 or 3 in my queue.  Ironically, the steady stream of patches encourages me to wait - if I'm going to pay for just one more month of Rift this year, it might as well be December when they've added the most updates, such as the possibly ill-advised AA system

That said, I am reasonably impressed with what I'm seeing.  The world event seems well implemented, and I was able to celebrate my new level with an epic level 40 necklace that has passive water-breathing as a side perk - this souvenir will probably stay in my bags for the life of the character to deal with those pesky swimming quests.  I got to hang out with Ferrel and Iniquity for a few days, and I got to see some pretty sights.  One of these days, I'll be in the mood for more Rift, and I don't expect to be disappointed when that day comes. 
A crossroads for now, and a quick peek at the next zone on my tour wishlist.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Rift Alternate Advancement For Advancement's Sake?

Part of Scott Hartsman's Rift State of the Game is a plan to introduce alternate advancement at the game's level cap.  While I am a non-raider who does enjoy continued progression - the theoretical target audience for this system - I am not convinced that this is a good idea. 

I'm curious what Scott thinks of the AA system over in his old game, EQ2, where players arrive at level 90 with less than half of the current AA cap and can expect a lengthy grind to obtain class-defining abilities in their AA trees.  Unlike gear, there is no short-cut involving plat or guildmates willing to hand you loot - your AA will remain substandard until you've played "enough" to fix the problem.  This is fine if you're happy with what you're doing while you play and less fine if having a minimum number of AA is a balance requirement for your friends to be allowed to bring you on raids. 

Meanwhile, the balance implications are significant.  In the short term, this is yet another form of vertical progression that will make the repeatable content that is intended to keep players in the game easier and easier with each passing day.  In the long term, it's not just group players who face content balanced around the assumption that players have AA - either all future content will assume some baseline level of AA or all future content will be easier than intended for current players.  The former is a problem for new players (who would have to stop and grind AA before continuing to grind levels so they can get to the cap and grind more AA).  The latter is a problem for current players (who will find each new expansion's difficulty ruined by their efforts in the previous one). 

I understand the appeal of the alternate advancement - it's a way to give players permanent progression in chunks that are much smaller than additional levels (which would have an especially big effect on an open ended class system like Rift's).  It is possible that the system could even be used for something unique and interesting, though it's equally possible that it will be reduced to boring but mandatory stat bonuses.  In either case it is unlikely that the game will break on the day the system comes out.  In the long run, though, Trion might end up regretting the decision to add more vertical progression solely for the sake of progression.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Rift Retrial Thoughts

With Rift running about five months after the game's headstart kicked off, Trion apparently felt that it was time to offer a free retrial.  If your account has been inactive for a month or so, you're automagically back online through July 19th.  (Note that clicking the re-subscribe button on the page Trion put together to promote this event forfeits the retrial time and charges you immediately.)  I didn't uninstall the client, but I had 1.3 GB in patches to download, but after that I was immediately back in game.

What's new
The latest world event is up and running with a bunch of daily quests to go close death and water rifts.  (At level 37, I've yet to encounter a water rift, but the death ones are pretty prevalent.)  The easily completed daily quests are good for about 150 tokens, with minipets in the 250-500 range along with some cosmetic armor and gear with actual stats.  These quests are also worth a hefty chunk of exp - I gained about half a level during two days worth of them.  This is definitely a good thing if you're coming back to the game after stalling out on the leveling curve, or if you want an alt to skip content you did on your first character, though I am starting to wonder if I'm going to outlevel the Moonshade Highlands before I get through the local quests.

I respecced the Cleric yet again, shifting into the Cabalist caster DPS class (one of the last souls I have never used as a primary in a build).  I wasn't expecting much because the class uses a fair amount of AOE and channeled spells, which is not necessarily the best bet for soloing.  The difference here is that the Cabalist's main channeled spell is cheap and spammable.  I threw in some Justicar and Sentinel for durability (passive healing from all my heals, and two instant cast life nukes that give me convictions for the self-healing doctrine), and at a minimum I've come up with yet another build that isn't exactly like anything I've tried in other games.  (Current spec link if you're curious.)

Perspective on a return trip
Looking back after spending a few months away from the game, two points stand out.

The first is that the actual rifts are a completely different experience than they were at launch.  Between massive crowds, mob scaling, and since-nerfed AOE healing mechanics, I found that rifts and especially zone invasion events frequently felt under-challenging.  This may or may not still be true in areas with newbies or level 50's, but the scene in Moonshade Highlands was scattered minor rifts with 1-3 players per.  The encounters definitely feel more balanced, and I haven't really missed the zone events - maybe I'll be glad to see one if one finally does pop up, rather than being tired of having them over-run the zone every hour on the hour. 

On the flipside, I'm 37 levels into the game, I've tried just about every Cleric soul at some point, and I'm still changing my primary role almost every level.  On the plus side, I do enjoy making new builds, and the soul system allows me to do so without losing my progress and starting over.  It's also a lot harder to pick a "wrong" calling, because you have so many options. 

That said, I identify far more closely with my less flexible characters from other games - or even my WoW and ROM characters who can swap to two very different roles via their respective systems - than my Rift Cleric, who changes so often that I don't really have an identity for her.  Also, I chose the Cleric specifically because I wanted versatility, and because I wanted to make sure that I could be willing to use at least some of the non-DPS roles in groups.  It seemed like a safe bet because Clerics can do everything, where my experience with Mages and Rogues has been that I like one or two builds but am not that interested in many of the other options, including the group-friendly ones.  Perhaps I would have been better off picking a less flexible character with one role I really like for solo play and other utility where I can find it. 

Overall, it's not a bad time in the game's life for Trion to host a retrial.  Whether I come back for a longer stay remains to be seen. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Early Vanguard Trial Impressions

Vanguard - despite its reputation as a harsh, old-school game with a dwindling population - has been vaguely on my list of things to try someday for a while now.  I'd been hoping for a free-to-play relaunch, but SOE has taken that option off the table, and honestly I may be better off with the $20 Station Pass offer anyway; if it's not worth paying $5 more than I'm already paying for EQ2 many months, it's not worth my time, and this way the game doesn't get hit with all of EQ2X's cash shop antics.

The game's free trial is back online now that the dust has settles from the SOE hack, so I decided to take it for a spin. 

Searching for character
The refreshingly varied list of character races include cat, wolf, and fox people, along with goblins, giants, and other fantasy staples. 

I wanted to try out a class with a good reputation for soloing to mitigate the difficulty, since I don't expect to be grouping much more than I do in other games (read: not all the time).  My first attempt was a Necromancer, your typical ranged DPS with pet.  I somehow keep forgetting that I hate to play ranged classes with pets because I end up feeling like my job is to watch the NPC do the work of actually fighting mobs, and this lasted about four levels. 

My next attempt is Disciple - a melee healer, with normal mana-based heals supplemented by heals on a melee combo point-like mechanic.  This is going much better, and it's moderately likely that this second character will stick, if for no other reason than because I'm not prepared to spend the time it takes to test drive all of the game's classes.  (Many classes don't get key abilities until a good way through the game's level curve.) 

It's worth nothing that Vanguard classes appear to be ahead of their time - DPS healer archetypes like the Disciple and the Blood Mage are increasingly popular in more recent games like Warhammer and Rift. 

Complexity for its own sake?

The character sheet has six panels, half of which have multiple tabs, and some of which aren't where I expect to find them

On the one hand, I can definitely see what appeals to players who miss the old school days.  Vanguard has a crafting system like EQ2's, only this version features more steps, components and subcombines.  There's also a "diplomacy" minigame in which a number-based card system is used to model players negotiating with NPC's.  Adventurers can expect a group dungeon before they hit level 10.  On the other hand, some of the complexity feels redundant. 

Almost anything the player does advances multiple skills, factions, diplomacy standings, etc.  Characters have four separate sets of gear, stats and exp (adventuring, harvesting, crafting, and diplomacy, with an extra tab for your mount and appearance gear), each of which can be further equipped with containers of varying types.  I failed a crafting combine early because I got an error message saying that I needed a "rigging tool" to fix something that had happened, and I made the mistake of buying a second toolbelt to put the missing device into.  Apparently you can have more than one belt, but you can only use the tools from one belt in a single crafting effort per combine, - I ended up losing my materials because a tool I needed was in a belt I didn't realize was inactive. 

Some of this stuff isn't more challenging or more strategic, just complex for the sake of complexity.  One wonders if the game's notoriously rough launch might have gone a bit smoother if someone had asked whether some of these stats and tabs and mechanics were really adding to the game. 

Does the trial play to the game's strengths?
A familiar looking quest system
On his new Vanguard podcast, Ardwulf suggests that the game's "Isle of Dawn" free trial area demonstrates how the game plays, but fails to capture how the game feels.  Having started the trial, I definitely see what he means.  The starter quest series (one each for adventurers, crafters, and diplomats) are linear and just like every other quest-based MMO out there these days.  The confined trial approach locks players out of the open sandbox world that Ardwulf and Quert claim is the game's best feature, instead putting a generic questing experience with somewhat generic lore (all of the game's races, which have lore of their own in their subscriber-only starting areas, have to be willing to take these quests) front and center. 

I'm probably going to spend a bit more time with the trial before making any decisions, but it looks like players need to upgrade to a real account to get a real view of Telon.  That's an unfortunate situation for a game that is looking to attract more players.

An early quest calls for players to loot a toolbox.  If you were there in the real world, it would be easy to see (and you'd also be free to mistakenly bring the questgiver any of the other abandoned tools in the area).  In your standard 3rd person MMO interface, the primary challenge in this quest is figuring out which small part of the landscape will accept a mouse click.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Incorrect EQ2 Expansion Predictions Ironically Were Vaguely Correct

In my post of incorrect summer 2011 convention predictions, I actually got a few points right about EQ2's forthcoming expansion.  The game will indeed be getting Beastlords, and there was no increase to the level cap, but the expansion will arrive in November 2011; way earlier than my May 2012 prediction. I correctly assumed that SOE could not possibly finish the promised Velious content updates and also create as much additional content as they have shipped in previous expansions anytime sooner than May.  It just never occurred to me that they would go ahead and release a paid expansion anyway, without additional content and a mere nine months after the last time they hit players up for $40. 

Producer David Georgeson has a roadmap for the game which actually includes a fair amount of content and features between the February 2011 launch of DOV and the presumptive launch of the expansion after Age of Discovery in November 2012.  Georgeson says that he would like to transition the game to quarterly updates with new features and content arriving in smaller chunks as it is ready, rather than saving it up to bundle together in a large box.  The material he is proposing is well suited to this model, but his publisher does not appear willing to take the chance that players will decline to pay for stuff they don't want. 

I might be okay with the business model decision, except that it creates pressure to pick the flashy sports car that does not have enough seats for your family over the less exciting car that actually gets you where you need to go.  Reaction to the new class, which Wilhelm nailed years ago apparently, seems positive, but consider the opportunity cost.  Developing an ambitious pet system, with taming, talents, loyalty, and advancement is going to take a large amount of time, as will attempting to find a niche for the new class amongst EQ2's crowded field of 24 existing classes.  Meanwhile, the benefits will be confined to a new class that no one currently plays, at the expense of the twenty four classes that represent 100% of existing characters. 

I don't think this makes much sense as a development strategy for a seven year old game, but SOE apparantly thinks it's a good strategy for selling expansion boxes.  And, if that doesn't work, there's always the increased AA cap to force players to pay for the annual expansion, even if the new AA's are just passive increases to DPS that further inflate the time it takes for new players to prepare for endgame.  As someone with no interest in re-rolling as a Beastlord and limited interest in NPC Mercenaries who will probably lack the AI needed to help with the heavily scripted instances of the last three expansions, I'm not feeling especially excited about paying for the features in this "feature" expansion. 

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Counterproductive Death Penalties

The prolific Nils has a few things to say about MMO death penalties.  At the risk of trivializing all that work, there's one idea I want to focus on (which Nils himself pullquotes) - the concept that an ideal penalty is an effective deterrent without actually harming the player or the game experience in the long run.  It's a great idea, but one that I think is tough to implement in practice.

I've argued in the past that basically all death penalties that anyone has implemented in an MMO, whether gold, exp loss, gear decay, or even permadeath, can be described as a loss of the time it will take to get back to the state you were at before your untimely demise (whether that means killing a few mobs or re-rolling from level 1).  In principle, developers could tack on a monetary component - for example, branding all future characters on the account with the scarlet noob label, so that the player would have to pay for a new account to escape their reputation - but I suspect that this option would not be tolerated by the overwhelming majority of the market.

An Example in ROM
Of the MMO's I play, the harshest death penalty is probably in Runes of Magic, where you suffer 5% of your next level in exp debt.  A third of this amount is forgiven if you loot your tombstone, which does not expire, even if you log off and don't come back for months, so there's no irresponsible pressure to stay logged in to collect it at that moment.  Assuming that you did not die due to a bug or a quest spawning an elite mob on top of you with no warning, the system is fair, and only requires the player to continue doing something that they enjoy doing anyway (obtaining exp).  The problem is that the system is telling me that I should play the game in an overly cautious manner that ultimately makes the game less fun.

At the moment, my level 52 druid is looking at about 9 million exp for her next level, which means a bit over 300K per death in debt, assuming that I recover my tombstone before dying again.  A typical daily quest is going to award somewhere from 40-70K exp, so I'm looking at a full day's worth of daily quests to pay off the debt.  (Another option is to join a guild with a library in its castle, which forgives about 100K/hour of AFK time at my level, if you have something else to do in another window or offline while you wait.)  The message is clear - stick to easy stuff with zero chance of failure or spend hours of time paying for your ambition.

As I've said repeatedly since I've revisited ROM, there are times when no risk, low rewards gameplay is vaguely amusing.  The real fun, though, is pushing the envelope to see what exactly I can pull off.  In general, at 52 I can beat level 47 elites and I can't beat level 48 elites, but there's no way to be sure unless I try.  If I do try and I'm wrong, I'm out 300K exp and faced with a choice of whether I want to risk doubling my losses.  If I don't try until I've gained a few more levels, it's likely that the eventual victory will end up not being all that challenging. 

The bottom line is that I do less of what I enjoy about the game because of the penalty structure, and I ultimately spend less time playing the game as a result. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Early Firelands Daily Quest Impressions

I was out of town for July 4th, and didn't get much gaming in, but I did finally get around to starting off the new Firelands daily quest series that was added in patch 4.2. The initial phase in the campaign, which can be done in a single day, introduces the campaign by the druids of Hyjal against the minions of Ragnaros.  These quests are, like all of the Cataclysm content, well implemented, high production value, and were actually pleasantly a bit more difficult than your average Cataclysm fare, to the point where my partially-dungeon-geared mage was occasionally using cooldowns to survive. 

After completing the introduction - and unlocking a vendor with an epic ilvl 365 neck for a trivial amount of gold - players begin a series of six phases of daily quest token grinding.  Blizzard definitely spent an above average amount of effort on this project - each phase adds a new set of dailies, and each set offers a randomized selection from a pool to ensure that players don't get bored - it also appears that recurring NPC's will turn up during the festivities. 

Firelands Outlook
Unlike the Argent Tournament of the Wrath era, there is a definitive beginning, middle, and end of the event.  Quest tokens are not used to actually purchase the rewards, so players are not obligated to return once they've completed the quests.  (It does appear that the quests stick around, for those who want to revisit them for gold or rep.)  That said, one thing that I'm kind of on the fence about is that the number of quests available ramps up during the successive phases, as the new phase events are added to the previous pool. 

It's theoretically possible to finish the series in a single month, but that means not a lot to do in the initial phases and probably more than I want to do in a single day as more phases unlock.  The good news is that players can be increasingly choosy about the quests they don't like as the campaign advances, at the cost of making this a several month-long project.

Personally, daily quests in WoW tend to be something that I do while waiting for the dungeon queue to pop.  At that rate, it will take forever to complete the campaign, and I will have long since gotten similar or better gear from the dungeon vendors.  I will probably try to work on the thing just so I can see the content, but it remains to be seen whether my patience holds out as it becomes less and less meaningful to actually finish. 

Friday, July 1, 2011

Canada Day Resolutions For 2011

It's July 1st, which means it is once again time to hono(u)r our neighbors to the north with PVD's annual Canada Day Resolutions.  How have my New Years' Resolutions been going so far?  What's on deck for the rest of the year? 

WoW Resolutions

  • Get both my Gnome mage (currently 84) and my Tauren warrior (82) up to the new level cap of 85. 
    My mage came up just short of hitting the milestone this year for reasons I've discussed
  • Complete every normal and heroic 5-man at least once on both high level characters.     
  • Explore some of the revamped old world on new alts.
    Currently, I'm a bit over halfway through a tour of the newbie (1-12) zones with a small army of new alts.  My favorite lowbie specs right now are Subtlety Rogue, Survival Hunter, Destruction Warlock, and Discipline Priest.  It's possibly telling that none of those are traditional leveling specs, which tend to make life too easy.
The mage made it to the cap in early February, though I was in no hurry to get there.  The warrior hit the cap last week.  I have beaten all of the normal dungeons on the mage, but I'm nowhere near through the heroics, much less the two bonus heroics that arrived this spring.  I will probably finish this on my mage next month, and I'm not sure if I'm going to bother on the warrior or not.  As to the alt tour, I did finish the level 1-12 newbie zones, but the low difficulty of playing the game as intended really sapped my interest in continuing with this project.

Revised Resolutions are:
  • Finish the heroics (including new ones) on the mage.
  • Check out the new daily campaign in 4.2.

DDO/LOTRO Resolutions
  • Actually get a character into the mid-high levels.  [DDO]
  • Complete the Vol 3 Book 2 content in Enedwaith (added during the F2P switch)[LOTRO]
  • Await Isengard [LOTRO]
Fail.  I've barely logged into DDO this year.  I did spend some time in LOTRO because they made the missing chunks of Volume II soloable, but I still haven't quite caught up to the present.  That said, I've also not paid anything for either game this year, and they're both waiting for whenever I want to sign in.  LOTRO does have its expansion coming this fall, and I'm sure I will play it eventually, but this may or may not be at launch depending on what else I'm up to in October.  Revised resolution is to take both games at whatever pace I feel like, which is basically unfailable. 

EQ2 Live/Extended
  • Write fewer news posts about the EQ2 business model.
  • Either find a Velious bargain or skip the expansion entirely
I haven't completely steered clear of the EQ2 business model, which is still mind-boggling at times, but I think I've done a better job of not over-covering minor changes, especially on the EQ2X side.   Ironically, I think I would actually pay less money under the F2P model, but I'm not prepared to take a one way trip away from my new server (after LDL finally merged with Crushbone in February).  Despite my expectations, I actually picked up Velious and have enjoyed it.  In general, I log in when I have a full evening to spend on a PUG dungeon run, and I've been saving the solo content so that I will have something to do while I look.  Overall, it's been going pretty well so far. 

Revised Resolutions:
  • Wrap up the Velious solo timelines, including any new content as it arrives.  
  • Complete each heroic dungeon at least once (I've currently finished the first six, leaving the three KD zones and the new ones in Drunder), and try to finish up the major dungeon questlines.  
Runes of Magic

At the start of the year, I had no plans to return to ROM.  Probably the biggest thing I did to improve my experience was to stop worrying about keeping my secondary class up to date.  Focusing on the druid side, which is the side that I really enjoy anyway, literally halves the grind, and the result is a level that I can enjoy as a pleasant non-subscription diversion. 
Revised Resolutions:
  • Advance towards the level cap on the druid (or as close as I can get before the grind and/or the need for gear kills it)
  • Pick my third class (probably either Warden or Warrior, leaning Warden if they improve it in upcoming patches) and take some of the additional options for a spin.
PS3 Resolutions

The original plan here was to sightsee in DCUO and pick up some misc single player games.  Unfortunately, the more I've heard about DCUO - including today's half-hearted introduction of a cash shop - the less impressed I am.  I may eventually pick this up on the PC if the price gets low enough, now that the station pass upgrade costs only $5 more for EQ2 subscribers.  On the single player side, I've beaten Portal 2 and Infamous, and now I'm working on Assassin's Creed 2.

Rift Resolutions

I had planned to take a pass on the launch rush, but relatively reasonable pricing ultimately tipped me in favor of signing up at launch.  I let my sub lapse at the 30 day mark, I haven't been back, and I can't really articulate a rational reason why; I just didn't feel like sticking with the game over the other options.  Though the launch went exceptionally well by all MMO standards, there were some rough edges that got balanced out, for better or worse, over the last few months.  I figure that the game that I will eventually return to will be better than the one I declined to pay for back in April, so there's no hurry, especially with how quickly Trion releases new patches.

Revised Resolution:
  • Get to level 50 on my Cleric, PUG some dungeons to see how the experience compares with WoW and EQ2.  
Other MMO's

At the top of the year, I said that I'd consider Vanguard and STO if they went free to play.  The buzz on Vanguard has since gotten interesting enough that I will likely take it for a free trial spin, even though no business model change is in sight.  I remain not so interested in SWTOR or GW2 because I didn't care so much for their predecessors, and I don't feel like there have been enough hard details about TERA for me to say much about the game. 

The other game I'm vaguely curious about is Allods, which a lot of people seemed to enjoy until they discovered that the publisher intended to make money on the product, and which is supposedly adding its own take on dual/multi-classing.  That said, time is really the limiting factor in trying any MMO's I'm not currently playing, and I'm just not sure that Allods or anything else is going to fit in the calendar.

The Blog
As I predicted, I'm limping along at around three posts per week due to limited gaming/blogging time.  Some weeks, I've had so little time that I realize it's been several days since I posted anything.  Others, I've got something to talk about every day.  It's not ideal, but it's what I've got for now.

As always, thanks to my readers for sticking around, and we'll see how these resolutions fare in six months.