Thursday, September 27, 2012

Missed Of Pandaria

For reasons that are relatively independent of the merits of the product in question, Mists of Pandaria is the first WoW expansion that I have not picked up on launch day.  Real life has been busy, as has my queue of online efforts.  Blizzard products tend to do better than most in staying at full MSRP, but the price won't go up. Perhaps this is a statement, but I think it could also be over-stated. 

Missing Expansion
In the short term, I am faced with several deadlines, hard and soft.  LOTRO's expansion arrives in just over two weeks, bringing with it a level cap increase that I'd rather pass on until I finish the current content.  I have about two more months of paid time in EQ2 remaining from the insane discounts back in May.  We don't have a firm re-launch for SWTOR, but they had previously suggested November. 

I have every reason to believe I will eventually get around to Pandaria, and no reason to believe it will be disappointing - if anything, it will be interesting to see whether Blizzard succeeded in returning the game more to its original roots.  In the interim, if I do have time there's actually a relatively large amount of stuff that I can pursue without owning the expansion - pet battles, low level panda alts, and trying to catch up on archeology without having the gathering exp affect my leveling experience all come to mind. 

The reality is less of a no vote and more of a not-now vote.  Not the message Blizzard wants to hear, I'm sure, but it certainly could be worse - somehow, I think they'll survive.  

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

F2P: Necessary At All Costs?

One-man Indie MMO producer Eric at Elder Game has a math problem.  The costs that he faces for hardware alone mandate that his game must maintain a certain benchmark in revenue per user - below that threshold he must add additional servers faster than he gets revenue with which to pay for them, and the game actually loses more money more rapidly if it becomes popular. 

This is no academic blog discussion - Eric has been doing unpaid work on this project since at least June 2011 and will only see a return on his considerable investment if the game is successful.  And yet, he considers and immediately dismisses the idea of NOT supporting free players.  Supporting free players is "a fact of the market" because the amount of competition in the genre makes it "hard to keep people around unless you have a compelling free-play option".  This decision made, Eric will do his best to optimize his server code and assume the risk that his business model will render the product literally unsustainable if the proportion of non-subscribers is too great. 

Readers of this blog will know that I am no great champion of the mandatory subscription fee.  However, two factors make me wonder if it would not be the lesser evil in this case when you consider A) the potential consequences in terms of sustainability and B) the fact that the one-man team now needs to take time away from making the best game possible in order to plan how to support a free and a subscriber tier, with the relevant billing and game mechanics in place.  Incidentally, I'm hardly the game's target demographic - it sounds more sand-boxy and group oriented than my usual far - but the model he's describing sounds like precisely the type of optional subscription model that I generally DON'T end up paying for. 

All of that said, I'm not certain I can say that his premise is wrong.  Having a monthly fee is not a complete deal-breaker for me, but I am increasingly biased in favor of games whose business model does not meddle so directly with when and how I play the game.  Case in point, the Secret World, which is still limping along with both a box price and a subscription fee, rolled out a free trial program recently.  There is no rational reason to complain about a trial that does not cost money, but I find myself unusually irked that the terms say you only get the fourth and fifth days of trial time if you play enough during the first three. 

Perhaps we really are at the point where a free to play option is actually essential because the alternative is too restrictive on players' ability to try your product.  If so, perhaps Eric is going to need a bigger boat. 

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Scenarios: Continuing Fun, or Coddling Aggro?

Having gotten over the initial disappointment surrounding the story in WoW's Theramore scenario, I've played through the thing several more times (7 total, judging from my stack of fireworks).  Through this experience, I have found that the scenario is more fun the less optimal your group is.  Looking ahead to Pandaria's endgame, though, this makes me wonder if Blizzard has only further delayed the point at which players will be forced to learn how to play in a "real" group. 

The Trinity and Soloing
The central tenet of the "holy trinity" approach to MMO's is that DPS should not be taking damage.  Even if you personally are capable of pulling one of the mobs and soloing it, this is strongly discouraged as your healer will feel obliged to heal you (whether or not you need the help - if you are wrong and you die, your mob gets loose) and all of the mobs will survive longer because your group's DPS is split. 

When Blizzard added solo play as an intentionally supported form of gameplay to the MMO genre, at WoW's launch in 2004, they had to change this model.  When you are alone, there is no one else to take the damage for you.  Thus, every character needed their own mechanism for avoiding, healing, or mitigating the attacks of their enemies.  However, the game (and most others that have offered solo leveling since) transitions to the traditional model at max level, and players nigh universally note that the leveling experience does little to prepare new players for this shift. 

Cooperative Soloing
A scenario group with a tank functions largely like a traditional trinity group.  A scenario group without a tank functions like a trio of solo players cooperating.  On paper at least there's no problem with individual players intentionally pulling aggro and using all of their tool to survive and conquer.  (The one issue arises if a player sees my mage fighting stuff, assumes that I can't survive, and adds my mobs onto the ones they had already pulled for themselves, taking on more than they can tank.)  Indeed, designing scenarios with large pulls of soloable mobs rather than single mobs that lone players can't survive seems to have been the whole point of the design.

This puts scenarios in an unusual niche in the overall context of Pandaria's endgame.  It sounds like the intent is to offer a gradual transition into group content, with a finite endpoint as you get the requisite gear.   The catch is that, while players are probably introduced to more group concepts than they would be solo, they are by design free to continue disregarding the holy trinity concept.  This is a good thing if the solo playstyle is what you find fun, and you are now free to continue that fun for one more tier up the progression.  This is a bad thing if the longterm goal - for yourself, the playerbase as a whole, or Blizzard - is to break players of bad aggro habits before they get to "real" group content. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Early Impressions of Borderlands 2

If you'd told me that I was going to be active on launch day for one game that has a more action oriented combat style, marked differences in how you play based on the weapon you have equipped, and a name that ends in the number 2, I would have guessed Guild Wars.  Instead, thanks to a promo that snagged me a free copy with the new graphics card I finally ordered last month, I ended up in Borderlands 2.

BL2 is a first person shooter with RPG-style quests and stat progression.  The gameplay reminds me a lot of the combat in the Uncharted series.  You will die quickly if you stand out in the open against multiple mobs.  Instead, the focus is on taking cover and preferably sniping from range, where your aim is probably better than the mobs and you have the luxury of ducking out of sight while your shields regenerate.  The big difference is that you gain levels, earn skill points, and loot guns and other gear that offers improved, customized stats that allow you to outlevel your foes, much like you would in a more traditional RPG format. 

The game is set in a post-apocalyptic world that features a harsh sense of brutal slapstick humor and lots of guns.  My character already owns four major classes of firearms as of level 8 - pistols, assault rifles, sniper rifles, and the shotgun - along with grenades and two more weapon classes (submachine guns and rocket launchers) I have yet to obtain.  You will literally find NPC's with punctuation over their heads offering quests and rewards just like an MMO, and those quests will take the same basic form as an MMO offers - kill, loot, interact. 

BL2 offers four character classes, who use the same gear but have some different special abilities.  I'm playing a Commando, which seems like a solid beginner class due to a robotic turret that adds to my DPS, picks off flying mobs that are hard to aim at, and off-tanks by pulling enemies for me.  The other three classes include a "Gunzerker" who can dual wield rifles, a robot stealth assassin with a focus on melee combat, and a Siren psychic character who seems to focus more on crowd control and support.  (The latter is NOT the subject of the notorious "girlfriend mode" comment made by a developer a few months ago - that is a new mech pet class slated for DLC - but it may be worth noting that the one existing female character seems the most focused on support.) 

In terms of incentives, people make a lot of the loot, because there are so many varieties of weapon, but this part doesn't really stand out to me.  There are tons of random properties, but many of them are useless.  For example, I found a shotgun that takes 3 rounds per shot and had a clip bonus allowing it to carry a total of 11 rounds - i.e. still one shy of being able to shoot four times between reloading, so it could have just as well been a -1 clip penalty for all the benefit it added.  Perhaps if I play through more than once I will try a different playstyle, but on my first character it seems that really 2-3 stats matter the most, and I will only consider gear that upgrades those stats. 

One thing BL2 does do that's a bit more novel is tying the in-game achievement-equivalent system to passive stat increases.  DCUO does something similar, but in this case supposedly the bonuses (while generally small) will apply to future characters on your profile.  It is a neat little incentive to try something other than taking all foes out with max range sniper shots to the head.  One other unique mechanic is the "fight for your life" status - upon running out of health, the player has a few seconds in a severely weakened and limited state to attempt to kill something, which will inspire you to get up and continue fighting.  This probably won't help if you got gunned down at range by half a dozen guys, but at close range you have a decent chance of unloading your clip into the enemy's face and hoping to finish them off before you die and respawn.  (The death penalty seems mild, something like 10% of your cash on hand.) 

Overall, I'm not seeing where the replay value is going to be in this game.  I had a really rough time for the first few quests, as the story very quickly dumps you into level 5 content at around level 3-4, but once I survived a few side quests and obtained more optimal weapons things started to fall into place very quickly.  By the time I finished the newbie area, I was level 8 and frequently one-shotting the level 5 content.  I could see challenging yourself by trying to finish just the story quests with as few side missions as possible in order to limit your access to loot and exp, but that approach comes at the expense of missing most of the content.  That said, the ability to out-level content for an easier path is probably a big part of why I'm enjoying a genre that is usually not my favorite.  If I do end up sniping mobs one by one through the entire storyline, BL2 will be more of a success than many games I've played.

Business model aside: There are announced plans for four DLC packs (one of which was free to paid pre-orders - not sure if I will get this with my free copy, but that's a small price if I decide I want it compared to a free game), with an already announced bundle to buy all four for $30 (versus $10 each).  I guess it's an odd quirk of the business that you want to get your DLC out there early and paid up front; your theoretical market for DLC increases as more total copies are sold, but it's harder to capitalize as more players finish or quit the game and aren't as interested in more DLC.  Sadly, this is what Bioware was getting at with their comments on how those of us who don't like day-one DLC are out of luck.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Watching NPC Story in Theramore

WoW's expansion launch non-event is live, which means that level 85 players are now free to preview the level 90 Fall of Theramore scenario five levels early for one week only.  I suppose my expectations should have been low given that Blizzard has been going out of their way to note that they did not want to spend lots of development time on an event that would be here for one week and then gone forever.  Even so, I have been disappointed, and the biggest factor has been the story.

As Rohan notes, we're effectively reduced to watching a small window into a tale that only makes sense if you have read the associated novel.  Assuming that you aren't afraid of spoilers, WoWhead's summary details what appears to be the entire contents of the book.  It is only with this additional context that the story even begins to make sense - both the motivations of the characters to upend a truce that has been in place since Warcraft III and the details, such as how the Focusing Iris (widely seen by players in the puggable raid finder version of Dragon Soul) ends up involved. 

This is a bit disappointing coming from a company that originally made the decision never to spam players with more than 250ish characters of quest text when they could instead be showing players the story in-game.  Part of the mystique of the old Alliance Onyxia attunement questline was how the players actually were the heroes who unveiled the black dragon's treachery.  Reading the synopsis of the novel, there are numerous places that could have been opportunities for players to participate in a major lore event that does not seem to have needed to happen prior to the expansion launch.  Instead, all of these things are reserved for another medium, and players in the actual game are just left to view the aftermath.

Don't get me wrong, I don't always expect my characters to be the most powerful/important characters in the lore of the game.  LOTRO somehow manages to make the player characters seem significant even though some NPC noobs named Aragorn, Gandalf, and Legolas (stereotypical Elf Hunter), et al keep stealing all of the best kills.  Blizzard just doesn't handle the presence of external story material as well, hasn't done so for a number of years now, but they seem happy with how they're doing it.

(Ironically and cleverly, author Christie Golden has written your Alliance characters - yes, yours personally - into an un-named cameo appearance.  Apparently someone failed to tell her that the scenario was 3-player instead of the customary 5, but the idea of having Jaina acknowledge the presence of un-named Alliance allies in the book is a relatively clever tie-in.) 

Other general comments:
  • Scenario gameplay is a reasonable group-like experience that can be completed by three DPS players, though you can expect to spend more effort on staying alive through use of cooldowns and other class tricks that often get shelved with a real tank and healer.  There is also a focus on pulling multiple soloable mobs, such that each player can take their own share if no one player can tank all the mobs at once.  As a solo player, I think they nailed the gameplay, in that it's much more like what I actually experience when playing the game. 
  • I assume there is a limit to how many instances can be up at a time, as the system displays wait times of up to an hour (though I usually wait a fraction of that).   
  • The loot seems nice enough, though it's unclear what if anything determines what items you will get, how many times you can expect to run the event if you're after specific items, etc.  On the downside, it may not be worth paying for gold to gem and enchant gear the week the expansion comes out, but at least you can keep the stuff banked for future transmog/appearance use. 
  • I didn't get to try the event on my Horde warrior, as he does not possess the required gearscore and I simply don't care enough to farm for this problem.  Judging from WoWhead's video, the scenario appears to be as close to mirrored as it could be given that the Horde has to win in preparing to destroy the city and the Alliance has to win in cleaning up the aftermath.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Accountability In the Post-Subscription Era

I've heard several generally insightful podcasters commenting on the relatively ban-happy policies of Guild Wars 2.  I'm disappointed that many people do not state the obvious - due to the lack of subscription fees, ArenaNet loses no recurring revenue when it bans a customer. 

We don't have the data to tell whether bannings in Guild Wars 2 is actually more prevalent in other games since none of the studios routinely publicize such numbers, but one can certainly imagine that removing the subscription fee removes a financial incentive NOT to ban a customer.  Sure, a banned player might eventually have opted to pay for microtransactions or expansions, but it's nowhere near the guaranteed revenue of someone who is happy to pay $15/monthly for the opportunity to troll.  Moreover, their conduct also affects the tone of the community in a way that might influence whether others stay and pay. 

Looking beyond this issue, we are in a somewhat unprecedented scenario in which two separate major titles - Diablo III and GW 2 - launched within a six month period never intending to collect a subscription fee.  Both sold seven digit numbers of copies at $60 a head.  We have some free to play games that have over a million users - few of whom are likely to have paid $60.  We have a small number of subscription MMO's that actually have a million former subscribers.  Neither category of game intentionally chose that outcome. 

Even if most players will never pay for additional transactions, both titles are franchises with at least some incentive not to ruin their respective brand names.  See, for example, Blizzard's scramble to add an alternate advancement system upon determining that the base game lacked staying power, when in principle they could have shrugged, secure in the knowledge that people who run out of stuff to do have already paid.  It will be interesting to see if anything more substantial than policies about banning people for abusing their group-mates in chat changes as this type of model becomes more common in online gaming. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Re-Capped In EQ2

Lyriana finished the newly added Qeynos timeline, and in the process hit level 92 - the EQ2's current cap.  There may have been a small amount of cheating - I took a detour to kill some fishmen in Velious to fill my exp bar to 99.9% prior to turning in the last quest, to ensure that Antonia Bayle would personally award me the final level.  This milestone puts EQ2 back on the list of games in which I currently have max-level characters - for almost two weeks until the fall expansions start launching, I can claim nine max-level characters across seven different MMO's. 

I was decidedly underwhelmed with plans for the Age of Destiny expansion when it was announced.  The "optional" expansion bundled 20 AA's (I currently sit at 311/320) with several features that I didn't really see a need for, but no new content.  I still don't plan to re-roll to try the new class, and I have no particular interest in the game's dungeon designing feature (which has had a mixed record).  However, one feature that I did not expect to get any use out of - NPC mercenaries - makes a lot more sense when presented in context with a level cap increase and new content. 

I still think there is a real concern that the amount of content in the new update may not have been quite enough for a full level/gear reset - in particular, the last two levels would have been much more painful if I didn't have some left-over subscription time, as non-subscribers must send half of their exp gain to AAXP.  Still, the content that they have added continues to be good and the mercenary feature is a big help in getting to see more of it.  Meanwhile, executive producer David Georgeson seems open to at least re-considering some of the non-subscriber issues I've been grousing about, so perhaps some of these will change in the future. 

I have a few in-game goals that may or may not get in this fall.  I'd like to take Lyriana over to the Freeport side to see some of the new content, collect evil-side housing and mercenaries, and incidentally try and fill out that AA cap for the first time ever since I've been playing the game.  Meanwhile, though there are limits to how much time I'm willing to spend on virtual house decoration, my house item situation is actually getting serious enough to merit at least some level of attention.   For now, though, another personal MMO milestone is in the books.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Captive MMO Audience

Roger at Contains Moderate Peril suggests that MMO players tend to forget that they are also consumers.  He notes that we are fast to blame for-profit companies that kill games for monetary reasons, but slow to hold service providers we are otherwise fond of accountable for failure to provide services.  This sounds reasonable in the aggregate, but I don't find that I have either of these problems.  I also spend almost none of my time doing social activities, like raiding or PVP, that would tie me down to a specific product.  Perhaps these things are related? 

At issue are delays to the Riders of Rohan pre-purchase compensation package.  Roger correctly notes that Turbine accepted payment in full in advance for pre-purchase of a product with a promised date that Turbine failed to meet.  This might in most other circumstances be considered breach of contract.  Instead of complaining, I and various others actually praised the move as a way to deliver a more polished product at what may also be a more strategic time.   

The guys at Penny Arcade once quipped that Blizzard had developed a business model in which they rent players' friends to them on a monthly basis.  No matter how early or late, how buggy or how polished, everyone needs to buy the new content when it is released if they are to play together.  (This part isn't unique to MMO's - I've seen friends pester each other to buy new maps for FPS's, and I don't believe any of them ever received a cut from the games' publishers for this peer pressure marketing campaign.)  A player who does, as Roger suggests, feel that they are not getting acceptable service finds their friends held hostage - there may be various alternative games on the market, but the odds of reassembling the same group are low. 

By contrast, I have the luxury of acting like a pure consumer because there's no one waiting on me to get the new content to fill out their raid group.  I never considered pre-purchasing Rohan, because I know from past experience that Turbine will offer steep discounts within a month or two (the new date is not that far from Black Friday).  I'm not thrilled with Turbine's decision to bundle in a bunch of extras I don't want to justify a higher price tag for the expansion package, but I don't need to pay the premium that will be required of the captive portion of the audience. 

Ironically, the cost of expanding the MMO demographic beyond the traditional social, group-oriented player may have been that the market actually is less tolerant of the things that studios got away with in 2005 when it was a smaller but more loyal playerbase.  For good or for ill, perhaps millions of players are now free to quit games like WoW and SWTOR precisely because less of the MMO audience are captives.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Rift Expansion Sounds Like Guild Wars 2?

After hearing MMO Reporter's PAX Interview with Scott Hartsman, I'm struck by how his description of the leveling experience in the Rift expansion sounds like what I'm hearing others say about the leveling experience in Guild Wars 2.  Hartsman's declaration that MMO's should be about being able to play with all of your friends all of the time sounds like precisely what we've been hearing from ArenaNet. 

The Rift expansion will raise the level cap and add two new continents with solo quest content and a story quest arc.  However, Hartsman suggested that it would be more fun to do the other activities that focus more on exploration.  One example he gave was a quest alternative called "carnage" that does not require the intervention of a questgiver to get credit for killing mobs - a feature of Guild Wars 2 (and, as Tobold points out, something that Warhammer Online notoriously promised but largely failed to deliver).  Hartsman states that players will likely get the exp they need from completing one of the two continents, plus all of the side exploration and carnage bonuses and other activities.   

It's possible that Trion agrees with my speculation that GW2 may be a threat to their game due to some similar mechanics, and began planning a response well in advance of the competitor's launch.  If so, one potential downfall might be all of the currently existing content in the game.  Based on the interview it sounded like both continents were for the level 50+ crowd (though I'm not sure if this has been explicitly confirmed).  Trion's answer to GW2 cannot be gated behind 50 levels of old content if they want it to be effective. 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Re-Tiering DCUO

DCUO rolled out a major revamp of content tiers in this week's patch.  Four tiers' worth of currency tokens were condensed into one.  Strict "combat rating" (think gearscore) requirements remain on all endgame content, but there has been some redistribution of the content amongst several tiers - in some cases adding additional content to ensure that each tier is not too sparse.

For example, the game previously featured six "challenge" modes that upgrade leveling instances to level 30, along with two bonus challenges that were new content added in patches and offer increased difficulty.  This content could help you get your introductory item level 46 tier set, but you'd be looking at a long grind to get gear that still won't get you into most endgame content - including the solo content from the game's second DLC pack.  Meanwhile, once you'd upgraded your gear beyond this level, there was no reason to ever return.

With the revamp, all content awards the one type of currency, with increased awards as you hit the higher tiers.  The existing challenges were mostly placed on the first difficulty tier, while two additional tiers are filled out using the hardest of the old challenges and a handful of new challenges (based on leveling content that wasn't previously available as level 30 challenges).  There is also a once weekly award for clearing a tier one challenge. 

Five of the classic challenges sit in tier 1, while tier 2 is populated with the sixth classic challenge, the two patch challenges, and one new upgrade.  Four more new challenges occupy the third tier.  I elected to run the Meta wing for the weekly bonus, because you can beat Dr. Psycho to death relatively easily with a giant dumpster thing.
There are some problems with the progression - for instance, the zergable outdoor quests in South Gotham (all outdoor quests in DCUO are public quests) award five marks each (20 per day - enough for a T1 piece every other day), which is far faster than what you can get doing challenges.  These dailies were always a bit out of progression order, but it's more noticeable now that the currencies are fully interchangeable.  Also, unless I misunderstand, the higher tier gear requires more currency than the cap allows non-subscribers to carry unless you pay real money to make a one-time withdrawal from escrow. 

That aside, the new system definitely flattens and accelerates the progress curve somewhat.  I picked up three pieces of T1 gear (and one random ilvl 53 drop) in one evening by cashing in all my old marks and doing one round of daily quests.  Perhaps I will finally get enough gear to actually see most of the content I paid for? 

Aside: players display the last item appearance you collected unless you specify otherwise.  My character logged on wearing this atrocity of an outfit - you may or may not be able to see the Batman logo boxer shorts. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

What I'm Currently Working On: EQ2

Seven posts and eight days later, the finale of my annual labor day wrap-up with my latest progress in EQ2.  Maybe next year I will need to do this under twitter rules or something.  :)

A big Troll Merc, a small level 91.5 Fae Dirge
SOE also continued their longtime tradition of double exp for the weekend, and I picked up 3 AA (currently 310/320) and about half of level 91->92.  A few weeks ago, I had mostly written off the possibility of getting to level capped characters in seven different MMO's simultaneously - with the delay of LOTRO's expansion from this week and WoW's expansion not slated to arrive until the end of the month, I now have a legitimate shot of making the seventh ding happen.

Still on the slate for the next couple of months are plans to switch factions - possibly twice - to check out some of the changes to the game's evil side (and the other bard subclass).  Sometime in November, I run out of game time that was purchased through the strangely short-sighted sale promotion stacking, so the next expansion will almost certainly have a far greater price tag (for both the expansion and the game time that seems required to take advantage of it).  Time will tell where this game sits on my list when the dust settles. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

What I'm Not Currently Working On: Rift and Others

More stuff from my labor day roundup, this time featuring Rift and other stuff that I'm not playing now.  EQ2 should have happened before this, but I was working on the bonus exp weekend over there and I finished writing the below material first. 

Much as I like my level 50 Cleric on paper, I'm thinking I may have chosen horribly in terms of class.  Cleric melee is slow and plodding.  Cleric casting is powerful, but includes so much passive healing that the content feels trivial.  I actually enjoyed Purifier healing, but it seems you don't actually need that level of healing power, and could have gone for something paired with Justicar that does more damage instead.  Ironically, the game's relatively open soul system just leaves me wishing I could pick from ALL the souls, instead of merely a quarter of them.

If there is indeed a new parallel leveling path in the expansion, the best bet to hold my interest would be to re-roll with a different calling.  The downside would be fifty levels just to get back into the the new expansion endgame content, and there's limited evidence that I actually enjoy soloing in Rift that much.

Ironically, my next major new release may be Borderlands 2.  I don't ordinarily play first person shooters, but I got a free copy for purchasing a new nVidia 660 Ti graphics card.  I may or may not like the game, but at no cost to me I think I'd at least give it a try to see how it looks with the new hardware.

Guild Wars 2 is a question mark - I like some of the things I've been hearing, but I wouldn't mind seeing how the game holds up as people get out of the newbie areas.  Access to the game's beta was unusually structured in terms of how much of the content players could see and how often they'd be allowed online, so I don't think we have any information to judge the game's longevity yet.  If I had time, this would be a tougher call, but I don't have time.  Ironically, being an MMO tourist makes it EASIER to sit out a major launch, because it isn't GW2 versus "same old" in one game, it's GW2 versus "same old" in eight different games, at least one of which I'm not going to be done with at any given time.  

Amongst other MMO's, in principle I can sign back onto Vanguard, but I don't know that the monthly fee was what was keeping me away from that game after trying it out last year anyway.  Allods remains vaguely on the list of major non-subscription MMO's I have yet to try.

Finally, the console roundup - I'm currently working on Assassin's Creed Brotherhood.  Other games on my radar if/when I replace the console due to broken disc drive include Infamous 2, Uncharted 3, FF XIII-2, and possibly the two remaining Assassin's Creed games that will be out by then. 

Monday, September 3, 2012

What I'm Currently Working On: SWTOR

I've been writing the annual PVD Labor Day gaming round-up since 2009.  I usually have some non-gaming activities for the holiday, and at the time a matter of fact summary of what I was doing, with little analysis attached, seemed to be a good sort of filler.  In today's non-subscription era, the filler is looking like it will take over a week - I may need to re-evaluate.

In the mean time, the rundown continues with SWTOR.

Ordinarily, the looming free to play shift (along with last month's inexplicably short live event) would be enough to keep this game off the calendar until they finish re-launching.  However, there are some perks that could make a month of subscription time - especially as the relaunch gets closer - a worthwhile purchase.

Like some other conversions, there is going to be some bonus in cash store currency for staying subscribed despite the pending relaunch - with an extra bonus for being subscribed when the conversion actually happens.  Turbine approached this type of promotion for LOTRO by ruling that players had to remain subscribed continuously from the announcement to the relaunch in order to get any of the loyalty bonuses.  By contrast, EA is apparently not going turn away any customer by telling them they missed a deadline.  Bioware has also announced that species access will be grandfathered for existing characters - this could actually add up to more than $15 depending on how many alts you plan to make of how many different species.

Currently, I own a level 50 Trooper and a Sith Warrior in the mid-teens.  I really want to like the Sith Warrior - the storyline is excellent - but I just haven't been enjoying the gameplay.  Perhaps I've been spoiled by the medium range combat on the Vanguard trooper.  SWTOR combat encounters usually involve packs of several weaker enemies, not all of which will be in melee range, and my Warrior often finds that he has struck down his foe and that Vette is busy killing the next target while he stares ahead blankly.

At this point, my plan is to shelve the Sith Warrior and roll up a Chiss Agent.  I have yet to play a healing-specced character, and this particular combination was just about at the top of my to-do list anyway.  I guess I could even roll up all of the remaining classes - Sith Inquisitor (ranged force user), Jedi Consular (stealth melee - I may hit the same concern with melee, but if I'm doing ranged force user I feel like it should be purple lightning), Smuggler (though I might prefer to get the Chiss legacy unlock first for this), heal spec Bounty Hunter (on the theory that it may be like the Trooper, which I liked), and maybe Jedi Knight (though that's the same class I dislike on the Warrior). I won't finish most of these before the relaunch, but there's no harm in getting started. 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

What I've Been Working On: LOTRO, STO

As part of our Labor Day holiday weekend, we went down to the Smithsonian yesterday to check out the Art of Video Games exhibit.  It's a fun walk down memory lane - amusing to see stuff I owned copies of 20 years ago behind glass at a museum.  If the trip to Washington in the next few weeks is not in the cards for you, take a look at the tour schedule to see if it will be anywhere near you. 

Anyway, the trip into town put me behind on the schedule for covering all of my MMO's within a week, so today we cover two games.

The six week delay for the Rohan expansion to avoid the crush of Guild Wars 2 and Pandaria's release dates is a minor reprieve for me.  I did hit the current level cap and complete the epic story, but there is a large amount of reasonably high quality quest content that I have yet to see.  I'm torn on this, because I hate to skip good content, but I'm not sure if I will get to all of it even with the extension.  Moreover, there are deeds for traits and Turbine Points at stake.  If I left the Dunland area and Great River areas now, they will be the first where I have failed to finish the local quest deeds.

Realistically, I'm expecting to run out of time here.  Perhaps I'll just hold onto the in-progress quests and then go back to one-shot through them at level 85.  On the plus side, at least they're producing content that I want to complete.

I'm technically at the level cap in this game despite having done almost none of the leveling content, thanks to a focus on the duty officer system.  The developer responsible for implementing this mechanic has since left the studio.  In his absence, very little new content is being added to the system for its own sake - for the most part, new duty officers entering the game are added through lottery items in the cash shop, and are being used to introduce more abilities that affect the regular portions of the game (which I almost never play). 

Cryptic has always stated that part of the point of the system was to add a minigame that was consistent with microtransactions in the post-subscription era.  That said, I'm definitely feeling like I've mostly "beaten" this aspect of the game.  Meanwhile, as combat abilities continue to be added, I can see the officers rewarded through the duty officer system becoming increasingly less optional for people who wanted no part in it.  As they say, all good things come to an end, I suppose.