Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Re-emerging From The Depths

Post soundtrack: Maxine Nightingale – Right Back Where We Started From

Just a short teaser (insofar as anyone would really feel teased in any way, shape, or form by my return to blogging) about my starting writing again, with an eye to writing on a semi-regular basis again.

Amstrad CPC (Mode 0) Graphics Filter FTW!

My go-to game right now is Marvel Heroes 2015, which is about to turn into Marvel Heroes 2016 (with some new content I’m very much looking forward to digging into), but I’ll be heading back into Legion when that resurfaces.

Right now, though, it’s back to my gameplay notes and plans for posts. <disappears in a puff of procrastination>

Sunday, 24 August 2014

DLC Loves My Wallet

Post soundtrack: Barrett Strong – Money

While I’ve been waiting for the pre-expansion patch to come out for WoW, I’ve been spending some time with three free-to-play games on my pc and iPad. And my experiences have covered the spectrum from “That’s the way to do it!” through to “The developers just want me to open my wallet, don’t they?”

Just wait until I load. Then just wait.

I’m a cheap gamer, I’ll just come out and admit it. Mostly it’s because I don’t have much in the way of disposable income, but it’s also because I am cheap. (I drink supermarket-brand instant coffee, what else do I need to say?) Anyway, I’ve been dabbling some more in Defiance (although I’ve let that slide since picking up MH), playing Godus (insert gem to continue), and getting heavily into Marvel Heroes 2015 (I must resist the temptation to buy an alternate costume for Punisher – for now, at least).

I’ve already written about Defiance, so I don’t think I need to add much there (although I’ll probably explore Silicon Valley eventually, when the MH’s siren call has faded). So that leaves Godus and Marvel Heroes. I think I’ll leave Heroes to another post (to do it justice), so that just leaves one title to talk about.

This has been developed by Peter Molyneux-led 22 Cans (whose previous project was the cube-clicker Curiosity), and is nominally a god-game in the style of Populous, which was successfully Kickstarter-ed to much acclaim (and cynicism about the ability of Molyneux to deliver all that was promised) in 2012. It’s since been released both on Steam and as a free-to-play title on iOS. (I’m talking about the latter version here, as I don’t have the pc version – mostly because I’ve no interest in paying for a desktop game with f2p timers)

Visually it’s a pretty game, I’ll give it that. The stylised graphics work well, and the sound work is “good enough” (although nothing really stands out on the audio front). The problem for me with the game is the gating mechanisms, and the way the disguise the lack of anything to do in the game besides adjust the terrain as best you can (I’m not counting the ship missions, which just frustrated me to the level of pointedly ignoring them), and spread out over the land like a stylised cancer.

Downtown Fabsford.

Just an aside, there’s one audio aspect that really irritates me. Somebody thought “Hey, wouldn’t it be cute if there are musical notes that play when you touch each dwelling to collect the belief? And if you touch enough, it makes a song! But if they don’t touch one fast enough – maybe they’re collecting their crops or minerals or scrolling the map or something – then let’s play a discordant note that totally ruins the ambience of the experience!” <grrrr>

There isn’t any combat. Nor much of anything, apart from “expand flat terrain, tell followers to create house on flat ground, repeat”. Eventually houses get bigger, and you can clumsily manipulate thicker areas of the terrain, and you unlock the ability to combine groups of abodes into settlements, and later into villages. But there doesn’t seem to be much more to the game. (They introduced a “happiness” mechanic, but I think I broke it after wiping out all of the “opposing” native population using a couple of my more malevolent god powers)

The technology tree, such as it is, consists of cards which are made unlockable by achieving quantity-goals of “Population > x”, “Number of Farms > y”, or “Number of Mines > z”. Then you are required to use in-game stickers to unlock each card, which gives you the ability or bonus on the card. Stickers are either purchased in packs for increasingly large quantities of gems, or are occasionally found in chests which you discover in the game world (these are sometimes stuck underground where you have to terraform to expose them, which can be problematic if they appear beneath the sea, beneath the lowest point of the seafloor and are unreachable – or occasionally found just outside of your zone of influence, which is equally unreachable). Chests spawn randomly after storms – about the only reason to explore the game world, aside from expanding your colony or collecting belief.

Fight the future! And the controls!

The odd thing is… For all the crap I give the game, the experience of terraforming and expanding your territory is surprisingly satisfying. It’s just incredibly frustrating that the rest of the game is so focused of separating a fool and his money.(I’m currently sitting on a population of almost 5000, which unlocks a x5 buff on belief generated by abodes near trees – which would be useful if trees didn’t get clear-felled in the process of creating flat land to build on, a great example of the game design)

Disclaimer: I cheated at the start – there’s a common work-around for time-gated games on portable devices, where you get the game to where you have to wait, then set the device’s time forward, and switch back to the game and continue. So I guess my gamer ethics are a little flexible. Anyway, at the stage of the game where I am currently, when I collect my belief during in-game housekeeping in the morning I end up with over 120k (probably getting closer to 150k tomorrow, due to my current expansion). So once over that initial hurdle, belief is less of an issue (although still a limiting factor, due to the necessity of leveling mountains.

But I digress.

I was thinking about free-to-play and DLC, and the way developers want to make money out of their hard work, and the three approaches these games bring to the table.

The first is the wholly-consumable approach that Godus embodies. The game is inherently limited by both belief (which is granted by playing the game) and gems (which are primarily purchased for real-world money). Once you’ve spent all your belief, there’s not really anything interactive you can do in the game – you have to wait until more has been generated, and then collect it. The problem is there isn’t much to do with it, aside from terraforming – it’s a pretty shallow game. (Also the conversion of $-to-Gems is what feels like a typical mobile/f2p money-grab)

It just feels like the Godus devs want me to be distracted by the pretty graphics while they pick my pocket.

The second is DLC and consumables in Defiance. They offer cosmetic options (it’s pretty much the only way to get new outfits and headgear – which are on special right now – aside from a scarce handful you unlock by playing through the story missions), expanded content (new in-game content and an additional playable race, for example) and of lockboxes. The downside of lockboxes (which cost $4-$5 each) is there’s no guarantee you’ll actually get anything out of them that you want – or even anything useful. (There’s been some community work done with the in-game-currency-purchasable ones here, giving some firm numbers on what drop)

The problem here is that the power curve on your gear is not only very shallow, but itemisation is ridiculously random – sure, you might get a great orange (legendary) item, but there’s no guarantees that the affixes will make it any better than a blue (rare) of the same type. Spending real money is no fun when you feel out of the gate that the odds are very much stacked against you. (I have a similar perspective on Star Trek Online, but there’s a much larger pool of item types in-game, and you can sell STO’s lockbox keys to buy things you actually want)

While I don’t mind picking up the DLC while it’s on special (and I might someday pick up a cheap retail box, for the extras that unlocks on a free account), there’s just a feeling that the game is on maintenance support.

The approach that Marvel Heroes has made is similar to that of Defiance with unlocks, consumables, and lockboxes – but with the addition of quality-of-life purchases in the form of inventory unlocks. You get a single hero when you start playing (you can pick from a pre-selected 11 of the current roster of 37), and can unlock additional characters through a currency earned playing the game (Eternity Splinters).

Additional heroes can be unlocked either by purchasing a particular hero outright, by purchasing a “Random Hero” unlock, or occasionally dropping in-game (admittedly rarely, with no guarantee that it’s for a hero you haven’t unlocked – but you can use a token for an already-unlocked character to give it a boost to the power if it’s “Signature” power). Alternate costumes for heroes can also be purchased with real money, or drop in-game (again, albeit very rarely, and with no guarantee that it’s for a character you’ve unlocked), or are rewards from the equivalent of lockboxes.

And speaking of lockboxes, there are a couple of takes on them. There are cards which offer random rewards (including exclusive costumes, pets, and consumable buffs). There are also themed lockboxes, the last example of which (Cosmic Lockboxes) offered a guaranteed random hero or costume token and random consumables or other items.

The odd thing was, after playing the game for a week, I was already so happy with the gameplay and the way they make money off it, that I quite happily bought a couple of 5-packs of cosmic lockboxes, and a couple of stash tabs. And this week I picked up the Hawkeye hero pack on Steam, and bought an unlock for Cyclops.

I guess what I’m saying is when it comes to spending money in-game, it helps to feel I’m actually getting something for it. With Godus, it feels like the developer keeps on leaning over my shoulder and commenting “Gee, this is taking forever, isn’t it? You know, it’d be soooo much quicker if you just buy a pack of gems or two, you know, to speed things up.”

With Defiance, the game itself is fun, but the feeling is less “Hey, here’s this fun new DLC that adds feature X!” and more “Lockboxes! Get your Lockboxes here! Guaranteed chance of giving us money – and maybe you’ll get something you won’t immediately vendor!” I think part of the problem is the extremely tight focus on combat, and lack of other avenues to explore (crafting comes to mind immediately, as does the lack of exploration in the small and strongly theme-park-ish map).

Meet The Punisher. There are many Punishers. But this one is mine.

Marvel Heroes? Well, I have to admit, when the game first came out I was very doubtful about it. I mean, you couldn’t even create your own character, in this modern era of customisation! But after finally giving it a try (probably thanks to all the times Scott on The Final Score commented on how much he’s enjoying it), it’s surprised me with its fun gameplay and the very even-handed manner in which they’ve chosen to make their money without restricting gameplay.

The lack of inventory space is kind of grating (and the inventory system itself is clunky), but the cost to expand it isn’t exorbitant. It helps that your inventory is account-wide, but it does get tricky (and starts feeling cramped) when you’ve unlocked multiple heroes and start saving items for crafting and hero-specific unique items.

Basically, with MH I don’t feel like I’ve been nickel-and-dimed, and I’m getting value for my money. (Although I’d be a lot less likely to feel I’d been screwed over if things actually cost nickels or dimes, but that’s a rant for another time when I argue for reclassifying most in-game purchases as Macrotransactions)

If you’ll excuse me now, though, Cyclops is about to save the world again, and I’m going along for the ride.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

As Seen On TV! In Print! Or On Your PC!

Post soundtrack: The Beatles – Paperback Writer

So, now I’ve replaced my dead power supply (which cost me my first night ticket to Guardians of the Galaxy, as I had to get a refund then use the money for a shiny new not-dead PSU), I can tell you that I’ve been distracted by a free-to-play MMO-ish title which is tied to a currently-screening US TV series. Yes that’s right, I’m playing Defiance (which is now available again on Steam, after it was unavailable for a while due to stuff when it changed to f2p).

My Favourite Irathient

And it’s kind of alright. (Which is to say, it scratches my current itch for a third-person not-really-cover-based shooter based around Rift’s eponymous, um, Rifts) This in turn led me to watch (finally) some episodes of the series, and I was relieved to discover it’s actually pretty fun. Like the game, actually. Just with a bit more charm.

It’s been a curious experience, spending time both actively playing the game and passively watching the series. The differences between the two mediums really shine through: especially the depth and scale (and personality) of the series compared to the physically small-yet-interactive (within the limitations of being an MMO with such a focus on combat systems), scope of the game.

First, a little context. The world of Defiance (both the game and series) is set in the aftermath of an unsuccessful invasion of Earth. Partially terraformed into a nearly alien planet, an uneasy peace has been reached between the surviving humans and the assorted races that have now made Earth their home.

The series is set in what used to be the city of St. Louis, now the town of Defiance. A small regular cast gives you an intimate view into the lives of those endeavouring to make something for themselves in this new world. The game, however, is set in the San Francisco Bay area (some 2,800km or 1750mi away, which should make cross-overs problematic in a time where most travel seems to be by land, often over very broken terrain), and has the player taking the role of an Ark Hunter, a combat-savvy salvage expert who ends up involved in local affairs and saves the day (repeatedly) by shooting things.

About half the world of Defiance: The Game.

The cross-media interaction seems to come down to special episodic content in the game, which may feature characters from the series – I’ve completed the first episode, which featured Nolan and Irisa. And there are what are called EGO codes featured in the show (or at least, outside the game) each week, which will give you an in-game bonus when added to your account. (They expire pretty quickly, so there’s no point in delaying entering them)

The friendly side of the Uncanny Valley.

As I said, the game really satisfied a desire to shoot things – something sadly lacking in the MMOs I’ve played – I’ve never felt any interest in Call of Duty, Battlefield, or other military shooters, so I can’t comment on that genre. But, aside from occasional server irritations (lag, more lag, and sometimes everything-is-phased-most-of-the-time-and-also-laggy – which I came across briefly on the weekend) which usually comes right after server restarts, it’s been a fun and bullet-filled experience.

The levelling mechanic is called EGO, which refers to an implanted AI. As you do more – complete missions, pursuits (a form of achievement-hunting), challenges, local events or Arkfalls – your bond with your EGO grows stronger, and you unlock more powerful abilities. This takes the form of a board with four primary active (and upgradeable) powers (Blur, Cloak, Decoy and Overcharge) located around which are an array of passives which you also unlock and upgrade. You can only have one active ability at a time and a limited number of passives (up to 9 at EGO 1000), so it becomes a matter of choosing one and picking passives that support the ability’s style of gameplay (such as bonuses to cloak duration and cooldown, and extra damage while cloaked).

The Soul of my Sniper.

Another entertaining aspect of the game is the vehicle system. Especially the way it appears out of nowhere when you summon it. Sometimes you just whistle, and it appears. Anyway, there are three classes of vehicles: Runners (4x4 bikes, and my favourite so far), Rollers (cars or pickups, more durable than bikes but not as easy to control, especially off-road), and Cerebus (heavy vehicles, like driving an oil tanker when you’re fresh from a Runner). There are in-game challenges that award EGO for successfully completion, but I haven’t tried these yet. (There’s also a fast-travel system that takes you directly to a handful of locations around the map, which are handily also locations of equipment vendors)

Aside from your EGO rating, you gain specific experience with each class of weapon and vehicle, gaining perks with each as you use them more. There’s a level cap of 20 with each, so trying to cap yourself with everything is an additional challenge for those wanting a goal to chase.

Your skill bars go up, their health bars go down (in an ideal world).

There’s no crafting, but there’s a surprisingly subtle weapon-modding setup. Four components for each weapon (barrel, magazine, sight and stock) which affect the performance in various ways. (For example, I’m currently adding a fourth mod slot to my new sniper rifle to let me add a custom stock, which will cut down recoil by 10%) There are also sets, and using 2 or more of the same set can add additional bonuses. Also, sights come in three flavours. One which improves accuracy without affecting weapon zoom, and two which either increase or decrease default zoom level while adding the visual effect of using a scope while aiming.

A snappily-dressed Ark Hunter.

The weapons themselves have several rarity levels, and can currently be upgraded through the use on an in-game currency (but that’s apparently being effectively taken out with the big upcoming content patch). But! A weapon being higher rarity is no guarantee that it will be better than a lower rarity weapon of the same class - the variety and performance between weapons of the same class can make a remarkable difference, regardless of their EGO rating (indeed, you might be using your beginning weapon for quite some time).

One limitation you run into pretty quickly is your limited ammunition capacity. Each weapon type draws from the same pool – 15 for heavy weapons (grenade or rocket launchers, for example), 50 for sniper rifles (both bolt-action and semi-automatic), up to 500 for light machine guns (LMGs). This can be worked around by using different loadouts (new players have access to two and can purchase more in-game, or by manually switching to different weapon types), but you’ll often find yourself looking for a nearby weapon locker to reload.

Pew Pew Pew!

There are three other consumables: grenades (which are fairly self-explanatory), spikes (which create a small area buff), and stims (a personal buff).

What you wear is purely cosmetic, and has no effect on stats - headgear is separate to outfits, so you can mix-and-match (for better or worse). Some do look cooler than others though, but you won’t have access to many for a while (unless you pick up some in the store for real money). Also you can expect a good many reskins of the same costume models, but I guess that’s par for the course.

Along with the public events that you’ll run into while exploring (this is usually a fairly simple combat event, maybe repelling a couple of waves of bad guys (or bad aliens, or bad bugs, or sometimes bad cyborgs). The meat of the game (other than following missions) would have to be the Arkfalls, which are public events on a larger scale. (There are also player-summonable Arkfalls you can unlock with the Arkbreaker DLC, where you fight your way into fallen Arks and have interior areas to clean out – the standard ones are pretty much all exterior events)

These are pretty hard, requiring as many people of you can get – fortunately this isn’t that hard (provided there are people on), as the rewards for participation are pretty good. Just don’t expect to be very high on the scoreboard at the end, if you’re a low-EGO player. The open, tagging-free nature of the game is a definite plus in this situation. (Along with WildStar, I really wish WoW would take more steps in this direction – their group-centric philosophy really grates sometime, and not just when you’re fighting to tap mobs)

Larger Scale in action.

The game really has a theme-park feel to it, feeling like a super-violent Disney which is heavy on the Mad Max and Starship Troopers homages, especially in the early levels. But I found the curious thing is just how small the terrain feels – in some ways like a compressed version of something real, but much more static especially when you cross the (smaller) remains of the Golden Gate bridge. (Seriously, the vehicle physics are fun if not too realistic, but it’s still kind of jarring to watch your character drive into alien vegetation and instantly come to a halt as if it was made of concrete – and remain seated and not reacting to the deceleration, but that’s a different complaint)

On the whole, despite the lag and difficulty spikes (and wooden characters, and the fact that your avatar NEVER SPEAKS), I’m enjoying the game. Well, apart from a couple of boss fights in the main quest line that frustrated me by bumping up the difficulty substantially. The earlier one wasn’t too hard once I worked out the mechanics, but the one I’m on now (I think it’s very end of the main quest chain) is a very unforgiving 3-phase fight which has really left a bad taste in my mouth. I think I’ll end up abandoning the chain completely, and focusing instead on the episodic content and DLC (having picked up two of the five DLC packs so far). Plus there’s some new content due in a couple of days

As a pick-up-and-play game, it’s proven to be very entertaining. And it’s left me curious to see how Rift will run now – on my old system I had to turn off the advanced renderer in order to get a playable framerate; I’m hoping I’ll be able to get better results out of my new system (even though the video card is still the weakest link).

I’ve also started watching The Strain. The first episode was actually, well, just kind of mediocre (apart from the makeup effects, which were mostly pretty good – I think there’s just something about the actor playing Eph which grates on me). But I’d heard good things about the novels, so I gave them some time and intention. And after reading the trilogy came to the conclusion that they don’t suck, but they felt like a pretty sparse read (possibly due to the influence and origin of the first novel which started as a script and was then expanded into a nominally full novel). They do put an interesting twist on vampire mythos, and the origin story revealed in the third book takes them into an interesting new place.

Anyway, as a result of this I’ve been thinking about cross-media franchises (of which quite a few big games have become – not least of which has been WoW, due on the big screen in a couple of years).

It's Warcraft, Jim, but not as we know it.

It could be fun. I don’t recognise the logo, though. (Did they really need to change it?)

Off to see Guardians of the Galaxy later this week though. Which should make everything better. (Well, apart from the mobile game, which was just a Battleheart clone with irritating controls.)

Friday, 18 July 2014

Just Like Starting Over

Post soundtrack: what else?

Almost three years? You’d think I’d been busy or something… So many games, birthdays, the discovery of an entire genre of music, more games, coffee, weight lost and regained, still more games, health issues, coffee, old love lost and new love found, and – to top it all off – yet more games. Oh, and coffee.

Don't Panic

I’ve been contemplating getting back into writing for some time now, but I’ve just had my original WoW account unlocked (after some credit card annoyances at the time of the annual pass, which left me locked out unless I jumped through hoops which I refused to do at the time), which has brought me full circle, with Ringle, Pringle, Dingle and all my other alts playable yet again. And I’m looking at slowly easing my way back into my writing on here.

I still dabble – currently MMO-wise I have WoW, WildStar and STO installed on my just-upgraded pc, along with some single-player games from Steam and a handful of games on my mostly-wonderful iPad. I ran into some fairly crippling performance issues with WildStar after upgrading my pc (which left me unable to play enjoyably for the second half of my free 30 days – something I’m still feeling a little bitter about, as the game has a lot of potential), and reinstalled Neverwinter out of curiosity (it runs much better than it previously did - unlike WildStar).

Last week I finished a marathon paragon play through of Mass Effect 1 and 2, now I just have to finally buy #3 (and all the DLC) so I can put the series behind me. (I’m not sorry that I missed all the kerfuffle about the truncated ending, and hey, now I’ll be able to experience the complete DLC-inclusive experience!). I tried to start a second renegade play through, but I just couldn’t do it – I’d like to think it’s just that I’m that nice. Feel free not to disillusion me.

I’ve also playing through Fallout 3, with Skyrim and BioShock 1+2 installed and waiting for me to give them some time after I’m bored exploring the wastelands. Briefly dabbling in Landmark, but I’ve never been much of a builder – maybe when they add combat? Might give Rift a little play as well, as it should look a little better now I’ve upgraded.

But at least for now I think I’ll be spending the next few days updating addons and getting re-acclimatised to my much-loved old WoW characters, and making a start on levelling somebody up to 90. I actually invested in another copy of WoW after my old account was locked, and have levelled a few characters up to 90 horde-side, but I just haven’t had the emotional investment with them that I have with my dwarven family. Hmmm, with two active accounts I can even transfer all my old characters into my vanity guild – Lobsters, Ho!

This is what old leveling gear looks like.

It may be good to be the king, but it’s even better to be the dwarf. Again. Finally. (But ooooooh, that horrible gear…)

Sunday, 11 December 2011

The Only MOSTLY Dead Post

Post soundtrack: “Time” by Freddie Mercury (From the excellent and unavailable soundtrack to the musical “Dave Clark’s Time”)

"It just so happens that your friend here is only MOSTLY dead. There's a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive.”

Kind of like this blog. (Goodness, where has the time gone?)

This has been an interesting year, with my gaming becoming increasingly portable and small-scale (I love my 4th-gen iPod Touch, although I’d love one of those prohibitively expensive iPads even more), and my MMO time being increasingly short in duration and generally tourist-like. Needless to say, I’ve been short of things to write about. (Although I’ll qualify that by mentioning that my life outside of gaming has been entertaining, with 23kg/50lb of weight lost since my last post in January with a new interest in fitness and diet now sharing my spare time, and a mostly painless 40th birthday now safely behind me)

Have companion, will travel.

Anyway, with SWTOR almost upon us (Impatient? Me?) I’ve been feeling the desire to dabble in writing once more, with a focus on TOR while it holds my attention but ranging a little further afield in time. (It helps that a good number of MMOs I’ve spent time in the past with have either become or are in the process of transitioning to free-to-play – have to love that kind of low barrier to entry)

My initial plan (once the head start begins) is to re-roll my beta bounty hunter (admittedly, mostly because of delightful starting companion Mako) and see where the game takes me. (I played Kia, the character in my screenshots, up to around level 28 in the last beta and enjoyed myself thoroughly, and now I want to see where her storyline takes her – and me.)

I enjoyed most of the mechanics of the class (unfortunately I have a tendency to pull more than I could handle on occasion, and even with a healing companion to back me up I found that it’s not really easy to burst down one mob and heal myself and tank the other two mobs beating on me, all at the same time), plus the storytelling (and the accompanying voice work, which worked wonders to help immerse me in my character) was easily good enough to keep me from pressing space to fast forward through the dialogue in the best WoW tradition.

Beware the Bounty Hunter on her Segway of DOOOOOOM!

In other personal gaming news, I’m still subscribed to WoW (having made the foolish, in hindsight, decision to sign up for the Annual Pass – I’m giving serious thought to taking the nuclear option of deleting my account completely), but am not playing other than transmuting truegold once a day and selling various pets in the AH – I don’t have the patience (or the thick skin) needed to spend time in the dungeon finder and LFR to gear up for… Well, for no real reason, if I’m not raiding.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time in the Star Trek Online F2P beta, and found that the new Duty Officer system is curiously more absorbing than the rest of the game (indeed, the character XP it awards is actually quite effective for levelling your captain on its own). Skyrim claimed my attention for a while before TOR beta, but I find it hard to go back to it now with its less-than-immersive storytelling, regardless of how open the world is. Dungeon Defenders also claimed my attention for a while (I’ve levelled a squire to level 58, and an apprentice to nearly 30), but I’m running into the limits of my solo-play patience again. Champions Online was an entertaining enough brief distraction, but it didn’t really hold my attention, much like City of Heroes (although CO had less of a “What can we sell you today?” vibe than CoH).

The F2P Everquest 2 tempts – or rather, the Ratonga do – but I just haven’t been able to find the appeal in the rest of the game world. Global Agenda is currently still installed despite my lack of playtime, but Dungeons and Dragons Online has finally been uninstalled, along with a few other titles that had been gathering digital dust and electronic cobwebs. (Oh, the Defense Grid expansion, You Monster, tempts me to the bottom of my tower-defense-loving-soul but I’ll probably leave that for the time being – Also, Hey! Isn’t it nearly Steam sale time?)

Anyway, I’ll leave this entry short and to the point (insofar as I’m ever really all that concise) and get back to mentally urging time to pass faster.

Has my headstart email arrived yet?

How about now?



Monday, 24 January 2011

DCUO – A Brief Distraction

Post soundtrack: “Superman (It’s Not Easy)” by Five For Fighting

It’s deja vu all over again. After about 48 hours play over about two weeks (according to the Steam client, including time spent dabbling with other characters), I’ve hit the level cap with my superhero in DC Universe Online. I’m reminded in many ways of Star Trek Online, to be honest, and I can see a similar future ahead for DCUO.

Superheroine Disposable, at level one.

Quick micro-review time:

The two games have some interesting things in common. The two games launched with very solid game engines, stable servers, and very low level caps that didn’t take long to reach. DCUO has a little more endgame content at launch (2, 4 and 8 player instances, and hard versions of single-player instances), but the UI is pretty unimpressive (especially the chat system).

The character customisation system is kind of nifty, but the UI around it is pretty minimal (like much of the UI, to be honest – it does just enough to get the job done, but don’t expect much usability). You can change the look of each gear slot (without changing the actual item equipped in the slot, which is a very nice touch) and alter the displayed colours on each piece, but are limited to the three-colour palette that you’ve set for your costume (although you can change these colours for your entire costume at any time). Unfortunately there’s no way of saving costumes, so if you have more than one that you wish to change between, it’s a matter of manually changing each piece in your inventory whenever you want to switch. If you have multiple gear sets for your character’s roles, you’ll have to switch out items individually as well.

Grouping is also fairly hit-and-miss, if you don’t have friends to play with or a league – the game’s guild-equivalent. You can get into alerts – the 4-player instances – with a LFD-styled queue, but for the harder ones you’ll want players for each of the four roles (tank, healer, controller, dps).  Unfortunately while the game has you select your role when you queue up, it fails to explain what the roles are to players and doesn’t force players to take non-dps roles, so alerts with 4 dps players aren’t uncommon (and they usually aren’t all that successful).

Disposable, level 30.

I soloed most of my way to 30 (with a handful of alerts, where my ice tank hero attempted, sometimes successfully, to tank) and my 30 ding was something of a relief – my first thought was “Well, now I can cancel my subscription”. It’s not that the game is bad – indeed, the combat system is actually quite fun, and is a lot more visceral than games I usually play – it’s just that there isn’t much to the game besides the combat. Actually, the only other activity is collecting items and briefs. Oh, there’s the costume customisation aspect as well (supported by collecting new costume parts from combat and collecting), but without something like the WoW Armory or the Sporepedia where you can show off your creations outside the game, it’s of very limited interest to me.

Unfortunately a combat-based game with an item-collection sideline just isn’t enough to hold my attention – and definitely not enough to justify a subscription, no matter how nice the combat system might be. (Maybe I’d be more inclined if I was a DC fan, but I’ve been more partial to Marvel’s stories and characters, so I don’t even have the franchise to hold my attention)

Still, in the same way that STO has managed to overcome its disappointing launch and prosper as a niche MMO, I can see DCUO still being around in a year with an enthusiastic (albeit smaller) player-base, with active development continuing to add new content (and improving the lacklustre UI). I won’t be playing it, though.

Currently on my radar are Rift and Dungeons, both of which I’m sure are rife with opportunities to disappoint (and the next wave of the Rift beta starts in a couple of days). For now, though, Protector: The Planes awaits my attention.


Friday, 7 January 2011

So This Is Cataclysm…

Well, long time no write. In my defence, so many more talented bloggers have been keeping us informed (and entertained), and I really haven’t had anything to add, other than a heart-felt “Is that it?”

That's Cata for you - a big bang and a long drop.

Yes, I’m another person who’s underwhelmed with what Blizzard has brought to the table with Cataclysm, and I’m currently spending my time turning my small pile of gold into a slightly larger pile of gold through various machinations on the AH.

I’ve currently leveled Mingle to 85, and she’s decently geared for heroics (only two greens remaining, her wand and one trinket, and wearing the epic crafted healer belt). Her tailoring and inscription are both at 525, and inscription is proving a nice money-spinner with mysterious fortune cards and inferno inks.

Pringle managed to get to 82 in Vashj’ir, and has maxed jewelcrafting and enchanting. Prospecting ore is still more fun than milling herbs, by the way.

Dingle is still sitting at 80, having very briefly ventured into Hyjal, but hasn’t really had much more time spent with her.

Ringle has been through Hyjal a little further, but I just haven’t been interested in leveling her to 84, where she’ll need to be to gain access to the recipe vendors in Twilight Highlands (she’s currently sitting on 490 leatherworking and 511 blacksmithing).

The surprise has been Kringle, who I’ve enjoyed levelling the most – hunters are still the most solo-friendly class. It’s kind of telling that even so, he’s only managed to reach 83 (but has 525 alchemy, and switched from herbalism to skinning to help provide leather for Ringle’s leveling, reaching 525 in that by the end of Hyjal). Kringle’s currently sitting in Deepholm, having completed the first of the pillar quest chains (with a cute pet turtle from BFD).

I’ve also run a Worgen through the new starting zone (and been… underwhelmed by the theme-park linearity and the feeling that you’re along for the ride) and have a Goblin most of the way through their starting zone (also underwhelmed buy most, but not all, of the experience – still a themepark, but occasionally a fun one). All I can say is, they had to make those zones once-only events – when you’ve been through the ride once, there’s nothing to come back to (and I can see the need to go through the ride for new characters to be a disincentive).

Incidentally, who else can foresee Worgen being left in the background while Goblins get thoroughly integrated into the WoW lore in the same way that Draenei and Blood Elves came to be treated after Wrath? (No, I’m not saying “Blizzard love Horde more than Alliance”, just pointing out that they really dropped the ball with Draenei after they dropped them into the WoW lore with TBC, and from what we’ve seen of Worgen and Goblin presence in Cata so far, it’s looking like Goblins will be favoured in the same way that Blood Elves were)

Now, there have been quite a few things that I’ve enjoyed about the post-80 Cata experience – a number of quite fun moments in the various zones, and some fun new mechanics (although I’ve yet to abuse Lifegrip with Mingle). But on the whole, Blizz seem to have substituted the breadth of gameplay pre-Cataclysm (for example, wrath levelling which had multiple paths all the way from 70-80) with a very linear leveling path brightened with the occasional patch of polish and occasional illusion of choice.

Incidentally, I’m really surprised they let the issues through in the final release where if you miss a quest-giver, you’ll find yourself locked out of further questing in a zone until you’ve managed to find the lost quest-giver (with no suggestion from the game that this is the case). I’ve been caught out by this twice in Hyjal, but fortunately haven’t tripped over it in Vashj’ir yet (which is apparently problematic, with the 3d terrain).

I’ve managed to force myself to grind Mingle to 525 archaeology (over several days and many hours, with most of the time spent auto-flying while I read a book or played another game on my ipod touch – thank goodness for Archy, which cut-down on the time-wasting quite substantially), and it confirmed my suspicion that it was going to be less fun than fishing, and mostly just a massive travel time sink. (Seriously, who thought this implementation was a good idea?)

I didn’t have the confidence to do any LFD while I was levelling, and my experiences have consisted of a healing a single run of normal Lost City of the Tol’vir with Mingle – horror stories from guildmates about the new state of pugs (now that healers can’t heal through stupid, and being blamed and/or abused for wipes because of this change) and the challenge of Cata healing (with mana management being the new measure of a healer’s ability) really made an effective deterrent to my giving it a try.

However, doing a normal run at 85 wasn’t excessively painful, aside from half-expected mana issues (there was just one wipe, but a couple of the dps had a couple of extra deaths while I was trying to keep up the tank). The problem for me is that healing just (as I’m hearing increasingly often) wasn’t fun. The change from “I want to decide who lives and who dies” from Wrath healing to “I hope I don’t run out of mana, and and please please please let the dps remember to run out of the fire” hasn’t been especially entertaining (especially as someone who used to LFD almost exclusively).

Currently? I’m mostly logging in to prospect for, cut and sell gems. And transmute Truegold. And mill herbs for cards and inferno ink to sell. And I’m hard-pressed to raise the enthusiasm to run alts through the new theme-parks level up other characters, as there’s nothing of interest for me at 85. The thought of hardmode raiding makes my skin crawl, and even normal modes aren’t appealing (although I suspect finding a guild which is just running normal modes may be challenging). Heroic 5-mans? Pugging them isn’t something to be done voluntarily (especially as a healer), but I have no interest in guild runs (probably because I still don’t feel comfortable in this guild). Normal 5-mans? My single attempt just didn’t engage me, even though the group did manage to complete it. (I’ve also heard a number of complaints about the length of Wrath 5-mans – do they need to make them quicker? Or is that solely a result of group competence?) Rep grinds? Well, if you’re not doing Heroics, they’re not really needed.

The sad thing for me is, there just isn’t really anything else. I’ve never been interested in achievements (aside from Loremaster on Mingle), I don’t collect pets, and… My dream of levelling more Dwarves lost substantial momentum when I realised that the revamped 1-60 levelling, while a substantial improvement over vanilla, was a lot more linear than I cared for (although not as bad as 80-85 has turned out to be).

I think I’ve run out of interest in WoW again – which is kind of unexpected, considering how much Cataclysm promised. Unfortunately it would appear that much of what it offers has a real lack of replayability for my playstyle, and I’m starting to run into that already.

But hey, it’s looking like there could be some interesting new titles in the near future - DC Universe Online (check out TotalBiscuit’s beta footage of the character creator and starting zone footage if you’re curious) and Earthrise come to mind (along with Rift in about two more months) - not to mention the substantial number of games recently on sale on Steam and other digital vendors (I’m currently knee-deep in Darkstar One and revisiting City of Heroes briefly).

WoW, on the other hand, is just something I’m playing if I’m feeling bored (or more accurately, until I get bored, which isn’t taking long). Cataclysm might have changed the world, but it wasn’t really a change that’s worked for me.