Maybe it’s time to return to WoW?

August 31, 2009

Well this past weekend I decided to resub to WoW and check out everything new, rolled up a hunter and I’m loving it!

No I’m kidding, but seriously, is EVERYONE from the blog world back in WoW right now? Failbears all of you! (Like carebears, but when carebears go back to WoW they become failbears) So a month of nothing but “so I did this daily just to grind this rep/token/whatever, it was cool” reading huh? Awesome. To counter this I’m going to start reporting on all the iron nodes I hit in DarkFall (which according to my fiancé is all I do in that game), but each node around Hammerdale I’m going to give a different name, and then phrase them like this “Monday, I went out and complete the Northern Bob daily, just to work on my ‘smithing’ rep with the ‘character’ faction. I love the Northern Bob daily because while it’s both north and called bob, it gives nice rewards and I don’t have to commit hours to get something done”. God I’m bored just writing that…

In the “games I play because I’m not resubbed to WoW” department, my Skaven team in Blood Bowl might be a little too powerful for their own good right now. At a team value of 2020, games basically go one of two ways: I either score early and often to dominate someone, or half my rats are injured/KO’ed before turn 5, leading to a slaughter. The main reason behind this is I don’t believe BB is balanced around having one team play so many games, and having so many players with multiple skills. That plus playing very bashy teams like Chaos or Dwarves at that high a team value is suicide, since they all have block/tackle/might blow/claw, which results in a lot of dead rats. A similar thing happened to my 2000 team value Humans, where games started to get very lopsided. I tried to play a few games with my goblins, but they are just painfully bad and only serve as the punching bag for whoever I play. Funny a few times, but after 3-4 games… not so much. Might be time to roll a Chaos team of my own, or perhaps Orcs.

DarkFall continues to be a lot of fun as well. I always wanted to live out of a player city on EU, and now that I’m with Apollo and living out of Hammerdale, it’s lived up to expectations. It’s great to have a central point to launch all guild activities, it’s great to have enemies come and bring PvP to you, and it’s great to just have a place of focus to learn the terrain, mobs, and resource nodes. Living out of a city is like living out of a hamlet, but everything is just bigger and better. The carebear in me also likes the thought of building the city up (a long process) and getting all of the benefits for everyone in the guild.

The dungeon that I’ve talked about a few times here seems to have attracted a little more attention, as I once again entered the place to the familiar clues (mobs spawned outside) that someone is inside. I’m packing a little more heat now when I go out to PvE, wearing an enchanted full plate chest (thanks Neithal chest), plate helm, scale everything else, and swinging a Firebrand (transmuted rank 65 greatsword). This means two things: One, I can take out much tougher mobs solo and I’m better equipped to fight other players, and two, if I die and get looted it’s going to suck hard. No risk no reward, right?

So when entering the dungeon, I crept around like last time to identify who was inside, and said to myself if it’s more than one person I’m just going to sneak out and not bother. Well this time it was only one person, and even better they were from a guild Apollo is at war with, meaning I could kill them without taking an alignment hit. As this is somewhat of a noob dungeon (or at least one that does not have super high value mobs), the only people entering it for anything other than the veilron chest are likely, well, noobs. So out comes the Firebrand and I charge straight at the guy, who was at 80% and fighting a mob. He immediately jumps off the plateform he was on and starts to sprint towards a dead end (rather then the dungeon exit), so I pull out my bow and start putting a few arrows in his back as he runs. He does a nice turn behind some rocks, and for a moment I lose sight of him, with my first though being he ran towards the exit. A quick search comes up empty, so I return to the dead end he was heading towards and sure enough find him trying to hide in the shadows. Almost buddy. He has a shield and axe out at this point, and as I go to swing away he puts the shield up to parry. Had I continued to swing my stam would have been shot without dealing a lot of damage, so I simply stay close and wait, knowing his stamina is draining as he holds the shield up, and anytime it drops or he exposes his back, I swing.

We do this little parry/swing dance for a bit, and while I’m sure his stamina is draining, so is mine just from swinging into his shield on accident. His hitpoints at this time are also around 40%, which is not low enough to just brute force him down. Since we are circling each other, at times some of the dungeon mobs will get close enough to attack, and I try to move in such a way that his back is exposed to those mobs, as anytime they attack him he is forced to sprint away and relocate, at the cost of more stamina. Eventually I think he realized he was not going to win just shielding up, and while I was not sure if he had help coming, I knew his stam would be out sooner rather than later. In a last ditch effort, he sprinted and jumped up some crates and reached a high wall, out of mob range. It’s a spot I’ve used to rest before, and I knew getting up was not trivial. He pulled out a bow at this point and began firing down at me, each arrow providing a small knock back, enough to make reaching the wall very difficult. Without my great gear, those arrows would have really begun to add up, but thankfully my hitpoints remained high and each arrow shot was costing him stamina as well. In a stroke of pure win, I got off a jumping knockback attack on him, sending him flying off the wall and into the mobs wandering below. As he tried once more to sprint away, a few arrows to his back turned his sprint into a run, ie: he was out of stamina. Firebrand out, a few clean swings to his back and he was down, the ever-satisfying “help me” being called out. X key to queue up the ‘gank’ skill, Firebrand to the face, and he was a tombstone. And it was a reward tombstone at that, with a full set of bone armor, some casting regs, decent weapons, a mount, and the odd collection of mob loot. Once it was all in my bag, I was just below the weigh limited which meant it was time to recall home. A full PvE trip without a single swing on a mob, not too shabby, and a damn good time.


When it comes to open beta, timing is key.

August 28, 2009

Out of all the open beta discussions that I’ve seen (is it a free trial, should it be given a pass because it’s a beta, etc), I’ve yet to see anyone mention that timing of an open beta could play a key role in the games reception. Since an open beta, unlike a free trial, is only available for a limited amount of time, a player must make the choice of playing for free now, or not at all, and I think this has a huge impact on how a player perceives the beta itself.

I’ll use my recent venture into Fallen Earth as an example. I’m currently playing two MMOs that I’ve very happy with (DarkFall my primary, WAR my secondary), and I’m also playing Blood Bowl as my non-MMO game. Those three games basically dominate all my gaming time, so in order to get some time in with Fallen Earth, I had to cut back on DF/WAR/BB. What this means is that even before I create a character, FE is being compared to the three games above due to time constraints. If I was not playing any MMO at the time, FE would stand alone and be judged strictly on what it offers, plus it would very likely receive more consistent playing time and patience. When the FE beta crashes, I’m left with the choice to either log back in, or switch to DF/WAR/BB, and that only makes each crash more noticeable and detrimental.

Right out of the gate, just to capture my attention and eventually money, FE has to beat out DF/WAR/BB, which is unfair in a number of ways. I’m already comfortable and established in the other games, they have had some time for patches and fixes, and you know, I like those games (otherwise I would not be playing them, other than DF, I’m playing that as part of my Crusade of the Miserable), which means I have to like FE more in order for it to get attention. That’s a MUCH different challenge for any game than being ‘interesting enough’ to spend some time with. (Which IMO is why Aion is getting as much attention as it’s getting, because so many people are in that ‘space filler’ state with WoW slowing down for them and WAR/AoC/etc not delivering what they hoped for)

Let’s assume that in 3 months my interest in DF fades, WAR still has not fixed T4, and I’m done with BB, and NOW the FE open beta starts. It’s very likely I’ll put in far more time with it, learn more about what exactly it’s trying to do, get into that comfort zone with its controls and systems, and very likely, enjoy it a lot more overall. It’s the same exact beta, just at a different time in my current gaming cycle. Now instead of one short blog post about my time with it, FE gets 2-3 posts a week, breaking down the details and overall reporting that it’s a fun, unique MMO offering. My blog might not influence thousands of people to put down cash for FE, but replace this blog with someone over at Massively or PCGamer, and clearly timing could really add up.

While this whole scenario is similar to say, releasing a game in November among the usually holiday rush, the difference here is that people WILL try your beta because it’s free and they know time is limited, they just won’t give it as much time/patience/effort as they would under different circumstances, and we all know how important first impressions are. The only ‘fix’ to this issue that I can see, besides releasing your open beta when most people are bored (whenever that is), is to not limit the beta period to a short timeframe like a week or two. With such a short timeframe, its far more likely someone is only going to log in 1-2 times, for a few hours, and with MMOs being as complex as they are that’s just not enough time to do anything but glance at the graphics and do a few very basic tasks. That works great for Aion, because graphics and being familiar is what that game is trying to do, but it hurts a game like Fallen Earth, which is trying to shift the usually MMO focus a bit and try something different. Give people a full month to try the game out, and I believe more people would get beyond the first 3-4 hours (not all of course, Ed Zitron will still complete his full review based on your character creator and some forum posts), get into the heart of your game, and get a more honest view of what you are trying to do. If you honestly have a solid product that does indeed do some interesting things, that will only help you in the long run to not only draw people in, but allow people to give more complete and hopefully positive word-of-mouth.


Fallen Earth: Some beta impressions

August 27, 2009

I’ve had the Fallen Earth beta on my hard drive for a good week now, and have put in somewhere around 5-6 hours with it.

From a technical perspective (graphics, sound, animations, FPS), if you have the top-end hardware to run it, FE can look and sound above average, but won’t blow you away in the same way Fallout 3 does. If you don’t have the hardware, FE on the lower settings can look VERY dated, which I think is what many people complain about when talking about the game. If you are a graphics whore it’s hard to recommend it, but I would not say that the graphics are distractingly bad unless turned down. The animations at times are a bit rough (especially jumping), but things like having all your weapons displayed on your character and being able to click them to draw them are nice touches and help to pull you into the game.

Gameplay is a mixed bag IMO. The combat is a little off, because while you do need to aim ranged weapons to hit, even when your curser is over an enemy you can still miss due to combat dice rolls. This is actually somewhat confusing at first, since you never quite know if you missed because your targeting curser was off, or if you missed because of bad luck. Considering my first ranged weapon after the tutorial was a single-shot crossbow, and I’m use to DarkFall’s “if you aim and swing, you always hit” combat, I felt a bit of a disconnect. Melee follows the same rules, but it’s obviously much easier to know if you are aiming correctly.

From my time with it, FE followed the standard PvE quest-hub model, setting you off in all directions to complete very familiar tasks. This mixed with the odd combat did not leave me with a huge desire to log on and plow ahead, and I did not notice a lot of groups being formed or people working together. Even with my limited time, I did some crafting and liked the passive, real-time system. I think the major appeal here is that you can craft a huge amount of useful items, and the resources for all this crafting are found all over the map and on enemies, meaning you are always building up your supplies to create new things. If one feature is going to carry FE, it’s the crafting and it’s related economy, but with my limited time I was unsure how this all plays out in the grand scheme of things. Will players eventually need to work together to craft bigger and better things? Is there something later on in the game that rewards such collaboration? Aside from bigger guns and better armor, what other impact does the crafting have?

One final point, which is that Fallen Earth’s opening 30 minute tutorial is SO good, so well paced and interesting, that once it ends and you get into the game it’s a natural letdown. Gone are your machine guns, the ATV you escaped on, the body armor, the high-level skills, ect. Instead you are left standing in a standard issue jump suit, a few weak weapons (a xbow, a board, a shank), staring at your first hub of generic MMO quests. During the tutorial I was thinking “This is exactly like Fallout 3 in MMO form”, after I was thinking “This is Everquest after a nuke hit it”. That’s a bad line of thinking to go through within the first 30 minutes.


Eight easy steps to becoming a ‘kind of a big deal’ blog

August 26, 2009

This may come as a surprise to some, but generating traffic and comments on an MMO blog is not all that difficult. It’s also not (IMO) all that fun for the writer long-term, but if your beer money or (god help you) rent depends on Google ads, follow these steps and you’ll be well on your way to making just above minimum wage with your blog.

One: Pick an upcoming AAA MMO and dissect every minuet detail about it, but always end with “Man I can’t wait for release, this game has so much potential!”

Two: While establishing yourself as a mini-fansite-posing-as-a-blog, refer to other popular games (or just WoW will do), and make comparisons between your current ‘next big thing’ and WoW. Always give WoW credit and say it’s awesome, but point out how this NEXT game is going to fix everything WoW did not get right.

Three: Keep your posts short. The longer and more thought-out the post, the harder it is for the average internet dweller to keep up. Only ask simple questions that not only everyone can answer, but also have been answered a million times before. It’s not about the content; it’s about giving the most people the opportunity to feel like they are contributing (even if all they contribute is ‘lolz that was awesome!’). If you need help with this one, just visit an MMO general or class forum.

Four: Post screen shots, skill trees, maps, ect with a quick thought or opinion. Don’t break it down or go into detail; remember shorter is better. Not only is this ‘easy’ content, it also allows the average reader to see the point without a whole lot of time or effort, which is key if you’re going after the biggest crowd.

Five: Start a guild that will play the upcoming MMO. State it will be a casual, friendly guild whose goal is not to powergame but to enjoy this awesome new game together and help each other out. Use the word ‘family’ often. Refer to this guild in each post about the game, and always mention what a great community you have going on the forums, with everyone super excited to play and everyone being really nice, which of course bodes well for the upcoming game.

Six: 2-3 weeks before your MMO of choice is set for release, do a review post of the game. The context of the review does not actually matter (you can just copy/paste the feature list from the official website) so long as you put a score at the end that is either much too low or much too high. If you put 7/10 you have failed. For added effect don’t explain the score, or say the game does what it sets out to do really well and then give it a 2/10.

Seven: Make a few posts about the MMO as it is released, starting with ‘everyone loves it’ stuff and how your guild is doing great, and concluding with a ‘why this game failed’ post about two weeks later. Your actual reasons for the failure (even if the game has indeed not failed) are not important; just throw some stuff out about the graphics and how it’s the same old grind and lacks innovation. Don’t explain what innovation you were looking for, just say it failed.

Eight: Pick another upcoming MMO, revamp the layout of your site to fit THAT game, and go back to step one.

Joking aside (most of that was joking, mostly), it can be a little discouraging even for veteran bloggers to see well-crafted posts go ignored while tossed-out drivel sparks a firestorm of activity. Combine that with the very easy “WoW = traffic” formula, and at times blogging really makes you question the direction the genre is headed. Unless you just absolutely don’t care one bit about reader feedback (and in that case you’re just awesome at lying to yourself, you don’t blog often, or your Beau and no one can explain wtf goes on in your head), what drives readers can at times make it more difficult to actually blog about what you want or care most about. I know for a fact that if I suddenly talked 24/7 about Blood Bowl here on the site, feedback would die to 1-2 comments. And while I don’t make a single dime off traffic, it’s still motivating to see people react and comment on what I write.

Part of the reason I don’t have ads on this site is almost exactly for that reason; I don’t want some little Google counter driving what I plan to write, and I know if traffic=money, it would be hard to resist writing more about WoW or other ‘easy’ topics. The road to ad traffic gold is certainly not paved with DarkFall posts or deep looks into MMO economies or breaking down combat systems. It’s also why I tend to avoid any blog with ads myself. Sure, the author might indeed be great at just writing what they want and not writing for the sake of views, but who knows? Do they really like upcoming MMO X, or are they just following the formula above?

For most of us, blogging is just a hobby, an outlet we use to enhance the MMO gaming experience. And just like you might have a bad night in your favorite MMO, sometimes getting too deep into WHY people read/comment the way they do can drain some of the fun out of blogging. Ultimately, just like the games we play, as long as you’re having fun writing/playing, the rest usually works itself out (or Trammel happens, but yea).

(And if you got all the way through this post, you are not the person I’m talking about attracting in my six easy steps to blogging mediocrity)


Speaking of expansions that sounds good…

August 25, 2009

Not all State of the Game posts are created equal.

Even in the cesspool that is ForumFall (and I mean that in a good way, its entertaining stuff) this updates was well received, and for good reason. The way to get people to open world PvP is to get them out in the open world (brilliant, I know), plus if they are fighting mobs they are likely doing it with at least SOME gear + mob drops, which makes them better PvP targets. A fix for the current bloodwall issue without a single direct change to PvP, nicely done Aventurine (and Mythic, take note). The even bigger impact will be with magic, as it becomes horribly cost ineffective to skill magic on other players in your city, but heading out into PvE with a boatload of reagents on you also increases your risk. Again, brilliant work by Aventurine. And I think we can all see where this is going; a hard skill cap to be added later. By making getting your skills up easier (or at least faster if you take some risk), the introduction of a cap system won’t be as shocking to the current player base. If it only takes you a month to max out a magic school, a cap system that forces you to retroactively pick between magic and archery won’t seem nearly as harsh.

Given that DarkFall is just now finally seeing some advertising, a massive skill gain increase followed by a cap system in November or December makes a lot of sense, both to help out new players entering the game and also to make these changes easier to deal with as veterans. Plus by that point the next expansion will have been testing.

Ah yes, the expansion. Funny how one set of expansion notes, for something that’s at least a full year away with a price tag of $40, can look so ‘meh’ when compared to something coming in a month, for free, from a small dev catering to a tiny niche community. Undead Paladins take a long time to add I guess.

The details are of course still limited, but considering that the 800 pound gorilla does not even have ship combat, or housing, or a working PvP system, the fact that the little guy is ADDING to all those systems is rather entertaining/amazing. And if the next expansion is anything like the first, it’s going to be a huge hit. Local banking + caravans + village system + player vendors? F my inner crafting carebear self sideways. Plus wandering mobs, something almost all MMOs talk about or want to add, but never do? I need to slow down, I’m starting to sound like some pre-release fanboy swearing THIS game is finally baby Jesus, but yea, kind of excited here.

It might be painful to go a month+ without a single word out of Aventurine (other than “hey, we fixed that 2 billion damge thing, sorta”), but at least when they do speak, it’s not just hot air and ‘soon’ promises.


WoW: Cataclysm, analysis with less snark.

August 24, 2009

Leaving the fun and games behind for a minute, it’s time for some ‘serious business’ talk about WoW’s next expansion, and what it really will bring. I’m not talking about the finer details or even the bullet-point list of additions, but what it brings to WoW as a whole; how it will change the game.

Whether you hated or loved WotLK, most people can agree it did not offer ENOUGH new stuff for a game that gets updated once every six months and gets expansions every two years or so. Similar statements were made about TBC, although for that expansion at least Blizzard had a rather length end-game to keep people busy, whose who got beyond Kara anyway. But when your business model is based around keeping people around as long as possible, providing 1-3 months of casual content is not a great solution, and Cataclysm is certainly going to fix that.

For starters, regardless of the exact percentage of old Azeroth being revamped by Blizzard and to what extent, to see it all a player will not only need to start back at level one, but go all the way up to 85. This means seeing all of the new/old 1-60 game, all of the old BC content, all of the old WotLK content, and finally whatever the five new levels bring. In other words, casuals will be seeing ‘newish’ stuff for a long time, which means Blizzard will be collecting their $15 a month for FAR longer than they did with WotLK. From a business standpoints, that’s brilliant, and from a dev standpoint you keep your players entertained at a much lower cost, since they will be spending X% of their time on your older content while not noticing/caring that it’s old.

The other major factor that should make this all work is that unlike previous expansion, which were end-game heavy and still pushed players to hit the cap to join in, this expansion will actually encourage players to do stuff at the lower levels. People who joined WoW after TBC or for WotLK will have the chance to see the Deadmines with other low level players, instead of having the choice of being powered through by an 80 or not seeing it at all. Even if level 15-18 Deadmines is the same exact instance in Cataclysm as it is now, just the fact that more players will be around to run it as intended will make it FEEL like new content. Apply that to all of old Azeroth and it’s easy to see why Cataclysm should be very well received by everyone.

And while my last post was mostly just to poke fun at Blizzard, I do come away thinking they could/should do a lot more with this expansion. For starters, MMOs with far smaller budgets have done significant graphic upgrades in the past (EVE setting a high standard as usually, but even games like DDO have added DX10 effects and cleaned things up), yet WoW will still basically be the same looking game it was back in 2004, and in 2004 WoW did not exactly look high-end. By the time Cataclysm is actually released (2011?), even the average toaster and calculator watch will have DX10-capable hardware, and even if you are still trying to capture the netbook gaming crowd (who actually does serious gaming on those anyway?), at least give the engine the OPTION to not look so dated. Updating some textures is since and all, but is that the best the biggest MMO in the world can do? Never mind that WoW does not push the genre forward in any noticeable way outside of subscription numbers (in some ways that’s not it’s ‘job’ in the space anyway, WoW for years now has been the melting pot of the genre, preferring to ‘borrow’ rather than create), but when it’s blatantly trailing behind it’s peers, fans have good reason to demand more, and should.

The other point that raised a question in my mind was exactly how much of old Azeroth is actually going to receive significant updates. Blizzard stated that not all zones are total remakes, and that some might only get minor changes. Adding a new quest hub or moving some pieces around is not what I would consider expansion-worthy, and if that’s the update being given to even 25% of the zones, it’s disappointing. Even ‘remakes’ like Silithus or Duskwallow were somewhat shallow, and I’m hoping most zones get a lot more than that. And while lore-related complaints no longer really apply to WoW, how exactly is only SOME of the world going to experience a cataclysm anyway? Are some of the quest NPCs going to pretend nothing has happened, while the guy next to him is in desperate need of 10 samples of horse dung to solve the apocalypse? That might come off as a little strange…

With all that said, will Cataclysm bring be back in 2011? That’s tough to say. On the one hand, it’s still going to be super ezmode, even in the already ‘easy’ MMO genre. I know most MMOs won’t offer Civilization-level challenge or the make-or-break of DarkFall PvP, but being easy and insulting-easy are two different things, and each patch/expansion moves WoW further and further into insult territory for me. It’s just hard feeling any sense of accomplishment when every challenge basically rolls over for you. The other factor is who knows what the genre will look like in 2011. Maybe Aion will be WAR with a working endgame (doubtful, but who knows), maybe Darkfall will follow EVE and continually grow/improve (the first big patch was excellent). Maybe Mythic will finally fully fix WAR’s endgame (last patch was a good step), and maybe SW:TOR won’t play like a WoW-clone in space with head-to-keyboard hotbar combat (or that 4th pillar they keep talking about might matter). But if all that fails, or between now and 2011 Blizzard ups the ante with more details about Cataclysm (remember they still have much, much more to reveal), it might be worth coming back, plus I’ll have WotLK content to see first-hand as well. I think I’m going to call my Undead Paladin “LulzLore OneHealzSpam”, and pimp him out in all the best RMT items the cash shop has to offer!


World of Warcraft: Cataclysm – The single greatest expansion of all time?

August 21, 2009

Readers might have picked up on the fact that I’m at times a bit tough on Blizzard and how they have been updating WoW. Sure I’m not the biggest fan of easymode everything, cookies for everyone, and the glacial pace of any real content being added or even recycled, but now that’s all changed. Blizzard has announced their newest expansion, and man, is it feature-packed with awesome. Lets take a look shall we?

* Two New Playable Races: Adventure as one of two new races–the cursed worgen with the Alliance or the resourceful goblins with the Horde.

Sure new races might mean a new 1-20 game and then back into the same grind as everyone else, and while originally back in 2004 races had a few distinguishing features that have since been removed and they are now all just different graphics models, but think of how great the lore will be around the goblins setting aside their neutral ways and finally picking a side! Plus the good, noble alliance gets the perfect allies with Worgen, who are kind and friendly… well no they are monsters, but still, Worgen! Maybe these Worgen crash landed in THEIR spaceship next to the space goats… right?

* Level Cap Increased to 85: Earn new abilities, tap into new talents, and progress through the path system, a new way for players to improve characters.

5 MORE LEVELS! Awesome. Sure this means another gear and progress reset, while giving you 5 levels less to quest and actually gain XP than usual, but come on, 5 MORE LEVELS! Plus just think of how awesome firebolt XIII is going to be. I mean sure firebolt XII in WotLK was nice, but can you image how awesome the XIII version is going to be? In your imagination of course, because firebolt will still have the same graphic effect it had in 2004, but come on, it’s level XIII now!

* Classic Zones Remade: Familiar zones across the original continents of Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms have been altered forever and updated with new content, from the devastated Badlands to the broken Barrens, which has been sundered in two.

This is the big one. Remember how awesome Barrens chat was back in 2004? All those awesome Chuck jokes and deep debates about abortion? Blizzard just doubled the awesome by giving everyone TWO versions of Barrens chat! Can we pre-order yet? Plus who the hell wants NEW content when you can revisit those sure-to-be TOTALLY redone old zones? All new textures, all new layout, all new everything, just like the total remake of Nax for WotLK! This is Blizzard, and if they have taught us anything, it’s that old content is new if they say it is, and man, they are saying it here!

* New High-Level Zones: Explore newly opened parts of the world, including Uldum, Grim Batol, and the great Sunken City of Vashj’ir beneath the sea.

Another true fans dream. Remember back in 2004, when you went out to explore and found the Grim Batol ruins, but they were all empty and unfinished? Well it seems Blizzard was listening back then, because just a short 5 years later and $120 worth of expansions, here comes Grim Batol! I can’t wait for the new factions to grind out and the deep, rewarding daily quests to complete each and every day. Can we pre-order yet? Plus remember these are all new really high ( 5 levels high!) zones, so they won’t play ANYTHING like you have ever seen before!

* More Raid Content than Ever Before: Enjoy more high-level raid content than previous expansions, with optional more challenging versions of all encounters.

I don’t know, Blizzard set a pretty high standard with WotLK and it’s zero new raids. How the hell are they going to top that this time, especially since this expansion is hot on the heels of the last? My guess is when they say ‘more raid content’, they mean that MC, BWL, and AQ will still be around, but in their awesome new TOTALLY redone forms. Just think, all new bosses in MC, all new textures in BWL, and a total revamp of AQ! Plus why bother with real challenge when you can fight Rag without fire resist gear, Nef without your Ony cloak, and C’thun after you run directly into his beam? Everyone knows the TRUE hardcore do things ass backwards for those ultra elite pets and titles! I can only hope Blizzard shatters our definition of epic once more.

* New Race and Class Combinations: Explore Azeroth as a gnome priest, blood elf warrior, or one of the other never-before-available race and class combinations.

Um… gnome priests might be cool? I mean sure it’s not a hero class, or a new class, or a race system that matters beyond how your ‘epic’ dress glows, but um… a blood elf warrior is totally worth paying $40 for!

* Guild Advancement: Progress as a guild to earn guild levels and guild achievements.

Once again Blizzard goes out and pushes the MMO genre forward by leaps and bounds. This is sure to be much-copied feature in all MMOs going forward. I wonder how soon EQ2 and WAR can adapt and introduce guild levels? It would be so cool to run around with your guild’s banner in WAR, claiming keeps and opening up new buffs. Oh wait… Well at least you can earn AWESOME achievement points for your guild, which can then be turned in for… stuff? Hopefully they allow you to chat-link your guild level, so if nothing else your entire guilds e-peen can be displayed proudly across TWO versions of Barrens chat. Take that Chuck jokes!

* New PvP Zone & Rated Battlegrounds: Take on PvP objectives and daily quests on Tol Barad Island, a new Wintergrasp-like zone, and wage war in all-new rated Battlegrounds.

With out a doubt, the single biggest success from WotLK was Wintergrasp. Not only did it have a server-wide impact (in lag and crashing), but it allowed literally HUNDREDS of players (up to 100 anyway) to battle it out in truly epic battle of ‘surround the flag with tanks’. Plus it was just another layer in the already perfect and awesome PvP system that is WoW. What other MMO lets you stun-lock and chain-fear your way to victory, displaying your amazing tactical skills the entire time?

* Archaeology: Master a new secondary profession to unearth valuable artifacts and earn unique rewards.

Another serious addition to the already deep and interesting crafting system. One can only wonder what the 1-2 usable items Archaeology will bring once you grind it out to max, grind a faction to max, and get/buy a rare drop. Hopefully they announce what mats you will need to complete the grind, so forward-thinking master of the uber-complex WoW economy can start collecting now.

* Flying Mounts in Azeroth: Explore Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms like never before.

It was always a major downer to have to travel and run/ride across Azeroth. Most of my time in-game I always wondered “how much better would this be if I could just fly over everything, grab my quest item, and fly back”. Wonder no more WoW fans! Not only does flying impact the deep and tactical questing game, but it also adds… well the ability to fly places. Which is awesome, because aside from already seeing most of Azeroth from a flight path, I’m sure there are just TONS of places that are both unique and fun to explore, as anyone who has ever been on a private server can attest to. Trust me, you TOTALLY won’t believe what you will find over those previously impassible mounts (hint: nothing).

Plus, the super secretive “and much, much more”, which I’ll be honest, after that amazing sounding lineup, I don’t know if I can take ‘much more’, or even just plain old ‘more’. What could they possibly be hiding? A true hero system that expands your character rather than allow you to reroll, actual world PvP, a revamp to the graphics engine that was average-at-best in 2004, or an end-game not completely focused around epic (welfare) gear and rep grinds?

I know where my $40 is going, and that’s for the amazing chance to FINALLY play an undead paladin, with all the true Warcraft lore to back him up! What a truly great day not only for WoW fans, but for the entire MMO genre!


DarkFall: Apollo vs The Red Army

August 21, 2009

Having joined a new clan (Apollo, part of the Cairnivore Alliance) in DarkFall, I’m finally getting into some more organized PvP on the NA-1 server. Oddly enough my first night with Apollo was also our alliance’s first real offensive against The Red Army, another large alliance. The assault went well, with some asset destruction (keep, tower, two gates) happening before TRA showed up and offered some resistance. After a battle that lasted 20-30 minutes in and around their city, the retreat was called and out we went. I was able to kill a few targets (with help of course), and came close to going down 2-3 times (most of the damage coming from friendly fire AoEs funny enough), and generally it was a great time. The organization and execution was spot on, which really is what separates clans/alliances when it comes down to it.

A few days later our city of Hammerdale was on the receiving end of TRA’s retaliation, with our own keep, bank, and gatehouse going down to some siege hammer bashing. I logged on after the attackers were pushed out so I missed the majority of the fighting, but not all of it. The first fight happened when I went to the closest NPC city to grab some gear (since our city’s bank was destroyed) and found four members of TRA recalling. Not wanting them to get away clean, I hit one of them with a knockback, cancelling his recall. As we were both blue, and for whatever reason our two clans were not officially at war, this turned me gray for 10 seconds. Not wanting to abandon their friend, the other three recalling also cancelled and we got into a staring contest, neither side able to actually fight in town due to the zap towers. I asked for the clan for a war dec, but no go on that, and clearly the other side was also unable to get a war dec going (to be fair a second battle was going on between the two sides at this time at a different location, so leadership was rather busy). They eventually moved out of tower range, and started attacking me with magic and bows. After the second hit, this kept them gray for two minutes, and at this time three other Apollo members arrived to help out.

As we battled back and forth, the key contributor actually ended up being an Infernal NPC that happens to live VERY close to town. Being a hard-hitting mob, whoever was the focus of the Infernal was usually trying to run away or parry as best as they can. At one point, one of the enemy fighters was down to about 10% HP thanks to our focus fire and the Infernal sneaking up on him, causing a bit of panic on his part. We got him down, but right before the final blow he went blue, and as I was the one to take the final shot, I took an alignment hit and went red, making me fair game for the other three to attack without going gray. This was bad news. I was able to run among the other three Apollo members while fighting, which made it risky for the enemy to swing at me, as any time they hit the others they went gray and could be freely attacked. Despite this tactic, I eventually got too low on stamina to effectively keep running around and fighting, and they got me down. After I went down the other Apollo members managed to kill two more enemies and the third escaped, but overall we came out ahead and had a nice little skirmish under some unique circumstances.

The other battle of the night happened a little later, with some members of the Black Shields (another TRA clan) showing up at Hammerdale. At this point our bank was back up so we quickly grabbed gear and went to the walls to defend. I believe the enemy numbers were around 7-10, while we had 10-12 Apollo in the city. The fighting went back and forth, with our guys firing magic and arrows down from the walls and eventually charging down to try and finish them off. Not being fools, the Black Shields pulled back a little and managed to string us out. With half of us dropping back to the city and a few overextending, I believe they managed to kill 2-3 of us. Round one went to the Black Shields. They regrouped and came back to the city, and this time our organization was a lot better and we hit them hard right as they came to our walls. They again tried to mount up and run away, but we killed two mounts and ran their owners down as they tried to flee. The remainder of their force tried to provide cover, and that cost them another death when the majority of our force showed up and the arrows started to fly. The rest got away, but between the three kills we were able to recover some of our loot, along with the quality stuff the Black Shields were wearing. Not to mention another fun skirmish with some talented opposition.

As the war between The Cairnivors and Red Army is only just getting started, I’m sure plenty of other battles are ahead, and I’m looking forward to it all, as this is what DarkFall is all about.


Warhammer Online: After almost a year, does Mythic finally get it?

August 18, 2009

I’ll fully admit I might be too close to this to see it clearly, but with that said, I’ve noticed a pattern in Mythic’s approach to patching Warhammer Online, one that might be applicable to other MMOs as well.

The basic of this observation is this: At release, dev work was focused on expanding what WAR already did, seeking to attract more players overall. After 3-6 months, the dev focus changed from getting more players overall to bringing players back, especially those possibly interested in what WAR is offering rather than the general 1 month tourists. After 6+ months, dev focus again shifts from trying to get those not playing to keeping those currently subscribed.

Again, maybe it’s just me reading too much into patch notes or dev updates, and perhaps it’s just coincidence based on what has been patched so far and what is coming in the near future, but hear me out.

Consider the history of development with WAR. Shortly after release, Mythic adds in two previously cut classes, which while nice did little to address the issue at the time (chain queuing scenarios). Only after being burned for this from numerous negative reports (and no doubt exit polls by those who cancelled), Mythic slowly addresses the issue piece by piece, too slow to really change opinions (how many people still TODAY say WAR is nothing but a scenario grind?). Two more cut classes added and some live events later, subscription numbers are dropping while Mythic is still 50/50 focused on improving PvE and RvR. The major issue with RvR now, keep swapping, is again slowly addressed, and again only after numerous sources raise the issue. The PvE updates are made with little fanfare, as at no point was the PvE in WAR important to those who actually came for the games focus, RvR.

Mythic’s big gun, LotD, is now in full hype mode, with promises to bring back what Darkness Falls offered in DAoC. Of course the lack of a third side is nicely ignored, but the hype is thick enough to make many overlook this and still hope. LotD goes live, most players quickly figure out it failed in a number of ways (not the least of which is to fix ANYTHING wrong with the game before it), and we continue to march towards 200k or so subs. Players are left wondering how a game with such a solid core of mechanics could be so futile in it’s end game, especially coming from a company with years of experience working on DAoC.

Which brings us to the present, where the focus has (IMO) shifted from ‘add more stuff’ to ‘fix the crap’, with the crap being Tier 4 and the end game. If WAR had 750k subs right now, the hype train would no doubt be full steam ahead on adding the other two capital cities (remember those?), expanding the PvE dungeons available, and a bigger focus on ToK fluff and live events that give players stuff to do, rather than focus them on RvR. (So maybe for fans of RvR, WAR hitting 200k subs or whatever is a good thing…? Ok maybe not)

Assuming all of the above is correct, and not just coincidence, the real question then becomes: Is this a good thing? Obviously WAR being at 200-300k subs rather than 750k+ is not a good thing if you work at Mythic or own EA stock, but for those still playing WAR today, and for those who might return looking for good RvR, is this shift in dev attention a good move or just another attempt to put sprinkles on crap?

For me, it’s a great shift. I never cared too much for WAR’s PvE. I mean the PQs are fun and a good addition to the MMO formula, the dungeons are good enough, and honestly the questing is exactly what WoW-clone questing is, which is to say meh kill X, collect Y stuff we have been doing since before WoW became a pop icon. It’s not horrible, but not the reason I spend $15 a month or however many hours a week with a game. The reason I keep my WAR sub active is for the RvR, and for the last few months it’s not been because of Tier 4 RvR. WAR for me right now is a blast in tier 1 and 2 (my highest alt is about to hit T3, and it seems to follow T2 rather than T4 in terms of interest), and it’s the first game where I’ve actually ENJOYED playing multiple alts. But playing alts and the lower tiers will only last for so long, and eventually I would either move more of my focus back to T4, or quit if T4 was still broken. Now that Mythic seems to be 100% focused on T4 and the end game, rather than trying to create content for the sake of a Massively preview article (love you Massively), they might not draw as much attention for outsiders scanning patch notes, but you can bet all 200-300k players still playing are DYING to get a working end game.

Plus assuming Mythic DOES fix WAR’s end game (I have enough faith in them that they will), they will retain a higher percentage of their current players, and eventually positive word-of-mouth will grow their player base naturally. We are seeing it happen slowly with AoC (something I will give Funcom a world of credit for btw, especially considering how hard I panned that game at release), and of course we have seen it for the last five years with EVE’s unrivaled growth. And honestly, it’s not exactly a bad way to do things. Sure it would be nice to get 5m+ subs and keep them, but as only one pop icon has managed to accomplish this so far, and multiple titles have turned profits by keeping a loyal 200k-ish base (UO, EQ, AC, DAoC, LotRO) for multiple years, it’s not nearly as doom-and-gloom for WAR as some make it out to be. (Not to mention things would be a lot easier if a certain ex-employee had not run is mouth about opening more servers and other barometers for success in a market that had exactly ONE title match his parameters. Hard to imagine why that guy is gone…)


Champions Online: My review (EG-style)

August 17, 2009

If Champions Online survives longer than HellGate: London, it will be a miracle. I think the idea behind CO is to take CoH, make it suck, and try to get people to pay $200 up front for it before they know what they are buying.

For those who already got duped, do you have the option for a refund? I would look into that…


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