Pathfinder Online: Everything but the game is looking awesome!

July 16, 2014

I was recently talking to a friend about Pathfinder Online, with the gist of the conversation being that I love everything about the game on paper, from the design docs to what the devs have said, but actually seeing it in video is a complete no-go for me, and what that ultimately means.

On the one hand, ‘gameplay’ is a rather important aspect of any game, if not the most important. If what you are doing in the game isn’t actually fun most of the time, what kind of crazy person must you be to keep playing?

As crazy as most EVE players?

I mean, how much fun gameplay is there in many of EVE’s activities? Is mining ‘fun’? Are missions great gameplay? Even the high-point events like massive battles; for the average F1 pilot, is the gameplay really that great? I think most of the above can be answered with a “no, but…”. And that ‘but’ is huge (rimshot), because while mining is either boring or relaxing depending on perspective, it feeding into the best economy in the genre is a large part of what makes it such a popular activity in the game.

If Pathfinder gets the economy right, if it has interesting/worthwhile crafting, etc, would the fact that it has rather poor mining ‘gameplay’ matter? Because at this point I’d rather take poor gameplay but solid, sustainable systems over the opposite. If I just want great but shallow gameplay, I’ll play something other than an MMO.

Of course some of the gameplay has to be good/great. In EVE PvP can be thrilling, and at the highest levels (Alliance Tourney) it’s as deep and skillful as anything else. Pathfinder is in alpha still, so maybe the combat/gameplay will improve significantly, but even if it doesn’t, I can’t fully rule it out, even in the shape it’s in today.

(That said, please for the love of god improve the gameplay Goblin Works!)

 


ESO, DF:UW – Sometimes we go looking for something we already have

March 17, 2014

This past weekend ESO had another beta weekend, but I wasn’t able to play much as I had issues with the account my highest-level character is on. I did create an Imperial on my purchased account, but beyond that and testing mob collision quickly, I didn’t really play the game.

I did play a lot of Darkfall, as that game has sunk its hooks back into me. Momentum is a powerful force in the MMO genre, and who you play with is, IMO, a bigger ‘content driver’ than the actual content itself.

Quick example: On Saturday a few of us went out on a boat to attempt to kill the Ice Dragon. We failed; his regen offset our dps and we didn’t have enough people, enough arrows, and enough repair shards. One member of the alliance was driven to killing him, so much so that he pulled together the enormous amount of mats to craft the biggest ship currently in the game (a Ship of the Line), had it crafted, and put together a large crew to attempt the dragon again.

This time we were successful, and even though some uniquely Darkfall stuff happened (climbing to the extremely tall crows nests of the ship was the key to success, as at that height you are able to target the dragon with arrows much easier), the fight was overly long and the loot was terrible, so until its buffed we won’t be going again.

So overall not amazing content in terms of effort/reward, but something that entertained 16 people mostly because of those 16 people. If that doesn’t sum up WoW 40 man raiding, you didn’t raid enough. Is there such content in ESO? We’ll find out shortly.

Another comparison; DF:UW isn’t known for its PvE. ESO has a lot of PvE content and that is a major selling point. One of the early complaints about ESO is that the PvE is faceroll easy. Another is the combat lacks a real feeling of impact, and Bethesda has made multiple changes to that area to help fix the problem. I don’t think anyone has ever said PvE in DF lacks impact, nor has anyone called it faceroll easy by MMO standards.

Quick example: Near one of the hamlets our clan owns is a mob spawn with some easier mobs and one terror-level mob. Lately I’ve been making the quick trip out to the spawn to kill the terror. It takes me 2-3 minutes to kill him using full plate (3rd best warrior armor) and a leenspar greatsword (second best weapon). My character is maxed when it comes to spending prowess for a warrior and the related stats. I haven’t died to him yet, but each time I have to kite him a bit, recover hp/stamina, and use my life-leach attack as often as possible.

Beating that mob is harder than anything I’ve done in ESO, and that’s 100% ignoring the fact that at any point someone could come along and jump me at the spawn; something that can’t happen in ESO. In ESO I’d also never consider what gear to bring to kill him, I’m always wearing the best stuff I have. In DF I could wear higher-tier armor/weapons, or lower tier if I felt in greater danger and accepted that killing him would take longer. Also in ESO I’d kill him once and be done Perhaps not major decisions overall, but still decisions to be made vs no decision at all.

Another example: Rynnik and I set out to farm some Black Knights. We both had not completed the feat for them, we both could use the loot they drop overall, and Black Knights specifically drop the item needed to make the gauntlet for the new village requisitioning system. Three birds, one stone.

We recalled to his house as a starting point as it was close to the spawn, and we both set ourselves to Deadeye skirmishers since we were going to kite and bow them down. Rynnik also brought a party strongbox deployable so we could store the loot inside rather than carry it on us.

Things were going well for the first wave. We killed and looted all the knights, stored our loot in the strongbox, and waited for the respawn. About a third of the way into the second wave, a warrior and mage attacked us at the spawn. Initially they fought both of us, but shortly both focused on Rynnik and he ran them away from the spawn. I recovered and Rynnik circled back after losing them. Stupidly we started farming again, and quickly got jumped by those two again. I went down, Rynnik escaped.

I regeared quickly and made my way back to the area, as we hoped they had not found our strongbox and we could at least recover all of our farming loot. As we crept back into the area, we noticed the mage was standing on the nearby hill, and as we continued, we noticed the warrior was just returning. They found our strongbox, and the warrior had gone to get battlespikes to blow it open. As they were focused on opening the strongbox, we gained the high ground and prepared to attack.

I opened with a large AoE that puts a DOT and also slows anyone caught in it, while Rynnik went for more direct damage. The warrior reacted quickly and moved away, but the mage was loot-drunk and had his head inside our now-open strongbox. Taking advantage of this, we put a half-dozen arrows in his back and down he went. We fought the warrior for a bit, but the 2v1, double-skirm vs warrior setup was highly in our favor, and he too went down. He had banked my previous gear set, but in return we got his, the mage’s, and also all the loot from our strongbox. A nice ending to our little PvE adventure.

 


ESO Beta: The picture is starting to clear up

March 3, 2014

Developing opinions about ESO continue to… develop!

Overall I’m coming out of this weekend more positive about the game than I was going into it, and going in I had already pre-purchased the Rich White Man edition.

The good; my character from the previous beta weekend had to be shelved, as I think I gimped him. A Breton duel-wielding Dragon Knight in light armor did not seem to work. Now why is this a good thing? Because if you can gimp a character, that means character development has some actual choice to it and those choices matter. If you can’t gimp, everything is ‘good enough’, and that kind of design sucks IMO.

What’s even better however is that while talking to a buddy, he let me know that light armor Dragon Knight is a thing, but you use a staff to dish out heavy ranged dps. Apparently it works really well in PvP. I don’t want to get too ahead about this, but right now I believe ESO will offer a large range of builds, some more viable than others of course, with some great in one area vs another (PvP, PvE, group, solo, etc). If that actually happens, that will be a huge plus for the game.

The further I got into the game (up to lvl 11 this time), the better the difficulty feels. I’ve had a few tricky/interesting solo boss fights, I’ve gotten some public dungeon experience, and overall I still feel the game is opening up and getting more interesting rather than hitting a plateau. It really is an interesting mix of solo RPG ala Skyrim, and improved MMO themepark content. I can safely say we will see some ‘reviews’ where the reviewer only plays for 30 minutes and calls it hyper-linear or something silly. Those should be enjoyable in terms of blog content.

The bad: Bugs. Oh the bugs. /reloadui was used constantly to get out of buggy NPC conversations, and our small group ran into more than one boss/encounter that wouldn’t spawn or was broken. The game has a month until the 4.4.14 release date, so while there is still some time to get things fixed, I’m not expecting a bug-free release. What I am hoping is that they fix all the major stuff, like bosses not spawning, because those really sour the experience. Getting deep into a public dungeon only to have the game cut the experience short on you and others is not cool.

Those are the big points. I also got into crafting a bit more and liked it. Nothing crazy different, but again tweaked and expanded beyond what I’ve seen in the themepark space before.

Ultimately I think that is where ESO will either just be another title or something special; if most of the tweaks and changes to the standard formula ESO has work out (and I’m leaning towards that right now), the game will be successful. I don’t know if that means retaining 500k subs for over a year or what, but yea, successful.

I will say this right now, all the comparisons to SW:TOR are comically wrong. Worst case scenario ESO will do better than the Tortanic, because structurally it’s a better game, and more importantly, it’s a better MMO. I just can’t tell HOW good, in part because I’ve seen promising titles destroyed in beta or shortly after with ‘accessibility’ patches.


ESO: Sand in unexpected places

February 10, 2014

Quick ESO beta weekend update: At one point the three different quests I had were all bugged out (named mob not spawning), which initially made me log out because whaaa I can’t progress. Wanting to play the game more (a good thing), I logged back in a day later and just decided to wander off towards something on the map and see what would happen.

I found some ‘hidden’ gathering stuff, got some xp, and eventually leveled and made it to another questing area (still all the same ‘zone’), this one with working quests. Good times.

I’m currently leaning towards the CE and RP’ing a ‘better than you’ Imperial character. You know, do something out of character and really challenge myself with the RP…


ESO: Beta impressions

January 13, 2014

(If this post breaks the ESO NDA… um, sorry?)

I got to finally play ESO this weekend, and more than anything it surprised me. I wasn’t blow away and loved it, but I also didn’t hate it. I wish it was more sandbox, I hate some of the stronger themepark influences, yet after a weekend, level 8, and close to ten hours, I’m still unsure how I feel about the game, which is a good sign I think. Part of me expected to be disgusted with the whole thing instantly, and that didn’t happen.

The biggest surprise was how well the game uses the IP in some regards. There is no mini map, instead you get the familiar bar at the top ala Skyrim. It’s a small UI detail, but I love it. Just screams “this is Elder Scrolls” while also moving itself away from the themepark default.

I also like all of the random, small containers around the world that you can loot for little crafting bits, or read little lore notes; that’s straight out of Skyrim (and games before it), and while again a little detail, makes a small difference; finally you have a reason to check every room and corner for something, even if that something is pretty minor.

When you walk by NPCs in cities, they throw out little comments ala Skyrim. Immersion! Also first-person worked great and again pulled me into the game and helped distance it from ‘yet another themepark’.

I wasn’t listening to the quests (wanted to get as far as I could), but I did notice certain NPCs move with you from zone to zone, which story wise I’m sure is interesting, rather than having the usual one-and-done NPCs in most themeparks.

I don’t want to get into combat too much as I suspect some of it was debugger effected, but it feels like Skyrim. That’s not a total compliment as combat in Skyrim is pretty meh, but meh is better than straight garbage, which is what so many of these games have. I do like the system of limiting your available skills via hotbar slots. I know GW2 did something like this, but tying skills to weapons is more restricting and annoying (I don’t want to use a 2h sword but 2h sword has the skills I want, for example), while in ESO you have more freedom and options. Perhaps long-term the system sucks, but up to level 8 I liked it.

I mentioned in a quick post earlier the game being easy; it still was at level 6-8, but a bit better. I actually died because I pulled a mob group poorly, and I just wish MORE of the game was on that level rather than the usual PvE faceroll. I also have concern about the general PvE when approached as a duo or in a group; it feels like all of that stuff is balanced around doing it solo, which is again an unfortunate themepark flaw.

Speaking of themepark flaws, unlike Skyrim ESO is divided into zones rather than being a world. Hate that. The three early zones I saw were not small, but not huge, and while not as point-A-to-point-B as I’ve experienced in some themeparks, certainly did not have the feeling of freedom that you have in Skyrim, where you can just pick a direction and discover what the world holds.

I didn’t get a chance to try the PvP, although I’ve heard from those who have that it’s not bad (I’ve heard DAoC-like mentioned, but that is a tall mark to reach).

Graphically the game is interesting, in that the graphics are not worse than Skyrim (hyper-graphic mods aside), just slightly more cartoony. Character models look really good, while animations are pretty hit or miss (ala Skyrim). The game loaded quickly and ran great for me, but keep in mind I am playing on top-end hardware. No complaints on the sound, good stuff. (Funny side note 99% of you won’t get: some of the NPCs don’t have text recorded yet, so instead the text is read by a computerized voice. The voice made me think of the Barstool short videos, so I got a good laugh out of that).

Now for some fear/wishful thinking; if the later zones in the game are more linear, that would suck (how many MMOs have front-loaded the best stuff early after all). If the later zones are larger, more ‘worldly’, with the initial zones being more linear to ease people into the game, that would be awesome. If someone wants to confirm which it is, if that’s currently known, that would be cool.

So final verdict? Undecided, although a bit more positive on the game now than before this weekend. Looking forward to ‘testing’ it a bit more, assuming this doesn’t get the account banned.

 


Smartest dummy I know

December 16, 2013

Jester is a bit of a weird bird (and I say that with upmost respect).

On the one hand, he is that rare player that is worth hundreds if not thousands of subscriptions in EVE. He is exactly the type of player you want if you are a dev; he gets people excited for the game, he knows his stuff, and he represents the game and its players in an excellent light. On top of that, he is a top-level player of a game where being anything above average means a great deal, and his overall knowledge of all things EVE is amazing, as is his ability to communicate it via his blog.

On the other hand, dude is a complete doe-eyed MMO newbie outside of EVE.

He was excited for GW2 for all the reasons most of us saw as your typical PR fluff (living world, action combat, basically that whole manifesto of lies), and then when the game came out went through the expected non-descript cycle with the game and moved on, despite thinking it would play out different for him initially. (I’d provide links but lazy).

Now, he is looking forward to ESO thanks to that… interesting PvP video they recently released. The Keen and Graev comments section is a good reflection of what most thought of the video (and the game overall). I just find the contrast amusing; here is a man who is such an expert at the most complex MMO out, yet that same person buys into the terribly produced hype of themepark MMOs.

Maybe that whole Jester/Garth thing isn’t just a blog gimmick…


Darkfall: Unholy Wars – End of beta and the plan going forward

April 15, 2013

Originally I was going to chronicle the DF:UW beta from day one to close, but a lot of what I had down no longer applies, and after re-reading it, it was honestly not that interesting. Instead, I’ll just type up a few quick hits, and then talk a bit about what I expect at release and beyond.

Day one of beta was a comical disaster of epic proportions. You had the normal issues of login queues, disconnects, and patching failures that most/all MMOs have on day one. But magically, on top of all that, you had some pretty unique stuff as well.

For instance, since all new characters now start in a tutorial area, on day one everyone was piled on top of each other, and since DF has hard collision detection, most people were stuck and unable to move.

To make things even more fun, on day one characters stayed in the world even when you would disconnect, which meant the meatpile in the starting area was an ever-increasing trap of fail. The cherry on top was the inability to delete a character, and with DF:UW only allowing one character per server, if you were stuck in the pile, you were done playing.

For those lucky enough not to get stuck, they encountered the wonder that was the persistence bug. Basically, whenever you crashed or logged off, every item on your character and in your bank would go poof. For the first month or so, the only way to safely store anything was to put it in your clan bank, and you needed 2000 gold to start a clan. Oh the joy of farming 1900 gold and crashing!

Fast forward a few months, and Aventurine fixed many of the major issues and game became more (or reasonably) playable. Once that happened a lot of feedback was given and many things changed, not the least of which was the prowess system. In the last few weeks of beta, AV did a lot of patching around combat balance, and the last few days felt more like DF1 than at any point in beta.

Finally, debug mode, a mythical unicorn of performance issues and other assorted items, will be turned off for the live game, and what that means will be something to watch.

The false-start of the November launch burned a lot of Inquisition members, among them leadership, and as a clan Inq won’t be playing DF:UW at release. I and a few others will be playing with The Old Timers guild, and I’m really looking forward to being part of that well-established, solid group.

One of the interesting things right now about DF:UW is how similar it is to DF1 at release. On the one hand the game is missing a lot of features (few dungeons, few boats, no hot-spots like Sea Towers, only 2/4 specs per role), the performance is less-than-perfect, and no one really knows how certain aspects will play out (like the reduced number of holdings, or how the prowess system will hold up long-term).

On the other hand, even in its debug beta state, playing DF:UW is still more fun than just about any MMO out, the combat system makes games with ‘active combat’ like GW2 look like a bad joke, and it’s one of the few true virtual world PvP games out (still).

DF:UW won’t live or die by the minor tweaks it made to an established MMO formula like GW2 or SW:TOR did, simply because if a game like DF is your idea of a good time in an MMO, your options are to play DF or spin on your thumb (or fly a spaceship of course). It will live and die by how quickly AV can fix the major issues (and there will be major issues), and how quickly they can deliver the missing content and then keep going with new stuff.

DF1 was able to remain a subscription MMO for three years because in the first two, AV did a good-enough job with the updates and fixes. At the same time, DF1 could have been FAR more successful if major design mistakes (bloodwalls for example) where not present. DF:UW is that chance, and hopefully they don’t blow it.

Should be a fun ride. Hopefully it’s a long one. More to come as the game goes live tomorrow (probably…)

 


TESO looking great on all fronts!

April 15, 2013

Darkfall post coming in a bit, but I need to post this first.

The Elder Scrolls Online video leak disaster.

The video has already been removed from Youtube (if someone has a working link, please post a comment), but the Massively commentator gold is still there. My only question is, how much is Zenimax paying Broken Gears and Rufflepaws, and do they get a refund? Guess that’s what you get when you outsource damage control huh?

I’ll give the Massively crowd credit though, at least some of them are catching on. If this was pre-release SW:TOR-era Massively, the comments would be 90% Broken Gears-types, rather than the 50/50 split that I read (not that I read all 800+ comments, I can only take so much). Still a long way to go, but baby steps at least.


Devilish details

March 27, 2013

Yesterday’s post got some interesting replies, not the least of which is this post over at KTR. It got me wondering if I just over-focus on some things, or if other MMO players don’t see them or don’t care about them.

Zubon says you can play DF:UW’s prowess system in Asheron’s Call 1. Here is the quote:

“So if you like Darkfall’s prowess system, you can go play that right now in Asheron’s Call 1. Seriously, that system existed in 1999…”

(Note: the 1999 part is important, because that’s basically the version of AC I’m talking about. It’s been more than a decade since I last played it, and for all I know the game today is completely different.)

As I pointed out, yes, certain aspects of the AC1 system are similar on paper to DF:UW; primarily the act of spending points to increase skills. And I don’t want to get into a debate about what percentage of the systems are similar, because I see little value in that here. Whether it’s 99% different or 1% different, the two ARE different.

What I do want to point out is how these differences ultimately matter.

For example, DF:UW does not have levels, while AC1 did. Zubon talks about this in his second paragraph, but misses or does not address the main point; without levels, you don’t ‘progress’ through areas/zones. Without that progression (and other factors), you don’t fall into the themepark trap and instead create a virtual world. It’s the classic difference between UO and EQ, and while AC is in many ways the odd man in the middle from the big three era, in terms of progression and world feel it’s very much EQ and not UO.

The reason? It’s character progression system.

DF:UW? Far closer to UO in terms of world feel. The reason? It’s character progression system.

To me, that’s huge. Apples to oranges huge.

And yet Zubon made the post he made, and others made the comments they made. I respect Zubon, I know he knows MMOs, so I don’t think it’s a case of not getting it or not seeing how the pieces add up.

I’m left with the fact that to Zubon and others, maybe they don’t care? Maybe a virtual world or a bunch of connected zones is just shades of gray?


DF:UW – The brilliance of the prowess system

March 25, 2013

The appeal of a “use and improve” system to character progression is easy to understand, in part because it mimics real life. Want to get better at something? Do it (practice). Unfortunately sometimes being ‘realistic’ does not work in the gaming world, and “use and improve” systems very much fall into that category in the MMO genre.

From 1997 and Ultima Online’s skeleton wall, to Darkfall 1 and bloodwalls, players have always found a way to game such systems and get around them to get ahead. The devs in turn make changes to curb the behavior, be it slower skills gains in your house, slower gains off players, ‘power hours’, meditation, etc. The problem has always been that you are applying a Band-Aid to a wound that is ever-increasing (power-gamers will always create smarter macros, find better bugs, or simply brute-force harder).

The easy thing to do is blame the players, but the reality comes back to the fact that making an MMO is hard (right Lord British?), and making a PvP-based MMO might be the hardest design job in the industry. Design too much against the power-gamers, and your title becomes completely unplayable for anyone outside of that small minority. Limit the impact said minority can have, and you drive away the content-providers.

It’s with this history in mind that I bring such high praise to DF:UW’s new prowess progression system.

The basics of the system are this: every action earns you some amount of prowess points. Simple things like mining some iron might be worth 1 prowess per resource, while farming high-end mobs might be worth 20 or more prowess a kill.

On top of gaining pure prowess from your actions, the game also has an achievement system (feats) that reward prowess when completed. Gather 10 piece of iron, and you earn a bonus 7 prowess. Gather another 200, and you get 50. Gather an additional 3000, and you get 400. Feats cover all areas of the game; gathering, crafting, PvE, PvP, exploring, etc.

An example: You are out hunting goblins. Each goblin kill earns you one prowess. Skinning each goblin tombstone also rewards you with one prowess. After 10 goblins you earn the first goblin-slayer feat and open up the second (100 goblin kills). While skinning, you completed the first feat for collecting eyeballs (enchanting material). As you finish up your farming session, you return to town and salvage some of the drops, gaining a bit of prowess for that. Using those mats, you craft a new sword (prowess gain, progress towards crafting feats) to replace the one you just used and broke.

The beauty here is that a character at basically any level of prowess can do the above and make progress. The above can also be repeated for practically all varieties of mobs, as each has its own set of feats, and different mobs skin for different resources which again have their own feats.

So how you gain prowess is pretty brilliant, because you get it from simply playing the game, but not in the ‘play the game’ style of a “use and improve” system. That is only half the system however.

What you do with prowess is equally important. Simply put, you spend prowess on skills or character stats, with the cost increasing as the skill/stat gets higher and higher towards the cap. All skills outside of crafting can be increased in this way (crafting still increases from use, which works as you are resource-limited rather than time-limited with crafting).

The result is you can very easily become ‘viable’ with a bit of focus. Near-maxing one weapon skill, some basic spells, and your key stats can be done in a matter of weeks with normal (20ish hours a week) play. At the same time, ‘maxing out’ a character is incredibly difficult, both due to the increasing cost of skills as they increase and the diminishing returns on prowess gain as your overall total increases. On top of that, the more you play the more feats you will accomplish, so finding new feats to finish for a prowess boost will naturally drive players out of their comfort zone and into trying new things (different mob spawns, more PvP/PvE, crafting, etc).

How to spend prowess also adds some interesting decisions making, without becoming a “you just gimped yourself” choice system (you can always get more prowess). For instance, say you decide to gather for a bit; how much prowess do you spend on the mining skill initially? The more you spend, the faster you mine and the lower your chance of failure. However, spending those prowess points on the mining skill means you can’t spend them on combat-based skills. Each player will initially spend to a different level, in effect customizing their character’s skill to better suit their style of play.

And much like in EVE, maxing multiple weapon skills or role skills does not make you more powerful, it simply gives you more options. And just like docking up and getting a different ship in EVE, it will take some time and gear adjustment to make the switch in DF:UW. It’s good motivation to keep progressing, but it keeps the barrier-of-entry reasonable for players joining at a later date.

The impact this system has on how you play the game is rather dramatic, if sometimes in subtle ways. For instance, it’s no longer beneficial to use a spell as often as possible to skill it up, so players no longer run around cycling transfer spells ‘just because’. It’s not a game-defining change, but it cleans up one aspect that to new players traditionally quickly comes across as a flaw, or just stupid.

It also instantly removes blood walls, mount bashing, or the infamous ‘group-sex’ macroing from DF1. Instead you have the power-gamers identifying the best mob camps to farm, in the best group setup, and in the most efficient rotations. It creates new value in holdings close to such spawns, and rewards organized guilds that prioritize a guild crafter.

In short, the system rewards the kind of player behavior you want to encourage, which is basically going out and playing the game rather than doing boring/exploitive activities just to progress. It keeps the barrier-of-entry reasonable, while still retaining a very long character progression path. And most importantly, it feels fun and rewarding, both on a micro and a macro scale.

Funny that it took 15+ years, and a small indie studio to get us there, but better late than never.


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