ESO: State of the game, state of the MMO

April 23, 2014

Since Bethesda releases a State of the Game today, I might as well post mine now as well.

Overall I really like the game. I don’t know if I’d call it a great MMO, but as just a game overall I’m really enjoying it. I’m progressing slower than expected (lvl 21 right now), but don’t feel that need to catch up or hit the end-game.

Gold spam has been noticeable, and it’s disappointing that Bethesda seems so unprepared for it and that it’s now taking so much of their focus to fix. It’s 2014 guys, and you expected to launch a highly populated MMO, really no excuse here.

On a similar note, I had posted that the first few days of launch where the best MMO launch I’ve experienced. Well the first month hasn’t been. Some quests have been broken, the bots at public dungeon bosses is HORRIBLE in terms of immersion and just general game enjoyment, and stuff like unusually long loading screens and chat lag all result in a game that is not nearly as smooth and easy to enjoy as it was on day one of the early start.

The MMO parts? Pretty hit or miss here.

The 4 man dungeons so far have all been fun, and what limited time I’ve spent with PvP has shown glimpses of something much better than the mess that was GW2 PvP. I like my character, I look forward to trying other specs, and I think overall the crafting has been above-average themepark crafting.

On the other hand questing really is best done solo, to the point that having others around you is more annoying than anything else. On top of that, you basically have to go out of your way to do non-dungeon stuff with your guildmates, which just feels wrong. I should be happy when a guildmate logs on, and I’m just not in ESO.

Even stuff like taking down the elite spawns on a map together feels forced, if only because one player is teleporting nearby to the other, and more than once said elite spawn has been killed by a random coming by and helping out while your guild mate is traveling. Plus once you kill the mob, the guild mate goes back to his solo questing while you go back to yours. (Note: This aspect is particularly striking to me right now because I’m also playing a lot of Darkfall, and in Darkfall having more people is almost always a good thing, and grouping up is so natural and beneficial.)

Ultimately it all returns me to the main driving of this blog since pretty much day one; a ‘sandbox’ is how MMOs work best, but for whatever reason it always (not EVE) seems that the sandbox is limited by its budget or design details, while a good themepark makes for a good game, but it ultimately held back by the fact that it’s a themepark. Why can’t someone other than CCP make a sandbox MMO that is also a solid game?


EVE: Space Famous

April 21, 2014

The latest EVE Blog Banter topic is about “space famous” individuals and everyone’s thoughts about them. Jester has his entry here.

The topic reminded me that I had previously talked about the importance of such players, here in more general terms and this post about my personal experience. I still agree with my 2012 self on the topic; the more “MMOish” your game is, the more important and beneficial the ‘space famous’ players are, at least the ones ‘space famous’ because they impact a lot of people, either directly or indirectly.

Side note but not really: It was kind of depressing skimming blog entries from 2012, in that they just had a lot more passion and drive behind them. Sure, more than a few were ‘off the handle’ rants or seemed to focus on laughing at Massively and the comments section, but overall more was happening on the blog itself and clearly in my gaming at that time.

I’ll of course lay some of the blame on the MMO genre. I mean, I’m currently playing one game I fully expect to kill itself with its next major update (DF:UW), and the other is a really fun solo experience with bits of multiplayer that, while entertaining, don’t really ‘fit’ into the game for me just yet (ESO).

On the horizon the only title I’m legitimately excited for is Pathfinder, but having seen so many similar titles not even come close to delivering, I’m not going to be a fool again and jump in head-first here. It would also help if more of the Inquisition core group was looking forward to it, but I don’t believe they are (or it’s not on their radar just yet). Blah…


DF:UW – Those who don’t learn from history

April 16, 2014

The big announcement recently from AV about DF:UW is that they are doing away with the class system and going back to a more free-form character skill system.

The perception on Forumfall was that due to classes, balance was poor. The reality in-game was that basically all roles were used, and really only Fire and Brawler were not considered viable primary choices. Everything else you saw in-game, at almost all levels of play (including the most recent tournament), which should tell you all you need to know about balance and viability.

The other bit that is clouding judgment right now is the revisionist history of what DF1 really was. It has somehow gone from a game that was always dominated by FOTM builds to one where people all had their own ‘style’, and focused on what they were best at, which is not only a lie but a total joke.

In short, I think this direction change by AV is a mistake and moves the game back towards the problem areas of DF1, but I’ll wait for the details before going any further than that. MMO history, and their own, is against AV here however.

DF:UW – Levy

April 14, 2014

Just as ESO went live, AV released a major update to Darkfall: Unholy Wars that included a new Area of Influence (AoI) system and a levy system. I’ve talked about the current flaws in the AoI system, but even flawed its better than the nothing we had before, and activity in-game reflects this, with clans sieging and realigning to create beneficial kingdoms.

The levy system works like this: whenever you kill a mob or harvest a resource in a holding’s AoI (yours or anyone else’s), the item/resource has a chance to be copied into the local levy container. The higher the value of the item, the higher the chance it is copied. Once the levy container is full, anyone can go empty it using a special item plus ‘ammo’. The levy container and how close to full it is is visible on the world map.

What’s great about levy is the depth and details of the system. For instance, it has made higher-tier mobs more valuable because their loot has a better chance of making it into the levy container compared to lesser mobs with lower-value drops. Killing the red dragon can fill a levy almost 10%, because he really only drops top-quality loot, while an activity like harvesting a regular iron node fills the levy very slowly due to very low chance of iron and rust making it into levy.

It’s also a great motivational tool for players. Say a group goes out to farm mobs for prowess/wealth in their AoI, and towards the end of their normal farming time they see that the local levy is 85% full. Prior to levy, they would be done farming. With levy, they will very likely farm a bit more to fill the levy to 100% and then go claim it. PvP might happen, it might not. The levy might have copied multiple great drops like a large treasure map, maybe it didn’t copy any. The unknown is part of the fun, and makes the entire thing far less formulaic.

Another example: You log in to see a nearby enemy levy is at 90%. If you see it ticks up to 91%, you know someone is farming something in that AoI. Go PvP if you want. If you don’t see it tick up, odds are good that someone left it like that; go do some quick farming in the AoI and collect the levy. PvP might find you; the 90% might also be a trap to lure you in.

The levy system is a good example of a sandbox system. It has its direct, obvious purpose (loot), but it also introduces more player-based, emergent gameplay as well. More stuff like this AV.

#DFUW #Darkfall

DF:UW – Ushering in the play to crush era

April 3, 2014

“Play to Crush” was the marketing pitch for Shadowbane (SB), a somewhat short-lived MMO that was based around PvP conquest. The core reason SB died? The players crushed it. Server by server, one alliance would rise to dominance, and that dominance lead to all enemy opposition being crushed either off the server or out of the game. The ‘why’ includes a laundry list of design mistakes and technical issues, but at the heart of it all was the general idea of playing to crush, and the players did just that; they crushed SB until it was gone.

An even larger theme than “Play to Crush” is that the players always seek to ‘win’ a game, even if the road to that victory means removing the fun out of the game itself. More than providing victory conditions, a good designer will seek to ensure that the path to winning is not only fun, but in the case of an MMO, sustainable. Basically, NOT allowing “Play to Crush” to happen.

EVE does a good job of this, at least if you consider the rest of the genre anyway. Some EVE players will tell you CCP sucks in this regard and lets the Goons win because the Goons run CCP, but yea, if you look around the genre EVE has balanced motivating winning without crushing well for the past 10+ years.

AV today publicly posted a preview of the next big patch for the game, which will include the territory system. They unfortunately went with player-based buffs over the suggested area-based system, which IMO leaves many of the real benefits of the system on the table and introduces a potential major “Play to Crush” aspect.

To quickly sum it up, the new system will provide a clan-member (and at a reduced rate, alliance member) a buff to PvE (gold, item, and prowess gain) if they are within the area of a holding they own. The more holdings that they own that are connected, the larger this buff becomes. The main sources of this buff will be cities and hamlets, but villages and the two sea fortresses can also contribute if they are captured and connect to your territory. There is currently no cap on the number of holdings that can factor in and stack here.

If you are the most powerful clan/alliance on the server, you will shortly have no negatives to capture as many connected holdings as possible, while each additional connected holding further widens the gap between your wealth generation efficiency and everyone else’s. On paper, its pure snowball “Play to Crush”.

The one saving grace, ironically thanks to the fact that the DF economy is still poor (everyone is still PvPing in top-end gear, because the added sink from PvP was far too small and AV hasn’t increased it), is that wealth generation isn’t a huge factor in DF:UW. You can’t win a war through economics, because basically everyone has access to everything and nothing is all that costly or difficult to replace.

This of course also reduces the impact of the new territory and buff system, but we all know MMO players don’t need major motivation to go out and crush in the name of winning. Hell, epeen alone is often enough, as made crystal clear by the power of meaningless leaderboards that people love and chase spots on.

Like so many times in its history, AV was on the brink of taking a significant step forward, and instead trips over its own feet. Or in this case, got a significant nudge off the cliff thanks to a subset of the community that supported this flawed version of the system.

DF:UW – This is why we play

March 28, 2014

Our alliance is currently in a war with another major alliance, and the result has been great PvP for a number of days now. Last night we had another battle, and it might have been the best one of the war so far.

Here is the video from one of my alliance mates. You can spot me at various points; I’m the attractive blonde elf skirmisher. I’m also the guy who calls out dying near the tower and gets rezzed. I seem to always die in these videos, probably because I generally die in most battles. At least here I got rezzed and didn’t go down again, so was able to experience the entire thing.

As you can see from the video, a large ship had sailed up to one of your cities to do some asset damage. Our alliance as a whole reacted quickly and we soon had just under 20 people ready to defend. The video starts as the boat is already hammering the city walls with its cannons, and they also sent a ground force ashore.

We battled around the gate for a bit, softening them up, and finally making a push out. Along the beach the fight went back and forth for a bit (hence going down), but eventually we broke them and they retreated back to their boat.

The video misses some of the chasing, which involved us using a few boats along with swimmers to keep eyes on the larger ship, until eventually we were able to get some people on board and stop it. Video picks up with the fighting on and around the boat (love the part where the dread warrior climbs to the crows nest, and then knocks our guy off into the water.) Video ends when the cameraman dies, but we continued the fight and eventually won; killing almost everyone in the water and capturing the larger boat along with multiple smaller ships.

What’s great about the video is it shows almost all aspects of DF combat. A ship with a large crew sailing up, a city being attacked and defended, PvP in and around a gate, a battle along a beach that is a mix of ground and water combat, a chase into the ocean by both players and ships, and finally a decisive battle on board a larger ship. This is the stuff that makes Darkfall unique, and oh so much fun.

DF:UW – This is how you should play in the sandbox

March 27, 2014

The shitstorm that is the Bonus Room controversy continues to rage, and as of now CCP hasn’t made a move. How all of that plays out will be very interesting to watch, but I want to put that aside for right now and talk about a different post from Jester.

The main thing I want to focus is the second-to-last quote, where Destiny talks about the sandbox and the players insisting that everyone play a certain way. Jester and Destiny are talking about EVE here, but I want to apply that to Darkfall.

My likely very biased opinion is that Darkfall is in a make-or-break period right now. AV has made a few solid changes (dura loss from PvP being the main one so far), and their plans for improving the conquest and territory control aspect of the game, if executed correctly, I believe will turn the game around, going from a “PvP for the sake of PvP” oversized arena to, you know, more of a sandbox with sustainable content and reasons for players to do things.

At the same time, there is a minority subset of current, but mostly former players that want AV to focus mostly on changing the combat back towards DF1; allowing for hyper-carries and for the elite to better handle larger groups of lesser players. They are convinced that the total appeal of DF is limited to what it is now, and that rather than attempting to expand that appeal, AV should instead just work on getting the ‘core’ base that loved DF1 back. They seem to ignore that said core wasn’t large enough for AV to keep DF1 going, and instead replaced it with DF:UW, but yea.

My overall take on this has been pretty simple; the only thing the elite actually need in a game like Darkfall is a population (targets), and one of the main things that drove people away from DF1 was said elites going superman on a group of casuals, over and over. League of Legends wouldn’t have the millions of players it has if Riot allowed the top 1% to regularity play ranked games against those far below them. There is a reason LoL exploded while DoTA itself never did; Riot fixed a lot of the core flaws of the game, chief among them the very idea of a hyper-carry (one player deciding the fate of 9 others in a game).

Most gamers are ok losing sometimes, but most won’t put up with getting smashed over and over. LoL controls the smashing, DF1 didn’t. DF:UW does to about the extent it really can. Numbers can help overcome skill, but at the same time an elite group can still run into double their numbers (or more) and win. That balance is in a good spot IMO, but AV has a bad tendency to listen to the Forumfall minority and shoot themselves in the foot.

As I said earlier, I think the game is coming up to a critical turning point moment, but I also have this fear (based on history) that AV will take one major step forward, and a giant leap back.

DF:UW – Sinspire Cathedral

March 21, 2014

Last night our alliance took a trip into the newest dungeon added to DF:UW, Sinspire Cathedral. I’d never been, but had heard good things, so I jumped at the chance to join in. In total we had a full group of 10 players, a mix of warriors, skirms, and primalists, all in top-end gear.

When you first zone in you are placed just outside the Cathedral, and need to cross a bridge to get inside. The Cathedral looks massive, providing a very epic ‘first glance’. As you cross the bridge you really get a sense of how large this place is, and just how many levels it has.

You start fighting mobs in the entry hallway, and you need to clear some easier mobs to spawn a tougher mini-boss. Once that mini-boss is down, doors open on either side allowing you to progress further. We didn’t have much trouble here, working well as a group and with most of us using clubs/hammers (best damage type against undead).

Once those doors open you really start to get a feel for how large Sinspire is, and also its complexity. There are multiple paths to take, most leading you around the outside of the main building, but there are also ramps leading to the three side towers. Most of these areas contain mobs of various difficulty, making it more difficult to really stop for people to catch up. The map also isn’t much help since Sinspire is more vertical than horizontal in layout.

We made our way around (one of our members knew the way) to the next mini-boss, who again opened another door, this time to the back tower. Climbing the long spiral staircase of that tower, and crossing the bridge back over to the main building, we found ourselves just one floor from the top. Here we found the first real boss. It took use a bit to figure out his mechanics, but once we had them down the fight wasn’t overly hard for our group. His loot was pretty great.

Killing that boss opens up the door to the dungeon exit, as well as the climb to the final boss. What’s particularity nasty about Sinspire is that if you can’t defeat that boss, you can’t exit the dungeon without dying and releasing, meaning you leave everything you have on you inside the dungeon. More than one member of our group had experienced that, and some were pretty antsy about going back in only to donate a gear bag.

We killed our way to the final boss, who is inside a large circular room behind a one-way portal. Much like the dungeon itself, the only way out of his room is to kill him or release.

Before the boss rises from his throne, you must first clear a few trash mobs in his room. They are not overly difficult, but do take some time. As you are doing that, the final boss gets up and starts attacking you.

He has a few interesting abilities. First he hits like a truck, so anyone he is focused on must parry up, even warriors in dread armor. He occasionally drops a large totem that has an AoE damage pulse. Not too difficult to bow down, but something to watch out for and switch over to when necessary. His other main ability is a PBAoE that he charges for a short time. If you don’t get out of range, it will likely down you instantly. That ability killed many of us multiple times. Finally, he will walk to the center of the room and channel a pull towards him. The damage the pull does isn’t massive, but anyone caught in it will heal him. We messed this up the first time, with multiple people not moving full out of the area, which resulted in him healing about 40% of his HP (he has a ton, so 40% is very significant).

Because of that heal, we had to fight off respawns during the fight, which combined with an AoE blast that killed a few of us, put downing him into question. However we were able to recover, re-adjust our strategy a bit on the fly, and ultimately kill him. A very cool, and very satisfying fight.

The loot from Sinspire is fantastic. Each boss dropped a lot of gold and resources, and the final boss also drops a key to his chest, resulting in even more top-quality loot.

If the mechanics of the final boss were placed into WoW or a similar themepark, it would be an average encounter due to tab-targeting, lack of friendly fire, and ‘easy’ mechanics like ‘click-to-heal’ abilities. Those things don’t exist in DF, so even bringing down a simple totem with some ranged DPS is a bit more difficult due to your more-limited view, the fact that you can’t hit tab to find the totem, and also because you actually have to aim your arrows as you move and adjust to whatever else is going on. It’s by far the best PvE content AV has produced for Darkfall, and hopefully with some upcoming ‘motivation changes’, more players will get to experience it.

And of course, the PvP would also be pretty unique in that place given the layout and the mobs.

Reviews vs Facts

March 19, 2014

A while ago I had a conversation with someone about reviews. My basic point was that they don’t matter all that much, and that we sometimes think they do because the media that produces and relies on reviews tries to convince us that they do.

I think Metacritic is good for a quick glance, but a score of 82 vs 91 doesn’t tell me much, especially for a niche or ‘acquired taste’ title. If a random gamer reviews Darkfall after 10 hours, I’d expect that review to be fairly negative. Unless of course our random gamer happens to be someone who has been looking for a different take on the MMO genre and is really into exactly what DF does well (combat, competition, etc). Then the review is a ‘hidden gem’ type of deal.

On Steam I’ll often look at the forum of a specific game before I buy it (on sale, usually), but I’m not looking for opinion about details so much as I’m looking for “This game is terrible and lies about having X Y, Z” with 3-4 replies confirming the message. Or “This game is a totally buggy mess”, especially when looking at early access titles. I view those not as someone sharing an opinion, but rather confirming facts.

Most reviews are not about confirming facts, but rather the written opinion of the reviewer. Is the reviewer a gamer in my vein, or is he someone who thought WotLK was a great expansion? Because if it’s the latter, what he hates I might find perfect.

Side note: I think ESO is going to be a review nightmare. On the surface and in the first 8-9 levels, it’s a strange and honestly fairly poor mix of not quite Skyrim, but not quite anything worthwhile as an MMO. But then it really opens up, brings a lot of new stuff to the genre, and does a lot of sneaky-great stuff.

The contrast between ESO and WildStar is of particular note. Many expected WildStar to be the next-step MMO, and have been disappointed, while those same people expected ESO to be a clone title and instead found (assuming they got deep enough) something surprisingly better.

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.



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