So dumbed down its just dumb

November 3, 2014

There is a good post and fun comments thread over at K&G about Blizzard’s upcoming League of Legend’s clone (get it), Heroes of the Storm.

Here is Keen’s basic statement of the game:

Heroes of the Storm is, essentially, a dumbed down version of other mobas at least where mechanics are concerned. There isn’t last hitting or denying. There are no items. Experience is shared across your entire team. Everything is super basic, but remarkably it works.

My initial reaction to reading this is “so what exactly do you do?”. Obviously you fight the other team, but the above sounds like an extremely simplified version of LoL’s ARAM game, which itself is already a really, really dumbed down version of LoL you fire up to kill some time, but if it was the main game, I’d have quit LoL years ago. Go even further and remove items from that equation and yikes, wtf are we even doing here?

But that’s not the real point here; the real question/speculation is how well will HotS ultimately do. LoL is, by a wide margin, the most popular game out right now (outside of Asia, because :Asia:), and DoTA2, while only being a 1/3rd of what LoL is, still ranks in the top 5. Blizzard being Blizzard clearly wants a piece of that pie and has fired up the cloning factory, but what slice are they aiming at is the current debate.

Blizzard cloned EQ1 to make WoW, they were taking a successful niche product and smoothing out the rough edges to make something that would appeal to more people, but the key here is they were starting with something that was complex and difficult to get into, with design flaws begging to be fixed. LoL is the WoW to DoTA1’s EQ1. A dumbed down WoW is Farmville, and once Zynga was forced to stop their shady/illegal practices, they went poof. HotS sounds like the Farmville of MOBAs, and that’s not a good thing IMO.

As I said over at K&G, Blizzard could get 10m+ free accounts out of people if they produced a grass growing simulator. But 10m active players is a blip on the LoL radar, especially if that 10m doesn’t stick around for years and years. A lot of LoL’s success is not only that Riot made DoTA1 easier to get into and fixed a lot of the core issues (no hyper-carry, very limited snowballing), but that they retained the depth and growth potential that kept people playing DoTA1 for so long. Combined with the best implementation of F2P going, along with top-tier talent that continues to improve, and the result is an industry juggernaut.

2014 Blizzard isn’t the Blizzard that made Diablo 2 or even vanilla WoW. 2014 Blizzard is the studio that released Cata/MoP and Diablo 3. To say they have lost some talent is a rather large understatement, and now they are going to compete not with SOE and EQ2 (lulz), but Riot/Valve and LoL/DOTA2. It will be interesting to see what ultimately becomes of HotS, but I’m betting the under.


AA: The true spiritual successor to UO

September 30, 2014

With the lead weight that is Trion and F2P covered yesterday, let’s start digging into WHY you should tolerate Trion and play ArcheAge anyway, because yea, you should be if you enjoy virtual worlds and smart MMO design.

I always go back to this point, but for me the perfect MMO is basically a great RPG game that doesn’t end and greatly benefits from the fact that you are playing with others. It’s because of this that I inherently dislike themeparks over virtual worlds; a themepark MMO has an end, and it also has a preset path you travel along to reach that end.

When this is done well you get quality themeparks like 2005 WoW or FFXIV, which can be very entertaining but ultimately not hit the highs of a great virtual world. Nothing a themepark can do will ever top the best moments in games like UO or EVE for me; by design they simply aren’t capable of such highs, and so themeparks in general are a ‘waste’ of MMO development time compared to crafting virtual worlds.

To call ArcheAge a ‘sandpark’ is selling the game short, or getting an EG-level of experience with the title and claiming you ‘get it’. One flaw AA has is that its first 15-20 levels, which in retrospect are basically an overly long and probably unnecessary tutorial, are classic themepark questing gameplay, and if you don’t know better you might think that is actually a major part of what AA is about. But it’s not, not at all really. It would be like saying mission running in EVE is a major focus of the game, with the other bits being side activities, and hence EVE is a ‘sandpark’.

The truth is that AA is very much a virtual world, and it is indeed a modern-day version of UO. Where UO had very rough “bring the NPC here” ‘quests’, AA has all the questing mechanics and systems of today’s MMOs covered. Where UO had basic crafting, AA has crafting depth deeper than most titles in the genre, and crafting that isn’t a tacked-on mini-game but rather a core feature. Where UO had effective yet simplified combat, AA has all the lessons learned about modern tab-target combat included. Where UO had basic but open character building, AA has a very refined skill-tree setup, with a good mix of options and tradeoffs. Where UO had a large but somewhat unrefined world, AA has a ‘zones without actually being zones’ world, one that feels open yet at the same time organized, focused, and interesting.

Some or all of those points might be covered in future posts, but that’s AA in a nutshell; a virtual world MMORPG the feels like it was made in 2014, with 17 or so years of MMO lessons learned under it.

AA also feels like an MMO made by someone who has actually played an MMO before. For instance, players start with the ability to recall, which works just like it does in most MMOs; use the ability, and you get sent back to your bind spot for free. Simple yet useful. But AA also gives you a teleport book, which has all of your discovered teleport spots, along with a tab for your personal locations (such as your house). To teleport, you must have a craftable item in your inventory, and rather than moving you to the spot, a portal opens. If you jump through the portal, you teleport. Simple again, right?

Only if you have been paying attention to the genre, your first thought should be “someone is going to open a portal in the starting area to a death trap and grief new players”, or “someone is going to use portals to make PvP a complete cluster”. And if AA was made by someone who had never played an MMO, like say SOE or Trion, portals wouldn’t require you to JUMP through them rather than WALK through them. But XLGames made AA, and clearly at least one person there has played an MMO, and so they added that little yet critical tweak to something as basic as moving around.

Plus if SOE or Trion were in charge, not only would the game have gone live with the grief portals, but then the fix those clowncars would have added would be to make portals only work for the player who summoned them, killing another awesome feature that AA has going for it; being able to open a portal for your whole guild/group, and regardless of level or if someone has that location or not, everyone being able to travel together without the usual hassle and, wait for it, play together in an MMO. Mindblowing! And this is just one of many examples of AA feeling like a ‘next gen’ MMO, rather than telling us it is in some manifesto and delivering yet another generic and completely forgettable themepark experience. A title that has learned from previous MMOs and feels like it has actually been designed to not neuter, limit, or ‘make everything accessible’, but just solve the previous issues or flaws while still retaining what made the original ideas so great in the first place.

Speaking of feel, AA has that feel of playing to progress forward, without ‘forward’ being some developer-defined thing like a level cap, or a certain item level, or clearing a certain tier of raiding. It feels similar to playing EVE, that feel of always need more ISK, but not needing to always do the most ISK-effective activity just because the game or the devs laid out the path that way for you. I might not have a clear plan for the eggs I gather from the chickens on a farm, but damnit, gathering those eggs IS progress, however big or small it might be. And if a day comes where I can’t stand the thought of gathering another egg, or watering another plant, I can stop doing that completely and, so long as I have another income stream, never be forced to do that activity ever again while still being able to progress forward.

That is sadly the all-too-rare ‘feel’ of a sandbox, the ability to progress forward in a number of different ways, without any one way being the ‘right’ or the ‘required’ way.

Finally, don’t believe the lies and misinformation spread by some, because while AA certainly has a good amount of PvP-focus to it, it is even more limited than EVE in just how open that PvP is. Should you choose so, you can avoid PvP completely and still quest, farm, trade, and progress. Up to level 30 all questing zones are protected (you can attack enemy players and flag yourself, but they can’t attack you), and within those zones you can set up a house or a farm, complete trade runs, harvest, fish, etc. Even further zones change from allowing PvP to not, so a trade route, house, or farm placed in one of those zones could still be tended by someone looking to avoid PvP so long as they enter when the zone is safe (which is visible from the world map).

Your risk vs reward ratio won’t be the same as someone who does head into more dangerous territory, but AA is far from the fully FFA PvP experience of games such as Darkfall or Mortal Online. As stated above, this is yet another example of the game clearly learning from previous games, and rather than taking the easy or limited route, there exists a nicely working balance that caters to many different types of players.

Ultimately I believe AA is worth your time if you are looking for a solid virtual world experience. It’s not without flaws, certainly, but especially in a genre with such slim pickings, it’s easily one of the better-crafted experiences outside of New Eden.

 


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.


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.

 


DF:UW – Just call me Captain Ghostship

March 13, 2014

Once we had wrapped up our sieges Sunday night, we noticed that the nearby Sea Fortress was going live in under an hour, and it was decided that we would bring out a Frigate and try to capture it.

A Frigate is one of the larger ships in DF:UW, featuring seven cannons per side, along with two cannons facing the rear. It has three crow’s nests, and overall is an intimidating weapons platform. I was the captain of the ship, which meant that the game zoomed my view WAY out, so far that everyone on board looked like little ants running about. It was a very cool ‘whoa’ moment, and being the captain for the whole thing was a very unique, very different thing to do in an MMO. Naval combat overall in DF is better than any I’ve experienced in gaming, and I think comes about as close to the ideal as one could imagine.

Once we arrived in the area, and after fighting off a few much smaller ships and shooting some cannonballs at the Sea Fortress itself, we spotted another Frigate and it was on.

Both ships exchanged broadside cannon volleys while extra crew members on the deck shot spells and arrows at the enemy, while still others used repair tools and shards to keep the ships floating. In terms of a group-based PvP activity, ship combat in DF:UW has a lot going for it. Ships are worth a good deal so losing one stings, people need to bring black powder and repair tools/shards, all these things are player-crafted, and all of it happens on/in the water or on the decks of the various ships.

As captain this was particularly fun, trying to sail the ship to maximize cannon fire while also keeping an eye out for swimmers or smaller ships, avoiding the various rock spikes in the water. We had 15 or so players, so those shooting cannons had to run from side to side as the ship turned, those on deck were repelling swimmers, and overall it was the essence of controlled chaos for about an hour or so.

Eventually we sunk the enemy Frigate, but as we battled the Sea Fortress was captured. Once we were done with that battle, we sailed around and sunk a few smaller ships and killed their crews in the water, but eventually the call was made to leave the area and not risk losing our ship to swimmers. A few small ships chased us for a while. We turned and sunk some, all while moving away from the area.

The night ended on a somewhat comical note. One ship that was chasing us slowed to pick up a swimmer, and that stoppage put us out of view distance. However, on their end they could still see our sails due to a visual bug. Initially they thought we did something shady to escape, and I got more than a few amusing rage tells. Here is a video from their side; skip to about the 10min mark for the actual bug and the reaction on comms, the first ten are the chase.

 


DF:UW video – Enemy perspective from the AT siege

March 11, 2014

Enjoyable watch, quality goes from average to good.

Highlights: I die towards the end. Video starts when they have both boats already in the water. Video ends right as we start turning the fight and take out the siege stones before going on to the enemy hamlet and capturing that.

Still don’t understand why they didn’t push into the hamlet once the first tower was down, but glad they didn’t.


DF:UW – Sweet peaks

March 10, 2014

I write often about the highs and lows a great MMO can take you on vs the sustained averageness of far too many MMOs today. I think in many ways that is the core difference between an MMO and all other forms of gaming; in any other genre getting a solid 15-80hr experience is seen as a successful title, while only getting 100hrs or so out of an MMO is seen as a failure, regardless of how great that 100hrs was.

Since release I’ve had my ups and downs with Darkfall: Unholy Wars. It was in possibly the worst shape I’ve seen an MMO be in beta, to the extent that all of Inquisition decided not to play the game at release. I’ve talked often about how DF:UW was intended to fix the flaws of DF1 and also build on the core (best combat in the genre), and while AV got some things right, some critical flaws remained.

At the same time, here we are in 2014, and the MMO genre still sucks overall, we still have EVE as the only title to get it ‘right’, and so many recent entries are either entirely forgettable (GW2) or hilariously bad (SW:TOR). Yet AV keeps plugging away at DF:UW, trying to improve one of the only decent sandbox titles we have, so it would be rather hypocritical of me to ignore that, especially as I have already wallet-voted for ESO, possibly yet another themepark (the ‘possibly’ is for a different post).

I noted that I resubbed when AV added gear destruction from PvP, because IMO that one changed fixed the biggest core flaw the game had; an unchecked economy. More changes are still needed, and AV doesn’t have the greatest track record in terms of delivery time, but it’s still progress in the right direction, and in the MMO genre until the servers are down, I believe you are never truly out.

The above four paragraphs is a long-winded setup for the events that happened Sunday night. (Spoiler alert: high peak incoming).

I’m currently in a clan named Last Call, which is part of the Sick Bastards alliance. I’m there because of my buddy Rynnik, who I also followed to Proxy from OTG. Hopefully Last Call doesn’t disband like Proxy did. If they do, I blame Rynnik. The clan is a great group of people, and the alliance includes many MVPs I’ve talked/argued/insulted via Forumfall. On that front, so far so good, and having a good group to play with is perhaps the most important part of enjoying yourself.

On Sunday we had some siege action. First our hamlet was sieged by a rival alliance, and we shortly after dropped a siege on their hamlet, the timers being just minutes apart.

The action started off in our hamlet, first with some small (10v10) skirmishes, later escalating into bigger action. At one point the enemy spawned a boat in the small lake near our hamlet, using the cannon to damage our zap tower. We countered with a boat of our own, and ended up sinking their ship while holding their players off long enough to get the job done.

A bit later they spawned another two boats, but this time they were able to keep us off and the boats disabled one of our towers. As this happened, they made a large push into the hamlet itself, and were able to wipe us. I thought at this point we had lost, because most of us were bound at the hamlet and regearing would have been nearly impossible with the enemy right there.

Oddly enough, they instead just looted our tombs and backed out, giving us a chance to regroup and regear. We did just that, and counter-pushed to the siege stones. Someone from our alliance dropped one of the new deployable land cannons, and through heavy fighting that went back and forth for a long stretch of time (and four gear bags for me) we held the enemy forces off long enough for that cannon to take down the siege stones, winning us the siege and ending the threat to our hamlet.

After our successful defense we rode quickly to the nearby enemy hamlet we were sieging. As we rode, we were getting updates that the enemy was trying to destroy our stones, and our defenders were badly outnumbered and just looking to buy as much time as possible. They were successful, we arrived in time, and were able to not only defend the stones but a second force was able to rush the hamlet stone and destroy that with more cannons.

2/2 on sieges that night, not bad, especially considering we had constant action for over two hours without a single technical (lag, FPS) issue.

We then took out a Frigate that I captained for the Sea Fortress, but that is a story for tomorrow.


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