Tag: mmorpg (page 1 of 8)

From The Vault: The “Real Game” Has Begun

Life’s upheaval shows no sign of really ending, but there are lulls in the quakes. In some of them I’ve started inching back towards Azeroth. I suspect I’ll still be doing a lot of the things listed below, so here’s my take on the end-game content in the game’s current iteration.

Courtesy IcyVeins and Blizzard Entertainment
A surprisingly provincial addition to a world full of dragons and wizards.

When I’ve played MMOs previously, especially World of Warcraft, the prevailing sentiment has been that ‘the real game begins’ at the maximum level a character can achieve. For the most part, this has applied to large-group raid or player-versus-player content. Not everybody is interested in such things, though. The question becomes, then, what does one do once their main character hits the ceiling of the maximum level?

There’s always the option of rolling another character, for certain, but I would argue that a good MMO provides a plethora of content for a player who’s struggled through the slow grind upwards. There was a part of me that was concerned when I approached the top level available as I worked my way through World of Warcraft’s new continent of Pandaria. However, when that bright light and familiar sound met me, I was in for a surprise.

Like many previous expansions, World of Warcraft’s newest areas feature multiple factions towards whom a player can endear themselves. They’re all over Pandaria, but unlike the forces featured in Cataclysm or Wrath of the Lich King, they’re not necessarily worried with getting your help to save the world. The Anglers are fascinated by the various kinds of fish you can find around Pandaria, the Order of the Cloud Serpent raises the continent’s unique breeds of dragons (and you can, too!), and the Tillers are farmers, plain & simple. I’ll get back to them in a moment.

Top level players have been queueing up to enter dungeons for a long time, but Pandaria also gives us scenarios to experience. These instances are smaller and more scripted, geared for 3 players instead of 5 and not necessarily requiring a specific team makeup (a tank will certainly help you, though). With many of the factions I mentioned, you can participate in daily quests ranging from slaying nasty critters to corralling lost yaks. These quests and instances yield plenty of gold to finance other endeavors, gear either through direct drops or special currency, and even reputation with the factions above. But not everything that you can do with your max-level character is so confrontational.

The Tillers allow you to start a farm of your very own. I’ve been told this portion of the game is lifted almost directly from the Harvest Moon games, based on the different crop conditions and finding gifts for fellow farmers. Either way, it feels to me like a lovely change from the usual grind of post top level gear gathering. It’s still a bit of a grind to get your farm to a point where you can grow materials you need for your professions, but considering the things you can do with the other crops in the meantime, it feels like less of a grind, and a player getting a positive feeling from an in-game experience is evidence of good mechanical design.

If you skipped a profession on your way up, or want to change from one to another, max level is great time to retread those steps a bit. Archaeology, in particular, is a neat secondary profession to explore at top levels. Few of the areas you’ll be digging in are actually dangerous to you, you pick up unique items, and it’s a skill that can be used for dailies in Pandaria. In fact, the Order of the Cloud Serpent has dailies that call upon your skills as a cook, medic, angler, and archaeologist. It pays to diversify your skills, after all!

And then there’s the Brawler’s Guild, which I haven’t even touched yet…

Of course, this could just be my feeling about reaching the current top level in World of Warcraft. I’m sure others are more interested in the raiding scene or jumping into the Arena to take on other players. While there will always be alts to level, the game clearly does not end when the levels do. A MMO worth its asking price should keep providing fresh, new content, and for my money, Mists of Pandaria is doing that pretty well for World of Warcraft.

Looking Ahead at Guild Wars 2: Professions

Courtesy ArenaNet

Has it really been almost a year since I last discussed Guild Wars 2? Sheesh, it’s like I’ve been busy or something. But the release of the game is now a mere 20 days away, and I am finding myself a little flummoxed with indecision. Normally, with games such as this, I will have a main character with whom I’ll do the bulk of my adventuring and role-playing, and several alts with which I’ll dabble. But with the game eschewing traditional ideas of class roles and boasting a diverse stable, I’m not sure where I’ll begin. I’ve discussed the races previously, and now it’s time to tackle the professions.

The Warrior, Ranger, and Thief professions are, perhaps, the most traditional ones that will be available. Like all professions in Guild Wars 2, however, each has access to a variety of weapons, and the equipment you carry determines the skills you have available. Warriors are almost always in-your-face damage dealers, but it’s also possible to carry a shield for some damage mitigation or switch to a rifle when you want to deal damage at range. Similarly, while Rangers are traditionally striking from afar, they can also use dual axes or a sword and dagger combination to get up close and personal. While a Thief can go the traditional daggers route or keep their distance with a brace of pistols, they also can actively steal from an opponent, gaining a situational weapon and skills to change up their role on the fly.

A few of the professions are concerned with controlling the battlefield. Engineers use turrets, mines, grenades, and elixirs tossed from their tool belts to either help their allies or hinder their foes. The tools available change based on the loadout the Engineer has chosen. Guardians, as well, have abilities that can assist those around them or wreck havoc on the enemy. The Guardian combines their variety of weapons with the drawing out of one of three virtues – Courage, Justice, or Resolve – to produce effects that hinder enemy movement, protects allies, or turns the very ground beneath their feet into the best place to be for carrying on the fight.

The aforementioned professions fall into the categories of ‘Soldier’ or ‘Adventurer’. ‘Scholars’ are what we would traditionally consider “magic-users” but even among these professions, there is diversity and depth. Elementalists focus on attacks that utilize one of the four elements – Earth, Air, Water, or Fire – and the character can switch between them at will just as they can their equipment. Necromancers steal the life force of their foes, using it to fuel their dark magic and weaken the enemy while summoning minions to do their bidding. Last but never least, the Mesmer is a master of illusion and misdirection, distracting the enemy with clones and phantasms that can shatter and cause all sorts of mayhem for anybody unfortunate enough to be standing nearby.

The professions that hold the most interest for me are Engineer, Guardian, and Mesmer. Engineer should come as no surprise since I played ranged classes in previous MMOs almost exclusively. However, the Guardian’s various Virtues and variety of ways to support the party while controlling opponents is very appealing, as is the Mesmer’s plethora of illusionary abilities. I also have character write-ups for each of these classes. I will simply have to pick one when Guild Wars 2 releases in just a few short weeks…

Expansions in the Force

Courtesy LucasArts

Let’s face an honest truth. The universe George Lucas created back in 1977 is a better place than he originally imagined. With the exception of Empire Strikes Back, which was written & directed by guys that weren’t Lucas, the original trilogy established his galaxy far, far away and populated it with strange aliens, turbulent politics and an ancient battle between good and evil held in balance by a mysterious omnipresent energy field dubbed the Force. Have you noticed I haven’t said anything about the characters? That’s because they’re pretty standard adventure fare.

Think about it. Luke’s arc is so Campbellian in A New Hope one might think a copy of Hero With A Thousand Faces was stashed in Lucas’ trailer. The other characters are iconic, sure, but only because they’ve been in stories we’ve been telling for centuries. There’s nothing wrong with this, mind you, and I’d be the first to say that old stories are still worth telling as long as they’re told well.

That last bit’s the catch, isn’t it? We can look at the six feature films of Star Wars (and no I am NOT counting that CGI stuff) and see with clarity that while Lucas can dream up really neat settings, the population of those settings can get a bit dodgy at times. Hence fan fascination with the likes of Wedge Antilles.

Oh, you know Wedge. He was in all three movies. Blew up both Death Stars? Escaped Hoth? First Luke’s wingman and then Lando’s? That’s gotta ring a few bells.

It was after the first three movies were finished back in the 80s that people started looking to fill in some of the missing pieces of the Star Wars universe themselves, and Wedge was one of the characters that stood out. He was reliable, loyal, an ace pilot and cool under fire. So people started writing about him. To this day, the novels and comics featuring Wedge and Rogue Squadron are some of the highly regarded works of the so-called Expanded Universe.

What made Wedge worth writing about was the fact that he was a blank slate. Any writer could have filled that slate with him as a traditional adventurous hero, but he was depicted as a more rounded, seasoned warrior, a man who’d seen the far side of the galaxy and came back knowing he was fighting for the right cause. In a universe where characters with realistic emotions and concrete motivations could be few and far between, where some technology and concepts can best be described as ‘magic in space’, Wedge thrived.

The Expanded Universe came to include calculating and ruthless military foes like Grand Admiral Thrawn, questionably motivated fringe operators like Mara Jade and the Black Sun criminal empire, Rebel-affiliated black ops commandos like Kyle Katarn… they even fished Boba Fett out of the guts of a desert monster (explosives are apparently a good expectorate). But it was still all within the confines of Lucas’ original vision. The good guys won, the bad guys lost. The only shades of grey could exist between and after the films. And even then, you only had a handful of the iconic warrior-wizards with glowing laser swords to set Star Wars apart from a plethora of other sci-fi settings.

Enter the Old Republic.

Courtesy LucasArts & Dark Horse Comics

This is Ulic Qel-Droma. He’s one of the first characters introduced in the graphic novels that set the scene 4,000 years before the Battle of Yavin. Instead of following a Campbellian arc, however, Ulic is shown to be a headstrong and powerful warrior who’s heart tends to be in the right place but also leaps before he looks more often than not. His tale of pursuing justice only to fall to the Dark Side makes him, in essence, the Darth Vader of his time, and in my humble opinion is everything the six feature films should have been in terms of the development of such a character.

It’s pretty telling that when it comes to Star Wars gaming, the Old Republic time period has yielded some of the best storytelling thanks to a pair of RPGs produced by BioWare and Obsidian. Knights of the Old Republic and its sequel have become standards by which the likes of Mass Effect and Dragon Age are measured. People have been waiting to get their hands on a third game in the series, and instead BioWare has produced an MMO, which I’ve experienced a bit of first-hand.

While I still consider its gameplay safe and not terribly innovative, I keep thinking about the story. How do they keep things interesting? How does it change when more people are in the mix? And what role, exactly, are we playing in the unfolding events in the galaxy? Are we destined to be a teeming mass of Luke Skywalkers and Ulic Qel-Dromas all claiming to have stopped the same galactic threat? Or will players be more like Wedge Antilles, settling at a cantina and simply saying “Yes, I was there. I saw it happen” in the manner of a grizzled, battle-worn veteran?

I’d like to think it’ll be the latter. With so many MMOs giving no thought to the ramifications of millions of people killing the same NPC repeatedly, The Old Republic seems to be taking extreme care to make an individual player’s story a personal experience, rather than the same one everybody else is having. It gives context and meaning for the typically asinine goings-on in such a game in a way that belies the “been there, done that” feel of its mechanics. It gets away from some of the weaknesses of previous MMOs while polishing some of its mainstay aspects to a shine, just as the Old Republic setting does away with a lot of Lucas’ bullshit while maintaining the feel of his galaxy’s atmosphere, mood and themes, much as Wedge’s novels or earlier games did.

I can see why The Old Republic may not be for everybody. But the more I think about it, the more I may need to give it another shot.

First Impressions of Star Wars: The Old Republic

Courtesy LucasArts

I am a recovering Star Wars fanboy. I grew up on Star Wars. Before Star Trek grew into its Next Generation and into the myriad other permutations, there was A New Hope. From Alan Dean Foster to a variety of hacks, there’s been all sort of surrounding works with the series. Video games are no exception. They’re not all Dark Forces and TIE Fighter to be sure, but most folks in the know will point to BioWare’s Knights of the Old Republic as perhaps the best RPG set in the universe.

I’m a fan of the Old Republic in general. I’m of the opinion that ancient fallen Jedi Ulic Qel-Droma is one of the most interesting characters in the whole Star Wars universe, but that’s a post for another time. Setting the stage thousands of years before Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi are sent to Naboo cleans the slate and allows for expansion on history, culture and adventure within the galaxy Lucas created. It certainly offers more options than a galaxy where there are two, count them, two Jedi to speak of and the Empire’s in shambles until Grand Admiral Thrawn shows up.

This brings us to Star Wars: The Old Republic, a MMORPG created with LucasArts’ universe, BioWare’s storytelling chops and EA’s marketing monstrosity. I’ve had the opportunity to test it twice, and while I never got as far as double digits in terms of character levels and thus can’t speak to things like class balance or dungeon content, I can talk about the mechanics, the storytelling and the atmosphere of the universe and how well it’s captured.

Courtesy LucasArts
I couldn’t find where the game stashed the screenshots I took, so… have some concept art.

I will admit that I more than once felt the pull of the old familiar nostalgia trying to pull me in as I played. The music, the set pieces and even sound effects appeal to that eight-year-old that lingers in the back of my brain and tries to convince me that Star Wars never came close to being ruined at all and those other Transformer movies never happened because Optimus Prime is not that much of a callous, bloodthirsty douche. Tempted as I am to give that little jerk a wedgie for being so naive, I will admit that the design team is doing their job in evoking the feel of the Star Wars universe. I got a little bit of a nerdy charge when I recognized names like Naga Sadow, Marka Ragnos and Exar Kun… while my wife had to ask who they were and why it matters. Star Wars fans will be pleased by this, non-fans may feel a bit on the outside looking in.

The stories are perhaps the strongest part of The Old Republic, chalked up as mentioned previously to BioWare’s experience with such things. Within the household we experienced several and the consensus is that the Imperial Agent has the best story of the bunch. Most MMOs have you chasing down rats or collecting bits of twig for someone nailed to the ground, Old Republic flings you into an espionage yarn worthy of Alpha Protocol. With fully voiced NPCs, cinematic cutaways devoid of overpowered happenings and dialog choices that actually matter (eventually), there are times when the game feels more like a single-player RPG than an MMO. I was never in a group long enough to experience the way the game weighs the attitudes of multiple players against one another in conversation, but the idea does intrigue me from the standpoints of storytelling and mechanics.

It’s on the mechanical side of things, however, where I found my enthusiasm waning. Each class gets a set of particular skills with cooldown periods and linked mechanics (Sith Warriors with rage, Imperial Agents with cover and so on) that they can purchase new ranks of with each level they gain. Sound familiar? And while there’s no auto-attack and you must push a button to initiate an action, there’s no denying this is essentially WoW in space. The potential of the game is also undercut by the shortage of character creation options. While male characters can come in sizes from “barely out of their teens” to “hitting the Krispy Kreme once too often”, females are limited to four different sets of voluptuous curves with no real appreciable difference in frame, and all in rather tight outfits. It’s possible that this is due to beta constraints and higher levels will see these ladies in practical armor, but somehow I doubt it.

While I don’t think it’s necessarily the case that a new MMO has to be radically different to survive, I find myself having difficulty getting excited for Star Wars: The Old Republic. Yes, it brings me back to the sense of adventure and sweeping story that drew me into Star Wars in the first place, and the story beats do crack along rather well from what I’ve seen. While the gameplay isn’t necessarily bad by any definition, it also isn’t blowing me out of my seat. What The Old Republic is, in a word, is “safe”. It builds mostly off of the success it’s main competition and tries to draw in players with story and atmosphere. While those things are good, it will be difficult to sustain a player base on those things alone. When the goal of the game is the delivery of top-level dungeons and PvP matches, both endlessly repeatable, the story eventually has to peter out and the atmosphere becomes mere window-dressing. Players with a hankering for story will turn to one of BioWare’s single-player titles or a game like Skyrim while those craving good atmosphere would do well to try out smaller indie titles like Bastion if they’re in the mood for atmospheric gameplay with strong story elements, or Amnesia: the Dark Descent if they feel like crapping themselves.

Personally, I’m holding out for a Mass Effect MMO. Oh, and Guild Wars 2.

General Post-Blizzcon Thoughts

Courtesy Blizzard Entertainment

BlizzCon has come and gone again. And again, I didn’t get to go. Sadface. But next year! Next year will be THE YEAR OF CONVENTIONS! I’m totally going to cons next year. It is a moral imperative.

Anyway, while I wasn’t present and couldn’t shell out for the live stream, I did keep an eye on my Twitter feed and a couple other news sources to piece together what the rather mad and admittedly skilled yacht-owning developers at Blizzard have in store for their fans. Let’s go IP by IP.

World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria

“Isn’t it a little late for April Fool’s?” – Danielle

So, yeah. Pandaran.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the pandaran brewmasters. But to me they’ve always been on the fringe of Azerothian stories, kind of like the bounty hunters in Star Wars. Remember how LucasArts released a game all about one of those bounty hunters because they wanted to make him a “breakout hit” from Attack of the Lame Screenplay? The overall reaction was “meh.” That’s an appropriate reaction here, as well.

Now, taking the game in a PvP direction and away from the PvE content that has not really been up to snuff since Burning Crusade is probably a good thing, as Old Republic‘s voice-acted labyrinthine quest chains are probably going to blow WoW out of the water. And the environments and new character models look great. I just can’t shake this feeling that, like in previous expansions, the other character models will remain as dated as they have been for years. There’s also the fact that adding the Monk as a basic class, while good on paper, means that all of its abilities need to be scaled and balanced against the others. I don’t know if doing Monk as a Hero Class would have been more or less work. But the game already had balance issues, mostly pointed out by the PvPers, and with Mists being aimed for PvPers, you’d think some thought would have gone into making sure things are well balanced. The talent system is reportedly “overhauled and improved,” but I for one won’t be holding my breath. Between Skyrim and Guild Wars 2, I’ll get all the fantasy RPGing I can handle, and then some.

Diablo III

“…like giving crack to a heroin fiend…” – Ross Miller

I’m also somewhat lukewarm about Diablo 3. I enjoyed both Diablo 2 and its expansion, and I’m sure that the sequel will be enjoyable as well in the same “click your way into the dungeon, click your enemies to death, click your way back” fashion as its predecessor and Torchlight. My objections to the lack of character customization leading to the Witch Doctor being a walking stereotype aside, I’m sure the game’s engine is solid, the skills of the various classes fun to use and the story as dark as the previous iterations.

In this case, it’s more a matter of prioritization than anything. I want to play Skyrim and get into Guild Wars 2 far more than I want to play Diablo 3. I must admit, though, that pitching the WoW yearly pass to players by throwing them a gratis copy of this game is a stroke of genius. Well done, Blizzard, enjoy the new yachts!

Blizzard DOTA

“lolwut” – Me.

I love the tongue-in-cheek nature in which this was presented at BlizzCon. I’ve played a bit of League of Legends and I like the gameplay that feels like the handsome bastard rogue child of RTS and RPG. Doing so with known characters has a frankly shameful amount of appeal. I just love the notion of mincing in as Jim Raynor and blasting the snot out of Arthas over and over again. Or Illidan. Let me show you just how prepared I am, bitch.

Anyway, it could be fun. I’ll be keeping my eye on this one.

Speaking of Jimmy…

StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm

“ZOMG PROTOSS GOT SHAFTED, NERF TERRAN” – Every Protoss player ever.

Campaign looks interesting, wish Kerrigan’s skin was still as dark as it had been in the original game, blah blah blah.

I’ll talk more about the units and other initial changes in tomorrow’s post, but what struck me as the torrential amount of backlash from a lot of the StarCraft community. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, as many players have made it a point to constantly decry how one particular race is dominating the others or the ways individual units can or should be tweaked to defang a prevalent strategy. Personally I don’t put a lot of stock in public outcries in this matter, partially because I have no basis by which to gauge the power of units relative to skill as I don’t have much skill myself, and partially because I think that most of the forums on which I see this sort of caustic feedback are too loosely moderated to sort out the ruffians and bandwagon-jumpers from the people who have honest, well-reasoned opinions on the state of the game. I should really listen to the podcast of the same name more.

Thoughts on new multiplayer units and the changes I’m aware of tomorrow. Stay tuned.

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