Beornings class announced and lore discussions

So LOTRO’s devs have confirmed  that the new class for 2014 will be a shapeshifter, the forums had already settled on this as the likely (though not universally popular) choice. Beorn as inspiration for this is of course canon, appearing in the Hobbit novel. The issue that this is a race, or sub-race of man and not a class is neither here nor there to Turbine of course (a class is a learned profession, this is more akin to an innate power).

On a related note I was in a discussion with my Neverwinter guildies this last weekend about lore and characters. Someone complained they hated to see a fiction inspired character that was not true to the lore, e.g. a character called Raistlin with black hair or one who is a cleric and not a wizard. My first thought was “what would a character called Raistlin be doing in the Forgotten Realms in the first place!” but that’s just me being a picky perhaps.

I find these kinds of clashes of opinion and values between those who respect lore and those who play games more freely interesting and they’ve been evident in every MMO I’ve played with an established lore. Sadly for me the Beorning holds no interest as a concept, I’ve long been one of a minority who thinks druids should not be primarily shapeshifters and I have no interest in Twilight or similar Vampire/Werewolf-obsessed TV series. It may be that Turbine are hoping to cash in on a shapeshifting angle to get people interested again, certainly they couldn’t twist the lore enough to allow player vampires on the Free People’s side of the game. A lot will depend on how the class actually plays I guess, perhaps the massive changes to the classes in the last major update were needed to open up space for some new classes without overlapping with the old ones?

The above linked LOTRO dev post also closes the door on the promised housing revamp, it’s out for 2014 now. That’s disappointing as I was looking forward to seeing a more flexible system in that game. The news of yet another level cap increase (5 more levels, to a new cap of 100!) adds to the feeling that I’ll never catch up with the end game of this MMO. Maybe in a few months time I’ll be slightly less obsessed with Neverwinter and will be able to make some progress again – the level cap isn’t likely until 2015 so that’s some time to get through the book quests of Rohan and Helm’s Deep…

Posted in Gaming, LotRO, Neverwinter | 1 Comment

Neverwinter: a rewarding weekend

Yesterday I finally gave in to temptation and bought myself a Lillend companion.

screenshot_2014-04-13-20-57-10

This Celestial half-snake creature is a rather exotic-looking healer character. I’ve wanted one for the pure aesthetics of the model and animations for some time, she plays spells of healing and damage on a harp made from a giant bejeweled sword, what’s not to like? Despite the general community obsession with ioun stones for group content, I usually have a healer out for doing dailies solo and more importantly I want to have a stable of purple (rank 30) companions so I can run the top tier Sword Coast Adventures.

I also unlocked my first ‘tier’ item from the Sharandar campaign on Saturday. The 20 hour long task requires a mix of different reward currencies, from all three daily zones. In exchange you get a random purple item – this time around I got a new cloak, quite a big upgrade!

nw_campaign_reward

 

It’s a randomised reward system so we’ll see how quickly I manage to collect a set of the rewards. Module 3, the Curse of Icewind Dale, remains some time away but will be a good focus of excitement for later this year. There’s plenty of content for me to be doing until then.

Posted in Gaming, Neverwinter | Leave a comment

“Scheduled fun”

Zubon of Kill Ten Rats had a recent post berating the new world boss schedule for Guild Wars 2. I agree with the post 100%, the game has strayed a long way from the promise of a “living world” that 2012 held. Over-organisation or scheduling of group content is never a good thing in my book. I’m certainly one to mention, on occasion, that my time for any specific game is limited. Should I not be happy then that ArenaNet organises the playerbase to do open group content on a set schedule so that everyone can make time for world boss kills, and thereby ensure you get your fair stab at some shiny loot?

Somehow this very didactic form of gaming irks me – it makes the game needy in a bad way – “there’s a world boss at 8pm, you should log on”. I’ve written more than once that I’m not a happy raider, it’s one reason why Pandaria-era WoW grates on me, Blizzard seem rather obsessed with funneling all players into the raiding meat-grinder. Raiding can be a casual thing in WoW these days, but if you want to actually play with people you know it is still a more organised activity than simply hitting the ‘queue’ button.

Neverwinter is a great, casual MMO – there is plenty to do in shortish chunks of time. But the game does also promote the “scheduled fun” angle quite heavily. The bonus events happening every hour (link to a web-based schedule) give you optimal times to do dungeons, skirmishes, foundry quests, daily zones etc. I can usually ignore this, but even my casual guild isn’t immune to the pull of bonus loot. So if I want to actually run a dungeon delve I should really log on, or be online for the dungeon delve bonus event times. That annoys me as I don’t want to plan my free time around a games developer’s adhoc timetable.

There’s a silver lining to this type of system I guess. I’ve been in a few international MMO guilds (i.e. transatlantic) over the last few years, in different games, and it’s often a rather random affair whether there’s enough people online interested in doing some group content. At least with a publicised event schedule like that in Neverwinter or the linked boss calendar for GW2 people are encouraged to log on at the same time. I wonder where does the balance between “scheduled fun” and being able to follow your whims lie in these games? You might answer “find your own fun, ignore the schedule!”, but then if most people you play with are busy following the schedule then it isn’t always so easy to ignore…

Posted in Gaming, Neverwinter, WoW | Leave a comment

Neverwinter: prize for most annoying monster ever?

All MMO creatures are not created equal, some are just plain annoying to fight. Whether it’s the droid teams from SWTOR that push and pull you across the battlefield, the horrid jumping spiders of DDO that just have to get right onto your face or the patrolling elite that just happens by when you’re already locked in a fierce battle with something else in LOTRO; some creatures just seem to want to spoil your day.

Running the Sharandar campaign dailies to now save up for the fancy purple gear rewards, I’ve come across some pretty annoying creatures in Neverwinter too.

3) Fomorian spellcasters

Some of the mini-bosses in the daily instances in Sharandar are Fomorian spellcasters. These ugly giants have some seriously painful attacks, they’re immune to crowd control (ouch for a control wizard!), oh and they can polymorph you into a helpless random animal!

Druid power preview?

Druid power preview?

 

2) Random encounter … with a beholder!

I’ve thankfully not encounter one of these floating monstrosities in the actual game as yet. However during the April Fool’s event one of the random runs had a beholder as a final fight. The random group wiped three times before we defeated it. To put that in context, none of the other runs involved a wipe at all. The auto-scaling system (that makes every character level 60) didn’t prepare us to face its massive damage and nasty attacks. I’m actually quite pleased that we manage to down it, I half-expected the random bunch of players to start abandoning the group after the first wipe. In any case not my favourite opponent outside a well prepared guild group.

Erm, is that what I think it is...

Erm, is that what I think it is…

1) Action point draining cheaters

Powrie are a type of redcap faerie nasty that you find mixed in with groups of redcaps and Fomorians throughout the Sharandar campaign. They’re weak opponents individually but if not killed quickly they start casting an ability to drain you of all of your action points (the power for your daily abilities). One story instance in the last and third section of the campaign actually has approx ten of these pesky fey in one area. Any creature with action point drain is overpowered (OP) in my book. It’s one thing to fight monsters that can stun, knockdown or some other form of crowd control on a hero. That’s normal for MMOs, especially those with action combat. But the action point drain is fast and easily missed as it’s not a red flashing shape on the floor – dodging does not avoid this you have to interrupt the powrie casting it!

Too dangerous to even get a close screenshot

Too dangerous to even get a close screenshot

 

What’s the most annoying monster to fight in your current MMO gaming?

Posted in Gaming, Neverwinter | 1 Comment

WoW: spec flexibility (or holy dps)

I spent some time this weekend duo leveling with my partner through the Pandaria Horde version of Jade Forest. There are enough story differences from the Alliance side, and it has been long enough since my last journey through the zone, for this to be a fun little side activity.

I had a Troll priest as main for our old Horde-side guild (the twin of our Alliance guild) during the Cataclysm era. Playing the new level 85 content I found myself wondering why I was having to play her Shadow off-spec and not her Holy main. The problem is that damage output is king in WoW’s PVE content. It brought to mind this morning my clueless attempt at leveling a paladin as Holy back in 2007 – it was next to impossible as you barely did any damage as a healer back then.

Nowadays I could duo as Holy certainly but, I suspect, my damage would probably be about 50% of what it is in Shadow. Since it is just me and a paladin tank for this duo, I’m providing the main damage and the odd shield or heal. So to progress with a half decent pace through the content my spec is decided for me, the old dev mantra of “bring the player not the class” doesn’t apply to spec as well. The two specs play pretty differently despite being the same class!

I can contrast this to my cleric in Neverwinter who, even with his powers and feat points focused on healing, can put out respectable damage easy enough. All I have to do is slot a different mix of abilities from those I’ve unlocked while leveling. I can go from having a full buff/heal set to a full on DPS with emergency heal set in a few mouse drags.

MMOs with sub-classes (SWTOR’s advanced classes or WoW’s very distinct talent trees) make players choose between sub-types of the class to play. Sometimes these choices are irreversible by design (SWTOR’s advanced class cannot be reset), many times there are additional costs in-game that hamper the character’s ability to operate in more than one mode equally well (WoW’s reforging system has overcomplicated the gearing system with regards to dual-spec).

I feel this issue will need some more thought when I have more time: many MMO games offer build flexibility options, but the reality isn’t so free when you actually play them.  What do you think? Is it important to have the option for multiple character ‘specs’ for role flexibility? Should the options be playable without a complex process of respeccing or regearing the character – e.g. should a healer be able to do enough damage to level / solo dailies while in “healer mode”?

Posted in Gaming, Neverwinter, SWTOR, WoW | 4 Comments

Neverwinter: remember to explore

Yesterday our guild in Neverwinter had a “hide and seek” event. The organiser’s character would announce a zone and instance (like many MMOs these days Neverwinter will spawn new copies of a zone to manage game performance as population rises), those playing the event then had to race over to the zone in question and find the organiser’s character – you had to ‘touch’ him, i.e. run right up to him, just spotting him wasn’t enough.

What followed was an increasingly difficult set of exploration puzzles as this player knows the game very, very well and had chosen some very interesting and hard to reach places to hide. In some cases it was in plain sight but you wouldn’t spot him if you didn’t really look around, including up and down. In later cases it was truly off the beaten track – the sort of little corner or high vantage point that most of the playerbase race past unnoticed as they level their characters.

Vellosk is a beautifully designed zone, look up!

Vellosk is a beautifully designed zone, look up!

I’m a staunch supporter of stopping to “smell the roses” in MMOs, and of taking screenshots of beautiful zone design for that matter. But having done this fun little event I was reminded that even I can be too goal oriented, too focused on questing and getting companions leveled up. Neverwinter has some really lovely zones and they obviously need exploring more fully!

screenshot_2014-03-31-19-17-56

This capture the mote zone event has some nicely, out of the way spawn points.

Posted in Gaming, Neverwinter | 1 Comment

Georgeson and F2P

The outspoken development director for SoE’s Everquest games, David Georgeson, has talked up the Free to Play (F2P) model again in a recent interview with IGN

I have had a generally positive experience of the wave of F2P conversions and releases over the last few years. I like his point about the cost of games (the base retail cost, not including discounting post-launch):

paying $60 up front to take a gamble on whether the game is good or not

The thing is I have almost never been that desperate to play games that I would pay full price for it. Yes, maybe for early WoW expansions or the SWTOR release, it was a must buy ready for launch day. But single player games going further back I generally bought on discount from a store or Amazon. I used to buy a lot of games (especially console ones) only after they were put into the budget range.

The response to this that I’ve already seen in the article’s comments is that “free trials + sub works just fine” to avoid buying games you won’t like. That doesn’t actually work that well for me. I can remember doing the free trial of Warhammer Online and being frustrated that it was so short and that it had a low level lock (level 10?). How could I realistically judge the game based just on the first tier and in a couple of weeks with limited and unpredictable free time. A month of trial is a bit better but even then it can be tight if I have a crunch at work or deadlines for study to meet.

Free to play has allowed me to try a lot of MMOs that I would otherwise not have even looked at (including Aion, Tera, and my current favourite Neverwinter). Back when MMOs were sub-only I only ever had one or max two going at a time, so trying a new game was a pretty big commitment. The idea of getting friends to commit just to try a new game was even harder!

Nowadays I’m happy to try new games, there are plenty of duds on the market but also some real gems. You could counter that this freedom has lead to the “3-monther” trend in communities that invade a new game at launch and vanish shortly afterwards. But surely this at least means those games are getting a much bigger potential audience than they would otherwise have had.

It also makes coming back to a game much easier, as per my recent Neverwinter experience.  This can have the added knock-on effect of starter zones in games never quite dying out in the way they do in subscription MMOs. My memories of LOTRO’s early zones are coloured by the lack of players to group with when I was first experiencing the already mature game at that time (late 2009).

Georgeson also states that F2P pushes the developers to produce better games:

With free-to-play you get to go in, take a look at it and find out. It’s entirely our responsibility to make sure you’re entertained. 

I sort of agree with this, in so far as the freedom to come and go means there’s plenty of competition for your time and cash-shop purchases. With subscription MMOs the expectation was more about long-termism perhaps. I always felt I had to get my “money’s worth” out of sub games which can lead to putting up with boring or grindy gameplay simply to get to the “good stuff” beyond. With no sub-pressure to play if I find gameplay in a F2P game boring I skip it or stop playing.

However there’s another element to this Mr Georgeson doesn’t address. There’s the accusation, or suspicion at least that having a cash shop driving development can also distort the type of content that is developed. If sparkle ponies are making a lot of money then do the developers focus on creating more sparkly mounts (sparkle spider anyone?) and not on say, a new raid tier. I’ve not seen much evidence of this in the games I’ve played so far, but I do worry that as a story-focused casual gamer, story content may well be neglected because it is time-consuming to produce and not necessarily easy to monetise.

 

 

Posted in Gaming, LotRO, Neverwinter, Tera | 1 Comment