Peeking at the Secret (World)

My planned return to EQ2 will not happen properly until I’m back from a work trip in October so for the weeks left in between my partner and I have decided to give Secret World a spin. We’ve played one session so far but by happy coincidence our SWTOR friend was available as well so we ran around as a trio for part of the time.

The TL:DR; summary is that the game offers a lot of tantalizing hints of deep story, complex mechanics (without levels!) and what appears to be lots of flexibility to the grouping experience.

First impressions
Having created a character each in the character creator we were ready to jump into our chosen faction’s (Templar) tutorial zone. The only issue with the creator that we encountered was the problems finding a nickname that isn’t already taken. This is the shorthand name for your character and has to be unique on the server – even some of my very obscure celtic names were already gone. It also posed a slight creativity challenge as we’re so used to making fantasy characters that finding something more appropriate to near-future London was quite challenging!

The tutorial zone is shared but some of the instanced mini-missions are solo only. Not a big problem and to be expected I suppose but the confusing ‘play as other character’ sequence was reminiscent of the baffling tutorial for Tera – throwing players in at the deep end with a set of unfamiliar abilities and tough fights may not be the best first impression to give…

New beginnings...

New beginnings…

Kingsmouth
We completed the tutorial missions quickly enough and moved on to the first proper zone of Kingsmouth. By the time our leveling-trio friend had come online we’d also done all the initial missions from the guy by the Agartha gate (loving this lore-appropriate excuse for rapid travel!). So we joined up as a trio at the police station and carried on exploring from there. It soon became clear that this MMORPG has a somewhat unique and very positive take on group play. The lack of levels means you can play together without artificial restriction – the only mechanical issue I noticed was that as a newly minted tank I had trouble keeping aggro from our friend’s similar tank/dps hybrid because his character has more APs spent to upgrade abilities. I doubt this will be an issue longer-term.

The cut-scenes so far do an excellent job of introducing the plot and specific missions and NPCs. The solo-together nature of them does lead to some confusion if you’re not very coordinated via party chat or voice comms though (e.g. lots of “have you taken this mission yet”?) – we have been spoiled by SWTOR’s strict synchronisation of such cut scenes as it’s makes for a more seamless group experience. That said I really like that the game has cut-scenes at all and certainly the quality is way above Neverwinter’s ‘talking zombie’ dialogues.

Finally an MMO that lets you take screenshots during cut-scenes!

Finally an MMO that lets you take screenshots during cut-scenes!

Missions
Missions come in different types and you can only have one ‘main mission’ active at a time, if you take a second one the other becomes inactive. That’s an interesting structure – it appears at first glance to encourage you to slow down and spend more time in a given zone. I’ll definitely come back to this topic with more thoughts after playing some more. There are other reasons to explore the zones properly as you find side-missions out in the field (max of three active at a time) and you can find lore objects to add to a growing story-narrative. At least some of the missions can be repeated and that’s actually a genius decision by the devs. It means our friend’s character can rerun missions with us despite having completed them and still earn money and XP rewards. This meant a seamless grouping experience and also means we don’t have to keep separate characters for trio leveling – we can just play these characters as a duo or trio ad hoc with the only important consideration being the progress through the zone storyline which we’ll probably want to keep roughly in-sync.

Combat
I was a bit concerned about the combat going into this as I’ve read some criticisms of the responsiveness of abilities and the feel of combat in general. So far, playing only with sword and pistol abilities, I’m liking the feel of combat and the pacing of fights. We’ve fought a goodly amount of zombie-trash that as a trio we can annihilate very quickly. There are also some tougher fights that benefit from some coordination and proper ‘trinity’ gameplay. Combat seems to be responsive enough and the ability animations are nice and distinctive.

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Perhaps the game’s greatest strength and biggest potential issue for newcomers is the ability wheel system – character customisation is extensive and complicated from this new player’s perspective. I’m undecided how Funcom could handle this better, I don’t think players should have to go to websites for ‘build’ guides right at the start of a new game. There is that concern we’ll waste AP or skill points if we want to drastically change our characters in the future but then apparently it’s possible to eventually get all skills on a character so that shouldn’t matter much. I think the ‘choose your weapon’ tutorial mission needs a lot of work as it does a pretty poor job of introducing this complex system to a newbie…

Posted in Gaming, TSW | 5 Comments

Rotation changes for Autumn

The leaves are rapidly changing colour and there’s a cold nip in the air, it is Autumn time! I’ve already put FFXIV on hold for the foreseeable future due to other priorities and pressures but I think there’ll be some more changes to my gaming roster for the next few months.

Solo game: Everquest 2
I’ve decided I’ll be giving Everquest 2 some love and attention as my solo game of choice. I really want to get a character to the cap, and my level-boosted shadowknight is at 88.5 now so he’s the likely candidate. With a new expansion looming the guild is more active again now and it’d be nice to be able to join in with their dungeon runs. With my partner leveling through Warlords and Draenor and presumably raiding again when the guild is ready, I’ll have at least a few evenings a week to focus on EQ2 properly.

Leveling duo/group game: The Secret World
I’ve been trying to resist giving this a go for months now, the coverage of the Tokyo missions hasn’t helped my resolve. I was downloading the game last night for my partner and I to dabble with when an email came through from my the friend we play SWTOR with saying he’s just been trying it with a mutual friend from our old WoW guild – so looks like some four-person dungeon runs in the future could be on the cards! This does mean SWTOR will fall off the list of games for a while as a consequence but I think we’d lost motivation over the summer to continue our Imperial trio – something to come back to if TSW doesn’t work out.

Drop-in game: Neverwinter
My partner and I will continue to play Neverwinter super-casually just to do invokes and see any events or module content that launches. However after a good ten months of playing the game very regularly I think we’re ready for a break from campaign dailies. The one major goal I still want to achieve in-game is to buy the angel companion you receive from 360 daily invocations – so I’ll keep doing invokes as regularly as possible at least until I’ve reached that milestone.

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WoW and server queues

There are two big topics circulating on the blogosphere at the moment: WoW’s role in ‘ruining’ MMOs (i.e. making them less about grouping and more solo-play) and the Archeage launch queues.

World of Warcraft and solo-play

I think WoW benefitted the genre more than it has cost it. I’m not playing the game anymore but I had many great hours of entertainment out of the it over the years. Blizzard have been known as a maker of ‘polished games’. I think that’s on balance true of WoW too, there have been plenty of issues with the game but it remains a more polished MMORPG than most. The combat has top-notch responsiveness for instance, I’ve played Rift, EQ2 or LOTRO or other similar tab-target combat MMOs and have noticed that the combat system and animations aren’t quite as synchronised or polished as those in WoW even today. Action MMOs tend to get the combat sync and animations right but then they are often deficient in other areas (e.g. Tera’s bland storytelling) – WoW took all the major elements and gave them a quality makeover.

Now it’s very probable that WoW further popularised solo leveling as an almost default behaviour in MMOs (I deliberately say ‘further popularised here’, see Bhagpuss’ post on pre-WoW soloing). Strangely it’s not something I’ve ever done in that game, I was always in static leveling groups with friends – that may be simply a reflection on the number of friends that were playing it, grouping up to level was always easy to organise back then.

I’ve done plenty of solo leveling in other MMOs since though and for sure if the game doesn’t support that playstyle I won’t be playing it for long.

Archeage launch queues

So Archeage appears to have had a bit of a runaway success. That’s good to hear for Trion (the NA/Europe publisher), although I gather it must be pretty stressful for them at present as they resist the persistent calls to open more servers just to relieve the queues. Open world sandbox gameplay, trading and PVP will be pretty impossible if the servers end up empty when the next wave of gaming expansions and updates hits later this year.

Given the popularity of megaservers, a system that allows all the players to be playing on one virtual server with zones splitting into phased versions to keep the game engine from overloading, it seems strange that Archeage wasn’t developed with something more adaptable than the very old model of descrete servers. Maybe there’s no other solution possible for the style of open world housing in the game, but in 2014 it seems a bit odd to be seeing the same issues that affected SWTOR’s launch or other initially super-popular titles. Will there be cries for server merges in Archeage in 3-9 months time?

Note: XL Games in Korea develops Archeage, Trion just publish it in the west so Trion are responsible for the number of servers brought online but they aren’t responsible for the server architecture or game design.

Servers and queues

I’ve read that World of Warcraft echoed these same problems when it first launched in 2004. I never experienced any significant downtime or queue problems when playing over the six or so years I was in-game. Certainly there was server maintenance on occasion and Moonglade was very quiet at least in the leveling zones for the last few years until they started soft-merging servers as ‘connected realms‘.

Perhaps this explains one reason for WoWs success over the years. Blizzard built a very strong engineering team to manage their server infrastructure and to plan and deploy capacity as needed. As the game grew in population they managed, better than most MMO developers, to keep up with demand and avoid long-term queue problems. This has the simple consequence that WoW is the game you are most likely to be able to play at a given moment, it’s always there if you have a current subscription. It’s all very well having free to play MMOs installed to play, but there’s less surety that they’ll be up and stable at the moment you want to play them. LOTRO for instance suffered terribly with lag when they introduced the mounted combat in the Riders of Rohan expansion. I experienced this myself, yet when I logged into WoW the very same evening the latter game ran smooth as silk. Getting the server infrastructure right for an MMO is so important, I think the developers of more recent MMOs do not necessarily take enough time and money to polish that very crucial aspect of our gaming experience.

 

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Neverwinter: Rise of Tiamat

The latest news from Perfect World has announced the next module (coming soonTM) called Rise of Tiamat. This news article has a video trailer but scant other details.

A quick look at the Wizards of the Coasts website shows that the novel of the same name launches on the 21st October, perhaps a clue as to the approximate Neverwinter module release date?

This module, unlike previous ones, does not introduce a new campaign, it’s more of a continuation of this one at least from a story perspective. We’re not currently playing full group content in the game so the chances of us ever doing the mentioned fight against the Dragon Queen (Tiamat) are rather slim. I would expect it to be a skirmish or even a dungeon, instanced content rather than a heroic event in the open world zones.

Beyond the Siege event this last week we’ve been mixing it up on our various duo pairs of characters of late: running my cleric and his guardian fighter through the Icewind Dale campaign and running the Sharandar campaign on my great weapon fighter and his cleric. Still lots for us to do in game!

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EQ2: when a step backwards is a step forwards

Everquest 2 can be a complex MMO to dive into as a latecomer. Questing on my newish insta-level 85 shadowknight I’d been dithering around in the Great Divide zone for many play sessions and leveling pretty slowly. He’s just recently gained level 88 but progress is pretty glacial. I’d noticed that once I’d dealt with some Gnolls and Othmir all the quests he was encountering were level 90, like the whole zone was aimed towards that level. It seemed strange to have so many quests above my level to do, yet the difficulty wasn’t that much harder so I ploughed on regardless.

Coming back to play after quite a break I started thinking about his slow progress again and suddenly wondered if there wasn’t some issue behind this. Do characters gain reduced experience if the quest is higher level than them? Is it just the case he’s progressing slower in the zone due to being a bit under-level for the content? Inspired by the desire for vistas new I checked out the wiki guide for zones by level and found I needed to head to Stonebrunt Highlands as the previous zone level-wise.

EQ2_001211

The gear differential is shocking, I’m doing quests on-level and finding random gear drops at or about my level but the armour I have received for quests in the Great Divide far exceeds the earlier zone’s spoils. Creatures likewise may be of a similar level but my character can slaughter them at an astonishing rate. This allows him to blitz through quests much faster and given that he’s started this zone at level 88 instead of level 85 there’s plenty of content to get him to 90.

A side benefit is that he can gather in this zone despite his gathering skills being pretty low (approx 100), all the sessions he’s been in Velious he’s not been able to gather anything at all.

EQ2_001220b

It’s a bit confusing to step into an expansion’s story part way like this – earlier zones form part of the same expansion. I’m deliberately not getting to deep into the lore of the highlands as my inquisitor will eventually be leveling through this zone so I’d like some secrets left untouched for him to discover. Regardless it’s an interesting zone as a change from the frozen extremes of Velious.

Posted in EQ2, Gaming | 2 Comments

Siege of Neverwinter event

Hot on the heals of the double refinement weekend we have a new event this weekend, tied into the storyline of the Tyranny of Dragons expansion. From Thursday 18th to Monday 25th Sept there is a new zone called Siege Battlefield. This smallish zone has a couple of NPCs to give quests and sell the event rewards. It also features a continuous rotation of heroic encounters themed on an invasion of various Dragon Cultists and their monstrous allies – notably a selection of dragons.

screenshot_2014-09-19-19-45-36

It’s a fun enough little event as something to break from the continuity of campaign progress. The heroic encounters in particular are enjoyable as it’s good old ‘follow-the-zerg’ fun. Something I would get bored with eventually but for the few days of the event is a change of pace. This is in contrast to the previous attack on Protector’s Enclave event they did for the anniversary which was a 5-person skirmish.

There are the usual mix of currencies to collect from a daily quest, participating in the encounters plus the unusual option of crafting one of the currency items via the event-specific crafting profession. The rewards include a short-duration buff item (the horn), a green companion and a chest with random rewards which include two purple quality companions (see Arc blog article).

Discussing the rewards with my partner the rewards do represent quite a hefty grind to obtain compared with some of the other events. Whether this is a trend or an isolated design I cannot say, but some of our WoW guild friends who played with us over the summer were turned off the game by the super-grindy nature of the reward structure in the game’s events (e.g. the recent summer/Sune event) and how unlikely rewards are to drop from chests or skirmishes.

For instance to obtain enough of the currency to buy one of the randomised reward chests that could contain a purple companion, I will have to donate seven lots of six Defense Supplies (56 in total). Crafting one Defense Supply takes ten portable altars or forty common crafting materials (a mix of wood, ore and cloth). Multiplying that up comes to some pretty hefty numbers when you consider the probably likelihood that the reward chest will contain nothing of any real value.

nw_siegeNW_event

Some events have relatively sensible goals that can be achieved without feeling forced to login or grind the activities excessively. The winter Simril event for instance or the April Fool’s dungeon event. Other events including the call to arms have nice rewards but are heavily or totally dependent on rng rewards – it can be very discouraging to always be relying on ‘dice rolls’ for such items. I’ll give the reward chest one go I think and leave it at that.

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FFXIV: patch 2.38 and taking a break

As I have come closer to my monthly sub renewal I decided I’d put FFXIV on pause for a while. I’ll be travelling again for nearly two weeks in October and I doubt I’ll get much opportunity to play the game in the build up to that trip. I’ve not felt that motivated to log-in since achieving so many goals in a short space of time. I think the game has just slipped down my list of priorities at present.

The latest patch (2.38) has extensive details available via the patch notes, there’s not much to persuade me to keep the sub open. Personal housing is stupendously expensive. I’ve read threads about this on forums (e.g. Massively’s write-up), the few voices calling for the addition of differing price points for varied sizes of personal housing seem to get drowned out by those defending the current plan. My character has something like 20,000 gil at level 30 – the cheapest house is going to cost 3.2 million gil. Plots are limited though so it’s unlikely I’d stand a chance of getting a house even if I had the money. It’s similar to how Vanguard: Saga of Heroes treated housing – more like a PVE end-game activity than something you can acquire early on and play with as you level and gain wealth.

I still have plenty I would like to do in the game, especially investigating the grand company system more and of course exploring more of the world. I’ll admit the forced PUG dungeons runs for the main storyline has been holding my story progress back. I’m happy to jump into FATEs when they cross my path, I’m also happy to do the odd guildhest for extra experience and gil. But dungeons are much more involved time-wise and the few I’ve done have been stressful since I don’t know the mechanics and the majority of players are rushing through.

If I come back to the game I’ll need to look for a free company (guild) I think to make the adjustment to dungeons a bit easier. That’s too much of a commitment for now but something to consider for the future.

Time to rest

Time to rest

 

 

Posted in FFXIV, Gaming | 2 Comments