The puzzle of add-ons

I read with interest a post by Rohan on a puzzle boss in Final Fantasy 14. I’ve no experience of this myself, but imagining it I doubt I’d be able to do the maths quickly enough to stand much chance of success at the mechanics. His comment that such a boss in World of Warcraft would be implausible, given the likelihood of an add-on being produced by players that would make the fight trivially easy, did set me thinking though.

Add-ons are available in many MMORPGs but I rarely use them outside of WoW anyway. In WoW I wouldn’t have dreamed of playing without altoholic, auctioneer, deadly boss mods (DBM) and similar extras. In other games, the only addon I can think that I’ve made much use of is the excellent AI Research Grid in Elder Scrolls Online.

I’ve certainly never used an addon like DBM to simplify boss mechanics in any other MMORPG. If a fight is tough in Secret World or Dungeons & Dragons Online, we may well read up some tactics, but the first thought isn’t to reach for an addon to shout the dance moves at me via on-screen prompts.

Add-on shouts “hide in 10 seconds…”

Addons could potentially simplify / spoil certain puzzle missions in Secret World, I didn’t look long enough to find anything, but there is one to warn you if a hidden lore is nearby. That’s a step too far for me, the thrill of discovering lore as we (re)explore the zones is part of the gameplay experience I feel.

Lore hunting is a fun aspect of SWL gameplay to us

I feel that having addons as optional helpers to gameplay are a good idea, certainly they are usually quite a boon to sharpen up the often lacklustre default UI design in these games. Extra features like altoholic are a real boon to gamers who play alts too – having to log in and out of characters endlessly is not a desirable gameplay feature in my book. I guess the danger is that the game’s community will start to pressure for addons as mandatory features – anecdotaly I’ve seen this many times in WoW over the years.

Posted in ESO, FFXIV, Gaming, TSW, WoW | 7 Comments

Wrapping up Carpathian Fangs #SWL

Last play session we closed in on the end of the game’s original zones, our next blue mission is to go to “the breach”. We have one long set of missions to go before entering Tokyo for the second time. I’m rather looking forward to that as I can start practicing my Japanese writing recognition (I’m not at a level where I can read much yet as my class only just started on Kanji).

Transylvania storyline wrapped-up

We completed the Carpathian Fangs dungeon for the first time on this playthrough as well, as with many of the later dungeons, these simply weren’t doable back in TSW as they required a full group – now the story-mode is tuned for a trio we have managed to see them all. Strangely for “the Slaughterhouse” the door entrance tried to put us in the elite version, we had to use the queue-system to enter for story mode – some weird bug perhaps.

As with earlier dungeons there were some character deaths and even the odd wipe to boss mechanics as we learned, but we made it through without any real difficulty – the story mode is nicely balanced difficulty-wise for our playstyle.

Carpathian Fangs as a zone has a lot of space, there’s a fair amount of running around and the blue missions have you going all over the zone way ahead of any sensible path through the other mission-giving NPCs. It felt like we completed the zone very quickly though, and the missions felt pretty clear in our memories even though it’s been nearly three years since we last finished it.

It also has the first fight that really posed me problems with my tank built character in TSW, Mara.

This and a later story mission to come, really caused me no end of problems back then. This time around on a healer built fist/blood character I was able to complete this fight on my second attempt – much quicker. Partially that’s down to knowing the mechanics, but I do think my character is probably better prepared for the more difficult fights now – I created a DPS spec for an earlier solo-mission boss fight and it works well enough.

We’re not quite done in Carpathian Fangs just yet, however, we haven’t wrapped up all the missions in the area, and there’s one or two involving a little girl that we must see once more.

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Stunning landscapes #ESO #SWL

Playing a few games recently I’ve been stopped in my tracks to just admire the vista as my character travels around. Despite the MMORPGs that I play not being the newest, the graphics and the environments can still be beautiful.

Sunsets and sunrises can be particularly impressive times to capture screenshots, like this sunset above as my Dragonknight explores wintry Eastmarch.

The ethereal lighting of the previous zone, Shadowfen, was equally impressive with the low sun shining through the misty swamp air.

Swapping to Secret World Legends: nighttime can offer eerie, but beautiful vistas too.

Distant locations can offer an impressive backdrop, or the temptation to go running off exploring.

And finally, a reminder to always look upwards – this one comes from the instanced area at the end of a mission. A still photo does not do justice to the atmospheric nature of this swirling maelstrom of crows.

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Alt-friendly MMOs and longer-term engagement

In a recent post UltrViolet talks about taking a break from FFXIV, one reason for this being the game’s relative alt-unfriendliness:

Normally, in games I really like (such as FFXIV), when I reach the end of a character’s journey, I turn to an alt and level a new character. But I don’t think that Final Fantasy XIV is very alt-friendly. Having all jobs available to every character means you never need to make an alt character to experience different types of gameplay.

For me the point that I sympathise with greatly is that my likelihood to stay playing a game longer-term, or to come back regularly, is influenced strongly by whether it’s fun to play alts or not. Fun is of course a very subjective term here, but a game that makes playing alts repetitive (by having a lack of content) is not going to keep me engaged as long. I imagine if I asked any random set of MMORPG players what encourages or discourages them to play alts in a game the answers would all be radically different.

Plenty of quests

Questing is my preferred leveling mechanism in any MMORPG, other stuff that I do (public events, gathering/crafting, dungeons etc) is great for variety but I want to have plenty of good content available to take my character through a journey. A wealth of optional side-quests also means I can mix-and-match content somewhat for different characters.

Elder Scrolls Online presents a great volume of quests, I rarely finish all of them in a given zone, plus there are optional quest chains available from the various guilds. So a given character can pick and chose which guilds to join, can focus on the main story quests or feast on side quests to level as well.

ESO’s segmented quest structure – including guild and main quest sections

This isn’t to say that I’m necessarily comparing MMOs strictly on the total number of quests; that comparison isn’t honestly that useful as quests vary greatly in length and complexity within a game and between games. Many of the quests in ESO are multi-step affairs that lead you around the landscape somewhat, Secret World’s missions are ever more involved and lengthy. The key point here is that, from an alt-play perspective, I prefer the variety that some MMOs present through having plenty of optional content alongside any main story or leveling path. Secret World’s content is very strong, but there’s not that much of it relatively speaking and it’s so memorable that I’m not enjoying the second play-through as much.

Secret World’s content is often multi-step and more involved

Varied play-throughs

Any options to make that journey somewhat unique are great – racial or factional starting zones help here. SWTOR scores double plus on this for the available at-launch content because there were faction stories for each planet and the class missions as well. Although later content removed the class story layer, and eventually even the faction split, it still represents a huge amount of alt-play potential if you’ve not experienced it all.

The KOTFE/KOTET story arcs didn’t encourage me to play alts

I created a load of alts in World of Warcraft when I got started in the genre because there were so many starter areas (each a pair of zones), those led into multiple leveling paths that a player could choose between by travelling between the major cities.  Repetition only really became a problem for me with the launch of The Burning Crusade where all those different zones and leveling options collapsed down to one zone for all characters of both factions (Hellfire Peninsula).

Everquest 2 has a lot of untapped replayability for me as I’ve not leveled any characters through the 50-90 range content (thanks to insta-dings) and have only played three of the starter zones thus far. I have a character parked in Qeynos waiting to actually play through Antonica for the first time, in seven years of casual play I’ve never actually done that zone!

Eyeing up the dangers outside Qeynos city

Do you play alts in MMORPGs? What do you consider to be factors that increase or decrease the likelihood that you would play multiple characters?

Posted in EQ2, ESO, Gaming, SWTOR, TSW, WoW | 5 Comments

Tentative progress in Innovation #everquestii

I kind of hit a brick wall on my progress in the Planes of Power content for a while, my character had quests to go to the Plane of Innovation, but when I went there it seemed I’d be overwhelmed very easily within moments of stepping away from the entrance portal. I had been carefully reading the quests as I started the Legacy of Power Signature, and knew going into the Plane of Innovation that I was supposed to have a zone-specific buff increasing health and potency. I had that active as I first entered, and by chance, also had my healer mercenary deployed (Kluuron V’Lorn).  I took my usual approach to an instanced zone: start slow and clear as you go. That worked for maybe one group of small spider-like mechanicals, but I soon found my health plummeting without warning and was looking at the revive screen.

After this had happened a couple of times, I took some time to check the faction vendor in the Plane of Magic and replaced a couple of items with slight upgrades – nothing major though. I was also aware that my character is level 107 at present, the signature quest is 110, but in my experience of EQ2 getting quests over your level isn’t that uncommon – the guide to this zone suggest it is for level 105-110 so that doesn’t seem likely to be the problem.

One of many boss fights

Given the difficulty spikes I’ve been experiencing, I decided to just follow the wiki guide to minimise wandering around and random fights. With this I actually made a fair amount of progress, killing several boss mechanicals without further character death. That’s not to say my character is having an easy time of it, I’m having to be careful to keep my reactive heals up Malevolent Diatribe (and similar), forgetting this or overpulling is likely to see my health plummeting very quickly. My mercenary’s healing isn’t enough, whereas my reactive heals when up seem to keep my health at 100% all the time – it’s all or nothing.

Pulling more than one group leads to a tense fight

These prestige chain quests are labelled as heroic so I would expect some increased difficulty over normal open world questing, the health pools of monsters are certainly larger. I’m having to use my ascension abilities as much as possible just to end fights in a reasonable time. The damage spikes are still the aspect of this content I’m finding somewhat off-putting – I’m ok with learning the odd boss mechanic, but being “on edge” so much during questing is a bit draining.

This guy gave me a shock first time I saw him!

For now I’m ok with pushing on to see more of the expansion’s storyline. The locking of content in heroic instances has caused me to leave stories unfinished in previous expansion, so well see how far I get this time.

Posted in EQ2, Gaming | 2 Comments

Gotham side-jaunt #DCUO

We progressed in our last session to a segment of story in Gotham, a change of scenery from all of our heroics in Metropolis. We were facing off against Joker’s masked and facepainted goons by the score to help an overwhelmed local police force.

As is now a familiar pattern in the game, we completed some open-world tasks and then headed into an instanced area for a boss fight (against Harley Quinn) and some story. This was where things took a turn for the surreal.

Cute is not the word I’d use for this cat…

This building had been given quite the makeover by Joker. We zoomed around doing the pre-boss mission objectives and side-missions. Soon after entering we found our characters in what seemed like a human-sized snooker table.

It was hilarious to fight enemies while knocking giant balls around the room

The balls didn’t do much, although you can pick them up to hit enemies with for comic effect (my powers were more effective if less fun). It certainly made combat a lot more chaotic as targeting was confused for a while, I imagine the Joker if watching our progress must have gotten a lot of laughs here.

I was impressed by the design of the instance and the items in it. Adding the giant balls and presents made it a lot more interesting to play through than some other, simpler boss areas. There was something slightly disturbing about the sense of scale as well – either that it was a place for giants or that we’d been shrunk by some diabolic device on entering. We triumphed easily enough, but I did feel as we played through as sense that a rather strange joke was being played on us.

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MMORPGs and new graphics engines

I’m not that hung up on graphics when it comes to the choices I make of which MMORPGs to play or not to play. That’s not to say I care nothing about graphic quality or style, but it’s not top of my list of criteria. So it was with passing interest that I read over at Massively OP that Blade and Soul is getting a graphics engine upgrade from Unreal 3 to Unreal 4.

Some games do manage to make improvements, World of Warcraft’s graphics have evolved enormously since launch (and continue to do so with Battle for Azeroth), but then is WoW an outlier in this as in so many things?  I remember reading years ago of Aion having a big graphics upgrade but then I haven’t played the game long enough to notice changes over time.

Legion’s graphics are a world away from Vanilla Wow’s

I can certainly tell the difference in design detail and graphical complexity between many MMORPG starter zones and later zones – signs that the devs are making the very most out of the game engines even if they’ve not been upgraded as drastically. If you compare Darklight Woods to the Plane of Magic in EQ2, or Thorin’s Gate to the splendor of Minas Tirith in LOTRO you can notice this difference even within the same basic game engine.

A classic zone, charming but a bit dated

A wholesale upgrade of the engine is a very big time and money investment indeed; although MMORPGs need never truly die (just see news of Guild Wars 1‘s graphical tweaks for evidence), they can age badly. So I do appreciate greatly any minor improvements to the graphics, or simply the extra effort devoted to fully maximising existing capabilities to offer us beautiful virtual vistas to admire.

Innovative designs

Posted in EQ2, Gaming, Guild Wars, WoW | 1 Comment