SWTOR: playing ‘evil’

We played an impromptu session of SWTOR on Saturday this weekend as a nice unexpected bonus.

Big droids are always a bonus

Big droids are always a bonus

We managed to finish off both the planetary mission line and all our class missions for Taris. It’s one of my favourite planets, partly I suppose as I have deep but vague memories of playing KOTOR and that game’s version of the planet. The sheer scale of the ruined city around you is pretty awe-inspiring.

Ruins in the moonlight

Ruins in the moonlight

One issue jarring note during an otherwise enjoyable session was that several of the Imperial missions on this planet are even darker than usual. I’ve played through this planet twice Republic-side some time ago so I got to see perhaps the opposite face of the same coin. For the Republic I was helping to rebuild a colony, now as an Imp I’m helping wipe out the same colony.

The alignment system doesn’t help as we realised recently we’d forgotten about equipping relics, items that give a significant boost to total health (and later other stats as well). The easiest/cheapest way to get them early on seems to be via the alignment vendors in fleet – so we need to max our dark or light side meter to get the best relics as they are locked not only by character level but also alignment level also. I’ve been playing my bounty hunter as a money-motivated professional mostly, choosing dark or light depending on the situation and the pay involved. He doesn’t kill for sport or fun, only if necessary but without remorse when it is. That’s left him dark-side but not far enough into it to get the best relics for his level. Do I start choosing dark side conversation options consistently to catchup or continue to play to alignment? We could do without the relics probably, but bear in mind this trio of characters are our only Imperial side characters, we have no max-level alts to buy over-priced crafted gear from the GTN.

Not saluting this flag anytime soon...

Not saluting this flag anytime soon…

I’ve never had a big issue swapping factions in World of Warcraft despite the frequent emphasis on Alliance vs Horde and “faction pride”. But in SWTOR I strongly identify with the Republic and have very little interest in playing ‘evil’. Slaughtering colonists isn’t my idea of a fun hour’s gaming even if it’s only cartoon violence and the colonists respawn in five minutes. It doesn’t help that a lot of mission-givers this side are so annoying that I would prefer to have bounties on them than the poor people we’ve been wiping out. Maybe I’ll manage to persuade my group to go back to Republic for the next play through…

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Easter weekend and MMO update

Unlike say Christmas, there’s not much going on in MMOland that is thematically linked to Easter. I suppose that’s understandable as this weekend has a lot less imagery and folklore as inspiration beyond the Christian core. Chocolate eggs and a bunny rabbit do not make for an obviously heroic time. World of Warcraft has Noblegarden, Tera had an egg hunt event (although that wasn’t just around at Easter) and I’ve read that the venerable Final Fantasy XI has something going on too.

This weekend, a long one in the UK with two public days of holiday attached, does offer an opportunity to forge ahead with some gaming goals. Time for an update post!

World of Warcraft
I’ve finally gotten around to cancelling my WoW subscription for the second time and honestly, even more than the last, I don’t feel even the tiniest desire to return for the next expansion. Mists of Pandaria had a new race and a class, Draenor has neither. As guildies were discussing last night there are a lot of equally good MMOs to play now so Blizzard *should* be worried that they’re not even in beta for the expansion yet.

Neverwinter
My second character, a devout cleric, is now at level 53 and rapidly approaching the cap. He’s my duo character so I play him only on evenings where we are both free for a game. I’ve nearly completed my Sharandar campaign aims on my wizard main; so I’ll be hoping to do the Dread Ring campaign on this cleric as a change of scenery. This weekend is also the latest Call to Arms event so we’ve been doing a chunk of skirmish runs during the schedule skirmish bonus event hours – a chance to run with the guild and try for the companion (while benefiting from the bonus astral diamonds from the bonus event). It won’t be long before module 3 arrives though so plenty of new things to look forward to in this game!

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LOTRO
I’ve just started playing the odd session of LOTRO again, but time is limited for a second game so I’m making good use of the destiny point bought rested XP and the limited stock of XP potions I have saved up. My champion is now just short of level 79 and is progressing nicely on the Rohan epic quest chain. I’m doing most but not all side quests at present, not quite a full on rush through the leveling but making better progress than if I stopped to smell all the roses. It does mean both his crafting and his gathering have fallen behind. His tailoring has often needed some concentrated sessions to catchup but this is I think the first time he has been unable to mine or gather wood in a zone since I started him. Once I’ve made it to the epic quests for the current Helm’s Deep expansion I’ll have to make a decision of whether to plow on to the cap or to stop and do some serious catchup on deeds, gathering and crafting so he’s a more rounded character.

SWTOR
We are still playing our leveling trio of Imperial characters adhoc, no set schedule now as our healer is too busy with work but we try to fit the odd session in every week or two. It’s on the rotation still but not for solo play, I am looking forward to seeing what the housing system will be like.

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Neverwinter: Curse of Icewind Dale launches May 13th

*bonus news post*

In a recent announcement on the Neverwinter community page, Curse of Icewind Dale will be launching on May 13th. That’s nearly a month sooner than I was expecting, I guess I’ve not been keeping up with the gossip on this.

It has been a bit frustrating to read or hear about all the people having fun in Elder Scrolls Online at the moment so I’m very glad to have something new and exciting in my game of choice to look forward to, and with only a three week wait!

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Treasure hunt v2

My partner was rather inspired by our Neverwinter guild’s treasure hunt activity to organise a similar activity in World of Warcraft. The idea was the same – the players gather in game. Each round consists of finding one of the organiser’s characters (most of which have been logged off in position to avoid waiting time or the chance of cheating by following them before the round actually begins!) The players are then given a clue to the general zone you should be looking in. Then you all hunt around until you see the character but also you have to get up close to them to be declared the winner.

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World of Warcraft is a good game for this type of activity on the one hand since the game world is expansive and complex in design. However the conversion of most of the game to flying enabled zones negates much of the fun and challenge of a person hunt. So my partner decided to use the Draenei starter zones (neither Burning Crusade racial starter zone was converted for flying in Cataclysm) to force us to run around on mounts or paws!

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As the first hiding place demonstrated there are plenty of corners and places in the zone design that most players do not see as they race from quest to quest. Take for instance a path in Exodar that runs above this summoning stone near the shaman trainers…

On the hunt...

On the hunt…

It was a great opportunity to *really* explore a zone I have very fond memories of. We found some obscure little spots that we’d either forgotten about or never even knew about. Several members of the posse even found quests they’d missed while leveling years ago!

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The only minor negative for me was the game engine itself. The world is beautifully detailed and constructed but the game has limitations due to its age. Jumping isn’t great at the best of times. This made one step of the hunt all the more difficult as the climb up to this wonderful perch on top of a ruined building requires some navigating of invisible barriers and because some of the structure you can see here you simply fall through for no apparent reason!

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We ended the final stage of the hunt with a rather spectacular sunset off the coast of Bloodmyst isle. A fitting end to a great activity, for once not related to progression or leveling or gear at all. I’d heartily recommend guild leaders consider this type of activity for their own groups – they make for a great change of pace!

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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…

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Neverwinter: a rewarding weekend

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

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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!

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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.

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“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…

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