At the end of last year we started a new leveling duo in WoW a healer-monk and a warrior-tank. We’re sporadically playing these in between our other gaming activities (raids, Neverwinter, SWTOR sessions) and I am enjoying seeing the Cataclysm remake of the world more than expected.
The world is still immersive in that the game engine has a wonderfully long visual range. Stood in the dark forests of Darkshore you can see the trees stretch away into the shadowy distance. Other than the geological upheaval of the Cataclysm there are also some more subtle changes to the zone – e.g. the presence of silver-bordered ‘rare’ monsters. They give a guaranteed green quality item as a reward for defeating them but it’s also nice to have more challenging encounters around even in a low-level zone since we’re a pretty invincible healer-tank duo.
There’s a lot of charm and wit in the quest dialogues, I can’t remember how the pre-Cataclysm content in this zone really compared, but I am impressed by the quality of the quest writing – the various quest givers do seem to stand out as individuals.
One issue that remains is the speed of leveling something I’ve complained about in the past. At the moment we’ve just hit 20 and we’re maybe 75% through the zone so we’re not necessarily that far ahead. We have no heirloom (bonus XP) equipment though we are accruing rested XP some of the time – so it doesn’t seem too bad. That the warrior is getting XP for every mined ore node is a problem as I do not get any extra XP for killing creatures to skin. I’d rather avoid having to split up so I can go on a skinning rampage every few levels to redress this balance. Now I’m level 20 I could use monk ability Zen Pilgrimage to do bonus quests but the XP reward from said quests is pretty high and would tip the balance the other way.
I suspect Blizzard will want all players, new and old, to focus solely on Draenor when the expansion finally launches. Personally I think it would be a great opportunity to briefly redress the issues with the leveling game. I’ve read a lot online about players wanting a more ‘old-school’ experience in their MMO gaming. Couldn’t Blizzard just introduce a few per-character options to disable gathering XP or activate an entirely optional reduced XP-gain mode for leveling characters without the rush?
Apparently while I was asleep there was a Dev livestream video by the SWTOR team and they snuck in a brief glimpse of player housing. Massively have a link to a video clip featuring this shot of a player apartment on Coruscant.
I have to say housing is a major attraction for me to longer-term engagement in MMOs. Funnily enough I love in EQ2 the view out of the window of my New Halas pad (ice bergs and all). To be able to look at out the sky traffic of the Republic’s capital would be something else!
I’ve been thinking about story presentation in MMORPGs this week and it has me thinking of my most recent gaming session in SWTOR. We were playing our Imperial leveling trio last night and happened to wrap up chapter 1 on two of our characters – lots of running around and chatting to NPCs. That isn’t the noteworthy part though, the important thing is that during one 3 hour session we laughed out loud several times, had discussions on light-side/dark-side quandaries and were positively surprised by a funny plot-twist in our Sith Sorceror’s story (no spoilers). I can’t think of any MMO that has really been this engaging story-wise to play before or since SWTOR.
Looking at the recent MMO releases and those coming this year I’m not seeing any games that are likely to really beat SWTOR for this style of cooperative PVE gaming. Elder Scrolls, at least based on the beta impressions, could be awkward for group questing as there are lots of issues with solo-only quest phases and a lack of challenge when grouped up as well. Neverwinter does ok although there are still some bugs with quest dialogues behaving erratically when grouped.
Note that in this post I’m talking about experiencing actual leveling group content as a group, not chain dungeon-grinding to level alt characters as is common in many games. I’m also talking about games with a strong narrative storyline – I’ve played Guild Wars 2 a fair amount but I find their attempt at ‘quest-less’ storytelling frustrating, I recommend this blog post by Aywren over at Sygnus.org as a critique of Guild Wars 2′s storytelling that I agree with strongly. It goes against the standard for MMOs now I guess to expect group play to be properly supported but I do hope that among the many other MMOs in development at least some support a more social experience outside of end-game. Am I missing any other games, bar the Secret World (which we will try some day)?
News has come in over the weekend of the next weekend event that is planned for the 4th-6th March and also hints over the 3rd expansion for the game.
The Tymora’s Luck event will see a special type of chest drop as a random reward offering a chance at cosmetic or blue-rarity armour and even some rarer crafting materials. No specifics have been released yet on how these chests will be found but, presumably, they will be random drops like the normal purple chests. Commenters on Reddit assert that you will not need an enchanted key to open them however.
Also via Reddit I have read that the next expansion of the game will be called the Curse of Icewind Dale (link to official announcement), linked to the region of the same name (located even further north than Neverwinter). This region is pretty iconic in the lore of the D&D Forgotten Realms setting as it featured some of the best-loved novels and characters (e.g. Drizzt Do’Urden first appeared in novels set there). It was also the setting for one of my favourite Black Isle computer RPGs – Icewind Dale (and Icewind Dale II). Exciting news indeed!
I want to know if the expansion will feature a new class – the warlock is considered widely to be the most likely next class. Could be an interesting one to try out, although will it be too similar to the fire-themed paragon path for the existing Control Wizard class?
Oh and in unrelated news from my last gaming session:
Ding! First level 60 :-)
Contrary to my earlier post we did manage to find some time this weekend for the Elder Scrolls Online beta. I played a templer healer, plus there was a dragonborn tank and sorceror for damage.
All told we played about five hours and managed to complete the Coldharbour starter zone, the starter isle for Ebonheart Pact characters and a few quests at the follow-up town by Davon’s Watch.
The game plays technically very well. It was even playable on an older work laptop that we had to press-gang as the third computer. Graphic quality and performance on my gaming laptop were excellent. As a friend commented this game’s beta client loads and runs much quicker than older MMOs like SWTOR. There are a few bugs that are encountered often enough to be noticeable. The ‘zoomed in’ bug where the game fails to exit the limited user interface for conversations or crafting is an issue. We did find an in-game workaround other than quitting – press esc for the system menu, choose Add-ons and press the R key to reload the UI!
‘Zoomed in’ mode can get stuck
Other than this the multiplayer experience was a bit mixed. All the content was very easy as, naturally, the quests are designed to be soloed. It’s a shame there doesn’t seem to be support for scaling difficulty to group size – SWTOR does much better here (thanks in part to heavy instancing). Quest goals are all individual; there are few shared updates. That’s a mixed blessing. It avoids you missing out on steps if someone in the group runs ahead but it can make group questing a bit slower.
The horde of other players running around isn’t generally an issue other than the game fails to clearly distinguish NPCs from player avatars. This can make it harder to locate quest NPCs when an area is busy. The quest quality and voice over work are good though not stand-out amazing. SWTOR stills holds the crown here for me. I also sort of prefer Neverwinter’s quests and lore object presentation though that may be simply because I’m more of a D&D fan than Elder Scrolls fan.
I’m more positive about the game than before this weekend – I was pleasantly surprised at the depth of the character customisation for instance. The combat from the little I’ve thus far experienced was ok, although dodging felt awkward compared to Neverwinter. In any case it’s not good enough for us to abandon SWTOR for our levelling trio sessions. I also do not feel tempted to drop Neverwinter as my solo game in favour of this. I would be happy to try it at some point but only when I tire of the other games that, for the moment, I think are better suited to my gaming style.
I’d like to contrast this weekend’s experience of playing exclusively in a trio group with another weekend of some dedicated solo play. I certainly should give crafting a proper go as there simply wasn’t time this go.
This weekend I will be busy playing Dungeons & Dragons (not DDO or Neverwinter) with friends, time set aside for some old-fashioned gaming offline. Of course Zenimax chose on Wednesday to send me an invite for this same weekend to the Elder Scrolls beta. This beta access lasts the weekend only. Typical poor timing…
I feel that scenarios in World of Warcraft are a somewhat under-utilised system. At present they are trinity-less (no need for tank or healer) mini-dungeons for three characters. Each has a story, and some have a heroic version with harder difficulty. You can queue for a random scenario from amongst the available set to get bonus valor points as a reward for completion. Beyond that they are also sometimes used for the solo “story mode” dungeons, notably on the Isle of Thunder’s long quest chain and reputation grind, each represents a mini raid-like experience with a potentially tough boss-monster fight.
Crypt of the Forgotten Kings
Scenarios, especially the solo story-oriented version, could of course have been used like Chronicles in Rift. These solo dungeons were designed to allow the more casual player a chance to see the stories hidden in raids without needing to gear grind and find a raid willing to take someone who will want to pause occasionally to watch cinematics or scripted NPC dialogues.
River of Souls raid as a solo Chronicle
Now WoW does have raid finder raids to allow ‘easy’ access to the stories in raids at least from the gear-requirement perspective. But raid finder runs are generally either fast and efficient on-the-run experiences or messy and argument-ridden nightmares full of overpulls and wipes. Personally I’d say neither is particularly conducive to following a story.
I can already imagine a criticism of this approach would be that it would reduce the pool of potential raiders since X% (I won’t bother guessing at numbers) of those running raid finder currently would have a self-paced alternative to experience the content.
I would argue in turn that forcing players to play raid finder just to see story is simply bad design in the modern MMO era. More importantly beyond the players who could now avoid the headache of pug-raiding and actually pay attention to the story without feeling like their holding up the group; it could also offer a proving grounds style opportunity. The story mode “raid scenario” could be used to allow players to experience certain key mechanics of each boss fight in a less tense and frantic situation than when surrounded by 9 – 24 other players. Watching videos cannot always teach these increasingly complex fights, in some cases it’s better to experience them yourself. A solo scenario would allow you to practice such fights without worrying about wiping a whole raid.