Back in Azeroth

On the back of lots of chats with family I’ve decided to come back to World of Warcraft, quality time playing games with friends and family trumps my artistic misgivings about the story direction for this expansion.

The pre-patch for Battle for Azeroth is coming on the 18th August (in Europe), so my return is well-timed to be a part of what’s going on. I’ve read about some others’ plans for the expansion, personally I plan on keeping a light touch to my dealings in Azeroth. It’s a game I’ll play with my husband or a small group, but I have no real interest in solo gaming in WoW these days – other MMOs scratch that itch much better.

With the last two expansions alt-play has been problematised by long arcs of mandatory content – garrisons and then the Legion-story campaign. Doing these one a couple of characters was ok, but repeating it eight or more times on my high level alts was too much. So with BfA I’ll keep my aims modest – depending on how the pre-patch changes skill rotations and the ‘feel’ of playing classes I’ll concentrate on some pairing of my Balance Druid, Holy Paladin, Resto Shaman or Beastmaster Hunter. Two characters will be enough for starters, I could always come back to alts later in the expansion’s lifecycle to keep things fresh a bit longer.

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Blaugust 2018! Blaugust Reborn!

I was very glad to read that Blaugust is back for 2018, a month-long community effort to encourage bloggers to up their output: check out the details at Belghast’s Blog. This year it’s combined with the New Blogger Initiative and Developer Appreciation Week ideas to

  • encourage lots of blogging output about MMORPGs
  • provide a framework of themed weekly topics to inspire said output
  • give some help and advice to new bloggers
  • share some love with the developers of MMOs

Courtesy of aggronaut.comI’ve just signed as part of writing this post, and I’ll be joining the Discord channel ready for ‘prep week’ starting on the 25th July. For the last edition I took part, but wasn’t using Discord back then. In the meantime this gaming-comms tool seems to have conquered the online world; our WoW guild has transitioned to it in the meantime and developers now have Discord channels for their games.

I am particularly excited by the proposed weekly structure that Belghast has proposed, it’s great to have themes for each week to help generate ideas for the daily posts. Also devoting the first week to posts that generate ideas for later posts is a great way to start the event proper.

In the past I’ve had a patchy involvement with the event, summer was often a doubly busy time for me with work and study, but this year I’ve got a much clearer schedule so am ready to dive in with gusto. Bring on the blogging! #BlaugustReborn

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Vikings are cool #eso

Growing up I was moderately interested in old things, and coming from the UK, was aware of the Viking raids and settlements that formed part of the tapestry of my town and country’s long history. So I’ve always rather liked Viking cultural tropes in the games that I play. A recent project at work on cultural heritage has brought these memories back to the fore.

Playing through the Rift zone, I’m surrounded again by various architectural or decorative nods to the Viking-inspiration behind the Nord culture. The buildings have boat-prow shapes and dragon’s heads carved up on them.

The helmets, naturally, have horns on them as well. My character has even amassed his own, rather fetching Nord look to his armour on his travels through the two Norn leveling areas (Eastmarch and the Rift).

The details that inspired this post aren’t simply visual either. I’ve written about the landscapes already; the mountains and hills covered in wild animals and brooding rock formations. But also the language of the quest texts adds to the mood – NPCs are skalds rather than bards and draugr instead of undead.

The very varied cultures and lore of the various areas certainly helps to keep my interest as I level in ESO. It’s one of the Elder Scrolls RPG setting’s strengths, that this MMORPG has so much rich lore to draw upon. Although I prefer to play non-human characters in MMORPGs, I still like this particular take on Viking-esque culture.

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SWL anniversary

We played Secret World Legends two nights ago, and have played a number of sessions recently, but the ongoing anniversary event hasn’t really attracted our attention that much. In the last session we did get around to checking out the piñatas in the Agartha, although anything that fills my character’s inventory with random stuff isn’t a winner for me.

Otherwise there is an instanced in-Agartha fight with a random Talos of Gaia at a couple of minutes after every hour (real-time) – it’s easy to tell when one is due as people gather outside the portal.

The fight happened in a section of the Agartha that I think is used in one of the blue/main arc story missions. I miss the original game’s open world version of these fights, wandering in random open world zones – and an active Event chat channel as the community-led means to communicate which were up and where. Waiting at an instance portal on a timer is very Guild Wars 2 -like and is too ‘appointment gaming’ for my tastes.

The fight itself was easy and not too long. It did give me a chance to get some real fist-healing practice in with a larger group than our usual trio. My ultimate and ground-placed healing circle both worked on other players not in the group.

I’m not that motivated to collect the shems, which seems to be the main reward for doing these Talos fights. I had them all back in TSW, and this is the most telling negative of relaunching this or any other MMO – I barely have the patience to do a grind the first time, I certainly wouldn’t want to repeat it again.

So instead we carried on with the Tokyo storyline – lots more content to be done on these characters!

 

 

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Scorched Sky

I’ve played my first session of the Scorched Sky event ongoing in Everquest 2. The event brings a mix of elemental slaying, collection collecting and travelling around various zones.

The fights are easy, the standard ‘scale to your characters level’ kind, so they’re accessible content for all characters. Each creature slayed rewards a ‘Coin of Ember’ as this event’s currency.

The zones near the celebrants have lots of fire elementals and related creatures to fight, and also there are some collection nodes. I’ve started the collection on my main character but didn’t get that far in this session.

In no time at all I had enough coins to enough to buy the Sableflame Nightmare mount, which I duly passed onto my Barbarian as planned. It’s really nice that the mount can be passed between alts – 50 coins isn’t so much to pay for it but it’d be pretty costly to buy the mount for all my active characters.

I did however get the achievement for killing 25 of the fire creatures. That achievement pop-up made me stop to think, isn’t my Warden actually a declared worshipper of Solusek Ro – the new event is in honour of this fire deity and his father. So perhaps next session I’ll swap to him to ensure he’s paying due reverence – if any of my characters needs to complete the collection it’s him!

 

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What if WoW had…

Although I wasn’t playing gaming over the weekend we did discuss it amongst family as several family members still play World of Warcraft actively. During these discussions certain points came up that, for me, represent baffling gaps in this game’s content offering – features you find almost as standard in the modern MMORPG genre.

Housing

The obvious missing area is character housing. The garrison was an abortive and very limited attempt at a customisable ‘home base’ for our characters, but in reality it was far too rigid in how you laid the buildings. The very strong links between the garrison and the main campaign of the expansion also hampered it greatly as a means for creativity – having to do the same quest chains on every character to unlock the garrison’s potential got very repetitive.

Legion bought class halls as a replacement to the garrisons without any meaningful customisation, and later the Vindicaar spaceship (dimension ship?) that had none at all. So we’ve made negative progress on this front since Warlords (it’s not often I can say Warlords did something better than Legion!)…

As I’ve discussed in the past, I’d want housing to be part of a crafting renaissance in WoW – not just a gold sink. The game could sorely do with a new profession, it’s been a long, long time since they added inscription. Woodworking or something similar could add a chance to make furniture, and the odd natural weapon or shield, to players who want to spend their time more productively.

Real mentoring/level scaling

Playing other games so regularly, I’m left wishing World of Warcraft implemented a more finely tuned mentoring or level-scaling system. Level-scaling zones have been introduced as a relatively new feature to give you more time in zones to finish the quests or other content before things ‘go grey’. However that doesn’t solve the biggest problem with character level-based MMORPGs – if you want to play with a friend on a character with widely differing levels then either the experience gain of the lower-level one will be reduced, the lower level character will find themselves unable to contribute meaningfully, or some combination of the two. I’ve never been a fan of “speed run” style gameplay:  where you follow a high level character through a dungeon or other content hoovering up the drops while the lead character slays everything because they’re so over-powered.

I’d much rather be able to sync my level to that of my friend(s) so we can all contribute and help one another – this allows me to jump in without worrying that a) I’ll spoil their fun and b) I’ll outlevel content on that character myself by doing something other than his or her current zone.

Rift has very flexible mentoring/syncing

So many games offer this in some flavour: there are those that auto-sync your character to the zone or instance as appropriate (Elder Scrolls Online, Star Wars the Old Republic, Neverwinter) and others that give you some measure of control over the sync, mentoring-style (Everquest 2, Rift). Neither set of examples is exhaustive, being able to “just play together” is no big thing in 2018, yet WoW still hasn’t introduced this. Auto-sync’ing characters to a zones level range isn’t new, but expanding the zones level range massively yet not capping the characters level is.  The current WoW system is markedly inferior to any of the above example game’s syncing systems in terms of the “just play together” issue.

An easy appearance system

The transmogrification gear appearance system is wildly popular from my limitied experience of other players outside my immediate circle. Farming old content to get certain looks for your character is a legitimate pastime in WoW. But, like level-sync above, the system developed by Blizzard is more restrictive and convoluted than several analogous systems that were introduced in other MMORPGs before or since.

Rift and Lord of the Rings Online are my two go-to games for how I want games to implement this – just give me one or more additional sets of ‘cosmetic’ gear slots that are ‘appearance-only’ so I can quickly create a new look – that should override any slot that is filled out and should not require any further attention until I chose to override it with another look. I should be able to change this anywhere (out of combat I guess?), and not require visiting a NPC (WoW), nor a costly material payment (Guild Wars 2 or Final Fantasy 14!).

Customising a character’s look is a fundamental part of MMORPG gameplay for many, many players – don’t try to monetise or limit it developers!

Alternate advancement

The last thing I’d like World of Warcraft to see is some kind of alternate advancement system. Everything character development-related in World of Warcraft these days is so combat and vertical-progression oriented. It would be wonderful if the devs could introduce new ways to tweak or customise our characters that weren’t just adding ‘more powah!’. Here I’m talking offering more choices of abilities or things to work on that aren’t combat-oriented (e.g. lifeskills).

Examples that come to mind are the Planar Attunement system from Rift, this offers a mix of very minor stat boosts (mostly elemental-specific resistances or boosts to certain weapons), but more importantly interesting utility powers that you gradually unlock – I especially like the teleports to the various original zones.

Everquest 2 has a crazy-complex alternate advancement system that allows you to shift the theme of your character class somewhat – it’s part talent tree and part class-feature unlock. A popular Inquisitor build uses this to shift most combat spells from ranged into melee variants to make you a ‘battle cleric’.

I suppose there’s a danger that alternate advancement systems can become focused on ‘mandatory builds’ – the community trying to impose optimised builds on players of a given class. That’s no different from the same issue with talent trees as a primary character customisation system, however. I prefer AA options that give non-combat utility or thematic options. I think they do give you something else to work towards that’s not just the gear grind once your character hits the level cap.

I have the impression that Blizzard, in WoW’s early years, were well-known for taking ideas and adding polish. They wouldn’t be the first to do this feature or that system, but when they did it would be slick and genre-best (or close). They took a lot of already genre-standard tropes and made this leviathan MMO by doing the same things better. These days, something feels different, like their game system devs are not focused on doing things better than the competition, but rather doing things differently regardless of the  cost to usability…

Posted in EQ2, ESO, FFXIV, Gaming, Guild Wars, LotRO, Neverwinter, Rift, SWTOR, WoW | 6 Comments

Lifeskills

I’m away and not thinking about gaming that much, but as we have been spending time on outdoor activities, I’ve thought a bit about what would be called lifeskills in some MMORPGs (e.g Black Desert Online).

That’s not to say I’m busy at the pottery corner crafting items, but rather wandering around a forest, or swimming in the aquatic centre, has me practicing things that would be skills in a pen and paper rpg, yet that are largely absent in the online gaming equivalent.

After searching for semi-tame deer in the forest to photograph them, I tried to think of any MMO tracking skill examples. Recently we’ve done a mission in Secret World in Kaiden where you follow emotional tracks, but that’s a special one-off mission skill, not something characters can develop as a player choice.

Likewise swimming is only an actual character skill in a few old-school games. In Dungeons and Dragons Online it drastically affects your character’s ability to hold their breath underwater. Everquest 2 has a swim skill too that levels as you swim about, but my main characters have abilities or items to avoid the tyranny of the breath meter, so I’m not sure if that skill actually means much?

In pen and paper rpgs, it’s usually possible to develop your character in lifeskills like this. Are there other good examples of character skills in MMOs that are not specifically combat or crafting related?

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