Favourite MMO Locales – IntPiPoMo 2015 (3)

This post is somewhat delayed so I’m going to have to cram several IntPiPoMo posts into the remaining week and a bit of November in order to hit my target of 50 pictures. For this third post I’m showcasing some of my favourite MMO locales, places in these virtual worlds that I found strikingly beautiful, memorable or otherwise extraordinary. There are twelves images representing these locales after the cut.

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Posted in FFXIV, Gaming, Guild Wars, LotRO, Neverwinter, SWTOR, TSW, Wildstar, WoW | 5 Comments

Garrison vs Alliance hubs and alt-play

Two of the MMORPGs I am currently playing have a particular breed of ‘operational base’ style hub in the latest expansion; namely World of Warcraft and Star Wars the Old Republic.


These hubs play a key role in the story and day-to-day player activities in both games. For WoW’s garrisons you build the hub up as a focal point for the expansion story and your character’s development . In Knights of the Fallen Empire the Alliance hub on the planet of Odessen is the end-game you reach, as the culmination of the current story arc.

The base on Odessen includes both public and private spaces

The base on Odessen includes both public and private spaces

Although there is a difference in when the hub unlocks there is a similar feel of utilitarian home to both as you play further into each expansion’s content. Both hubs are a source of daily quests, both offer the chance to develop a collection of followers or companions and both offer standard quest-hub services like mailbox, fast travel point etc.

The impact of these hubs on the play-through experience is different however. For the WoW garrison unlocking the basics and upgrades requires playing specific quest chains in certain zones in order. It also requires that you engage with the follower system enough to collect resources for upgrading the base. The garrison’s core role in the expansion does make for a repetitive journey through the expansion for alts, it’s hard to avoid playing a lot of the same content as a result.


Garrison number 3 underway

In KotFE the hub is the end-game and does not feature until the end of a mid-length series of missions (chapters 1-8). So the story repetition comes front-loaded before you reach the repeatable hub gameplay. Bioware’s conversation-moral system gives some variance to the story playthrough I would imagine; my trooper has just hit level 60 so I’m about to embark on my second playthrough of this expansion. How repetitive you find the Alliance hub system probably comes down to individual play style preferences. I’m not intending to collect “all of the companions” on my first or subsequent characters so I guess I won’t find the hub phase of the expansion too repetitive. Some elements are common, the ‘contacts’ like Dr Oggorubb are common for all characters as a core element of the Alliance system. I’m not sure how mandatory developing influence with these non-playable contact characters is. But I will certainly be exercising choice with which companions I chose to unlock on which characters. For example I won’t bother to unlock Qyzen at all until I play my Sage through the expansion since he always played with Qyzen; my new Shadow is a blank slate (as an instant level 60) so he’s sticking with Koth Vortena.


From my perspective the success or failure of these hub-systems comes down to allowing me to pick and choose at least some of the content on successive playthroughs. I’d rather play the story and develop the hub on a few characters and to have some interesting choices to make along the way than spend months unlocking every last feature or quest on my main.

I feel like WoW’s garrison is good for two or three characters max before it all becomes too repetitive. Just getting to level 100 and unlocking the level 3 garrison on each is going to be enough for me to want to take a break from the game again. The followers are numerous and varied but they’re ultimately a very shallow system as there’s no real story attached beyond where you recruit a NPC you see during questing – usually that’s the end of their story though, there’s no follow-up or personal quests to give more development to that character.

KotFE may offer a bit more variety if I can truly pick and choose which contacts I do missions for and which companions I unlock. If nothing else there are several major choices to make during the play through of chapters 1-8 and I’m interested in seeing the alternatives as I repeat the story.

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Thoughts on MMO combat

Syp of Bio Break has a post discussing MMO combat systems. and the relative merits of certain action MMORPGs’ attempts to mix-up the old formula of tab-target combat.

Stay out of the fire!

Stay out of the fire!

Combat is such a core activity in any MMORPG that it certainly is important to get right, unless you’re playing one of the rare games that allow players to really focus on playstyles other than combat (e.g. crafters in Everquest 2) then you’re likely to be fighting a lot of the time. Generally I prefer tab-target, slower combat with plenty of abilities and options during combat.

I’ve played quite a few of the more recent “action combat MMO” generation, for a while all the MMO coming out seemed to be action-oriented. Of those games I liked the combat in Neverwinter (the Cryptic MMO) the most. It’s a matter of personal taste but I want clearly defined trinity roles and for me Neverwinter did this without having a super-weak healing class – the Devout Cleric in Neverwinter can deal a lot of holy pain to enemies, much better than the Priest or Mystic in Tera for instance. It helps that the classes have very different, interesting spells or abilities with impressive effects.

Iconic spell effects

Summoning a miniature black hole as a Wizard never gets tiresome!

Syp gives Guild Wars 2 as a better/best example of action-y combat – I have very mixed feelings on this game. At launch and through most of the levelling content I enjoyed the combat well enough, the character animations are excellent and the weapon swapping mechanic adds some needed variety to the limits of the active abilityset. But from the living story onwards (especially season 2) I quickly was turned off the game by the combination of content/encounter design and rising difficulty.


I hate vines

Wildstar also gets a mention in the article and actually I’ve changed my opinion of the game for the better since my first impressions in beta. In my more recent playthrough of the leveling content, I have found the combat in Wildstar to be ok; I haven’t played enough classes to be able to give it a fair comparison to Neverwinter’s but it seems generally fairly forgiving.

Not all dangers are circular

Not all dangers are circular

I’m still on the fence about what combat I prefer since I play both action and traditional-combat MMOs with some regularity. I’ll be interested to see if Wildstar’s combat gets more (or even too) action-y for me in later levels.

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An offline gaming weekend and looking ahead to Christmas

Last weekend was a moderate-sized family gathering at our house so gaming, at least MMORPG gaming, didn’t happen. There was time for other gaming however, as we played a number of games of Magic the Gathering. The power level of the game never ceases to amaze me compared to the 4th edition I started with back in 1997. It makes the stat inflation in World of Warcraft (pre-stat squish) look calm in comparison. Where once a 5/5 dragon was considered one of the more powerful cards you now have a single card that lays twin 10/10 creatures of devastating might. The game is faster now as a result, and in a way more tense, since card draws can quickly lead to innevitable defeat – instead of “I’m defeated in four turns”, it seems more like “I’ve lost next turn”.

We also discussed games we’d like to play together at Christmas. There are several potential games I could take on to play with my niece and nephew in particular like Destiny or Skyforge. Destiny looks interesting but there’s a snag as the playerbase is split not just by console platform but also by generation – Playstation 3 players cannot play with Playstation 4 players! Maybe this kind of thing is common in online FPS land? I can understand cross-platform barriers I suppose as different partner companies are involved but no cross-generation? My Playstation 3 is perfectly serviceable at present, buying a new console just for one game, no thanks!

Then there is Skyforge, another action MMORPG. Massively had a recent article about the class demographics of the Western playerbase. It’s not a game that has been on my radar but I’d be willing to download and try it during Christmas when the family is all together for some gaming sessions. It’s how we used to sometimes play Guild Wars 2, the only real experience Husband and I had of dungeons in that game were forays with family members.


Speaking of Guild Wars 2, we could of course chose that as our “play together” game again this year, but what could we do together since none of us have the Heart of Thorns expansion?

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WoW: Legion, back to Boomkin!?

For the first two or so years of my time playing World of Warcraft, I was playing a Balance druid (a k a Moonkin or Boomkin) as my main character. I posted a while ago about how I had loved playing this particular class/spec and how Blizzard’s many class revamps had turned me off playing the character over the years.


Although I have leveled many other characters and eventually swapped to Shaman as a main I really always loved this character and its fluffy, “over-sized owl” form.

Somehow eclipse mark 3.0 in the Draenor expansion was *even* worse than the first two iterations...

Somehow eclipse mark 3.0 in the Draenor expansion was *even* worse than the first two iterations…

So it was with great pleasure that I read the recently published Druid class preview for the upcoming Legion expansion:

Balance Druids have had a variety of cyclical rotations over the years. The core design problem in all of these cycles is that they’ve forced players into watching closely for UI cues and casting spells in largely predetermined orders. The Legion design is focused on providing a flexible combat experience, where you can use abilities as you’d like, and each has a specific purpose. The Eclipse Bar has been completely replaced by an Astral Power resource, which is built and spent, and provides a platform for abilities to create interesting, engaging, and powerful effects.

That quote addresses the problem I’ve had with Balance druids since the eclipse mechanic first appeared – forcing players to play spells in some predetermined manner. I really hope this new version of the spec will bring back the flexibility that I so enjoyed before!

*dances with joy*

*dances with joy*

Posted in Gaming, WoW | 2 Comments

Storytelling moments – IntPiPoMo 2015 (2)

I think I’ve set a bit of a trap for myself with this post topic for my International Picture Posting Month series. I chose five fairly off-the-cuff topics to group my pictures around. This one speaks to one of my core loves of gaming of any kind, playing through stories in a more interactive manner than book-reading or TV can offer. Despite this it also basically could step all over one of my basic rules for the blog. So for once I’ll put a split into the post and recommend that players continue to read with the warning that there will be some visual spoilers for plots after the break.

Just for clarity this isn’t a list of the very best storytelling moments in each game, but rather a selection of a few of my personal favourites. I’d love to hear of your favourite moments in the comments.

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Posted in FFXIV, Gaming, SWTOR, TSW, Wildstar, WoW | 5 Comments

SWTOR: non-spoilerish KotFE impressions

This post follows me having completed the new KotFE expansion through to chapter 9, i.e. the end of the new expansion’s solo mission arc. As usual I’ll keep it spoiler-free, so this ‘first impressions’ post will stick to general thoughts and the systems-side of the expansion.

The play through was on my new level 60 character, a Togruta Jedi Shadow. I’ve specced for damage not tanking although the class retains a good deal of survivability even-so.


Firstly I must emphasize the feeling of quality and polish to the content, the story-telling is top-notch and the game feels to have matured well at this stage. There are some stunning visuals and set-piece animations.


Alt-play encouraged

More than ever I’m feeling motivated to play through content again on an alt. That’s pretty unusual for me: in WoW, EQ2 or similar games I generally avoid repeating a story soon after a first play-through but the choice-based, morally-aligned nature of Bioware’s game give plenty of situations with a “what if I choose otherwise…?” question that you can resolve by a replay.


Companion characters are greatly affected by the expansion as you lose access to all your class companions at least temporarily. This may upset some players but I’m all for the change especially as it gives players real choices for which companions to recruit and use, prior to KotFE only a very few store-bought companions were available to any class. The removal of companion gearing may be a simplification but I’d say it’s an overall positive one since I rarely managed to keep more than one companion well-equipped while levelling.

Keeping the troops happy

Keeping the troops happy

Alliance hub

The new end-game is the Alliance hub system. You have various faction and companion-related missions to take and complete as you build up forces. I’ve only scratched the surface so far having just completed chapter 9. From what I’ve seen it’s a mix of daily &  weekly missions plus some companion or NPC ‘contact’ specific non-repeatable story missions.

Collecting research for an old 'friend'

Collecting research for an old ‘friend’

Monthly updates

The Alliances story will be continued through monthly story updates starting in January next. That sounds like a really good cadence for keeping subscribers happy with new story-content. In the past the story aspect of updates to SWTOR was sporadic, a big chunk with the expansion then a long gap, as it is with many other MMOs. Guild Wars 2 was one of a very few MMOs that managed to maintain a regular injection of content frequently for any length of time. Let’s hope Bioware can deliver timely and polished updates in the New Year. If they do then I’ll actually feel motivated to keep up the subscription to SWTOR for a while longer.


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