Rift: making grouping as easy as possible

Yesterday I read a post over at Massively by Larry about Elder Scrolls Online and the dev plans for expanding level-syncing. The post lists six areas that need improvement where grouping up is concerned. It’s a topic close to my heart since I play in a number of games with one or two friends and any barrier to us “just playing together” is a major annoyance.

Then later that evening I decided to pop into Rift and to have a look at my characters, as per usual after a long absence their bags were full of junk and talent trees have been reset by some balance patch or other. I knew that two friends were playing although they were on the other faction, the Guardians. My main characters have always been on the technology-oriented, Defiant faction. Using Skype I found out they were indeed in game but that they were also on a different server from mine. During this session Rift showed us just how easy grouping can be made to be in a MMORPG.

Cross server

At first I logged onto a long-abandoned alt mage, Guardian-side, and we ran the dungeon. A side note to this is the Arbiter mage-tank soul is really fun to play! The different server issue was a non-issue, I right click my character’s portrait and can teleport to any server on the list.

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In Telara the term “mage-tank” is not just a joke!

Cross-faction

Later on, because I’d read ages ago that the faction barriers in Rift had been loosened, we tried adding my Defiant cleric to the group – it was just as easy. Chat works in group and ‘say’ channels – none of the pvp-oriented barriers to communication common in factional MMORPGs here! One character entering a dungeon in Rift via the portal has always given other group members the option of a free teleport into the dungeon. This applies cross-faction and cross-server just the same. My cleric was dragged across continents and across servers to join the Guardians in the Realm of the Fae when we tested it.

Down-sync & Up-sync

Furthermore the game has level-sync in both directions. You can ‘mentor’ someone else’s lower level character to set your level down. Also when my cleric (level 56) grouped up to test entering a dungeon with one friend’s character, that character was mentored up to my level. So there’s the possibility to play with higher level characters doing group content while you are “catching up” with them in level!

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A higher level character can sync down to your level for grouping

All in all I was mightily impressed with how easy it has become in Rift to play with friends regardless of level, faction or location. Not all of this is new to the genre of course: mentoring for instance has been in Everquest 2 for many years. But Rift does combine all these features to great effect. I’d like to see some more thought put into this by MMO devs and less of the “go PUG everything” that these games favour.

Posted in EQ2, Gaming, Rift

SWTOR: catching up with class story

My Jedi Shadow is on pause waiting on the release next month of the next chapter of post expansion content. Meanwhile I’m continuing to play SWTOR as a duo or trio group game. We’re alternating the trio game sessions between SWTOR and a rerun of Shadowrun Chronicle’s Boston Lockdown campaign so progress for our Imperials is slower at the moment.

On the hunt

On the hunt

As I wrote recently the various XP bonuses have allowed my characters to creep ahead of their group-mates. Thankfully the auto level-sync on planetary content means we can still do missions together without my character being overpowered. For the flashpoint group I was back playing a Jedi Guardian tank.

Fear my droid army

Fear my droid army

Checking wikis I found he was four planets-worth of class missions behind – at the time of the last post we had Tattooine class missions in our log that were in the level 24-28 range. I certainly want to do the class stories on this character – both to see the Jedi Knight story for the first time and to ensure my character unlocks all the associated legacy benefits (e.g. class buff on all characters). He doesn’t need to do the planetary missions for the XP but I haven’t done them that many times to be honest – it’s still a pleasure to re-run them.

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Alderaan has a ‘pest’ problem

Levelling SWTOR characters primarily through flashpoint runs is certainly possible nowadays (see Shintar’s post series documenting exactly this), I haven’t played enough times through yet to be ready for that. Until I have all four base classes levelled to 50 there’s still a solid benefit to be had from ensuring I do the class stories, even if that means some class-story catchup sessions.

Posted in Gaming, SWTOR | 1 Comment

Cherished MMO worlds

Gaming news has been mixed this last week. The blogosphere has some excited and optimistic posts about the launch of Blade & Soul in the Western market. Only days later it was announced that the steampunk MMO City of Steam is to close; I’d not tried the game but Bhagpuss has a good post about the closure and about his experience of playing the game.

Since reading these articles I’ve been thinking about the MMORPGs that I play and what I would feel like were one of them to shutter. Listening to the most recent episode of the Massively OP Podcast there was even a reader’s question asking the hosts to speculate about a LOTRO reboot. That discussion really struck home as I’m currently back in Turbine’s version of Middle Earth and am loving it once more.

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I read on server forums earlier in the week about a concert on Laurelin (EU-RP) organised by players at the Bird and Baby Inn in Michael Delving.  I spent over an hour just listening to the music the band was playing and to reading and interacting with the rest of the audience. It was delightful and such a contrast to what has become my routine in these games – levelling and ‘progressing’. It would be a tragedy if LoTRO were to shutter its servers – this thought isn’t a reaction to some hint of doom or rumour, it’s more a rumination on the brutal realities of the industry.

A friend has recently started playing Rift again so the temptation is there to slot that game for group play sessions, although I’m not sure what game we’ll drop to make time for a return to Telara. I would be sad indeed if Rift were to be shutdown, so perhaps a return to that game is overdue. Although the world and the first expansion in particular didn’t keep my attention in recent years, I have to say the character building system with mix-and-match ‘souls’ is one of the best of any MMORPG that I’ve played.

Temptations of the talent trees

Temptations of the talent trees

With its very open free to play model, it is relatively easy to log in for an occasional visit without spending any money to support the game. Likewise with LoTRO if you’re playing lower level content. I’m of a mind to spend some time in these cherished worlds in 2016, but also to spend some money too to show my direct support to the games and their devs.

 

Posted in Gaming, LotRO, Rift

Click to move in MMORPGs, good or bad?

Click to move is a bit of strange feature in MMORPGs. It’s common enough in some genres, action RPGs like Diablo for instance. In my experience it’s a bit rarer in this genre, at least as a default-on or obvious option. Of the many MMOs I’ve sampled over the years several have had click to move in some form but it’s only since I’ve come back to playing LoTRO that I’ve paid it much attention.

One click away

One click away

I should clarify here that in LoTRO click to move is about interactions, not clicking on the landscape. I can right-click a mining node for instance and my character will run over and mine it. Likewise I can right-click an NPC and he’ll start a conversation. It’s a surprisingly relaxing addition to gameplay, although I do wonder if it’s training me to be lazy.

Click to move can also mean literally clicking on the landscape to move to that point. Other older games that I’ve played had that, Eden Eternal for instance.

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This feature can even extend as far as clicking to auto-run to specific objectives, NPCs or locations. Both Eden Eternal and Allods Online have versions of this “auto-pilot” feature.

Chase that ball of wool to the quest!

Chase that ball of wool to the quest!

Of course LoTRO hasn’t evolved quite this far in allowing questing on auto-pilot, but then there is the Mithril coin option to teleport to certain NPCs or quest objectives instantly, an addition since the Free to Play conversion that I ignore completely.

Do you make use of click to move in MMOs or steer clear of it?

 

Posted in Eden Eternal, Gaming, LotRO | 4 Comments

Setting up house

As reported in a recent post I’m going to make an effort this year with housing in MMORPGs. First up is the housing in Lord of the Rings Online, the game has had housing for a very, very long time (added in patch in 2007) and I’ve never quite gotten around to even looking at it properly.

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The game has a mix of good and somewhat basic aspects in its housing system. I really like that the houses exist in neighbourhoods, which are shared instances so you can see other players active nearby. The neighbourhood has some common facilities like a vendor and vault access at the centre. Also each house has a mailbox outside as standard.

The basic house itself is a simple two room affair, very like the little standard apartments I have on several characters in Everquest 2. The big difference from that other game’s housing though is the use of hooks to place items of a specific type in set locations.

What to put in here...?

What to put in here…?

I’m seeing this system from a backwards perspective to some other MMO gamers since I’ve seen this same system in SWTOR, a later game, but only now am I seeing it in LoTRO. The system is simple enough to use although the UI could do with being a bit more obvious – I didn’t notice the tiny “decorate mode” toggle on the mini-map that enables you to place, move and remove items.

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I’ve dumped the more appealing of the items I’ve collected on my main character in the house and yard for now. The outdoor space that surrounds the house inside the neighbourhood instance is also yours to decorate, that’s a really nice feature. It reminds me of Wildstar’s housing plot, where the house is actually only the central feature of a  wider outdoor space.

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Owning a house in the game also brings an in-game benefit. Firstly I have a house chest as extra storage, great for keeping those housing items in that have taken vault space for all these years. Secondly I now have a “go-to-house” teleport skill. I think conventional wisdom on forums and the like is to buy a house that offers the most useful teleport to your characters – each housing area is outside one of the four racial main cities. So logically I shouldn’t have bought a Bree house for a human character since he has a “return to Bree” skill already. I would probably ignore such ‘min-max’ style considerations anyway as I think he would want a home near his own city but the extra benefit of this choice is that most of my alt characters are not humans. Housing is per account and all my characters will get the “go-to-house” skill so now they all get to port to Bree much easier!

The system is simple and easy to get started with. I’ve had to temper my expectations because it is naturally not quite up to the EQ2 and Wildstar standard. But the neighbourhood concept is nice enough, I saw another active player in there within minutes of buying the plot. The dilemma now is whether to concentrate on trying to find nice items out in the world or to work on my woodworker alt to be able to craft stuff myself!

Posted in Gaming, LotRO

Combat RNG in RPGs and MMORPGs

This weekend I played a good amount of D&D (3.5/Pathfinder) and I was reminded of the amount of randomisation in the game. Skill use, attacks and damage are just some of the elements of gameplay that are influenced by polyhedral dice rolls. That’s not to say of course that I mind this amount of randomness, it’s pretty core to most roleplay games that you have elements of chance spicing up the action.

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But comparing RPGs to MMORPGs the randomisation seems very hidden away or minimised by the mechanics especially in combat. You may see varying damage numbers popping on screen or in a damage meter but that’s rather different from what I’m writing about here.

In the pictured game my D&D wizard character has several “ranged touch” spells that either hit or miss based on a dice roll. The spells are quite powerful but that power is mitigated by the chance of missing altogether when casting.

Imagine that same situation in a MMORPG context – in my probably somewhat limited memory of the various games I’ve played, this kind of “hit/miss” randomisation isn’t so common. I imagine MMORPG players would get frustrated if they were to miss as often as low-level D&D characters tend to! Having a specific stat on your gear to mitigate against miss chance has been a thing in various games, WoW used to have ‘hit’ as a stat at least for heroic dungeon and raid content. So if you started seeing “miss” coming up when attacking you knew your character needed a gear upgrade.

Does the visibility or lack thereof of randomisation in combat matter to your MMORPG gaming?

Posted in Gaming, WoW | 3 Comments

Syp on “good dungeon runs”

Syp, of the Bio Break blog, had an interesting post this week on “what makes a good dungeon run“. It’s a personal list of characteristics that he would expect in a good or bad dungeon experience mixing elements like the design of the dungeon and the behaviour or performance of the other players.

Dungeons have certainly changed rather a lot over the years, tending towards shorter and less complicated in layout. Difficulty rather depends on your point of view and skill level, I think it’s fair to say that in many of the MMORPGs that I play dungeon difficulty has probably been reduced somewhat over the years.

Sprawling dungeons were cool

Sprawling dungeons were cool

I can remember back to the time in World of Warcraft, pre-Cataclysm or even earlier, when many dungeons were complex in layout and took hours to clear unless you were significantly over the expected level or gear-level. Spending an entire evening wandering around an old-era dungeon in WoW such as Blackrock Depths or Wailing Caverns was normal to us as we didn’t rely on guide maps and we would usually clear all the content in there.

Dungeon running has changed by design in some more modern games. Pickup groups (pug) are the norm nowadays with randomised groups put together by queue system. My main experiences with such grouping has been in Final Fantasy 14 and even in that game, where friendly player behaviour is encouraged by design, the majority of groups were mostly silent and were ‘efficient’ if not outright rushed affairs. People might well say hello, or communicate a boss strategy tersely but there wouldn’t be much chatter beyond that.

Good dungeons but not often very social

Good dungeons but not often very social

The fact that story progression in FFXIV is locked behind pugging such dungeons is abhorrent game design in my view since the general community wants everyone to “skip videos” when you are in dungeons, meaning you are pressured to miss the clips of storytelling at the time the game is trying to show you them in context!

That illustrates where Syp’s view and my view of good dungeon runs divert. When I’ve enjoyed group content the most it has been because I was grouped with friends or guild-mates taking the content at a leisurely pace and chatting as we play. Syp’s top  characteristic on the good list is “will clock in at 30 minutes”, which I see as a negative, it implies that dungeon runs should be “quick and over with”, something that contrasts with my reasons for wanting to play them in the first place. I enjoy playing dungeons with friends as small group content but dungeon design and layout are the background to the enjoyable part – the banter and the shared effort of tackling encounters with a varying group of characters.

Chain running quick dungeons for the gear rewards or tokens makes the experience too mechanical for me personally. For quick gaming sessions I’d rather just run some quests solo or duo in the open world – without the pressure to rush to the end in limited time.

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I can think of our recent experiences playing SWTOR flashpoints (dungeons) as a trio or four and they’re really good dungeon runs. They often take us an hour or longer, partly because we never rush and partly because we’re just not that familiar with them yet. We have fun gradually wading through the trash fights and working out (or trying to remember!) the boss mechanics.

So my good and bad dungeon run characteristics would be as follows.

Good dungeon runs:

  • are where the group sets own pace that all are comfortable with
  • are long(ish) with some optional paths or dead-ends to make give some variety to repeat runs
  • have challenging boss fights and easier trash fights

Bad dungeons runs:

  • feel rushed either by group members or by dungeon design (e.g. time limited run)
  • see you missing content or not really “taking in the dungeon” due to pace of group
  • feel like a treadmill – you are running down that same “corridor” dungeon for the Xth time
Posted in FFXIV, Gaming, SWTOR, WoW | 8 Comments