Background details

I wrote recently on how much I like little details in the MMORPGs that I play; yesterday while playing World of Warcraft Classic, I was reminded just how much there is in the background that a player can easily miss.

The default viewing angle can miss a lot…

I’ve found the adage “always remember to look up” to be very true: if you live somewhere relatively urban especially. If you never look up when you’re walking around, you can miss a lot of detail. Architects tend, or at least tended, to build interesting stuff above ground level. This can be equally true in World of Warcraft (or any MMORPG). I’ve often looked up in a dungeon and been surprised by something unusual, or occasionally spectacular, on the ceiling or roof above. Flying around to do some gathering last night, I saw a few things that are easy to miss but worth spending a moment to take in.

Starting with a big one, in Loch Modan, the giant dam’s best feature (its carved faces) are hidden from the zone itself. You have to run up to the far eastern end of Wetlands to see it, and I imagine from the ground it’s not very distinct unless you have viewing distance set up to max, but from a griffin-taxi as you fly to Arathi from Ironforge you are treated with an amazing view of this artificial ‘wonder of Azeroth’ – if, you bother to look behind you as you fly. It would be very easy, and natural, to keep looking forward (or go on a break) while flying and miss this entirely.

I chose to go to Arathi to mine Iron, mostly a good idea although there are some pockets where the spiders or dinosaurs are a bit thick for my poor Holy-spec Paladin to make headway without running away constantly. His time-to-kill solo is terrible. In running rough loops around the zone I came across the shattered segments of Thoradin’s Wall that lines the western edge of the zone. It’s a very impressive monument to humanity’s fallen glory, or to most players no doubt, just something to pass-by barely noticed as you run towards Undercity or Scarlet Monastery.

Where are the breaks on this thing!?

There are also background details that have little explanation or purpose in game, especially on flight paths. The Ironforge Airfield is one you pass over on the way to Menethil from that city, but cannot get to without a lot of edge-running or some engineering trickery. I’ve lost count of the number of times I gazed longingly at it from up-high on my griffon; flying over it yesterday reminded me how mysterious the world seemed because there were areas that were ill-explained or hard to reach. Over the years some have been fleshed out, including entire zones that filled gaps in the map (e.g. the Twilight Highlands). The Cataclysm revamp swept away a lot of these old details, or gave quests to replace what was a blank canvas for others.

That isn’t to say I want the game world to stay unchanged, or that filling in the blanks is a bad thing. I really loved when gaps in the map became actual zones to explore later in the game’s life – it was thrilling to delve into secrets hinted at in quest text or item descriptions. Playing Classic now is bittersweet to me. It reminds me of great memories and feelings, but it cannot undo my memories of playing the game in-between, or of learning what these details mean. As an experienced-focused player, I yearn for new things to do much more than nostalgia.

Posted in MMORPG, World of Warcraft | 2 Comments

Crafting timeline in Luclin #EQ2

Playing through the tradeskill quest timeline in Everquest 2’s Luclin expansion, I’ve been struck by all the little details that add such richness to the experience. These crafting quests offer the perfect antidote to the MMORPGs obsession with “kill X things” questing: which really dominates the majority of content in the genre. There’s a good mix of gathering, crafting, investigating and puzzles. All of it possible without fighting a single creature – if you are careful.

Light beam puzzles are fun

Due, perhaps, to the de-emphasizing of combat, there’s more dialogue and detail to these quests. The magic book that you use throughout the quest chain has wonderful snippets of story and lore in it. There’s a sense of exploration as you look for crafting materials, NPCs to talk to and locations to visit. It feels more relaxed than ‘normal’ questing as you’re not jumping into ‘combat mentality’ and not feeling that constant, low-level, awareness of danger that is required with adventuring (EQ2’s term for combat-oriented questing).

Exploring ruins

This enables greater attention to the details of your characters surroundings and is great for more puzzle-oriented content; it’s hard in other games to concentrate on puzzles if you have monsters patrolling nearby, or if the devs deliberately trigger encounters while working on stages of a puzzle.

DDO says: work out that puzzle while being fireballed…

I discovered while reading on the wiki that my character could respec a crafting AA point (i.e. talent in standard MMO talk) to be able to summon crafting stations on a cooldown. I knew nothing about this revolutionary ability. It saves a ton of back and forth if you can just craft whatever you need to, either where you are gathering, or next to the NPC who gave you the task. There really is so much depth to Everquest 2: I am always finding out new things when I play.

The delivery of the questing really adds to my enjoyment of it. There’s a sense of mystery and fun in the quest text – delivered in an interactive manner through the virtual pages of said book. After years of study, I tend to skim read everything by default unless I really concentrate. So I’m actually looking forward to re-playing this timeline on another crafting alt just to see what details I might have missed out on the first time around. I guess the main or only downside to this delivery, like in Lord of the Rings Online’s quest text, is the amount of text to read. It’s not a downside at all to me as I love all the loving detail and have no problem reading in a game – others, I’m sure, would disagree with this.

The outcome of this last play session is that my main can now fly in the Luclin zones. This will make gathering infinitely faster and more convenient, which means he can supply any alts that do the questing in future. My next priority, however, has to be to get on with the adventuring timeline so I have that completed on at least one character.

Posted in DDO, EQ2, MMORPG

Thoughts on Elder Scrolls Online

I read over at Bio Break Syp’s post on his issues with the Elder Scrolls Online combat (e.g. lack of feedback) and that struck a chord. Like all my MMORPGs, I have phases where I am actively playing ESO, usually for a month or just over. I enjoy the world, the questing and the immersive environments more than most MMORPGs.

Must..search..all..the..bookcases

The single player games never quite gelled with me, I guess I’m just not that much of a sandbox rpg fan. I played Daggerfall, Oblivion and Skyrim each for some time but didn’t finish any of them. The MMO game has much in common with these thematically and even in the feel of the world. Certainly, unlike most MMOs, your character’s surroundings tends to be a lot more interactive than just a 3D painting of furniture, buildings and flora as is the case in other games.

The combat, however, I’m not much of a fan of either: Syp writes at length about the combat not feeling as grounded as it is in other games; playing World of Warcraft at the moment I can see this comparison myself. WoW Classic has always had particularly well honed combat animations. Seeing a friend’s night elf Warrior twirling and striking with a staff is actually rather impressive for a re-make of a 15 year old version of this game. Animations and spell effects in the modern game are even more satisfying.

I’ve noticed the health bar issue in ESO, how the bars seem to adjust with a lag or ‘filling’ or ’emptying’ animation. A commenter mentions that this could be the default UI at fault; I’ve never tried a UI mod in ESO so perhaps that would be worth investigating. I do think developers should take UI feedback and combat issues more seriously – if a lot of players give feedback on these types of issue in ESO why isn’t it fixed already? I could point the same criticism at Blizzard with WoW, why in 2020 can I not open the character pane or map without obscuring the chat panel in the default UI? Needing a mod to make the UI vaguely modern (i.e. moveable components) is not good design.

Health going down..

Combat feedback and UI issues are two different but equally impactful issues for a MMO – both are potential background annoyances that cumulatively detract from a game’s long-term attractiveness. I can ignore these issues to experience some story, but eventually I’ll grow tired of such negative aspects of the game. I believe my issues with ESO are wider than just the combat feedback, although that may well be part of it. Like Black Desert Online, I just grow tired of “all action combat all of the time” – having to dodge, block and interrupt in almost every fight gets tiresome to me.

Posted in BDO, ESO, MMORPG, World of Warcraft

Dungeon levelling and summon-alts #WoWClassic

We’re carrying on with our Classic World of Warcraft character levelling, almost exclusively via dungeons. The only quests I’ve made time for since we got high enough to start the dungeons has been Paladin class quests.

We’re stuck in a bit of a ‘dry’ patch at the moment, as we’ve got Scarlet Monastery wings as the only option in our level range to run. They’re all rather repetitive and linear compared to earlier dungeons (e.g. Shadowfang Keep, Wailing Caverns) or later ones (e.g. Razorfen Downs, Uldaman). Maybe I’m just not a fan of this particular place as there are several pretty iconic items as boss-drops and that meant it was heavily farmed back in the day. I had several plate characters wearing that helmet from Herod, for example.

Classic has issues with just how wide the level range are for many dungeons (~10 levels according to this list). It’s not an across the board problem, but Scarlet Monastery has overlapping level ranges and brutal trash mob mechanics to deal with (lots of stuns, mana burns and the odd enrage mechanic). It can make runs on subsequent wings a real slog.

Enrage mechanic = furious heal spam time

We’re already bored with Graveyard and Library, it doesn’t help that the trash respawns so very quickly – you have to fight your way in and back out again. That combines with the long journey time for Alliance characters to even get here, to make multiple wing runs impractical. The only solution when most of the relatively short yet densely populated Library, or Armory, has already respawned is to run for the entrance (Paladin bubble for the win!) or just accept death and corpse run back to the dungeon cluster.

Starting another run

Going back to train, vendor or repair means hearthstoning and then the long flight *and* run back to the instance. Oh, and make sure you don’t get PVP flagged near Undercity or ganked by high level spiders in Western Plaguelands (depending on the route chosen).

I do like the design of these dungeons, but compared to other MMORPGs that I’ve played there’s a distinct lack of anything to interact with – lots of window-dressing but not much to do beyond smack evil creatures.

All will be easier when we get to a new dungeon or two, fighting an endless wave of Scarlet Crusaders gets old. For now though we’ve come up with a workaround to allow for more freedom to go craft or train, and to cut down on the lost 30 mins or so due to flight time. We now have a friend’s Warlock alt, plus two level 1 “summoners” in place by the useless meeting stone on the path leading to the Monastery. With this trio parked semi-permanently here, they can summon any of our active characters to the dungeon-cluster as needed. Hopefully it’ll ease one very annoying aspect of running these dungeons!

Posted in MMORPG, World of Warcraft | 1 Comment

Strategic alt choices

As always happens when I’m deep into a particular MMORPG, the temptation to create “just one more alt” reared its ugly head recently. I was watching my husband make his new vulpera character in World of Warcraft, whilst also switching between my own characters in Everquest 2 to set mount and mercenary training going. I then noticed an alt I’d created over the summer that I hadn’t yet played at all, a ratonga Ranger.

I’ve not played a ratonga anything yet in Everquest 2, but the diminutive rat-folk seem very popular on the blogosphere, and likewise in game – I see a lot of ratonga characters of various classes when doing public events.

I was reminded that this character was created, and more recently insta-dinged to 100, with a specific purpose in mind. To date I’ve played my human Inquisitor as my dominant ‘main’ character. I have had phases of playing an sarnak Shadowknight as well. That gives me a healer and a tank character as my two most played characters. I do love to play a healer, and a self-healing tank can be a joy to game with as well.

Tanking, even on public events, can be stressful

However, I went into 2020 wanting to get some more group play done in this game in particular. I do not make New Year’s resolutions, so I’ll not call it that, exactly. In any case I would like to get some more group experience under the belt. The big concern there is that my two highest characters are a healer and tank, both key roles in any group. Having an inexperienced damage dealer is one thing in a dungeon; having a newbie healer or tank quite another. Since I don’t want to be too much of a drag on any random (or guild) group that I join in future, I had the idea that having a new dps-only class to play would make the most sense. Rather than just create whatever I most fancied playing at the time, I made a more considered, strategic choice of what to pick.

I actually rather like the ranger / hunter archetype, even though it’s not been my traditional go-to class. I’ve been having some fun playing a hunter in WoW Classic for example, as a dps class with a bit of utility on the side (mostly the traps). I’m not done levelling my main in Luclin yet on the tradeskill timeline, but he’s about 85% of the way through, so not far off finishing. I think it’ll be time to switch characters after that, maybe to break out the ratonga for some adventure timeline fun. By all accounts this expansion makes catching those alts up to the cap easier than ever. Perhaps this’ll finally be the expansion where I can get my group-groove on in EQ2?

Posted in EQ2, MMORPG | 2 Comments

Expectations regards difficulty in MMORPGs

Over the last few days we’ve played several sessions of World of Warcraft’s 8.3 patch, Visions of N’Zoth, and in parallel we’ve also played through the early parts of Neverwinter’s Undermountain  content (Module 16).

Playing both games it’s interesting to see differences in how difficulty is, or isn’t, presented. Neverwinter in this module seems pretty standard, the content for our modestly geared characters is easy enough if we’re not careless. An overpull can lead to me having to heal like crazy and for us to use our potions and other buff items to snatch victory from disaster. That’s on normal groups of monsters. Boss fights have a few mechanics to watch out for but are relatively standard fare so far.

Over in WoW you have the Horrific Vision mechanic that kind of turns expectations of difficulty on its head. You will fail some, and might end up failing them regularly. Our first attempt at this instanced challenge content, set in a void-corrupted version of Orgrimmar, was an abject failure. We knew enough from guild discussions to not get distracted by all the harder side content on the map. So, we made a line straight for Thrall and still only managed to get him down to about 40% health before wiping: not even close.

My first reaction was: “screw this, it’s unwinnable”. I’m afraid I’m not the most patient of people when it comes to gaming. My husband was annoyed that we might miss out on some progress by not having won this; for context he’d assumed his first failure on his monk main character was because he got initially distracted by some side content. His monk is much better geared than my main or his alt that we duo together. That is a factor of course, some players reading this might laugh at how easy their first run was, but to us it was mathematically impossible due to our low(ish) gear level.

You are not ready to explore deeper…

That’s not the end of this post though. On handing in, we received enough momentoes currency to unlock a first upgrade on our cloak; this would  make subsequent runs easier. With the three-use Sanity Resoration Orb ability available, we were able to take Thrall down on a second run without much difficulty. The quest chain doesn’t really stress enough, in game, that failure is likely on early runs, perhaps that it should be expected. If we do more of this, and time is always a factor, then I’ll be able to do a follow-up on just how the difficulty curve looks. As a side note, some of the instanced scenario story-content in this patch was also tuned to be unexpectedly difficult, we wiped on a fight late in the chain but when we released we were able to rejoin the same fight without losing progress. In the context of the story its difficulty wasn’t out of place, but it is unexpected to have to fight so hard just to get a quest done.

What interested me is the starting point of difficulty here. There’s such a contrast between Horrific Visions and Neverwinter’s current content. It’s more noticable to me because the difficulty for both of the previous two Neverwinter modules, set in Chult and Ravenloft respectively, was set so much higher from the offset. I was very pleasantly surprised with the starting difficulty in Undermountain. Then in World of Warcraft with this latest patch we have new content, one of the pillars of this patch, that starts out feeling nigh-impossible. I’m not sure if there’s any comparable trends to be identified here, as I’m talking about a late expansion patch for WoW and a standalone patch for Neverwinter. In both cases I am talking about what I consider general content – this isn’t about top-end group or raid content. It does feel like the Neverwinter and World of Warcraft devs have quite different design philosophies where difficulty curves are concerned.

Posted in MMORPG, Neverwinter, World of Warcraft | 3 Comments

Visions of N’Zoth, patch 8.3

Yesterday saw the European launch of patch 8.3, Visions of N’Zoth, for World of Warcraft (retail).

In about two hours we played as a duo through the first sections of the new story-line, with NPC dialogues and a host of activities unlocked in Uldum, one of the two feature zones of the patch.

Although it’s early days for this content I imagine it might be somewhat ‘Marmite’ (UK English for a love or hate thing) to many players. Our retail guild was hopping compared to the last few weeks, but one player did log over to a low-level alt to “get away from all the purple and tentacles” (they’d been playing it most of the day, whereas I only had the evening after work).

I’m rather partial to anything Titan or Old-God related story-wise, so I’m happy so far to be diving into this new content. Reusing old zones is a sensible thing from a dev resource perspective, and it happens that the two main zones that are being reused are two of my favourites aesthetically. I love Egyptian history/mythology, so anything with great pyramids and animal-headed creatures is fine with me. Our characters finished up with the quest to go on to the Vale of Eternal Blossoms for the continuation of the storyline, I knew this was coming though and am looking forward to it as that is a rather iconic location as well.

So far, from a gameplay perspective, it’s just been standard Battle for Azeroth open world activities: daily quests and bars to fill in a given area. The quest chain is enjoyable though, I won’t have a problem repeating it on a few alts. We haven’t got to the step of doing our first Horrific Visions yet, a challenge mode instance that has been likened to the Mage Tower of the Legion expansion. I would thought on paper that I would have next to no interest in these instances: I hated the Mage Tower. But these can be played with 1-5 players, and I am a lot more interested in difficult content for a group than I am in soloing it. I’m not sure how long this content will keep me engaged, but my first impressions for the patch are positive…

Posted in MMORPG, World of Warcraft