WoW: spec flexibility (or holy dps)

I spent some time this weekend duo leveling with my partner through the Pandaria Horde version of Jade Forest. There are enough story differences from the Alliance side, and it has been long enough since my last journey through the zone, for this to be a fun little side activity.

I had a Troll priest as main for our old Horde-side guild (the twin of our Alliance guild) during the Cataclysm era. Playing the new level 85 content I found myself wondering why I was having to play her Shadow off-spec and not her Holy main. The problem is that damage output is king in WoW’s PVE content. It brought to mind this morning my clueless attempt at leveling a paladin as Holy back in 2007 – it was next to impossible as you barely did any damage as a healer back then.

Nowadays I could duo as Holy certainly but, I suspect, my damage would probably be about 50% of what it is in Shadow. Since it is just me and a paladin tank for this duo, I’m providing the main damage and the odd shield or heal. So to progress with a half decent pace through the content my spec is decided for me, the old dev mantra of “bring the player not the class” doesn’t apply to spec as well. The two specs play pretty differently despite being the same class!

I can contrast this to my cleric in Neverwinter who, even with his powers and feat points focused on healing, can put out respectable damage easy enough. All I have to do is slot a different mix of abilities from those I’ve unlocked while leveling. I can go from having a full buff/heal set to a full on DPS with emergency heal set in a few mouse drags.

MMOs with sub-classes (SWTOR’s advanced classes or WoW’s very distinct talent trees) make players choose between sub-types of the class to play. Sometimes these choices are irreversible by design (SWTOR’s advanced class cannot be reset), many times there are additional costs in-game that hamper the character’s ability to operate in more than one mode equally well (WoW’s reforging system has overcomplicated the gearing system with regards to dual-spec).

I feel this issue will need some more thought when I have more time: many MMO games offer build flexibility options, but the reality isn’t so free when you actually play them.  What do you think? Is it important to have the option for multiple character ‘specs’ for role flexibility? Should the options be playable without a complex process of respeccing or regearing the character – e.g. should a healer be able to do enough damage to level / solo dailies while in “healer mode”?

Posted in Gaming, Neverwinter, SWTOR, WoW | 4 Comments

Neverwinter: remember to explore

Yesterday our guild in Neverwinter had a “hide and seek” event. The organiser’s character would announce a zone and instance (like many MMOs these days Neverwinter will spawn new copies of a zone to manage game performance as population rises), those playing the event then had to race over to the zone in question and find the organiser’s character – you had to ‘touch’ him, i.e. run right up to him, just spotting him wasn’t enough.

What followed was an increasingly difficult set of exploration puzzles as this player knows the game very, very well and had chosen some very interesting and hard to reach places to hide. In some cases it was in plain sight but you wouldn’t spot him if you didn’t really look around, including up and down. In later cases it was truly off the beaten track – the sort of little corner or high vantage point that most of the playerbase race past unnoticed as they level their characters.

Vellosk is a beautifully designed zone, look up!

Vellosk is a beautifully designed zone, look up!

I’m a staunch supporter of stopping to “smell the roses” in MMOs, and of taking screenshots of beautiful zone design for that matter. But having done this fun little event I was reminded that even I can be too goal oriented, too focused on questing and getting companions leveled up. Neverwinter has some really lovely zones and they obviously need exploring more fully!


This capture the mote zone event has some nicely, out of the way spawn points.

Posted in Gaming, Neverwinter | 1 Comment

Georgeson and F2P

The outspoken development director for SoE’s Everquest games, David Georgeson, has talked up the Free to Play (F2P) model again in a recent interview with IGN

I have had a generally positive experience of the wave of F2P conversions and releases over the last few years. I like his point about the cost of games (the base retail cost, not including discounting post-launch):

paying $60 up front to take a gamble on whether the game is good or not

The thing is I have almost never been that desperate to play games that I would pay full price for it. Yes, maybe for early WoW expansions or the SWTOR release, it was a must buy ready for launch day. But single player games going further back I generally bought on discount from a store or Amazon. I used to buy a lot of games (especially console ones) only after they were put into the budget range.

The response to this that I’ve already seen in the article’s comments is that “free trials + sub works just fine” to avoid buying games you won’t like. That doesn’t actually work that well for me. I can remember doing the free trial of Warhammer Online and being frustrated that it was so short and that it had a low level lock (level 10?). How could I realistically judge the game based just on the first tier and in a couple of weeks with limited and unpredictable free time. A month of trial is a bit better but even then it can be tight if I have a crunch at work or deadlines for study to meet.

Free to play has allowed me to try a lot of MMOs that I would otherwise not have even looked at (including Aion, Tera, and my current favourite Neverwinter). Back when MMOs were sub-only I only ever had one or max two going at a time, so trying a new game was a pretty big commitment. The idea of getting friends to commit just to try a new game was even harder!

Nowadays I’m happy to try new games, there are plenty of duds on the market but also some real gems. You could counter that this freedom has lead to the “3-monther” trend in communities that invade a new game at launch and vanish shortly afterwards. But surely this at least means those games are getting a much bigger potential audience than they would otherwise have had.

It also makes coming back to a game much easier, as per my recent Neverwinter experience.  This can have the added knock-on effect of starter zones in games never quite dying out in the way they do in subscription MMOs. My memories of LOTRO’s early zones are coloured by the lack of players to group with when I was first experiencing the already mature game at that time (late 2009).

Georgeson also states that F2P pushes the developers to produce better games:

With free-to-play you get to go in, take a look at it and find out. It’s entirely our responsibility to make sure you’re entertained. 

I sort of agree with this, in so far as the freedom to come and go means there’s plenty of competition for your time and cash-shop purchases. With subscription MMOs the expectation was more about long-termism perhaps. I always felt I had to get my “money’s worth” out of sub games which can lead to putting up with boring or grindy gameplay simply to get to the “good stuff” beyond. With no sub-pressure to play if I find gameplay in a F2P game boring I skip it or stop playing.

However there’s another element to this Mr Georgeson doesn’t address. There’s the accusation, or suspicion at least that having a cash shop driving development can also distort the type of content that is developed. If sparkle ponies are making a lot of money then do the developers focus on creating more sparkly mounts (sparkle spider anyone?) and not on say, a new raid tier. I’ve not seen much evidence of this in the games I’ve played so far, but I do worry that as a story-focused casual gamer, story content may well be neglected because it is time-consuming to produce and not necessarily easy to monetise.



Posted in Gaming, LotRO, Neverwinter, Tera | 1 Comment

Two great April Fool events

I’m not a fan of April Fool’s Day as I don’t enjoy pranks and find most of the newspaper silly stories to be unfunny at best. In the same way I’m not that interested in attempts at developer “humour”, packed full of in-jokes and little teases at the playerbase. However I do like in-game events that are inventive or slightly wacky. I managed to squeeze a quick game of two MMOs last night into limited time. The focus was to try two April Fool themed, limited-time events.

The Bristlebane Day has special “High Feast day” events for April 1st, although the wider festival extends nearly a week either side. Looking at the wiki and the in-game quest log of completed quests I had actually done a lot more of this event than I remember. However there were two riddle based quests for me to do, starting in Enchanted Lands.

Who else to ask riddles but a Sphinx?

Who else to ask riddles but a Sphinx?

It was only after porting through that I realised something was odd with the graphics, every character – player and non-player alike, had a giant bobble head! The wiki revealed that this year has “cutemode” as a one-day only toggle command. This makes everyone in the world look like those collectible figures you find at comic stores. I have to say it made me laugh; mixing cuteness (in some cases) with downright weirdness (in others).


The two different quest chains had me bouncing all over familiar, and unfamiliar zones looking for items hinted at in the riddle clues. The rewards were a number of wacky items, or coins that can be used with the event merchant to buy other similar themed items.

Dice from quest, plushie from vendor.

Dice from quest, plushie from vendor.

At this point I was ready to declare that Sony Online Entertainment had “won April Fool’s Day” with such a humorous, entertaining and multi-layered event. Then I loaded into play Neverwinter’s Respen’s Marvelous Game.

Oh look, the DM ran out of figurines for orcs...

Oh look, the DM ran out of figurines for orcs…

Wow, just wow! This limited time skirmish is such a great April Fool’s themed event. An actual 3D, playable mini-game where your figures are surrounded by the giant NPCs of Neverwinter as the players is pretty impressive visually!

The DM narrates throughout the skirmish run although it’s often hard to hear what he is saying over the noise of combat. I may have missed a lot of jokes. There are certainly some very corny or over-used plots or plot-twists in there. We’ve seen two different ‘boards’ so far, an outdoor one and an indoor dungeon alternative. Each run is varied slightly through a random-encounter style set of challenges before the end boss fight.


The end rewards include a chance at a rare-drop Green Slime companion (see the above linked preview article for stats). As a nice alternative you can also save up the blue dice currency that drops off harder encounters to buy the same companion from the event vendor. We think it’ll take between 15 and 23 runs to save up for this the slow but steady way. There’s only a couple of days to do this though, unlike the Winter Simril festival and the mimic companion, so I may well have to wait till next year to get hold of this one.

All in all I found both events very enjoyable but for different reasons. EQ2′s Bristlebane Festival is as detailed and complex as any other of the game’s seasonal events. There’s so much to do and the quests are so scattered around that you almost have to use a wiki to get started. But it is well worth doing and they add new things every year so it’s worth coming back more than once. Neverwinter’s mini-game is amazing stylistically, and a good laugh to do with friends I’m sure. Just like the Call to Arms skirmishes though it would get boring to grind it too intensively, unless I happen to be super lucky with loot drops when I give it a few tries this evening it’ll have to wait till next year…

Posted in EQ2, Gaming, Neverwinter

Trash fights in MMOs

Over the weekend we had two very different experiences of trash fights in MMOs. These packs of weaker opponents are usually placed through a dungeon or other instanced zone to slow progress to the various bosses (the big fights). They sometimes drop the odd item of value or some coins but otherwise are more of a background to the set-piece challenge that each boss presents.

Many, many droids

Many, many droids

In SWTOR we did some heroics on Taris and attempted the Foundry flashpoint (a k a dungeon) and found by the end of the second session that we were getting tired of the very dense, and not inconsiderable ‘trash packs’ in both types of instance. I really like droids in this game but by the second boss of the Foundry we were getting bored – when you have a zone task of killing 50 droids just as the first stage that’s a lot of to get past!

In Neverwinter we have been questing through the Pirate’s Skyhold zone. The open zones in the game have plenty of trash packs to cope with, and patrolling groups and more elite monsters as well. But the story instances, not the full group dungeons, but rather the shorter story instances (like Skull Fortress in this zone) are tuned for a much quicker play-through. There are a few trash packs, then a mini-boss, then some more trash and the end boss. Some instances might have two mini-bosses before the end fight but they’re never that long.


So two, not directly comparable, examples of dungeon design. One with dense packs of weak opponents, another with much shorter gaps between the real challenges. My thoughts after the weekend is that I generally prefer the latter model. I’ve never been a great fan of spending hours and hours in a dungeon slogging through trash. My days of clearing Blackrock Depths are behind me I fear.

Do you think trash mobs still have a valuable role to play in instanced content (i.e. dungeons), are they ok in moderation or are they simply an artifact of an older MMO design model?

Posted in Gaming, Neverwinter, SWTOR | 5 Comments

Pulling me back in …

I’m happily chipping away at the Sharandar campaign in Neverwinter, currently on the second stage set in the Dark Fey Enclave sub-zone. A lot of the progress is limited by daily quests, similar to, for example, the Isle of Thunder main quest chain in WoW. I could be doing the next campaign, the Dread Ring, in parallel but I’d rather do them sequentially.


In the meantime other games are tugging at my sleeve for me to at least pop back in occasionally. Everquest 2 has regular events throughout the year – the Bristlebane festival starts this week and runs through the weekend. I really like this wacky (and slightly malevolent) deity, if there’s a new quest chain to do this year I’ll certainly want to cram that in.

Also the next epic quest content for LOTRO has been announced taking the game through to the sacking of Isenguard. Incidentally this will finish off epic book III. I’m near the start of said book so I have a ton of content to play through if I want to actually see any of the new stuff mentioned in this Massively article. I might give Syp’s plan for accelerated leveling a try (see post on Bio Break).

Itching to move on...

Itching to move on…

I don’t have a lot of time for LOTRO, so this would allow me to focus on the epic storyline and make more progress in fewer gaming sessions. I love the storytelling in the game, but I’ve been behind the leveling curve since I started and that alone is tiring, it’s like a mountain that is growing faster than you can climb. If I’ve missed any decent side-quests I could always come back to them some day on one of my seven or so alt-characters…

Posted in EQ2, Gaming, LotRO

Unified launchers spreading

It seems all major MMO developers are jumping on the unified launcher bandwagon. Sony Online Entertainment (SoE) has had a few different launchers of this kind over the years – the LaunchPad for instance. The studios tell us this gives us a one stop-shop-style access platform to access all their games.

Since I hop around from game to game over time my hard drive is already cluttered with games, now it seems I’m being pushed to have these platforms as well. It seems like an unnecessary complication to me. I do not have particular brand loyalty to any given studio and am not in the habit of trying a new game just because it’s done by studio X (I’ve never been that tempted to step backwards from EQ2 to EQ1 for instance).

Trion have introduce their new platform Glyph recently. But I’m not playing any of their games now so I can at least skip that. Perfect World  also launched the Arc platform a while ago for their games. I only play Neverwinter but feel almost compelled into downloading the software, certainly the old website is almost unusable as it redirects to the new community pages on Arc – which breaks every old link to the Neverwinter site by the way! Even Blizzard have joined in now with the new desktop app launcher, uniting your icons for Diablo 3, WoW and Hearthstone in one easy double-click.

So does anyone actually like these programs or are they just an attempt by devs at cross-marketing to players of one game for their other offerings?

Posted in EQ2, Gaming, Neverwinter, Rift, WoW | 4 Comments