TSW: a bank heist

We spent the over two hours on a particular, infamous it seems, sabotage mission in Tokyo last night – The Bank Heist (wiki guide here). The mission highlights the best and worst of The Secret World’s gameplay I think. Since I’ll be discussing some of the details of the mission, some light spoilers will follow…

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Social gaming

Bhagpuss had a lengthy and rather poetic post on the subject of social gaming this week.

I still read alone but playing MMOs broke offline games for me. Maybe forever.

He talks about the social element of gaming at length and this is certainly something I can identify with. Even before I started playing MMORPGs, gaming for me had become a mainly social activity. The big computer RPGs of the late 1990s and early 2000s such as Neverwinter Nights, Baldur’s Gate and Diablo had LAN-multiplayer options – I played them duo or occasionally with friends connected remotely (where dial-up Internet limitations permitted). That deeply affected my approach to the genre, meaning that I barely touched other RPGs that many view as classics: the Elder Scrolls games, Planescape:Torment or the Dragon Age series. I didn’t want to experience these fantastic worlds alone anymore.

A lonely planet without friends by your side..

A planet can be lonely without friends by your side..

I never tried Ultima Online or Everquest; Bhagpuss’ post refers to Everquest a few times and that early MMORPG experience of players wanting and needing to play together often. My early experience of MMORPGs was no doubt different, I started in World of Warcraft in 2007 – there were challenges worthy of a group but there was little forced grouping going on at least during leveling. However I was in a small, close-knit guild for most of my time in the game and when we played, we played together regardless of need or progression. We level characters in two’s and three’s and spent most of our time running  dungeons whenever we had a mix of characters that would fit. Playing a MMORPG solo didn’t really occur to me until I branched out and tried other games.

Stories worthy of a shared experience

Stories worthy of a shared playthrough

After years of leveling characters solo in such games, I’m coming back full circle as I now play solo less often. The benefits are not just the obvious – we can, of course, chat to discuss tactics or how we might unravel a particular puzzle. But beyond that playing in a  small group adds other more subtle nuances to MMO gaming, for instance the multi-player aspect to SWTOR’s conversation system (randomisation of whose conversation choice to follow). I actually miss this now when playing SWTOR solo as it made the conversations seem more dynamic somehow. In The Secret World at the moment in Tokyo we’re making much quicker progress than we would have solo given the sudden ramp up in difficulty of even the lowliest of monsters – having a ‘trinity’ trio is rather valuable now as it allows us to explore the zone with relative freedom, there’s no need for us to try to sneak past monsters in a game where no character can actually use stealth.

So most of my gaming time is for duo or trio play now. That’s spread across multiple MMOs so it makes for somewhat sporadic “progress” from a character level or story perspective but true to my gaming past I’d rather share these experiences with others whenever possible.

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

SWTOR: sharing the love (free mount code)

I found out via two different posts, Larry’s latest Hyperspace Beacon and Shintar’s post on her blog SWTOR Commando, that there are codes doing the rounds for free mounts and goodies in Star Wars the Old Republic.

Screenshot_2015-07-15_10_41_31_862344

The code gives you a new mount for every character on the account, the Prinawe Congregate pictured above, plus the mailed reward crate includes a random bonus item. I like the speeder, although it suits my Trooper better than my Consular I suspect.

There was a bit of a delay in me writing about this because the SWTOR.com website was down for maintenance for a while, possibly as a result of a flurry of item claims! In any case claiming the code from someone’s link also then gives you a code of your own to pass on (click here for my code) – so share the love in a Galaxy Far Far Away!

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SWTOR: levelling at hyperspeed

This last week I had an unexpected opportunity to try out the 12x bonus to class quest XP that was introduced to SWTOR. It’s a system that lets you level characters by only doing the class missions. As presented it’s aimed at helping veteran players boost alts quickly up to the end-game (or near to it at level 55 as that’s when the bonus ends).

I’ve not subscribed to SWTOR since the first time I left the game back in August 2012. Since then I’ve played a levelling trio as a preferred player (i.e. ex-subscriber) up to about level 35. I also purchased the Makeb expansion (levels 50-55) but found the levelling as a F2P player to be slow and tedious so gave up barely into level 52. I signed-up for a week of subscription status via a refer-a-friend code. That gave me the chance to try out the accelerated levelling and to see what the game is like to play as a subscriber in 2015.

My Jedi Sage was languishing un-loved a few zones in to the Makeb planetary story-line and so I focused at first on him. This side of the experience of fast levelling was excellent. I was able to concentrate on the more-interesting main storyline for the planet and ignore the more grindy repeatable missions in each zone. These were, I guess, there to make up for lack of XP-heavy class story mission during levels 50 to 55.

On with the plot!

On with the plot!

I was partway through the planetary storyline of course and the bonus XP only applies to ‘class’ questlines – this includes the Makeb planetary storyline since there are no class-specific storylines in this level range. After playing through the story he was level 54 and a bit. I was then unsure what to do next as I’ve not followed the game properly in the intervening years but thankfully the various emails hinted at what I could be doing with him next. Running the Forged Alliances two tactical flashpoints with the helpful GSI support droid gave me the necessary boost to get to 55.

GSI support droid in-tow

GSI support droid in-tow

It was an interesting experience, especially compared to the similar buff that’s used for solo-conversion of story instances in LOTRO. I’d say the SWTOR system is slightly less extreme since it is perfectly possible to die if you ignore boss fight tactics or over pull. I took the opportunity of subscriber time to buy some inventory space and bank increases for credits since non-subscribers can only get these for cartel coins.

With a few days of the bonus XP left I felt it important to try out a lower level character to see how that plays with the bonus in effect. It’s been fun but I have somewhat mixed feelings on it. I’m levelling a Commando (DPS/Healer Trooper) that’s been on hold since I left him at level 15 on Coruscant.

Fire!

Aric, behind you!

In only a few sessions I zoomed him through the Trooper class missions on Coruscant (the latter half), all of Tavis & Nar Shaddaa and a third of Tattooine. The focus on the class storyline is a bonus for keeping the sometimes complex story clear, of course – at times when we were playing our sporadic levelling trio Empire-side we’d come back to play and be thoroughly confused what any of our characters were doing. I do feel somewhat rushed by such a crazy pace of levelling. It’s a good way to boost a new character up to 55 for future play in the new expansion or group content, but it’s not exactly a deep gameplay experience. Newer players, and returnees like me who are somewhat distanced in time from all the planetary storylines, are probably better off turning the XP buff off and playing at a more measured pace.

Screenshot_2015-07-12_21_09_09_982707 Having a heavy-armour character at the cap is something I actually would like. I’m finding my MMORPG tastes have changed and I’d rather play Commando than Sage (perhaps influenced by my recent Engineer experiences in Wildstar versus the Medic). So this once I was willing to use the bonus and give my Trooper a boost, but I’d hesitate to use it again in future. The levelling content in SWTOR is the best content in the game and it’s well worth playing it through.

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Wildstar – revisiting old conclusions

Having played a month of Wildstar, the game time included in the box purchase, I’m feeling in equal parts positive and cautious about the game and my likely involvement in its future. I’ll review my beta experiences briefly and consider if anything has changed or improved since then for a starter/leveling perspective and will also give my thoughts on the game’s free to play future.

I certainly feel like I’ve had a better look at the game now having played for longer sessions and over a longer period of time than the brief weekend-only betas I last participated in. I wrote three posts back in mid March last year while playing in the beta (links: 1, 2, 3).

Re-reading these posts the following issues stand out for me.

Combat

The combat is actually better than I’d thought and had read about in other blogger impression pieces. Bear in mind I’ve been playing Engineer again and have a pet tank-bot and pet DPS-bot to help me slay stuff and most importantly to attract all the nasty attacks while I can stand still once in a while to attack. Watching other players around me some are moving constantly (Stalkers, Spellslingers?) so the feel of combat does seem to vary quite a lot based on the class you play.

Tank-bot bathing in the red on my behalf

Tank-bot standing in the red on my behalf

Love/hate classes and zones

A strange element to this game is that it seems that I either really like or really dislike  certain elements. Perhaps that’s a good thing, the game has enough character to inspire a stronger reaction? I love playing Engineer in the game but really disliked Medic. It’s a game where trying different classes is well worth it because you might have a bad first impression if you play the wrong class. Same with the starter zones, each faction has a choice of two initial zones when leaving the tutorial and then there’s another two zones for the next level band. I much preferred some zones over others, so just quickly sampling the first two might make a big difference to your early impressions again.

Galeras is a great early zone for Exiles

Galeras is a great early zone for Exiles

Questing pace and the lore

The game is very action-oriented and the various mechanisms relating to questing do keep this pace going – missions pop up as you travel around, challenges trigger automatically and the combat keeps you moving as well. This can very easily lead to a feeling of being ‘rushed’. Reading the lovely lore texts that are scattered everywhere can be an issue if you allow the pace of the gameplay to rush you. I’ve been pretty bad at taking the time to read books after combat is over or during a lull. That’s something I’d like to rectify, the lore is worth reading but, like in The Secret World, it’s all too easy to be too rushed to actually read it!

Lore objects out in the field...

Lore objects out in the field…

Free to play potential

Likely the game will benefit greatly from the coming Free to Play conversion. I may even start a new leveling duo up at that time with my husband – we could have fun playing a pair of Chua again I’m sure. If the model is like Tera’s brand of F2P (i.e. generous and not intrusive) then I can see the game making a gradual come back from the current population-woes. There’s plenty of concern on blogs, forums and the gaming news about just how “in your face” free to play cash shops can become (e.g. Lotro). Perhaps this would be less jarring in Wildstar since most of the game content is pretty “in your face” already but nevertheless players often tire of being constantly asked to open their virtual wallet. With the excellent housing system and the colourful art style of the game the shop could make good on increasing the availability of cosmetic options; they seem to be pretty popular in The Secret World.

Costume variety in TSW

Costume variety in TSW

What’s not to like in Wildstar?

Well actually that’s a hard question to answer for me at this moment. I’ve enjoyed playing, in fact I’ve only tailed off from playing this last week because TSW had the anniversary event and because I’ve had a time-limited reason to be jumping back into SWTOR.The other doubt I have is a perenniel problem of quest-centric MMORPGs – is it enjoyable to level multiple characters in a short space of time?

Content repetition

Wildstar has some great questing content. There’s a slightly above average mix of types of activities given the inclusion of competition events and the path activities (I’m playing Scientist yet again). However the bulk of time is still involved in questing through the zones stories and faction story. My big concern is that come Free to Play conversion we’ll jump into the game to play a duo of Chua and I’ll suddenly hit a “wall of deja vu”. Just like in WoW, Wildstar’s racial/faction specific zones of the early levels converge into shared zones after level 22 – already in Whitevale I can see Dominion players running around at the same shared quest hubs that I am working from. So a chunk of the content will be the same on any repeat run through if I continue any further. To be honest with so many games vying for my time (especially FFXIV and TSW) do I really want to be spending time playing Wildstar now when I could be enjoying it even more in a few months time playing with my husband?

It’s likely I’m on pause in Nexus for now, not necessarily due to any fault in the game’s design or content, but rather because I’m waiting on the payment model transition to open up possibilities of playing with friends.

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TSW: Kaidan at last!

When I first started getting excited about playing The Secret World back in the summer last year the blogosphere was full of posts about the Tokyo zone of Kaidan. Issue 9 had finally dropped and the secrets of Tokyo, hinted at for much of the main story arc, were suddenly within reach.

Neon vistas

Neon vistas

This post is a bit out of sync in terms of my journey in the game as over the course of the two sessions we’ve played this week we first did the short but very interesting Venetian Agenda mission series. The intro to Tokyo and our first run around the zone was too impressive to pass up writing on though.

Neon vistas

Is that symbol familiar, perhaps?

 

As always we’re playing as a tank/healer/dps trio. This gives us a gentler introduction to the aegis system than I guess a solo player would have. Mobs now have damage shields of a specific type and we have to use attuned items of the right type to burn those shields down. You can equip one of the three ‘controllers’ per hand and that links the damage type to your main or off-hand weapon. That alone caused a “stop and think” moment. My current tanking build has four sword abilities and one hammer damage ability – I may want to rebalance my damage abilities between my two weapons to make better use of the off-hand controller slot.

An important training video!

An important training video!

I can imagine the first few sessions in Tokyo playing solo would be pretty brutal unless your character was stacked with very good purple gear. We had a mix of some mission-reward purples and QL 10 greens and blues, but as a trio it seems ok so far to cope with the new mechanics and the increased difficulty. We’re not sure yet whether to all develop all three controller types, or whether it would be more sensible to specialise on two or even one of the three in a coordinated fashion so we can cover all eventualities between us.

A change of scenery

A change of scenery

I’m really looking forward to exploring the storyline in this new zone, we might even manage to catchup with the current content before long!

Posted in Gaming, TSW | 4 Comments

WoW: Expansions, dungeons and raids

There’s been a generally negative reaction to the recent dev announcement that patch 6.2 of World of Warcraft is the last of the Warlords of Draenor expansion – that ends the story relatively abruptly and makes this expansion the shortest lived in the game’s history.

Reading comments on blog posts and Massively OP’s coverage got me to thinking about the perceived value of expansion. It’s very difficult to compare expansions between MMORPGs since games are so very different in their design. One complaint about Draenor was the lack of new class or race – is it fair to look at Heavensward’s one new race and three new jobs and say Heavensward offers better play value than Draenor given the latter’s lack of any new classes or races?

Not really given that Heavensward is the first expansion not the sixth for Final Fantasy 14, as yet we have no idea how long it will be before another comes out so the pace of expansions for FFXIV is an unknown quantity compared with the regularity of Blizzard’s expansions to WoW. Rather than try to compare different games in this much detail I will take a brief look at the content of WoW’s expansions, I think it’s fairer to compare World of Warcraft with itself in this way.

Expansion New Classes New Races New Zones* New Dungeons~ New Raids~
The Burning Crusade  0 2  8  16 8
Wrath of the Lich King  1 0  12  16 9
Cataclysm  0 2  13^  12 6
Mists of Pandaria  1 1  8  9 5
Warlords of Draenor  0 0  8  8 3

*Zone count includes new class or race-specific leveling zones and PVP open world zones such as Wintergrasp. Source: http://wowwiki.wikia.com/Zones_by_level
^Zone count for Cataclysm includes the new zones but excludes the revamped Vanila WoW zones
~Source for Dungeons and Raids by expansion: http://www.wowhead.com/zones=instances.-1

Just looking at the group content a moment (and ignoring PVP since I’ve never played it willingly in WoW) we see a pattern over the course of the more recent expansions, that of declining instanced content release. These raw figures do mask the advent of the re-use of old content through the upgrading of old dungeons or raids for higher levels, presumably with a lot less effort than it takes for the team to produce something new from scratch. They also say nothing about the number of bosses, that is to say the length and time-involvement in each of them but that’s a more complex analysis than I wish to go into for this post.

Expansions bring a lot more than Dungeons and Raids of course; systems like archeology, pet battles, the Halfhill garden or garrisons are ‘content’ as well, but they’re mostly solo activities.  Cataclysm involved the wholesale revamping of the original Vanilla WoW zones (the continents of Eastern Kingdoms & Kalimdor) so a smaller number of dungeons and raids might be explained by the effort that entailed. But why did Blizzard not pick up the slack for Mists of Pandaria?

The other expansion features I’ve considered in the table above are new races and classes. Up until Warlords of Draenor I’d come to expect WoW expansions to deliver on one or the other. In either case you had an excuse to level a new alt. That was a big part of my longevity with the game – I would never have stayed playing for five years solid on just one character. It was the chance to create a Draenei Shaman, a Blood Elf Mage and a human Warrior alt (reincarnated as a Death Knight) that offered me a break from dungeon grinding at end-game. In general I see World of Warcraft as being poor value for money compared to other MMORPGs on the market at present. Although my lack of interest in the story in Warlords was also a factor in my not returning, the lack of new races or classes in this expansion didn’t help either.

The two patches since Draenor’s launch have only re-enforced my view on this, Blizzard aren’t following up on their promise of faster content releases and those releases seem, to an outsider, to be rather thin offerings. Having fewer dungeons (and raids) released within a given expansion, even with more difficulty levels (e.g. Mythic dungeons in 6.2) doesn’t fill the content gaps between expansions. What I always wanted from inter-expansion patches, and until Pandaria’s dearth of dungeons did receive, was *new content*. I wasn’t interested in the same old dungeon or raid with yet another difficulty level. I think Blizzard needs to learn some hard and fast lessons to get World of Warcraft back on track.

Posted in Gaming, WoW | 13 Comments