Sunday, November 16, 2014

Warlords of Draenor Launch

Warlords of Draenor was released on Thursday. As is tradition, the servers promptly melted. Thursday and Friday were pretty bad. The few times I was able to get in, the lag was so bad it was nigh-unplayable. However, the server maintenance Saturday morning seems to fixed most issues. Aside from queues on the high population servers, everything seems to be going well now.

All in all, it just emphasizes that one should never take time off work for the launch of an online game.

My paladin, Coriel, is level 93 now, and I've done the first Alliance zone: Shadowmoon Valley. It was a pretty good zone with a decent story. I like the mix of quest-driven gameplay combined with more open "Timeless Isle"-style activities like rare monsters and treasures. It's the best of both worlds, and it's always exciting to see a skull pop up on your mini-map.

I must admit that I was caught off guard by how central the garrison is to the leveling experience. It's well done, and I think does a very good job of establishing your character's role in the expansion. I rather like how all the NPCs call you "Commander".

I really have no idea what I'm doing with the garrison, but hopefully it's working out. I like recruiting new people and sending them on missions. It's simple but very well done.

I also like the randomness as applied to quest rewards. It's neat that green quest reward can randomly upgrade to blue or purple. It's a very good use of randomness.

A very bad use of randomness, on the other hand, is the Draenor Perks system. My first Draenor Perk for Retribution was Improved Forbearance. As I predicted, this was very disappointing.

All in all, WoD is going reasonably well. Blizzard says that demand was much higher than they anticipated. Which I suppose is good for them. However, I can't help but think that the lesson that will be drawn is that "SAVAGE! Orcs, orcs, orcs!" is what the players want. And maybe that is what we want.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Mists of Pandaria, in Review

Overall, I thought Mists was a pretty good expansion. It never quite pushed over the line into "great" though. This was one expansion that I really did not do a lot in. I never raided seriously, and I ended up leaving WoW at the beginning of this year.

The Good:

  • Initial questing - I thought all the initial zones were very well done, and quite interesting.
  • The Pandaren - Everyone expected a joke race, but the pandaren turned out surprising well.
  • Patch 5.1 - I really like the way the story was woven into the dailies in this patch.
  • Thunder Isle - Another good zone.
  • All Raid Instances - All the raids were pretty well done, I thought. There were no tiers that were distinctly disliked.
  • Flexible Raiding - An outstanding innovation.
  • Legendary Questline - I really liked this questline, and how it worked over the course of the expansion.
  • The Farm - I really enjoyed building the farm and those series of quests and dailies.
The Mushy Middle:
  • Dailies - I know that a lot of people would put this in the bad column, but I think that is excessive. The dailies were very optional, in my mind, and were fairly fun to do if you did a faction at a time or so.
  • The Isle of Time - I didn't really like this zone, but it seemed like a lot of other people did. I just prefer zones with stories, rather than random wandering around. Basically, if I wanted self-directed gameplay, I'd play Eve or another sandbox.
The Bad:
  • Pacing - Each of the early patches should have had an extra month, and the last patch should have been a couple of months shorter. The length of time Siege of Ogrimmar was current was way too long.
  • Spoiling the End Boss - I think the biggest mistake Blizzard made was revealing Garrosh as the end boss before the expansion even began. They should have done their best to keep it a secret until 5.3/5.4. I think revealing it so early caused people to overlook Pandaria itself, instead focusing on the ultimate end.
  • Excessive Focus on the Horde- Orcs, trolls, orcs. This expansion was too focused on the Horde side. There is a whole other faction, Blizzard.
There was a lot of stuff I didn't try this expansion. I didn't do any challenge mode dungeons, or any raiding other than LFR. Basically, I was super casual. But the Pandaria core of the expansion was lots of fun. However, the pacing and later focus on the Horde weakened the overall experience.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Jedi Consular Done!

This post contains significant spoilers for the Jedi Consular storyline in Star Wars: The Old Republic.

I finished the Jedi Consular story yesterday. I played as a Light Side female Jedi Shadow tank. I used the 12x promotion, so I leveled strictly by class missions.

When you see most rankings of the TOR stories, the Consular story is often near the bottom. I disagree with this. So far, the Consular story is my favorite Republic story. It's not as good as the Agent story, but it's solidly in that second tier with the Jedi Knight and Sith Warrior.

However, I can see why some people don't like the Consular story. It's focused inwards, on the Jedi and the Republic. It's all about healing and diplomacy. I actually liked it a great deal. I really liked the hints of history in Chapter One. And then slowly building your alliance and armies in Chapters Two and Three. Corellia was very well done too, as you got to see the payoff of your recruitment efforts.

As well, I do not think think that going Dark Side works with this story. It really feels that you have to be Light Side, to unironically embrace the Jedi code and philosophy.

There are other minor criticisms. Tharan Cedrax is an excellent character, but his "Did you know I'm a pacifist?" is excessively annoying. I know he's supposed to come off as somewhat annoying, but there is a line, and the overuse of that phrase crossed it.

The main villain was very predictable. But even so it was very well done, with a nice twist.

The story also does suffer slightly from early choices constraining the future. It would have been nice for some of the characters from Chapter One, especially Yuon Parr, to come back in later chapters. But because killing them is a Dark Side option, they don't appear again, even though you saved them if Light Side.

Those are pretty minor criticisms. Overall, I thought it was an excellent story. However, I also think that it is not the best story to do first. It works really well as a later story, because of the perspective it provides on some of the later planets, especially Belsavis and Voss.

Force Persuade

If Obi-wan Kenobi had not been the one to use Force Persuade in the first movie, do you think it would have been considered a Dark Side action?

After all, you're literally overriding the mind and will of your target, forcing them to obey you. If you had put a shock collar on them and forced them to obey by threatening shocks, there would be no doubt that is Dark Side. Is Force Persuade so much better?

Maybe Force Persuade is really a Dark Side action. That makes for an interesting perspective on Obi-wan, with him being a little more "gray" than he first appears.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Thoughts on Overwatch

At Blizzcon, Blizzard unveiled their latest game: Overwatch. This also marks the first new world from Blizzard in 15+ years. Thank God.

So here are some quick thoughts on Overwatch:

  • The key element to take away from Blizzard's new world is that in the future, the moon will be populated by intelligent gorillas.

  • This new world is not dark. It's fun, vibrant, maybe even joyful and hopeful. I think that's a very good approach to the FPS scene. Most FPS games are on the darker side. Even "funny" FPS games like Duke Nukem, Serious Sam, and Team Fortress 2 go for more cynical, mordant humor.

  • I really like how Blizzard announces games with hands-on playable machines available. It's a really strong gesture of faith in their product. It's not empty hype or vaporware. Instead the hype is being generated by the regular people who actually got to play the game.

  • As to actual mechanics, things look good. People seem to like the responsiveness and control, which are vital to the genre. The different heroes seem to play differently and synergize well. There also looks to be a hero for most every playstyle.

  • The single most important design decision might be the mechanic Blizzard chose to leave out: an XP bar. Almost every game these days has some form of leveling or progression, or earning money to purchase weapons. Blizzard just goes old-school and eschews progression entirely.

  • Will I play Overwatch? I will try it out. However, the last couple of first-person games I played made me motion-sick, so I've avoided those types of games for the last few years.
All in all, Overwatch looks like an impressive addition to the Blizzard family.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Sith Warrior Done!

This post contains significant spoilers for the Sith Warrior storyline in Star Wars: The Old Republic.

I finished the Sith Warrior storyline today. I did it without the class XP buff, so the old way with side missions. I played a female Juggernaut (tank) and went pure Light Side (except for two choices).

Overall, the story was excellent. The female voice actor, Natasha Little, was outstanding with a very rich, strong voice that perfectly matched the character. I also thought the story was very even, more than the other stories I've played. Each chapter was solid. It also was a superb story for the Warrior, demonstrating the rise through the ranks of the Sith.

The main villain was also good, and killing him at the very end (one of my two Dark Side choices) was very satisfying.

I also like the way Light Side worked in this story. Not so much a good person exactly, but more like a pure knight of the Empire, not spending time and effort on unnecessary and petty cruelties. I was wondering how the Emperor would react to a Light Side warrior, as you become his Wrath. But it was portrayed perfectly, as the Emperor simply did not care, was beyond the petty LS/DS conflicts of this galaxy.

The companions were mostly good. I especially liked the rivalry and contrast between Quinn, the smooth calculating officer, and Pierce, the rough frontline soldier. I used Jaesa most of the time, though.

So far, I would rank the story second, behind the Imperial Agent. It's close behind in quality, but the Sith Warrior story is just missing that final "something" which would have pushed it over the line into brilliance.

Sex and the Sith

Because Star Wars is a PG world, sexual depravity is not present, or is glossed over. The closest it comes is having omni-present "dancers" in the cantinas and as slaves.

You know that in an adult Star Wars, the Sith would be utterly depraved. Power structures specifically elevating the powerful over the weak. A code decrying peace and elevating passion. An entire aristocracy focusing on cruelty and power. It would be the worst of human aristocracies, without even the slight mitigations of chivalry and codes of manners.

But for the most part, this is not present in game. Relationships are almost entirely consensual.

Except for the female Sith Warrior romance.

Now, I haven't finished the full story line, but the initial relationship with Quinn is textbook sexual harassment. The superior--both in terms of rank and personal power--continually propositions her subordinate. The subordinate does his best to avoid or deflect her attentions, but he cannot afford--the cost might be his life--to outright reject his superior, and his dialogue reflects that.

It's very different from the Sith Inquisitor romance, where there was clear interest from both parties.

I found it really interesting that Bioware would include a "romance" like this. I cannot decide if it was the correct thing to do or not. On the one hand, a Dark Side relationship with undertones of imposed power seems appropriate to the class. On the other hand, it's much more deviant than I expected from the game.

The romance probably becomes more mutual as the companion story line progresses, though. We'll have to see.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Learning Content

Spinks has a interesting post up about learning content in MMOs:

I feel increasingly that random group content in MMOs is an anti-learning environment. If people zone in with someone who is learning the fight, they’re likely to be disappointed because it will take longer. They don’t want to take ‘the hit’ of being part of someone else’s learning experience.
This reminds me of one of the biggest differences between Japanese and North American culture in FFXIV. FFXIV has two forms of organizing group content with strangers:
  1. Duty Finder - This is the random group finder. You sign up, and the game matches you with other people in the queue.
  2. Party Finder - The leader lists her party, desired instance, and requirements. Other people apply to join. The leader can approve or disapprove of applicants.
My understanding is that in Japan, players use the Party Finder to form "learning parties". After they learn the fight, they use the Duty Finder to do the fight quickly with other experienced players.

In North America, it's the other way around. Party Finder is the province of experienced players, who usually require a applicant to have previously completed the instance. If you're new to a fight, you generally have watch videos and then sign up for Duty Finder and try and learn the fight on the fly. Too many new players in a given Duty Finder group generally leads to an unsuccessful run. Difficult fights (Titan HM before the patches) can be very hard to successfully complete in Duty Finder.

The Japanese system seems like a better experience to me. Expectations are clearly laid out in both cases. However, it suffers from two flaws. First, it is vulnerable to "cheaters". Someone who doesn't care about social opprobrium can just sign up as a newbie to Duty Finder and hope to be carried. 

Second, it requires that people be willing to form those "learning parties". I have seen NA players try to form learning parties. Their parties never fill, and just sit half-empty in the finder for hours. My personal theory is that the Japanese approach to schooling, with formal study groups and cram schools at an early age, makes this approach a lot more natural for Japanese players.

There are ways the NA devs could forcibly shift players towards the Japanese model. For example, suppose that you had to previously complete the instance before you could sign up for it in the random group finder. That would mean that you absolutely had to use the Party Finder system for your first kill.

I am not sure if such a requirement would fly with NA players. It might work. For example, running learning parties would be an astonishing recruiting tool for established guilds. If the easy path wasn't there, maybe individuals would step and start learning parties, and thus form stronger and better networks.

But on the other hand, maybe it won't work. Maybe we want to be anonymous and not bear any responsibility towards other people. If we end up with more failed groups, so be it. We can always just try the instance again, and get a new group of people. Maybe if this was a requirement, people would just quit or roll alts when they hit that point.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Dreamfall: Chapters?

The latest entry in The Longest Journey saga, Dreamfall: Chapters, was released yesterday.

I have mixed feelings about this. I absolutely loved The Longest Journey. It's on my Top 10 Games list, maybe even Top 5. But my reaction to the sequel Dreamfall was ... shall we say, strong?

So I'm really on the fence about picking this up. Not to mention that I still have a couple of other single player games I really should finish. And a Seasonal Wizard in Diablo 3 to get to 70.

Have any of you picked up Dreamfall: Chapters yet?