Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Online

DDO: Adventures

tabletop_roleplayingBetween last night and today — the first day off I’d had in quite some time — I was able to pour a bit of time into DDO.  The growing verdict (and I’ll have a bigger review soon) is that I actually quite like this game, perhaps far more than when I first played it a few years ago.  A few factors have influenced me in this:

  1. I’m actually pretty excited over the F2P/RMT version, oddly enough.  I like not having a monthly cost, but instead spending what I like, not paying when I like, and drifting in and out of the game as my whim dictates.  Plus, the way they’re setting up the RMT in this game is pretty interesting.  You can earn a lot of the content through gameplay, if you don’t want to spend $$, although money will certainly be a quicker way of going about it.  Either way, since a lot of the purchases are one-time-only events that affect every character you have on every server, it feels more of a “collectible” part of the game (a la Magic the Gathering).
  2. Turbine might not have been pouring millions into further developing this title, but they have made significant progress in the past three years — it looks better, plays better, and has more meat to it.  The upcoming DDO Unlimited version is rumored to be even more tight of a game experience/software.
  3. I found a welcoming guild last night, just by throwing out a request over general chat.  I think being part of a good guild is almost mandatory to surviving in DDO — guildies tend to be more patient, more willing to help, and more open to answering newbie questions.
  4. I’m starting to feel as though I’m getting a grasp on DDO’s mechanics.  Between forum/wiki research and a couple helpful guildies sitting down with me and explaining some of the more detailed ins and outs of the game, I’m beginning to understand how it all works.  DDO isn’t as complex as, say, EVE Online, but it is up there, particularly if you want to play your character to the fullest.  There’s gobs more I have to learn, but playing a “temp” character for now means that I’m giving myself permission to mess up and not be perfect as I try to master the system.
  5. With guidance, I’m better equipped in weapons/armor, and my spell list is reshuffled so that I’m not purely a healbot — I can stun, sleep, buff and protect as well.  The cleric is a pretty forgiving class to learn the game on, and I’m not having problems finding a group at all.
  6. My goal is to hit 400 favor by the end of July to unlock a Drow, so that I won’t have to use Turbine Points for it when Unlimited launches.  After that, either a sorcerer or bard is in my future.

There’s great apprehension from both sides of the pro/con DDO Unlimited debate, but the truth is that this is a solid game that really could benefit from a larger audience giving it a second chance they might not have otherwise.  If Unlimited gets more people in, then DDO will benefit in the long run for it.  And hey, at least I’m not alone in this rediscovery!

Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

Real Life Intersecting

By the power of Greyskull!
By the power of Greyskull!

Right now we have my wife’s aunt staying with us, the latest in a parade of relatives coming to pay homage to our son (who now has developed the completely awesome ability of grabbing chest hair/beards, not that the women have to worry about that.  Well, most of them.).  She’s a nurse, a missionary and involved with too many different ministries to name, and is certainly not shy about offering her thoughts as to what she observes.

I like her just fine, but as I’m coming down off of an incredibly stressful week — and a few highly stressful months planning it beforehand — all I want to do is to be left alone for a while.  I know, it sounds horrible, but part of me is very introverted, and when I have to be social for an extended period of time, I need alone time to compensate.  So I was playing a bit of LOTRO while she was sitting and chatting with my wife, and seeing me do that prompted my wife’s aunt to start talking about all these MMO horror stories she’s heard of.  You know, cheery stuff like the kid who got so into the game he grew to think it was all around him in real life, or the other guy who never left his computer and peed into an apple juice jug by his desk (she said that looking at a jug next to my desk, which I made a point of saying that it was green tea, thankyouverymuch).

I didn’t want to get into an argument, so I let these little comments slide, but they grated.  For some people, their only experience with MMOs is what they read about or hear on the news, and those are almost never good stories.  I’ll admit, the dark side is out there — addiction, isolation from life, stalking, emotional manipulation, relationship destruction.  But in my experience, those things are the far exception, not the rule.

So last night I was making my internet rounds and saw on my LOTRO kinship’s page that our GM and his wife — Max and Lelah — had just delivered their baby via C-section.  I immediately logged into the game to let everyone know who was playing, and we were all celebrating.  My aunt wanted to know why I was playing a game right then, so I explained why, and she just thought it was odd that I was spreading the word about a birth in game.  It just isn’t her culture, but I attempted to walk her through some of the basics: that I’m part of a group of players who not only have fun together, but we care about each other’s lives, praying for each other (this is a Christian kinship) and cheering each other on.  Other than being separated by hundreds of miles in all directions, it’s really no different than any other supportive group she might’ve been involved with.

I don’t know if it made a dent, but I certainly felt a bit geeky trying to explain it all.  My wife, not as huge of a MMO geek as I, does get it, even though she doesn’t share my same level of involvement.

Posted in Star Wars: The Old Republic

Catching Up: The Old Republic

Face it, geeks, he's dead.
Face it, geeks, he's dead.

Frank at Overly Positive examined probably one of the more apprehensive subjects of BioWare’s new MMO — won’t all players just make Jedi/Sith anyway? What will the game be like with just two primary classes and six minority ones?  He makes some good points, but I’m still a tad worried about it.  Especially because I know these classes will attract craptons of bad/griefer players in similar fashion to other MMO’s more popular DPS/stealthers.  I might eventually roll a Force-using class, but I guarantee you — it won’t be my first character.

KIASA frets about something different — that TOR is set too long ago, in a galaxy too far away, and it all just doesn’t make sense with technological advancements, etc.  I think BioWare’s proven with KOTOR that they’re more than capable of setting Star Wars in that time period without making it feel too archaic or unfamiliar.  And, for me, Star Wars has never been about huge leaps of innovation over time periods; I get the feeling that this galaxy has been stagnant in its advancement for quite some time.

Suzina speculates on the promised “space experience” in TOR, but doesn’t hold much hope for it.  Honestly, I’d be happy if I just had a spaceship as a mobile base/house to store characters, move between planets, and outfit visually.

Ooh, I bet this question will NEVER get old for the Star Wars Galaxies team:

I have to ask, what do you think BioWare’s The Old Republic means for SWG? Is there room for two Star Wars MMOs?

Finally, a guy over at Wandering Goblin compiled all of the TOR in-game footage (“fotage” as he spells it) to date in a single video.  Spiffy!

Posted in World of Warcraft

WoW: Betrayal

BetrayalI don’t know why microtransactions in World of Warcraft bother me so much when I find them fairly acceptible elsewhere — perhaps it’s just the desire to take a shot at the big kid, but more likely that I have residual loyalty to what WoW once was, and see Blizzard chopping up and parceling off their product to make a quick buck wherever they can, no matter what it does to the quality.

We’ve seen name changes, server changes, authenticator keys, “eSports” servers and the like.  But this… this just downright disturbs me:

We wanted to give everyone a very early heads-up that, in response to player requests, we’re developing a new service for World of Warcraft that will allow players to change their faction from Alliance to Horde or Horde to Alliance. There’s still much work to do and many details to iron out, but the basic idea is that players will be able to use the service to transform an existing character into a roughly equivalent character of the opposing faction on the same realm. Players who ended up creating and leveling up characters on the opposite factions from their friends have been asking for this type of functionality for some time, and we’re pleased to be getting closer to being able to deliver it.

As with all of the features and services we offer, we intend to incorporate the faction-change service in a way that won’t disrupt the gameplay experience on the realms, and there will be some rules involved with when and how the service can be used. The number of variables involved increases the complexity of implementing this service, but we plan to take the time needed to ensure that it lives up to expectations before officially rolling it out. We’ll go into much more detail on all of this here at as development progresses. In the meantime, we wanted to let you know that because this type of functionality requires extensive internal testing well in advance of release, you may be seeing bits and pieces of the service in the test builds we use for the public test realms moving forward.

I guess one of my major qualms with WoW is that you never could count on anything lasting — Blizzard has the knack of pulling the rug right out from under you, over and over until nothing could be depended on to be even semi-permanent.  One year they are firm that players will never be allowed to transfer from PvE to PvP servers, the next they just go ahead and do it.  And the kicker is that no matter how much players might howl, they’re big enough to have earned the right to ignore their hooked, dependant customers.

Seriously, once this change takes effect, how much “war” is left in a world of warcraft?  The conflict between Horde and Alliance is a watered-down joke, more akin to neighboring summer camps hooting bravado across a lake than fierce and bloody rivals.  Heck, sometimes they end up holding hands and skipping alongside each other against a common enemy.  The good guys are misunderstood, the bad guys are misunderstood, cows are more noble than Abraham Lincoln, and tug-o-war matches take place every Saturday afternoon.

So now they’re just going to let players up and change sides, just because?  I guess they’re just throwing in the towel of at least making a pretense of competing, warring factions.  A couple of bucks, and a Tauran druid becomes a Night Elf (don’t even want to know what that surgery is like) and a Dwarf hunter gets shoe lifts and becomes a Blood Elf.

Oh, and I don’t believe for a minute that this stems from “player requests” so much as “another way to make a quick buck”.  If they really capitulated with major changes due to huge forum protests and petitions, well, every class would be simultaneously buffed to invincibility and nerfed to uselessness.  Blizzard’s history doesn’t stand up well to player requests; for better or worse, they pick a course internally and stick to it.  Don’t try to shove this massive change off on anonymous gamers so that they have a dodge when the complaints come rolling in.

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Online

Catching Up: DDO

Slime, cubed
Slime, cubed

Anton has a funny quote about the potential benefit of DDO.

Before I left, I tried something out: I installed DDO on my work computer (do I game at work?  Rarely, but once in a while I’m stuck at the office for a 14 hour day during which I have a couple hours to kill between activities, and gaming’s a good way to pass the time), using the low resolution install, just to see if it’d work.  That machine is pretty old and could barely run WoW, but DDO chugs along on it just fine, which I thought was pretty spiffy!

I’m looking around for good DDO blogs and haven’t found many yet — if you find some, help clue me in!

The fallout from the free-to-play announcement is still hitting some hard, but I have to say, if nothing else it got me playing again.  And don’t you DDOers want to have Syp in the game, just to watch me fall on my face when I fail a klutz roll or something?

The single big — and it is BIG — news for the week is that Turbine’s finally released proposed patch notes for the long-awaited Module 9/Eberron Unlimited patch.  We still don’t know when it’s going to happen, but I’d say that “whenever Eberron Unlimited goes live” is a safe bet.  DDOcast discusses it, and here are my thoughts on a few of the notes:

New Class: Favored Soul

This is probably the most anticipated bit of DDO news out of all of them.  Many wondered if Turbine would be creating the Druid or perhaps the Eberron-themed Psionist, but instead we got… whatever a “Favored Soul” (henceforth to be referred to as “FS”) is:

Favored Souls draw on divine magic to both heal and destroy. Like clerics, Favored Souls have access to powerful healing spells, but they are also more skilled with weapons than any other spell caster. Like sorcerers, they get a larger number of spell points than other spell casters but cannot freely switch spells at taverns or rest shrines. Players will be able to unlock the Favored Soul by reaching 2500 total favor on a character or by purchasing it in the DDO Store! To learn more about Favored Soul features, be sure to check the class abilities and enhancement sections of these release notes!

So… LOTRO’s Runekeeper then?  It seems like this is the “everything plus the kitchen sink” class — huge reservoir of spells to fling at opponents, as well as great weapon fighting abilities.  Oh, and healing.  So what can’t they do that other classes can?  Disarm traps?  Um… play songs?  We’ll have to see it in action, but this announcement has to make a lot of clerics/bards/sorcerers/everyone feel pretty uneasy at being obsolete.  Does DDO truly want a “Death Knight” class that trumps all the other ones?

Note the “2500 favor or buy at the store” notice.  For those not playing DDO, 2500 favor is a ridiculous amount of work (2294 total favor available in the game as of 2007), so the chances are good that 95% of people playing FS in the future will have purchased them at the store.

Potentially OP and expensive class aside, new classes should be one of Turbine’s highest priorities for DDO.  Why?  They’re always in demand, they don’t have to balance them in a PvP situation (not real PvP, at least), and they’re a cheap way to extend content by urging players to revisit old dungeons with new characters.  I hope we’ll see more.  And more races, perchance.

Um… Lesser Announcements

There’s a lot to digest from here, but most all of it seems good.  Higher level 20 cap, bravo.  More adventures, always welcome.  UI, chat and guild improvements, yup.  And better targeting.  I’m sure more experienced DDO followers will pick up on the minutia that I’ve overlooked, but everything kind of does seem piddly compared to F2P and a new class.

Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

Catching Up: LOTRO

Aragorn: King of Shadow Puppets
Aragorn: King of Shadow Puppets

Oh, what a week to be gone in Lord of the Rings Online.  The two GMs (husband and wife) in our kinship are about ready to welcome their new baby into the world, and Book 8 finally hit the servers.  There’s actually not a great deal to this book to interest me as a level 32 Captain.  The revamp of lower level zones is nice, but I’m not going to revisiting that anytime soon, and most of the other content is high level stuff that I might see by 2010 at this rate of progression.  That pretty much leaves the summer festival, which I will check out at my earliest opportunity.

Good to know some folks are giving LOTRO a (re)try this summer!

It’s good to hear from the devs’ lips that LOTRO won’t be hitting the dreaded knell of server merges anytime soon — if anything, this is a good horse to bet on if you’re looking for an older title that’s still growing in population.

No matter how many times it’s noted, it’s still funny when someone harps on LOTRO’s aggression toward the animal kingdom.

This is simultaneously a heartbreaking and aggrivating story… and I have no sympathy whatever for folks who do this to trusting people.

Finally, Tony wants to remind anyone interested in LOTRO this summer to sign up for their cheap $9.99/month special before time runs out!

Posted in Warhammer Online

Catching Up: Warhammer

His future's so bright, he's gotta wear shades
His future's so bright, he's gotta wear shades

First of all, I think out of anyone, I have some sort of residual coming to me for this whole “BioWAAAGH” moniker.  No?  Did you write for both WAAAGH! and Bio Break?  Didn’t think so.

WAR’s come almost around to its one year mark, and it looks as though they’re already aping some of their older live events. Yet fireworks are always cool, and WAR did those exceptionally well, so I’ll let it slide.

Probably the biggest news story in the MMO world this past week — big enough that it even reached me while I was away — was the double-whammy of Mark Jacobs’ departure (read: firing) from EA Mythic, and the proposed BioWare/Mythic merger-of-sorts.  To sum up my feelings, to the first I’m disturbed, and to the second disturbed.

I’ve always felt that Mark Jacobs was the kind of guy that I could respect, but I would never, ever want to work for.  I’ve known guys like him who are driven, accomplished and pretty talented, and yet have the sort of personality that fills up a room and then some, an odd combination of a thin skin and enough power to do something about what upsets them.  Few people can deny that he had an unerring talent for putting his foot in his mouth, going on odd crusades with various forum trolls, and firing not just a few incredibly talented folks.  Therefore, some out there are rolling around in the schadenfreude, reveling in his apparent downfall and being insensitive dingbats as internet folk sometimes are.

I don’t want to jump on that bandwagon, for a few reasons.  One, I honestly do respect Mark.  There are precious few people in the world who have headed up not just one but two successfully launched MMOs, and even fewer who remained in such constant contact with their playerbase in the process.  He’s one of those people.  Part of his foot in mouth disease came from his tendency to want to converse so much with us players, and as I’ve said before, I’ll take a dev who does that 10 times out of 10 than one who remains silent (working for Blizzard, probably) out of a paralyzing fear of saying something wrong.

Two, a while back Mark took notice of a short blog post I wrote, wrote an encouraging post of his own about it, and linked back to me.  Whether he knew it or not, that was one of the most exciting days of blogging I’ve ever experienced — a silly little thing, but it meant a lot to me.  I and many other bloggers probably frustrated and elated him as much as he did us, but the truth is that I’ve never seen any dev or company that has done such excellent work in reaching out to bloggers who are passionate about their titles as Mark and Mythic.

And three, it’s been said before and should be again: we have this unfortunate tendency to equate an entire company and game to one high-profile person involved with that game.  WAR had Paul Barnett, Josh Drescher and others, but Mark Jacobs was a favorite high-profile target for those itching to take out their frustrations on someone involved with their game.  To be honest, it isn’t a fair practice.  The buck sort of stopped with him, but as a person who is involved in an organization that ministers to many folks, I understand how people are quite unfair at times in unloading their anger and issues with someone at the top.

As for the whatever-term-you-want-to-call-this-merger thing, I guess we’ll wait and see.  Depending on who you listen to, it will be a single company and it won’t.  From what I gather, it’ll be a single division in EA but two separate studios, with one guy overseeing both (a bad move on EA’s part, I think).

There’s obviously a lot of discussion about this on the blogosphere, so I’ll point you to a few of the discussions:

I was more shaken, however, by hearing that Greg of Tome of Knowledge is shuttering his blog/webcomic factory.  I know we’ve had a lot of WAR blogs shut down or move to a general MMO focus over the past few months, and while I haven’t commented on them, each one hit me with a bucket full of icy sadness.  In a way, starting my game blogging life in Warhammer’s community meant that I “grew up” with those folks, including fellow WAR bloggers.  It felt like a college class of oddballs and loudmouth ranters, and I loved every one of them.  It was hard for me to move on, and the biggest consolation I gave myself when I changed from WAAAGH! to Bio Break was that others would continue to hold the flag of WAR and blog proudly about it.  Nowadays, the class is mostly empty, but a few valiant souls strive on.

But for WARriors, life goes on, and it’s good to see that Mythic is still plowing forward with tuning Warhammer to its fullest potential.