Guild Wars 2: Is it worth $150? (#GW2 )

The glacier is moving, spring is coming, and ArenaNet has finally released information on Guild Wars 2’s pre-orders.  This is always a good sign for those anxiously awaiting the release date, although the ability to pre-order an MMO doesn’t necessarily mean it’s on the verge of release.  SWTOR opened up pre-orders some five months before release, after all.

But let’s not let that spoil our good mood, because there’s a lot to digest, including a doozy of a collector’s edition.  I’ve been putting some money aside for the CE, so the $150 price tag isn’t going to shy me away (I do love CEs in general).  It certainly is interesting that they’re announcing the pre-order program almost a month before accepting them — that doesn’t typically happen — but I think a lot of players will appreciate it, especially if they want to scrounge together that much money for a CE.

So let’s take a look at what we’ve got here, shall we?  All pre-orders — standard, deluxe, CE — get you into all of the GW2 weekend beta events between April 10th and release, a three-day head start (yay for ANet not doing BioWare’s weird rollout thing), and an in-game item that has a wide range of small stat boosts.  For me, the head start is the most important of the three and worth it for that alone.

We don’t know much right now about what comes with the digital deluxe version, but the collector’s edition haul is listed.  Here are my thoughts on each of the items, both physical and digital:

  • Rytlock Charr statue — Like SWTOR’s Darth Malgus, I’m could take or leave this.  For one thing, I’m just not that big of a Charr fan.  For another, I’d rather the “big” item be one of those cool plushies that ArenaNet’s been making for the game.
  • Making of GW2 book — Definitely something I’d be interested in reading, so I’m happy this is included.  SWTOR’s making of book came separately from the CE, which was a shame.
  • Best of GW2 soundtrack CD — On one hand, yay for a soundtrack CD.  That’s always a must have for CEs in my opinion.  On the other hand, the “best of” part of that title tells me that this will be far from a complete soundtrack for the game, which is a shame.
  • Five art prints and frame — OK, this is downright neat.  GW2 is already very much known for its gorgeous art style, and to have a choice of which print I want to hang up in a frame is a wonderful addition.
  • Summon Mistfire Wolf elite skill — It’s a temporary pet summons skill for in-game use, and you know what?  I’m all over that.  If any class can use this, it’d be really neat to be able to pull a wolf out of my butt no matter what I’m playing.
  • Miniature Rytlock pet — Another mini, cool; a Charr mini, eh.  I’m really getting the sense that this Charr dude is the chosen face of the game, so I guess I’ll have to resign myself to that.
  • Chalice of Glory — It’s a one-time use item that bumps up  your glory accumulation in PvP.
  • Tome of Influence — Another one-time boost item that gives you additional influence for your guild.
  • Golem Banker — Gives you bank access in the world… for five days.  Five days real-time?  Five different days you summon it?  What?

I’m a little divided on all this.  It’s not that I’m not really excited for GW2, I am, but none of this screams “must have!” to me as a whole.  As the digital deluxe version has the same in-game items as the CE, then it might be the prudent choice for me.  The book and the soundtrack are nice, but an extra $70 worth of nice?

The one thing I’m really disappointed in is the fact that three of the five in-game items have limited use (either one-shot or time-limited).  I guess they’d be neat at the beginning, but I was definitely hoping for more, especially if I’m shelling out a lot of extra money for this.

At least we have a month left to decide, and I hope ArenaNet spills a little more information on all of this.  What say you?  Is this is CE worth $150, or would it be better to save some of that cash for the inevitable in-game cash shop?

Choosing my Guild Wars 2 skinsuit

My thoughts have been turning to Guild Wars 2 more often than not these days.  Just this past weekend I logged back into Guild Wars for the first time in months in order to figure out a way to that 21st Hall of Monument point that I so desire (after that I’m done, however).  I think I’m going to buy my way into it by purchasing 10 final minipets — unfortunately, there are far fewer ones that I haven’t obtained yet than ones I have.

But!  Back to Guild Wars 2.  Whether or not debate rages over its promise-to-possibility ratio, I’m feeling quite confident in what I’ve seen and heard (and, y’know, played), and thus the question isn’t “whether” for me but “when.”  As in, when will this puppy come out?  And since I can’t impact that, I’m going to turn my attention to something I can do, which is to make my pre-game picks for race and class.

Race is the easier one of the two.  ArenaNet can say “plant people” until it’s blue in the face, but you and I both know that the Sylvari are elves in everything but name — and you know how I feel about those mudblood freaks.  I think the Charr are probably the most vastly different race in the game and will certainly appeal to a certain type of gamer, but that type is not me.  And humans… boring.  So that leaves me with the equally attractive Norn and Asura.  Asura are just flat-out awesome — I love short races with attitudes — but Norn are not too shabby either.  I’m worried they might be a little too popular, what with the northern Viking archetype coming from Skyrim and Game of Thrones, but I definitely want to make me a giantess of a sort.

Now classes?  That’s where I’m stumped.  I really want to play most of them, but narrowing down to just one for an initial main is going to be brutal.  My top-tier choices are Ranger (for the pet), Mesmer (which just looks awesome) and Engineer (for, well, everything), although Thief and Necromancer both have their appeal as well.  Asura Engineer would be cool and fitting for the race, but will everyone be doing this combo?  I mean, you think Asura and “engineer” isn’t too far behind.  Kind of like Norn and Rangers, maybe.  But dang it, give me a shotgun and turrets and bombs and a short dude from which to wield them, and I’m a happy gamer.

So I’m still dithering about on the class choice.  I might need to do some additional research on the matter, see if something can tip me over into one camp or the other.

What about you?  If you’re looking forward to GW2, what’s going to be your first race/class combo?

Play Diary: Back from the brink (#LOTRO )

Some nights it’s great to sit down and just dig into a single MMO for a good while.  I wasn’t quite expecting LOTRO to dominate my night — take a back seat, Mass Effect 3! — but so it did.

After writing up my post yesterday, I was intrigued by something I had written.  I know, I surprise even myself.  But seriously, up until that point I had almost forgotten about my level 65 Captain in LOTRO, who I had retired a half-year ago in the middle of Enedwaith.  At the time I was really enjoying the Lore-master and wasn’t interested in leveling up two characters through the expansion.  Now it looks as if I made a wrong choice for me.

The more I thought about it, the more excited I got, and when some time opened up yesterday evening, I logged onto her and started the long process of removing the cobwebs and getting her up to speed.  Some of you know what I’m talking about, the tricky process of un-retiring a character that has mystery quests in the log, inventory bags full of unknown junk, projects that were abandoned halfway through, and dozens of skills that all look like gibberish to you.

My first step was to clear out her inventory, make her a new outfit, and then exorcise all of the quests from my log that were unnecessary.  This took longer than I’d liked, but oh well.  Next up was to take her back to Enedwaith and figure out where she was in all of the quest lines.

Because Captains got some huge changes with Rise of Isengard (I had abandoned her prior to the expansion), I had to tab out and read up on everything, then go back into the game and make sure my build was still viable (two-handed sword with a red line of traits, check).  A new list of must-get virtues was needed, as she’s sitting at 10 across the board but now can level them up to 14.  Finally, my legendary items were a little old and creaky as level 57s, so I purchased a pair of level 65 third agers and got them decked out for combat.

Finally I was able to head back into the field.  Getting into the groove of combat took about three fights,  tops.  I mean, once you’ve done a skill rotation for 65 levels, it doesn’t ever quite leave you, so my rusty skills were soon oiled and flowing properly.  I totally missed how durable the class was, coming from a Lore-master, and there’s just something viscerally enjoyable about swinging a big honking sword around while a ghost archer has my back.

Before I knew it, two hours flew by and I had progressed through ten quests or so.  I still have a lot of little things to do and recall to get back up to speed, but I’ve got a very good feeling about this.  Dunland, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Play Diary: Heads in jars (LOTRO, Mass Effect 3, SWTOR, RIFT)

Busy day yesterday with a lot of little bite-sized gaming sessions.  Let’s get to it!

RIFT

I didn’t get any play time, per se, but I have been diligent about doing the lootables scratchers on the app.  Not only have I netted tons of glass beads for use in the festival (and purchased a mask and two pets with the currency), but one of the lootables actually rewarded me with a blue crab pet.  So… RIFT gave me crabs.  I am so mature!  But pleased.

Mass Effect 3

Did I make a mistake rolling FemShep?  I like her and all, but I cannot get over how grotesque she sometimes looks.  Like, she’ll appear normal during a scene, but every once in a while she’ll turn her head or make a mouth gesture and she’ll be hitting that uncanny valley with everything she’s got.  Plus, her arms are so skinny they border on anorexic.  But I’m not going to reroll at this point, so might as well just suck it up.

No huge progress in the game, I’m afraid.  I wrapped up business on the Citadel — again, a little disappointed there’s so little to see and do there compared to previous installments — and finally was allowed to tour my ship.  I think it’s become a tradition with each Mass Effect, that I do a full ship inspection at the beginning of each game.  The Normandy more or less looks like how I left it at the end of Mass Effect 2, although there are a few renovations and tweaks.  I guess the Shuttle Bay is back in play, and I definitely approve of the new poker table in the lounge.  I was disappointed that I couldn’t initially talk to EDI, but it certainly was nice to see Seth Green’s Joker once more.

I’m hoping to get better companions than what the game started out with, however.  Without spoiling anything, ME3 starts you out with one character from the first two games and a new steroid jock.  It was pretty funny that, at one point, I started sparring with this guy even though he’s like ten weight classes above my stick-thin FemShep.  And I won, of course.  But back to companions, I’m worried that none of the companions from ME2 will be making a return because it was possible for any and all of them to be killed at the end of that game.  And since BioWare carries over save files, what incentive would the studio have to creating content for a companion that might be off the table for many of its players?  Shame.  Would love to see Mordin or Jack again.

Lord of the Rings Online

Sype’s working hard inside Isengard as he prepares for Update 6, but it isn’t going well.  Actually, that’s a bit of a misnomer; Sype’s getting his butt handed to him ten ways from Sunday.  I’m less-than-pleased with the standard mob fights in Rise of Isengard, as so many of them interrupt and/or knock you back, making most of my non-instant skills useless.  And they really do hit harder — I went down in under ten seconds when two standard mobs ganged up on me.  I thought that speccing the red line would help with killing power, but it doesn’t seem to be doing much right now.  The much-vaunted March of the Ents skill is inexplicably useless against many of these mobs as well — it’s supposed to have a 6-second stun, but pretty much any mob I use it against projects “IMMUNE!” as if the Orcs were taking Ent vaccines for a while now.  Seriously, Turbine, what the what?

So the sooner I can be done with this area, the better.  I might have to spec back into my pet line so that I can use ol’ boglurker as a tank, because I’m sick of dying.  Now I want to reinstate my captain from retirement — I miss her survivability.  Hmm…

Star Wars: The Old Republic

Smuggler Thursday has finally gotten her ship back (yay) and spent a half-hour finishing up with doing Super Mario Datacrons on Coruscant.  Because she’s the mirror of my Agent character, I know that she’s going to have to get many of the same datacrons that I already did, and I’m trying very hard not to think about the fact I’ll need to do some of the ones again that nearly drove me to insanity.  I did learn one nice trick yesterday, however: Turning off sprint offers a lot more control with tricky jumps.  Wish I’d known that sooner.

The Smuggler ship is a big change from the Agent one, aesthetically.  It’s definitely a blend of the Ebon Hawk/Millennium Falcon, but that’s not a terrible thing, not at all.  I’m very much not crazy about the lady who set up shop in my cargo hold — I wish the game had given me an option to kick her off my ship, but I guess that’s one of those story necessities.  What’s really weird is that there’s a head in a jar on my ship, and no explanation regarding why.  Just, hey, head in a jar.  Sleep well at night knowing that’s only 20 meters away from your bunk!  In the dark void of space!

 

Play Diary: Mass Effect 3, Simpsons Tapped Out

One of the fun perks of doing a blog for yourself is that you are free to decide the direction and tone to take.  Experiments!  It’s what makes life worth living — and mad scientists.  As of late, I’ve become more uninterested in meta discussions of the MMO genre.  Not that they’re useless or dull, but I’ve been feeling like I’ve had enough talking about the field as a whole and what game will do will or whatever, and just want to talk about playing the games themselves.  I don’t think I’ve done enough of that lately on Bio Break, and perhaps that should be the core of the blog.

So today I want to start a semi-regular, perhaps daily series called Play Diary.  In it, I’ll run down what I did yesterday in game, tossing out observations and epic stories and tales of me dying to a bird.  Nothing more epic than a level 50 bird pecking out your brain.  Let’s get to it, then!

Mass Effect 3

Yesterday was supremely busy, and when a little slice of free time came up in the evening, I had to give it over to the launch day hoohah of Mass Effect 3.  I’m not the most rabid Mass Effect fan in the world, certainly not like some I know, but I do think it’s the best original IP BioWare’s come up with, and I’m definitely interested in seeing how the trilogy ends.

I purchased  it through Amazon and had it preloaded on my computer, which was a nice, convenient option.  No DLC for me — I’m not even slightly feeling the tug on this one — so I jumped right into it.

ME3 loads up fast, faster than ME2, and definitely is more graphically enhanced than its predecessors.  I’m not sure if it’s a good thing yet, because some of the characters — human females, in particular — just don’t look right.  Their eyes and mouths seem unnatural to me, far much more than their male counterparts.  The look of the world also feels different than ME2, which will take a little getting used to.  Not radically different, but enough that it feels like a new skin suit.

Anyway, I got in about an hour and a half, enough to go through the tutorial area and the Mars section.  I appreciate that ME3 starts out with a bang, because it felt like the previous two games were all about buildup and unseen threats that didn’t do much to motivate me.  I created a FemShep with white hair/white eyes and reveled in the return of Jennifer Hale’s no-nonsense voice.  Even if that dang mouth looks like it operates different than the rest of the body.

There’s a really neat moment during at the start of the game that does an effective job of making you care about what’s happening to Earth (it’s no huge spoiler here to say that Earth is under siege), and while it was pretty apparent what was going to happen, BioWare handled it with a nice subtle touch that put me in the right frame of mind.  This is war, there are going to be losses, and nobody’s innocent.

The combat is what it is.  I’m not a big fan of the more recent clicky-clicky CRPG combat mechanics, and while some probably love Mass Effect’s pseudo-FPS approach, it doesn’t do much for me.  I rolled an Engineer so I could toss out drones and light people on fire, so that’s more or less how I spent my time.  I did like that some of the enemies carried shields that made it tough to take them down unless you flanked them — positioning is a nice strategic layer that I appreciate in combat.

I’ve avoided spoilers for ME3 thus far, so I really have no idea what characters from the past game I’ll be running into or what areas I’ll be exploring.  Right now I’m on the Citadel and noticing that BioWare’s dumbed down the map to the point where not even a baby could get lost.  Guess the days of mapping out dungeons on graph paper are long gone, eh?

Simpsons: Tapped Out

EA’s totally screwed up this Farmville-ish Simpsons title, and yet I keep coming back to it.  I said on twitter that it’s both a crappy game and a great game, but I’m not sure how the scales will tip on it.

Basically, it’s a tongue-in-cheek homage/clone of other time-management sims in which you have to rebuild Springfield after Homer accidentally nukes it.  Build houses, have characters go on activities, visit other towns for rewards, and so on.  The gameplay isn’t super-exciting, but there is a smidge of strategy present, and it does give gratification to see something grow.

What makes it great is that the look of the town and the humor is pretty darn spot-on for the series.  There are little animations for the characters and buildings, funny quotes, and job descriptions that are more amusing than “plant tomatoes.”  Speaking of planting, one of the things you can plant on Cletus’ farm is Triffods, which have a reward of “end humanity.”  I’ve been too scared to try it.

As amusing as it all is, EA is making it extremely hard to enjoy.  For one thing, it requires a constant login to Origin, which is spotty as anything, and for another, EA grossly underestimated the popularity of the game and experienced such swamping of its servers that it had to pull the title from the app store while it fixed the back-end.  Also, the microtransactions are just ludicrous and not tempting in the least — they want you to spend up to $10-$15 just to buy a single house in the game (fortunately, many structures are available for in-game currency).  Forget that, EA.  Learn to price better.

Meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless (especially levels)

I’m with Stargrace here — I heard about this World of Warcraft insta-level 80 thing and just shook my head in disbelief.  It feels like Blizzard is becoming more and more desperate to retain/regain players, and while companies always should be trying their best to get as many players as possible, is this really the best way?  Just continue to sell out the core foundation of your game because convenience and instant gratification is popular.  Obviously, whatever’s popular is the best thing for your game, right?

This isn’t new, not even for Blizzard.  DDO sells insta-level 7 characters, WoW’s Death Knights start at level 55, AoC allows players to hopscotch levels, and so on.  I know some people who have no problem with this, but I do, because it betrays one of the most basic foundations of RPGs: Levels matter.  Levels represent accomplishment and achievement — of time and effort spent, of skill used, of a journey progressed.  If one can simply bypass leveling, then why have it?  Seriously.

Now, maybe you don’t like levels.  Maybe you see them as a product of a bygone era and you’d love to see a different system.  Fair enough.  Personally, I think they’re so ingrained into both RPGs and video games in general that they’re hard to extract without causing a void that really needs to be filled with some other way to represent a player’s progress in the game — and I’ve always enjoyed the “leveling game” more than the endgame of any MMO.  It’s going to be interesting to see how titles like The Secret World are going to fare with a reduced emphasis on leveling, but at least in that case Funcom is structuring the game from the very start to be as such.

But no matter if you like levels or not, the fact is that Blizzard created a level-based MMO, and if it didn’t like levels, it shouldn’t have done so.  It shouldn’t decide years down the road to negate any meaning to levels by offering a fast-lane to the top, but the studio’s been progressing toward this for years — Death Knights, faster leveling, huge XP bumps, and so on.  Now?  It’s meaningless.  You’re a level 80?  You spent six days /played getting there?  Whooptydoo — I just clicked a button and here I am, five levels away from the cap.  Guess that makes us equal.  Nevermind that I have no idea how to play my class nor will be effective in groups because of my ignorance.  Nevermind that it negates 80 levels’ worth of content that developers hand-crafted for player enjoyment.  Nevermind that the leveling journey introduces a player to the story of the world and connects them to what’s going on in it.  DING, SUCKA, DING!

I’ve heard arguments that this will allow new players to catch up with their friends, but this is the wrong way to go about doing it.  City of Heroes and EverQuest II have excellent sidekick/mentoring systems that temporarily change levels to get people to pair up — but their overall progress remains the same.  That seems like a good system to me.  Maybe it was too hard to do for WoW.  Maybe making instant 80s was way easier.

So, no, Syp doesn’t like it when a game decides that it’s going to ignore one of the rules it set up for itself in the name of a cheap player grab.  I don’t like it in WoW or anywhere else, for that matter.

An airport in your pocket

I know everyone’s buzzing about Mass Effect 3 today (and it’s installing on my computer as we speak, FYI), but you want to know what really got me giddy as I read the news over my morning coffee?  The word out of GDC of NimbleBit’s next iPhone game, Pocket Planes.

Now, I just love NimbleBit to death because of Tiny Towers, a tower-building game that had adorable pixel art and a very non-pushy freemium model.  Unlike Zynga, NimbleBit feels like it has a soul and isn’t just in it for the money, but to make really fun little games.  In fact, probably my biggest complaint about Tiny Towers is that there needed to be more “game” to it (and while they did add missions, it still wasn’t enough interactivity).

So now take Tiny Tower’s distinct visual style, NimbleBit’s F2P model, and then combine it with the concept of creating and running an airline… and I’m in heaven.  Seriously, it really, really looks like something I could sink many hours into, because I love strategy games that let me ferry passengers and cargo from one place to the other (oddly enough, I’m not being sarcastic here).

The concept is fairly tight: You start out with a basic plane that can transport a passenger and a piece of cargo, and have to plan trips across the country to take advantage of the fares out there.  Each flight takes a certain amount of real-world time, and you can build up your airline to include bigger and additional planes and routes.

It looks as if NimbleBit will be bringing back costumes and color options for its little Bitzens and planes, which is most definitely a good thing.  I loved costumes in Tiny Tower (my dress studio is run by dress ninjas).

It’s supposed to come out this summer, and Touch Arcade has a nice writeup about it.  Can’t wait!

RIFT reborn

Speaking of returning to older MMOs, yesterday I reinstalled RIFT and rolled a brand-new female dwarf cleric named Herbie.  The pull to check RIFT out again came from the awesome video Trion posted yesterday as well as Stargrace’s nattering on about the new festival.  And I am a complete sucker for in-game festivals, carnivals, and fairs.

It’s always strange coming back to a game after an absence, because there’s a lot of catching up to do.  And when it comes to RIFT and Trion’s insanely packed update schedule, there’s more changes than you’d expect after six months.  Lots of little things, really, like preset “classes” during the character creation that give you a build of three souls, changes to the map to make things clearer, instant adventures, and so on.  What definitely pleased me is how quick I was able to go from not having the game on my hard drive at all to playing it — about 15-20 minutes, really.  Considering how large the game is, I’m guessing this is due to a new streaming client downloader or something, or else Trion’s just gotten really good about packing that code in nice and tight.

In some ways, it was like I never left.  Everything about RIFT is so familiar that I just slipped right back into it.  Like SWTOR, the combat is quick (which I can never say about LOTRO) and the animations are engaging.  And while SWTOR may have a huge edge in story, I still feel that RIFT’s character building system is way more interesting than the paltry few talent tree choices that BioWare’s MMO offers.

What was really cool about returning was the bounty awaiting me in my mailbox.  Seriously, I think my new character had about fifteen pieces of mail, all with goodie attachments.  Some were from the CE, one from the six-month anniversary, many from veteran unlocks, one from the account security snafu, and so on.  I love the feeling of loading up a newbie character with all of these material possessions that can be used right away, and I quaffed an XP boosting potion so that I could speed level to 10 and enjoy the festival.

Speaking of which, the carnival is just a hoot.  It’s pretty compact with three (I think) games, some booths and vendors and a hilarious fortune-telling witch (“you will slay many monsters and find a lot of gold!”), but it is just sheer fun.  I noticed that everyone was ignoring two of the games to play the balloon-popping one, due to the fact that if you join a raid for it, you can complete the quest (and get the prize ticket) in mere seconds.  Rinse and repeat.  I think this may be a tad bit of an exploit, but considering how expensive the prizes are, I don’t care.

Another cool returning moment was checking out the RIFT Mobile app on my iphone.  Not only does it have pretty nifty guild functionality (chat and a message wall, for starters), but the “lootables” section is something I’ve never seen before in MMOs.  Basically, it’s like lottery scratchers that can give your in-game character certain rewards if you win.  You get one credit (attempt) every hour, and up to six credits can be stored at a time.  I’ve already won several beads for the festival rewards, so I’m not complaining here!  It’s not a huge feature, but I gotta admit, it’s one of those things that makes me love Trion all the more.

So will I subscribe to RIFT or just stay a perpetual level 20?  That’s hard to say.  I’m definitely committed to my SWTOR subscription for a while to come, and I don’t like the idea of having two subs if I’m playing several games at a time.  Then again, it’s not bank-breaking either.  Then again again, there’s a lot coming up in the near future, so I may not even have time for RIFT.  But for now?  It’s really neat to return and see what Trion’s done with the place.

P.S. — Every MMO needs to have a post like this on the official forums to bring returning players up to speed with all of the changes.  Seriously, this is a no-brainer.