Hallo, Halloween!

Oh, Halloween, how I love thee!  It’s such a great holiday for so many reasons, not the least of which that it gives grown men and women a legitimate excuse to wear a goofy costume.  My favorite is the Dumbledora the Explorer one I’ve seen floating around on the internet.

I did promise some final thoughts on Guild Wars 2’s Halloween update.  Today marks the final phase, so it’s not completely over, but enough of it is that I feel confident in giving it a hearty thumbs-up.  This is not just the first holiday for the game, but the first big update post-launch, and so a lot of players were looking at it very, very closely to see what they could expect from ArenaNet in the future.  While it wasn’t perfect — more on that in a bit — it was an impressive chunk of content that combined new locations, really awesome art, different game mechanics, and lots of rewards.

Even the scavenger hunt, which I wasn’t that keen on, proved to be beneficial in the end.  I really enjoyed the little story snippets that the ghosts told, and the final reward of a statted book to hang on my back was totally worth the effort.

So here are some random assembled thoughts as I prepare to turn a page on this update:

  • There didn’t seem to be a lot of good options to spend candy corn on if you weren’t a crafter.  I ended up with 600 pieces in my inventory that are doing a whole lot of nothing.
  • The promise of unique Halloween skins from lockboxes proved to be irresistable to a lot of folks, and the extreme low drop rate caused a lot of bad feelings.  ArenaNet did give these players a second shot at another chest, which was probably a smart move on their part.  Still, if all you wanted was the skins, it wasn’t worth investing that much money into buying.
  • The Halloween minis are awesome, and I love my ghostie.
  • The Clock Tower jumping puzzle… man.  Novels have been written about this.  Some people mastered it all right, but I just gave up after ten minutes because I valued my sanity.  And I’m Asura, which meant I could never see my toon.  Fortunately, I didn’t feel that it *had* to be done, and the visuals were downright incredible.
  • The Lunatic Inquisition and Reaper’s Rumble were interesting mini-games that I tried once apiece.  Fun for what they were, but I didn’t feel like there were big rewards for playing them over and over again.
  • I enjoyed the labyrinth a lot more, however.  It wasn’t much more than just endless killing with a group, but that mayhem was quite relaxing when I was in the mood for it.  And the loot, oh the loot.  I kept filling up my bags every half-hour, and ended up replacing most of my gear with improved versions.  By the end of a few runs, I’d come out ahead a few gold and a more full bank.
  • The Mad King’s exploding the fountain and subsequent fight on his territory was definitely memorable.  I’m glad to say that I was there, although it’s another piece of content that I wouldn’t want to run more than once.
  • Baby Quaggan ghost and pirate.  So.  Cute.  BoooOOOoo!

All in all, it was more content from an update than many sub games give out in theirs, and if ArenaNet’s second update (which hopefully will feature permanent additions) is as big, I’ll be quite satisfied with the growth of the game.  Halloween proved to be a compelling distraction from the day-to-day activities in the game, and even though it didn’t escape controversy, it certainly was memorable and the talk of the virtual water cooler.

Advertisements

SWTOR: Return of the Jaded

At least for one gamer, BioWare’s efforts to increase SWTOR’s visibility and accessibility via free-to-play is proving a successful lure.  Taking a break from SWTOR earlier this year was a good personal decision: I had taken a character to 50, seen the barren nature of what lay beyond, and had a hard time summoning the enthusiasm to level a new character all over again.  Besides, it was another subscription that threatened to stretch my gaming budget too tightly when I wanted to head back to RIFT and was eying TSW.

But on the eve of F2P, it’s happened.  Perhaps enough time has passed that the fields of my interest in the game are fertile once more.  Perhaps the notion that I won’t have to pay (and I really won’t) sings to me with that tempting siren’s call.  And perhaps I’ve regretted not taking a Republic character to 50.

So I decided to sub for a single month to get a jump on things, as well as to unlock a few character benefits that will persist into F2P (such as extra inventory space).  I dithered about once more with a Consular, but I quickly remembered why I couldn’t bond with the class — not because of the fight mechanics, which are actually interesting, but because the character’s personality and story are borderline comatose.  Thus, I rerolled a Smuggler — a male this time, because darn it, I’m romancing something — and began to live out the Han Solo fantasy.

It’s interesting when you return to an MMO that you played pretty extensively.  Some of it feels wonderfully fresh, while other less desirable memories come crashing down on you.  You remember the more… unsavory elements.  In the few days I’ve had time to dip back into SWTOR, I recalled how I’m not a huge fan of the excessive side quest dialogue (which gives new meaning to the word “inconsequential”) nor of the still-lacking talent trees that just pale in comparison to many other character build options in MMOs.

Yet, there have been a few welcome moments as well.  I do enjoy being able to pick speech options and see how NPCs react.  The main class story is engaging enough, and the scifi setting is a very nice change of pace.  And, at least with the Smuggler, I dig the look and combat.  Unlike the last time I rolled one, I’m not doing a Gunslinger this time around.  Oddly enough, I like the look of a single blaster more than two, and having options to stealth and heal are quite important to me.  And while it’s pretty linear, sometimes that’s relaxing in its own right.

Instead of coming at the game as a near-main MMO, I am definitely enjoying the mental shift to making it a side activity.  A game to “pop in” when I’m in the mood for some Star Wars, but certainly nothing now that’s going to take precedent over, say, Guild Wars 2 or LOTRO.  There’s far less at stake too: If SWTOR wears out its welcome again, then there’s little pressure to keep me there.  I’m there as long as the fun lasts, but not a moment past that.

Moving while casting: Spawn of Satan or freedom from restrictions?

My previous post on five features that I’d like to see spread to other MMOs I play sparked an interesting discussion over the merits and pitfalls of casting while moving.  Honestly, I didn’t expect anyone to be against it; I always saw the “need to stand stock-still to cast a spell” as an unnecessary relic of old school MMO design that required heavy-handed balance to smack those ranged powerhouses down to a mortal level.  As in, it might have been necessary and standard back in the day, but it’s become a creaky element that isn’t as welcome nowadays.

But there are obviously two camps when it comes to this issue, so I wanted to clarify why I think it’s great that we’re seeing this feature go bye-bye.

First of all, I’m not a developer but a gamer.  I don’t care — nor do I have to care — about balance difficulties or whatnot when it comes to MMOs.  I just report from my perspective, which is a gamer.  And my perspective is that casting while moving is fun and freeing, while needing to come to a screeching halt and standing still like a redcoated British soldier during the Revolutionary war while I slooowly load my musket under withering enemy fire is annoying.  Maybe that was the solution for “balancing” a long-range damage dealer a while back, but if devs can’t figure out other ways without breaking down into gibbering panic, then that’s on them, not me.

You see, movement is essential to gaming.  I don’t need to always be moving in a fight, but it’s nice to know that I have the option.  And it feels more natural, too.  Even in MMOs where my moving back and forth, jumping, or “dodging” has absolutely no impact on what the behind-the-scenes die rolls say, I still like to do it because standing still in the face of a mobile enemy makes me feel foolish.  Moving during fights feels far more dynamic, even if it’s the occasional repositioning for a shot or jumping out of a pool of fire.  Stupid fire pools, the one place where you should pee in them and yet your raid leader never lets you.

I’m not a strong advocate for real-time combat in MMOs, mind you; I like the back-and-forth, and would probably be equally irked if a game made me memorize all sorts of combo moves just to survive a fight.  But whether it’s action-clicking in DDO, stunning and then backstabbing a droid in SWTOR, dodging a fireball in GW2, or strafing while I’m loading up a potent spell in TSW, the movement makes combat more exciting.

But perhaps more than all of this is the unnecessary crippling of spellcasters that result in classes being far less enjoyable than they should be.  I never understood why ranged bow/gun users, for example, often had a huge slew of instant-cast attacks, decent armor, and good damage, while the terry cloth robe-wearing mages were forced to stand in place while doing essentially the same long-distance attacks.  It started to feel even more unfair as melee fighters were given several abilities of their own to do damage at range and close ranged gaps quickly.  The rock-paper-scissors balance evolved except in this one area.

Having played several spellcasters, I can attest that it’s not just the immobility that proves irksome, but how picky the game is when it comes to letting you cast.  As a previous commenter said, you have to come to a dead stop to start casting, which means that error messages become standard as you try to stop and cast without your avatar slowing down on a dime.  That wastes precious time as you get that error message, have to check that you’ve fully stopped, and then try to cast again.  It’s not enjoyable in the least.

Or what about being a healer with long cast times?  I’ve shaken my fist at the screen more times than I can count because I’m trying to help Mr. Dying Pants over there, but because he’s able to be mobile and I have to stand stock-still through a three-second cast, he’s got three seconds to accidentally duck around a corner or an object that obscures and breaks the cast.  Why can’t I just run after him, prepping the spell on the go?

Listen, I play MMOs like RIFT, LOTRO and SWTOR that retain the casters-must-stand-still design, and after having tasted the alternative with TSW and GW2, it’s just not as much fun to return to that.  I can adapt and play by the game’s rules, but I’m stating that I have a personal preference that casters should get to move.  Devs have made it work, and work well, in the latter two titles (and other games that I don’t frequent at the moment), and I’ve never once heard someone in either game lament that casters moving was a horrible design decision.  Cling to the past if you will, but I like my wheels round, not square.

SWTOR downgrades F2P madness to a calm lunacy

Just a quick follow-up to yesterday’s SWTOR article in the interest of fairness.  BioWare came out with a couple posts regarding some changes and clarification to F2P, and I think they go some ways to making the whole system less antagonistic (although not totally) to free players — particularly those who have put some money in the system.

First of all, we’re up to two quickbars and more warzones per week, and the former there is fine with me.  I can survive on two hotbars in most MMOs (although not EQ2, which requires something on the level of 39 full hotbars per character).  That’s one less thing I’d have to buy.

Then there was a great post clearing up what “preferred status” was (which, again, is all current and former subscribers as well as anyone who buys even one thing through the cash shop.  The big things here for me is that this comes with cargo hold access (another thing I won’t have to purchase), level 1 sprint, two crew skills, and an increased credit limit — among a long list.  Plus, any current characters will be able to retain legacy unlocks, species rolled, inventory and cargo expansions, and artifacts equipped.

This feels a bit better than what we were looking at before.  I’m still not thrilled that some mission rewards and lockboxes won’t be accessible and that there is a slower XP gain rate, but that’s not a dealbreaker.  I think I can finagle a character out of this that will be playable on the side.

It’ll be interesting to see if BioWare makes any other changes to the F2P plan prior to release.

Five small features that I wish were in every MMO

Rotating between MMOs has gotten easier for me, and it’s actually become a boon for my perspective.  When I get to a particular title on my rotation, I’m reminded what I like about it — and what I appreciate in other games that aren’t in this one.  Of course, it’s sometimes disconcerting to have to shift gears and accept that I don’t have access to a certain feature for a little while.

As I go between RIFT, LOTRO, TSW, and GW2, I wish every MMO shared the following features:

1. One-key loot / auto-loot

TSW and GW2 both allow me to spam a key in order to suck up loot.  It reminds me of how much I liked that feature in Dungeon Siege, way back when.  No more clicking corpses — just jam on F until my bags are full.  LOTRO’s new expansion goes one step further by just slinging all of the loot you gain into your bags (with a large overflow bag in case you’re in the middle of a hot streak).

It’s a small thing, almost lazy to appreciate, but I’ve gotten past the days of clicking corpses one by one for goodies.  At least the industry standard is adapting AoE looting, which helps somewhat.  But I think I still prefer one-key looting.

2. Dodging

I don’t dodge a lot, but in the games that have it, I deeply appreciate the ability to do so if the situation arises that I need to avoid a devastating attack.  GW2 lets me dodge twice in a row before recharge, TSW allows one dodge.  Nothing doing for the other games, and let me tell you how many times I’ve double-tapped a movement key  in RIFT when a big attack was about to happen.

3. Moving while casting

Making casters stand stock-still to sling non-instant spells has always been a pet peeve of mine.  These classes are already fragile — now you’re making them stand still to be a better target.  Meanwhile, those heavy armor-wearing fighters are dancing all over the place.

Again, TSW and GW2 both allow casting movement, and it’s wonderful.  I don’t get error messages because I haven’t come to a complete stop at a four-way intersection before casting; I can just sling spells and skills on the go.  Lifting this restriction adds so much to the freedom of combat, even if it is just visual most of the time.

4. Mail from anywhere

I’m not a big fan of having to wait to go back to main cities to do all my bizness, especially when it’s small fry stuff like mailing a piece of loot to a friend.  I have a mobile mailbox in RIFT that’s great, but it’s even better to be in GW2 and just fire off mail from anywhere — and receive it anywhere.  I think it helps to promote guild support as well, because it becomes far more convenient to ask if anyone needs a drop you just got, a drop that you can then mail the second someone says “me!”

5. Instant adventures

Looking back over this list, it sounds like GW2 is king of these convenient features.  And it pretty much is, although I could easily draw up another list talking about things that game doesn’t have that I wish it did.  Such as RIFT’s instant adventures.

GW2 has a very nice open/laid-back grouping system, but RIFT is more organized and lets you join an actual group for a world activity with a single click of a button.  I’m teleported to the action and can just enjoy myself without having to hunt down where the hot spots are.  I would love to have this in GW2, to be able to voosh my way over to the nearest big event, or in LOTRO, to organize warband fights in Rohan.

Quote of the Day

“To this day, my husband and I giggle about the time when we were playing on a WoW PvP server and some undead rogue kept ganking us.  And then, realizing he was outmatched, he jumped into the water (since undead can stay underwater longer).  Welp, as a druid I shapechanged into a seal so as to swim faster and catch up with him.  Plus, seals can stay underwater indefinitely.  I chased him down and beat him to death with mah flippers (very slowly).”

~ Hawtpants of the Old Republic