World of Warcraft: Livin’ the drood life

Following my post last week about pining for an MMO home and reading the great responses that several readers gave to it, I decided that time for pining was over. Action was needed! Big, feathery, fluffy action!

And so I started to map out a strategy for playing multiple MMORPGs that I’m calling the “mall plan.” The idea here is to structure one’s focus around a single large anchor game (much like how a shopping mall has large anchor stores) to be a consistent, main focus, and then free up space for as many satellite games to revolve around it. I’m not lacking in satellite games, just the main one. And so for now, I’m going to play it safe by heading back to World of Warcraft.

It’s not just for the purpose of this plan. I’ve been thinking of it more and more lately, now that I’ve had a few months off, and fall always seems the time each year that I feel most strongly compelled to play this game. Maybe it’s because WoW came out in fall 2004, maybe it’s just the feeling of hunkering down in the house as the weather turns colder, I don’t know. There’s some connection there, however.

I do know that I’m not rushing back to play my Death Knight, at least not right away. I love her, but I need a project to work on, and other than going to Argus for whatever reason, she’s in a good place. So I hemmed and hawed and ultimately decided that I wanted to have a healer as a second main. And for me, this meant going back to my Druid.

It wasn’t a difficult choice; I love this character and the sheer utility that it provides. She’s a great healer who can also shapeshift into Moonkin for some decent damage. She’s got an instant flight form, and now I can fly all over the Broken Isles in a way that I couldn’t when I was originally leveling up my DK. And I have that awesome Emerald Dreamway port that can take me pretty much anywhere across the world. It feels like a great character to work on, so why not?

The first night, after transferring some gold over and cleaning up her bags, I took my Druid for a spin through a few quests to get a feel for movement and combat. She’s really right at the beginning of the Legion expansion, having just gotten her artifact weapon, so I’m way far behind the endgame crowd. But I don’t feel any pressure to speed up or despair at all of the zones to finish, just a general contentment that she’s got plenty to do.

Combat was surprisingly great. I don’t know if they’ve beefed up the sounds and visuals for the Druid’s spell attacks, but they seemed to have more “punch” than I remembered. I got a good rotation going and figured out which protective and healing spells I could use in Moonkin form, then started to go to town on quests.

Next up was taking her for a test drive through a timewalking dungeon as a healer. And that was, more or less, OK. We made it, no wipes, but I did lose a couple of players on two of the boss fights. There are a lot of healing and protective spells that I need to refamiliarize myself with, and really the best way to do that is just to run dungeons enough so that it becomes second nature. I think I’m going to try to run at least one a night when I’m playing WoW to polish those skills.

I will say that I am dying to know what Blizzard is going to reveal about the next expansion come BlizzCon next month. I’m sure it will take some of the wind out of the sails of people working through content right now, but it should also have a revitalizing effect. Legion did keep up with Blizzard’s promise of more regular and beefy updates, but the future past this point is largely a big question mark. I hope we’ll hear a few great surprises, and I do want to know what’s going to happen to these artifact weapons everyone’s poured so much time in preparing.

Maybe we’ll get to hang them up in our garrisons?

Secret World Legends: Transylvania turn-in

Forget the dead man in the middle of the room; I get more creeped out when I think of these poor brainwashed, superpowered children carefully arranging all of these dolls and scratching the lyrics to their mind-controlling lullaby all over the place. I can’t even get my kids to pick up their own room half the time, and yet these kids took all this time to set up the creepiest tableau possible in the midst of a prison break? I find it a little far fetched.

Also, I am of the opinion that this above room is far more terrifying. Don’t know why, exactly, but it does freak me out. Perhaps it’s the security camera in the corner up there…

Anyway, this past week I finally wrapped up Transylvania. It wasn’t too tough, just took me a while to get through the last dozen quests that used to make up the “endgame” of pre-Tokyo The Secret World back in the day. And yes, we’re using the phrase “back in the day” now with TSW.

As with before, I enjoyed the conclusion, and I do agree that the rearrangement of the Hatchet Falls/Nursery questline was best put after the whole vampire showdown. It’s a good segue into Venice and Tokyo beyond, and every time I hear that firefighter ask Emma her name and she says “Anima,” I get chills.

I’m taking a half-hearted stab at doing The Meowling mission for the Halloween event, but it really is half-hearted because (a) it was always the least-most interesting Halloween mission TSW ever made, and (b) for whatever reason, the developers didn’t include all of the more recent Halloween missions this year. And that bites. I was really looking forward to Spooky Stories, the Broadcast, etc. But no, we just get the Cat God and one semi-reworked Jack fight. That feels kind of lame to me. Thus, I’m trying to blow through this quickly to move on to Tokyo and try to stay on pace for catching up before the end of the year.

KOTOR 2: Goto’s Yacht

(This is part of my journey going playing through Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

The trap has been set — and perhaps too well, because I’ve been captured and taken to Goto’s yacht. The holographic mob boss has an odd conversation with me in which he attempts to give me some sort of verbal support and encouragement, saying that the Republic is going to collapse and that I need to forestall this from happening. But then he keeps me prisoner anyway, so what the heck, Goto?

I do wish that we could meet the programmer behind the HK droids and ask what kind of messed-up logic chains he or she used when making these murderbots.

I’m given the strange task of rescuing myself, and so I pick Kreia and Visas, mostly for healing and raw destructive power. Actually, Kreia is overpowered in this setting, because she’s got a deep pool of Force points and has the “destroy droid” skill. This is a nasty chain attack that absolutely devastates pretty much all droids in a room and trivializes any battles. And considering that Goto’s yacht is nothing but droids, I’m on easy street.

It doesn’t take too long before I find myself (whoa, deep) and strike out looking for vengeance. Oh, it’s on, now.

As we clear out the yacht, I came upon this window and thought it was a particularly striking view. Thought I should share it. You’re welcome.

Anyway, bounty hunters pour in, we slay all, we escape, Goto’s yacht is blown up by some self-destruct because why not.

But Goto isn’t dead, of course. He tosses me a droid to join my crew, and I don’t think it’s worth pretending to be ignorant any longer about the big ‘twist’ here — that the droid IS Goto… or G0-T0. Anyway, wicked awesome to have one of those interrogation bots on staff, but I think I’m going to stick with Visa Card and Murder Wookiee for my team going forward.

Pining for an MMO home

There’s an apparent paradox of my current relationship with MMORPGs. There are just *so many* games to play that I could keep dabbling forever and not run out of new experiences to sample. Yet I’m also starting to feel starved for an MMO “home” to be at the center of my gaming life.

For me, at least, the notion of an MMO home is a title that fulfills these requirements:

  • Is still somewhat popular with active development happening
  • Gives me a rounded, robust MMO gaming experience with plenty of goals to pursue
  • Has me connected with a guild that is full of great friends and friendships
  • I can see playing for a lengthy stretch at a time

The full package, in other words. The whole enchilada.

In continuing to seek out the right balance in my gaming time, I am realizing that I need both that anchor of a home and the flexibility and variety of other, more casual experiences. Too much of the former leads to burnout. Too much of the latter leads to restlessness and dissatisfaction.

And over the past month or two, I just haven’t been gaming in a home. I think LOTRO felt like that during the summer and World of Warcraft for the most past last year, but my infatuation with certain other games (usually in the hopes of finding, re-finding, or establishing a home) hasn’t really worked out too well for the longer go.

So I’m taking a step back and evaluating. I don’t think that there are any new great options here for a main focus, but rather the usual suspects: WoW, LOTRO, RIFT, FFXIV, ESO, GW2, WildStar. More traditional MMORPGs with proven quality and quantity of content, games that I have enjoyed long-term (mostly) and could potentially plunk down some deeper roots. Also games that I have drifted away from at various points because of burnout, disappointing features, a lack of community connections, or a downturn in development.

Maybe I’m serially incapable of committing, but I don’t think so. I have had some really long stretches of game dedication in the past, and I’m OK with stepping away from them so that my excitement batteries for those particular titles can recharge. I just could use a more centralized game right now with satellite titles than a rotation of equal-but-equally-non-central games like I’m doing now.

The idea of an MMO home comes attached to focus, purpose, and a future. I hope I can find that soon, but I don’t know the best way of going about it.

I’d love to hear from you who have what you consider to be an MMO home. What game is it and why do you consider this your main game?

Remembering Ravious

“I’m really sad this morning.”

“Why, daddy?”

“One of my friends died this week.”

“Oh.”

Cancer claimed the life of Zach Best a few days ago. Zach, better known to most of us as Ravious of Kill Ten Rats, was a prominent voice in the MMO blogging community ever since he started writing on that site in 2008. He was prolific, opinionated, and personable, and I genuinely enjoyed reading his writing over the years.

I only got to meet Zach once, and only then briefly. In 2011, he and I worked to throw an impromptu “bloggers and breakfast” meetup at PAX East. It was pretty chaotic and crowded when it happened, and I regret not having had more time to just sit and talk with him and the other writers.

If you are unfamiliar with Ravious or want to revisit his writings, perhaps take a few minutes this morning to peruse his posts over at KTR.

My morning prayers will be asking for comfort, strength, and grace for Zach’s wife and children. I hope his kids always remember the special father they had and that they take time when they are older to share some of his life by reading his words left behind on the blog.

Fare thee well, Ravious. The blogging community will dearly miss you and your thoughts.

Star Trek Online: A bug obsession

In hindsight, it was probably a mistake for Starfleet to allow its captains the privilege of naming their own ships. If they don’t regret it now, they will when they hear about their newest registered starship, the U.S.S. Snuggly Hedgehog. Truly, a name to strike dark terror in the hearts of dastardly foes.

I decided to switch things up — for now — by swapping out my Atrox carrier for a Pathfinder-class science ship. Kind of a more advanced Voyager variant. Sure, it might not have squads of fighters as its disposal, but it’s more agile and has a pretty cool aero shuttle to help out with attacks.

I present this screenshot without comment. I don’t think there is a comment that actually fits this, other than to say, yes, it happened.

The newest featured episode is “Melting Pot,” which we’re encouraged to run weekly right now for special new rewards. It’s actually a fairly frustration-free romp on a pretty (if small) planetary playfield. Things get a little nutty when scientists being scientists decide to play God and unleash a wave of nasty crab-things all over the place, but that’s what my shotgun is here for.

Following that, I thought it best to double back and work on some mission chains that I hadn’t finished yet. Unfortunately, this meant a trip back to the Delta Quadrant, because apparently I can’t start the Iconian War arc until I finish this.

I did some mission that involved infiltrating a Vardwuaaaaaaar underground facility. Initially, I was pretty excited about this. There were new mechanics involved, such as zip lining and rappelling, but that excitement quickly faded when I realized that this whole mission is on training wheels. It’s one thing to tamper down the frustration factor, but c’mon, you have to have SOME challenge.

Here, Tuvok is omnipresent, offering a constant tutorial of where to go and what to do. Funny, I didn’t see him beam down with me, so how does he know anything of what’s going on down here? And if that wasn’t insulting enough, large bouncy icons show you where you need to go to hit the next “F” for victory. Even though the mission was making a big deal out of not being discovered, I think it would actually take more effort to fail it than not.

It did get interesting at the end, as a plot twist involving parasitic aliens showed up. I think these are the same critters from the only good season one TNG episode (“Conspiracy”). It’s weird to see them suddenly pop up here, but I think it’s cool that the writers followed up on something the show never had the guts to do.

MMO open world housing is a failed experiment

This past week, Final Fantasy XIV pushed out its Patch 4.1 and with it, a highly anticipated new housing neighborhood. The ensuing housing rush — which lasted mere minutes — quickly sealed up all available lots and shut out the rest of the playerbase from buying one of these homes. It’s a problem that the game’s been struggling with ever since it launched its open world housing system, but now it sounds like things have come to a head and the dev team might actually do something about it.

Reading the news on this, I once again wonder why open world housing is this holy grail that some players and developers seem hellbent on chasing. It’s an ideal, a beautiful mirage couched in the notion of players inhabiting the very world they play, allowing them to stroll through neighborhoods of fellow adventurer’s homes and basking in the connectivity of it all.

Yet it’s a failed experiment, one that is proven time and again to have far more drawbacks than benefits.

There are so many issues with open world housing that I’m frankly astonished that such systems haven’t gone extinct by now. Allow anyone to place a house anywhere, and the world is quickly going to be cluttered and uglified by sprawling housing tracts that aren’t managed by any urban planner. Limit open world housing to certain areas, and there is the very real danger of having too high a demand for too few spots. Ghost towns can ensue either way, the real gaming content for adventurers is sandwiched among structures that aren’t meant for most players, and the casual player (the one on the lower spectrum of time and money) is shut out from participating in this side of the game.

Then there is the cautionary tale of games like ArcheAge, which has to deal with open world housing and server merges regularly. Instead of being able to preserve players’ homes during a merge, the “solution” is to evict everyone and trigger a new land rush in the interest of fairness. This actually hurts the game’s reputation and can turn even more players away, especially loyal and faithful customers who are the MMO’s bread and butter.

I worry about upcoming sandbox MMOs that are throwing in their lot with open world housing, such as Chronicles of Elyria, Shroud of the Avatar, or Ashes of Creation. Without a way to adjust to the demand for housing, there is a danger of both cluttering and shortages, creating a long-term headache for developers looking for solutions that won’t involve making 3/4ths of the game world into suburbia.

A while back, when I was trying out Shroud of the Avatar, I became confused when I was trying to explore a town only to eventually realize that I had transitioned from the “real” town to a neighboring cluster of houses that offered no content or benefit for me. It was a mess, and this was just the starting village. I didn’t hold high hopes that the game got better from there.

Housing is, obviously, very important to me. It’s one of the few systems in MMOs that regularly allows players to express their own creativity and style the game world to suit their personalities. Even more important, it helps establish roots in a game and reinforce the notion that this is a virtual “home” of sorts. So this is why I get rankled when players are kept out of housing due to high cost, low supply, and other stiff barriers to entry.

MMORPG design and tech has already come up with great alternatives to open world housing thanks to instancing and phasing. There’s no reason why you can’t be strolling through a small housing neighborhood in a city and have the game phase to show you your own abode and lawn right there in front of you. Going all the way back to 2001’s Anarchy Online, players have been able to own their own instanced apartment without any worry about not being able to grab one.

We simply don’t need fixed open world housing, even in sandboxes. If there’s a desire to be able to stroll through neighborhoods, enter others’ houses, and maybe even engage in some activities in those houses (such as purchasing from a vendor), then more elegant solutions can and should be crafted.

I’m open to hearing arguments about the importance of open world housing and why all of these drawbacks are worth the numerous problems that they create. I’m even more open to hearing solutions to creating better and more flexible open world housing that satisfies the desires of players and developers without making an unmanageable mess of things. So far, I’m unconvinced.