RIFT vs. World of Warcraft: Upgraded skills and the RNG factor

unifight

I don’t know if it’s been pointed out, but the other day I realized that both World of Warcraft and RIFT introduced a sort-of similar feature in each of their respective recent expansions. The feature in question is skill upgrades — that is, taking a standard skill and created a much-improved version that is so good it actually alters a player’s build.

Yet how each of these expansions is doing it is miles apart in execution, and I think it bears looking at because it highlights one of the ongoing struggles of game design: RNG versus a known quantity.

World of Warcraft is introducing these upgraded skills through its legendary items. I haven’t been playing WoW that hard over the past half-decade, but to my knowledge this is the first time that legendaries are featured so heavily in an expansion, to the point where it’s expected that a player might accumulate and equip four at once after a while. Legendaries have skill-defining traits attached, such as the one that I got last week that buffs my anti-magic shell. Before, it was a skill I hardly ever used on my Death Knight. Now that it heals me and is far stronger, it’s part of my standard defensive array.

Of course, there’s no assured way to get a legendary in this expansion; it’s all random number generator. You have to engage in certain activities — opening emissary quests, do mythic dungeons, etc. — and then cross your fingers for one. The devs said that they didn’t want a grind, so they chose the all-RNG route which makes players grind these activities over and over anyway. The only change from, say, a token grind is that the end goal isn’t defined and could happen any time (or not).

Plus, there’s the downside of not being able to get the legendary you want or need for your current build, so you could just be attempting to get the right one until the next expansion arrives.

RIFT, on the other hand, simply gives players one legendary skill point per level from 66 through 70. You know they’re coming, you can choose the upgraded skill you want, and that is that. There’s absolutely no chance to it — and no stress either. It’s exciting to ding because I want to see how my builds will change with these new skills. I can’t imagine how frustrating it’d be if these skill points were tacked on to gear and locked behind an RNG wall.

I’m OK with RNG to dole out fun rewards, and even World of Warcraft has made regular looting fun through the RNG titanforge system. Every so often I get a piece of gear that’s just a little bit better than what I had before thanks to this. But it was a dire mistake to gate all legendaries behind RNG.

A much better suggestion and in line with the expansion design as it is would be to have legendary item quest lines, a la class order hall and class quest lines. At the end of each, you get to pick a legendary of your choice and then have the option to start the quest all over again if you wanted to get a second. That would keep it from looking too grindy, keep it fun, and give players choice.

WoW might be the more popular and successful game in most respects, but dang if RIFT doesn’t actually do design better in so many small and important ways.

World of Warcraft from my seven-year-old’s point of view

penguins

I want to talk about my seven-year-old son today, because he’s started to form a rather interesting relationship with World of Warcraft.

As I might have mentioned before, I haven’t really been pushing video gaming on my kids, mostly to give them more time for physical play and development now before they get hooked on the digital stuff later. We’re not forbidding it or anything, it’s just not a daily fixture around here. But every so often my son begs me to let him “fly the owl,” and I give him some time to play my Druid in World of Warcraft.

First of all, if you’ve never had or worked with younger kids, let me tell you that it’s downright scary how fast they pick up things. The only instruction I gave to him was in how to move his character and the camera angle, along with a couple of helpful keyboard keys. Then I turned off the UI and let him explore the world.

He’s since figured out how to traverse most of Azeroth, thanks to the boats and flight. The Druid is great for exploring, with its insta-flight form and quick shape-shifting to a water form when submerged. And exploring really is all he does. Without a map, he’s memorized boat schedules, where the “volcano” (Blackrock Mountain) is, and how to get to his absolute favorite location, an ice floe in Northrend covered with penguins.

I caught him standing around this floe and asked him about it. He then launched into a long speech about how the penguins were his family and he was feeding them. I think he meant the visual effect that the resto Druid’s artifact weapon causes, with flowers and greenery springing up around the character. So with only his imagination to fill in the gaps, he stands there to feed his friends — and there’s such a deep satisfaction and joy at doing this that us grizzled veteran players could only dream of once again attaining.

It’s so exciting to him to explore this world. There’s no context to it, no lore, just whatever stories he and his sister make up as he flies around. Players who are toiling for levels and gear occasionally have this owl-bird fly over their heads, blissfully ignorant as to the “real” purpose of the game and content to do its own thing. I’m in no rush to teach him how to play it properly, so to speak.

He has figured out that there are dungeons. I found this out the other day when I came back to my computer and saw achievements popping up as he exited a dungeon. You see, I had given him ONE attack spell (Moonfire) just in case a critter was attacking him and he needed to finish it off to be able to fly again. Well, he took that one spell and went right into one of the Blackrock dungeons and cleared it. Probably helped that he was grossly overleveled, but I was still flabbergasted that he did it at all.

Doing so made his NIGHT, let me tell you. He wouldn’t stop babbling excitedly about doing it, telling me that he wanted to make me proud and get something helpful for my guy. Also, there was this gem: “I got an achievement! I got an achievement! …what’s that?”

I don’t know if there are lessons for us to learn from watching kids play MMOs, other than perhaps that it’s OK to play the game our own way outside of the prescribed paths that developers lay down. Silly, fluffy things that offer no progression or power can still be entertaining and fulfilling.

Breaking: Syp makes ‘legendary’ progress in World of Warcraft

legendary

Well this was a rather pleasant surprise for a somewhat stressful and busy day. I quickly zipped through my daily emissary quest only to see the chest spit out three items — one of which was my first-ever legendary item in the game.

I haven’t been doing much else than world quests that could award a legendary, so I knew my chances of getting one were on the low side. At least it isn’t that dumb ring, right? Actually, I’m pretty happy with it. I don’t use my anti-magic shell much, but having it become tougher and heal me will really help when I’m facing spellcasters in the future.

The Great MMO Corgi War of 2016

corgi2

As we all well know, Trion Worlds — and reportedly Scott Hartsman in particular — have a weird obsession with corgis. This is a thing that MMO studios seem to do, to get fixated on a particular animal (real or made up) and start putting it everywhere as a sort of mascot. DDO had the cactus, WildStar has the Rowsdowers, and even upcoming Camelot Unchained has its duck.

Well, RIFT has corgis. They’ve been around for a long while, with one being the personal pet of the Guardian king and others peppering the companion bars of players. I got my corgi, Courage, a while back through the refer-a-friend campaign. Use him all the time, too.

It used to be innocent. It used to be silly, even. But then storm clouds gathered as Blizzard saw the ray of corgi-shaped sunshine that RIFT enjoyed and decided to take it for itself.

corgi1

This week, all World of Warcraft players are being treated to their very own corgi as part of the 12th anniversary. It’s as if Blizzard was passing them out with one hand and making unkind gestures to Trion with the other. If you have something Blizzard wants, rest assured, the flurry studio will take it.

Corgis. Corgis everywhere, barking and yapping and making Scott Hartsman cry.

The only retaliation? For RIFT to place a corgi of its own in a starring role in this week’s expansion pack, Starfall Prophecy. Oh, and it’s not any ordinary corgi, oh no. It’s a talking dragon glamoured as a corgi that will be following the player character around for hours JUST BECAUSE. Does World of Warcraft have corgis that speak and can boast a draconic lineage? RIFT thinks not.

Ladies and gentlemen, the U.S.A. election may be over, but the Great Corgi War of 2016 has only begun. Countries will be laid waste, bodies heaped into mass graves, and adorable dogs will march en masse against each other.

Battle Bards Episode 86: World of Warcraft Legion

legion

With all of the unbridled love for World of Warcraft’s soundtrack on Battle Bards, historically, you know that we couldn’t let a new expansion score go without commentary. In this show, the three co-hosts tackle the weighty and lengthy Legion OST, cherry-picking their favorite tunes and confessing all manner of gaming sins.

Episode 86 show notes (show page, direct download)

  • Intro (feat. “Kingdoms Will Burn” and “Dalaran Dawn”)
  • “Anduin”
  • “The Last Stand”
  • “Requiem for the Lost Cities”
  • “Highmountain”
  • “Suramar City”
  • “Totems of the Grizzlemaw Revisited”
  • “Lion’s Rest (Canticle of Sacrifice)”
  • Which one did we like the most?
  • Jukebox Picks: “America” from Civilization VI, “Tropos (Day)” from Owlboy, and “Me Too” from The Sims 4
  • Outro (“Karazhan 7.1”)

World of Warcraft: Coming to peace with the new BM Hunter

squirrel

When World of Warcraft dropped all of the class changes with 7.0, it was both a heady time — and an era of dealbreakers. Literally overnight, my Shaman became an unplayable mess, my Demo Warlock a bizarre challenge, and my Beast Master Hunter a disappointment. All of this funneled me into playing a Death Knight for most of the expansion so far.

But I can’t quite abandon or stay away from my Hunter. Sure, I know that everyone plays one and has since time immemorial, but there’s so much of what I look for in a class right here: pets, pew-pew from range, rifles, leather gear, and a relaxing rotation. I’ve always enjoyed playing a Hunter going all of the way back to 2004’s launch (dang, has it been THAT long?), and I spent a lot of time prepping mine during Draenor for the new expansion.

Unfortunately, there’s the big issues with the new BM that makes it a hard row to hoe. Marksman, golden child as it may be right now, is definitely not my playstyle (plus, no rifles!), and the new melee-only Survival Hunter has to be one of the dumbest and most unpopular design decisions to come out of Blizzard… this year, at least. So for me it’s either BM or go away. I went away, for months now, but I always felt bad that my Wrath-era Hunter was still hanging out on the character select screen.

What irked me about 7.0 is that BM was in such a good place in Draenor. I loved the feel and rotation, the talents and the skills. Then everything got shuffled around, and while on paper it looks like we still have most of what we had before, there’s something slightly broken now. Before there was a good balance between your own weapon skills and skills involving pets; now it’s just pets, pets, and more pets with a bare nod to rifle skills. The rotation doesn’t feel good any more, as most of it involves long cooldowns and mindless button-mashing (instead of a tight, clicky rotation that came before). I hated having to choose between A Murder of Crows and Barrage, as I used to have both and life was good.

Inch by inch, I’ve started to make peace with the BM Hunter in Legion. It’s been a very slow go, partially hampered by the fact that I only play this character on occasion. Things started to look up when I decided to make her a Gnome (yay Gnome Hunters) and took advantage of the taming mechanical skill to go off and find a giant robot squirrel to be my new main companion. With my mechanical squirrel pet also running behind me, I feel like I’m paying homage to Squirrel Girl in a big way.

I went with Barrage, even though it’s a sloppy and somewhat derided skill, because I simply needed to have another rifle skill on my toolbar. And I’ve been forcing myself to play through a handful of quests at a time, getting a feel for this new build — unlearning the old rotation and adapting to the new. I try to look for the positives, such as how nice it is to have a tank pet again (my DK pets are not tanks in the least) or how barrage and stampede can do some serious AoE damage to packs of mobs.

I transmoged that ugly artifact rifle into one of my favorite models, something that looks big and colorful and steampunky and totally gnome-like. And off to the races we go, seeing if this new “class fantasy” can eventually win me over — or at least convince me that there’s a comfortable point of acceptance.

World of Warcraft: Argus and beyond

argus

Tell me that I’m not the only one who heard the pronouncement that we’ll be heading to Argus in World of Warcraft post-7.2 and thought, “Cool! Um… what’s that?” and had to look it up on the wiki. Tell me I’m not. Because I often feel clueless as it is.

Also, speaking of BlizzCon, didn’t Blizzard totally snub World of Warcraft during its opening keynote? The studio said basically nothing about WoW before quickly moving on to its other properties (because heaven forbid we take time away from talking about Hearthstone’s new card set). Sure, the Legion panel following that was full of great info, but it left me totally confused why they couldn’t announce some of that juicy content to the larger audience. It’s not the first year that Blizzard has really downplayed WoW in favor of its newer properties, and we all know that Overwatch is the golden child right now. But Legion’s had a good run so far and a recent huge patch… would’ve been worth it to toot that horn for a minute or so instead of talking about that blah summer movie.

OK, so now we have some idea of what’s coming next in World of Warcraft — and it’s actually pretty neat. Patch 7.1.5 and Patch 7.2 are on the way, no time frame set, and each with a bunch of welcome additions. The mini-holidays sound cool because I’m a geek for stuff like that, and more timewalking dungeons makes sense (for transmog if nothing else). I’m hoping we’ll see positive class tweaks with 7.1.5 now that the devs have had a few months to evaluate all of the changes from the early August patch.

7.2 definitely sounds like the next big thing, of course. A return to the Broken Shore, a base-building system of sorts (but don’t call it garrisons!), more class order quests, a new legion assault event like what they had with the pre-expansion event, artifact updates, a new raid zone and dungeon, and… flying. Hey, at least it’s on the horizon!

It was the mention of flying that really served as a helpful kick in the pants for me to start focusing my Death Knight’s goals. I need to finish Pathfinder part 1, and the other night I focused on getting all of my explorer achievements done. Following that, all I need is to get the Warden rep up to revered and do all of the Suramar quest chains. Not too hard at all. It actually got me questing pretty heavily in that zone again.

I was also gratified to be able to afford another WoW Token. I think at this point my account is paid for through March 2017, and that’s a good feeling. I’m not doing anything super-aggressive with revenue generation other than class missions, making sure I tackle any world quests with a nice payout (such as the occasional world boss or dungeon run that can deliver up to a thousand gold), and being consistent with gathering and selling mats on the AH.

Going to a whole new planet, even if it is just a zone, sounds pretty neat, so I hope that this Argus thing won’t disappoint when it arrives. So far Legion is living up to the promise to be a meatier and more engaging expansion than Draenor with its updates, and it’s great to be along for the ride.