Master X Master first impressions

Right now the closed alpha is going on for Master X Master, and while that would normally be whizzing by my head so fast thanks to the slipstream of my MOBA disinterest, I keep hearing things like “this game is pretty good!” and “it’s got an MMO PvE nature to it!” and “BUY STATESMAN AND WEEP OVER YOUR FALLEN CITY OF HEROES!” That last one might be subliminal programming by NCsoft, I dunno.

So I did register and as far as I know, there’s no NDA, so why not talk about it a bit? What we have here is a hybrid MOBA/PvE game that pulls characters from across NCsoft’s library as well as throwing in a few original creations. I am no expert on NCsoft lore, but I don’t think these are all fan favorite characters.

Right when the game loads, you have to go through a pretty linear tutorial that works through all of the basics. And since the game has about six buttons, “basic” is really what we have here. Nothing complicated, nothing overwhelming. Probably the most interesting mechanic is the ability to swap between two heroes (“masters”) that you take into a match or zone. If one is dying or you need a special skill set, swap on the fly — there’s no penalty.

From what I’ve seen, characters have basic mouse attacks, a movement attack, a dodge on a timer, a stronger attack, and an ultimate ability that takes a while to charge up. The keyboard controls movement and special abilities (plus space bar for jump, which I didn’t expect) while the mouse handles aiming, basic attack, character swap, and dodging. It feels quite good and reminds me a bit of Smash T.V. from the old arcade consoles.

Two things really impressed me as I shot my way through a PvP match with bots. First is that everything here looks and sounds crisp, effective, and spot-on. Abilities have a punch and it’s quite enjoyable to run around blasting the place up. Good music, too.

The second thing is that it really didn’t feel overwhelming. I’m not one for the MOBA tower defense/lane push mechanic. But to be thrown into an arena and just run around blasting like crazy was pretty fun. I’m sure I had the weakest bots ever, but I did manage an 8-kill streak with no deaths, so I had a few seconds of strutting about the house like a boss.

I will poke further into it, but at least MxM is having the effect of making me want to play it more rather than run from the room screaming. I am really curious how robust the PvE portion is, because you won’t catch me in PvP matches at all.

Battle Bards Episode 96: SWTOR expansions

“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”

With those words, you know you’re in for a rollicking good adventure — and some impressive and spellbinding music to match! On today’s episode, the Battle Bards return to Star Wars: The Old Republic to look at the music of the recent expansions. Has the Force been with this MMO’s soundtrack? I’ve got a bad good feeling about this!

Episode 96 show notes (show page, direct download)

  • Intro (feat. “Star Wars Main Theme,” “Fallen Empire Main Theme,” and “Scorpio, the Deceiver”)
  • “The Alliance”
  • “Versus Arcann”
  • “Aries, the Mischievous”
  • “Lana, the Advisor”
  • “Odessen, the Sanctum”
  • “Serenity”
  • “Fulfilling Destiny”
  • Which one did we like the best?
  • Jukebox picks: “Twin Seeds” from Nights into Dreams, “Boss Theme 1” from One-Way Heroics, and “Menu” from Spore
  • Outro (feat. “Escape from Zakuul”)
  • Stinger

The Secret World’s combat is not fine — and it probably won’t be, either

Readers of Bio Break know that when it comes to The Secret World’s combat system, I have often been quite disparaging about it. It’s functional without the fun, a system that I have forced myself to make a certain peace with because I love the rest of the game itself. It’s just never been enjoyable to take on mobs in a way that I have in other MMOs, and I have no qualms putting TSW toward the bottom of a list ranking MMO combat systems.

As you may have seen from reading some of the comments on my TSW posts, there is an ardent defender of TSW’s combat out there: Tyler of Superior Realities. Now I want to preface this by saying that I really do like Tyler, I read his blog all of the time, and I’ve never had a problem with him providing devil’s advocate comments about the combat system here on the blog. But after reading his post this week stating that The Secret World’s combat is “fine,” I felt a rebuttal welling up and wanted to get it out there (but in all fairness, please go read his piece first).

It’s not just Tyler. There seems to be a sect of players that don’t merely appreciate and enjoy TSW’s combat but also feel affronted at all of the criticism that has been thrown against the system to the point of rising in defense whenever it is mentioned. And as there has been a whole lot of criticism, it’s been a neverending crusade to convince people that they’re actually wrong — the combat is fine, they just don’t understand it or their criticisms are invalid. Or that they’re part of a weird conspiracy against Funcom to slander the company/game and they never liked TSW to begin with.

Frankly, I kind of find it silly to try to convince someone what what they dislike is something they actually should like, especially when it comes to games. Subjective experiences and feelings are not something that you can debate with other people. I subjectively like key lime pie and you subjectively hate it, there’s no right or wrong here unless you can take it to an objective level. There can be reasons behind your subjective judgment, particularly when it comes to a leisure activity. When hobbies are designed to entertain us, then it stands to reason that some of that entertainment is not going to fit everyone’s whims and needs and tastes.

Video games have a feel to each of them as part of the design, and if that feel is off, players know it. They may not be able to put an exact finger on it like some seasoned critics do, but they can tell when a character doesn’t control right, when camera angles are off, when there is no solid visual and audible feedback on skills, when there is lag, when rotations don’t flow, and so on. It’s why polish and testing is so essential to getting this feel right. And MMOs have not had the best of track records on polish, particularly the further back you go in time. We played the games despite the janky controls and obtuse systems because there were other elements we really liked about them.

World of Warcraft’s accomplishment was making a game that played and felt good right down to the individual elements of movement, combat, and UI. Even today, it’s a tight, responsive game with enjoyable skills and fun combat. WildStar had terrific movement animation and controls. Guild Wars 2 paid extra careful attention to stances and fluid combat animations. It’s gotten better, generally, even in older MMOs that have been brought up to modern standards.

But let’s be honest here: a lot of people very much did not enjoy The Secret World’s combat from the beginning through today. It’s not a conspiracy; it’s an oft-cited reason why otherwise interested players rejected the game. In the Massively OP office, we have MJ who is netural-to-approving about the combat, me who is mildly disapproving of the combat, and at least three other staffers who gave up on the game citing the combat specifically. When Secret World Legends was announced, we saw a lot of resurgence of interest for the game, particularly at the mention of a combat revamp. Just lightly perusing our leaderboard poll and announcement post, I see comments like:

  • I could not stand the combat. It was too boring.
  • If they fixed the boring combat I may consider coming back. I just do not enjoy the combat in that game at all!
  • I’m also worried about the combat system. Sure I’d like it to feel more fluid and dynamic, but that’s a function of a clunky engine than the ability wheel design.
  • If the combat and graphics gets an overhaul, then I’ll give it a go.
  • There was nothing wrong with the game what so ever other than the clunky combat.
  • I own The Secret World and may well contemplate returning to the game, as long as they overhaul the combat. As it stands at the moment it is the most tedious and unenjoyable I have encountered in a MMO.
  • All depends if they scrap that godawful combat system and totally replace the whole thing with something better, or if they just band-aid it.
  • I think I’ve said this every time I’ve posted about TSW… tried playing this many times, love the story/lore/puzzles, lacklustre combat drives me away every time.
  • Movement, combat and animation is disjointed and clunky now. I’m not certain they can bring it up to minimal standards.
  • Updated combat system with hopefully a little bit more twitch, and better animations will bring me right back to TSW.
  • Story could go on, and all the goodness that is TSW, but it would never be a great game because of the clunky animations and combat.

So many of these posts don’t have a tone of “screw TSW, I hate that game!” but rather “It’s a shame, I wanted to like it, but this particular system turned me off of it.” And that’s what I’ve been hearing and even saying over the past five years. Objectively, there are players who do not like this system and have elevated it as one of the biggest problems the game has. Whether you like TSW’s combat or not, it’s hard to bend over backwards to ignore that this is an issue and has been for a while.

Tyler’s post goes on to speculate that the problem comes not from the mechanics but more the ability wheel and build system. I disagree; I love the ability wheel, and while it might be a little complex at first, I’ve almost never seen someone cite it as one of the problems of the combat system. Rather, a slew of slightly-to-severely off elements are fingered: animations, “floatiness,” time-to-kill, lack of solid-feeling/sounding abilities, lackluster mob reaction, and the incredibly tedious builder/finisher spamming. The sum of which is a combat system that isn’t polished and doesn’t feel right at all to many players.

Here’s where Tyler and I come back in agreement. We both obviously love the game, want to keep playing it, and want the best possible future for it. We would love to have more people come into the game and enjoy it. We like having the freedom to build your own character and adjust to combat challenges with different builds. And we are a little nervous about what Funcom is doing to the combat in Secret World Legends.

From what little I saw on the dev livestream, SWL is skewing more to a Neverwinter-style of reticle action combat. Now, Neverwinter’s combat is quite decent, but it’s much further along the spectrum toward action combat than tab-targeting. TSW tried to straddle that spectrum to mixed results, and I’ve always felt its combat would have been so much better as tab-targeting, especially considering that the game skewed more to the “thinking/strategic” gamer than the twitch-heavy action junkie. From what little I saw, the combat isn’t that much improved or different, save for that they got rid of the double-tap to dodge (er, why?) and they’re adding overheating mechanics. Oh, and apparently shotguns are super-complex for reasons unbeknownst to me.

As I’ve proved by playing TSW for five years, bad combat isn’t a deal-breaker, but I was sincerely hoping that it would be getting better with a relaunch. I’ve got to get my hands on it to see how it feels and to see how the UI changes help to explain the mix-and-match build system, but I haven’t seen or heard anything right now that gives me great hope in this regard. If not done right, as with much of this relaunch, it could both drive away the faithful and fail to attract a whole new crowd. Let’s just say that if it makes both Tyler and I grumpy, then it won’t be a good sign at all. We shall see.

Back into books!

I haven’t done a books post (aka “What is Syp reading?”) for a while, mostly because my reading had become stagnant over the past half-year. I blame tablets, really. When I settle down for my last hour of the day in bed, my tablet offers too many tempting diversions: TV shows, email, twitter, and games. That all cut into my main reading time, and thus, my progress through novels slowed to a crawl while my “To Read” list grew and grew thanks to new releases and all of the sales and freebies through Bookbub.

I also didn’t feel like I was missing out on reading because I have been doing more audiobooks, mostly in short gaps of time (driving, cooking, doing menial tasks). But the problem there is that the cost of audiobooks means that I only grab my favorite (and well-read) series instead of new titles. So I’ve been going through the Kingkiller Chronicles, the Dark Tower series, and now all of the Harry Potter novels. Good stuff, but not new territory for me by far.

Gradually, I’ve come to realizing that I truly do miss straight-up reading and have made an effort to work it back into my routine. The key for this, I’ve found, is to pull out my Kindle at bedtime instead of a tablet. Only one thing you can do on a Kindle, after all, and it’s so much easier on the eyes for me to do reading with it compared to my phone or a tablet screen. I’ve even been reading more while exercise biking, although that’s still a little tough because reading is not as distracting from the labor of exercise as playing a game.

I’m happy to report that I’m picking up speed and starting to plow through books, now that my To Read list is at an intimidating 100 (and that’s not even including any sequels if I happen to like a particular book in a series). I stalled out on Patrick Weeks’ Rogues of the Republic series — the first book was great but the second was weirdly a chore, and I found myself very unmotivated to pick through the third.

Instead, I turned to the Invisible Library, an interesting fantasy tale of a woman who hops alternate Earths to track down rare copies of books for a central Library. Even though it was a little simple, I liked it well enough (but not quite enough to order the second book of that series).

Now I’m onto an impulse 99-cent purchase, Senlin Ascends and finding it totally engrossing. It’s about this somewhat standoffish teacher who visits the giant Tower of Babel on his honeymoon, only to lose his wife right away and force him to go on a quest to find her. It’s a bizarre vertical city full of “ringdoms,” and just 70 pages into it, I’ve already bought the sequel because it’s that good.

I’ve taken to toting my Kindle around again, too. Little bits of time, like waiting in the car for my kids to get out of school, can be better served by some reading rather than restless twitter reloading. I just kick myself that I had a whole week of vacation and did precious little reading during most of it.

KOTOR 2: Prologue

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

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords (henceforth referred to on this site as “KOTOR 2” because there ain’t no way I’m typing all of that out every time) is a very odd and special duck in the Old Republic series. While the first game, developed by BioWare, was a huge hit, this sequel was farmed off to Obsidian and rushed through to make it for a Christmas release. It did well in sales but was criticized for feeling unfinished and didn’t quite attain the level of popular acclaim as KOTOR 1 did. However, in the years since, it’s become a cult favorite, especially as fans have restored a lot of previously cut content into the game that was lurking in the game files.

I have played KOTOR 2 a couple of times in the past but never to completion. The first time was on the Xbox (I had one for about ten minutes back in the early 2000s) and the second time was a few years ago. I’ve always wanted to get through the entire game, especially since I did like what I had experienced so far. It was a darker title, full of morally grey scenarios and topics, and even had an evil Wookiee. So why not now, in 2017?

You might know that I don’t tend to like the Force-using characters in SWTOR, so while KOTOR 2 forces me to choose one of three types of Jedi to play, I’m going to push against that as much as I can by making a blaster-wielding Jedi who eschews lightsabers. Inelegant? It’s who I am, baby! That’s right, what are you going to do about that, game? Probably kick my butt.

I’m also not going to aim for a strict light or dark side playthrough, but simply choose whichever choices seem the most interesting or appealing to me at the time. We’ll see where that leads.

I love how KOTOR 2 starts. I’m a different Jedi than Revan — the “Outcast,” as I’ll soon be called — but I’m still on the Ebon Hawk. Apparently the Sith have been ravaging the galaxy, killing Jedi left and right, and I barely escaped an ambush. While I’m AFK in the medical lab, a lone astromech (T3-M4) is tasked with saving the ship and getting it to a nearby mining station.

You can skip the prologue, but personally I think it’s pretty interesting from a tourism and storytelling point of view, so I’m going to do it. There’s a lot of tutorial stuff about how the KOTOR games work, and while KOTOR 2 does make some odd UI changes from the first game, essentially it’s still the same.

Probably the coolest part is when T3 ends up going outside on the hull to recover parts. It’s here that you can see that a good chunk of the Ebon Hawk is simply gone (the lounge area, if I recall). T3 doesn’t have a problem getting the remaining engine online, and he even makes a friend by repairing another droid and recruiting it into his party.

A cutscene shows a very familiar figure emerge from the flames as the ship docks at the mining station. Some blaster bolts fire off-screen, and I think that’s it for our little astromech friends.

I still love ya, HK-47!

My character finally emerges from unconsciousness in a bacta tank on the station. She’s surrounded by all of these other figures, but other than that, the station is quiet.

Very quiet.


Looking back at The Sims


Back in 2000, I was working as a youth ministry intern in Colorado and living in the basement of a church family that was kind enough to give me a rent-free home. Still, it was among one of the most lonely times of my life, as I was suddenly separated from all of my college friends and wasn’t exactly making a lot of new ones. During that year, I turned to computer games in my free time, thanks to my brand-new desktop. And one of the games that really helped pass the time was The Sims.

Oh, The Sims! It’s so hard to express how exciting and revelatory this game was when it first released. I had remembered playing Sim City 2000 back in high school, but this was far more up my alley. Creating a house and watching people live in it? It sounded mundane but ended up being very engrossing. I spent months playing the core game, but for some reason never did buy into the hundreds of expansion packs. Sims 2 and 3 did get on my play list, although they never quite grabbed me as hard as the original (and I’ve yet to fiddle with Sims 4).

In a powerful fit of nostalgia, I searched out a copy of The Sims a month ago. EA doesn’t make the original available online for some reason, and GOG doesn’t have it, so I had to actually buy a physical copy (my original box having vanished into the nether some years ago). It took an additional patch and some research to get it to run on Windows 10, but finally I was able to get this 17-year-old title up and running for some retro gaming!

The very first Sims neighborhood was very small and basic, especially compared to later editions (or even Sims 1 expansions). I always play a Sims game the same every time — I bulldoze all of the houses, evict all of the premade characters, and start from scratch. For my first home, I tend to buy the cheapest lot so that I would have the most money available for building.

Of course, another tradition is that the first character you make in a Sims game is ALWAYS yourself. It’s kind of shocking how few options there are in the base copy of The Sims — just an array of heads and some default outfits. No body types, no customizing more specific elements, nothing. You did get to program your sim’s personality, in which I always set the neat level to the highest for at least one member of the household. This way, you have a neurotic cleaner who was always straightening up — a free maid, in other words.

Oh man, remember when Comic Sans was popular and acceptable enough that you could use it in your video games without irony? The Sims 1 remembers!

Obviously, looking back at a 17-year-old game is going to be a let-down in the graphics department. The Sims isn’t atrocious, but it’s certainly very dated, especially with its 3D models (the sprites that made up the objects and house come off better as more detailed and less jagged). I was also reminded that this game had a very different soundtrack than subsequent Sims games, more of a generic 1950s Americana commerical and less of the goofy and relaxing melodies that started to come into the series with The Sims 2.

I learned the hard way that it’s never a good thing to go big with your starter home. That way lies going broke, fast, and leaving your Sims in a hollow mansion. So I always began with a simple three-room abode: main living room, bedroom, and bathroom. I’m impressed how easy and accessible the building and decorating tools are even today (and boy does it come back fast!).

My finished starter home with all of the essentials. You wanted to make sure that your sims had enough to do and all of the basics, including places to sleep and poop in peace.

Unfortunately, the game wasn’t working quite right enough for me to do a full playthrough (it wouldn’t save, wouldn’t show my cursor half the time, disabled the sound, and had other issues). So I’m going to have to content myself with this brief glimpse.

Was it playing dollhouse for grownups? Sure it was. But there was something soothing and empowering about creating something and seeing life flourish in it rather than just destroying and fighting everything. The Sims probably sparked my ongoing fascination with housing in MMOs, and now it’s making me want to pick up a copy of Sims 4.

What were your favorite memories from the original Sims?

World of Warcraft: Invasion buster!


Blizzard is most certainly going to milk Patch 7.2 for all its worth. Just like the expansions, World of Warcraft’s patches like to hold things back so that it’s not an “all at once” type of scenario. This time around, there’s even a schedule discussing the gradual rollout of the patch’s features, and that doesn’t include the future unlocking of the new Tomb of Sargeras raid (which, of course, is featured in the patch title itself).

For me, it works out just fine. I’m not an “all at once” consumer anyway; I need time to get used to all of the new systems and content, and considering how much of it there is with 7.2, I’m glad that it’s being time-gated, that way I can enjoy my flashbacks to garrisons as I leisurely construct my new base on the Broken Shores.

Honestly, all I care about right now is getting flying. I am definitely sick of having to weave my way up and down cliffs and use all sorts of little cheats to get around the zones. I’m not exactly sure how much time I’m going to have to sink to get Part 2 of the achievement, but at least its a once-and-done thing for my account. I appreciate that.

Anyway, this week marked the unlock of the new Legionfall assaults, which harkens back to the pre-expansion events that did similar things across Azeroth. Now we’re getting these invasions in the Broken Isles every so often, and so far I’m finding them pretty intuitive and beneficial.

The invasions are tied into the world quest system so that you have to do four in a particular zone before you can progress to the next two stages. All in all, it takes around a half-hour to work up to the invasion ship counter-invasion, and since there’s some good rep here and other rewards, I guess I’m going to have to tack this on to my daily routine along with emissary chests. Don’t know how this leaves me with a lot of time for other activities, and I do wonder how long it’ll be before this feels stale and too repetitive.

For now, I’m digging it. Neat bosses, the whole system seems to work, and I didn’t have to read up on it to figure out what to do. That’s a good sign of intuitive design.

And the rewards? I’ve got nethershards up the wazoo (and I’m not perfectly clear what to do with these yet) and have had a couple of nice gear upgrades. One chest spat out an ilevel 900 helmet with a wicked new look, so that made my day entirely.

I figure that prices for many gathering mats are going to start dropping severely on the auction house soon with flying, so I’m focusing more on disenchanting gear for those mats instead as a money maker. I make sure to scan through all of the world quests every day to see if there are any nice purple gear quest rewards and make those a priority. So far it’s going well, although I don’t think I’m able to make 100k gold every month for a new token at this rate. Might have to face an actual subscription charge later this summer unless I find a different easy money making route.