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Endgame Hopes

November 30, 2011 1 comment

Tobold wonders about the fundamental replayability of  SW:TOR  once the storylines become well-known, predicting unremarkable endgame and the wrath of bloggers at the carebearishness of it all.

One is tempted to play devil’s advocate here, considering that a sizeable handful of bloggers believe fervently that WoW subscription numbers had the potential to rise forever if not for the calamities of Wrath and Cataclysm. We don’t really know what the endgame (the complete endgame) will look like in TOR, but if I had to pick the vintage of WoW that it feels most like, culturally, it would be the Burning Crusade: tougher questing, tougher mobs, server-community grouping without the benefit of Looking For Tools, extensive use of actual character abilities as opposed to the much-derided dancing and vehicular combat – and to think how strong the temptation of the latter must have been in a Star Wars IP! If this relationship continues into endgame, we might see a challenging, robust, unapologetically multi-tiered Operations system, and at the very least the usual suspects will have to struggle for something else in the game to dislike.

Things Bioware could do to extend the longevity of its endgame:

Branch raid content in interesting ways. The capability for player-choice branching is already quite intrinsic to the game engine. A few decision trees, perhaps a few random events along the way, and no raid run need ever look the same. Some of these ought to be for flavour and some ought to increase raid difficulty and rewards. A fledgling raid group might choose a path that allows it, say, to trade the end boss for three medium difficulty bosses and still have a sense of ‘completing’ the raid. And it would go some ways to answer Tobold’s skepticism about the conversational choices being relevant beyond questing. Think Sarth3D, Yogg+0 and their ilk except with flexibility, subtlety and soul. And lightsabers.

Go easy on gear resets and allow long-term ambition to blossom. This is especially true in the initial honeymoon period. Provide a variety of raids, scale them in difficulty, make gear matter and therefore bring pleasure when acquired, offer a ladder to the top and don’t be afraid to give people time to scale it. The content-gobbling 5% are important opinion, aspirational and organisational leaders and they cannot be ignored, but to cater to them too much is folly.

On that note, I agree with Tobold that bloggers (and pundits in all walks of life) are a specific, even peculiar bunch with very mannerist tastes. I remain stoutly unconvinced that the broad MMO market is really looking to be astounded with never-seen-before gameplay elements. I don’t think the persistence of trinity games that, shall we say, aren’t completely unlike each other except for one major  feature (great storytelling or uh, rifts) is due to corporate risk-aversion and the money at stake. I think it’s simply correct market research, though Guild Wars 2 is welcome to prove me wrong. And with World of Pandas, Rift and SW:TOR vying for that mainstream, my wager’s on the new kid.

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Categories: Endgame, Mentality

In this latest …

November 30, 2011 Comments off

In this latest beta weekend, I played primarily an Imperial Agent, instead of my Guardian. It was mostly at the wise insistence of my best friend and beta travelling companion, who cautioned against knight burnout and herself took up the twin pistols of the Bounty Hunter. In any case, it was a good opportunity to check out the other side of the game, both in the Imperial sense and in the gun-class sense.

Despite my continued preference for the Guardian, I found myself having a good deal more fun than the last go-round, which was a little puzzling. Then I read the initial impressions over at Spinksville, and it finally occurred to me that the social aspect made the difference.

Back when SynCaine threw a well-aimed snark dart at SW:TOR to the effect that Skyrim is the better single-player RPG, it rang true to me. Making sure that it’s a real MMO and not everyone’s simultaneous KOTOR 3 would be a significant challenge for Bioware.

At the moment, however, I am not so sure. Spinks remarks on her enjoyment of group play (not least trying the same kind of BH/IA duo as I’ve done) and makes particular reference to the entertaining tension between lightsiders and darksiders in flashpoints. This was the case throughout my play session this weekend and not just in flashpoints but also in questing. In short, it’s more fun to quest with someone else because they affect your story, and it’s sometimes an interesting fit. Ethical choice after ethical choice, it’s like doing a really long personality quiz together, with lots of guns and grenades.

I played my agent as an immaculate professional, choosing light side and dark side options according to what would best serve Imperial interests, maintain operational security (i.e. mostly killing loose ends who might end up talking about what I’ve done) and remain an efficient course of action. My friend’s bounty hunter was more complex: extremely tough-minded, self-interested but capable of mercy where it didn’t cost her any credits. She had no qualms about killing Imperials where my character might have stayed his hand out of some sentiment for the uniform, and so on. It was all quite engaging, and anticipating each other’s choices (and in some instances hoping to win the convo roll to put a wrench in the works) became a fun aspect of questing, more than making up for the fact that a capable duo trivialised the difficulty in most cases.

 I conclude with relief that the RPG elements that we thought would be insulating and single-playerish may yet serve to foster group play. Moral choices gain additional meaning with an audience or an antagonist. At least until everyone’s completely jaded and it’s “kill the orphan plz i only have 10min”.

 

 

Categories: Uncategorized

EVE, or Oh Good, Blogging 1 Training Complete.

November 25, 2011 Comments off

Since my open beta slot falls on Saturday, not Friday, and certain Americans who shall remain nameless succumbed to their tryptophan dose, I’m plinking at EVE. Nothing exciting, just flitting about, waxing NPC spawns, trading and mining.

I have something of a love-hate relationship with this MMO. Back in my misspent youth, I used to love the text-based TradeWars BBS game (yes, that old) and this is basically a super-polished, super-sophisticated version of it. Planets, check. Commodity trading, check. Pirates, check. Corps, check. Various ship designs with specialised roles and fits, check. Safe space patrolled by NPC police and the lawless frontier? Check.

I just wish EVE dispensed with some of the drudgery and entry barriers. I know it’s supposed to be part of the hardcore vibe (Chuck Norris doesn’t inject skill books, skill books brave nullsec markets just to surround themselves with Chuck Norris!) but it really is 95% relative monotony punctuated by 5% worth of exhilarating moments. The real-time skill training is a blessing and a curse – while I appreciate the rewards of long-term planning, it really kills enthusiasm to dream up something to do, then realise you can’t really do it effectively until a couple of days later. There is some merit to the old ‘Excel in Space’ jab; a lot of the most important action is very cerebral and visually unimpressive, more related to playing the auction house in other games than playing those games. Flying around can feel wickedly slow when you feel in a hurry to get something done. Set an ambitious enough goal and the grind can feel downright Korean. And sometimes, just sometimes, there’s simply nothing you can do. You will die and lose ISK.

On the other hand, the community is excellent and, I think, widely misunderstood. The place really isn’t filled with griefers and douchebags, as many people believe. Most folks are mature and disciplined; you have to be the latter, and have a very healthy ability to defer gratification, to spend any amount of time in this game. Sure, they’ll destroy you without a second thought if you’re reckless enough to autopilot through lowsec with valuable cargo, but that’s not personal, that’s business. The feeling of actually flying through space, realistically and immersively, is great. It’s not a glamorous affair, full of checklists, switches and ever present concern for survival, but it feels more real than any inertialess Space Invaders rubbish. And finally, the freedom (marred only by the aforementioned planning, waiting and drudgery) is incomparable. Unlike theme park MMOs, where not raiding at level cap is considered a sign of low ability or eccentricity, no way to spend your time in EVE is wrong, per se. There isn’t a single measurable yardstick, except perhaps the amount of ISK your stuff gets you. You can certainly be doing it wrong, but you’re never wrong to do it.

Categories: Other MMOs

Initial Thoughts

November 24, 2011 Comments off

Thoughts from the last SW:TOR beta before the upcoming open beta hits:

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Categories: Beta, Mechanics, Mentality

Soresu, or The Best Offence Is A Good Defence

November 22, 2011 Comments off

There are three things I tend to do in MMOs, on the whole. The first is to quest whimsically and often stupidly, getting gloriously lost and distracted and picking, shall we say, creative solutions to problems presented. This often gets me, and my patient long-time gaming buddy, killed even in situations where the designers try to spoonfeed us levels with the assumption that we are near-comatose on a steady diet of paste. The second is to PvP, or at least try it where it is optional. The third, at level cap, is to gravitate to support classes where I actually do things by the book and fairly well out of a sense of responsibility to my potential group mates.

When wearing that third hat, tanking is an appealing option. For good psychological reasons. well-covered by the cognoscenti, people dislike the role, creating tanking shortages in WoW and elsewhere. I generally like it. Philosophically, I enjoy the idea of taking it on the chin for a cause and being prepared to spare others pain. Mechanically, and less nobly, I like controlling the pace of the fight and do not quite trust other people with it. I am not heaven’s gift to tanking, by any means, but better the devil I know (me) than a stranger. With control comes the opportunity for good manners. Indeed, where healing tends to be the greatest force multiplier and carry the greatest potential for ‘stardom’, i.e. saving the day in the face of terrible odds, weaker group- and raid-mates, etc., the tank is the wing of the trinity with the greatest potential to make things easier and less stressful on everyone.

With SW:TOR, the RPG element of the MMO (it’s interesting how those three letters were the ones to disappear from the commonly-used acronym for the genre) is never far behind. Happily, my predilection for tanking dovetails nicely with the cliché desire to swing a classic one single-bladed lightsaber and my admiration of Form III, the highly defensive fencing style permitting the Jedi to reason with his enemies as they wear themselves down with their own fury. So, Guardian it is, moving as needed between Vigilance and Defence builds.

Categories: Mentality

WoW with Lightsabers

November 20, 2011 Comments off

As the subtitle of this blog suggests, I have staked my gaming hopes for next year on the upcoming MMO from Bioware. I am not uncritically enthusiastic about it, especially given my experiences in last week’s beta, but I also believe firmly that with MMOs, what you get out of one depends greatly on what you’re prepared to put in. A game whose systems you are willing to learn, where you have or make friends, whose success you are rooting for at least a little is more likely to be rewarding than one where you sit back, fold your arms, and stare with a jaundiced eye, demanding to be enchanted. To this end, I believe Bioware has a powerful tool at its disposal in the form of TOR’s setting and deftly told story to get the player invested, with enough momentum to learn and come to enjoy its mechanics.

The blogosphere tends to roll its eyes at this and demand ever new heights of sublime MMO experience. Our delicate palates call for sandbox options, revolutionary combat systems, dynamically responsive worlds! Against this backdrop, TOR is derided, not wholly without reason, as being WoW with lightsabers. Thing is, to be perfectly honest, I am not convinced we want as much innovation as we claim we do. For many WoW players the pinnacle of that game was the Burning Crusade expansion. For other reasons, many people look back fondly on Ultima Online and even Everquest. CCP is on a ‘back to basics’ kick with EVE, to healthy subscriber acclaim. While aspects of TOR’s beta were wobbly, there is a certain solidity to its core – using your character’s abilities to the fullest, killing bad guys, collecting loot. Questing is kept interesting not by flashy gimmickry, but by the quality of the storytelling. More on that later.

Categories: Beta, Other MMOs